Friday, July 24, 2020

My Perfect Minivan Ride, With the Gestapo

My Perfect Minivan Ride, With the Gestapo

Portland Oregon seems an unlikely place for the inauguration of a Fascist Police Force in America, but if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that the unlikely is likely.  When I first heard about the famous minivan abduction I was puzzled.  Why would the police read someone the Miranda warnings, and then just let them go?  What was he suspected of?

The short video that went viral was not much help either.  It took more than a moment for me to ignore the voice pleading with the officers to "use your words".  What was that about? A kindergarten teacher too terrified to return to class, yet comfortable attending a protest cum riot?  Who talks that way?

But that is not the point, I suppose.  The point is that the officers came up wordlessly, and took a man away, in a minivan, without, as many commenters pointed out, a warrant.

A warrant is not necessary to make an arrest, Probable Cause is, so my first suspicion was that he had been observed vandalizing something, or assaulting someone.  But that isn't what happened.  Apparently he was seen standing near someone who may have shined a laser in an Officer's eyes, and was wanted for questioning.  The officers took him away in the minivan because of the growing crowd, which made it impossible for them to speak to him on the street.

I hope there were more people there than "use your words" lady, because annoying as she was, she did not sound like a threat.

Let's be clear: there is no riot exception to the requirement that Probable Cause exist before an arrest can be made.  There is also no question but that being taken off the street by armed government agents is an arrest, contrary to whatever claims were made. The officers were wrong.

In the 80s the "Preppy Handbook" came out.  It  told you how to wear Penny Loafers and Polo shirts, what names and hairstyles were Preppy and so on.  It was followed by a slew of other handbooks, including "The Lawyer's Handbook".  I think I lost my copy, but I remember it had a section on different kinds of arguments you could make, depending on how much you were paid.  The most expensive one was the "bolt from the blue", which meant you could say anything at all, unless you were immediately struck down by the eponymous bolt.

Arguing that there should be a sort of riot extension to the Terry Stop requirements might not be that bad, but it is close.  Maybe the correct question is if the Judge would just yell at you from the bench, or would ask you to join him in chambers, so he could yell at greater length?

Speaking of Lawyers, can you imagine the one who came in to the office where they were questioning this fellow?  After hearing the tale of how he came to be there I suppose the officers heard: "Ok.  Now you will tell him he is free to go, and walk him to the door."

That said, it is also not exactly the sort of thing the Gestapo were feared for.  The problem was not that they would grab people off the street and release them an hour later, it was that they would grab people off the street, take them to an office somewhere, and then shoot them in the head, or trundle them off to a concentration camp. 

Now do you get the title?  I am falling between two chairs, the reflexively pro and reflexively anti-Trump.  I can't possibly get behind the notion that the deployment and actions of the Feds in Portland was "perfect", because, well, they clearly weren't.  At the very least some more training needs to be given to these officers so they stop coming up with creative ways of dealing with the difficulty of conducting street interviews during unrest. 

Should the officers wear better identification?  Sure.  Is it frightening that they are in military style camouflage?  Yes.  Am I disappointed in the way things are going in this country?  Of course.

And yet.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Mostly Peaceful

Mostly Peaceful

The city of Seattle recently conducted a Natural Experiment, or perhaps I should say allowed one to occur. It was well-timed, in that it tested a hypothesis that has been bandied about since the horrific death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer; the hypothesis that the police are the real threat to public order, and must be defunded.

One of the peculiar things about living in the modern world is that we are often unable to see the harms we prevent with our infrastructure, precisely because the infrastructure is working correctly. Anti-vaxxers still rarely see measles in the wild, so the notion that the vaccines are preventing a dangerous disease is foreign to them.

It is tempting to be harsh, and label them foolish, but honestly, what evidence can they see to support the conventional narrative? It is necessary to read some history, or learn some immunology to understand the value of a vaccine. Merely looking at the world and drawing conclusions isn’t enough.

Just so with policing. In fact, it is probably a worse situation due to the media environment. Police killings, especially of unarmed Black people, are horrendous. The stories are intensively reported, and covered thoroughly. This is natural. It is also impossible to blame the media for failing to report on all the people who were not murdered, because their potential killers were deterred by the presence of police, or by the fear of detection and punishment. By definition, there is no story to report.

Enter Mayor Durkan. When the riots over Mr Floyd became particularly violent, and the defense of the East Precinct required regular use of tear gas, she grew concerned. If I understand her reasoning correctly, she concluded that this was an example of the cure being worse than the disease, or rather the “cure” (the police) causing the disease (rioting). The order was given to withdraw from the precinct.

Once the police left, the local activists declared first an autonomous zone, then an Occupation. Whether CHAZ or CHOP it was now a self-governing entity, and the police were no longer welcome, not just in the boarded up Precinct House, but in the several block area around it. When the President urged the City and State to clean it up, they demurred. Mayor Durkan even suggested that we would see a “Summer of Love” in the area.

For a time, it seemed like that might be in the offing. There were dance parties, free food banks, public discussions, and so on. A Wall Street Journal reporter visited, and found optimistic people. Perhaps Mayor Durkan was right?

Rousseau is credited, apparently incorrectly, with the claim that the state of Nature was one of true human freedom and peace. A close cousin to this idea is that all of our miseries are the result of our civilization, and if only we were free of its confines, we would be Good, and Happy. An echo of this thought was heard in Margaret Mead’s story that the people of Papua New Guinea lived close to nature, and were thus happy and peaceful.

The truth turned out to be that they were indeed mostly peaceful, and there were only a handful of homicides every year. Unfortunately, due to the small population density, those few homicides resulted in a per capita homicide rate that was about the highest on the planet.

Just so CHOP. In the few weeks of it’s mostly peaceful existence, there were only two homicides. Unfortunately, on a Per Capita basis that works out to 1,216 per 100,000 -- the highest on the planet, by far. Of course it is a small sample, and the statistics can’t compare to actual countries, but the message is clear, it was a disaster.

Mayor Durkan recently bowed to reality, and ordered the police to retake the zone, which they did with little difficulty. Whether she, or any of the other supporters of CHAZ learned the larger lesson about the underpinnings of our civilization? That we shall see.