Today, Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged six police officers in connection with the death of Freddie Gray. The fundamental question we have to ask ourselves is, does the law mean something, or is it just a piece of paper? No officer is above the law; otherwise, the end result will be tyranny. In that regard, Ms. Mosby's actions are a welcome first step. Even if Freddie Gray had an extensive police record, he is still entitled to the protection of the law, along with Eric Garner and Mike Brown.
However, we have merely scratched the surface regarding the Constitutionality of our officers' actions. The fact remains that we are continuing to heavily militarize our police officers through the 1033 program in a misguided effort to stop the flow of drugs. While drugs are a serious problem in our society, that does not justify blatantly disregarding the Constitution and blurring the line between our military and our police forces.
James Risen reports today that the American Psychological Association secretly bolstered the Bush Administration's torture program at a time when it was in serious trouble. This secret involvement is now part of an independent investigation which will bring about more revelations when it is complete.
The report is the first to examine the association’s role in the interrogation program. It contends, using newly disclosed emails, that the group’s actions to keep psychologists involved in the interrogation program coincided closely with efforts by senior Bush administration officials to salvage the program after the public disclosure in 2004 of graphic photos of prisoner abuse by American military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
A Washington Post story alleging that Freddie Gray tried to injure himself based on the testimony of another prisoner leaves a lot of room for skepticism. The story is based on the testimony of an anonymous prisoner, who says that Mr. Gray inflicted his own injuries. But the case for skepticism starts in the second paragraph:
The prisoner, who is currently in jail, was separated from Gray by a metal partition and could not see him. His statement is contained in an application for a search warrant, which is sealed by the court. The Post was given the document under the condition that the prisoner not be named because the person who provided it feared for the inmate’s safety.
So, if the prisoner could not see Mr. Gray, on what basis does this prisoner conclude that Mr. Gray was inflicting his own injuries?
Protests against the death of Freddie Gray have spread to New York City, where hundreds of people have gathered in solidarity with the Baltimore protesters.
Umaara Elliott, one of the New York rally organizers, said she encouraged the message protesters in Baltimore were trying to send. "Anger can be justified. I don't think that public property should be more important than bodies, than the fact that 80 percent of Freddie Gray's was severed. I don't think that a CVS should be more important than his spine and the fact that his family won't be able to see him again," she said.
All of the 400 years of racism and exploitation of minorities by this country are coming home to roost, along with the decades of neglect of poor neighborhoods in our cities.
One of the questions asked is, if the Baltimore riots are a result of 400 years of oppression, then why are the youth rioting? I submit that the reason lies in the hopelessness that many of them feel as a result of what they see and hear on a daily basis. It is not enough to consider the tragic death of Freddie Gray in a vacuum. This is part of a systematic pattern of police violence against their own people.
If the authorities are serious about stopping the youth from rioting, then they need to address the problem of high school dropouts. Around 21% of youth in Baltimore as of 2012 drop out of high school compared to 13% for the country and 11% for the state. The total crime risk for Baltimore is almost 1.5 times the national average. Quality of life is similar to the national average. Baltimore is one of the leaders in the US in dealing with the lead pollution problem, which has been linked to crime; they are better than the national average overall in pollution.
400 years of disenfranchisement is coming to a head in Ferguson, New York City, and now Baltimore. This is the logical consequence of our actions ever since we began colonizing the New World. When you disenfranchise people and push them to their breaking point, the logical result is voter apathy and anarchy. If it continues, the end result, as we have seen in Iraq, Libya, and Somalia, is a failed state and anarchy.
A perfect example of what can happen when people are disenfranchised is Iraq. That country had elections to reelect its president recently. He won with an overwhelming majority. It was hailed at the time as a vindication of our policies there. However, it turned out that the Sunnis, disenfranchised from participating in the political process, went off and joined ISIS. Shortly afterwards, Mosul and many other chunks of Iraq fell to the Islamic State.
We all condemn the violence in Baltimore. Anyone who engages in it should face the consequences in a court of law. But that is beside the point. The problem is that certain members of the Baltimore police force are engaging in rioting as well. Don't believe me? Check out the pictures and tweets from jpmassar's diary.
In some circumstances, the police are shooting rubber bullets, pepper spray, and concussion grenades along with herding people into pens even when the circumstances do not necessarily warrant it. This is not going to solve things, but will only reinforce peoples' beliefs about police brutality. People like Malcom Taylor serve as a much more effective calming influence:
Mr. Taylor gathered 15 friends, including some church pastors, and came to the mall to try to calm things down.
“I helped assemble some brothers up from the community,” Mr. Taylor said during an interview in the mall parking lot around 9 p.m. By the time they reached the main group of rioters, he said, there were 50 to 70 people with him trying to quell the violence.
“We converged, we prayed, we sang, we stopped some fights, we stopped some rioting,” Mr. Taylor said. “We just held them by the hand and talked to them, and told them to calm down.”
Hillary Clinton rightly said at the recent Women in the World Conference that the full participation of women and girls in societies around the world is the great unfinished business of the 21st Century.
“I believe the advancement and the full participation of women and girls in every aspect of their societies is the great unfinished business of the 21st century,” Clinton added in her Thursday remarks. “And not just in far-away countries but right here in the United States.”
You can find complete coverage of the conference here.
Martin O'Malley was the architect of Baltimore's failed plan to reign in crime, the New York Times reported yesterday:
Civil rights advocates and some elected officials here trace the tensions to “zero-tolerance policing,” a crime-fighting strategy championed by Martin O’Malley, the former governor and a potential Democratic candidate for president, when he was the mayor of Baltimore from 1999 to 2007. Aides of Mr. O’Malley note that on his watch, the number of annual homicides dropped below 300 per year for the first time in more than a decade, and that violent crime in Baltimore dropped by 41 percent. Steve Kearney, a top aide to Mr. O’Malley when he was the mayor, described the policies as “appropriate for the time.”
The policies have only served to undermine the confidence that the people there have in their police officers. And furthermore, it is not even clear that Mr. O'Malley deserves the credit for the drop in crime in Baltimore. Even if a good argument can be made that Mr. O'Malley's policies helped drop crime in the short term, the problem is that there will likely be a long-term increase in crime given the loss of confidence that the public has in its officers.
Pope Francis' recent snub of France's ambassador, Laurent Stefanini, shows that while the Catholic Church has made some laudable reforms, it has not done enough to make itself a relevant institution for the 21st century. Mr. Stefanini, who is openly gay, has had extensive experience with the French government, including serving as the number two man for the French Embassy to the Vatican.
Stéfanini has been described in the French media as a “brilliant” diplomat. He is a graduate of France’s elite Ecole Nationale d’Administration. He knows the Vatican well, having been first councillor to the French embassy there between 2001 and 2005, and has served as an adviser to the French foreign affairs ministry. He has been head of protocol for former centre-right president Nicolas Sarkozy and the socialist Hollande.
So, there is no question about Mr. Stefanini's qualification; there are no scandals that we are aware of. This is a matter of a church that is losing members due to a reluctance to accept change and which is continuing to become increasingly irrelevant.
In today's paper, we read that an American drone strike killed two hostages, one an American citizen and one an Italian citizen, who were being held by Al-Qaeda in January. By all accounts, proper procedure was followed, and the site in question was surveyed extensively to ensure that it was a legitimate target of war. But the fact that two civilian hostages were killed shows the limits of the President's drone policy, even when everything is done according to the book.
The problem is that there is no way to account for the possibility that civilians are present when strikes occur. The hostages, Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto, are just two of over 3,000 civilians who have been killed by drone strikes under the program, began by President Bush and continued by President Obama. Each one of these people killed by these drone strikes will only serve to polarize this country and antagonize more people, who could choose to sign up for Al-Qaeda and ISIS. With each one of these civilians killed, Al-Qaeda and ISIS become stronger than if those strikes had not occurred.
The Guardian reports that nearly all of the 150,000 or so of refugees who are attempting to cross into Europe will be sent back to Africa and only 5,000 or so will be settled in Europe. This is a misguided policy which will only exacerbate the massive humanitarian crisis in Libya and the Middle East and which does not address any of the underlying causes. This despite the publication of a letter from 50 people across the political spectrum calling the current indifference and police state tactics a "stain on the conscience."
The summit comes as a joint letter to EU leaders signed by more than 50 former European prime ministers, foreign ministers and business leaders, condemned the death toll of migrants in the Mediterranean as a “stain on the conscience of our continent” and demanded the immediate restoration of expansive search-and-rescue operations. Signatories include the former EU commissioner and Conservative party chairman, Chris Patten; the former Swedish prime minister, Carl Bilt; French former foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner; and George Soros of the Open Society Foundation.
The letter appeals to EU leaders to go beyond the 10-point plan agreed by foreign and interior ministers on Monday and instead calls for an immediate restoration of expansive rescue operations “with a mandate and level of funding that match the humanitarian emergency that confronts us”. The letter says the decision to withdraw support last October for Italy’s Mare Nostrum operation had only succeeded in vastly increasing the number of deaths.