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Mike Brown is dead, and it's time to have a real conversation about the role and purpose of the law, and by extension, the enforcers of that law, in this country. The law principally has two functions. On one side, it's a sword mobilized by the will of the people against those who break agreed-upon social norms. But the law's also a shield, designed, at least in ideal, to protect the rights of victims and would-be victims.

On its face, the law is equal. State robbery statutes make no mention of race, and they promise to prosecute offenders regardless of what they look like. All that matters, it seems, is the offense and the offender's criminal history. In reality, the system operates much differently.

Mike Brown died because the law is mobilized against people that look like him. It's an intentionally designed system that offers the benefit of the doubt to a certain sub-set of the population, while conferring upon others a presumption of dangerousness. To understand, one needs only to study both the history and modern application of those pillars upon which the law stands.

Find yourself suspected of a crime today and there are a few different ways your arrest will play out. The 1960s was a time of significant social strife in California. The Watts Riots occurred in response to red-lining and other racially discriminatory housing policies that kept Los Angeles's minority population from ascending to the middle class through home ownership. Likewise, black people were restricted from renting in certain areas under an informal arrangement that looked very similar to the de jure segregation of the American South. Cesar Chavez was busy organizing the United Farm Workers in hopes of securing fair working conditions, and the Black Panther Party was protesting both police brutality and other forms of racism in that part of the world. The Los Angeles Police Department, under the guidance of inspector Daryl Gates, took an idea from Philadelphia and ran with it. The "Special Weapons Assault Team" featured military-style weaponry and training. Gates determined that the unit's name might provoke a negative public response, so he shortened it to SWAT, and the modern para-military police troop was born.

It was deployed in a limited nature to keep the peace in response to Chavez's strikes, but it was deployed for a purpose truer to its collective heart in response to the "threat" of the Black Panthers. In December of 1969, a four-hour standoff between SWAT and the Black Panthers ended with six people injured, and a few years later, SWAT was an accepted part of the police's potential power.

Jacob Hedden, in a piece on the rise of SWAT, wrote of this initial confrontation:

"The Black Panthers resisted the raid and engaged the SWAT team in a four-hour gun battle. During the shootout, the LAPD and SWAT maneuvered themselves into surrounding the Panther’s headquarters as the two sides exchanged over 5,000 rounds of ammunition. The fighting resulted in the wounding of three Panthers and three SWAT officers. As the battle continued, the remaining Black Panthers realized the headquarters was surrounded in a hopeless 11-versus-hundreds fight and finally surrendered themselves to the SWAT officers. The SWAT teams first mission had ended as a monumental success for the Los Angeles Police Department."
Setting off the confrontation was the assassination of Fred Hampton, a rising Black Panther Party leader in Chicago. Not wanting the leadership of the BPP to strengthen, and in retaliation to statements that Hampton had made about State Attorney Ed Hanrahan, state officers swarmed Hampton's apartment, intent on serving a warrant for illegal possession of guns. Hampton had been drugged during dinner by an FBI informant, and the storming officers littered his sleeping corpse with automatic gunfire. Finding him undead, officers fired two shots at point blank range into his skull, killing the unarmed Hampton.

Following the incident, FBI Special Agent Gregg York was quoted as saying:

"We expected about twenty Panthers to be in the apartment when the police raided the place. Only two of those black niggers were killed, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark."
The Los Angeles Black Panthers planned to meet lawlessness with lawlessness of their own, and the LAPD responded by creating, for the first time in America, a tactical police force worthy of an American occupation of Middle Eastern country de jour.

It should come as no surprise that tactical units created for the purpose of controlling "unruly" black people are still used much the same way today. A limited study from Chicago found that in a sampling of 63 SWAT raids, where the subject's race was listed, 90-percent of subjects were black. While national numbers are difficult to ascertain because many departments refuse to release full incident reports, the ACLU found in investigating 800 tactical raids around the nation that black and Latino households were far more likely to experience a raid than the standard white household.

A recent commenter on an article here at DailyKos expressed some distress at the mention of race in Mike Brown's case. The hyper-aggressiveness of police, he argued, is the primary issue in this case. Even if one believes that to be true, it's impossible to ignore the connection between a militarized police force and the desire to control minority populations.

Small towns are arming themselves with tanks and other pieces of discarded military equipment. Does anyone think that in places like Florence, South Carolina, the majority-white population would approve of the Florence County Sheriff's Department buying this tank if they had any inkling that it would be used against anyone other than "thugs" and "criminals?" The militarized police, even if it's finally receiving some push-back in America, has persisted for decades only because of perceptions of minority dangerousness by those in control.

This concept has been modeled in a recent study by Stanford University, in which Rebecca Hetey studied the responses of white people to learning of the justice system's racial inequalities. As Marcie Bianco describes the study:

That's according to a new study out of Stanford University, that tested how increasing white people's awareness of disproportionate incarceration rates for whites and blacks would affect their views on incarceration laws. Two experiments, one conducted in San Francisco and the other in New York City, showed white subjects a series of mug shots. Those who saw more black faces among the mug shots were less likely to sign petitions advocating prison reform.
In short, when white people are told that black people are disproportionately jailed, they are less and not more likely to believe that the justice system needs changing. Rather than responding to the inequality, the subjects of this study responded to their fear, noting that if more black people are arrested, it is evidence that black people are dangerous, and thus, a harsh justice system is necessary. The same effect powers the appetite for a militarized police force in many American towns.

The Drug War, which is closely tied to police militarization, has its own racist roots, and serves as more evidence that the law is meant as a sword against some. America's first drug laws were surprisingly passed in the late 1800s on a local level in perhaps America's least likely locality. San Francisco outlawed opium, which was the favored drug of Chinese immigrants, in a direct attempt to disadvantage that specific population. Later, the federal government banned the drug while not banning substances favored by white Americans.

The better known drug laws have their roots in fear of black Americans. Cocaine was a primary focus of American drug policy early in the 20th century and again in the middle part of the century when Reagan and Nixon amped up their Drug War efforts. But why was it so important to pass these laws and later enforce them with such vigor?

The headline from a 1914 New York Times article states:

The text of that article goes on to say:

"Many of the wholesale killings in the South may be cited as indicating that accuracy in shooting is not interfered with - is, indeed, probably improved - by cocaine. For a large proportion of shootings have been the result of drug taking. But I believe the record of the 'cocaine nigger' near Asheville, who dropped five men dead in their tracks, using only one cartridge for each, offers evidence that is sufficiently convincing."

According to an op-ed by federal judge Frederic Block in the Huffington Post, a Literary Review article from the same year claimed that "most of the attacks upon women in the South are the direct result of the cocaine-crazed Negro brain."

That same article goes on to quote an early 1900s Texas police chief as fear-mongering on the issue of marijuana by saying:

Under marijuana Mexicans [become] very violent, especially when they become angry and will attack an officer even if a gun is drawn on him. They seem to have no fear. I have also noted that under the influence of this weed they have enormous strength and it will take several men to handle one man while, under ordinary circumstances, one man could handle him with ease.
While "Mexicans" and other Latinos certainly prompted some of the fear-infused hysteria over marijuana, black Americans also prompted marijuana criminalization. Harry Anslinger, who headed federal government efforts to originally ban marijuana, was quoted in anti-marijuana literature as saying:
"There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others."


“Reefer makes darkies think they're as good as white men."

Can there be any doubt why crack cocaine users received sentences many times worse than users or powder cocaine, when crack use in the 1970s and 1980s was associated with the black community? The Drug War was billed as a policy to protect America from the effects of narcotics, but a deeper dive into its history suggests that like many aspects of the criminal justice system, this policy effort was a sword used against minorities and designed for the "protection" of white America.

The law, of course, can be used to prosecute a person of any race, but its origins reveal its intent, and its results should not be surprising. Some reports suggest that black Americans and white Americans use illegal drugs at roughly the same rate. According to, black Americans comprise roughly 14-percent of the country's drug users. At the same time, this community comprises roughly 37-percent of people arrested for drug offenses. Selective policing gives a facially neutral law its discriminatory effect, with police officers spending significantly more time in urban centers than anywhere else. Put in another way, police simply aren't trolling suburban neighborhoods and college frat houses for potential drug arrests, even though drug use is just as likely to happen in those settings than in places where minorities more commonly frequent.

Things don't get any better either when we turn out attention to the part of the process after the police have busted down the door. This is especially true for young people like Mike Brown.

America has a very bad habit of transforming young people into grown adults for the purposes of criminal prosecution. Though Brown was of age, a young black male a few years younger than him is much more likely to be tried as an adult than a young white male. Boys will be boys, it seems, unless those boys are black, in which case they'll more often be tried as monsters of men.

Regionally, the evidence is in the court-cooked pudding. A Toledo, Ohio judge recently admitted that when it comes to the certification process - that is, converting juveniles to the adult justice system - black kids are much more likely than white kids to experience this transformation. Journalist Robin Erb reported:

Four of five local juveniles who were sent to Lucas County Common Pleas Court last year to be tried as adults were minorities - a fact that troubles but doesn't surprise Lucas County's chief juvenile court judge.

And while Judge James Ray said, “We don't choose the kids who come before us,” he acknowledged that the system may be so subtly racist that its people don't realize they sometimes see cases differently based on a defendant's skin color.

"I think unfortunately there is institutional racism,” he said.

The juvenile court recently studied files of 115 juveniles who were certified to stand trial as adults from 1994 to 1999. Of those, 94 youths, or 82 percent, were African-American or Hispanic.

Of course, this study does not note the racial breakdown of total cases that came to juvenile court, but one can easily speculate that the number of white defendants was somewhere north of 18-percent.

A study from Cynthia Levine, Carol Dweck, and Jennifer Eberhardt suggests that when people think about black juveniles, they are much more likely to believe that juveniles should be treated as adults. As these authors summarized in a New York Times article:

"In our own work, we find that race can have a sweeping effect even when people consider the same crime. Prompting people to think of a single black (rather than white) juvenile offender leads them to express greater support for sentencing all juveniles to life without parole when they have committed serious violent crimes. Thinking about a black juvenile offender also makes people imagine that juveniles are closer to adults in their blameworthiness. Remarkably, this was true for both people who were low in prejudice and those who were high in prejudice and for both liberals and conservatives."
Certain conclusions can be drawn from this study and its demonstrated truth in juvenile courts around America. Namely, young black boys in America are drained of the presumption of youth. They're assumed dangerous, so dangerous, in fact, that they need to be dealt with harshly by the criminal justice system. This can be contrasted with the treatment of young white boys, who, according to the numbers, are more likely to receive sentences that reflect society's sense that those boys both pose no danger to society and have an opportunity to grow past the poor decisions of their youth.

For Mike Brown and others slain, this evidence is particularly powerful and important. The same mindset that purports to use the adult legal system as a weapon against young black boys at a disproportionate rate supports the presumption that Brown was dangerous. While the facts of the case are still blurry, some facts are known. An officer fired something close to ten bullets into the body of an unarmed black male, who, before being approached by police, had committed, at the very least, the crime of jaywalking.

The law and those who uphold it assume the worst, and they're acting under the implied stamp of approval of a society that's designed its criminal justice system to reject the notion that young black males deserve the benefit of the doubt. It's a slick slope that leads to the de-valuing of black life. When our juries, our voters, and our citizenry collectively embraces a justice system built on the premise of black dangerousness, is it any surprise that the men commissioned with executing that "justice" are all too often executing in the literal sense? Viewed in light of the whole, it seems downright predictable.

Black life is not as valuable as white life. That's the conclusion you'd get if you viewed the justice system through the lens of its final act, the death penalty. More and more, the death penalty is applied not according to who did the killing, or even what the killing looked like, except insofar as a rich person will find himself effectively insulated from a death sentence. Rather, the death penalty is a reflection of who's killed.

In order to deal the ultimate penalty, society must manufacture enough outrage to justify state-sponsored brutality. The sentencing phase of a death penalty trial will feature witness impact statements, which come from the family and reflect the level of loss that they've suffered. Considered in the decision of whether to seek death is a political calculation of just how sympathetic the victim happened to be. You won't see many, if any, prosecutors seeking death when a homeless black man is killed. Murder a white teenager, however, and you'll be on the fast track to the gurney.

A North Carolina study conducted by Michael Radelet and Glenn Pierce took a look at more than 15,000 homicides in the state between the years of 1980 and 2007. The researchers found that those who killed a white victim were almost three times more likely to receive the death penalty, regardless of the race of the killer. Other studies have found that black murderers are more likely to receive the death penalty, regardless of the race of the victim.

This is not to say that white people are not executed or that killers of black victims are not executed. They are, and if one uses a magnifying glass with enough power, she might even find a case where a white person is convicted for killing a black person. Just make sure you don't conduct that study in Florida, where, in the almost four decades since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, the state has not yet executed a white person for killing a black person. Still, the existence of a limited set of examples of those outcomes no more invalidates the overall claim than the occasional arrest of a white crack user invalidates a claim that cocaine laws were designed as a sword against black users. The law's principal purpose seems to be the protection of white life, often at the expense of black life, and if the occasional black victim is protected in that process, then no one will complain.

Of course, many parts of America have a long, ugly history of protecting young white life while ignoring the value of young black life. The youngest person executed in the modern era was George Junius Stinney, Jr., who, at age 14 and too small for his death mask to fit, was sent to South Carolina's electric chair in 1941 after a kangaroo court trial for the murder of two white girls. His guilt remains in doubt so much so that an effort to re-open his case after more than seven decades. Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi for the "crime" of wolf-whistling at a white woman. His killers were acquitted in a trial as illegitimate as the one Stinney faced. Looking back at the history of the death penalty, it becomes quite easy to see that this relic of the American justice system was, too, designed as a weapon to be used against black people for the protection of whites. Around half of the more than 15,000 executions that have taken place between 1600 and 2002 in the Americas have listed an occupation on the death report. Of those more than 7,000 executions, 1,748 were listed as "slaves." That's 11.5-percent of the total American executions that have reported an occupation. it's more than possible that a full one-fifth of American executions were committed against slaves, even though the country hasn't had legalized slavery in more than 150 years.

Mike Brown is dead, slain in a killing that's a symptom of a bigger problem. From SWAT teams designed in response to the righteous anger of oppressed black Los Angeles residents to drug laws based on the fear of crazed black killers, the principal arms of the justice system have long been designed not for equal protection, but for the protection of comfortable white society against those they've perceived as threats. Disproportionate arrest rates, disproportionate sentencing, and the tendency to treat young black men differently than young white men suggest that the justice system is for my protection, not the protection of Mike Brown.

America's criminal justice system is much more reminiscent of the systems used in the Middle East, some more horrid parts of Asia, and in various parts of Africa. It bears little resemblance to the more evolved systems of Western Europe and Scandinavia. There may not be a simple answer for why that's the case, but it's clear that one reason why Americans allow their system to remain so drastically harsh, unequal, and penal is because that system's used as a sword toward minority populations and a shield toward those who look like me. Have a young, rich white man fall into the trappings of the criminal justice system for drunkenly driving his car over a family, and he'll be treated with a level of leniency that the cleanest cut black defendant could never dream of. Watch young people like me and my friends get picked up for firing a paintball gun, which looked very much like a real gun, at a car in broad daylight, and you'll see small-town cops bend over backward to allow us off with nothing more than a stern talking to.

But let Mike Brown commit the crime of walking in the wrong part of the street, and the ensuing police action will be applied with such force and ferocity that it'd have been a miracle if he made it out alive. It's a reality I'll never have to experience, and that's a good thing. But Mike Brown and those who look like him deserve a system that's not designed to eliminate them like a perceived threat.

"I'm convinced that every boy, in his heart, would rather steal second base than an automobile."
-Tom Clark
Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas is accurately dubbed the state's "death row," and given the percentage of American executions that take place in the Lone Star State, it might be better described as America's Death Row.

Polunsky is spartan and remote. It's located just more than an hour north of Houston, near the state's Piney Woods region, and across a large lake from Huntsville, where death row prisoners meet their match in the similarly notorious Walls Unit. In building 12 of Polunsky, death row inmates "enjoy" sixty-foot cells adorned with a bean slot just large enough for a daily transfer of meal-time slop. Each cell has a small window, a menacing reminder of the outside world that these prisoners, barring some miracle, will never enjoy again. According to Wikipedia, prisoners "receive individual recreation in a caged area." In reality, the prisoners are afforded one hour per day to walk around.

Polunsky has around 290 death row inmates, a figure that makes up almost the entirety of the state's condemned population. The vast majority of those are men, and while their individual markings might look different, these offenders quite often have something in common. Mental health issues abound on death row, of course, with some landing on death row because of them and others developing their issues after years of awaiting death in solitary confinement. Some are black, while many are white. All are there for murder of some kind or another, even though Texas's death penalty often fails to discriminate between those who were attendant to a murder and those who pulled the trigger multiple times.

The tragic middle portion of a death penalty story is always the same. It revolves around the death of an innocent. Quite often, the first chapter of that death penalty story is the same for each man housed in Polunsky.

Texas death penalty lawyer David R. Dow has written in his books and argued in his talks that he could write the life story of every death row inmate without ever meeting that person, and he'd be right roughly nine times out of ten. In a TED talk on the subject, Dow noted that in almost every case, the offender experienced some form of abuse or abandonment at home, and while this does not excuse the actions of the offender, it can help us through the difficult task of explaining why the crime took place.

He has also observed that for the bulk of his clients, seeing a judge on a capital murder charge was far from their first interaction with the criminal justice system. Many were fast-tracked through the criminal justice system at an early age, experiencing the harshness of its directives and having their lives thrown off course by draconian sentencing and certification policies that make it increasingly easy for Texas judges to charge young offenders with adult crimes.

While statistics on juvenile recidivism are difficult to come by, one report suggests that in Texas, roughly two out of every three juveniles released from detention will be re-arrested within two years. For males, the number is even higher.

Some might suggest that this is simply the justice system ensnaring offenders who have some innate criminal mindset. Others note that interaction with the criminal justice system, as it is currently constituted, creates a higher likelihood that young people will turn to crime in the future.

When young people are arrested, a phenomenon that is happening more often for less serious offenses in states like Texas, they are removed from school. In the worst cases, they never return. Even in cases where young people are able to secure probation or a truncated sentence, they miss valuable time in their classes. Beyond that, they are exposed to jail and the trauma that accompanies that experience. Depending upon the crime, they might be tagged with criminal records that will follow them for years to come. While it is typical for states to offer young people the opportunity to expunge arrests and convictions from the records after a certain amount of time has passed, the process can often be both expensive and cumbersome. One law firm that handles such matters suggests that it can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 to have one's record expunged, putting it effectively out of reach for families in which a four-figure windfall represents groceries for a few months. Without the help of an attorney and without the resources to do so, many young people are left with criminal records that will prevent them from getting apartments and jobs in the future.

The moral imperative lurks, as Texas and its citizens have a responsibility to look out for the well-being of the state's youth. But as Dow and others have found, there's something more important at play, as well.

Death penalty lawyers lament that their field must exist, and it's not just because they oppose capital punishment. For those of us who have worked in this field, the existence of a capital client represents at least two lives ruined and two families ripped to pieces. It represents the worst possible scenario, and one that should be prevented if at all possible. It's not enough as a capital defender to lament the situation. It's incumbent upon us, and all who care, to do something about the issue.

Removing the barriers that stand in the way of young people and successful re-entry into society is a first step that seeks to intervene during the first chapter of the death penalty story, potentially steering a would-be Polunsky resident back onto the lawful path before the state ever has reason to exert its brand of controversial justice.

With that in mind, Dow and his team have established the Juvenile and Capital Advocacy Project, or JCAP for short. JCAP is the brain child of Dow and his skillful team, and erupts from a career spent wondering what might have been if someone had simply gotten to a few of Dow's clients a little bit earlier. It's a project that seeks to provide both legal services for young people and mentoring to help those young people navigate the unique challenges that they are bound to face.

From the website's mission statement:

JCAP's mission is to reduce juvenile crime and delinquency and improve the long-term educational success rates and life outcomes of socially and economically disadvantaged juveniles.

In a 2012 TED talk that has been viewed more than 1.4 million times, Professor David R. Dow observed that more than 80% of the inmates on death row had previous contact with the juvenile justice system. Dow therefore proposed early intervention in the lives of at-risk juveniles as part of a strategy to improve the lives of socially and economically disadvantaged youth and thus decrease adult crime. JCAP is being developed to implement that strategy.

JCAP's mentoring program will match young people with interested adults willing to offer a few hours of their time each month to make a difference. Based out of Houston, it presents the perfect opportunity for many of you to fill any spare hours with a cause that will be both rewarding to you and meaningful for the Houston community. Mentors will receive training, and will be asked to help young people deal with some of the emotional and logistical issues that come with trying to make a life after committing a juvenile crime.

I will be volunteering with JCAP, and I hope that some of you will join me. There is tremendous need, and I suspect that those who choose to get involved will gain from the experience nearly as much as those young people being helped.

Those who are interested in volunteering their time can contact Erin Osborn, JCAP's Mentorship Program Director, at

The organization is also in need of financial support as it seeks to get off the ground and later, continue its growth. Those interested in making a financial contribution can do so here. I have worked closely with Professor Dow in my time as a student at UH and in the time that's followed, and I can attest that he and his group are targeting a strategy that will not only improve the lives of disadvantaged youth in the Houston community, but also improve the quality of life for all that live in Houston by reducing violent crime rates there.

Let me introduce you to the Atlantic Beach Bikefest, more commonly called "Black Bike Week." It happens during Memorial Day weekend, when tens of thousands of black bikers descend upon an area just north of Myrtle Beach.

You might think that sounds innocuous enough. After all, it's a few thousand people on motorcycles going to a place where people tend to go during the vacation months in South Carolina. Myrtle Beach, after all, is a universally recognized seaside locale for people from around the country. Black Biker Week, though, stirs the soul of racial agitation in places like South Carolina.

For bikers, it is an opportunity to get together with like-minded people, checking out new rides and showing off one's own toy. It's a chance to celebrate Memorial Day and soak up some sun. For the local population, which is decidedly white, it's seen as a nuisance. Black Bike Week comes just after a highly popular biker rally in the area attended by mostly white bikers on Harleys. You might say that the public gets burned out by the large crowds. And in some sense, that's understandable. Bikes are loud, and when crowds flood into a place not generally arranged to handle those crowds, everything from traffic to restaurant reservations become more difficult.

But there's a nastier racist element to all of this, and as a person who has grown up in South Carolina and spent a significant amount of my childhood at that particular beach, I'm well aware of the racist roots of the criticism of Black Bike Week. The two bike weeks, at least in the circles I ran in when I was around 11, were described as "biker week" and "NON-biker week." NON? You mean, like they're not real bikers? Oh, no, that's "Nigg**s on Ninjas."

There's an ugly side to Black Bike Week, of course. Well-documented reports of irresponsible driving, public urination, disorderly conduct, drunkenness, drug use, and violence have marred the event in recent years. This culminated last weekend when three people were murdered in a local hotel adjacent to some of the event's events.

Local hotels have complained that some of the week's patrons have trashed their rooms, causing damage. Some businesses have sought to close their doors during Black Bike Week, drawing the critical eye of the NAACP, which has successfully sued restaurants for Civil Rights Act violations when those owners wanted to close their doors only during this particular week. It's part of the reason why, each year, the NAACP leads Operation Black Bike Week Justice, where it watches to ensure that visitors to the beach are not discriminated against. Just as reports of lawlessness tend to flow during the days following the event, reports of discrimination are just as numerous.

Now, critics of Black Bike Week have seized especially on the three murders, calling upon local and now state authorities to stop Black Bike Week. Nikki Haley has responded in the way you might expect her to respond, pandering to these "concerned" citizens and vowing to do what she can to stop Black Bike Week.

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Crystal Moore shortly after her firing.
Let me introduce you to Latta, South Carolina. Not too far off of I-95 before one gets to South of the Border - you know, the horribly disappointing "theme park" that gets your hopes up with its blatantly racist billboards for 100 miles in each direction - Latta sits near the town of Dillon, close to the North Carolina line. Its most famous resident is Raymond Felton, a former North Carolina basketball player who has had an undistinguished career in the NBA.

And in a couple of days, Latta is about to be on the national map for all the wrong reasons.

The town's mayor, newly elected Earl Bullard, just fired the town's first female police chief because she is openly gay.

That police chief is Crystal Moore, who has been with the force in Latta for more than 20 years. She rose to the rank of police chief by posting exemplary service records. In fact, she never received an official reprimand in all of her time on the force, until Tuesday, when Bullard presented her with seven reprimands and a pink slip.

A public spat between the two has been ongoing. Moore questioned the mayor's decision to give the keys to a city-owned town car to a director of the Parks Department, who was known to have a suspended license at the time. Moore investigated the matter and arrested the director, causing the mayor to have a major sad.

But closer examination reveals that perhaps the mayor's retaliation has to do with something a little bit different. Before the original arrest took place, Bullard was recorded by a city council member making several unsavory statements about Moore and other town employee.

According to a local news report (which obtained the audio), Bullard said:

"I would much rather have.. and I will say this to anybody's face... somebody who drank and drank too much taking care of my child than I had somebody whose lifestyle is questionable around children.

Because that ain't the damn way it's supposed to be. You know.. you  got people out there -- I'm telling you buddy -- I don't agree with some of the lifestyles that I see portrayed and I don't say anything because that is the way they want to live, but I am not going to let my child be around. "

I'm not going to let 2 women stand up there and hold hands and let my child be aware of it. And I'm not going to see them do it with 2 men neither."

I'm not going to do it. Because that ain't the way the world works. "

Now, all these people showering down and saying 'Oh it's a different lifestyle they can have it.' Ok, fine and dandy, but I don't have to look at it and I don't want my child around it."

Fine and dandy, indeed. It's not a far leap to conclude that this mayor just fired the town's well-respected police chief because he gets real nervous around openly gay women. You know, so much so that he'd rather pass his grandkids off to a bunch of drunks - probably with suspended licenses - than to the local police chief.

To the town's credit, its people have been surprisingly supportive of Moore in the wake of this incident. Time will tell how this incident will shake out, but I'd expect that if Moore wants to own every asset the town has, she could get it in what figures to be a very expensive lawsuit for the town and its gay-hating mayor.

Meet Jerry Hartfield. He's 55 years old, and for 33 of those years, he's been housed in a Texas prison without a valid conviction or sentence.

Hartfield has been described by the New York Daily News as an "illiterate fifth grade dropout with an IQ of 51." In 1977, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death under auspicious circumstances. Those circumstances? A juror had been improperly excluded from the pool in violation of Hartfield's rights under the sixth amendment. In the original trial, state prosecutors excluded a woman who expressed reservations about applying the death penalty, a violation serious enough to earn Hartfield a reversal at Texas's high court. For those non-legal types and those unfamiliar with the Texas criminal justice apparatus, having a death conviction for a young black man overturned in a Texas appellate court is commensurate with a golfer carding a hole-in-one or a basketball player nailing a half-court heave. It happens so rarely that the reversal in itself must stand as evidence of the truly egregious nature of the original trial error.

Hartfield's experience in the Texas justice machine has been marked by waiting. He waited three years to have his conviction overturned by the state's high criminal court, which provided the state with the opportunity to re-try the case. Three years later, the court formally vacated the sentence against Hartfield. Not long after that, the Texas governor's office, then under the control of Mark White, moved to commute the sentence from the death penalty to life imprisonment, a move that would have been permissible had Texas followed the proper procedure.

But the state did not. In fact, it fumbled around so remarkably that few are really sure what happened. Grand confusion reigned supreme, as the governor's office failed to inform the Board of Pardons and Parole that the sentence had been vacated by the high court. The court's officials in the county where the original trial had taken place erroneously informed the Court of Criminal Appeals that its directive to give Hartfield a new trial had been observed and carried out. All the while, Hartfield wasted away in prison.

It was a comedy of errors, and Hartfield, probably because of his diminished intellectual ability, was unaware of what was taking place around him. He had won an appeal and a right to a new trial, but no one bothered to tell him. When the state took too long to file its motion to commute his sentence to life imprisonment, its only option was to re-try him. But the state did not want to re-try Hartfield. Re-trying him after six years would have been difficult, as physical evidence may have run dry and witnesses may have been difficult to find.

So Texas sat. In fact, it sat for more than two decades, until a few years ago, when Hartfield learned of his legal plight. He finally wrangled up a lawyer, and he's pressed Texas to make its choice - either re-try him or release him, as he currently sits in prison without either a valid conviction or a valid sentence. In fact, the high court of Texas declared that because his conviction had been vacated, his legal status is as if he had never been tried at all.

The sixth amendment guarantees the right to a speedy trial. After twenty-seven years of delay, there exists a strong argument that Hartfield's sixth amendment rights have been trampled on so severely that Texas has forfeited the right to try him again. At least, that is the argument that his attorneys made in a writ of mandamus filed in a Texas court last week.

The ensuing legal fight has taken a tone so fundamentally Texan that only those who practice in and follow the state's courts can truly appreciate it. The state has argued, repeatedly, that Hartfield's unwillingness to bring this issue up until now deprives him of the right to raise the issue. As Andrew Cohen deftly reports, their argument even takes on a more insidious vibe:

Worse, Texas argues, Hartfield committed a fraud on the court, deliberately keeping himself imprisoned so that one day, decades later, he could spring a speedy-trial argument upon an unsuspecting court. The argument isn't just facile. It's insulting.
Last week, Texas state judge Craig Estlinbaum sided with the state, finding that the state's more than two decade delay had benefited Hartfield, and in the alternative, he should have been more vigilant in asking the state to re-try him. Imagine a reality where in a case such as this in a state such as this, the judge writes:
There is no evidence that Hartfield has suffered any anxiety relating to his pretrial detention.
It happened.

Hartfield, the mentally challenged man who has spent nearly the entirety of his adult life in prison after the state's high court found that the state violated his constitutional rights in the original trial, was found to have suffered no anxiety through thirty-three years of pre-trial waiting.

In his latest appeal, Hartfield has been represented by one of my old professors, who ranks as arguably the most distinguished post-conviction lawyer in Texas, and perhaps in the country. That lawyer argued to the court that if a man like Jerry Hartfield, who languished away in a Texas prison for more than two decades without the help of a lawyer, could not establish a sixth amendment claim for a violation of his right to a speedy trial, then what exactly does that right mean? It'd be substantially similar to declaring Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt slow. If he's slow, then what does that mean for the rest of us, for the rest of the world?

In this case, we have the worst of the Texas criminal justice system. The state, in its zeal and blood-lust, violated a defendant's rights from the jump, poisoning the jury pool in direct contravention of the constitution. It then delayed for a substantial number of years, and even with the state's courts offering the state ample opportunity to either commute the man's sentence or re-try him, the state tripped over its own procedural hurdles in failing to do either properly. This is critical, of course, because Texas is the sort of state where a lawyer who files an appeal seven minutes late can expect to have that appeal rejected summarily without a review of the merits.

Given its failure, the state of Texas engaged in lawlessness, figuring that no one would miss a black man with an IQ of 51. And they were right for more than two decades. They preyed on Jerry Hartfield with full knowledge that he lacked the mental capacity to know he had been turned into a victim of the state. Rather than following the law, they figured they would accomplish what they set out to anyway - imprisoning Jerry Hartfield for life - without ever giving him his new trial. And when the state was called on it three decades later, its actions revealed that not much has changed between 1970 and 2014.

Jumping through procedural hoops, Hartfield's lawyers may find refuge in a federal court, which may grant the man his release at some point the future. As some pundits have noted, under a standard life sentence, Hartfield may have even been paroled by now. For more than 12,000 days he's been held, and he figures to spend at least a few more locked away. The state's lawless error compounded by its soulless and gutless insistence on standing by that error has proven once again that in states like Texas, the constitution is little more than wiping paper for an elected judge's overgrown hindparts, especially when that document's being used for its intended purpose of protecting the weak. Or as they call them in Texas, Prey.


Certain activities in the United States are lethal or criminal based solely on the racial composition of the person doing them. Driving while black, for instance, prompts suspicion across the country. Walking while black has earned teenagers a death sentence in certain Florida neighborhoods, and seeking out police help while black has proved a dangerous task for former football players in North Carolina.

Now we have a particularly toxic confluence of bad American ideas in a bigger than small Wisconsin community. The over-policing of American high schools often produces results where standard stupidity lands students suspension or worse. And sometimes, when the pre-disposition in a community is toward scrutinizing the scary, inherently suspicious black youths which make up a small percentage of the community's minority base, students have the lives sidetracked for doing basically nothing at all.

That's what's happened in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, where two students from Sheboygan Falls High Schools were suspended after a newspaper article showed them "flashing" what some police chief "confirmed" as "gang signs."

If you knew absolutely nothing about basketball, then you'd still be wrong for thinking that any of these three smiling, innocuous young men should be suspended from school for what took place in that picture. After all, the picture was only discovered when the local newspaper ran a positive public interest piece on the players in question.

But I'm a Wisconsin basketball fan, and because of that, I have a slightly different take on this situation. The young man on the left, Jordan Jackson, explained that he was simply throwing up three fingers, a common basketball expression for players who just made a three-point basket. The young man in the middle appears to simply be pointing at the camera, a pose that I made in probably 100 pictures when I was in high school.

There's more to this, though. The Wisconsin Badgers are currently ranked third in the country, and they've lost one basketball game this year. Last season, they made the NCAA basketball tournament. Over the last decade, Wisconsin has been one of the best, most consistently good programs in the country. This is important because, like they did Tuesday night and will do against Saturday night, the Badgers often play on ESPN and other national networks. And if you spent even a few minutes watching Wisconsin basketball this year or last, then you'll quickly recognize the "gang sign" that got Jackson in hot water.

Below, you will see Sam Dekker, the disputed best player for Wisconsin and a graduate of Sheboygan Lutheran High School. Two years ago, he led his high school to the Wisconsin 5A state championship and was unarguably the best high school player in the state. A five-star recruit, he signed with the Badgers and is expected to someday forge a career in the NBA. One could easily imagine young men like Jackson emulating Dekker, and for good reason.

Next, you'll see the entire Wisconsin bench. When Wisconsin buries a three-point shot - which is often, as the Badgers shoot it from outside more often and more effectively than almost anyone - the Badger bench throws up "confirmed" gang signs. As you can see in the picture, one of the players is even using three fingers to form a pair of glasses. Those who watch Badger basketball can attest that that particular move will soon turn into three fingers raised high, just as the other players are doing.
Feb 9, 2013; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Bo Ryan and his team celebrate a Wisconsin three-point basket as their team plays the Michigan Wolverines at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin defeated Michigan 65-62 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports
While the easy first response is to laugh at police chiefs and school administrators who are so far removed from their own local reality and so pre-disposed against their own students that they don't even recognize basketball players doing something they've seen on television from the most successful basketball team in the state, the more pressing question is why we immediately assume that three otherwise law-abiding and unassuming black children are suspicious while players for the state's flagship basketball team have been throwing up the same signs with impunity for more than a year without prompting the suspicion of, well, anyone.

It's a sad indictment of the reality faced by young black kids in America and especially in American schools. The default setting, it seems, is criminality, and these kids are burdened by an act first, ask questions later mentality that makes them prove that they aren't members of dangerous gangs. It must have been comforting to the many who complained to the school district about the picture to learn that the three teenagers in question were not a part of some Blood sleeper cell operating quietly in 95-percent white Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

Those people should take a step back and ask themselves why, when young black kids from their community make these hand motions, they assume the worst, while when Sam Dekker does it, they likely celebrate with a fist pump or excited yell. Young boys of all races should be able to emulate their sports heroes. In fact, Sam Dekker - a guy with a lot of game and seemingly clean record - wouldn't be a bad guy for a kid from Sheboygan to look up to. The reality in America, however, is that young men like Jordan Jackson must look twice before doing most anything, including celebrating a made three-pointer.  


Author's note: This piece was originally published November 7, 2012 here at DailyKos. In advance of veteran's day, I felt it necessary to re-post in hopes of raising awareness and telling my uncle's story.

Not until daybreak on the second day of the battle did a helicopter manage to land and evacuate the few survivors, leaving behind the bodies of most of Supply Column 21.There were 564 dead Viet Cong found in the area of the three Amtracs of Supply Column 21. The seven surviving Marines had fought without food, sleep, or water for two days. When the seven were pulled from their Amtrac, they had less than 250 rounds of ammunition left.

I, Grady DuBose, was one of the seven. My job was machine gunner.

My uncle wrote those words shortly after returning home from Vietnam. This week, my father decided to publish his brother's words with some accompanying thoughts in advance of Veterans Day in a piece he titled Prisoners of War.

My uncle was a Marine paratrooper who went to Vietnam as a very green 19-year old. In the span of one year, he went from serving in detention hall to serving in one of the most gruesome battles of the entire war. As a member of 3rd Marines, 3rd Battalion, he was tasked on what became known as Supply Column 21. On a fateful day in August of 1965, his mission was clear - bring essential supplies to one of the first Marine installations fighting in Operation Starlite.

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Director Dawn Porter has undertaken the unenviable task of shining a light on America's underclass of attorneys. Those people are public defenders, and they're charged with defending America's real underclass. Her documentary made its debut on HBO last night, and in the process, it captured some of the challenges faced by public defenders across the country. These attorneys balance heavy caseloads and impossible odds. They're armed with only a pellet gun while being asked to take down Panzer tanks. They're the sole voice for the accused in a system quite literally designed to intimidate those people into life-altering plea deals.

And yet, many of these people are among the happiest lawyers in the industry. There's something exhilarating about the fight for justice. And there's something honorable about standing up to an institution that often seeks to railroad its mostly poor, mostly minority participants in a way that's designed more toward efficiency than fairness.

"Gideon's Army" is both interesting and difficult for me to watch. That's because I have been there, on the inside, and in a couple of months, I'll be sending applications across this nation in hopes of securing a job doing precisely what these people are doing. And it's well past time I took an opportunity to laud well-earned praise on the people who make up these offices. More importantly, it's time that we all stand up to demand proper funding for defender's offices around the country.

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Sensationalist headline, eh? Maybe.

Following tonight's dramatic and awesome People's Fillibuster, Texas Republican legislator Bill Zedler took to Twitter to unleash a half-literate rant that read as follows:

Bill Zedler Bill Zedler ‏@Bill_Zedler

We had terrorist in the Texas State Senate opposing SB 5


    3 Favorites

10:48 PM - 25 Jun 13

It's unclear who Zedler was referring to, but given the time stamp on this tweet, he was referring to incidents that took place well before the people of Texas carried on the last fifteen minutes of the filibuster by themselves. Accusing the fine people of Texas of being terrorists for simply opposing his fascist political agenda would be bad enough. But tonight's real opponent - the woman who bravely took to the floor of the Texas Senate to give all women a voice - was Wendy Davis.

And Bill Zedler's tweet, which features the grammar and wisdom of a six-year old, tells us something very important about the level of discourse that Texas republicans are bringing to the table. That something is predictably ugly.


Wed Jun 05, 2013 at 03:24 PM PDT

America is Not a Christian Nation

by Grizzard

From time to time, we all hear the well-worn calls of the conservative, fundamentalist Right. They may be arguing for one policy proposition or another, but their arguments eventually meander to a trusted place:
"America is a Christian nation."
In the past, my response has been typical of responses in these types of situations. If I wanted to contest the point, I'd point to the founders, many of whom kept their distance from organized Christianity. But I've decided that there's a better way to address this question, and besides, it more to the point. The familiar statement argues that America is a Christian nation, not that it was founded as one. They argue that American society is built upon the pillars of Judeo-Christian ethics, and that certain leftist agendas - gay rights, female reproductive rights, and the like - are doing their part to tear down what's been built upon that strong Christian foundation.

But let's make something clear: America is not a Christian nation, and when you say that, you open a small window into the way you view Christianity. Putting aside, for the moment, the idea that something as amorphous and non-human as "America" can be described with a descriptor so fundamentally and necessarily human as "Christian," let's deal with the reality of what America really is. And if you think America morality is in any way compatible with the Jesus-driven message, then we'll have to part ways, admitting quietly that we believe in two completely different versions of Jesus.

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I recently graduated from law school. Just less than five years ago, I decided that I'd put myself through the struggle of LSAT preparation and the stress of personal statements. I had vague notions of wanting to help people, and I understood the legal field to provide the best opportunity to combine my written and oral communication skills.

Graduation was a wonderful day, filled with drinks, food, kind words, and the love of friends, family, and valued professors. We gathered at the Houston Law Center to hear a guest speaker tell of the good things one can do with a law degree, and some of us had an opportunity to reflect on three years of hard work.

At the beginning of the ceremony, the dean did what deans do. He mentioned a particularly true platitude about how none of us got here alone, and on this particular afternoon, his words ringed truer than ever. Last election season was punctuated by a worthy discussion on the merits of community support versus rugged individualism. I thought then, and continue to think now, that nothing good is done without the help of a cabal of important individuals. For me, that support came in the form of family, professors, unlikely supporters, a small group of important friends, and an extended group of impressive classmates.

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Remember that time a young Tiger Woods burst onto the scene at the 1997 Masters, winning by a bucketful of strokes? Then remember the next year, when angry old white man Fuzzy Zoeller quipped that the "boy" was playing very well, and that the media should just tell him not to serve fried chicken, collard greens, or "whatever the hell they eat" when he picked a menu for the Champion's Dinner?

That worked out so well for Zoeller that perennial underachiever Sergio Garcia thought he would give it a try. For those who don't follow golf, it's worth knowing that these two have been engaged in a bit of a feud over the last few weeks. Garcia bombed out in typical Garcia fashion at The Player's Championship, dumping two shots into the water on Sawgrass's back nine. Tiger won the tournament, and Sergio whined that Woods had intentionally distracted him by pulling a club out of his bag while Garcia was addressing his ball. As Tiger fans are prone to doing, they cheered when Tiger pulled a three-wood, and Garcia was highly offended by those cheers. Nevermind, of course, that Tiger was located off the fairway a safe distance from Garcia.

Now comes the fun part, though, as Sergio Garcia has elevated a childish quarrel to something entirely different. At an event in London, Garcia was asked whether he would reach out to Woods at the upcoming US Open. His response:

"We will have him round every night," García responded, according to The Guardian. "We will serve fried chicken."
Under pressure from the European Tour and probably sensing that he had just done irreparable damage to his image, Garcia issued a non-apology, mainsplaining to the golf world that his "joke" wasn't racist at all. Since I'm sure there's some other explanation for making a fried chicken joke in reference to Tiger Woods.
“I apologize for any offense that may have been caused by my comment on stage during the European Tour Players’ Awards dinner. I answered a question that was clearly made towards me as a joke with a silly remark, but in no way was the comment meant in a racist manner.”
Here's the thing, Sergio. Your comment was meant in a racist manner. What you should have said is that you made a stupid mistake. It doesn't make your comments any more defensible, but people sometimes do hurtful, insidious things to people they're mad at. But now you're lying, and you hold the mistaken belief that we're all ignorant, stupid, or unaware of history.

Just why is the fried chicken stereotype racist? There are a number of reasons, some of them old and some of them current. Fried chicken was a dish commonly made by slaves, and it persisted among free blacks who were, at the time, too poor to afford more expensive meats. During prolonged American apartheid, fried chicken played well in black communities, as it was easy to make and even easier to refrigerate. Black people then had to worry about those things, as a meal at most restaurants was outside their reach.

Fried chicken references were often a part of racist blackface productions and other hideous minstrel shows. Later, many fast-food chicken restaurants used caricatures of black people as mascots for their restaurants. To say that fried chicken has persisted as a racist meme is an understatement, and this is nothing new.

Today, fried chicken accompanies watermelon in the pantheon of foods used to simplify and objectify black people in America. The typical racist joke implies that you can get a black person to do anything by offering them certain types of food, and an offshoot implies that black people are too simple to make diverse meal choices like their white counterparts.

What Sergio Garcia said is inexcusable. In a disagreement that threatened to paint him as a childish whiner, he's upped the ante, taking refuge in racist rhetoric about a man who has done much to provide Garcia with access to riches. His comment, coupled with a shamefully indignant response, should earn Garcia a spot outside the ropes of decent society. There is an odd reluctance to treat open racists in this way, though, and even ESPN responded in equivocal fashion, calling it a comment that "could have been racially offensive."

Garcia's comments were racist, and they provide a window into the mindset of a golfer who has decided that Tiger Woods is not due the respect that Garcia affords other players. It is time for Garcia's principal sponsors, TaylorMade-Adidas, to send a message. There are many golfers out there worthy of the company's gear and endorsement dollars. Sergio Garcia is not one of them.

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