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Defund the Police? We’ve Already Done It Successfully in America.

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2020

The American system of law enforcement is so deeply embedded into our national psyche that if you find the idea of defunding or abolishing the police challenging, I don’t blame you. But imagine calling an ambulance because a loved one was having trouble breathing or was suffering a stroke and, instead of the expected trained paramedics, a man with a gun showed up. Not great, right? As Jamie Ford explains in this thread, that was not unusual in America until recently.

Until the 70s, ambulance services were generally run by local police and fire departments. There was no law requiring medical training beyond basic first-aid and in many cases the assignment of ambulance duty was used as a form of punishment.

As you can imagine, throwing people with medical emergencies into the back of a paddy wagon produced less than spectacular health outcomes. Now imagine how much worse it became when disgruntled white police officers were demoted to ambulance duty in black neighborhoods.

From Kevin Hazzard’s The First Responders:

Emergency care was mostly a transportation industry, focused on getting patients to hospitals, and it was dominated by two groups: funeral homes and police departments. Call the local authorities for help and you’d likely get morticians in a hearse or cops in a paddy wagon. If you received any treatment en route to the hospital — and most likely you did not — it wouldn’t be very good. At best, one of the people helping may have taken a first-aid course. At worst, you’d ride alone in the back, hoping, if you were conscious, that you’d survive.

Pittsburgh’s Freedom House Ambulance Service changed all that, ushering in a new era of much improved medical care for communities around the US.

Together the two men hashed out a plan: Hallen would raise the money, Safar would contribute his medical expertise, and together they would design advanced ambulances and teach paramedics to provide care on the scene of an accident or emergency. It would be a pioneering medical effort, and Hallen, who was white, suggested another first. The Falk Fund was committed to mitigating racism, and Hallen wanted to staff the service with young black men from the Hill. He hoped that empowering individuals long deemed unemployable would be a source of pride in the black community, a symbol of equality, and a signal that bigoted notions about the black people of Pittsburgh standing in their own way were nonsense.

To help with recruitment, Hallen and Safar partnered with an organization called Freedom House Enterprises, a nonprofit dedicated to establishing and supporting black-run businesses in the city. Freedom House handled staffing for the fledgling ambulance service and recruited the first class of paramedics, including Vietnam veterans and men with criminal records.

So this is a great instance in which armed and untrained police officers have been relieved of a particular responsibility and replaced with specially trained personnel, resulting in a greatly improved outcome for members of the community. If you want other examples, just think about how odd, unhelpful, and dangerous it would be for our communities if the police showed up — armed with a loaded weapon — to collect your garbage, to put out fires, to inspect restaurants, to fix potholes, or to deliver the mail. No, we have sanitation workers, firefighters, public health inspectors, municipal maintenance workers, and postal workers to do these jobs — and they’re all trained in the ins and outs of their particular disciplines.

With these examples in mind, instead of armed personnel handling a wide variety of situations for which they are often not trained, it becomes easier to imagine traffic patrols conducting transportation safety stops, social workers responding to domestic disputes, special crisis centers assisting rape victims, mental health counselors helping people behaving erratically in public, housing guides finding homeless folks a place to stay, student safety coaches helping struggling students navigate school, unarmed personnel responding to property crime, and drug addiction counselors helping drug users stay safe. These are all areas where American communities have applied policing by default, like a flimsy bandaid. It’s ineffective, expensive, and dangerous, and communities should think seriously about supporting and funding alternatives that will be more effective, cheaper, safer, and produce better outcomes for everyone.

Update: See also (hear also?) 99% Invisible’s episode on the Freedom House Ambulance Service.

What Does Justice for Breonna Taylor Look Like?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 30, 2020

In a piece for Essence, prison industrial complex abolitionists Mariame Kaba and Andrea Ritchie challenge us to consider whether arresting and prosecuting the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor (or George Floyd or Elijah McClain) will result in justice.

Beyond strategic assessments of what is most likely to bring justice, ultimately, we must choose to support collective responses that align with our values. Demands for arrests and prosecutions of killer cops are inconsistent with demands to #DefundPolice because they have proven to be sources of violence not safety. We can’t claim the system must be dismantled because it is a danger to Black lives and at the same time legitimize it by turning to it for justice. As Angela Y. Davis points out, “we have to be consistent” in our analysis, and not respond to violence in a way that compounds it. We need to use our radical imaginations to come up with new structures of accountability beyond the system we are working to dismantle.

Noting that “turning away from systems of policing and punishment doesn’t mean turning away from accountability”, Kaba and Ritchie argue that use of a reparations framework would be more effective in delivering justice to Taylor’s family and in preventing future killings and violence by police.

Under a reparations framework Breonna’s family — and all of us — are also entitled to more than an individualized response to what is a systemic problem. We are entitled to immediate cessation of the actions that caused her death — no knock warrants, to be sure, but also short knock warrants, and dangerous drug raids in all their forms. And all of us are entitled to non-repetition, an end to the conditions that produced her death, including an end to the drug war that killed her, and the forces of gentrification that brought police into her neighborhood. It is long past time for an approach to drug use that saves lives instead of ending them — whether in a raid or in a cell — and a reckoning with the ways in which economic policies are driving deadly policing practices.

Read the entire piece at Essence.

How to Make Our Communities Safer by Reducing Our Reliance on Policing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2020

From Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing, a list of 10 Ways To Reduce Our Reliance On Policing And Make Our Communities Safer For Everyone, which includes proposals like having mental health and social workers to respond to crises, have crime labs operate independently of law enforcement, and replacing cops in schools with counselors & safety coaches.

For children growing up during the era of mass incarceration, seeing armed officers in their schools is commonplace. Federal grants have supported more and more cops in schools. Federal programs like the Community Oriented Policing Services (“COPS”) have provided millions of dollars to hire and train local police, including police in schools.

Police officers do not have specialized training in adolescent or childhood development. They are not mental health experts, social workers with licensed degrees, psychologists, or school counselors. They are not educators. To be clear, school resource officers are career law enforcement officers, with arresting authority, and a license to carry a weapon. Police officers patrol school hallways just like they do city streets. More than one and a half million students attend schools with an SRO, but no counselor.

There are better, safer, and cheaper alternatives. In 2016, Intermediate School District 287, a school west of the Twin Cities with a high concentration of students with special needs and mental health needs that can result in behavior issues, replaced their school resource officers with Student Safety Coaches. The Student Safety Coaches specialize in mental health, restorative justice, de-escalation, and building positive relationships with their students. Arrests decreased by 80 percent in the pilot school after implementation of the program.

The common, and commonsense, thread through all of these proposals is to replace armed, untrained responders who make difficult situations less safe with people & organizations that are specifically trained to help people in distress or crisis.

See also Police Abolition: The Growing Movement to Defund the Police.

The Ideology of American Policing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2020

For What the police really believe, Vox’s Zack Beauchamp interviewed several former police officers and policing experts to find out how police think of themselves, their jobs, and the communities they are supposed to be protecting and serving.

Police officers across America have adopted a set of beliefs about their work and its role in our society. The tenets of police ideology are not codified or written down, but are nonetheless widely shared in departments around the country.

The ideology holds that the world is a profoundly dangerous place: Officers are conditioned to see themselves as constantly in danger and that the only way to guarantee survival is to dominate the citizens they’re supposed to protect. The police believe they’re alone in this fight; police ideology holds that officers are under siege by criminals and are not understood or respected by the broader citizenry. These beliefs, combined with widely held racial stereotypes, push officers toward violent and racist behavior during intense and stressful street interactions.

Caroline Randall Williams: “My Body Is a Confederate Monument”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2020

In an opinion piece for the NY Times, Caroline Randall Williams writes You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body Is a Confederate Monument. I’ve never read an opening like this; I could barely continue:

I have rape-colored skin. My light-brown-blackness is a living testament to the rules, the practices, the causes of the Old South.

If there are those who want to remember the legacy of the Confederacy, if they want monuments, well, then, my body is a monument. My skin is a monument.

Only the truth is so devastating. Please read the entire essay. Williams will be reading this essay on Instagram on Tuesday, June 30 at 7pm ET — I’ll be there. And I just bought her book, Lucy Negro, Redux: The Bard, a Book, and a Ballet.

Update: Late last week, Williams answered some queries and comments from the readers of her piece.

Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us Available to Watch Online for Free

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2020

Netflix has put When They See Us, Ava DuVernay’s 4-episode mini-series about the Central Park Five, in front of their paywall for free viewing. Here’s the trailer:

The 2013 Ken Burns documentary The Central Park Five is available to watch on the PBS site and also on Amazon.

As previously noted, DuVernay’s 13th and Selma are also both available to watch online for free.

Police Abolition: The Growing Movement to Defund the Police

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2020

In recent weeks as antiracism and anti-police violence protests continue around the country, the movement to defund and abolish policing in America has rapidly gained momentum. As Black communities have asserted for decades, people have begun to wonder in earnest what purpose police serve. They’re asking when there’s a problem in our communities, do we really need a person with a gun showing up to solve it? What would a system oriented around public safety look like if it was designed from scratch rather than just piling more responsibility onto and funding into increasingly militarized and unaccountable police departments?

There are a lot of resources out there about police abolition right now, so here are some that I’ve found helpful in understanding it.

Alex Vitale’s The End of Policing, which came out in 2017, is a well-reviewed critique of modern policing.

This book attempts to spark public discussion by revealing the tainted origins of modern policing as a tool of social control. It shows how the expansion of police authority is inconsistent with community empowerment, social justice — even public safety. Drawing on groundbreaking research from across the world, and covering virtually every area in the increasingly broad range of police work, Alex Vitale demonstrates how law enforcement has come to exacerbate the very problems it is supposed to solve.

In contrast, there are places where the robust implementation of policing alternatives—such as legalization, restorative justice, and harm reduction — has led to a decrease in crime, spending, and injustice. The best solution to bad policing may be an end to policing.

Verso, the book’s publisher, is offering the ebook version for free for a limited time. The Paris Review has an excerpt that addresses the difficulties with reforms (such as the #8cantwait initative):

This does not mean that no one should articulate or fight for reforms. However, those reforms must be part of a larger vision that questions the basic role of police in society and asks whether coercive government action will bring more justice or less. Too many of the reforms under discussion today fail to do that; many further empower the police and expand their role. Community policing, body cameras, and increased money for training reinforce a false sense of police legitimacy and expand the reach of the police into communities and private lives. More money, more technology, and more power and influence will not reduce the burden or increase the justness of policing. Ending the War on Drugs, abolishing school police, ending broken-windows policing, developing robust mental health care, and creating low-income housing systems will do much more to reduce abusive policing.

The Intercept interviewed Vitale in October 2017.

We should understand policing as the most coercive form of state power … and the reason is that policing has historically and inherently been at the root of reproducing fundamental inequalities of race, class, and immigration status. Trump, the police, ICE — this is just a continuation of a history of exclusion and repression going back to the exclusion of Chinese immigrants in the 19th century, Texas Rangers driving out Mexican landholders and indigenous populations to make room for white settlers, the transformation of slave patrols and urban slave management systems into what became Jim Crow policing in the South and ghetto policing in the North. Police have historical origins in relation to both the formation and disciplining of the industrial working class; early 19th century forms of policing in Europe and the United States shaped rural agricultural workers into urban industrial workers, and then suppressed their movements to form labor unions and win better living conditions.

The point of all this is to fundamentally question this liberal notion that police exist primarily as a tool for public safety and therefore, we should embrace their efforts uncritically, when in fact, there are lots of different ways to produce safety that don’t come with the baggage of colonialism, slavery, and the suppression of workers’ movements.

In 2018, Amber Hughson designed a series of flyers outlining some alternatives to policing. The “Isn’t this public safety?” question at the end of each flyer is really compelling.

Police Abolition

Christy Lopez (co-director of Georgetown Law School’s Innovative Policing Program) writing in The Washington Post: Defund the police? Here’s what that really means.

To fix policing, we must first recognize how much we have come to over-rely on law enforcement. We turn to the police in situations where years of experience and common sense tell us that their involvement is unnecessary, and can make things worse. We ask police to take accident reports, respond to people who have overdosed and arrest, rather than cite, people who might have intentionally or not passed a counterfeit $20 bill. We call police to roust homeless people from corners and doorsteps, resolve verbal squabbles between family members and strangers alike, and arrest children for behavior that once would have been handled as a school disciplinary issue.

Police themselves often complain about having to “do too much,” including handling social problems for which they are ill-equipped. Some have been vocal about the need to decriminalize social problems and take police out of the equation. It is clear that we must reimagine the role they play in public safety.

MPD150, a grassroots organization working towards a police-free Minneapolis, has a bunch of resources on their website, including What are we talking about when we talk about “a police-free future?” and an 8-page FAQ zine for folks trying to get up to speed on police abolition.

Police Abolition

Many people already live in a world without police. If you grew up in a well-off, predominantly white suburb, how often did you interact with cops? Communities with lots of good jobs, strong schools, economies, and social safety nets are already, in some ways, living in a world without police.

Annie Lowrey makes a fiscal argument in Defund the Police.

A thin safety net, an expansive security state: This is the American way. At all levels of government, the country spends roughly double on police, prisons, and courts what it spends on food stamps, welfare, and income supplements. At the federal level, it spends twice as much on the Pentagon as on assistance programs, and eight times as much on defense as on education. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will ultimately cost something like $6 trillion and policing costs $100 billion a year. But proposals to end homelessness ($20 billion a year), create a universal prekindergarten program ($26 billion a year), reduce the racial wealth gap through baby bonds ($60 billion a year), and eliminate poverty among families with children ($70 billion a year) somehow never get financed. All told, taxpayers spend $31,286 a year on each incarcerated person, and $12,201 a year on every primary- and secondary-school student.

Critical Resistance has a police abolition resources page that many activists are recommending, including this toolkit and this chart comparing reforms vs abolition.

Police Abolition

The Marshall Project is maintaining a collection of links about police abolition.

I liked the framing of this Twitter thread by Gabrielle Blair:

This is how I, a 45-year-old white woman and mother of 6, currently at her peak Karen power, went from assuming police work was a necessary part of functional communities, to becoming a passionate advocate for #abolishthepolice #defundthepolice, over the course of one week.

She continues:

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Do you know that saying? Apply it to police. If you’re always prepared to easily inflict violence, then the chances of inflicting unwarranted violence go way up.

Cat in a tree? Got locked out of your car? Kids prank called 911? Found a brutally murdered body? When called, police will arrive at all four of these scenes equally armed to the teeth. Why would we ever be okay with that? It is INSANE.

Vox’s podcast Today, Explained did an episode on What “abolish the police” means. From the transcript:

SEAN: And for the people who are worried about how this you know, how this might affect the way our society functions, like, let’s just say, you know, it’s a Friday night, 4th of July or something like that, like like the Fourth of July. That’s coming up real soon. And, you know, you’re worried about drunk drivers on the road. Who’s getting your back on drunk drivers?

BRANDON: You’re going to be able to call the police. The police are still going to be out there enforcing traffic violations, maybe not with weapons, though, maybe they have some other tools to de-escalate situations.

SEAN: And what about, like, you’re scared that this jilted ex lover of yours is going to come after you and kill you? Same situation?

BRANDON: You know, we can continue to go through these hypotheticals. I want to be very clear here. Police don’t listen to black women as it exists today. Black women are often the victims of sexual assault, sexual violence, and they are not listened to. They’re not deemed credible by police officers. So we’ve got to ask yourself, is policing working? Maybe it’s working for certain communities, white communities in particular. Now, police are going to be there when you call and say, hey, look, there’s someone harassing me. They’re going to have the better trained police officer come and diffuse the situation if the perpetrator is still there.

I have not listened to this yet, but next up in my podcast queue is a two-episode series of Intercepted with host Chenjerai Kumanyika and long-time prison abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore.

Journalist and lawyer Josie Duffy Rice:

many people in america already exist in a world where police and prisons do not exist. go to any middle to upper class suburb in america. cops arent wandering the streets. people aren’t being arrested. neighbors aren’t being sent to prison. and generally everyone is….fine.

many people say they cannot imagine this world. what most of them cannot imagine is someone not policing black brown and poor people. THAT is what is unimaginable to them. not the absence of law enforcement. if you are lucky, you already functionally live with that absence.

Garrett Felber details the history of the police and prison abolition movements that stretch back for decades: The Struggle to Abolish the Police Is Not New.

Although abolition was not a central demand of the midcentury civil rights movement — despite informing the activism of many of its key figures — it took hold in the 1970s. This revolutionary ethos — what Chicano poet Raul Salinas called the “prison rebellion years” — was linked to mass uprisings in the streets; the state repression, jailing, and murder of black and brown radicals; and opposition to the Vietnam War and imprisonment of conscientious objectors. Quaker Fay Honey Knopp’s pivotal 1976 Instead of Prisons: A Handbook for Prison Abolitionists, for example, had its genesis in her visits to conscientious objectors in prison during the Vietnam War and her participation in feminist, civil rights, gay rights, and prisoners’ rights struggles.

Update: Abolition activist Mariame Kaba writes in a NY Times opinion piece: Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police.

Minneapolis had instituted many of these “best practices” but failed to remove Derek Chauvin from the force despite 17 misconduct complaints over nearly two decades, culminating in the entire world watching as he knelt on George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes.

Why on earth would we think the same reforms would work now? We need to change our demands. The surest way of reducing police violence is to reduce the power of the police, by cutting budgets and the number of officers.

But don’t get me wrong. We are not abandoning our communities to violence. We don’t want to just close police departments. We want to make them obsolete.

We should redirect the billions that now go to police departments toward providing health care, housing, education and good jobs. If we did this, there would be less need for the police in the first place.

Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2020

Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop is an essay allegedly written by a former police officer with ten years of experience in “a major metropolitan area in California with a predominantly poor, non-white population”. In it, he attempts to explain the system under which cops are trained and operate, “not to excuse their behavior, but to explain it and to indict the structures that perpetuate it.” At the very least, this essay corroborates what activists have been saying about the police for decades.

I could write an entire book of the awful things I’ve done, seen done, and heard others bragging about doing. But, to me, the bigger question is “How did it get this way?”. While I was a police officer in a city 30 miles from where I lived, many of my fellow officers were from the community and treated their neighbors just as badly as I did. While every cop’s individual biases come into play, it’s the profession itself that is toxic, and it starts from day 1 of training.

Every police academy is different but all of them share certain features: taught by old cops, run like a paramilitary bootcamp, strong emphasis on protecting yourself more than anyone else. The majority of my time in the academy was spent doing aggressive physical training and watching video after video after video of police officers being murdered on duty.

I want to highlight this: nearly everyone coming into law enforcement is bombarded with dash cam footage of police officers being ambushed and killed. Over and over and over. Colorless VHS mortality plays, cops screaming for help over their radios, their bodies going limp as a pair of tail lights speed away into a grainy black horizon. In my case, with commentary from an old racist cop who used to brag about assaulting Black Panthers.

And this, uh, training doesn’t prepare officers for what their actual job ends up being:

And consider this: my job as a police officer required me to be a marriage counselor, a mental health crisis professional, a conflict negotiator, a social worker, a child advocate, a traffic safety expert, a sexual assault specialist, and, every once in awhile, a public safety officer authorized to use force, all after only a 1000 hours of training at a police academy. Does the person we send to catch a robber also need to be the person we send to interview a rape victim or document a fender bender? Should one profession be expected to do all that important community care (with very little training) all at the same time?

To put this another way: I made double the salary most social workers made to do a fraction of what they could do to mitigate the causes of crimes and desperation. I can count very few times my monopoly on state violence actually made our citizens safer, and even then, it’s hard to say better-funded social safety nets and dozens of other community care specialists wouldn’t have prevented a problem before it started.

Armed, indoctrinated (and dare I say, traumatized) cops do not make you safer; community mutual aid networks who can unite other people with the resources they need to stay fed, clothed, and housed make you safer. I really want to hammer this home: every cop in your neighborhood is damaged by their training, emboldened by their immunity, and they have a gun and the ability to take your life with near-impunity. This does not make you safer, even if you’re white.

His conclusion: “consider abolishing the police” and “creating a society focused on reconciliation and restorative justice instead of punishment, pain, and suffering — a system that sees people in crisis as humans, not monsters”.

As someone who did it for nearly a decade, I need you to understand that by and large, police protection is marginal, incidental. It’s an illusion created by decades of copaganda designed to fool you into thinking these brave men and women are holding back the barbarians at the gates.

The Incalculable Loss of Black Lives to Police Violence

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2020

Incalculable Loss

On Sunday May 24, the NY Times gave over their entire front page to listing the names of hundreds of victims of Covid-19 in the US. It was an iconic gesture that focused people’s attention on both the overall death toll and the stories & lives of the individual people who had been killed by the disease.

The Incalculable Loss Project has repurposed this design to honor some of the 7,000 Black Americans killed by police since 2000 and to ask why media outlets like the Times haven’t given “the same attention to this epidemic as they did Covid-19”. Each person’s name is accompanied by the name of the officer’s police department and the current status of the investigation into the killing (overwhelmingly “pending investigation”).

Incalculable Loss

Nixon Started the War on Drugs to Target Black People & the Antiwar Left

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2020

In 1971, Richard Nixon kicked off America’s “war on drugs”, focusing not on the societal problems that lead to drug abuse but on categorizing drug users as criminals.

In Nixon’s eyes, drug use was rampant in 1971 not because of grand social pressures that society had a duty to correct, but because drug users were law-breaking hedonists who deserved only discipline and punishment.

Over the next several decades, the US government (and particularly Ronald Reagan) took Nixon’s lead and imprisoned millions of people for drug offenses, including a disproportionate number of Black men. Michelle Alexander wrote about this in her 2010 book The New Jim Crow. From the about page:

Alexander shows that, by targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness.

In 1994, former Nixon aide and Watergate co-conspirator John Ehrlichman proudly told writer Dan Baum that racial control and discrimination was in fact the purpose of the war on drugs.

At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition. I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away. “You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

An astonishing thing to admit but hardly a rare tactic for the cynical Republican Party. See also how they decided to champion abortion as an issue to attract the support of white evangelical Christians and shifted from indifference to scientific denialism on climate change in order to oppose the Obama administration and advance the interests of wealthy donors.

Thanks to Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist for reminding me of Ehrlichman’s admission.

“Increasingly Rightwing” Police Unions Have Made Policing More Dangerous In America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2020

BuzzFeed’s Melissa Segura writes that the political ideologies of police unions moved further to the right in response to calls for reform from the Obama administration and groups like Black Lives Matter, resulting in increasing violence and a lack of accountability & consequences for police.

Like in Minneapolis, police unions across the country have bucked reforms meant to promote transparency and racial equity in law enforcement. Many of these unions have pushed collective bargaining agreements that make it all but impossible for departments to punish, much less fire, officers. These agreements defang civilian review boards and police internal affairs departments, and they even prevent police chiefs from providing meaningful oversight, according to community activists and civil rights lawyers. Meanwhile, the unions have set up legal slush funds to defend officers sued for misconduct.

I mean, this stuff is just cartoonishly maddening:

More than a year before a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, pinned George Floyd to the ground in a knee chokehold, Mayor Jacob Frey banned “warrior” training for the city’s police force.

Private trainers across the country host seminars, frequently at taxpayer expense, teaching “killology” and pushing the notion that if officers aren’t willing to “snuff out a life” then they should “consider another line of work.” Frey explained that this type of training — which has accompanied the increasing militarization of the police over the last few decades — undermined the community-based policing he wanted the city to adopt after a string of high-profile killings in the region.

But then the police union stepped in.

The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis worked out a deal with a company to offer warrior training. For free. For as long as Frey was mayor.

See also James Surowiecki’s 2016 New Yorker piece, Why Are Police Unions Blocking Reform?

For the past fifty years, police unions have done their best to block policing reforms of all kinds. In the seventies, they opposed officers’ having to wear name tags. More recently, they’ve opposed the use of body cameras and have protested proposals to document racial profiling and to track excessive-force complaints. They have lobbied to keep disciplinary histories sealed. If a doctor commits malpractice, it’s a matter of public record, but, in much of the country, a police officer’s use of excessive force is not. Across the nation, unions have led the battle to limit the power of civilian-review boards, generally by arguing that civilians are in no position to judge the split-second decisions that police officers make. Earlier this year, Newark created a civilian-review board that was acclaimed as a model of oversight. The city’s police union immediately announced that it would sue to shut it down.

(via @torrHL)

Update: I forgot to include this thread from Minneapolis City Council member Steve Fletcher about how difficult it has been to enact policing reforms in the city.

I want to be clear: I am about as pro-union as a person can be. The Police Federation should not be thought of as a union. They do not affiliate with the AFL-CIO. They don’t walk picket lines in solidarity. How do I know? Because I do and I’ve never seen them on a line. Not once.

Instead, they distort hard-earned labor laws to defend indefensible behaviors. The City recently lost an arbitration after Chief Arradondo fired a cop for beating someone while in handcuffs. Kroll, on behalf of rank and file MPD, pressed the case and won that officer’s job back.

And then he calls the police department a “protection racket”:

Politicians who cross the MPD find slowdowns in their wards. After the first time I cut money from the proposed police budget, I had an uptick in calls taking forever to get a response, and MPD officers telling business owners to call their councilman about why it took so long.

We pay dearly for public safety: $195 million a year plus extensive, expensive legal settlements. That should buy us more than a protection racket that’ll take it out on our constituents if we try to create accountability.

(via @alopexfoxy)

Research on How to Stop Police Violence

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2020

From Samuel Sinyangwe, a thread about research-based solutions to stop police violence. Body cams & police training programs don’t reduce police violence, but demilitarization, stricter use-of-force policies, and better police union contracts do (among other things).

More restrictive state and local policies governing police use of force are associated with significantly lower rates of police shootings/killings by police. This is backed by 30+ years of research.

Demilitarization. Police depts that get more military weapons from the federal govt kill more people. You can stop that from happening through local and state policy. Montana (Red state) has gone the furthest on this.

Police Union Contracts. Every 4-6 years your police dept’s accountability system is re-negotiated. Purging misconduct records, reinstating fired officers, dept funding- it’s in the contract. Cities with worse contracts have higher police violence rates.

You can learn more about this research at Campaign Zero.

Are They Police? Or an Army?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2020

Nick Baumann on the militarization of the American police:

“You create this world where you’re not just militarizing the police — you equip the police like soldiers, you train the police like soldiers. Why are you surprised when they act like soldiers?” Rizer, a former police officer and soldier, said. “The mission of the police is to protect and serve. But the premise of the soldier is to engage the enemy in close combat and destroy them. When you blur those lines together with statements like that … It’s an absolute breakdown of civil society.”

American police officers generally believe that carrying military equipment and wearing military gear makes them feel like they can do more, and that it makes them scarier, Rizer’s research has found. Officers even acknowledge that acting and dressing like soldiers could change how the public feels about them. But “they don’t care,” he said.

In 2015, after the militarized police response to the protests in Ferguson, Mo., President Obama restricted the sales of military equipment by the Pentagon to police departments.

Mr. Obama ordered a review of the Pentagon program in late 2014 after the police responded to protests with armored vehicles, snipers and riot gear. The images of police officers with military gear squaring off against protesters around the country angered community activists who said law enforcement agencies were reacting disproportionately.

In addition to the prohibitions on certain military surplus gear, he added restrictions on transferring some weapons and devices, including explosives, battering rams, riot helmets and shields.

The Pentagon said 126 tracked armored vehicles, 138 grenade launchers and 1,623 bayonets had been returned since Mr. Obama prohibited their transfer.

In 2017, Donald Trump fully restored the practice of transferring military goods to police, grenade launchers and all.

Update: Would just like to note that the 1033 Program was signed into law by Bill Clinton, has historically enjoyed bipartisan support, and was greatly expanded under Obama.

A recent study show that, under the Pentagon’s 1033 program, enacted in 1997, the value of military weapons, gear and equipment transferred to local cops did not exceed $34 million annually until 2010, the second year of the Obama administration, when it nearly tripled to more than $91 million. By 2014, the year that Michael Brown was shot down — and when the full Congress, including 32 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, rejected a bill that would have shut down the 1033 program — Obama was sending three quarters of a billion dollars, more than $787 million a year, in battlefield weaponry to local police departments. In other words, President Obama oversaw a 24-fold (2,400%) increase in the militarization of local police between 2008 and 2014. Even with the scale-back announced in 2015, Obama still managed to transfer a $459 million arsenal to the cops — 14 times as much weapons of terror and death than President Bush gifted to the local police at his high point year of 2008.

(thx, chuck)

Listening to Black Voices Amid Murder, Violence, Protest, and Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   May 29, 2020

Hi. I wanted to take today to compile a sampling of what Black people (along with a few immigrant and other PoC voices) are saying about the recent murders by police of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the threatening of Christian Cooper with police violence by a White woman, the protests in Minneapolis & other places, and the unequal impact of the pandemic on communities of color, as well as what Black voices have said in the past about similar incidents & situations. This is not an exhaustive list of reaction & commentary — it’s just a sample. I’m not going to add anything to these voices, but I will share a few resources at the end of the post.

Please put your urge to judge on the shelf for a minute and just listen to your fellow human beings in all of their raw, righteous, and furious anger. I am trying to listen. Is America finally ready to listen? Are you ready?

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Of Course There Are Protests. The State Is Failing Black People.

This simultaneous collapse of politics and governance has forced people to take to the streets — to the detriment of their health and the health of others — to demand the most basic necessities of life, including the right to be free of police harassment or murder.

What are the alternatives to protest when the state cannot perform its basic tasks and when lawless police officers rarely get even a slap on the wrist for crimes that would result in years of prison for regular citizens? If you cannot attain justice by engaging the system, then you must seek other means of changing it. That’s not a wish; it’s a premonition.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor again reacting to “American billionaires got $434 billion richer during the pandemic”:

This looting by billionaires is what sets fires and burns down stores. You do not get one without the other.

Jillian Sloane:

I wish America loved black people the way they love black culture.

Martin Luther King, Jr., The Other America (via Paul Octavious):

I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.

Bakari Sellers (click through to watch the video):

It’s just so much pain. You get so tired. We have black children. I have a 15-year-old daughter. What do I tell her? I’m raising a son. I have no idea what to tell him. It’s just, it’s hard being black in this country when your life is not valued.

Black parents talk to their children about how to deal with the police:

Ruhel Islam, a Bangladeshi immigrant and owner of Gandhi Mahal Restaurant, which burned in Minneapolis:

Let my building burn, Justice needs to be served, put those officers in jail.

DiDi Delgado:

In the time between Eric Garner’s “I can’t breathe” and George Floyd’s “I can’t breathe” police in the United States killed at least (AT LEAST) 5,947 people. #WeCantBreathe

Ella Baker:

Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest.

Peter Daou:

America, where it’s okay to kneel on a black man’s neck and murder him, but it’s “unpatriotic” to kneel in protest of that murder.

#BlackLivesMatter #TakeAKnee

Luvvie Ajay, About the Weary Weaponizing of White Women Tears:

White people will never have to deal with the fact that their skin is considered a weapon but they use their skins as ammunition by using all the privileges that come with it to terrorize the world. White women use their tears as pity me bombs all the time and it often instigates Black people being punished.

Ajay again:

I’ve traveled all over the world. And have never felt as unsafe as I do at home, in the United States.

Never.

@jxparisxo:

Can we stop calling it “police brutality” it’s murder, M-U-R-D-E-R

Nikole Hannah-Jones, Yes, Black America Fears the Police. Here’s Why.:

For those of you reading this who may not be black, or perhaps Latino, this is my chance to tell you that a substantial portion of your fellow citizens in the United States of America have little expectation of being treated fairly by the law or receiving justice. It’s possible this will come as a surprise to you. But to a very real extent, you have grown up in a different country than I have.

As Khalil Gibran Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness, puts it, “White people, by and large, do not know what it is like to be occupied by a police force. They don’t understand it because it is not the type of policing they experience. Because they are treated like individuals, they believe that if ‘I am not breaking the law, I will never be abused.’”

We are not criminals because we are black. Nor are we somehow the only people in America who don’t want to live in safe neighborhoods. Yet many of us cannot fundamentally trust the people who are charged with keeping us and our communities safe.

Jemele Hill:

Trump to the white people with AR-15s throwing a temper tantrum over a haircut — “Liberate”

Trump to those protesting the lack of justice in Minneapolis — “THUGS”

A whole, racist clown.

Tarana Burke:

A few years ago me and dude are out and come back to his car to find it vandalized. He parked by a driveway and partially blocked it and we concluded that the owners had vandalized the car. I get pissed and go knock on the door. They don’t answer so I’m yelling!

He’s telling me to calm down and forget it but I’m pissed! A few minutes later cop car rolls by and they stop and get out. I start to tell them what happened and they walk up on him and immediately start questioning him. I interrupt and say “excuse me HIS car was vandalized!”

The cops tell me to ‘be quiet’ and just as I’m about to turn all the way up on them he turns to me and says “Baby, please…” firmly. Then he calmly answers the cops questions even though they are rude and invasive. They take his license and keep asking ridiculous questions…

“What are you all doing here?”
“Did you get into an altercation earlier tonight?”
“If I knock on these people’s door what are they going to say?”

I was fuming. Now I’m nervous.

Damon Young, Thoughts on Forgiving Amy Cooper (aka ‘Darth Karen’), Who Got Fired, Banned From Central Park, and Lost Her Dog:

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL…

Ibram X. Kendi (via Nicole Parker):

The greatest white privilege is life itself. People of color are being deprived of life.

Dr. Kendi again:

They say they can’t be racist because they are northerners. They say they can’t be racist because they are progressives. They say they can’t be racist because they are Democrats.

Why are they saying they can’t be racist? Because they are racist.

Dr. Kendi for a third time (he wrote a whole book about moments like these):

It feels like Black people were running for their lives from racist terror only to run into the murderous face of COVID-19, only to start running for their lives from COVID-19 only to run into the murderous face of racist terror.

Maurice Moe Mitchell:

If you have trouble imagining the concept of “police abolition,” look no further than the many live experiments being played out in upper middle class white suburbs across the country where people carry on their lives with little to no interaction with law enforcement.

Ernest Owens, I Have Not Missed the Amy Coopers of the World:

I’m doing better these days because staying home alone and practicing social distancing has meant I’m avoiding many of the racist encounters that used to plague my daily life.

The video that circulated this weekend of a white woman calling the police with a false report about threats by a black man who simply asked her to leash her dog in Central Park illustrates exactly why I’m so happy to be spending more time inside.

Blair Imani:

Murder is worse than property destruction. Every single time. Don’t let capitalism fool you.

Ruby Hamad, A White Damsel Leveraged Racial Power and Failed:

The damsel-in-distress archetype probably conjures up images of delicate maidens and chivalrous gentlemen. That is precisely what it is designed to do — for white people. To people of color, and especially African-Americans who have borne the brunt of her power in the United States, the image is very different. The damsel in distress is an illusion of innocence that deflects and denies the racial crimes of white society.

J. Drew Lanham, Birding While Black:

Up until now the going has been fun and easy, more leisurely than almost any “work” anyone could imagine. But here I am, on stop number thirty-two of the Laurel Falls Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) route: a large black man in one of the whitest places in the state, sitting on the side of the road with binoculars pointed toward a house with the Confederate flag proudly displayed. Rumbling trucks passing by, a honking horn or two, and curious double takes are infrequent but still distract me from the task at hand. Maybe there’s some special posthumous award given for dying in the line of duty on a BBS route-perhaps a roadside plaque honoring my bird-censusing skills.

Tyler Merritt, Before You Call the Cops:

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:

I’ll just say it: a lot of politicians are scared of the political power of the police, and that’s why changes to hold them accountable for flagrant killings don’t happen. That in itself is a scary problem.

We shouldn’t be intimidated out of holding people accountable for murder.

Ernest Owens:

BEFORE Y’ALL KEEP GOING: Christian Cooper could have had tattoos on his face, hated birds, been smoking a blunt and listening to Future, and #CentralParkAmy WOULD HAVE STILL BEEN AS GUILTY AND RACIST AND WRONG AF FOR TERRORIZING HIM.

Enough with the respectability politics.

Alicia Crosby:

I really can’t shake how profoundly evil it is to tear gas folks protesting the suffocation of a man by the police during a pandemic driven by a respiratory disease.

Shenequa Golding, Maintaining Professionalism In The Age of Black Death Is….A Lot:

Your black employees are exhausted.

Your black employees are scared.

Your black employees are crying in between meetings.

Your black employees have mentally checked out.

Your black employees are putting on a performance.

Charles Blow, How White Women Use Themselves as Instruments of Terror:

At a time of so much death and suffering in this country and around the world from the Covid-19 pandemic, it can be easy, I suppose, to take any incidents that don’t result in death as minor occurrences.

But they aren’t. The continued public assault on black people, particularly black men, by the white public and by the police predates the pandemic and will outlast it. This racial street theater against black people is an endemic, primal feature of the Republic.

Specifically, I am enraged by white women weaponizing racial anxiety, using their white femininity to activate systems of white terror against black men. This has long been a power white women realized they had and that they exerted.

Michael Harriot (from this thread):

There has NEVER been a successful protest movement in modern history that succeeded without violence.

Not Christianity. Not democracy. Not civil rights.

The choice is, which side is going to do the donate their blood?

We’re damn near out of blood to give.

So, if you want to change the system, history has repeatedly told us how to do it.

Burn.
That.
Shit.
Down.

And amen, motherfuckers.

James Baldwin (see also How to Cool It and, like, everything else Baldwin has ever written or said):

The reason that black people are in the streets has to do with the lives they’re forced to lead in this country. And they’re forced to lead these lives by the indifference and the apathy and a certain kind of ignorance — a very willful ignorance — on the part of their co-citizens.

Several people on social media have pointed to this list of 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice, including several organizations you can donate to. Ibram X. Kendi compiled an antiracist reading list. I am not any sort of expert, but I personally have found much understanding in listening to the Seeing White podcast, reading Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, and watching Eyes on the Prize, I Am Not Your Negro, & OJ: Made in America among other things. Thanks to everyone listed here for sharing their words and works with us.

Parasitic Fake ATMs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2020

This is a few years old, but is it ever clever: some thieves in Brazil put an entire fake ATM interface (screen, card reader, keypad) over the real ATM to skim card numbers and PINs.

Krebs on Security wrote up a report on the scheme:

Interestingly, much like grammatical and spelling errors that often give away phishing emails and Web sites, the thieves who assembled the video for the screen for the fake ATM used in the April robbery appear have made a grammatical goof in spelling “país,” the Portuguese word for “country”; apparently, they left off the acute accent.

Most skimming attacks (including the two mentioned here) take place over the weekend hours. Skimmer scammers like to place their devices at a time when they know the bank will be closed for an extended period, and when foot traffic to the machine will be at its highest.

This is like when the T-1000 in Termintor 2 can impersonate any person that it touches, except with cash machines. (I would read a book entirely composed of clever thieves’ inventions and techniques. I assume this already exists?)

McMillions, an HBO Documentary on the Massive McDonald’s Monopoly Scandal

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2020

In July 2018, I posted about the FBI investigation into the multi-million dollar McDonald’s Monopoly fraud.

For years, Jerry Jacobson was in charge of the security of the game pieces for McDonald’s Monopoly, one of the most successful marketing promotions in the fast food giant’s history. And for almost as long, Jacobson had been passing off winning pieces to family, friends, and “a sprawling network of mobsters, psychics, strip club owners, convicts, drug traffickers”, to the tune of more than million in cash & prizes.

In early February, HBO is airing a five-part documentary series on the investigation called McMillions:

Does Errol Morris Know Who Really Killed Jimmy Hoffa?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2020

Spurred by The Irishman’s take on the matter, Errol Morris, the progenitor of our current obsession with true crime, tackles an enduring mystery: Who Really Killed Jimmy Hoffa?

There is a weird discrepancy about whether the meeting was set for 2:00 or 2:30, but the uncertainty simply contributes to the argument that something strange was going on: Hoffa’s friends and family were incredulous that he would wait any amount of time; he was known to be extremely punctual and intolerant of those who weren’t. What compelled Hoffa to continue to pace around the sweltering asphalt outside the Machus Red Fox? Was he hoping to get high-level Mafia approval of his attempts to regain control of the Teamsters?

What happens next is a matter of conjecture, of inference — a collision between unimpeachable data such as phone calls, the unreliability of witness testimony, and fish-delivery times. We do know several things for certain: there’s a real world out there, a real asphalt parking lot, a real phone booth, and a real Machus Red Fox (now called Andiamo). And Jimmy Hoffa was there, left, and never came back.

If you know Morris, you know he loves ambiguity, so there’s not a 100% ironclad answer to the question posed by the article’s title, but Morris does have a guess in the closing paragraphs.

How to Buy Drugs

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2019

The London Review of Books is not normally where one turns for advice on how to cop, but Misha Glenny (author of DarkMarket: How Hackers Became the New Mafia and Callum Lang recently wrote a piece for them called How to Buy Drugs that summarizes how the the customer-facing segment of the global drug market presently functions, with a special emphasis on distribution via the dark web. The improvement in customer service driven by dark web markets is fascinating:

The internet has dramatically improved the experience of drug buyers. The market share of a dark web outlet depends almost entirely on its online reputation. Just as on Amazon or eBay, customer reviews will describe the quality of purchased products as well as reporting on shipping time and the responsiveness of vendors to queries or complaints. If drugs that a buyer has paid for don’t turn up — as once happened to Liam, the Manchester student — a savvy vendor will reship the items without asking for further payment, in the hope of securing the five-star customer reviews they depend on.

As a consequence, the drugs available to the informed buyer are of a higher quality than ever before. They are also safer. The administrators of DNStars.vip — a site on the open web which you don’t need Tor to visit — pose as ordinary users in order to buy samples of popular drugs from major vendors. They then have the drugs chemically tested to see whether they match the seller’s description.

The dark web demonstrates the promise and peril of technology (and capitalism tbh) in a nutshell: lower prices & better quality goods for some (or even many) people but all sorts of hidden nastiness behind the scenes doing real and often unacknowledged harm to society.

The Devil Next Door

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2019

Here’s the trailer for a five-episode Netflix series called The Devil Next Door.

The series is about John Demjanjuk, who was living in the US when he was accused of being “Ivan the Terrible”, a particularly brutal guard at the Treblinka death camp.

Born in Ukraine, John (Iwan) Demjanjuk was the defendant in four different court proceedings relating to crimes that he committed while serving as a collaborator of the Nazi regime.

Investigations of Demjanjuk’s Holocaust-era past began in 1975. Proceedings in the United States twice stripped him of his American citizenship, ordered him deported once, and extradited him from the United States twice to stand trial on criminal charges, once to Israel and once to Germany. His trial in Germany, which ended in May 2011, may be the last time that an accused Nazi-era war criminal stands trial. If so, it would mark the culmination of a 65-year period of prosecutions that began with the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1945.

Some facts of Demjanjuk’s past are not in dispute. He was born in March 1920 in Dobovi Makharyntsi, a village in Vinnitsa Oblast of what was then Soviet Ukraine. Conscripted into the Soviet army, he was captured by German troops at the battle of Kerch in May 1942. Demjanjuk immigrated to the United States in 1952 and became a naturalized US citizen in 1958. He settled in Seven Hills, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, and worked for many years in a Ford auto plant.

The Devil Next Door premieres November 4.

The Mother of Forensic Science and Her “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2019

(Note: This post contains images of simulated crime scenes.) Frances Glessner Lee is known as “the mother of forensic science” for her role in revolutionizing how crimes were investigated. Starting in the 40s and using her skills in making miniature models that she learned as a young girl, Lee built detailed and intricate crime scene dioramas to help train homicide investigators to properly investigate and canvas a crime scene. From a Smithsonian exhibition of Lee’s work:

At the time, there was very little training for investigators, meaning that they often overlooked or mishandled key evidence, or irrevocably tampered with crime scenes. Few had any medical training that would allow them to determine cause of death. As Lee and her colleagues at Harvard worked to change this, tools were needed to help trainees scientifically approach their search for truth. Lee was a talented artist as well as criminologist, and used the craft of miniature-making that she had learned as a young girl to solve this problem. She constructed the Nutshells beginning in the 1940s to teach investigators to properly canvass a crime scene to effectively uncover and understand evidence. The equivalent to “virtual reality” in their time, her masterfully crafted dioramas feature handmade objects to render scenes with exacting accuracy and meticulous detail.

Every element of the dioramas — from the angle of minuscule bullet holes, the placement of latches on widows, the patterns of blood splatters, and the discoloration of painstakingly painted miniature corpses — challenges trainees’ powers of observation and deduction. The Nutshells are so effective that they are still used in training seminars today at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore.

Here are some images of Lee’s surviving dioramas (found here):

Nutshell Forensic

Nutshell Forensic

Nutshell Forensic

In a video about the Smithsonian exhibition, curator Nora Atkinson explains that it shows how Lee “co-opted traditionally feminine crafts to advance the male-dominated field of police investigation”:

See also this Vox video about Lee’s work, which goes into detail about the evidence at a couple of the crime scenes:

How The Shawshank Redemption Humanized Prisoners

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2019

The Shawshank Redemption came out in 1994. Although crime rates had already started falling across the country, the media (with shows like COPS) and government (Joe Biden & Bill Clinton’s push for a crime bill now considered disastrous) were still pursuing and glorifying a punitive criminal justice system. But as this excellent video by Pop Culture Detective explains, Shawshank offered 90s audiences a different view of prison and the criminal justice system.

On a narrative level The Shawshank Redemption is a movie about the power of hope in the face of extraordinary hardship. But underpinning Andy Dufresne’s story we also find a blistering critique of the prison system and criminal justice policy in the United States.

In the film, the audience gets to see the system as harsh & corrupt and the prisoners as, well, people — human beings worthy of rehabilitation. In the 25 years since Shawshank debuted (and bombed) at the box office, public opinion in America has shifted away from the punitive view of the 90s to the more humanistic perspective embodied by the film.

See also Running from COPS, Sexual Assault of Men Played for Laughs, and Ava DuVernay’s 13th. (via waxy)

Rather Than Pay Ransom, Radiohead Puts Stolen Music Up for Sale

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2019

OK Minidisc

According to Jonny Greenwood, someone stole Thom Yorke’s “minidisk archive” recorded around the time of OK Computer, the album that propelled Radiohead into the stratosphere. The thieves demanded a ransom of $150K, the band didn’t pay up, and the audio leaked onto the web. Instead of fighting the pirates and leakers, the band put all 18 hours of the archive up for sale on Bandcamp with the proceeds going to Extinction Rebellion.

as it’s out there
it may as well be out there
until we all get bored
and move on

Here is a detailed FAQ and timestamps for all the songs & snippets in the archive — “holy grail” tracks are marked with a star. On Bandcamp, Tanner Gallella describes the release:

Rarely is the artist’s process presented in such an unfiltered, uncompromising way — especially at this strata of musicianship. Polished mixes are juxtaposed against takes recorded in bathrooms; landmark tracks against distorted noise. A unique and delightful insight into a band in the middle of writing their masterwork.

My Radiohead fandom stops just short of listening to 18 hours of Thom Yorke recording music in bathrooms, but this is certainly a trove for superfans and those interested in the musical process of one of the world’s biggest bands.

Running From COPS

posted by Jason Kottke   May 13, 2019

Running From COPS is a new podcast that examines the cultural influence of the long-running TV show COPS. Vox did a short video on the main themes of the show:

From a Fast Company article about the podcast and its creator, Dan Taberski:

The problem is that Cops is more reality show than documentary, and Taberski, a veteran reality show producer, knows there’s a huge disparity between reality show “reality” and documentary reality. In the course of their investigation, the Running from Cops team discovered that the police had final cut approval for the series. “When you start to look at the contractual relationship between producers and police-and we got our hands on a few of those contracts between Cops and the police departments — I think people will be really surprised how much the police are controlling their own message on the show,” Taberski says. Watching the show in that light, he adds, “It just shows how dicey it is to be using reality-show storytelling techniques for something so real and important as policing, and how your biases can creep in even unintentionally.”

Taberski and the producers also found that while prostitution, drugs, and violence make up 58% of crime depicted on Cops, according to the FBI, those three categories only account for barely 17% of crime IRL.

The first four episodes are available now on your favorite podcasting platform. I binged them over the past week and they’re worth a listen.

NXIVM co-founder admits guilt

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 09, 2019

Nancy Salzman, co-founder of “sex cult” NXIVM, plead guilty to charges of digitally monitoring members to prevent them from leaking information. She’s the first to plead guilty from the leaders facing criminal charges. Founder Keith Raniere has yet to appear in court, but there have been new charges leveraged against him.

The details surrounding this organization are truly bonkers and quite disturbing. If power dynamics of cults and the psychology of self-help seekers are of interest, I highly recommend season 1 of CBC podcast Uncover, in which journalist Josh Bloch interviews his childhood friend about her escape from the leadership circle of the organization.

Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2019

Quentin Tarantino brings back two of his biggest stars, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, in his new film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The teaser trailer is low on details, but we do know that Pitt plays stunt double to DiCaprio’s aging film star, the plot involves the murder of Sharon Tate by members of the Manson Family, and it opens on July 26. The film is also the last movie that Luke Perry made before he died.

Update: The full-length trailer is out:

The Fertility Doctor’s Secret

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 18, 2019

For The Atlantic, Sarah Zhang tells the story of dozens of people who found out through DNA testing that a fertility doctor named Donald Cline had used his own sperm in artificial insemination procedures on their mothers. The piece begins with the story of a woman whose parents had been treated by Cline more than 30 years ago.

It was only when she got home and replaced her phone that she saw the barrage of messages from even more half siblings. They had found her on Facebook, she realized, after searching for the username linked to her Ancestry.com account. Her husband had given her a DNA test for Christmas because she was interested in genealogy. Her heritage turned out to be exactly what she had thought — Scottish, with English, Irish, and Scandinavian mixed in — and she never bothered to click on the link that would show whether anyone on the site shared her DNA.

Apparently she did have relatives on Ancestry.com — and not just distant cousins. The people now sending her messages said they were Cline’s secret biological children. They said their parents had also been treated by Cline. They said that decades ago, without ever telling his patients, Cline had used his own sperm to impregnate women who came to him for artificial insemination.

According to her DNA, Woock, too, was one of his children.

In the time since Woock’s half siblings got in touch with her, they have broken the news dozens more times. The children Cline fathered with his patients now number at least 48, confirmed by DNA tests from 23andMe or Ancestry.com. (Several have a twin or other siblings who likely share the same biological father but haven’t been tested.) They keep in touch through a Facebook group. New siblings pop up in waves, timed perversely after holidays like Christmas or Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, when DNA tests are given as well-intentioned gifts.

One of Cline’s patients said recently: “I feel like I was raped 15 times.”

When They See Us, a Series on the Central Park Five by Ava DuVernay

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2019

Ava DuVerney has written and directed a four-part TV series called When They See Us that “chronicles the notorious case of five teenagers of color, labeled the Central Park Five, who were convicted of a rape they did not commit”. Here’s a teaser trailer:

The series starts airing on Netflix on May 31.

And if you haven’t seen it, the documentary The Central Park Five (directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon) is excellent.

El Chapo, Master of the Drug Tunnel (and Escape Tunnel)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2019

In this video, Vox takes a look at how El Chapo leveraged his use of tunnels for transporting drugs into the United States and became one of the richest and most powerful drug lords of all time.

Throughout his career as a drug trafficker, tunnels have been the common theme in El Chapo’s story. When he gained control of a major drug trafficking corridor in the late 1980s, Joaquin Guzman Loera — then known as “el Rapido” — was the first to create super tunnels for transporting drugs across the border.

At the time, a crackdown by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) meant Colombian cocaine was in decline and the Mexican narcotrafficker saw an opportunity. By using tunnels to facilitate fast transport, El Chapo leveraged his role as a trafficker to claim new responsibilities as a cultivator and distributor of drugs.

El Chapo is currently on trial in the US and the proceedings thus far indicate that the Trump administration’s proposed border wall likely wouldn’t stop the flow of drugs into the US from Mexico. Most of the drugs shipped by El Chapo into the US went through regular old border crossings on trucks and trains, hidden in truck panels, packed into fake plastic bananas, or surrounded by food.

At one point, testimony at the trial has shown, Mr. Guzmán sent tons of cocaine across the border in cans of jalapeños marked with the label La Comadre chiles. The cans were stacked on pallets in the backs of commercial tractor-trailers, which simply drove through official border entry points. To protect his product from being found, witnesses said, Mr. Guzmán often placed the cans filled with cocaine in the middle of the pallets, surrounded by cans with actual chiles.

The NY Times link is via Geoff Manaugh, whose take on this tunnelling I’d love to read.

Meet the Black Market Dropgangs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2019

Ok, this is fascinating. In “dropgangs, or the future of darknet markets”, Jonathan Logan shares how vendors on the darknet have evolved in recent years. Instead of relying on markets like Silk Road to connect with customers and the post office to deliver, vendors have brought customer communications in-house and utilize public dead drop locations for delivery, just like espionage organizations.

To prevent the problems of customer binding, and losing business when darknet markets go down, merchants have begun to leave the specialized and centralized platforms and instead ventured to use widely accessible technology to build their own communications and operational back-ends.

Instead of using websites on the darknet, merchants are now operating invite-only channels on widely available mobile messaging systems like Telegram. This allows the merchant to control the reach of their communication better and be less vulnerable to system take-downs. To further stabilize the connection between merchant and customer, repeat customers are given unique messaging contacts that are independent of shared channels and thus even less likely to be found and taken down. Channels are often operated by automated bots that allow customers to inquire about offers and initiate the purchase, often even allowing a fully bot-driven experience without human intervention on the merchant’s side.

The use of messaging platforms provides a much better user experience to the customers, who can now reach their suppliers with mobile applications they are used to already. It also means that a larger part of the communication isn’t routed through the Tor or I2P networks anymore but each side - merchant and customer - employ their own protection technology, often using widely spread VPNs.

The other major change is the use of “dead drops” instead of the postal system which has proven vulnerable to tracking and interception. Now, goods are hidden in publicly accessible places like parks and the location is given to the customer on purchase. The customer then goes to the location and picks up the goods. This means that delivery becomes asynchronous for the merchant, he can hide a lot of product in different locations for future, not yet known, purchases. For the client the time to delivery is significantly shorter than waiting for a letter or parcel shipped by traditional means - he has the product in his hands in a matter of hours instead of days. Furthermore this method does not require for the customer to give any personally identifiable information to the merchant, which in turn doesn’t have to safeguard it anymore. Less data means less risk for everyone.

Logan expects this type of thing to become more widespread in the near future and it will be difficult to know what effect it will have on society. Maybe one of those effects is that being a corner hopper (like in The Wire) will be more widely available to young people (emphasis mine):

More people will find their livelihoods in taking part in these distribution networks, since required skills and risks are low, while a steady income for the industrious can be expected. Instead of delivering papers, teenagers will service dead drops.

(via @pomeranian99)

Package Thief vs. Glitter Bomb Revenge Package

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2018

This is pretty nerdy and entertaining. After someone stole a package off of his porch, Mark Rober spent months designing and building a fake package to get revenge on the next person stupid enough to try it. He outfitted the box with GPS, motion sensors, four cameras that auto-uploaded to the cloud, a glitter bomb that detonated when the package was opened, and a canister of fart spray that sprayed periodically until the thief threw the package out. Genius.

Update: At least some of the package robberies in this video were staged.

But shortly after the ode to all the packages we’ve lost before swept across the media landscape, viewers on the internet did what they do best: pick it apart.

They noticed some strange coincidences, like how one of the porch bandits seemed to live directly next door to Rober’s friend, Cici, and that the car used in one of the heists, a black Ford Focus with a rosary hanging on the mirror, was parked right in front of her house in Pittsburg, California.

Way to ruin Christmas, you jackholes.