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How Militarizing Police Can Increase Violence

Does more military gear make cops more likely to act violent?

Long before the killing of Michael Brown and the subsequent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, which have brought with them countless images of heavily armored local authorities pointing guns at and firing tear gas and other nonlethal weapons at unarmed protesters, some were disturbed by what Washington Post journalist Radley Balko calls “the rise of the warrior cop” — that is, the increasing tendency of some local police forces to rely on military-style gear and tactics, even in situations that appear devoid of any real threat to officers’ safety.

The story of how this happened and the oftentimes tragic results have been well-told by Balko, the American Civil Liberties Union, and others. In short, there’s been a flood of drug-war and post-9/11 money that has helped outfit police departments, even towns where a single murder is an incredibly rare event, with gear that could help repel seasoned paramilitaries.

What’s less clear is how this gear changes the psychological dynamics of policing and crowd control. Is it true, as many people are arguing online, that “When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” — that is, that simply having military gear will make police more likely to act in an aggressive manner toward civilians? How does this change the relationship between police and civilians?

At the most specific level, these questions haven’t been studied empirically. But a great deal of social-psychological research, as well as important anecdotal evidence from law-enforcement specialists themselves, suggests that militarized policing can greatly inflame situations that might otherwise end peacefully.

The so-called “weapons effect” can partly explain what’s going on in Ferguson and elsewhere. The mere presence of weapons, in short, appears to prime more aggressive behavior. This has been shown in a variety of experiments in different lab and real-world settings.

“Theory underlying the weapons effect or similar kinds of phenomena would suggest that the more you fill the environment with stimuli that are associated with violence, the more likely violence is to occur,” said Bruce Bartholow, a University of Missouri social psychologist who has studied the weapons effect. Brad Bushman, a psychologist at Ohio State, agreed. “I would expect a bigger effect if you see military weapons than if you see normal weapons,” he said.

This isn’t just about a link between visual stimuli like guns and violence, however. It also has to do with the roles people adopt, with how they respond to the presence of others who may — or may not — mean them harm. To a certain extent, if you dress and treat people like soldiers facing a deadly enemy, they’ll act like it.

“This process isn’t necessarily good or bad, but depends on the extent to which the more militaristic role fits the situation,” said Craig Anderson, a psychologist at Iowa State, in an email. “When it doesn’t fit well, it is likely to lead to more judgment and behavior errors.” Maria Haberfeld, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice who has studied how police departments outfit themselves, said the dynamic could be particularly dangerous in the context of nonviolent protests like Ferguson (there was rioting and looting earlier this week, but there have also been widespread reports of nonviolent protests being broken up by police aggression).

“Military equipment is used against an enemy,” said Haberfeld. “So if you give the same equipment to local police, by default you create an environment in which the public is perceived as an enemy.” On the other side of these confrontations, this could have a negative effect on protesters. “We live in a democratic country, and we believe that this is our right to go out and exercise the right to [free speech],” she said. “And when you go out there and exercise that right and suddenly you are faced with soldiers — even though these are not soldiers, but police officers looking like soldiers — then something is triggered, definitely.”

Bushman said that meeting nonviolent protests with a militarized response is “really a bad idea. I can’t believe they’re doing it.” “It’s just really bad for the officers because they feel more powerful, more invincible, more militaristic, ready to attack,” he said. “And also, I think it elicits a response from the observers that, hey, this is war, and people become defensive and they have a fight/flight response.” The adoption of masks themselves in a militarized setting, on the part of police or protesters, can also contribute to violence by triggering senses of anonymity and what psychologists call deindividuation. “There’s all kinds of evidence in social psychology that that will lead people to do things that they wouldn’t do if they could be identified,” said Bartholow.

All this militarization, said Bartholow, can be contrasted “against the old kind of beat-cop model where people in the neighborhood know the police officers’ name and he’s kind of everybody’s buddy in a sense.”

How a Convicted Murderer Prepares for a Job Interview

The challenges those that have been incarcerated having in finding a job

In prison Angel thought that it wouldn’t be too hard to find a job once he got out. He believed he had come a long way. At eighteen he hadn’t been able to read or write. He wet his bed and suffered from uncontrollable outbursts of anger. At forty-seven he had studied at the college level. He told me he had read several thousand books. He earned numerous certificates while incarcerated—aVocational Appliance Repair Certificate, a Certificate of Proficiency of Computer Operator, a Certificate in Library Training, an IPA (Inmate Program Assistant) II Training Certificate, and several welding certifications—but in the outside world these credentials counted for little.

“Irrelevant,” Angel said. “They might as well be toilet paper.”

Paul Martin accuses residential schools of ‘cultural genocide’

‘Call a spade a spade,’ former prime minister says

Residential schools engaged in “cultural genocide,” former prime minister Paul Martin said Friday at the hearings of the federal Truth And Reconciliation Commission, adding that aboriginal Canadians must now be offered the best educational system.

“Let us understand that what happened at the residential schools was the use of education for cultural genocide, and that the fact of the matter is — yes it was. Call a spade a spade,” Martin said to cheers from the audience at the Montreal hearings.

“And what that really means is that we’ve got to offer aboriginal Canadians, without any shadow of a doubt, the best education system that is possible to have.”

The residential school system existed from the 1870s until the 1990s and saw about 150,000 native youth taken from their families and sent to church-run schools under a deliberate policy of “civilizing” First Nations.

Many students were physically, mentally and sexually abused. Some committed suicide or died fleeing their schools. Mortality rates reached 50 per cent at some schools.

In the 1990s, thousands of victims sued the Canadian government as well as churches that ran the schools. The $1.9-billion settlement of that suit in 2007 prompted an apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the creation of the commission.

But the government has clashed with the commission and recently had to be ordered by an Ontario court to find and turn over documents from Library and Archives Canada.

“Every document is relevant,” Martin said. “We have hid this for 50 years. It’s existed for 150. Surely to God, Canadians are entitled … aboriginal Canadians and non-aboriginal Canadians, to know the truth. And so let the documents be released.”

Romeo Saganash has also testified of this time in residential schools

After the panel, Saganash took to the main stage at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel and officially gave his statement to the TRC about his time at the La Tuque residential school in the late 1970s.

He tearfully spoke about his brother Johnny who died under mysterious circumstances when he was just 6 years old. Johnny was buried in an unmarked grave near the residential school in Moose Factory, Ont. There was no explanation given to his parents, no death certificate, no physical record that the little Cree boy had ever existed under the care of the federal government.

It took 40 years for the Saganash family to find Johnny’s grave and they did so not with the help of authorities but rather through the work of Saganash’s journalist sister Emma. When his mother finally saw footage of the burial site, Saganash said she wept like he had never seen her weep before.

The NDP MP has also struggled with the legacy of pain from his stolen childhood. The struggle caused Saganash to seek treatment for his alcoholism last December after he was kicked off an Air Canada flight for being heavily intoxicated.

But Saganash spent little time focusing on the past, choosing rather to divert the attention to the private members bill he tabled before the House of Commons in January. The bill would force the federal government to ensure all its laws are consistent with the UN’s declaration of indigenous rights — a document the Cree politician helped draft before being elected to public office.

He concluded his emotional address on a hopeful note, quoting a passage from a speech South African leader Nelson Mandela gave after his 27-year stint as a political prisoner.

“It was during those long and lonely years that the hunger for freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people — white and black. I knew, as I knew anything, that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. For all have been robbed of their humanity.

Homeless Edmontonians speak about impact of residential schools

This video is heartbreaking.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada paid a visit to the Boyle Street Community Services in Edmonton on Saturday.

As Nicole Weisberg reports, the commission has been gathering stories about the impact of residential schools on Aboriginal Peoples across Canada — but this is the first time it has visited Edmonton’s inner city.

“What is it that the correctional service actually corrects? In my view very little…and…the justice system is completely criminal and it should be studied…”

Dr. Gabor Mate on addictions & corrections

According to CSC, 80% of offenders are substance abusers.

You are the cure

Great public awareness campaign and website from the Government of Alberta on the dangers of texting and driving.  I am amazed that despite the Saskatoon Police Service cracking down on it and the large fines that come along with it, many people I know text and use their phone while driving.  It’s not that hard to put your phone on vibrate, put it face down and ignore it when in the car.

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Lessig on Aaron Swartz

Powerful read by Larry Lessig in the prosecutor’s role in Aaron Swartz’s suicide

No doubt it is a certain crazy that brings a person as loved as Aaron was loved (and he was surrounded in NY by people who loved him) to do what Aaron did. It angers me that he did what he did. But if we’re going to learn from this, we can’t let slide what brought him here.

First, of course, Aaron brought Aaron here. As I said when I wrote about the case (when obligations required I say something publicly), if what the government alleged was true — and I say “if” because I am not revealing what Aaron said to me then — then what he did was wrong. And if not legally wrong, then at least morally wrong. The causes that Aaron fought for are my causes too. But as much as I respect those who disagree with me about this, these means are not mine.

But all this shows is that if the government proved its case, some punishment was appropriate. So what was that appropriate punishment? Was Aaron a terrorist? Or a cracker trying to profit from stolen goods? Or was this something completely different?

Early on, and to its great credit, JSTOR figured “appropriate” out: They declined to pursue their own action against Aaron, and they asked the government to drop its. MIT, to its great shame, was not as clear, and so the prosecutor had the excuse he needed to continue his war against the “criminal” who we who loved him knew as Aaron.

Here is where we need a better sense of justice, and shame. For the outrageousness in this story is not just Aaron. It is also the absurdity of the prosecutor’s behavior. From the beginning, the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way. The “property” Aaron had “stolen,” we were told, was worth “millions of dollars” — with the hint, and then the suggestion, that his aim must have been to profit from his crime. But anyone who says that there is money to be made in a stash of ACADEMIC ARTICLES is either an idiot or a liar. It was clear what this was not, yet our government continued to push as if it had caught the 9/11 terrorists red-handed.

 

The job description

Elvis Lachance (photo from Facebook)As I got home, I was hit by the news that Elvis Lachance had been murdered in the Saskatoon Correctional Centre.  I have known Elvis for years and he has been homeless or incarcerated for the entire time I have known him.  I saw him las Tuesday night as he wandered into the Rook and Raven after City Council was over and was trying to panhandle.  We didn’t have any cash for him and as he was on his way I was thinking that he would benefit from staying at The Lighthouse.  I made a not to talk to him this week before he heard that he had been picked up again and tossed back into the Correctional Centre.  I wrote a note to talk to the Community Chaplain to ask him when Elvis was getting out.   Then I heard that Elvis was found dead in his prison cell this morning.

To put Elvis’ murder in perspective;  he has a huge heart and was incredibly gentle.  He knew sign language at times came in incredibly useful at the Salvation Army when helping house deaf people.  Elvis was the guy that would help people with their plates and food and do everything that he could do to help out.  He was a small guy and was never ever aggressive with anyone.  Some guys fight all of the time on the streets but Elvis was a peacemaker.  In seven years I never saw him once make an aggressive or mean act.  It isn’t right that he is dead tonight and I suspect he is jail for something relatively minor.  As a colleague at another agency said to me tonight, “he was my bud”.

I don’t know how to process the murder of a client.  At one time I keep a significant emotional distance from most of who I deal with, yet at the same time it is guys like Elvis that motivate me to get out of bed in the morning.  I failed him years ago once and he got hurt and I have always carried that with me.  To find out that he is dead really hits me hard.

I get asked why I keep doing this and this year more than any other I ask myself the same question.   There are easier and more profitable ways to make a living than working in an emergency housing provider and I am told they don’t have the same level of stress that this does.  I spent much of the summer pondering a move to Calgary where I could go and see the Calgary Flames and Stampeders and more than anything, not have the stress of working with the hard to house.  In the end we decided to stay because I thought I could make a difference in Saskatoon.

I love Saskatoon and I love working at The Lighthouse but tonight I feel worse than I have in a long time.  It’s going to take a while to leave this behind while at the same time it’s the memory of this absolutely pointless and preventable death that will have me back at my desk tomorrow morning.

I will say that when people like Elvis die in prison, there is something wrong with the justice and correctional systems.  Elvis was maybe 100 pounds and 5’4 inches tall.  He wasn’t a threat to anyone and at the same time could not have defended himself.

The Drug Cartels Move North

Invasion of the Drug Cartels

Some are taking the law into their own hands.

Which is crazy but you kind of understand it when you think of the violence that happens in those border communities because of the drugs and gangs that are flooding across the border.  Either way, after looking at the infographic you kind of get the idea that Stephen Harper was right when he said that the War on Drugs has failed.

Encouraging news for the west side

According to a Saskatoon Police news release.

The two girls, ages nine and 12, reported being followed by a man driving a white extended-cab truck as they walked in the area of 33rd Street and Avenue P around 11:39 p.m., police said in a news release.

“At one point the suspicious male got out of the truck but when the girls confronted him he drove off. They sought assistance at a nearby residence and called police,” the release said.

The girls described the man as in his 30s and wearing a baseball cap. No further description was available.

Police recommend people walk in pairs or groups, stay in well-populated and well-lit areas, be aware of suspicious activity, avoid approaching strange vehicles if someone stops and attempts to talk, and report suspicious activity to parents or police.

In other words according to the release, “it isn’t safe for people to out at night on the west side”.   Wonderful.

Ruby Ridge

If you have some time, read the debacle that was Ruby Ridge and the Randy Weaver stand off.  To put it in the words of Deputy FBI Director Danny Coulson

OPR 004477
Something to Consider
1. Charge against Weaver is Bull Shit.
2. No one saw Weaver do any shooting.
3. Vicki has no charges against her.
4. Weaver’s defense. He ran down the hill to see what dog was
barking at. Some guys in camys shot his dog.
Started shooting at him. Killed his son. Harris did the
shooting [of Degan]. He [Weaver] is in pretty strong legal position."

It’s incredibly messed up.  Incompetence at all levels of law enforcement levels culminated in several people dying and being wounded.  The weirdest part is that after all was said and done, Randy Weaver was acquitted of all the charges, just as Danny Coulson said.  It would be interesting to contrast a similar situation in Canada which didn’t spiral all out of control with the Ruby Ridge siege and see what the differences were.

Texas honor student jailed for truancy

Diane Tran, an honor student in Texas, was thrown in jail by a Judge Moriarty after she missed too many classes at her high school.

Tran said she works both full-time and part-time jobs, in addition to taking advanced and college level courses. But the judge said Tran’s case was bigger than the individual situation of one student. "If you let one run loose, what are you gonna’ do with the rest of ‘em?,"said Judge Lanny Moriarty. "Let them go too? A little stay in the jail for one night is not a death sentence."

But Tran’s classmates said she had a lot more to juggle than the average teen. "She goes from job to job from school. She stays up until 7 a.m. in the morning doing her homework," said Devin Hill, a classmate and co-worker.

On top of that, Tran said her parents spilt up and moved away, leaving her to support her younger sister. The judge admitted that he wanted to make an example of the teen. Tran had to spend 24 hours in jail and had to pay a $100 fine.

Nice to see that there is no more common sense in Texas.

Tough times ahead for the RCMP

From the Ottawa Citizen

An internal RCMP investigation into a series of sex and drinking escapades in a staff sergeant’s office revealed a pattern of sexual harassment so disturbing that senior Ottawa Mounties say it will take “considerable effort to rebuild the damaged trust of our organization.”

The investigation, which has not been made public until now, reviewed seven reports about the misconduct of Staff Sgt. Don Ray, the officer in charge of the polygraph unit at Alberta’s RCMP headquarters in Edmonton.

Internal Affairs investigators discovered Sgt. Ray was hosting after-hours parties in his office and kept a bar fridge stocked with Budweiser and Appleton Jamaica Rum. Sgt. Ray would encourage female subordinates to drink and make sexual advances when alone with them, the investigation found.

In April 2009, close to the end of one work day, Sgt. Ray invited his staff to a private office party at which he invited them to sit down and have a drink.

One of his female subordinates consumed four beers over two hours, and once the others left, Sgt. Ray unzipped his pants, exposed himself and told her to touch his penis, according to RCMP files. She refused.

“S/Sgt. Ray then wanted to have sexual intercourse with Ms. A, which she refused. S/Sgt. Ray insisted but Ms. A. maintained her refusal. They then both left the building without further sexual contact,” a senior disciplinary officer wrote in his findings in February.

The investigation said Sgt. Ray exhibited a “serial” pattern of “disgraceful” conduct.

Sgt. Ray’s behaviour is the latest in a series of complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination levelled against the RCMP across the country.

A high-profile RCMP veteran, Cpl. Catherine Galliford, ignited the controversy last fall by speaking publicly about her internal allegations of sexual harassment and abuse by former male colleagues.

The sad thing is that it gets worse and it’s only one of many negative stories coming out lately of RCMP misconduct.

One in three American Indian women have been raped or have experienced an attempted rape

A disturbing report from the New York Times

The difficulties facing American Indian women who have been raped are myriad, and include a shortage of sexual assault kits at Indian Health Service hospitals, where there is also a lack of access to birth control and sexually transmitted disease testing. There are also too few nurses trained to perform rape examinations, which are generally necessary to bring cases to trial.

Women say the tribal police often discourage them from reporting sexual assaults, and Indian Health Service hospitals complain they lack cameras to document injuries.

Police and prosecutors, overwhelmed by the crime that buffets most reservations, acknowledge that they are often able to offer only tepid responses to what tribal leaders say has become a crisis.

Reasons for the high rate of sexual assaults among American Indians are poorly understood, but explanations include a breakdown in the family structure, a lack of discussion about sexual violence and alcohol abuse.

Rape, according to Indian women, has been distressingly common for generations, and they say tribal officials and the federal and state authorities have done little to help halt it, leading to its being significantly underreported.

In the Navajo Nation, which encompasses parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, 329 rape cases were reported in 2007 among a population of about 180,000. Five years later, there have been only 17 arrests. Women’s advocates on the reservation say only about 10 percent of sexual assaults are reported.

The young woman who was raped in Emmonak, now 22, asked that her name not be used because she fears retaliation from her attacker, whom she still sees in the village. She said she knew of five other women he had raped, though she is the only one who reported the crime.

Nationwide, an arrest is made in just 13 percent of the sexual assaults reported by American Indian women, according to the Justice Department, compared with 35 percent for black women and 32 percent for whites.

In South Dakota, Indians make up 10 percent of the population, but account for 40 percent of the victims of sexual assault. Alaska Natives are 15 percent of that state’s population, but constitute 61 percent of its victims of sexual assault.

Bringing down Canada’s massive human-trafficking ring

Amazing story from the Globe and Mail

One December morning, a 49-year-old Hungarian named Sandor Simon was at a Hamilton welfare office when he became agitated, saying he was terrified of the people he was living with and wanted to escape.

Staff knew an RCMP constable, Lepa Jankovic, was investigating suspicious activity involving Hungarian nationals, so they called her. When she arrived, Mr. Simon was hunched over with his arms in his lap, in a full sweat, his hat curled up in his hand.

Constable Jankovic, 41, drove him back to her office, stopping to buy him a coffee and a pack of cigarettes. He warmed to her quickly.

Through a translator, he told the story: A man in his home country promised a high-paying job in the stucco industry if he would move to Canada. But when he arrived, he was confined to a basement with three other men and, he learned, would be forced to work long hours for no pay.

Constable Jankovic knew she was on to something. She was about to unravel the largest-known human-trafficking ring in Canadian history, exposing a Hungarian crime family that made men work as slaves on construction sites. Despite its size, the entire operation would be busted by just two tenacious RCMP officers, an aggressive Crown attorney, a couple of investigators from other agencies and a non-governmental organization.

Her very life was on the line: At one point, a hit man was hired to kill the investigators on the case.