Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Guide to Mass Shootings in America

It's perhaps too easy to forget how many times this has happened. The horrific mass murder at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado last Friday is the latest in an epidemic of such gun violence over the last three decades. Since 1982, there have been at least 56 mass murders* carried out with firearms across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii. We've mapped them below, including details on the shooters' identities, the types of weapons they used, and the number of victims they injured and killed.

Of the 132 guns possessed by the killers, more than three quarters were obtained legally. The arsenal included dozens of assault weapons and high-powered handguns. (See charts below.) Just as Jeffrey Weise used a .40-caliber Glock to massacre students in Red Lake, Minn., in 2005, so too did James Holmes when blasting away at his victims in a darkened movie theater.

Half of the cases involved school or workplace shootings (11 and 17, respectively); the other 28 cases took place in locations including shopping malls, restaurants, government buildings, and military bases. Only one of the killers was a woman. (See Goleta, Calif., in 2006.) Explore the map for further details—we do not consider the map to be all-inclusive, but based on the criteria we used to identify mass murders, we believe that we've produced one of the most comprehensive rundowns available on this particular type of traumatic violence. (Mass murders represent only a sliver of America's overall gun violence.) For a timeline listing all the cases on the map, including photos of the killers, jump to page 2.

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Study: NYPD Abused Basic Human Rights at Occupy Protests

The NYPD 'consistently violated basic rights' during the Occupy Wall Street protests and showed a 'shocking level of impunity', when dealing with protesters, according to a new study (pdf), published on Wednesday.

The report, by the Global Justice Clinic at New York University's School of Law and the Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic at Fordham Law School, conducted over an eight month period, examined hours of video footage, documents, press reports, and conducted extensive interviews with protestors and witnesses from the Occupy protests and encampments. The findings paint a disturbing portrait: authorities across the US will now suppress protest at all cost, even if protests are lawful, peaceful, and of no threat to the general public.

The study details the increasingly common practices of "excessive police use of force against protesters, bystanders, journalists, and legal observers; constant obstructions of media freedoms, including arrests of journalists; unjustified and sometimes violent closure of public space, dispersal of peaceful assemblies, and corralling and trapping protesters en masse," the report states.

"Pervasive surveillance of peaceful political activity, arbitrary and selective rule enforcement, and restrictions on independent protest monitoring also raise serious concerns. The government has also failed to make transparent critical policies concerning law enforcement activities."

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US Gun Laws: Guilty by Reason of Insanity

James Holmes, the alleged shooter in the massacre in Aurora, Colo., reportedly amassed his huge arsenal with relative ease. Some of these weapons were illegal as recently as eight years ago. Legislation now before Congress would once again make illegal, if not the guns themselves, at least the high-capacity magazines that allow bullets to be fired rapidly without stopping to reload. Holmes bought most of his weaponry within recent months, we are told. Perhaps, if sane laws on gun control, including the ban on high- capacity magazines, were in place, many in Aurora who are now dead or seriously injured would be alive and well today.(Michael Glasgow / CC-BY)

The facts of the assault are generally well-known. Holmes allegedly burst into the packed theater during the 12:30 am premier of the Batman sequel “The Dark Knight Rises,” threw one or two canisters of some gas or irritant, which exploded, then began to methodically shoot people, killing 12 and wounding 58.

“Everybody sort of started screaming, and that’s when the gunman opened fire on the crowd, and pandemonium just broke out,” Omar Esparza told me. He was in the third row, with five friends out for a birthday celebration: “He started opening fire on the audience pretty freely, just started shooting in every direction, that’s when everybody started screaming, started panicking. A lot of people had been hit at that point at those initial few rounds, and that’s when everybody sort of hit the floor and started to exit.”

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Crime rate in Canada at lowest level since 1972, Statistics Canada says

Fewer crimes were reported to police in Canada in 2011 than at any other time in the last 40 years, Statistics Canada said Tuesday — a revelation that comes as political leaders wrestle with how to curb gun violence on the streets of Toronto.

Police services reported nearly 2 million incidents last year, about 110,000 fewer than in 2010, the agency reported. And the severity of crime index — a tool used to measure the extent of serious crime in Canada — also declined by six per cent.

“Overall, this marked the eighth consecutive decrease in Canada’s crime rate,” the study said. “Since peaking in 1991, the crime rate has generally been decreasing, and is now at its lowest point since 1972.”

There was, however, a reported increase last year in homicide, sexual offences against children, impaired driving and most drug offences. In particular, there were 44 more homicides in Canada in 2011 than in 2010, bringing the total number to 598.

Statistics Canada said both the crime rate and the severity index declined or remained stable in regions throughout the country. Western provinces generally reported higher crime rates and crime severity than those in the east.

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Mayor Rob Ford simplifies issue of gun violence

Once again, the scourge of gun violence has come to the fore in our city. The bedlam has generated impulsive and careless comments, some bordering on racism.

Most notable were Mayor Rob Ford and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s call to deport firearms offenders. This begs the question: Will Kenney’s majority Conservative government change Canada’s citizenship laws so that Canadian citizens who commit gun crimes are also exiled? Of course not, because this would be unconstitutional. So let’s tone down the rhetoric and animus.

Unfortunately, the mayor and minister have not been alone in simplifying a complex social issue — our society at large, including the news media, have been culpable as well.

Whether it takes place at an obscure location between rival factions or in a “public” space such as Danzig St. or the Eaton Centre, we must denounce all incidents of gun violence equally and unequivocally. Failing to do so only reaffirms the dangerous fallacy that the lives of some are less valued than those of others in our city, thus contributing to the sense of hopelessness faced by many youth.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Arpaio's Obama probe finds 'national security threat'


After determining earlier this year there is probable cause to suspect the document released by the White House as Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a forgery, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said today he believes his Cold Case Posse’s investigation should be advanced to the federal government, based on further information released today at a press conference under way now in Phoenix that is being live-streamed by WND.

Cold Case Posse lead investigator Mike Zullo said the new information confirms the document presented to the American public in April 2011 is undoubtedly fradulent.

The Obama campaign declined to comment on Arpaio’s allegations.

Why won't anyone listen to this guy???   Tom

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More Fallout From Citizens United: Corporations Granted More Power to Propagandize to Americans

The controversial 2010 Supreme Court ruling did not just affect corporate "speech" in elections. 

Tamara Piety is a constitutional law professor and dean at University of Tulsa’s College of Law. Her latest book, Brandishing The First Amendment: Commercial Expression in America, describes how federal courts have aggressively and inappropriately expanded the First Amendment rights of for-profit corporations in recent decades.

The book starts with a striking assertion, that if the government cannot regulate corporate speech then it cannot regulate commerce, especially in our media-driven world. Piety writes that the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, which deregulated corporate political speech, also will make it harder for the government to protect public interests because corporate rights to say anything is ascendant in the federal judiciary.

Steven Rosenfeld interviewed Piety about Citizens United's reach beyond the electoral arena. Below is a slightly edited transcript.

Steven Rosenfeld: Are we talking about advertising or does it go deeper than that?

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Another Abortion Showdown in Virginia

Attorney General Cuccinelli rejects the decision of the Board of Health.

Last Spring, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was a pretty credible candidate for the vice presidency. Then he tripped over a trans-vaginal ultrasound bill that enraged women throughout the commonwealth and turned—almost overnight—into a great big political cautionary tale. As Alexander Burns explained in Politico, McDonnell’s early support of a law that would have mandated an invasive ultrasound procedure for women seeking abortions “turned McDonnell’s national political fortunes upside down.” (He later switched positions, signing a modified version of that law that did away with the now politically-toxic internal probe.) McDonnell not only became a walking human punch line for a few days, but he also may have finally managed to turn the commonwealth into a blue state: President Obama appears to have opened up a 20-point lead over Mitt Romney among women voters, who, presumably, didn’t want the state probing them for no coherent medical reason.

You’d think the lesson would be clear here: Voters may be deeply conflicted on the question of abortion, but women aren’t going to tolerate state efforts to eliminate it under the guise of protecting their superfragile health. Even voters worried about jobs and the economy aren’t too distracted to notice when the state begins to talk about women as if they just aren’t all that bright. But the message seems to have been lost amid breezy explanations that the Virginia trans-vaginal overreach was a one-off, or that the governor’s tanking poll numbers were unrelated, or that women in the commonwealth just won’t notice a blatantly political government overreach if it happens again.

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Profit and security at the London Olympics

G4S - the Anglo-Danish conglomerate - has put the security of the London Olympics at risk. Or so it would seem according to recent headlines.

The largest private security company in the world, G4S employs over 650,000 people in 125 countries. But the news broke last week that it could not provide the 13,000 security guards it had promised for the Olympics.

Britain's muckraking journalists responded with aplomb. The papers abounded with stories of inept trainees asleep in classes or lacking in English. Other would-be security guards failed to spot pistols, bombs and grenades.

Certainly, G4S' shenanigans have laid the ground for a scandal of Olympic proportions if terrorist attacks do occur.

The British armed forces now have to provide at short notice an additional 3,500 personnel on top of 13,500 already committed to the Olympics. Troops returning from Afghanistan and others who were training for deployment will make up for G4S' apparent inability to recruit enough rent-a-cops. Real police are also being taken off their beats to fill the gaps.

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Mass Arrests Likely at Political Conventions: 6 Historical Precedents

Clinton's law designates political conventions National Special Security Events, a category of state security that virtually dooms the exercise of First Amendment Rights. 

The Republican and Democratic Party conventions later this summer will probably witness the mass arrest of many American citizens assembling to exercise their First Amendment rights. Mass arrests accompanied the Republican conventions held in New York in 2004, when 900 people were busted, and in St. Paul in 2008 when 300 were detained, including 30 journalists.

A political convention is designated a National Special Security Event (NSSE), a category of state security originally established by President Clinton through a classified 1998 directive. NSSEs also include the Olympics, the Super Bowl and gatherings of world leaders like the G20 or NATO summits. An event receiving a NSSE designation gives federal and local law enforcement wide discretion, often leading them to treat protesters as potential terrorists and threats to national security.

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Reassessing Solitary Confinement in the U.S.

Thank you, Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Graham, and members of the Subcommittee for holding this hearing on the human rights, fiscal, and public safety consequences of solitary confinement in United States prisons, jails, and detention centers. My name is Michael Jacobson and I serve as President and Director of the Vera Institute of Justice. Vera is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit center for justice policy and practice, with offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans. Since 1961, Vera has combined expertise in research, technical assistance, and demonstration projects to help develop justice systems that are fairer, more humane, and more effective for everyone. One of the ways Vera works toward these goals is through its Segregation Reduction Project, which partners with states to decrease safely the number of people held in segregation (also called solitary confinement), provides recommendations tailored to the states’ specific circumstances and needs, and offers assistance as states plan and implement changes. A. Background on Use of Solitary Confinement/Segregation in U.S. Prisons Since the 1980s, prisons in the United States have increasingly relied on segregation to manage difficult populations in their overcrowded systems. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the number of people in restricted housing units nationwide increased from 57,591 in 1995 to 81,622 in 2005.1 Segregation was developed as a method for handling highly dangerous prisoners. However, it has increasingly been used with prisoners who do not pose a threat to staff or other prisoners but are placed in segregation for minor violations that are disruptive but not violent, such as talking back (insolence), being out of place, failure to report to work or school, or refusing to change housing units or cells. In some jurisdictions, these prisoners constitute a significant proportion of the population in this form of housing.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Robert J. Sampson - "The Social Order of the American City: Lessons for Crime and Justice"

Federal Judge Richard Posner: The GOP Has Made Me Less Conservative

Judge Richard Posner, a conservative on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, has long been one of the nation's most respected and admired legal thinkers on the right. But in an interview with NPR, he expressed exasperation at the modern Republican Party, and confessed that he has become "less conservative" as a result.

Posner expressed admiration for President Ronald Reagan and the economist Milton Friedman, two pillars of conservatism. But over the past 10 years, Posner said, "there's been a real deterioration in conservative thinking. And that has to lead people to re-examine and modify their thinking."

"I've become less conservative since the Republican Party started becoming goofy," he said.

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Double-bunking in crowded prison cells is not a problem for Toews

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says he has no problem with the number of federal inmates sharing cells built for one.

And even as he reiterated his commitment to building 2,700 new cells in existing prison facilities, he said those additional units aren’t meant to alleviate the pressures caused by double-bunking – because there’s no need.

“We won’t make any changes on the double-bunking policy. Double-bunking is appropriate. All Western democracies use double-bunking, dual accommodation, in appropriate cells,” he told The Globe and Mail in an interview. “And we will continue to do that.”

Mr. Toews used a Winnipeg press conference Wednesday to underscore that the increase in inmate population isn’t nearly as high as Corrections Canada projected. The Tackling Violence Crime and Truth in Sentencing acts were expected to result in 3,600 more inmates into the penal system by March of 2013; increases so far are closer to one-third that.

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The Return of Dickensian Debtor Prisons

It's difficult to hear these stories and wonder if we have suddenly transported into some Dickensian nightmare:

How did breast cancer survivor Lisa Lindsay end up behind bars? She didn't pay a medical bill -- one the Herrin, Ill., teaching assistant was told she didn't owe. "She got a $280 medical bill in error and was told she didn't have to pay it," The Associated Press reports. "But the bill was turned over to a collection agency, and eventually state troopers showed up at her home and took her to jail in handcuffs."
Although the U.S. abolished debtors' prisons in the 1830s, more than a third of U.S. states allow the police to haul people in who don't pay all manner of debts, from bills for health care services to credit card and auto loans. In parts of Illinois, debt collectors commonly use publicly funded courts, sheriff's deputies, and country jails to pressure people who owe even small amounts to pay up, according to the AP.
Under the law, debtors aren't arrested for nonpayment, but rather for failing to respond to court hearings, pay legal fines, or otherwise showing "contempt of court" in connection with a creditor lawsuit. That loophole has lawmakers in the Illinois House of Representatives concerned enough to pass a bill in March that would make it illegal to send residents of the state to jail if they can't pay a debt. The measure awaits action in the senate.

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Canada Studying Private Firms for Prisons as Budgets Fall

Canada is studying the use of private companies to deliver some prison services as it cuts spending and imposes tougher sentences on criminals, which may benefit companies like GEO Group Inc. (GEO)
Correctional Service Canada, which oversees federal prisons, “may consider” partnerships with private firms to provide “basic institutional services such as cleaning and food preparation,” says a memo prepared for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews in advance of a May 14 meeting with Crispin Blunt, U.K. Minister of State for Prisons in London.

Officials in the department urged Toews to discuss Canada’s “interest in considering the privatization of penitentiary services on a limited basis,” according to the memo obtained by Bloomberg News under Canada’s freedom-of-information law.

Public Safety officials were lobbied by the GEO Group as the government was preparing legislation to introduce or lengthen mandatory sentences for some types of crime. The annual budget of Correctional Service Canada, which reports to Toews, will fall to C$2.86 billion ($2.81 billion) by the year beginning April 2014 from C$3.03 billion in the current fiscal year, according to agency planning documents.

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Fact-Check: How the NYPD Overstated Its Counterterrorism Record

The NYPD is regularly held up as one of the most sophisticated and significant counterterrorism operations in the country. As evidence of the NYPD's excellence, the department, its allies, and the media have repeatedly said the department has thwarted or helped thwart 14 terrorist plots against New York City since September 11.

In a glowing profile of Commissioner Ray Kelly published in Newsweek last month, for example, journalist Christopher Dickey wrote of the commissioner's tenure since taking office in 2002: The record "is hard to argue with: at least 14 full-blown terrorist attacks have been prevented or failed on Kelly's watch."

The figure has been cited repeatedly in the media, by New York congressmen, and by Kelly himself. The NYPD itself has published the full list, saying terrorists have "attempted to kill New Yorkers in 14 different plots."

As Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in March: "We have the best police department in the world, and I think they show that every single day and we have stopped 14 attacks since 9/11 fortunately without anybody dying."

Is it true?

In a word, no.

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Romney Supports Voter ID Laws That Could Disenfranchise 25% Of African-Americans

Mitt Romney is scheduled to speak at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) convention. He will purportedly focus solely on the economy, steering clear of addressing the controversial voter identification laws that the civil rights organization sees as “systematically suppressing voters of color, students and the elderly.” Indeed, Romney has previously backed the very efforts the NAACP opposes, saying, “I like Voter ID laws by the way… more of them,” ignoring the evidence that voter ID laws disproportionately disenfranchise African-Americans:
  • A Center for American Progress investigation concluded that “these laws hinder voting rights in a manner not seen since the era of Jim Crow,” given that minorities (along the young and the poor) are more likely to be unable to acquire photo identification.
  • Indeed, 25 percent of African-American voters lack the type of ID required to vote under these laws.
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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Who would Jesus taser?

I'm sure there was absolutely no other way to deal with this:

The religious ruckus happened at Victory Church at 1515 N. Kelly Ave in Edmond.

A woman was apparently playing a tambourine too loudly during Wednesday night services.

When she refused to stop, the woman was escorted out by an off duty Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Deputy.

Myers said, “He had to physically escort her outside the church. Once outside, she broke free from the deputy and tried to go back inside, there became a physical confrontation.”

According to the arrest report, the deputy was forced to pepper spray and tase the unruly woman.

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Florida ‘first offender’ gets 161 years in prison

MIAMI—Quartavious Davis is still shocked by what happened to him in a U.S. federal court two months ago.

“My first offence, and they gave me all this time,” said Davis in an interview at the Federal Detention Center in Miami. “Might just as well say I’m dead.”

Davis was convicted of his role in a string of armed robberies in the Miami area in 2010. His accomplices testified against him, saying he carried a gun during their crimes and discharged it at a dog that chased them. But Davis was not convicted of hurting anyone physically, including the dog.
Davis would occupy no place at all in the annals of crime if not for his sentence. Now 20 years old, he was sentenced to 1,941 months in prison — 162 years and a bit — without the possibility of parole.

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UC Berkeley Purchases Armored Personnel Carrier

The University of California - Berkeley Police Department (UCPD) has acquired a $200,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security to purchase an "Armored Response Counter Attack Truck," a police department spokesman told Campus Reform on Friday.

The eight-ton vehicle, commonly referred to as a "Bearcat," is used by U.S. troops on the battlefield and is often equipped with a rotating roof hatch, powered turrets, gun ports, a battering ram, and a weapon system used to remotely engage a target with lethal force.
Lt. Eric Tejada, a spokesman for UCPD, said the university plans to use the vehicle along with neighboring counties in dangerous situations that could involved heavy weapons.Tejada said that although he does know of any incident in the university's 144-year history in which such a vehicle would have saved a life, the police department would have have liked to deploy it in an incident last year when they mistakenly believed a man had an AK-47 assault rifle.
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Wonder what the UofT police think of this?  Tom

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NYPD Posts ‘Wanted’ Flyer Targeting Couple That Legally Videotapes Stop-And-Frisks

The New York Police Department has put out a “police advisory” flyer warning cops and residents to look out for two “professional agitators,” a Harlem couple who film officers stopping and frisking young New Yorkers of color.

DNAinfo reports that Matthew Swaye, 35, and his partner Christina Gonzalez, 25, came across the poster, complete with mugshots and the official seal of the NYPD’s intelligence division, taped to a podium in the 30th precinct’s public hearing room while attending a precinct council meeting. The flyer listed the home address of the couple and warned:
Be aware that the subjects are known professional agitators that live at [home address]. Above subjects mo is that they video tape officers performing routine stops and post on youtube. Subjects purpose is to portray officers in a negative way and too deter officers from conducting there responsibilities. Above subjects also deter officers from being safe and tactical by causing unnecessary distractions. Do not feed into subjects propaganda.
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"We can't afford it"

States across the country are revisiting three-strikes laws and other tough mandatory minimum sentencing laws, particularly for low-level drug crimes. Of the 24 states that passed three-strikes laws in the early 1990s, at least 16 have since modified them to give judges more discretion in sentencing or narrow the types of crimes that count as a “strike,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

At least 14 states in recent years also either eliminated mandatory minimum sentencing for low-level drug offenders, or gave judges more discretion to consider alternatives to incarceration, according to the NCSL.

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Stand your ground or circular firing squad?

“[Stand Your Ground] states have a higher percentage of black population, more likely to have a Republican governor, higher incarceration rates and more police officers. These states also tend to be more urban, and have a higher poverty rate.”
and yet:

Using homicide data from 2006 to 2008, the years after a wave of legislatures passed such laws in 2006, the researchers found that “Stand Your Ground” laws, which provide protection for deadly use of force in self-defense in a public place, results in a “significant increase in the number of homicides among whites, especially white males.” The results are found to be specific to “Stand Your Ground” laws and the effect doesn’t extend to other laws passed in the interest of self-defense.
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