The definitive word on ISIS and how it’s more a manifestation of Ba’athist frustration than Islamic terrorism


This story makes it as clear as can be what is the true nature of the so-called Islamic State. The clarity presented in the article shows that the Islamic State, ISIS,  has nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with the re-emergence of Ba’athist loyalists who are extremely upset with how they were ignored when it came to rebuilding Iraq after the US invasion in 2003.  Perhaps the Ba’athists have every reason for their anger; their country was illegally invaded and occupied by the Bush Administration under false pretenses and essentially ruined.  What is equally disturbing however is how those same people who had a reason for their righteous indignation turned around and used Islam in order to garner the support they needed to re-take Iraq because they realized it would offer them a broader appeal than their own outdated, irrelevant brand of Arab socialism that many other countries were rejecting.  In doing so they also deployed some of the same barbarity under the ISIS banner, beheadings, executions, ethnic cleansing, that have nothing at all to do with Islam but considered by Ba’athists to be legitimate tools of oppression needed to promote social cohesion or silence.  Don’t let spin fool you; an Islamic movement didn’t start an ISIS that incorporated former key figures of Saddam Hussein’s government rather it was the reverse.  Ba’athists seething at being left out after Saddam’s ouster rounded up people they thought would give their movement religious credibility.  “Even the appointment of  (Abu Bakr) al Baghdadi to lead the Islamic State of Iraq in 2010 is reported by an ISIS defector to have been engineered by a former Baathist: Haji Bakr, an ex-colonel from the Iraqi Revolutionary Guard.” Notice the choice of words, “appointment” of the leader of the Islamic State….implying someone else gave him this position, power. One only need to look at those close to him. Two of Al-Baghdi’s deputies are former Ba’athists  no doubt put in place by other Ba’athists to keep tight reins on ISIS.  The WaPo article below gives further detail

Saddam Hussien with members of his Revolutionary Council

Saddam Hussien with members of his Revolutionary Council

When Abu Hamza, a former Syrian rebel, agreed to join the Islamic State, he did so assuming he would become a part of the group’s promised Islamist utopia, which has lured foreign jihadists from around the globe.

Instead, he found himself being supervised by an Iraqi emir and receiving orders from shadowy Iraqis who moved in and out of the battlefield in Syria. When Abu Hamza disagreed with fellow commanders at an Islamic State meeting last year, he said, he was placed under arrest on the orders of a masked Iraqi man who had sat silently through the proceedings, listening and taking notes.

Abu Hamza, who became the group’s ruler in a small community in Syria, never discovered the Iraqis’ real identities, which were cloaked by code names or simply not revealed.

Saddam Husseing and Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri

Saddam Husseing and Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri

All of the men, however, were former Iraqi officers who had served under Saddam Hussein, including the masked man, who had once worked for an Iraqi intelligence agency and now belonged to the Islamic State’s own shadowy security service, he said.

His account, and those of others who have lived with or fought against the Islamic State over the past two years, underscore the pervasive role played by members of Iraq’s former Baathist army in an organization more typically associated with flamboyant foreign jihadists and the gruesome videos in which they star.

foreign ISIS fighterEven with the influx of thousands of foreign fighters, almost all of the leaders of the Islamic State are former Iraqi officers, including the members of its shadowy military and security committees, and the majority of its emirs and princes, according to Iraqis, Syrians and analysts who study the group.

They have brought to the organization the military expertise and some of the agendas of the former Baathists, as well as the smuggling networks developed to avoid sanctions in the 1990s and which now facilitate the Islamic State’s illicit oil trading.

Abu Hamza a former ISIS supporter, fighter now in Turkey

Abu Hamza a former ISIS supporter, fighter now in Turkey

In Syria, local “emirs” are typically shadowed by a deputy who is Iraqi and makes the real decisions, said Abu Hamza, who fled to Turkey last summer after growing disillusioned with the group. He uses a pseudonym because he fears for his safety.

All the decision makers are Iraqi, and most of them are former Iraqi officers. The Iraqi officers are in command, and they make the tactics and the battle plans,” he said. “But the Iraqis themselves don’t fight. They put the foreign fighters on the front lines.”

The public profile of the foreign jihadists frequently obscures the Islamic State’s roots in the bloody recent history of Iraq, its brutal excesses as much a symptom as a cause of the country’s woes.

The raw cruelty of Hussein’s Baathist regime, the disbandment of the Iraqi army after thesaddamexecution U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the subsequent insurgency and the marginalization of Sunni Iraqis by the Shiite-dominated government all are intertwined with the Islamic State’s ascent, said Hassan Hassan, a Dubai-based analyst and co-author of the book “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror.”

“A lot of people think of the Islamic State as a terrorist group, and it’s not useful,” Hassan said. “It is a terrorist group, but it is more than that. It is a homegrown Iraqi insurgency, and it is organic to Iraq.”

Paul Bremer, center who said ten years later: 'We made major strategic mistakes. But I still think Iraqis are far better off'

Paul Bremer, center who said ten years later: ‘We made major strategic mistakes. But I still think Iraqis are far better off’

The de-Baathification law promulgated by L.­ Paul Bremer, Iraq’s American ruler in 2003, has long been identified as one of the contributors to the original insurgency. At a stroke, 400,000 members of the defeated Iraqi army were barred from government employment, denied pensions — and also allowed to keep their guns.

The U.S. military failed in the early years to recognize the role the disbanded Baathist officers would eventually come to play in the extremist group, eclipsing the foreign fighters whom American officials preferred to blame, said Col. Joel Rayburn, a senior fellow at the National Defense University who served as an adviser to top generals in Iraq and describes the links between Baathists and the Islamic State in his book, “Iraq After America.”

The U.S. military always knew that the former Baathist officers had joined other insurgent groups and were giving tactical support to the Al Qaeda in Iraq affiliate, the precursor to the Islamic State, he said. But American officials didn’t anticipate that they would become not only adjuncts to al-Qaeda, but core members of the jihadist group.

“We might have been able to come up with ways to head off the fusion, the completion of the Iraqization process,” he said. The former officers were probably not reconcilable, “but it was the labeling of them as irrelevant that was the mistake.”

AbuBakr al-Baghdadi

AbuBakr al-Baghdadi

Under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliph, the former officers became more than relevant. They were instrumental in the group’s rebirth from the defeats inflicted on insurgents by the U.S. military, which is now back in Iraq bombing many of the same men it had already fought twice before.

At first glance, the secularist dogma of Hussein’s tyrannical Baath Party seems at odds with the Islamic State’s harsh interpretation of the Islamic laws it purports to uphold.

But the two creeds broadly overlap in several regards, especially their reliance on fear to secure the submission of the people under the group’s rule. Two decades ago, the elaborate and cruel forms of torture perpetrated by Hussein dominated the discourse about Iraq, much as the Islamic State’s harsh punishments do today.

Like the Islamic State, Hussein’s Baath Party also regarded itself as a transnational

BAGHDAD, IRAQ:  Members of the ruling Baath party parade with kalashnikovs and portraits of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on Iraqi flags in Baghdad 08 February 2002 during celebrations marking the 39th anniversary of the 1963 coup that brought the party to power.       AFP PHOTO/Ramzi HAIDAR (Photo credit should read RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP/Getty Images)

BAGHDAD, IRAQ: Members of the ruling Baath party parade with kalashnikovs and portraits of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on Iraqi flags in Baghdad 08 February 2002 during celebrations marking the 39th anniversary of the 1963 coup that brought the party to power. AFP PHOTO/Ramzi HAIDAR (Photo credit should read RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP/Getty Images)

movement, forming branches in countries across the Middle East and running training camps for foreign volunteers from across the Arab world.

By the time U.S. troops invaded in 2003, Hussein had begun to tilt toward a more religious approach to governance, making the transition from Baathist to Islamist ideology less improbable for some of the disenfranchised Iraqi officers, said Ahmed S. Hashim, a professor who is researching the ties at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

With the launch of the Iraqi dictator’s Faith Campaign in 1994, strict Islamic precepts were introduced. The words “God is Great” were inscribed on the Iraqi flag. Amputations were decreed for theft. Former Baathist officers recall friends who suddenly stopped drinking, started praying and embraced the deeply conservative form of Islam known as Salafism in the years preceding the U.S. invasion.

In the last two years of Hussein’s rule, a campaign of beheadings, mainly targeting women suspected of prostitution and carried out by his elite Fedayeen unit, killed more than 200 people, human rights groups reported at the time.

The brutality deployed by the Islamic State today recalls the bloodthirstiness of some of those Fedayeen, said Hassan. Promotional videos from the Hussein era include scenes resembling those broadcast today by the Islamic State, showing the Fedayeen training, marching in black masks, practicing the art of decapitation and in one instance eating a live dog.

Some of those Baathists became early recruits to the al-Qaeda affiliate established by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Palestinian Jordanian fighter who is regarded as the progenitor of the current Islamic State, said Hisham al Hashemi, an Iraqi analyst who advises the Iraqi government and has relatives who served in the Iraqi military under Hussein. Other Iraqis were radicalized at Camp Bucca, the American prison in southern Iraq where thousands of ordinary citizens were detained and intermingled with jihadists.

Zarqawi kept the former Baathists at a distance, because he distrusted their secular outlook, according to Hashim, the professor.

It was under the watch of the current Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, that the recruitment of former Baathist officers became a deliberate strategy, according to analysts and former officers.

Tasked with rebuilding the greatly weakened insurgent organization after 2010, Baghdadi embarked on an aggressive campaign to woo the former officers, drawing on the vast pool of men who had either remained unemployed or had joined other, less extremist insurgent groups.

Some of them had fought against al-Qaeda after changing sides and aligning with the American-backed Awakening movement during the surge of troops in 2007. When U.S. troops withdrew and the Iraqi government abandonedthe Awakening fighters, the Islamic State was the only surviving option for those who felt betrayed and wanted to change sides again, said Brian Fishman, who researched the group in Iraq for West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center and is now a fellow with the New America Foundation.

Baghdadi’s effort was further aided by a new round of de-Baathificationlaunched after U.S. troops left in 2011 by then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who set about firing even those officers who had been rehabilitated by the U.S. military.

Among them was Brig. Gen. Hassan Dulaimi, a former intelligence officer in the old Iraqi army who was recruited back into service by U.S. troops in 2006, as a police commander in Ramadi, the capital of the long restive province of Anbar.

Within months of the American departure, he was dismissed, he said, losing his salary and his pension, along with 124 other officers who had served alongside the Americans.

“The crisis of ISIS didn’t happen by chance,” Dulaimi said in an interview in Baghdad, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “It was the result of an accumulation of problems created by the Americans and the [Iraqi] government.”

He cited the case of a close friend, a former intelligence officer in Baghdad who was fired in 2003 and struggled for many years to make a living. He now serves as the Islamic State’s wali, or leader, in the Anbar town of Hit, Dulaimi said.

“I last saw him in 2009. He complained that he was very poor. He is an old friend, so I gave him some money,” he recalled. “He was fixable. If someone had given him a job and a salary, he wouldn’t have joined the Islamic State.

“There are hundreds, thousands like him,” he added. “The people in charge of military operations in the Islamic State were the best officers in the former Iraqi army, and that is why the Islamic State beats us in intelligence and on the battlefield.

This map highlights the countries of Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Called out are the cities of Mosul and Kobani. The area of ISIS controlled or contested territory is highlighted in red.

This map highlights the countries of Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Called out are the cities of Mosul and Kobani. The area of ISIS controlled or contested territory is highlighted in red.

The Islamic State’s seizure of territory was also smoothed by the Maliki government’s broader persecution of the Sunni minority, which intensified after U.S. troops withdrew and left many ordinary Sunnis willing to welcome the extremists as an alternative to the often brutal Iraqi security forces.

But it was the influx of Baathist officers into the ranks of the Islamic State itself that propelled its fresh military victories, said Hashem. By 2013, Baghdadi had surrounded himself with former officers, who oversaw the Islamic State’s expansion in Syria and drove the offensives in Iraq.

Some of Baghdadi’s closest aides, including Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, his deputy in Iraq, and Abu Ayman al-Iraqi, one of his top military commanders in Syria, both of them former Iraqi officers, have since reportedly been killed — though Dulaimi suspects that many feign their own deaths in order to evade detection, making its current leadership difficult to discern.

Any gaps however are filled by former officers, sustaining the Iraqi influence at the group’s core, even as its ranks are swelled by arriving foreigners, said Hassan.

Fearing infiltration and spies, the leadership insulates itself from the foreign fighters and the regular Syrian and Iraqi fighters through elaborate networks of intermediaries frequently drawn from the old Iraqi intelligence agencies, he said.

“They introduced the Baathist mind-set of secrecy as well as its skills,” he said.

The masked man who ordered the detention of Abu Hamza was one of a group of feared security officers who circulate within the Islamic State, monitoring its members for signs of dissent, the Syrian recalled.

“They are the eyes and ears of Daesh’s security, and they are very powerful,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

Abu Hamza was released from jail after agreeing to fall into line with the other commanders, he said. But the experience contributed to his disillusionment with the group.

The foreign fighters he served alongside were “good Muslims,” he said. But he is less sure about the Iraqi leaders.

They pray and they fast and you can’t be an emir without praying, but inside I don’t think they believe it much,” he said. “The Baathists are using Daesh. They don’t care about Baathism or even Saddam.

“They just want power. They are used to being in power, and they want it back.

Whether the former Baathists adhere to the Islamic State’s ideology is a matter of debate. Hashim suspects many of them do not.

“One could still argue that it’s a tactical alliance,” he said. “A lot of these Baathists are not interested in ISIS running Iraq. They want to run Iraq. A lot of them view the jihadists with this Leninist mind-set that they’re useful idiots who we can use to rise to power.

Rayburn questions whether even some of the foreign volunteers realize the extent to which they are being drawn into Iraq’s morass. Some of the fiercest battles being waged today in Iraq are for control of communities and neighborhoods that have been hotly contested among Iraqis for years, before the extremists appeared.

“You have fighters coming from across the globe to fight these local political battles that the global jihad can’t possibly have a stake in.”

Former Baathist officers who served alongside some of those now fighting with the Islamic State believe it is the other way around. Rather than the Baathists using the jihadists to return to power, it is the jihadists who have exploited the desperation of the disbanded officers, according to a former general who commanded Iraqi troops during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he fears for his safety in Irbil, the capital of the northern Iraqi region of Kurdistan, where he now resides.

The ex-Baathists could be lured away, if they were offered alternatives and hope for the future, he said.

The Americans bear the biggest responsibility. When they dismantled the army what did they expect those men to do?” he asked. “They were out in the cold with nothing to do and there was only one way out for them to put food on the table.”

When U.S. officials demobilized the Baathist army, “they didn’t de-Baathify people’s minds, they just took away their jobs,” he said.

There are former Baathists with other insurgent groups who might be persuaded to switch sides, said Hassan, citing the example of the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order, usually referred to by its Arabic acronym JRTN. They welcomed the Islamic State during its sweep through northern Iraq last summer, but the groups have since fallen out.

But most of the Baathists who actually joined the Islamic State are now likely to have themselves become radicalized, either in prison or on the battlefield, he said.

“Even if you didn’t walk in with that vision you might walk out with it, after five years of hard fighting,” said Fishman, of the New America Foundation. “They have been through brutal things that are going to shape their vision in a really dramatic way.”

Far too many from the West who romanticize fighting and going to fight for a cause they consider noble in fact are only offering themselves up to satisfy centuries old rivalries between communities and more recent power struggles of a political party that refuses to go away and some might say necessary for the survival of the Iraqi nation. Syria is the birthplace of the ISIS movement….it is also the home of the Ba’athist president, Bashar al-Assad, an authoratarian secularist who no doubt finds more in common with the Ba’athist elements of ISIS than the religious side of this pseudo religious movement. More needs to be done to make it clear ISIS is no  more Islamic than the Ba’ath socialist party.

This kind of rampant racism is still going on in America


Before I make the post, Domino’s Pizza has issued a statement on the page where the video below appears and it reads

Domino’s does not tolerate discrimination against customers. This store was owned and operated by an independent franchisee and that franchisee exited our system in 2013.

Michael P. Jarvis of Winter Haven is named in the Circuit Court suit along with his company, Michael J’s Pizzaria, Inc., which owned the Domino’s Pizza where the incident occurred. Jarvis has said  he sold the store about two years ago and  he was unaware of the lawsuit.  He declined to comment further.  Here’s the video

Here’s the story

Hakima Bennadi

Hakima Bennadi

Hakima Benaddi said she had picked up pizza at a Domino’s store in Davenport dozens of times since she moved to the neighborhood in 2011.

The only difference from her routine July 27, 2012, Benaddi said, was that she was wearing a Muslim head scarf.

A lawsuit filed in her behalf contends she was discriminated against by employees, including an accusation by one that she threatened to blow up the building.

The charges were later dropped, but Benaddi said Thursday that her life was turned upside down because of the false accusations.

She’s suing the former owner of the Davenport pizzeria and his company. The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Circuit Court on behalf of Benaddi by the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida.

Benaddi said she’s still shaken over being handcuffed and put into jail.

“I never imagined I’d be in that situation,” Benaddi said, standing next to her lawyer, Thania Diaz Clevenger, civil rights director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations for Florida, at a news conference outside the Polk County Courthouse. “I know they discriminated against me.

A Domino’s Pizza spokesman at corporate headquarters in Detroit said the corporation didn’t own the store and wasn’t named in the lawsuit.

“The employees were his (the franchisee), and he is no longer with our system,” said spokesman Tim McIntyre.

Benaddi moved to the United States in 2009 from Morocco.

She was arrested by Polk County sheriff’s deputies on charges of making a bomb threat after the July 27, 2012, incident at Domino’s Pizza, 45717 U.S. 27 N.

The charges were dropped in August 2012 because of “conflicting witness statements,” according to the lawsuit. Her arrest record was ordered expunged on Sept. 13, 2013, by a circuit judge, the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, which is seeking damages, Benaddi’s civil rights were violated and she was wrongly arrested because of false statements made by the store’s assistant manager, Whitney Green.

Green was the only employee who told investigators she heard a bomb threat. “The woman came into the store screaming about her pizza,” Green told deputies, according to an arrest report. “When I went to find out what was wrong, she started yelling, ‘It’s because you’re American, and I’m Muslim. I’m gonna come back with a bomb. I’ll blow you all up.’?”

The argument started over a vegetarian pizza Benaddi ordered. Benaddi said it was her first time wearing a hijab, the Muslim head scarf, at the Domino’s. She bought the pizza and, when she got home, found it was missing toppings, some crust and cheese. She called the store to complain and returned with the pizza.

The suit said when Benaddi asked for a refund, she was told by Green and two other employees that there was nothing wrong with the pizza. Following a verbal confrontation with Green, Benaddi said, “You can keep your pizza” and left the store, the suit says.

Green called deputies about the bomb threat after Benaddi left about 6 p.m. Sheriff’s Deputy William Tull investigated the complaint, placed the pizza box into evidence then questioned Benaddi. She was arrested about midnight, according to the lawsuit.

Sheriff’s spokesman Scott Wilder said he couldn’t discuss the case because the criminal records had been expunged.

This kind of racism is illegal and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  I congratulate Ms. Bennadi for doing just that and hope she prevails.  Lying because of poor service rendered to a paying customer is unacceptable.

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Gun ownership, police and white privilege in a post racial America


Hypocrisy in power is an amazing thing; not everyone can see it.  Police and armed citizens are a good start and a toxic mix.  As shown here constantly police who confront armed white citizens usually take a more professional and more restrained approach than they do when confronted with citizens of color, armed or not.  This is a decent collage of experiences that have occurred lately in America

Police Actually Do Show Restraint—When They’re Facing Armed White Guys

What is going on in the minds of some cops that frequently prompts empathy for armed white men but unleashes lethal fury on unarmed African-American men?

As a ceaseless flat line of tragedies snuffs out the lives of young brothers, one peculiar parallel trend emerges: For every unarmed black man who dies at the hands of white police officers, it seems as if there’s one armed white man who survives such an encounter.

In a way, that flies in the face of a popular national narrative that police officers are having some trouble restraining their trigger-happy selves. The excessive use of force by police is at the core of that discussion: Recently, for example, the Justice Department applauded the Seattle Police Department’s implementation of mandatory “de-escalation training” program for new officers. The force used “must be both reasonable and necessary,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta in a statement last week. “[T]his training will provide valuable guidance to officers when they make split-second decisions about when and how to use force.”

The problem, however, is that we assume that cops have a restraint problem. But judging from a growing number of confrontations between police and armed white guys, it’s reasonable to conclude the killings of African-American men and women may have another cause. And in the rush to a future full of body cameras, training, diversity hiring and other essential tools for modern law enforcement, we should probably find out what it takes to change that.

Michael Wilcox, 27, prone on the ground, unharmed

Michael Wilcox, 27, prone on the ground, unharmed

Going viral recently is a body-cam-captured video of rookie New Richmond, Ohio, cop Jesse Kidder talking down a young, armed and white 27-year old Michael Wilcox, who is accused of killing his fiancee and best friend hours before. Wilcox challenged Kidder to “shoot me!”

Kidder did not. He reasoned Wilcox into a peaceful arrest, earning himself all sorts of national props for showing “great restraint and maturity.” And who knows? Maybe policing in the post-Ferguson world made Kidder rethink the situation.

And maybe it didn’t. Instead, Wilcox ended up joining the pantheon of armed and dangerous white dudes who stayed alive even after police have identified them as homicidal suspects on killing rampages. One unfortunate week might find us gripped in national outrage over the untimely and unjustified deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore or Eric Harris in Tulsa; but, highlighted less are numerous confrontations between cops and rather dangerous white guys with guns who have already massacred people or are about to commit domestic terrorism.

This raises deeply disturbing but necessary questions that hint at a need for more than just a “de-escalation” program. What exactly is going on in the minds of some cops that frequently prompts empathy for armed white men but unleashes lethal fury on unarmed black men?    

Eric Fein, Fugitive survivalist and accused cop killer Eric Frein was finally captured last night in the Pocono Mountains after 48 days evading law enforcement

Take Eric Fein, for example, a white 31-year old sitting comfortably in jail on charges of killing one Pennsylvania state trooper in September and wounding another before forcing state police into a 48-day manhunt. Or still-alive 41-year old Ryan Giroux, a white supremacist who is accused of killing one person and injuring five in March during a shooting rampage in Mesa, Ariz. Cops finally caught up with him and took him into custody after Tasing him. And let’s not even get started on the jaw-dropping actions of Adam Kokesh, a gun-rights activist who not only loaded a shotgun across the street from White House grounds, but also videotaped and posted the whole thing online.

 James Holmes' Class of 2006  Westview High School photo

James Holmes’ Class of 2006 Westview High School photo

Perhaps one of the more notorious armed white guys involved in mass murder is James Holmes of Aurora, Colo., who, even after allegedly slaughtering a dozen people and injuring 70 in a movie theater shooting in 2012, managed to survive the police response and is on trial.

In almost half of all active-shooter situations, police didn’t even kill the shooter. According to aSeptember 2013 FBI briefing on a study of 160 mass-casualty, “active shooter” incidents between 2000 and 2013, most ended once the perpetrator stopped shooting, either because he fled or took his own life.

Curiously, the FBI details every demographic, geographic and casualty-type of data in its compelling 47-page study, even telling us that only six of the shooters were female, but fails to disclose one critical shooter characteristic: race.

The Congressional Research Service, however, did some leg work for its own March 2013 paper“Public Mass Shootings in the United States.” Despite an annoying lack of data, that study did conclude that the “the gunmen generally acted alone, were usually white and male.” Of the 81 shooters in this report, 41 died by suicide and 10 at the hands of law enforcement.

Police restraint is employed frequently when officers run up against gun-carrying white dudes engaged in all forms of villainy. Yet, we’ve seen unarmed and ultimately innocent black men and black women find themselves either badly hurt or dead just for looking suspicious or being in the wrong place at a particular wrong time.

Most frightening is the issue of why. There’s never really a clear answer for that beyond our 400-year knowledge of state-sanctioned violence against African Americans. White officers, in particular, would never admit to any subconscious bias pegging black men as subhuman.

What recent studies do show is that public perceptions of black people do not help.  When white people aren’t generally associating black people with criminal activity, they are viewing people of a darker hue as otherworldly.  The Sentencing Project’s 2014 “Race and Punishment” study shows that most whites support criminal punishment for blacks and Latinos because they perceive people of color as most likely to commit crimes.

Meanwhile, the Religion News Service’s “2012American National Election Study” and Associated Press polling showed that most whites still harbor a view of blacks as less hardworking and less intelligent.

But an even more recent and troubling study, published in November 2014 in the journal Social, Psychological & Personality Science, appears to offer some insight. Researchers determined that white attitudes have shifted dramatically over generations, from once perceiving blacks as “three fifths of a human” to now being “superhuman.”

Respondents in surveys were more likely to link terms such as “ghost, paranormal, spirit, wizard, supernatural, magic, mystical” to pictures of black people than they were to ascribe those qualities to whites, who were linked to more “human words”  such as “person, individual, humanity, people, civilian, mankind, citizen.” The authors of the study worried that “[p]erhaps people assume that Blacks possess extra (i.e., superhuman) strength which enables them to endure violence more easily than other humans.”

Perhaps, for reasons still unknown, there are white police officers who think that brothers are faster than bullets and speeding trains.  Maybe—and we don’t know—an armed white guy receives more lenience because there’s a chance he could be exercising his rights as a “citizen.”  For now, all we have is instinct, polls and a growing list of sad stories.

We’re not getting better at dealing with our differences, we’re getting worse and it’s hurting us as a civilization, as a country.  The inability to deal with this problem could lead to the destruction of America in the ways we experienced during the days preceding the Civil War.  Do we really wanna’ go there America?

 

The flip side of police and citizens-this is how it’s done in the ‘hood


Well written, timely, prescient piece which appeared in the Baltimore Sun last year before Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of Baltimore’s police, the article below chronicles the difficulty Baltimore Police have put it’s citizens and government through as it persecutes its black citizens.  Well worth the time to read

The city has paid about $5.7 million since 2011 over lawsuits claiming that police officers brazenly beat up alleged suspects. One hidden cost: The perception that officers are violent can poison the relationship between residents and police.

On a cold January afternoon, Jerriel Lyles parked his car in front of the P&J Carry Out on East Monument Street and darted inside to buy some food. After paying for a box of chicken, he noticed a big guy in jeans, a hooded sweatshirt and a baseball cap.

“What’s up?” the man said to Lyles. Others, also dressed in jeans and hoodies, blocked the door to the street — making Lyles fear that he would be robbed. Instead, the man identified himself a police officer, frisked Lyles and demanded he sit on the greasy floor. Lyles objected.

“The officer hit me so hard it felt like his radio was in his hand,” Lyles testified about the 2009 incident, after suing Detective David Greene. “The blow was so heavy. My eyes swelled up. Blood was dripping down my nose and out my eye.”

The Baltimore detective offered a different version of events in court, saying that Lyles’ injuries might have resulted from poking himself in the face. He also couldn’t say why officers stopped Lyles, who was not charged with any crime.

But jurors didn’t buy the officer’s explanation. They ruled in Lyles’ favor, and the court ultimately ordered the city to pay him $200,000, the statutory limit in Maryland for most lawsuits against a municipality.

The beating Lyles received from Baltimore police officers — along with the resulting payout from city funds — is part of a disturbing pattern, a six-month investigation by The Baltimore Sun has found.

                                                                     

Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson.

Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones — jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles — head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.

And in almost every case, prosecutors or judges dismissed the charges against the victims — if charges were filed at all. In an incident that drew headlines recently, charges against a South Baltimore man were dropped after a video showed an officer repeatedly punching him — a beating that led the police commissioner to say he was “shocked.”

Such beatings, in which the victims are most often African-Americans, carry a hefty cost. They can poison relationships between police and the community, limiting cooperation in the fight against crime, the mayor and police officials say. They also divert money in the city budget — the $5.7 million in taxpayer funds paid out since January 2011 would cover the price of a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds. And that doesn’t count the $5.8 million spent by the city on legal fees to defend these claims brought against police.

“These officers taint the whole department when they create these kinds of issues for the city,” said City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young. “I’m tired of the lawsuits that cost the city millions of dollars by some of these police officers.”

City policies help to shield the scope and impact of beatings from the public, even though Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake acknowledges that police brutality was one of the main issues broached by residents in nine recent forums across Baltimore.

The city’s settlement agreements contain a clause that prohibits injured residents from making any public statement — or talking to the news media — about the incidents. And when settlements are placed on the agenda at public meetings involving the mayor and other top officials, the cases are described using excerpts from police reports, with allegations of brutality routinely omitted. State law also helps to shield the details, by barring city officials from discussing internal disciplinary actions against the officers — even when a court has found them at fault.

The Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, a local pastor who has railed against police brutality, was surprised to hear that the city has spent millions to settle police misconduct allegations.

“I am absolutely stunned,” said Bryant, who leads a Northwest Baltimore mega-church. “I had no idea it was this bad. I had no idea we had this volume in this city.”

Among the findings of The Sun’s investigation, which included a review of thousands of court records and interviews with victims, along with audio and video recordings of trials:

Since 2011, the city has been involved in 102 court judgments and settlements related to allegations of civil rights and constitutional violations such as assault, false arrest and false imprisonment, making payouts that ranged up to $500,000. (The statutory cap can be exceeded when there are multiple claims in a lawsuit, and if there is malice the cap may not apply.) In 43 of the lawsuits, taxpayers paid $30,000 or more. In such settlements, the city and the officers involved do not acknowledge any wrongdoing.

Many of the lawsuits stemmed from the now-disbanded Violent Crimes Impact Section, which used plainclothes officers to target high-crime areas. Officers frequently wrote in charging documents that they feared for their safety and that residents received the injuries when resisting arrest.

Department officials said some officers were exonerated in internal force investigations, even though jurors and the city awarded thousands of dollars to battered residents in those incidents.

For years, leaders in Baltimore’s Police Department, the nation’s eighth-largest, didn’t track or monitor the number of lawsuits filed against each officer. As a result, city officials were unaware that some officers were the target of as many as five lawsuits.

The Sun’s findings include only lawsuits that have been settled or decided in court; dozens of similar cases are still pending. The city has faced 317 lawsuits over police conduct since 2011 — and recently budgeted an additional $4.2 million for legal fees, judgments and lawsuits, a $2.5 million increase from fiscal 2014.

“This is not something I take lightly,” Rawlings-Blake said. “I’ve worked hard, very hard, to have a dialogue with the community about how do we build trust and send the message that law enforcement that acts outside of the law will not be tolerated.”

Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts, who took over in late 2012, has publicly vowed to eliminate misconduct among the city’s 2,800 officers. Other police officials say the department has begun to track such allegations more closely to punish officers in the wrong.

LLOYD FOX
Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez leads the bureau tasked with keeping police officers accountable.

“I can’t speak to what was done before, but I can certainly tell you that’s what’s being done now, and we won’t deviate from that,” said Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez, who joined the agency in January 2013 to lead the new Professional Standards and Accountability Bureau.

Rodriguez, who once worked in Internal Affairs at the Los Angeles Police Department, said the mandate is to provide policing in a professional manner that doesn’t violate constitutional rights.

“We will not let officers get away with any wrongdoing,” Rodriguez said. “It will not be tolerated.”

The department would not allow The Sun to interview officers named in the lawsuits, saying that would violate department policy. Annual base salaries for the officers ranged from $61,000 and $67,000.

But Robert F. Cherry, president of the city’s Fraternal Order of Police lodge, cautioned that some people file frivolous lawsuits against officers who work to keep the city safe.

“Our officers are not brutal,” he said. “The trial attorneys and criminal elements want to take advantage of the courts.”

Eighty-seven-year-old Venus Green heard the scream while rocking on her porch on Poplar Grove Street in West Baltimore’s Walbrook neighborhood.

“Grandma, call the ambulance. I been shot,” she thought she heard her grandson say on that morning in July 2007. As he lumbered closer, she spotted blood from a wound in his leg and called 911.

The retired teacher was used to helping others. Green had moved to Baltimore decades earlier from South Carolina after working at R.J. Reynolds and Westinghouse. Once here, she worked at Fort Meade and earned two degrees at Coppin State University.

The mother of two and grandmother of seven dedicated her career to teaching special-education students, but couldn’t sit still in her retirement years. She had two hobbies: going to church and raising foster kids. Dozens of children funneled through her home. They, like her own grandchildren, called her “Grandma Green.”

Paramedics and police responded to the emergency call, but the white officer became hostile.

“What happened? Who shot you?” Green recalled the officer saying to her grandson, according to an 11-page letter in which she detailed the incident for her lawyer. Excerpts from the letter were included in her lawsuit. “You’re lying. You know you were shot inside that house. We ain’t going to help you because you are lying.”

“Mister, he isn’t lying,” replied Green, who had no criminal record. “He came from down that way running, calling me to call the ambulance.”

The officer, who is not identified in the lawsuit, wanted to go into the basement, but Green demanded a warrant. Her grandson kept two dogs downstairs and she feared they would attack. The officer unhooked the lock, but Green latched it.

He shoved Green against the wall. She hit the wooden floor.

“Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up,” Green recalled the officer saying as he stood over her. “He pulled me up, pushed me in the dining room over the couch, put his knees in my back, twisted my arms and wrist and put handcuffs on my hands and threw me face down on the couch.”

After pulling Green to her feet, the officer told her she was under arrest. Green complained of pain.

“My neck and shoulder are hurting,” Green told him. “Please take these handcuffs off.”

An African-American officer then walked in the house, saw her sobbing and asked that the handcuffs be removed since Green wasn’t violent.

The cuffs came off, and Green didn’t face any charges. But a broken shoulder tormented her for months.

“I am here because of injuries received to my body by a police officer,” Green wrote on stationery stamped with “wish on a star” at the bottom of each page. “I am suffering with pain and at night I can hardly sleep since this incident occurred.”

In June 2010, she sued the officers; an April 2012 settlement required the city to pay her $95,000.

Green died six weeks later of natural causes

Many Baltimoreans who reached similar settlements declined to be interviewed about the alleged police misconduct — with good reason.

A clause in the city’s agreements prohibits any public statement about the incident that triggered the lawsuit. Limitations on “public statements shall include a prohibition in discussing any facts or allegations … with the news media” except to say the lawsuit has been settled, it states.

The penalty for talking? City lawyers could sue to get back as much as half or more of the settlement.

That amount is negotiated in each case, depending on the severity of the allegations, said David Ralph, deputy city solicitor. The amount of money involved is shielded from the public because the clause might never be triggered, he said, adding that in “99.9 percent of the cases it’s never an issue.”

Such “non-disparagement” clauses are common in legal settlements, he noted. “We don’t want to pay taxpayers’ money and then have people saying things that they couldn’t say in court. Some facts are hotly disputed.”

In such settlements, the city and the officers involved do not acknowledge any wrongdoing.

Starr Brown, an East Baltimore woman who reached a settlement agreement, wanted to talk about her arrest — an encounter with police that left the pregnant accountant face down, bleeding and bruised, on the sidewalk. (Her baby was unhurt.)

BALTIMORE POLICE
Starr Brown said officers slammed her to the ground on Sept. 18, 2009. She was pregnant.

But Brown, a Morgan State University graduate, said the clause prevented her from sharing details, so the events of Sept. 18, 2009, can only be reconstructed from court transcripts.

Returning home with her young daughter as the sun set, Brown was on the front steps of her brick house when she spotted two girls walking along North Luzerne Avenue.

Suddenly, a group of about 20 girls came from the other direction and attacked the two girls.

Brown, who went into her house to avoid the fighting, watched the beating through a window. Other neighbors called 911, but by the time officers Karen Crisafulli and Andrew Galletti arrived, the attackers had fled.

Brown, who was then 26, could hear the officers yelling at the victims and came outside to urge the officers to chase the girls who had fled. An argument started, and Galletti lunged at her, she later testified in court.

She grabbed the iron railing, but Galletti wrapped his arm around her neck. She said she screamed that she was pregnant, but Galletti responded, “[We] hear it all the time.”

“He comes and grabs my arms,” Brown, who had no criminal record, testified. “He’s like, ‘You’re getting arrested. You’re coming with me.’”

“They slammed me down on my face,” Brown added, her voice cracking. “The skin was gone on my face. …

“I was tossed like a rag doll. He had his knee on my back and neck. She had her knee on my back trying to put handcuffs on me.”

The officers arrested her for obstruction, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and assault. She fought the charges in District Court in March 2010.

The officers minimized the incident and Brown’s injuries, telling the judge that her screams drew a crowd and she refused to go back in her house. Crisafulli said Brown hit the ground after letting go of the railing.

“It was like a sling shot,” Crisafulli testified. “The resistance stopped. We all fell off the porch.”

Brown then kicked and flailed, Crisafulli added, noting that bystanders told the officers that Brown was pregnant. Crisafulli said Brown scratched her with fingernails; Galletti said Brown bit his arm and knuckle.

But the testimony of two witnesses confirmed Brown’s version of events.

“Mrs. Brown was standing up in her doorway,” said neighbor Ruby Lee. “They threw her to the ground, and [Galletti] put his knee in her back.”

The judge acquitted Brown of all criminal charges. She sued in April 2010 and settled the case in March 2011 for $125,000.

Scandals have plagued Baltimore’s Police Department in recent years. Sixteen officers were convicted in a kickback scheme with a towing company, and another was convicted of selling heroin from the Northwest District police station’s parking lot.

When Rawlings-Blake hired Batts in 2012, the mayor talked about Baltimore becoming “the safest big city in America.” Batts earned a reputation of building community engagement during his 30 years of leading departments on the West Coast.

ALGERINA PERNA
Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts has vowed to eliminate police misconduct.

But ridding the Baltimore agency of misconduct may not be easy. The agency’s strategic plan, released late last year, said discipline “has not always been a priority for the Baltimore Police Department,” and it has been common “for cases in this department to take as many as three years to resolve.” A more recent consultant’s report on the Internal Affairs Division said detectives lack training and often take shortcuts when investigating officers suspected of misconduct.

Many complaints have focused on the Violent Crimes Impact Section, which had more than 260 officers in 2012. City Council members and community activists said those officers used heavy-handed tactics and had no accountability.

In addition to the allegations of excessive force, officers in the unit were accused by prosecutors of lying on a search warrant and working to protect a drug dealer in order to make arrests. One received six months of home detention; the other went to prison for eight years for protecting the drug dealer.

Three other members were charged in 2010 with kidnapping two city teens and leaving one in a Howard County state park without shoes, socks or his cellphone. A jury acquitted two officers of assault, kidnapping and false imprisonment but convicted them of misconduct.

In September 2012, the unit sparked outrage when a detective threw Anthony Anderson, 46, to the ground during a drug arrest. Anderson’s spleen ruptured, and he died a short time later.

The state medical examiner’s office said the death was a homicide caused by blunt force trauma. But Baltimore State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein declined to bring charges, ruling that the officers did not use excessive force and followed police guidelines. The family filed a federal lawsuit, alleging that three detectives kicked Anderson for several minutes; the case is ongoing.

Batts disbanded the Violent Crimes Impact Section in December 2012 in response to complaints and created the Special Enforcement Section to address spikes in serious crimes. The unit has about 130 officers.

The name change brought a new direction, Rodriguez said. New leaders have been appointed and officers are wearing uniforms that identify them as police.

“It’s not just a philosophical and name change,” he said. “What is acceptable has changed.”

Still, misconduct persists.

This year, other officers have been accused of killing a dog while off-duty in February and of an attempted homicide in April. An officer went to jail in April for 45 days for beating a drug suspect who had broken into his girlfriend’s home. Another officer was arrested in June and charged with slitting a Shar-Pei’s throat while on duty; he has pleaded not guilty.

The Violent Crimes Impact Section detectives who testified in Lyles’ lawsuit — which accused police of hitting him at the P&J Carry Out in East Baltimore — appeared confident on the witness stand as Domenic Iamele, Lyles’ attorney, pressed for answers on the injuries.

Detective Greene told jurors Lyles became hostile in the carryout and tried walking away. Lyles lifted his hands up as Greene tried to stop him, the officer said.

“Did Mr. Lyles touch his face?” Iamele asked.

“I don’t know if Mr. Lyles touched his face,” Greene replied, noting that he blinked and could have missed it. He suggested Lyles injured himself. “That’s the only thing that could’ve happened. I don’t know how he broke the bridge of his nose.”

“You didn’t punch him in the nose?”

“No sir.”

Sgt. Michael Guzman told jurors he didn’t recall being in the store or seeing anything suspicious.

Lyles then told jurors about another incident: Three weeks after his nose was broken, Lt. Christopher Nyberg and Detective Paul Southard stopped him near his apartment on Moravia Park Road.

The officers ordered Lyles to drop his pants and underwear. He did. They told him to squat and cough. He did — out of fear. Lyles testified that an officer then searched his genitals for drugs and rammed a gloved finger in his rectum.

He told jurors the incident wasn’t a “coincidence.” He believed the officers were retaliating because he had complained about his broken nose.

Jurors awarded Lyles $500,000 for the incident at the carryout, but the judge reduced it to $200,000 to comply with a state law that caps damages in suits against municipalities.

The city also paid Lyles $24,000 to settle a separate lawsuit related to the street search.

Today, Lyles, who served probation for credit card theft in 1999, is reluctant to talk about the civil trial.

“I’m afraid of the police,” he said. “I want to speak out, but it could be dangerous. These people are dangerous. Internal Affairs is not like they say they are. I complained. They said it was unsustained.”

Rodney Hill, who took over the Internal Affairs Division in May 2013, confirmed that Lyles’ complaint was not sustained — meaning investigators could not prove it was true. Police said Southard left the force in May 2012, but would not say whether it was related to Lyles’ case, noting that state law prohibits the disclosure of personnel matters. Police would not say whether the other officers were disciplined.

Civil rights abuses can tarnish a police department’s image in any city, experts say. Strained relationships make it difficult for officers to gain trust on the streets — from getting tips to solving crimes to winning taxpayer support to hire more officers.

“All of those things are put in jeopardy,” said David A. Harris, an expert at the University of Pittsburgh Law School on police misconduct and accountability. “People will tend to view [police] as illegitimate. This is a real problem for police departments.”

Good, solid policing requires mutual respect between officers and residents, he added.

Rawlings-Blake acknowledged the importance of that relationship in an interview about the costly settlements. “It is a sacred covenant that each officer makes with members of the community, and when it’s broken, it’s devastating for not just the victim, but it’s devastating for our ability to move forward as a city.”

She said the relationship between the community and police has improved since Batts was hired, noting that residents are providing more tips to Crime Stoppers and making fewer complaints about discourteous officers.

But more than a dozen bystanders who were named in court records or who testified in court declined to talk to The Sun about the arrests and altercations that they witnessed — saying, like Lyles, that they feared retaliation from police.

City Councilman Brandon Scott, vice chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said police leaders need to cleanse the force of bad officers.

“We have to expedite the process,” Scott said. “We have to fire them. We can’t afford to keep paying these settlements. These folks that are beating people have to go.”

The Sun’s findings come as the nation’s attention has been focused on a white officer’s shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo. — an incident that triggered days of violent protests. The officer said he acted in self-defense, but many area residents saw the shooting as a symptom of racially biased policing.

The shooting triggered a nationwide debate on the use of force by police, and U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced an investigation of the town’s police department. Published reports noted that five current and one former member of the 53-officer agency faced pending federal lawsuits that claimed they used excessive force.

Such broad inquiries by the Department of Justice’s civil rights division examine whether officers have a history of discrimination or using force beyond standard guidelines. They typically lead to consent decrees and years of court monitoring. Twenty federal probes have started in the past six years, in cities that include Cleveland, New Orleans and Portland.

Attorney A. Dwight Pettit questions why the Department of Justice hasn’t opened an investigation into the Baltimore Police Department.

He has filed scores of lawsuits against officers, and his office gets dozens of calls each week from people alleging police abuse. He says he only takes the cases in which injuries are visible.

“It’s absolutely called for,” Pettit said, noting the long list of settlements and court judgments involving city police. “Baltimore City is so much out of control, the Police Department, in my opinion, warrants federal intervention and investigation.”

Five years after an incident that left her injured, Barbara Floyd still wonders what happened to the officer she said attacked her.

“I believe in justice,” Floyd said, recounting a confrontation with undercover officers who were making a drug sweep in her McElderry Park neighborhood. “That’s what I believe in. I don’t think people should be treated like animals — even guilty ones. But I was an innocent one.”

On a Tuesday afternoon in March 2009, Floyd spotted a crowd of officers and bystanders up the street, her lawsuit stated. She then heard a detective threaten to fire a stun gun at her 20-year-old grandson.

Floyd, who was 58 at the time and without a criminal record, climbed down the four steps of her gray brick rowhouse to usher her grandson away from the drug operation.

After being told to leave, she said she walked home and leaned on a tree. Someone suddenly wrapped an arm around her neck and threw her to the ground.

“I was struggling ’cause I didn’t know who it was,” Floyd recalled in an interview that mirrored her descriptions in court records. “He was trying to grab my arms. He put his knee on my neck. He put another leg in the small of my back. He was grinding my face to the pavement.”

Though she was face down on the sidewalk, she heard Detective Joseph Grossman, a member of the Violent Crimes Impact Section, scream at her to lie down.

Floyd, who is 4-foot-11 and 107 pounds, couldn’t breathe with Grossman on her back. A struggle ensued and Floyd tried standing, but Grossman kept her down while handcuffing her.

Her vision faded.

“After that I thought I was gonna die because I had tunnel vision,” she said in the interview, fighting back tears. “Everything had gotten dark, dark and black.”

When the altercation ended, Floyd had gashes on her forehead, face and knees. Paramedics treated her before she was taken to jail.

But because her blood pressure topped 200, jailers declined to admit her to the Central Booking and Intake Facility, according to court records. Medics rushed her to Mercy Hospital.

After she was released from the hospital, Grossman charged her with resisting arrest and obstruction.

In charging documents, he gave a different account of the incident, accusing Floyd of stepping between officers and her grandson. When officers ordered the grandson to leave, he refused. Floyd then “adopted a hostile and aggressive posture” and tried to pull him away, Grossman wrote. Officers then tried to arrest her, but she tried breaking away and fell face-first to the ground. When officers handcuffed Floyd, she scraped “her forehead on the sidewalk, causing a minor laceration.”

Floyd soon received a letter from Internal Affairs stating that Grossman and another officer were being investigated for misconduct.

Still, Floyd was ashamed to go outside after the melee.

“My face was a mess,” she recalled, her voice dropping as she stared at the street from a kitchen chair. “My hair was gone on that side. I was bruised up. Not only my face, my arms, my legs. My whole body was sore.”

She is still upset that officers ignored her questions that day. “All they do is tell you to shut the hell up.”

Floyd, who reached a $30,000 settlement in 2011, initially declined to discuss her case when The Sun contacted her in May. The next day, she changed her mind and agreed to an interview, even though she fears retaliation from police and city lawyers for speaking out, and has moved out of the city.

Hill, the Internal Affairs chief, said her complaint against Grossman was not sustained. Grossman left the force in July 2012, but officials declined to say why, noting the legal restrictions on releasing personnel records to the public. He joined the Baltimore County Police Department the same month; that agency would not make him available for comment.

Although the city’s settlements and judgments have totaled $5.7 million since 2011, a state law may have saved Baltimore taxpayers millions of dollars. The Local Government Tort Claims Act caps damages against local governments at $200,000 per claim.

Taxpayers in other cities aren’t as lucky. Cleveland and Dallas have paid between $500,000 and more than $1 million to settle individual police misconduct cases.

The Dallas Police Department has paid $6.6 million in 26 settlements and judgments since 2011; the Miami-Dade County department paid $1.8 million over that period in an unspecified number of cases. Both agencies are similar in size to Baltimore’s.

In addition to the settlements and jury awards, Baltimore has paid $5.8 million to outside law firms to defend those lawsuits and others since July 2010.

According to city policy, officials are bound to defend officers as long as they follow departmental guidelines when using force to make arrests. An agreement between the city and police union guarantees that taxpayers will pay court damages in such cases.

Although police officials declined to release individual personnel records, they did discuss the issue in broad terms, saying that from 2012 through July, the department received 3,048 misconduct complaints against officers. Of those, officials sustained 1,203 complaints — 39 percent — meaning investigators could prove the claims were true.

That led to 61 resignations and discipline for more than 850 officers, measures ranging from written reprimands to suspensions.

But in some cases that resulted in settlements or judgments, officers were not disciplined even after they were found liable in court.

Cherry, the union president, said it would be unfair to discipline officers if they were cleared in internal investigations. He stressed that nobody can predict how a jury will decide cases.

“The [officers] who get the most complaints are the ones who are doing their work,” he said. “These may be some of the best officers.”

Salahudeen Abdul-Aziz was awarded $170,000 in 2011 by a Baltimore jury as compensation for a beating by police in West Baltimore’s Upton area. But he remains haunted by the incident and fears the police.

The nightmare began on a warm day in September 2009 as he walked out of a corner store and headed toward Westwood Street, sipping on a cold soda and munching on potato chips.

Abdul-Aziz, then 24, was hurrying back to his aunt’s air-conditioned home. On the way, he joined up with a neighborhood acquaintance.

Officers Robert Stokes and Marvin Gross spotted them leave an alley in a well-known drug area, according to charging documents. As the officers neared, the man with Abdul-Aziz tossed a glass vial with white powder.

Abdul-Aziz was questioned, handcuffed and put in the back of a cruiser as officers quizzed the other man on the curb. As Abdul-Aziz wriggled his hands, trying to adjust his wristwatch, he was yanked out of the car.

The officers slammed him onto the ground and started punching him in the face, two witnesses testified at a 2011 civil trial over police misconduct allegations. One witness said the officers switched positions “probably six times” during the beating, as Gross “hit him five or six times with his fist.”

Abdul-Aziz was helpless. “I was unable to do anything. I was handcuffed,” he testified.

He described a broken nose and facial fracture, along with severe swelling and a hemorrhage in his right eye — injuries that took more than three weeks to heal.

“What was your state of mind that day?” his lawyer asked.

Abdul-Aziz replied, “I thought I was gonna die that day.”

Gross’ account of the incident was different. He said he saw Abdul-Aziz, hands cuffed behind his back, wiggle around in the cruiser. Gross thought Abdul-Aziz was hiding drugs, so he pulled him from the car and told him to open his hands. But Abdul-Aziz tried to head-butt Gross and run, the officer testified.

The officers said they feared for their safety and tackled Abdul-Aziz.

Abdul-Aziz tried getting up, but the officers ordered him to stop. Gross placed a forearm across Abdul-Aziz’s chest and Stokes pinned his legs to the ground, Gross said, adding: “He just refused to stay still.”

“What was Mr. Abdul-Aziz doing that was illegal?” Abdul-Aziz’s lawyer asked.

“He wasn’t doing anything,” Gross replied. “That’s why I conducted a field interview.”

Stokes told jurors he didn’t hit Abdul-Aziz. “I didn’t really do anything except hold his legs down,” Stokes said, adding he didn’t see Abdul-Aziz do anything illegal before the stop.

Abdul-Aziz was vindicated by the court system. After a two-day civil trial in February 2011, jurors awarded him damages. And a judge dismissed criminal charges of resisting arrest, assault, drug possession and disorderly conduct.

Still, Abdul-Aziz, who was found guilty of carrying a firearm in 2005, is upset that despite his complaint, police officials said the two officers were cleared by an internal investigation.

“If I fight on any other job or beat up anybody, I’m terminated,” Abdul-Aziz, 29, said recently in his Baltimore home.

“You beat up a citizen for no reason and had no real probable cause, and you still have your jobs. That’s crazy. These cops still have jobs.”

Police officials say a host of department reforms are underway to address misconduct.

For example, months after taking over, Batts created the Professional Standards and Accountability Bureau, which oversees training, policies and all internal issues, and pushed to eliminate a backlog of more than 130 disciplinary cases.

He moved to toughen trial boards, which hear disciplinary cases after complaints are investigated internally, by changing their makeup. They now consist of two command staff members and a lieutenant instead of a command staff member, a lieutenant and a person of the same rank as the accused. As a result, the rate at which officers are held responsible has jumped from 57 percent to 88 percent, officials say.

A computer system implemented five months ago tracks lawsuits filed against officers, Rodriguez said.

The information is combined with another tracking system in use since 2010. That system tracks matters such as injuries from arrests, citizen complaints and use-of-force reports. It is designed to enable police leaders to intervene with counseling, better supervision, training and, if appropriate, disciplinary action.

“We’re monitoring them where it was not done before,” Rodriguez said, adding that “bugs” are being worked out as the department studies the best national standards to measure officers. Other police agencies, including the Maryland State Police, already use the same system.

Still, the tracking system has shortcomings. For example, police officials acknowledge that it does not include lawsuits that concluded before the agency started tracking them this year.

Samuel Walker, emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska, isn’t surprised that Baltimore lacked a system to track lawsuits. “It has a national reputation of not being a professional and effective department.”

Former Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who retired from the department in 2012, declined to be interviewed about the issue, but said through a spokesman that he had worked to eliminate misconduct and improve the agency’s relationship with residents.

“Commissioner Bealefeld was committed to making Baltimore a safer city while building a professional, community-focused and accountable police department,” said the spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi.

Asked about investigations into allegations of police brutality, Baltimore State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein said his office has prosecuted 10 officers for assault and 10 others for less serious offenses since 2011. In some high-profile deaths, officers were not prosecuted because they had only seconds to make decisions, Bernstein said. That’s very different from cases where officers are more deliberate and assault handcuffed suspects, he added.

KIM HAIRSTON
Baltimore State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein says his office has been tough on police misconduct.

He said that improved training and recruitment, a better discipline process, and greater transparency would enhance the Police Department’s trust with the community.

“It’s a real issue for us in Baltimore,” Bernstein said.

Young, the City Council president, says many African-American residents have an uneasy relationship with the police force.

“Every black male or every African-American in this city are not criminals and shouldn’t be treated as such,” Young said. “I was stopped myself a couple times, and I am the president of City Council.”

He wants officers trained to communicate better with residents. He’s heard too many complaints about them not allowing people to talk to defend themselves.

“They violate your civil rights and tell you you can’t talk,” Young said.

He added: “[Residents] fear the police more than they fear the drug dealers on the corner.”

 

 

Police, white gun owners and white privilege How it’s done in the ‘burbs


Amazing story of how an armed white citizen is dealt with by police and the lengths people like him, citizens, go through to show they have “privileges” that ordinary citizens don’t

opencarry640An open carry activist in Madison, Michigan, caused a high school to be placed on lockdown last week, and then began taunting police officers who were called by parents who saw the man marching in front of the school while carrying a loaded shotgun.

The incident occurred last Thursday morning when a man carrying a shotgun and video camera began walking in front of Lamphere High School. As you might expect, police officials said they “received about a million 911 calls” from concerned residents in the neighborhood. The high school was then placed on lockdown for nearly an hour, until police,

“…determined the man was exercising his right to open carry and was not a threat.”

So a man near a school with a shotgun isn’t a threat? Excuse me if I beg to differ, but I happen to be a parent! If a guy is brandishing a gun outside the school my daughter attends, he is most definitely a threat!

The story, however, merely begins with the open carry lugnut and his “right” to have a loaded gun outside a school. The man, who as yet is unidentified—he goes by the YouTube handle Nunya Beeswax—then copped an attitude when the police began to ask him a few questions. An officer is heard asking the man how long he planned to be out in front of the school, to which he replied:

“Oh, the funny thing about you’re asking me a question is, I’m not going to answer it […] Anything I say can be held against me in a court of law, right?”

At this point, the officer tells Mr. Beeswax he has no plans to arrest him, and this only makes him angrier:

“Are you going to shoot me? […] That badge on my chest gives him no more rights than I have. You work for me and the tax payers, right?”

No, the officer says, he merely wants to have a conversation with Beeswax. Beeswax then took his lunacy to the next level, saying:

“No, I’m trying to talk to you, tough guy […] We all know y’all are chompin’ at the bit to put something on me.”

The officers got back into their cars and left Beeswax alone with his shotgun, his camera, and the voices in his head telling him to cause a scene and make a total asshat of  himself.

Even other open carry advocates were offended by the actions of Beeswax. A pro-gun blog entitled “Bearing Arms”posted this message:

“Law enforcement officers were diverted, and school was disrupted, because this ‘gentleman’ insisted on open carrying past a high school, seemingly with the express intent of getting a rise out of authorities and making a public spectacle out of himself.”

I respect the right of Americans to legally possess guns for their personal protection. But the day you start doing so outside a school my child attends, I am going to call you on that action. As the old saying goes: Your rights end where my rights begin.

 

 

The judicial system’s new “crack” cocaine fix


crack vs powderRemember how the punishment for possessing or dealing in crack was substantially higher than for cocaine, even though “crack” was nothing more than cocaine on steroids?  That disparity was eliminated when President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010 because quite frankly is disproportionately negatively impacted minorities.  The Act was unanimously approved by both Houses of Congress meaning it faced no serious opposition from Republicans.

As usual, the criminal justice system has found other ways to exacerbate racial divisions in enforcement and punishment and have filled the gap with “suspended license” offenses.  Like all bad policy it has not yielded the intended results of increased revenue for the “State” simply because it was not well thought out and unfair public policy.  Basically what happens is suspended licensestates “suspend” a person’s drivers license if they are unable to pay court costs for appearances before the judicial system for any offense meaning the only way a driver can retrieve or if they don’t have one get a license is by paying all past due court costs. Of course it doesn’t matter if you have to drive to get to work or not, and in the case of  places with large rural populations like Tennessee where public transportation is sparse in some areas, tough! Such poorly planned law means a person commits the other illegal act of driving with a suspended license and when caught only increases their debt and criminal record…..if they’re lucky enough to survive the encounter with police when ticketed for such an offense.   The NYT piece goes on to say

Going through the legal system, even for people charged with nonviolent misdemeanors, can be expensive, with fines, public defender fees, probation fees and other costs running into hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. Many people cannot pay.

As a result, some states have begun suspending driver’s licenses for unsatisfied debts stemming from any criminal case, from misdemeanors like marijuana possession to felonies in which court costs can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars……..Most states also suspend licenses for failure to pay traffic fines, another policy that critics say creates a quicksand of debt.

Though the law was projected to raise more than $20 million a year, it has not come close, according to state agencies. Revenue from litigation taxes, the primary court fee collected by the state, has remained flat and even declined a bit in 2014, and license reinstatement fees have increased far less than was anticipated.

But since suspensions under the law began in mid-2012, almost 90,000 licenses have been suspended. Over the same period, 170,000 Tennessee licenses were suspended for unpaid traffic tickets. In both categories, more than 40 percent of the suspended drivers were black, compared with 16 percent of state residents.

Bad policy often gives bad results that are of no benefit to the state or its citizens.  This trend in the justice system is another example of bad policy.  Fix this America!!

 

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