Senate Joint Resolution 49

Lt. H. Jay Cullen, Heather Heyer, and Trooper Pilot Berke M.M. Bates all lost their lives in events surrounding the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA.

Yesterday, the US Senate voted to pass S.J.Res.49 which has the very long title :

A joint resolution condemning the violence and domestic terrorist attack that took place during events between August 11 and August 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia, recognizing the first responders who lost their lives while monitoring the events, offering deepest condolences to the families and friends of those individuals who were killed and deepest sympathies and support to those individuals who were injured by the violence, expressing support for the Charlottesville community, rejecting White nationalists, White supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups, and urging the President and the President’s Cabinet to use all available resources to address the threats posed by those groups.

That’s a long title, and I feel bad for whomever had to read the title aloud during the processing of this resolution.  That person needs a vacation and likely an award for doing that.

Resolutions are passed all the time, and given the nature of the events of Charlottesville, it’s not a surprise that members of Congress put such a resolution to a vote.  The thing is, a resolution is just that.  It has no bearing on laws or any ability to be enforced.  Resolutions are a feel-good thing to make it seem like they’re doing something when they really are not.

Honestly, the most striking part of the resolution, in my opinion, can be found here”

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That Congress—

(6) rejects White nationalism, White supremacy, and neo-Nazism as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States; and

(7) urges—

(A) the President and his administration to—

(i) speak out against hate groups that espouse racism, extremism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and White supremacy; and

(ii) use all resources available to the President and the President’s Cabinet to address the growing prevalence of those hate groups in the United States; and

(B) the Attorney General to work with—

(i) the Secretary of Homeland Security to investigate thoroughly all acts of violence, intimidation, and domestic terrorism by White supremacists, White nationalists, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and associated groups in order to determine if any criminal laws have been violated and to prevent those groups from fomenting and facilitating additional violence; and

(ii) the heads of other Federal agencies to improve the reporting of hate crimes and to emphasize the importance of the collection, and the reporting to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, of hate crime data by State and local agencies.

Have we sunk so far as a nation where our Congress, in the year 2017, has to actually write out a resolution stating this for the president to sign?  Here’s a link to the full text of Senate Joint Resolution 49 which passed both houses by unanimous consent and is awaiting a signature from the president.

Edward Gibbon has to be chomping at the bit to get reincarnated to write about this fall as well.

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Song in the key of life

This particular bass line has been following me around for the past two weeks like the Jason Voorhees sound effect or like Isaac Hayes keeping step with Richard Roundtree.  When I hear that first note, it hits my senses like John Williams warning me to get out of the ocean if I wish to live.  Whether it’s been at 4am on the way to work, 2pm on the way home from work, or any point and time in between, I haven’t been able to escape the audible grip of this sonic messenger.  When I hear it, the power it exudes causes me to pause in my tracks as if I can avoid detection if I don’t move or breathe.  When the accompanying guitar riffs and drums join in the sonic parade, I know that there’s no use in trying to escape the tentacles of this aural assassin, so I have no choice but to succumb and listen to it in its entirety until it is done with me and vanishes into thin air.

For those who are not musicians or able to read sheet music, I’ll offer you a different version.  I’ll be back in a little over 5 minutes to continue writing because I know that I won’t get anything done until the song is finished.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system for a while, I’m guessing that somewhere, there’s a part of my subconscious that wants me to post about people like Colbert, Oklahoma reserve police officer Bart Alsbrook.

Some of those that work forces, are the same that burn crosses

Who is Alsbrook, and why is he relevant you ask?  Well, he was a reserve officer prior to being named as the interim police chief in Colbert even though he was not officially certified as a peace officer by the accrediting agency in Oklahoma.  Upon getting named as interim chief, Alsbrook was found to have ties to White Nationalist and Neo-Nazi groups thanks to investigative reporting done by Rachel Knapp at KXII in Sherman, TX.  Since his past has been uncovered, Alsbrook has decided to resign from the position even though the city council wanted him to stay in the position.

From KXII:

But the recently appointed city spokesperson, Jerry Harrell, says the city council admires Alsbrook and is *not seeking his resignation.

“They don’t want him to leave because he hasn’t done anything they warrant, would be grounds for his dismissal,” Harrell said.

Harrell said the city did a background and Council on Law Enforcement, Education and Training (CLEET) certification check before hiring Alsbrook.

Some of those that work forces, are the same that burn crosses

Alsbrook is not an anomaly nor an isolated case either.  According to a report published by the Intercept, the FBI has been investigating the infiltration of the law enforcement community by White supremacists for a long time.

White supremacists and other domestic extremists maintain an active presence in U.S. police departments and other law enforcement agencies. A striking reference to that conclusion, notable for its confidence and the policy prescriptions that accompany it, appears in a classified FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide from April 2015, obtained by The Intercept…

In a heavily redacted version of an October 2006 FBI internal intelligence assessment, the agency raised the alarm over white supremacist groups’ “historical” interest in “infiltrating law enforcement communities or recruiting law enforcement personnel.” The effort, the memo noted, “can lead to investigative breaches and can jeopardize the safety of law enforcement sources or personnel.” The memo also states that law enforcement had recently become aware of the term “ghost skins,” used among white supremacists to describe “those who avoid overt displays of their beliefs to blend into society and covertly advance white supremacist causes.” In at least one case, the FBI learned of a skinhead group encouraging ghost skins to seek employment with law enforcement agencies in order to warn crews of any investigations.

Now, don’t take this as a broad brush of the entire law enforcement community, because that is not what this is about.  I’ve been wearing blue myself for 10 years, and I have numerous friends and family members who have also been sworn LEOs on all levels.  Law enforcement, just as any other profession is made up of a lot of good, hardworking people who are trying to do a job and provide for their family members.  There are also some within the profession who are lower than saggy ant testicles.  That goes for any profession.

The problem with the law enforcement community is that you don’t have many who are willing to speak out or even try to get rid of the bad elements, so it appears that most, if not all, are protecting everyone to include the bad actors.  I surmise that much of that is the pressure of having to provide for family as well as preservation of life itself.  Look at the story of Frank Serpico, and you can understand why there are not many “lamp lighters” as Serpico refers to whistleblowers.

Some of those who work forces, are the same that burn crosses

The infiltration of white supremacists is not limited to the law enforcement community either.  The military has long been plagued with the issue of white supremacists within the ranks.  One of the groups that participated in the Charlottesville rally, Vanguard America, is led by a former Marine.  The driver of the car that killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer was a Marine boot camp dropout.  Back in 1995, a black couple in Fayetteville, NC were killed by members of the 82nd Airborne stationed at nearby Ft. Bragg.  In 1976, there was a KKK chapter found at Camp Pendleton in California.

Credit: Fox 6 Milwaukee, WI

When you see photos like the one above, a trained person can easily see which people in that group have went through weapons training.  It’s almost like picking out someone wearing a neon yellow vest in a crowd of people dressed in all black.  To others, it looks like a group of armed individuals, any of whom could present a danger to the groups they see as their opposition.  While I don’t think they present an immediate clear and present danger, these groups should not be taken lightly as a whole because there are some very well-trained individuals within their ranks.  There are many war veterans and former police officers aligned with these groups, and the thought of well-trained marksmen with their ideology is quite concerning.

Some of those that work forces, are the same that burn crosses

I’m not the only one that has that opinion.  Back in 2009, there was a report* released by the Department of Homeland Security** which outlined the increasing threat America faced involving rightwing domestic terrorism.  Republican politicians and other conservatives jumped all over then President Obama and Secretary of DHS Janet Napolitano because of the contents of that report since it targeted conservative constituents and claimed that it was propaganda meant to demean all conservatives.  It didn’t matter that DHS had also written an assessment of the threat of leftwing domestic terrorism.  Nor did it matter that the key findings of the report include a statement that said there were no findings of any impending acts of violence.

This has been a problem long in the making and one that our elected leaders have consistently ignored.  We’ve had over four decades to address these problems instead of letting them fester.  Now, we’re seeing the consequences of inaction.  When a veteran police officer of 28 years can tell a woman “Remember, we only kill black people. We only kill black people, right?” and his lawyer defends this by saying that he thinks the officer was being sarcastic, then we have a very serious problem on our hands. This isn’t funny anymore at all, nor should it be ignored any further.

*A link to the pdf report is imbedded within the story

**Open disclosure: DHS is my current employer, and I had nothing to do with the mentioned report.

 

 

Do all lives really matter?

When I initially began writing this post, my mind was focused on the justice system.  This week there were two death penalty cases in the news that set my brain cells ablaze in that special way that forces me to burn Google searches like they’re hot dogs on a grill.  These two cases were interesting in their own rights, but they also led me to reading up on disparities in how the death penalty is applied in America.

Just hours before he was supposed to be put to death, Marcellus Williams received a stay of execution from the governor of Missouri.  His stay was granted because there was new evidence involving DNA that could potentially exonerate Williams for the killing of Felicia Gayle in 2001.  The testing was unavailable then, but testing on material on the murder weapon excluded Williams as a possible contributor to the DNA.  It is not something that necessarily means that Williams is innocent, but it does cast doubt on the case put forth by the state.

In the other case, Mark Asay was executed in Florida for the 1988 murder of Robert McDowell and Robert Lee Booker in Jacksonville.  His case piqued my interest because Asay was the very first white person in Florida to be executed for killing a black person since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.  In that same time frame, Florida has executed many blacks for killing white people.

Reading that information on the second case mentioned got me to digging for statistics.  I’m not a big fan of capital punishment, so I don’t really follow those cases very well.  I remembered one other “first” in that Henry Francis Hayes was executed on June 6, 1997.  His execution was the first KKK member in the state of Alabama that was convicted and executed for the lynching of a black person.  Through all the decades upon decades of racial violence in my home state of Alabama throughout the 20th Century, the first KKK member who was executed for that violence was put to death at the tail end of the century.  This train of thought led me to this information courtesy of the Washington Post:

Since the death penalty was reintroduced, the number of nonwhite people who’ve been executed has consistently been overrepresented. While most of those who are executed are white, they consistently make up a lower percentage of the population of those put to death than of the country on the whole.

More to the point, most white people who are executed are put to death for killing other white people. Most black people who are executed? Also executed for killing white people.

Credit: Washington Post/Death Penalty Information Center

Credit: Washington Post/Death Penalty Information Center

After reading this, I wondered how someone could utter the words “all lives matter” when our actions as a country disprove this.  On top of what I was finding, we had the rally and death in Charlottesville which compounded things for me.  There’s the new ban on transgender people serving in a volunteer military.  Now, the president has pardoned Joe Arpaio, a former sheriff who was convicted of contempt of court for repeatedly violating the Constitution by targeting people based on their race after courts had ordered him to stop.

Now, if “all lives matter”, wouldn’t we all be protesting to protect the lives of Native Americans?  From CNN in 2014:

In fact, despite the available statistical evidence, most people don’t know that Native Americans are most likely to be killed by police, compared with other racial groups. Native Americans make up about 0.8% of the population, yet account for 1.9% of police killings.

I don’t recall very many people out marching or attempting to shed light on the difficulties faced by Native Americans.  Then again, at about 1% of the total population, many people probably don’t realize they exist beyond the pages of history books.

As much as I thought the justice system was broken, I’ve come to realize that the system operates just as our society does.  Our society does not place equal value on our lives.  We’re all filed away in little neat boxes whether we’re black, white, male, female, old, young, gay, straight, or whatever category is the flavor of the day.  We’ve let those little neat boxes determine the value or worth of people as opposed to people being judged on the content of their character.  If your boxes are of the “good” kind, you have a far easier time in navigating your way through society.  If your boxes are not good, then it basically sucks to be you.

If all lives mattered, we wouldn’t be worried about transgender people wearing a uniform of our military.  If all lives mattered, we wouldn’t be targeting people as illegal immigrants just because of their complexion.  Furthermore, if all lives mattered, we wouldn’t have the leader of the country telling us through his actions that all lives matter, on many sides…  many sides.  Some just matter more than others.

Quick question

I was looking at my previous post when I had to ask myself a question.  Why do we, as Americans, settle for a “justice” system that will lock away (and sometimes execute) innocent people on sometimes very flimsy evidence and questionable testimony while people who are obviously guilty pretty much walk free?

Justice or Just Us

A record 149 people were exonerated in 2015 bringing the total to 1730 exonerated since 1989.

I came across this article last week, and I think it’s something that should be front and center for this presidential election campaign season.  Unfortunately, it’s not.

Exonerations hit record in U.S. as wrongful convictions become a ‘regular’ problem via Yahoo News Digest

https://www.yahoo.com/digest/20160203/exonerations-hit-record-wrongful-convictions-become-regular-problem-00106496

Get the app and the day’s need-to-know news. https://yho.com/newsdigestall

I know the justice system isn’t perfect, and it hasn’t been applied perfectly in the past.  Sometimes, I wonder if these “few” exonerations are simply just the ones that are easy to prove.  No innocent person should be forced to serve time for a crime they didn’t commit.  At the same time, a guilty person shouldn’t be free to roam the streets.

I’ve long thought that the justice system is not the arbiter of innocence or guilt.  It’s simply the arbiter of who can best prove their case.  There are times when it’s quite easy to prove innocence in today’s time.  You can use DNA, video evidence, or other things to prove a person didn’t commit a crime.  Things were not always that easy.  Those things that can prove innocence can also easily prove guilt.

I’m sure people wonder why minorities have distrust for law enforcement and the legal system, and when you can average exonerating a person every 2.5 days within a year, it’s not hard to understand.  It’s not just minorities that get screwed over by the system either.  If you can’t afford a good lawyer, your chances are not going to be good of defending yourself in court.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re Black or White when you don’t have the green to help your case.

The “Making a Murderer” documentary has put this back in the spotlight for a minute.  I haven’t followed the case of Steven Avery or watched the documentary, but I see nothing wrong with reviewing cases where there may be evidence to prove someone’s innocence.  Given that some of the exonerated from last year were on death row, it may be a lifesaver to some people if their cases are reviewed.

The one thing I would like to see happen on top of the exonerations is a review of those responsible for locking up innocent people.  If it’s found that the prosecutors, or even law enforcement, have broken the law or knowingly set up a person they knew was innocent, they should have to face some type of review of their work themselves.  If they have a pattern of abuse like that, then they should face the repercussions of their actions and be punished accordingly.

The veracity of our justice system depends on the honesty and integrity of the entire process.  If the honesty and integrity is in question, then so is the system of justice.  Without the honesty and integrity, there is no justice.