By Doug Porter
A report in today’s Guardian about a “black site” used by the Chicago police department to keep suspects off the grid for extended periods of time provides the starting point for today’s column. I’m going to weave three ongoing stories together to try to better understand what’s going on.
Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times says next to nothing is happening with a promised crackdown on the use of excessive force with the US Border Patrol.
And the prison industrial complex in California is pushing back against reforms instituted through Proposition 47, which essentially decriminalized drug possession for personal use and reduced other petty crimes from felony to misdemeanor status.
A Secret Police Interrogation Center
The latest chapter of the Guardian’s ongoing investigation of the Chicago Police Department involves disclosure of an off-the-books interrogation compound in a non-descript warehouse known as Homan Square.
Brian Jacob Church, a protester known as one of the “Nato Three”, was held and questioned at Homan Square in 2012 following a police raid. Officers restrained Church for the better part of a day, denying him access to an attorney, before sending him to a nearby police station to be booked and charged.
“Homan Square is definitely an unusual place,” Church told the Guardian on Friday. “It brings to mind the interrogation facilities they use in the Middle East. The CIA calls them black sites. It’s a domestic black site. When you go in, no one knows what’s happened to you.”
The secretive warehouse is the latest example of Chicago police practices that echo the much-criticized detention abuses of the US war on terrorism. While those abuses impacted people overseas, Homan Square – said to house military-style vehicles, interrogation cells and even a cage – trains its focus on Americans, most often poor, black and brown.
Earlier stories by the Guardian revealed a detective who made a career out of torturing suspects and then moved on to the detention center at Guantanamo, designing a (interrogation) “plan so brutal it received personal sign-off from then-US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.”
This brings to mind the obvious question” Are other police departments engaging in similar tactics?
If I had to take my pick of agencies to investigate, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the US Border Patrol would be at the top of the list.
Two Lawsuits, Many Unanswered Questions
The County Sheriffs are facing two lawsuits (that I’m aware of) suggesting a wider pattern of malfeasance. It’s not the specifics in each case that trouble me; it’s the suggestion of an underlying attitude of lawlessness I find troubling.
From 10 News:
Team 10’s troubleshooter obtained new video where the county admits the deputy had no reason to stop Antonio Martinez or use force on him.
A lawsuit has been filed alleging excessive use of force, a violation of Martinez’s constitutional rights, and questioning how law enforcement interacts and deals with mentally disabled people…
…The department dropped the charge the next day and offered something to the Martinez family as an apology–a turkey dinner with all the trimmings.
The family refused. They have also refused to settle their lawsuit with the county, meaning the case will proceed to trial. I expect more revelations.
Then there’s the case of James Soler, 50-year old Alpine resident who sued after what ended up being a case of mistaken identity.
From City Beat:
In a Kafkaesque sequence, Soler spent the next seven days locked away in solitary confinement at a San Diego jail, was nearly extradited to Arkansas and then, after authorities realized they had the wrong man, was abruptly released.
As a result, Soler, in October, filed a civil-rights lawsuit in federal court against San Diego County, the Sheriff’s Department and the public defender who represented him, alleging, among other things, wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, negligence and legal malpractice…
..In November, the county filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that law enforcement arrested Soler in “good faith” based on a warrant in which he was named. The motion also argues that failing to fingerprint Soler doesn’t constitute a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. In response to allegations of inadequate policies, practices and procedures, the county argues that there must be a “widespread pattern” and that this was an isolated incident.
In a matter unrelated to arrests, a County Sheriff officer recently retired after being confronted over unlawfully using an unmarked car and government gas card for two years after being told to turn in the vehicle. 10News interviewed former US Attorney Peter Nunez, who they said blasted “San Diego County Sheriff’s Department for allegedly trying to cover up for a deputy accused of breaking the law.
These three incidents with the County Sheriff’s office are indicative of the kind of culture within the department where an “off the books” program could exist.
A Border Patrol Agency Out of Control
Google “border patrol brutality” and you’ll see an astonishing list of news accounts in mainstream media outlets, all of which point to an agency out of control. If you go to the Southern Border Communities Coalition website, you’ll find a list of 38 people killed by Customs and Border Protection since 2010.
Or if you want the bigger picture on just how bad things are, read this Mother Jones story, titled “The US-Mexico Border: Where the Constitution Goes to Die:”
Imagine the once thin borderline of the American past as an ever-thickening band, now extending 100 miles inland around the United States—along the 2,000-mile southern border, the 4,000-mile northern border, and both coasts—and you will be able to visualize how vast the CBP’s jurisdiction has become. This “border” region now covers places where two-thirds of the US population (197.4 million people) live. The ACLU has come to call it a “constitution-free zone.” The “border” has by now devoured the full states of Maine and Florida and much of Michigan.
In these vast domains, Homeland Security authorities can institute roving patrols with broad, extra-constitutional powers backed by national security, immigration enforcement, and drug interdiction mandates. There, the Border Patrol can set up traffic checkpoints and fly surveillance drones overhead with high-powered cameras and radar that can track your movements. Within 25 miles of the international boundary, CBP agents can enter a person’s private property without a warrant. In these areas, the Homeland Security state is anything but abstract. On any given day, it can stand between you and the grocery store.
“Border Patrol checkpoints and roving patrols are the physical world equivalent of the National Security Agency,” says attorney James Lyall of ACLU Arizona puts it. “They involve a massive dragnet and stopping and monitoring of innocent Americans without any suspicion of wrongdoing by increasingly abusive and unaccountable federal government agents.”
So it’s been well-documented that there is a problem with the Border Patrol. Sadly, the “culture” of the organization is proving that doing something about abuses of power is easier said than done.
From the Los Angeles Times:
Nearly a year after the Obama administration vowed to crack down on Border Patrol agents who use excessive force, no shooting cases have been resolved, no agents have been disciplined, a review panel has yet to issue recommendations, and the top two jobs in internal affairs are vacant.
The response suggests the difficulties of reforming the nation’s largest federal law enforcement force despite complaints in Congress and from advocacy groups that Border Patrol agents have shot and killed two dozen people on the Southwest border in the last five years but have faced no criminal prosecutions or disciplinary actions.
Administration officials insist they are moving as quickly as possible in a thicket of federal bureaucracy, union rules and an internal culture that closes ranks around its paramilitary force.
Rolling Back Proposition 47
The final part of today’s law enforcement trifecta concerns mentions in the news media relating to Proposition 47, a ballot measure widely hailed as a step back from the late 20th century societal impulse to throw people behind bars early and often.
Let’s start with the Sacramento Bee’s AM Alert:
Proposition 47 cruised to victory in the November election. Supporters of the ballot measure, which reduced some petty crimes from felonies to misdemeanors with the goal of cutting the state prison population, raised more than $7 million for their effort, while no significant campaign was ever mounted against the initiative, despite the opposition of law enforcement groups who argued it could hurt public safety.
More than three months after Proposition 47 passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote, the first real pushback has begun. Last week, AssemblymanJim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, backed by a bipartisan group of district attorneys and lawmakers, introduced a bill that would allow police officers to collect DNA samples from suspects arrested for the newly reduced misdemeanors.
Exhibit two in this string is the San Diego County District Attorney’s report summarizing 20 years of police shootings in the region over the past 20 years. Today’s sermon on the mount from UT-San Diego correctly implores local officials to not ignore the data.
The nexus between police shootings and people who abuse drugs or have mental health issues is hardly new or startling. But the report’s finding that an astounding 81 percent of those who were killed or injured had mental health or drug issues certainly is. And 19 percent of the deadly shootings were considered suicide-by-cop. Society simply must do more to help these troubled people before their demons force a confrontation with police.
They also note “something” else that might be of interest:
And, of course, there is the highly charged question of race and prejudice in police shootings. The Dumanis report found that 19 percent of the people shot by police in the past 20 years were black men or women, though blacks are less than 5 percent of the regional population. It’s hard to know just what that means, but we must try to find out.
Tucked in the middle of this spiel comes the plea for the corrections industrial complex:
Another finding: 44 percent of those shot were on probation or parole. Shouldn’t that make us think again about a weakening of sentencing laws such as last fall’s voter-approved Proposition 47?
The daily paper’s editorial board fought long and hard against Proposition 47, going so far as to predict a crime wave in a mere six months. (I have May 11th noted in my calendar to do a followup on the dystopian nightmare in San Diego). Now they’d like to use a report summarizing 20 years of data to roll back something in place for less than six months.
The Los Angeles Times ran with its version of the “gee, I don’t know, maybe this was a bad idea” story this weekend, showing that while drug arrests having fallen by significant amounts, property crime arrests are up by a much smaller margin.
The data comes from December and January 2014/15 compared with the same period a year ago. And the big problem with a sample that focused is provisions of the law regarding release and treatment (there is a big problem here) were still being phased in. In short, it’s too soon to draw any meaningful conclusions.
From the LA Times story:
But to Asst. Sheriff Michael Rothans, who oversees patrol operations for the Sheriff’s Department, the connection is obvious: More petty criminals on the streets mean more crimes.
“Why is property crime up? It’s because of this,” said Rothans, who has urged deputies to continue making drug arrests. “The same people are arrested for narcotics and property crimes. We know the cycle is continuing because we know they should have been in jail.”
The new law specifies that the financial savings on the incarceration side be reinvested in truancy, drug treatment and mental health programs. But that provision does not take effect until mid-2016. Without the threat of jail time, fewer defendants are opting for the drug treatment programs that judges sometimes offer as an alternative.
A Historical Perspective
My point in today’s column is to remind readers of the historical connections between America’s foreign battles and its domestic law enforcement.
The increased militarization of domestic law enforcement in the post-Vietnam era has been amply documented. The chickens do come home to roost, as this Hampton Institute report clearly documents.
A large part of this wave of incarceration and militarization has been (and continues to be) racially motivated.
The Bill Moyers blog posted an essay last summer listing eleven areas where the modern day “war on terror” has come home to places like Ferguson, Missouri.
While it’s fashionable to say we’ve turned the corner on the era of throwing people in jail just ‘because’ (they’re darker skinned mostly), as John Legend aptly pointed out at the Oscars:
“We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than there were under slavery in 1850.”
It’s possible to quibble with the context of this statement (yes, the population is greater than it was in 1850), but this does not change the fact that 1.68 million black men are under correctional control in the US, not counting jails.
On This Day: 1803 – The Supreme Court ruled itself to be the final interpreter of all constitutional issues. 1912 – Women and children textile strikers were beaten by Lawrence, Mass., police during a 63-day walkout protesting low wages and work speedups. 1956 – In Cleveland, OH, police invoked a 1931 ordinance barring people under the age of 18 from dancing in public unless accompanied by an adult.
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