Friday, May 25, 2012

Can we elect Krugman to something?

In today's NYT:

But here’s the thing: If Wall Streeters are spoiled brats, they are spoiled brats with immense power and wealth at their disposal. And what they’re trying to do with that power and wealth right now is buy themselves not just policies that serve their interests, but immunity from criticism.

Actually, before I get to that, let me take a moment to debunk a fairy tale that we’ve been hearing a lot from Wall Street and its reliable defenders — a tale in which the incredible damage runaway finance inflicted on the U.S. economy gets flushed down the memory hole, and financiers instead become the heroes who saved America.

Once upon a time, this fairy tale tells us, America was a land of lazy managers and slacker workers. Productivity languished, and American industry was fading away in the face of foreign competition.

Then square-jawed, tough-minded buyout kings like Mitt Romney and the fictional Gordon Gekko came to the rescue, imposing financial and work discipline. Sure, some people didn’t like it, and, sure, they made a lot of money for themselves along the way. But the result was a great economic revival, whose benefits trickled down to everyone.

You can see why Wall Street likes this story. But none of it — except the bit about the Gekkos and the Romneys making lots of money — is true.

Krugman for Secretary of the Treasury, 2012!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My thoughts on the police investigation report

A few weeks ago, the City released the report on the investigation into last summer's pepper-spraying and accused roughing-up of a guy* on Green Street. This incident was unusual primarily in (a) that it was a video- and audio-taped by a squad car camera and microphone and (b) that the tape was anonymously leaked and posted online. Probably without this leak, no one would have given a damn about this. Here's a WILL article written after the leak, if you want the background.

Now, I've never had any law enforcement training or even contact with the police, good or bad, but I'm a blogger and am therefore an Expert on Everything™. One of the three findings from this report is that an unjustified amount of force was used to remove the guy from the squad car (i.e., grabbing the guy by the neck and pushing him out of the car onto the ground). But the concerns that I have are related to what happened earlier that evening. So here's my take on this. Numbers are timestamps from the video.

This stop was pretty clearly a pretext for hassling this guy. The report says that this guy had been loud and obnoxious earlier in the evening. Two officers are seen following him along Green Street, followed slowly by this squad car (02:24:45-02:25:33). It is only after the two officers turn away that the squad car quickly accelerates to catch up with this guy and this incident occurs.

In fact, the report pretty much comes out and admits this:

...officers and shift supervisors had been directed to focus their efforts on identify suspects and/or possible suspects in the aggravated batteries. Those efforts often involved the use of Terry Stops of problem individuals and the enforcement of ... "minor" offense such as loitering and pedestrian violations. [emphasis mine]

The problem I see with that is that a Terry Stop requires "reasonable suspicion" that the person being stopped has committed or is about to commit a crime.** This report mentions nothing about this guy being suspected of any crime other than the fact that, earlier in the evening, he had been yelling loudly. He was a "problem individual." The male and female companion of this guy, also jaywalking, were ignored.

I mean, arresting a guy for jaywalking? In Campustown? Really, if they start arresting people for jaywalking on campus, it will be empty. Half the population will be in jail and the other half will be bailing them out.

One of the things that really convinces me that it was predetermined that this was not going to go well -- and maybe this isn't fair -- is that you can hear the primary officer start to hum a little tune to himself as soon as he starts to pull his car forward to arrest this guy (02:26:43). It's not like the officer was humming to himself as he drove down the road. It starts as soon as the guy is in the street.

The thing that bothers me most about this incident is the pepper spraying. After seeing this guy jaywalk, the officer pulls his squad car into the middle of Fourth Street, jumps out of his car, crowd-sized can of pepper spray in hand.

After the guy and the officer stop walking (02:27:09), less than two seconds go by before the guy is pepper sprayed in the face (02:27:10).

I'm not suggesting this guy is anything other than an obnoxious drunk jerk. The report specifically draws attention to the fact that this guy moved his arm "to approximately shoulder level." But it's very obvious that he's just gesturing with both his hands in the same way he's been doing ever since the officer grabbed his arm and started marching him back to the squad car, protesting the whole way.

When talking about the unjustified removal of this guy from the squad car later that night, the report says officers are expected to "... use verbal persuasion, dialogue, and courtesy to gain voluntary compliance whenever possible".  So it seems to me that the immediate jump to a pain compliance technique is unwarranted (again, Expert in Everything™, see above). If this had been a different kind of force, but of roughly the same intensity, say a punch in the gut, would it still have been considered reasonable?

Anyway, it's late and I want to wrap this up. This guy was clearly a jerk. He was obnoxious to start with and increasingly obstreperous as the night went on (though who wouldn't be pissed off after having been pepper sprayed in the face, reasonably or not?). I couldn't care less that the secondary officer told him to "shut the fuck up". Hell, just while watching this video, I wanted the guy to shut the fuck up. But it doesn't seem to be that being an obnoxious jerk is enough to get a face full of pepper spray.

[*] For lack of a better term, I'm just going to call the guy that was pepper sprayed and arrested "the guy."

[**] IANAL, but I can read Wikipedia.