The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Misinformation about the Breanna Taylor case

Radley Balko has reported on criminal justice for over a decade, and I would argue he's the most-informed journalist on the subject in the United States. I therefore trust his analysis of Breanna Taylor's death more than most. In today's Washington Post, he lays out the facts about Kentucky law and about the case as far as he knows, and corrects some misinformation currently swirling around social media:

Wednesday’s announcement from Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron about criminal charges in the Breonna Taylor case set off a frenzy of misinformation on social media. Based on what we do know — which I’ve culled from my own reporting, reporting from the New York Times and the Louisville Courier-Journal, as well as from conversations with the lawyers for Taylor’s family — the decision to charge Detective Brett Hankison with wanton endangerment was probably correct, as was the decision not to charge the other officers involved in the shooting. If ballistics had conclusively shown that one of the bullets from Hankison’s gun killed Taylor, he could be charged with reckless homicide, but according to Cameron, the bullets that struck Taylor could not be matched to Hankison’s gun. There’s the problem that the police who conducted the raid were relying on a warrant procured by another officer, which was then signed by a judge. There were many flaws and abrogations in that process, but it would be unfair and not legal to hold them accountable for any of that.

But “not illegal” should not mean “immune from criticism.” Part of the problem was Cameron himself, who was selective in what information he released to the point of misleading the public about key facts in the case. (This raises real questions about whether the grand jury was also misled. That’s why an attorney for Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who fired at the police during the raid, is demanding that Cameron release the evidence that was presented to the grand jury.)

Furthermore, Taylor’s death was not, as Cameron suggested, simply a tragedy for which no one is to blame. The police work in this case was sloppy, and the warrant service was reckless. Taylor is dead because of a cascade of errors, bad judgment and dereliction of duty.

To simply blow this off as a tragedy for which no one is to blame is an insult to the life and legacy of Taylor, but also to the dozens of innocent people who have been gunned down in their own homes before her. And the effort by Cameron and others to make all of this go away by feeding the public half-truths that blame the victims in this story — Taylor and Walker — for Taylor’s death is inexcusable.

We could prevent the next Breonna Taylor. We could ban forced entry raids to serve drug warrants. We could hold judges accountable for signing warrants that don’t pass constitutional muster. We could demand that police officers wear body cameras during these raids to hold them accountable, and that they be adequately punished when they fail to activate them. We could do a lot to make sure there are no more Breonna Taylors. The question is whether we want to.

Balko's Rise of the Warrior Cop is on my to-be-read shelf.

Happy Monday!

Today is the last day of meteorological summer, and by my math we really have had the warmest summer ever in Chicago. (More on that tomorrow, when it's official.) So I, for one, am happy to see it go.

And yet, so many things of note happened just in the last 24 hours:

Finally, Josh Marshall reminds everyone that Democrats are nervous about the upcoming election because we're Democrats. It's kind of in our blood.

Making reservations for beer gardens

A friend and I plan to go to a local beer garden this weekend—one on the Brews and Choos list, in fact—so we had to make a reservation that included a $7.50-per-person deposit. Things are weird, man. And if you read the news today, oh boy, the weirdness is all over:

Finally, closer to home, 4,400 restaurants in Chicago have closed because of the pandemic, 2,400 permanently. The Chicago Tribune has a list of the more notable closures. 

Busy morning

Just a few things have cropped up in the news since yesterday:

Finally, the Covid-19 mitigation rollback announced yesterday has led to Guthrie's Tavern closing permanently. Guthrie's, which opened in 1986 and featured board games and good beer, will pour its last pint on Thursday.

It can't happen here, until it can

Oregon Public Broadcasting is reporting this morning that last night, two Federal agencies using unmarked cars have started pulling people off the streets:

Federal law enforcement officers have been using unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland and detain protesters since at least July 14. Personal accounts and multiple videos posted online show the officers driving up to people, detaining individuals with no explanation of why they are being arrested, and driving off.

The tactic appears to be another escalation in federal force deployed on Portland city streets, as federal officials and President Donald Trump have said they plan to “quell” nightly protests outside the federal courthouse and Multnomah County Justice Center that have lasted for more than six weeks.

Officers from the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and Customs and Border Protection’s BORTAC, have been sent to Portland to protect federal property during the recent protests against racism and police brutality.

But interviews conducted by OPB show officers are also detaining people on Portland streets who aren’t near federal property, nor is it clear that all of the people being arrested have engaged in criminal activity. Demonstrators like O’Shea and Pettibone said they think they were targeted by federal officers for simply wearing black clothing in the area of the demonstration.

Charlie Pierce calls this "being softly Pinochet'ed in broad daylight" (despite the arrests happening at night):

LEO’s in camo? Unmarked vehicles? Disappearing people off the street without charge? Detention in something far too close to a police black site? (Ask some folks in Chicago how those work out.) I always knew I missed something not growing up in Santiago.

Why in the hell is this not a bigger story? A major American city is being softly Pinochet’ed in broad daylight. And, if we know one thing, if this president* and his administration* get away with this, it will only get worse. You’d have to be out of your mind—or comatose since the Fall of 2016—not to suspect that this could be a dry run for the kind of general urban mobilization at which the president* has been hinting since this summer's protests began.

Also on Thursday, press secretary Kaleigh McEnany took a moment out of her briefing to call Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot a “renegade mayor” because Lightfoot refuses to ask for the National Guard to come into her city. (To her credit, Lightfoot snapped right back.) The White House is on record several times as trying to delegitimize Muriel Bowser as mayor of Washington, D.C.

Portland may be a dumbshow for dummies, but it also looks like a dress rehearsal. This is not an "authoritarian impulse.” This is authoritarian government—straight, no chaser.

The good news, if we can call it that, is that 56% of Americans and 55% of likely or registered voters disapprove of the administration.

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent

This sort of thing keeps happening, and explains why the police hate the public's ubiquitous video recording:

When CTA supervisor Martesa Lee attempted to lodge a complaint against a Chicago police officer in February, she was given a choice:

Drop her grievance against the officer she accused of pushing her out of an unmarked crime scene on a Red Line platform or face possible arrest.

“Is it worth it to you?” Chicago police Sgt. William Spyker asked her.

It was.

Authorities arrested Lee in front of her co-workers and a platform of CTA riders after she informed the sergeant she would not let the matter go. With her hands cuffed behind her back and tears streaming down her face, she refused additional opportunities to retract her grievance and regain her freedom.

Looking at the facts in the light most favorable to the police, I see no reason to arrest Lee. The time to arrest her for "obstruction of justice" would have been as she actually entered the active crime scene—but even then, it seems clear why the officer chose to let her go.

Spyker's instinct was to arrest someone who disagreed with him, who threatened to make someone on his team fill out some paperwork. He made a blatant argument to force: do this or I will inflict physical violence on you. "Spyker raised the specter of arrest within 35 seconds of Lee approaching him with her concerns," the Tribune pointed out. Despite Spyker's calm demeanor in the video, I'm guessing he didn't have a lot of other tools to use in resolving this dispute.

In fact, "it’s unlikely Haran would face discipline for removing Lee from the crime scene as he has a responsibility to protect the scene’s integrity," one source told the reporter, meaning that all Spyker had to do was take down the complaint and move on with his day. The body cam footage of Lee's initial confrontation with the police is murky at best about who was at fault. Spyker's handling of the situation after the fact is what got this into the newspaper.

(The title of this post is from Foundation by Isaac Azimov.)

Day 84 of the Year Without a Year

First, some good news: New Zealand has not had a new Covid-19 case in 14 days, making it officially coronavirus-free. Given it's an archipelago of 3 million people more than 2,000 km from its nearest neighbor, they may have had some natural defenses against reinfection.

In other news:

An oddly quiet day, it seems. Probably because it's Monday.

A busy day

Last weekend's tsunami continues to ripple:

Just another quiet week in 2020...

Chicago in 2020 is not Berlin in 1924

A peaceful protest in downtown Chicago that began at 2pm yesterday devolved into violence by 8pm, leading to Mayor Lori Lightfoot imposing a 9pm to 6am curfew city-wide:

“I want to express my disappointment and, really, my total disgust at the number of others who came to today’s protests armed for all-out battle.”

Lightfoot singled out “the people who came armed with weapons,’’ calling them “criminals.“

“We can have zero tolerance for people who came prepared for a fight and tried to initiate and provoke our police department.’’

She ruled out calling in the National Guard.

The city lifted bridges and blocked access to downtown, shutting Metra and downtown CTA stations around 8:30. I live about 10 km away from the protests, but I have friends and family in the Loop and South Loop. One sent this photo of police blocking the Congress Parkway:

(Movie fans may recognize the section of grass along the river, top-center in the photo, as the location of the Abegnation housing complex in the movie Divergent.)

Looters smashed windows at Macy's on State Street and Nieman-Marcus on Michigan Avenue. In the South Loop, a friend reported on Facebook:

Will have to see in the daylight but I'm hearing the entire South loop is destroyed. Every business windows smashed and looted broken glass everywhere. From Ida B Wells down to Cermak from Michigan down to Canal. Can verify all the stores on my block are destroyed.

The local CBS affiliate had this:

So, it's scary—but in many ways, it looks a lot better than it would have looked in the 1960s or 1920s. This isn't societal collapse. The Chicago Police remained professional and disciplined throughout. (Other police departments in the US, maybe not so much.) They know what's at stake, and they also know that the "protesters" instigating the violence and attacking them are trying to provoke a disproportionate response.

One of my friends summed up the complexity:

It is entirely possible to support the protesters and stand with them and to be angry and devastated by the murder of George Floyd and by every other similar murder as well as the systemic racism that allows it, and also to be angry and sad about the destruction and looting. Vandalism and looting may be what Dr. King called derivative crimes. Uncontested and deplorable derivative crimes. The people doing these things are criminals.

Yet it is also possible to have anger at the people destroying and looting and also have empathy and compassion for the people doing the destroying and looting and understanding the underlying root causes of their actions.

George Takei Tweeted:

He also pointed out that the Hong Kong protests worked in part because peaceful protesters called out and filmed the agitators infiltrating their events. We should do the same.

Then there's The Onion from 2017. I'll just leave it there.

Minneapolis police "inadvertently" arrest reporter live on air

As CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his crew asked riot police where they would like them to move early this morning, the police abruptly arrested the group:

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz spoke with CNN president Jeffrey Zucker shortly after:

Mr. Walz told Mr. Zucker that the arrest was “inadvertent” and “unacceptable,” according to CNN’s account of the call. By about 6:30 a.m. local time, the crew had been released and was back on television.

“Everyone, to their credit, was pretty cordial,” Mr. Jimenez said of his interaction with the police officers after his arrest. “As far as the people that were leading me away, there was no animosity there. They weren’t violent with me. We were having a conversation about just how crazy this week has been for every single part of the city.”

At a news conference on Friday, Mr. Walz issued what he called “a very public apology” to CNN for the morning’s events, saying, “I take full responsibility; there is absolutely no reason something like this should happen.”

Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international anchor, wrote on Twitter that “arresting journalists is the kind of thing that happens in dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. We live in a democracy.” Bret Baier of Fox News wrote that “this should never have happened. Period.”

The presumptive Democratic nominee for president, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., weighed in on the incident in a Twitter post on Friday. “This is not abstract: a black reporter was arrested while doing his job this morning, while the white police officer who killed George Floyd remains free,” Mr. Biden wrote. “I am glad swift action was taken, but this, to me, says everything.”

Exactly. I expect that someone in the Minnesota State Patrol will get fired over this, but probably not the person who ordered the arrest. I find it shocking that this happened in Minneapolis, one of the most progressive cities in the country.

But police killings have not declined despite years of attempted reforms. As Radley Balko wrote today, "White people can compartmentalize police brutality. Black people don't have the luxury."