Author Archives: Michael Gizzi

A year in books

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I read a lot of books.  A lot of fiction.  I read books on my kindle (either on my iPad or on my actual Kindle Voyage e-reader), and I listen to a LOT of audiobooks on Audible.  I walk and/or run (usually walk) about 5 miles a day, and most of those days I am listening to audiobooks. I read audiobooks in the car. I will occasionally re-read books I really like. This year, I re-read almost all of the Michael Connnelly, Harry Bosch books; and in anticipation for this summer’s conclusion to Stephen King’s Mercedes Killer trilogy, I re-read the first two.   I also read a lot of books though Netgalley, which provides me with pre-publication copies in return for fair reviews. I am currently reading many of Robert A. Heinlein’s “juvenile” or YA “speculative fiction” novels (a.k.a. science fiction).  Heinlein is truly one of a kind.

As I sat tonight in a long meeting, I made a list of everything I read this year. I was impressed with it. And the year still has 24 days left.

Here is the list.  It is not in order, and includes print and audio.
Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
Robert A. Heinlein, Farmer in the Sky
Frederick Backman, A Man Called Ove
Thomas Frank, Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened the Party of the People
Ted Chiang, Arrival (Stories of your Life MTI)
Megan Miranda, All the Missing Girls
Blake Crouch, Dark Matter
Harlan Coben, Found
Harlan Coben, Seconds Away
Harlan Coben, Shelter
Harlan Coben, Live Wire
Michael D White, Stop and Frisk: The Use and Abuse of a Controversial Police Tactic
Joan Jacoby, The Power of the Prosecutor: Gatekeepers of the Criminal Justice System
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Dima Zales, Haven
Dima Zales, Limbo
Dima Zales, Oasis
Shadi Hamid, Islamic Exceptionalism
Alexandra Oliva, The Last One
Heather Gudenhauf, Missing Pieces
Lisa Lutz, The Passenger
Sylvain Neuvel, Sleeping Giants
Robert Dugoni, Her Final Breath
Jonathan Kellerman, The Murderer’s Daughter
Peter Cline, The Fold
Neal Stephenson, Seveneves
Greg Iles, The Bone Tree
Chuck Grossart, The Gemini Effect
Emily Bleeker
Philip Roth, American Pastoral
Nicole Van Cleve, Crook County: Racism and Injustice in America’s Largest Criminal Court
Avi Melamed, Inside the Middle East: Making Sense of the Most Dangerous Region of the World
Michael Connelly, Angle of Investigation: Three Harry Bosch Stories
James Hankins, The Prettiest One
Jonathan Rhynhold, The Arab-Israeli Conflict in American Political Culture
Martin Gaylord, The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gaugin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks
Greg Myre, This Burning Land: Lessons from the Front Lines of the Transformed Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Joe Hart, The Last Girl
David Baldacci, Absolute Power
Michael Connelly, The Wrong Side of Goodbye
Robert A. Heinlein, Citizen of the Galaxy
David Baldacci, No Man’s Land
Frederick Pohl, Gateway
Harlan Coben, Home
John Scalzi, The Dispatcher
Robert Dugoni, The 7th Canon
Robert A Heinlein, Time for the Stars
Liz Moore, Heft
David Baldacci, Hour Game
David Baldacci, The Escape
D.M. Pulley, The Buried Book
Harlan Coben, Hold Tight
Gregg Hurwitz, Orphan X
Brad Emanuel, The Last Tribe
Kendra Elliott, Targeted
John Scalzi, Agent to the Stars
David Baldacci, Split Second
Stephen King, End of Watch
Stephen King, Finders Keepers
Stephen King, Mercedes Killer
Tim Tigner, Flash
Harlan Coben, Fool Me Once
Michael Connelly, The Overlook
Michael Connelly, The Narrows
Michael Connelly, Echo Park
Michael Connelly, Lost Light
Michael Connelly, The Poet
Michael Connelly, City of Bones
Michael Connelly Angels Flight
Michael Connelly, Trunk Music
Michael Connelly, The Concrete Blonde
Michael Connelly, The Last Coyote
Michael Connelly, The Black Ice
Michael Connelly, The Black Echo
David Baldacci, The Last Mile
Harlan Coben, Fool Me Once
Robert Dugoni, The Conviction

When it pays to not be an “early” adopter… Hello, again.

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For most of my adult life I used Windows PCs. And every year or so, I’d find myself wiping the hard drive and doing a “fresh install.” I’ve owned a ton of laptops, and they would usually last 2, maybe 3 years at the most. The last one was a behemoth Toshiba, and the power adapter broke.

In 2011 I made what was a monumental shift “to the dark side,” getting a MacBook Pro at work. Mac OS X offered a degree of creativity and flexibility to my work that I never had in the Windows world. I soon found myself embracing it, and realized I needed my own personal machine, one which wasn’t just a university machine, and which I could put everything on. So I bought a MacBook Air, in December 2011. That machine has travelled to Israel, and really everywhere. It quickly became my go-to computer. It weighed less than 3 pounds. Its only limitations were 4GB of ram and a 256GB SSD flash hard drive. But it was fast. Even though the MBP had a much faster processor and double the ram, it crawled in comparison to the read-write speeds of the Air’s SSD.

And until yesterday, I was still using it. I have NEVER owned a computer, laptop or desktop, that has lasted as long, and performed as well as that Air. But in the past year, it was beginning to show signs of age. As the software I was using would begin to push the limits of the Air’s ram, and two of the keys had actually had the finish worn off from use. The battery would only hold about half of the charge. And as an amateur photographer, I could not stand being limited by a 256Gb hard drive. But I was waiting for the newest release of the MacBook Pro. I wanted a machine with more ram, and with more storage.

The MacBook Pro line had not been updated since mid-2015, but that was a nice machine. 3.5 pounds, a Retina display, HDMI, USB 3, and thunderbolt ports. But Apple kept hinting the MacBook would be re-born. Last year they released an underpowered, small 12” MacBook which featured no ports, except one USB-C port. USB-C is brand-new and requires adapters for ANY existing USB device to work with it. The rumors were the new MacBook Pro would follow in the MacBook’s lead. Photos leaked on tech sites (this is not the Apple of Steve Jobs where people would be banished for releasing the newest innovations). There would be some sort of an OLED glass “touch bar” to replace the function keys.

But I held out hope that the new MacBook Pro would not eliminate all of its feature-set. Two weeks ago, that hope was dashed, when the Apple keynote announced the new machine. No USB ports, farewell to Thunderbolt ports, no SD-Card reader, no magnetic “Mag Safe” power connector. All gone. Yes, a touch bar, which even included Touch ID. And it was now the weight of the MacBook Air, and had a longer battery and brighter screen. Oh, and its starting price… $200 MORE than last year’s model.

I was torn. I wanted a new mac. I wanted a computer with the latest version of the Intel Core i5/i7 processor. But did I want this computer? I spent two days, debating what to do? How would I function with this new device? How would I get my external thunderbolt hard drives to work with it? How could I afford the steep price-tag? I then went on the Accessory page of Apple’s website, and realized that there were adapters for my USB keyboard, for my external monitor, there were adapters for everything. And then, after doing the math, and adding up everything I would need to function (multiple USB-C to USB adapters, USB-C to thunderbolt adapter, new HDMI and VGA adapters for connecting to projectors, and on and on… and I realized that purchasing a new MacBook Pro would cost an additional $200 JUST FOR ADAPTERS, which I would have to lug around with me. It was unclear to me if the new machines even deserved the title “Pro” — they sure didn’t appear to be machines aimed for professionals.

That alone made me realize that the newest creation out of Cupertino was not necessarily the greatest. And I could purchase LAST YEAR’S MacBook Pro, now called the MacBook Pro 13” – “Silver” for less money than it cost a mere two days ago. And that machine would still have every port I needed. This MacBook Pro would be in use for probably another 4 or 5 years. And for that time period, I would have access to everything I wanted.  I also knew that five years from now the tech world would likely look very differently. Apple’s experiment with USB-C would either succeed and it would become the industry standard, or it wouldn’t. It might very well be the next Thunderbolt (which was never adapted by others). But for the next few years, I could have a lightning fast MacBook Pro that offered everything I wanted, and not have to make any compromises, while not being the quintessential early adopter.

 

Yesterday, my new “old” MacBook Pro arrived. The machine is fast. It is quiet (makes virtually no noise, and its fan, when it runs, is far more quiet than the Air). The keyboard has that wonderful, new spongy feel. The Retina display is all it is cut out to be.  Hello again.

 

I’m certain I won’t miss the emoji keyboard.

 

Looks like a duck, Quacks like a Duck, Must be… a QUOTA

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I have long criticized the quotas that law enforcement often use in writing citations.  Revenue-generation policing is something that officers and departments deny, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that it happens in many places.   The State of Illinois enacted a law  that became effective on January 1, 2015 that made quotas illegal.

Here in Normal, Illinois, the local police department had been sued by officers who were allegedly punished for not meeting quotas.  That lawsuit went away with the new law, but the question of quotas most certainly hasn’t.  In early 2015, it became known that the Normal Police instituted a new rubric for measuring police officer performance.  Each officer was expected to initiate three “enforcement contacts” with citizens each shift, resulting in a citation, an ordinance violation, or a written warning.  Hmmm… that sure sounds like a quota.  But no, the Chief argued on WGLT public radio, its not a quota.  Officers don’t have to issue citations.  And its reasonable that an officer would make three enforcement contacts during a shift.  Ok. Sure.

Fast forward to late summer 2016. The State mandated Illinois Traffic Stop study data for 2015 has now been released, providing data on more than two million traffic stops state wide.  I gained access to this data last weekend. And while I am still mining the data, it does not hard to see that something strange has occurred.  After making an average of 11,861 stops a year in the prior five years (2010-2014), there was something markedly different about the 2015 report.

Traffic Stops, Normal Police Department
2010   – 12,216
2011   – 10,237
2012   – 12,117
2013   – 11,776
2014   – 12,961
2015   –  19,637

Normal PD increased its total number of traffic stops by 6,676 in a year.  2014 was already its record high of almost 12,961 stops, and a year later, the department was making just shy of 20,000 stops.  Twenty thousand.  More stops are being made in Normal than in many much larger suburbs in the Chicago-land area. When examined on a daily basis, Normal police officers made 21 more stops per day in 2015 than they did a year before.  21.More. Stops. A. Day.

The enforcement contact policy requires officers to either issue citations or written (but not verbal) warnings.  In 2014, officers issued 8,472 citations (65.3%), 367 written warnings (2.83%), and 4,122 verbal warnings (31.8%).  In 2015, while making 6,676 more traffic stops, officers only wrote 6,784 citations (34.5%).  This was a decrease of 1,688 citations. This means that 65.5% of traffic stops in Normal in 2015 received warnings – and with the exception of 899 instances where verbal warnings were given (4.58%), 11,954 motorists received written warnings (60.87%).

So, wait…  Officers stopped 21 more motorists a day.  But they issued 4 less citations a day, 8 less verbal warnings a day, and 33 more written warnings, EACH DAY.  Every Day.  So, is this good?  Or is this bad?  Well, on the one hand, if Normal had held true to past practice, and issued citations in 65 percent of cases, 12,862 individuals would have received a ticket in 2015.  But they didn’t.  Instead, the vast majority of drivers received written warnings.  That sounds good, right?  Written warning.  No ticket.  No money spent. No points.  Why the warnings?  I think officers revolted, the rebelled against the new policy.  They made the stops, but they didn’t write tickets.

But is it good?  Maybe we ought to be looking at this from the perspective of 19,637 drivers in Normal being stopped by police for a traffic offense, 12,961 of which either did not merit a citation, or the officer chose to cut the person “a break.”  I’m sure the police will spin it this way. (They will also argue that all these stops prevent drunk driving, but that’s an entirely different discussion).  But if the majority of stops were for minor trivial traffic infractions, if the majority of stops were nuisance pre textual stops, having their liberty infringed, even if for just 10 to 20 minutes, then it might be a form of harassment — all in the name of ensuring officers meet an arbitrary metric of three enforcement contacts a day.

Let’s look.  What were the stops for?  The State divides stops into four categories:  moving violations, equipment violations, license plate/registration, and commercial vehicles.   In 2014, almost three-fifths of stops were for moving violations (7771, 59.4%).  Of those stops, 4,836 were for speeding. In 2015, there were 10,092 moving violation stops (51.39%), 6,904 (35%) were for equipment violations, and 2,637 (13%) were for license plate/registation violations.   In the 2015 moving violations only half (5,979) were for speeding.  There were 817 stops for lane violations. 1,256 were for turn signal/traffic sign violations.  1,931 stops were classified as “other.”    Non-moving violation stops in Normal accounted for 6,904 incidents.  Another 2,637 individuals were stopped for license plate/registration violations.

While it sounds good that officers handed out almost 2,000 less tickets, the reality is that an awful lot of the stops Normal made were for minor offenses, often pretexts to investigate a driver.  The stops for those nuisance reasons more than doubled with a huge increase in stops for things like license plate violations, turn signal violations, and the such. This may properly be viewed as aggressive officers making stops they don’t need to be making, just so they can question and potentially harass  citizens.   OR to do this so the officer doesn’t get in trouble for not meeting his… dare I say it…. QUOTA.

I am still just beginning to “mine” the data, doing cross-year analyses, but there are two important points.   One, is that Normal PD does not appear to unfairly target African Americans.   There are differences in stops between Caucasians and African Americans, but they are relatively small (although it is harder to assess whether African Americans are being stopped disproportionately to their population in the community).   BUT what is very clear is that Normal Police targets young people.  Close to half of the 19,637 individuals stopped in 2015 were under the age of 26.   Normal PD targets young drivers, teenagers, college students, and people in their early twenties — and with a vengeance.   When a histogram is run of the age distribution of stops, it diminishes dramatically after age 26.  Here though there is a racial difference, Whites across all are groups, drop steadily in the number of stops in their 30s, 40s, and 50s.   African-Americans do not age out as smoothly in terms of police contact, and a 45 year old Black man is still more likely to be stopped than a 45 year old White man.   Again, this data still needs to be further examined.

The end result is that the police department’s stated metric of measuring police effectiveness and performance by how many stops, tickets, and arrests they make, is one in which citizens are being stopped at rates far disproportionate to the population.  Almost 20,000 people were stopped in Normal. A case can be made that many of these citizens — young citizens —  were in effect, harassed, for no other reason than an over-zealous chief wanting to make sure his officers were engaging in a minimum amount of enforcement contacts.  It is also a consequence of the stop and question everyone mentality that pervades policing today.

Next steps in my analysis will be exploring investigatory stops and comparing them with legitimate traffic safety stops, and further refining the data on age, race, and gender. But one thing is crystal clear.  On the very same day that the state of Illinois made police quotas for citations illegal, the Normal Police Department began a new performance policy that has resulted in what almost certainly looks like a quota.   With almost 20,000 stops in a year, it smells like a quota, it looks like a quota, it must be a quota. And as a result, we all lose. Maybe protecting and serving should mean more than stopping drivers for increasingly minor offenses.  Because are we really safer if the police stop a 19 year old for failing to use his turn signal properly?  Not stopping someone for failing to signal, but not signaling  100 feet before the stop.  We can, and should demand better.

 

Stay tuned… more to come.

Book Review: The Last Tribe

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I was extremely leery about this book. What?  Another post super-flu end of the world novel?  Really?  How original could that be?   Brad Manuel’s The Last Tribe looked like yet one more in a long procession of books that came before.  I could not have been any more wrong.

Yes, the book brings to mind a lot of other works:  The Passage, Station 11, King’s masterpiece The Stand, I am Legend, World War Z, The Walking Dead, The Dog Stars, Divergent, The Maze Runner, The Planet of the Apes, and on and on.  AND yes, I have read many of them.  There is something about the genre that is always interesting.  But when I first saw The Last Tribe I was pretty sure this would just be another take on the same formula. And in the first chapter, I was convinced that this was going to be a book that had zero originality.

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I’ll say it again. I  could not have been more wrong.

 

The Last Tribe does not have zombies.  It does not really have many “bad guys.”  There are no evil forces at work.  What it has is perhaps unique to the whole genre.  Humanity.  The book tells the story of a group of survivors, several of whom, quite miraculously, are from the same family.  It tells how they come together, and ultimately create “the last tribe.”  The book has incredibly strong character development.  It has several protagonists, and over 700 pages, you come to cheer for all of them.

 

Brad Manuel has created a world that you do not want to leave.  He has created a world in which humanity triumphs.  A world in which people use knowledge, determination, and sheer will-power to not only survive, but to thrive.  It is a good guys survival story.

 

I don’t want to spoil the story.  I just strongly recommend you buy the book, or the audiobook (Scott Brick, one of the great audio performers of the day narrates it, over 22 hours!).  And then set some time aside, as once you start, you won’t want to put it down.

 

I am just hoping there is a sequel.

Damnit Jim, From hating Star Trek Beyond to loving it, in under 2 hours

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I’ll admit it, I liked the new Star Trek movie.

There I got that out.

I was livid with JJ Abrams when he abandoned the “prime” universe in the first “reboot” making a film that was a cheap copy of the original, with a non-sensical plot, and saw it just as a way to make money, and really not have much originality, while stealing my favorite science fiction universe from me.   But then over time, I slowly, slowly, slowly gave in. The reality was that if I wanted to watch Star Trek on the big screen, this was it. And bad Star Trek was still better than no Star Trek.  So I re-watched, and re-watched, and even went willingly to the second film, Into Darkness.  That one was both good and bad.  Like in the first, there was too much bait and switch, there was too much of an effort to just mess with the canon of Star Trek.   But it was enjoyable.

The previews for Star Trek Beyond left me, well, meh…  Just as in Into Darkness, it appeared as if the Enterprise was about to bite the dust, even though that didn’t actually happen in Into Darkness.   But the previews suggested an alien sci-fi battle on land, with NO SHIP, and thus, for me, no STAR TREK.  I’ve lived through the destruction of the enterprise before.  Twice before.  I never liked it.

Ok…  from here on our there be spoilers.  BE WARNED.

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An important first step — demand the immediate end of pre-textual investigatory stops

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This past week has renewed concerns about excessive use of force by police against Black Americans and minorities. Why is it that police seem so quick to escalate encounters with African American males?  Why is it that minorities distrust the police in ways that Caucasians don’t?  Are these problems just a reflection of a few “bad cops,” and not that of the vast majority who are dedicated to “protecting and serving” the communities they work in, or is there a deeper problem in policing?  Are all cops racist?  Is there institutional racism in within policing? All are important questions, but they all boil down to the fact that when police use strategies and tactics that disproportionately target minorities, and when they act differently in two identical scenarios with the sole exception of the race of the individual involved, it is discriminatory behavior. And it is a primary part of the lack of trust that exists between minority communities and the police today.

If there is a true desire to find solutions to the problems of lack of trust in policing, there is one action that each and every police department can take right now.  Immediately. And it is fairly simple. End the use of pre-textual traffic stops. Cease using the traffic code to conduct investigatory stops immediately. The benefits would be substantial.

What are investigatory pre-textual stops?  A pre-textual stop is a traffic stop used as a pretense or excuse to conduct a criminal investigation.  It is a tool that was developed by law enforcement in the 1980s as a way to prosecute the war on drugs. The setup is simple.  Identify a car that you, the officer, thinks looks suspicious, maybe there are young males in it, maybe it is the make and model of the vehicle, but regardless, you have a hunch that you want to investigate this vehicle.  So you look for the most minor of traffic offenses to create the pretext for a traffic stop.  I’m not talking about someone flying down the road 15 miles over the speed limit—that is a legitimate traffic safety issue.  I’m talking about driving with mud on a license plate, a broken license plate light, failure to use a turn signal properly.  Not failing to use a turn signal, but not using it 100 feet before a turn.

Other examples include weaving in the same lane of traffic, and driving down the left lane of the interstate for more than a half-mile, or driving with a parking permit hanging from the rearview window, among many others.  These are extremely minor violations of the traffic code that officers use as a pretext to establish probable cause to stop the vehicle. Once stopped, the officer has “seized” the driver and passengers of the vehicle.  He can question the driver, and all passengers.  Ask for identification, driver’s license, proof of insurance, registration, run the person’s names through the computer for active warrants.   If there is  reasonable suspicion that the driver is armed and dangerous, ask him or her to get out of the vehicle, and do a frisk, or pat-down of the outer clothing for weapons.  Scan the interior of the vehicle—doing a plain view search for weapons, open bottles, and contraband.

But there is more.  The officer is trained to ask provocative questions designed to put the driver on edge as a way to manipulate the him or her to consent to a search.

“Do you have anything on you that would cause me or my partner to blow up?”  Throwing him off guard, the driver quickly says no.  So, they the officer follows up with,

“No? Then you won’t mind if I do a quick search?”  This is psychological manipulation intended to get the citizen to waive his constitutional rights.

All of this is done independently of the “official” purpose for the stop, the issuance of a warning or citation for a traffic offense.  But the traffic violation isn’t really the goal. It is a means to conduct a criminal investigation, something he otherwise lacks reasonable suspicion or probable cause to do.  The officer does not possess the necessary reasonable articulable facts would that lead him to believe that the person is engaged in or about to engage in criminal behavior, so he probes, ask questions, and manipulates the citizen in the hope that he or she will consent to a search.  But in a traffic stop, there is NO reasonable suspicion of criminal wrong-doing, there is only a hunch, and a minor traffic violation, and often, the most trivial of violations.

I began by stating that these investigatory stops were originally designed to conduct the war on drugs.  In the past 20 years they have expanded, as police have institutionalized them into standard practice. The investigatory stop, police training manual author Charles Rensberg tells us, is a type of police traffic stop that “seeks to maximize the number of citizen contacts in vehicle stops during each shift and, through specific investigative techniques, to explore the full arrest potential of each.”  In the town where I live, the police department has an enforcement contact policy.  Each officer is expected to make three citizen contacts a shift, resulting in a citation, written warning, or ordinance violation. They uses investigatory stops all the time.

The use of the pre-textual stop by itself is disturbing. It is a violation of an individual’s constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizures.  But there is more to the problem.  The investigatory pretextual stop is NOT used systematically against all drivers.  Officers disproportionately use the tactics in contacts with minorities and young people.  My 18 year old son has endured two of these stops in the past 9 months.  One for a license plate light violation (the license plate light had blown out), and the other for failure to use a turn signal properly.  These stops are not just an annoyance, they are a humiliation.  Look at the text message I received from him during the most recent one.

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He knew to say no to a consent search, but also believed that it would end up bad if he didn’t comply.   “I didn’t do shit.”

This is not an extreme example.  It happens over and over again.  While my son is Caucasian, he is young.  The reality is that most adult Caucasian drivers rarely experience these stops. If they get stopped by the police it is for a legitimate traffic safety stop.  They were speeding 15 miles over the limit. They were driving at night with the headlights off.  Those are legitimate traffic offenses, in which we NEED police on patrol to keep the streets safe.  And if someone get a speeding ticket, they might not be happy about it, but they know they deserve it. They own it.  “Yeah, I got caught.”  But would they have the same perception if they were stopped again and again for turn signal violations, asked obnoxious questions, and searched?

Yet, this is exactly the reality that exists for minorities.  And minorities experience the humiliations that come from them, over and over again. It was because of racial profiling that several states developed state-wide legislatively mandated traffic stop data collection, in which officers are required by law to record information about every single traffic stop. The data is very clear that when we look at the stated reasons for traffic stops, that minorities, particularly African Americans, are subjected to these tactics far more frequently than Caucasians.

Now, police will make plenty of excuses, claiming that they don’t target minorities. They will insist that they aren’t racist. And to be fair they have been trained, over and over again, that this is good police work, and isn’t racist. They target vehicles that meet profiles, and it just happens that minorities fit many of these profiles.  There are plenty of excuses, and I’ll save them for another essay, but what is important is that Blacks experience pre-textual investigatory stops far more often than Caucasians do, and the end result is that has been a significant drop in trust of the police.  Blacks expect to be stopped.  They expect to be harassed by police. They expect to be treated as second-class citizens. They expect to be subjected to these humiliations.  White people don’t normally have these expectations, because with the exception of very young drivers, and even then only in some communities, they simply do not experience these types of stops.  The end result is that many Blacks don’t trust the police, and when there is a lack of trust, when there is a conflict, there is a much greater likelihood of that conflict escalating.  If I don’t trust you, I’m far more likely to be belligerent. And if the police officer detects “attitude,” he is far more likely to give it back. Over time, it creates a pre-disposition in the officer’s mind that when he stops a Black person, there is a great likelihood of conflict, and perhaps danger.

If we want to make immediate changes to begin the process of diffusing a small part of the tension on our streets, it is in the power of each and every police chief.   Instruct their officers to end the use of investigatory stops immediately.  Demand that pretextual stops be ended.  Make it crystal clear that this is not good policing, nor is it protecting and serving the community when you treat an entire class of drivers differently, often entirely because of their race.  Nor does it matter that the Supreme Court has said this behavior is permissible.  Just because it is legal does not mean it is right.

Define a list of legitimate traffic safety issues, and limit traffic stops to those purposes.  Stop the practice of using traffic stops to do what you couldn’t do if the person was on the street.  And while we are at it, stop the practice of making law enforcement a revenue generation process. Will this potentially diminish drug arrests?  Sure.    But if there is anything the last forty years should have taught us, it is that the war on drugs has been a monumental failure, and needs to end.

Will it solve the problem of excessive use of force? No, this is just one important step.  There is a fundamental need for more training in conflict management, and more training that focuses on the de-escalation of violence.  But ending pre textual investigatory stops will take the first essential step, to restore confidence.  Call your local police chief and sheriff and demand that they end the use of pre-textual investigatory stops now.  And if the police chief or sheriff won’t do it, then the legislatures of every state need to demand they do it.

Crime Control vs. Expanding Police Power: The Supreme Court’s decision in Utah v. Strieff

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Craig Curtis, Bradley University

Michael C. Gizzi, Illinois State University

 

The Supreme Court’s recently ended term only had a few search and seizure cases, but the decision in Utah v. Strieff provides evidence of the continuing power of the crime control narrative on the Court, and involves one of the central issues explored in The Fourth Amendment in Flux, namely, the evolution or devolution of the exclusionary rule in a jurisprudence of crime control. The case openly forgives police misconduct, by exaggerating the social costs of excluding evidence, and creating yet another rationale for permitting illegal police activity to go unchallenged.

In this case, Edward Strieff was subject to what the lower courts conceded was an illegal Terry stop, lacking reasonable suspicion. After the stop, the officer learned that Strieff had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. Strieff was arrested and searched incident to that arrest, and incriminating evidence was found. The question is whether that evidence is tainted by the illegality of the Terry stop. Does the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine apply, or does the intervening act of discovering the existence of a warrant preclude the use of the exclusionary rule.

In 5-3 decision, Justice Thomas held that the existence of the warrant was sufficient to “break the causal chain between the unlawful stop and the discovery of drug-related evidence on Strieff’s person.” Justice Sotomayor wrote a stinging dissent, exposing how the Court was diminishing Fourth Amendment rights.   Her words are worth quoting at length:

This Court has given officers an array of instruments to probe and examine you. When we condone officers’ use of these devices without adequate cause, we give them reason to target pedestrians in an arbitrary manner. We also risk treating members of our communities as second-class citizens. Although many Americans have been stopped for speeding or jaywalking, few may realize how degrading a stop can be when the officer is looking for more.
The indignity of the stop is not limited to an officer telling you that you look like a criminal. … If the officer thinks you might be dangerous, he may then “frisk” you for weapons. This involves more than just a pat down. As onlookers pass by, the officer may “feel with sensitive fingers every portion of [your] body. A thorough search [may] be made of [your] arms and armpits, waistline and back, the groin and area about the testicles, and entire surface of the legs down to the feet.”
The officer’s control over you does not end with the stop. If the officer chooses, he may handcuff you and take you to jail for doing nothing more than speeding, jaywalking, or “driving [your] pickup truck . . . with [your] 3-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter . . . without [your] seatbelt fastened.” At the jail, he can fingerprint you, swab DNA from the inside of your mouth, and force you to “shower with a delousing agent” while you “lift [your] tongue, hold out [your] arms, turn around, and lift [your] genitals.” Even if you are innocent, you will now join the 65 million Americans with an arrest record and experience the “civil death” of discrimination by employers, landlords, and whoever else conducts a background check. And, of course, if you fail to pay bail or appear for court, a judge will issue a warrant to render you “arrestable on sight” in the future.

While the Court in Strieff makes concessions for the need for police discretion to protect public safety, Justice Sotomayor really illustrates what is at stake for the future. Allowing an illegal stop to stand just because of the happy accident of the existence of an outstanding warrant rewards police misconduct, rather than deterring it. What this case does is demonstrate that the jurisprudence of crime control remains deeply embedded in the minds of many justices, and the majority of justices, refuse to acknowledge, as Justice Sotomayor does, the threat that this approach presents for constitutional civil rights and liberties.   The Fourth Amendment is certainly still in flux, but the jurisprudence of crime control remains the dominant paradigm.

 

Review: All the Missing Girls

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All the Missing Girls has everything in the contemporary whodunit novel, and follows many of popular books of recent years, like Gone Girl, and The Girl on the Train (hmmm… a recurring girl theme), but then flips everything.

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All the Missing Girls, by Megan Miranda (out in print tomorrow), does one thing completely different.  It tells the story in reverse.  The story takes place over 15 days.  There is a brief preface.  Then It jumps 15 days later.   And each chapter is a day.  In reverse. Each day reveals more of the story, but the problem is you have to tie it all together.  Is this just a gimmick to sell books, or is it a novel plot device that works?

Probably a little bit of both.  I found myself frustrated through much of the book, as I was having t
o store information away, trying to figure out each day’s events. Yet, as it came to a conclusion (and the book does come to a conclusion), it got easier and easier.   But I wanted to go back and re-read the whole book.   Yet, I didn’t do that, because, to be honest, there are too many good books out there to read, and nowhere enough time, and while I enjoyed the book, I didn’t enjoy it so much as to spend another couple days re-reading.

Does this plot device work?  Yes.  Do I want to see it in future books?  Not really.  Will the book be the next Gone Girl?   I doubt it.  But is it worth the time?  Yes, I think so.  All the Missing Girls provides the recreational reader who wants to view the reading experience as a kind of puzzle, with a unique opportunity.

I read an advance copy sent from Simon & Schuster.  The book is out on Amazon and at your friendly bookstore, this week.

Book Review: Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter

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Next month, Blake Crouch’s new science fiction thriller Dark Matter will be released.   Crouch is known for his “Wayward Pines” trilogy, currently adapted as a Fox TV series.  Dark Matter is a stand-alone novel which draws on a fairly common thread in science fiction — quantum physics and the multiverse.

What if you could in effect go back in time and change a decision that you made 15 years ago?   What if you could live an entirely different life based on the choice you didn’t make?  What if everything you cherished was taken away in an instant?  Would you fight to get it back?   Blake Crouch’s new book uses science fiction to explore just such questions, drawing on the premise of multiple universes, and even Schroedinger’s Cat, on a fast-paced romp.

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This is a book designed to be read in one or two sittings.  For me I started it, and found myself almost half-way through it before I realized it. When I returned to it, I just kept reading, well past my normal bedtime, to finish it.   Every once in a while you find the book you don’t want to put down.   Dark Matter is just that book.

That said, once you figure out what is going on, there is still some physics to grapple with, and you need to be paying attention.  But that is true of almost every book that uses this type of plot device. Is the book truly original?  Probably not.  Does it make it any less enjoyable?  Definitely not.   And compared with the ending of the Wayward Pines trilogy, which left me frustrated, and so mad, that I wanted to throw my kindle across the room, this book resolves itself nicely.

I received a pre-release copy of this book from Netgalley.com. 

 

 

Freedom for two peoples

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I am now blogging for the Times of Israel, an English-language newspaper in Jerusalem.   Posts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be posted there, and linked here.

Read my latest here: Freedom for Two Peoples

 

A reflection on two very different perspectives on freedom. Israelis seek to be free from terror. Palestinians seek self-determination. Both are essential to the peace process.

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