Sep 15 2014
For the last six months, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has been spinning its wheels instead of instituting reforms or achieving accountability concerning their agents fatally shooting people. Border Patrol agents have shot to death 46 people in the past decade, 15 of whom were Americans. According to The Arizona Republic andUSA Today, agents have shot people they suspected of throwing rocks on the Mexico side of the border. They have shot people while they ran away. In other incidents, unarmed individuals died from Tasers or beatings. There have been no repercussions for CBP agents since 2005, and there have reportedly been no disciplinary actions taken over excessive or lethal force since 2008.
Like most law enforcement agencies, CBP has made timid promises to address the problem, such as telling agents to avoid lethal force situations whenever possible, and not to shoot at rock-throwers unless there is no other recourse. This while still fighting meaningful attempts at reform or transparency. Just recently, on September 11, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit to prevent CBP from permanently sealing the name of the Border Patrol agent who fatally shot a 16-year-old Mexican boy two years ago.
Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez was shot at least eight times by the unnamed agent, who said someone was throwing rocks at him while he searched for drug smugglers sneaking over the fence. Rodriguez’s family says that wasn’t him, and that the boy was just walking home after a baseball game. In July, Rodriguez’s mother sued, alleging that the officer used excessive force and violated her son’s Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. Under a deal with CBP, the boy’s family does get to learn the name of their son’s killer—so long as no one else does. A US District Court has demanded that the secrecy be justified by the government, but the agency has done the same thing before, only releasing the names of 16 agents involved in the 46 lethal incidents since 2005.
The excuse for secrecy in the name is like the excuse police in Ferguson, Missouri, used after their officer, Darren Wilson, shot Michael Brown: CBP agents have a special, dangerous job. Someone might target them—like a bad guy angry that a teenager got shot and nobody was held accountable.
Now, onto this week’s bad cops:
- VICE contributor Julia Carrie Wong investigated the Urban Shield convention held earlier in Oakland, California. The convention, which attracted so many protesters that it reportedly won’t be held in Oakland again, is part guns and militarized police expo, part training for various terrorism scenarios, and part opportunity for police to play with all the flashy war gear they may not get to use otherwise. The whole thing is sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security, making cop-skittish Oakland even more unsettled by its presence.
- VICE News contributor John Dyer reported on the San Diego Unified School District’s acquisition of a 14-ton MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle, which will be repainted so as to look less SWAT-y and, in theory, can be used during a natural disaster of some kind.
- On Tuesday, police in Louisville, Kentucky, along with the the local Alcohol Control Board, reportedly frisked every single patron of a bar before they were allowed to exit. Part of this, including the instructions to line up for a friskin’, was recorded on video—and it’s not hard to see why a local lawyer told media that police broke the law here. The issue that prompted the touching and feeling was ostensibly the bar’s liquor license, with some whispers of drug dealing, but simply being inside of such a bar is not probable cause to be searched. This is both creepy and unconstitutional.
- Prosecutors in Killeen, Texas, will pursue the death penalty for Marvin Louis Guy over a May 9 incident which left one police officer dead and another injured. During the 5:30 AM no-knock drug raid, Killeen police were shot at by Guy. Police Detective Charles Dinwiddie was struck and killed while Officer Odis Denton was shot but recovered after femur surgery. Most drug raids, especially the no-knock variety, take place at an hour during which most people are asleep and it seems likely that Guy has a pretty damn good defense that he didn’t know who he was shooting at. Defendants in similar situations have argued with varying degrees of success. Maybe he got scared when someone barged into his apartment before dawn?
- Police in Sarasota Springs, Utah, fatally shot a 22-year-old black man holding what may not even have been a real sword. According to his mother, Susan, Darrien Hunt was off looking for a job—fake three-foot samurai sword in hand, for reasons unknown—when police shot him dead. Susan Hunt’s lawyer also says an independent autopsy shows that her son was shot in the back, not while “lunging” at police as they are currently saying. This might be a doozy without video evidence, but it does sound like chickenshit cops strike again.
- On Monday, a trooper with the Oklahoma State Highway Patrol was arrested on suspicion of raping a woman. Allegedly, Trooper Eric Roberts pulled a woman over in July, saying she smelled marijuana. He then took the woman into custody, made her watch porn in his car, took her to a secluded area, and raped her. Roberts has been under investigation and suspended from patrol since July 24. Charges have not yet been filed against him, but he’s expected to be charged with a long line of awful things, including second degree rape, forcible oral sodomy, and kidnapping.
- On September 11, the Oklahoma branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Logan County Sheriff Jim Bauman in order to gain access to Bauman’s alleged database of records on up to 25,000 individuals never charged with any crime.
- Last Monday, a SWAT team from the Lake Havasu City, Arizona, police department managed to strike a two-year-old with the door they forced in during a drug raid. No narcotics were found, but a scale reportedly had meth residue. The toddler, who was taken to the hospital to be checked out, seems to be fine. His father, 25-year-old Adrian Guzman, was arrested on felony possession of drug paraphernalia which allegedly contained trace amounts of a banned substance. Drug paraphernalia—which can mean simply plastic baggies—is a bullshit charge and narcotics field tests to “confirm” drug residue are impressively unreliable. Basically, grains of salt all ‘round here. But at least you hit a kid on the head, officers.
- Six Florida corrections officers were fired after they beat an inmate, then lied about the man having spit in the eye of the officer in charge, Captain James Kirkland. Last month, while an inmate at Northwest Florida Reception Center named Jeremiah Tatum was being taken to a shower by five guards, Kirkland said he would fake being spat on as a pretext for beating Tatum. He later made one of guards write the incident reports for all five to make sure they matched up. On Thursday, all five were arrested for felony battery and fired. Kirkland was also dismissed from his job and charged with two counts of official misconduct. Officials are investigating several inmate deaths that have occurred at the prison.
- Oh, hey, five other Florida corrections officers at another prison were also arrested last week, this time for battery of an inmate. Try not to think about what’s probably happening in various other prisons across the United States that we’re not hearing about.
- Nobody cares about weed anymore, right? Especially not in hippie places in Cali, bro! Oh, hang on: “Mysterious Men Dropping From Helicopters To Chop Down NorCal Marijuana Grows.” Turns out, these guys who are going around pursuing such worthy goals as destroying Mendocino County’s marijuana harvest are allegedly not even police, but a security firm working with them called Lear Asset Management. Or maybe they’re not. Maybe they’re Mendocino County deputies, which is what Sheriff Tom Allman claims, and no private security firms work with his police. Lear Asset Management’s promotional flyer suggests otherwise, however. Seems like the takeaway is: masked dudes from the sky are cutting up marijuana plants. This kind of Commando raid, “private” or not, is creepily reminiscent of California’s CAMP raids of the 1980s, descriptions of which should traumatize even the most jaded of drug war followers.
- Speaking of civil asset forfeiture gone mad in the city of Philadelphia, Slate’s Dave Weigel reported on even more disturbing stories of people having their money and property taken from them just for sitting in the courthouse “get your shit back” waiting room. My favorite detail is the story of Philly cops putting a gun to the head of a guy running a methadone clinic, then taking $90 bucks and his cellphone.
- On Wednesday, two officers with the New York Police Department stopped a teenage girl from jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. Officers Philip Hirsch and Donnell Graves were patrolling the bridge when they saw the 14-year-old sitting on a ledge. Hirsch climbed after the girl, and Graves began talking to her. After some protesting on the teen’s part, she was taken to safety. This quick, life-saving action makes Graves and Hirsch our Good Cops of the Week. Other police take notice: you’re supposed to save suicidal people, not kill them.
September 14, 2014 | 12:00 pm
The City of Brotherly Love is decriminalizing marijuana possession and public consumption, ending a drug policy that has disproportionately targeted African Americans and Latinos in Philadelphia for decades.
After a long summer of negotiations between Mayor Michael Nutter and supporters of Councilman James Kenney’s decriminalization bill, the mayor agreed to sign the legalization measure, which will take effect October 20. Support from Philly cops, African American community organizations, and black media outlets helped forge the decriminalization law that passed 13-3 through the city council — a margin that would have overridden a potential mayoral veto.
"We’re the largest city in the US that will decriminalize successfully," said Kenney’s policy director Chris Goy. "And in doing so, forged our own path against the state." Marijuana possession is still illegal in Pennsylvania, and lawbreakers are remain subject to arrest, fines, and jail time.
A separate medical marijuana bill is still under consideration in the state legislature, and according to a Quinnicpiac University poll conducted in March, 85 percent of Pennsylvania voters support ending the state’s ban of medical pot. But, despite overwhelming support among voters, according to VICE News sources in Harrisburg, the state’s capital, the bill will likely fail to become law.
Philly’s decriminalization bill makes marijuana possession of less than 30 grams equivalent to a $25 jaywalking ticket. Smoking weed in public is a bit more serious: Anyone caught toking will have to fork over $100 or complete nine hours of community service.
Possession of weed previously carried a $200 fine, plus mandatory viewing of a three-hour video on the dangers of drug abuse. The video is widely considered a joke and ineffective, a symptom of the dysfunctional way the city, state, and country deal with the possession of tiny amounts of weed.
"After three years of closely monitoring Philly, we still remain concerned that racial disparity exists at every level, relating to the stop and frisk program," Paul Messing, an attorney who works closely with the American Civil Liberties Union in Philadelphia, told VICE News.
Though marijuana advocates and civil rights advocates consider Philadelphia’s decriminalization ordinance a victory, concerns still remain, including a fear that the city’s police force won’t embrace the measure. Philly cops still use the controversial “stop and frisk” tactic, which ostensibly strives to reduce crime by eliminating vandalism and other petty crimes that proponents say are correlated with more violent and destructive acts.
"In particular, we have seen striking racial disparity in arrests for small amounts of marijuana," Messing said. "We’re hoping new legislation reduces or eliminates that disparity."
Black and Latino suspects account for 83 percent of the 4,000 weed possession arrests every year in Philly, city council member James Kenney told the New York Times. Nationally, the racial disparities are a well documented concern that, according to an ACLU report, may have influenced President Obama and other policy makers to shift their stance on prohibition.
Marijuana enforcement laws are unquestionably a civil rights issue, according to attorney Harry Levine. “A classic civil rights issue is equal treatment under the law,” Levine told VICE News. “If you have enforcement against some people but not other people; then you have a civil rights question.”
But despite the overwhelming evidence in the wake of the ACLU’s report, opponents of Philadelphia’s decriminalization law remained unconvinced.
Historically, cops and their lobbying groups have opposed most attempts to decriminalize weed or make medical and recreational pot legal, according to Levine. In California, the first state to legalize medical marijuana, the state’s Police Chiefs Association has long been an opponent of plans to enact a statewide regulatory framework for the drug.
To get the cops on board with Philly’s decriminalization, Kenney and his allies partnered with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) — an organization of current and former law enforcement officials that aims to raise awareness about drug policy failures. After Philadelphia’s cops heard firsthand from a 30-year narcotics veteran from Maryland, it became clear that the sky wouldn’t fall if weed possession became the equivalent of a jaywalking citation, Goy said.
Police support is vital since pot remains illegal under Pennsylvania law, a fact that’s not going to change in the immediate future. Because weed is still illegal at the state level, cops can, theoretically, arrest people in Philly on suspicion of breaking state law. Convictions for breaking the state law carry fines of up to $500, 30 days in jail, plus a criminal record.
"With the cooperation of our police department, we helped forge the agreement to pass the bill," Goy said. "The police commissioner said that they’re going to do everything they can to implement the bill, and they even recognize there are a lot of questions about those of have gotten arrest records in the past."
The criminal record that comes with a state conviction is especially damaging to those who rely on federal government assistance programs such as subsidized housing and college loans, not to mention the difficulties of getting a job with a drug-related conviction, Goy said.
But the major bellwether in the Kenney’s effort was bringing the city’s African American community organizations on board with the legislation. “Councilman Kenney credits the real turning point to black radio and the black clergy for coming to support the bill,” Goy said. “They were avid supporters.”
Personal testimony also played a critical role in moving the debate, such as the story from a young mother who lost her job because she got busted with five dollars worth of weed in her pocket, Goy said. “The human element of what we’re talking about is a lot more effective than polling numbers.”
September 15, 2014 // 04:30 PM EST
Since it was accidentally introduced to North America in 2002, the emerald ash borer has killed about 50 million ash trees across the continent. The invasive beetle originally hails from Asia, but some adventurous individuals managed to stow away in a shipping crate headed for southeastern Michigan, where they began their ecologically devastating rampage.
But emerald ash borers have a big surprise coming down the pipeline—femme fatale pest control. Thanks to a new technique pioneered by an interdisciplinary team of researchers, these beetles may soon be brought down by their own libidos.
The team created two types of synthetic female ash borers, one with nanoscale-level bioreplication, the other using a 3D printer. The researchers placed the decoys on leaves in Hungarian forests, and wired them up with a 4,000 volt charge.
Normal, non-decoy ash borer mating. Image: Wang, XY/Journal of Insect Science
Male beetles eagerly landed on the convincing models, only to get zapped to death. It’s a perfect bait-and-switch, and it has the potential to help rescue and from the ravenous beetles. The details of the team’s research was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Our new decoy and electrocution process may be useful in managing what the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service claims to be the most destructive forest pest ever seen in North America," said co-author Michael Domingue, a postdoctoral fellow in entomology at Penn State, in the university’s statement.
Indeed, the technique may be applicable to other invasive pests as well. “We have already been working on similar beetles that affect oak trees, that are in the same genus, but include different species,” Domingue told me.
“The techniques seem applicable to all these similar pests, which attack broad-leafed trees or shrubs,” he said. “With increasing global trade it is possible that some of these beetles will accidentally be introduced into new areas where they can do a lot of damage, just like the ash borers.”
In the case of the ash borer decoys, the bioreplicated models ended up having a much higher success rate than the 3D-printed ones. That’s not particularly surprising, given the sophisticated method the researchers used to produce them. They sprayed the dead females with nickel vapor, used the hardened nickel coat to create a mold for replicas, then pressed plastic into the mold while applying heat. The decoys ended up being dead ringers to the dead females, right down to the nanoscale.
The 3D printed decoys, meanwhile, lacked these intricate surface contours, and male beetles could tell the difference. While the males would often venture a closer look at the rougher, printed models, they didn’t land on them.
The beetles were discerning in other ways too. Some of the replicas weren’t rigged with electricity, and most of the males abandoned those decoys after touching them, indicating that they sensed something was off. But for those decoys that did dole out electric shocks, one touch was all it took to stun and kill the male.
Emerald ash borers strike again. Image: Forest Service, USDA
But before we can unleash electric ash borer dopplegangers across the continent, a few more hurdles have to be cleared. “For using a new trapping technique at a national level, it has to be tested for efficacy versus other traps, usually by the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service,” Domingue told me.
“We are not quite at that point with these traps yet, because there are some minor engineering challenges that need to be solved before they realize their full potential,” he said. “For example, in the crude traps we built, rain disrupts the electrical supply, rendering them ineffective until the battery can be changed.”
“In addition, we’re planning to develop these into ‘remote detection traps’ where the event of males landing on the decoys could be reported by wireless technology so that we can know in real time when these beetles are active in an area,” he added.
Emerald ash borers have let the good times roll during their 12 years in North America. Here’s hoping that they get a rude awakening soon, courtesy of some high-voltage honeypots.