Sunday, July 05, 2020

Black Rights Matter

I'm a middle-aged white man.
I believe that genetic differences between races are almost entirely visual, obvious and unimportant.  Differences that matter to me are environmental--things like education.  Even if there were no current racism, these types of things are certainly affected by past racism.   My grandfather came to the US as a young adult in the 20's.  According to family lore, while he was a concrete laborer he was able to start a business by getting materials on credit and paying for them once he was paid.  The business grew to employ several dozen people, and my kids are better off as a result.  I believe it very unlikely that a black man would have been allowed the same opportunities at that time--as a result, his great-grandkids will likely have a harder time. 

However, based on the studies I've seen, I don't think blacks are more likely to be murdered by police than whites.   Another data point--June 2020 (the last full month as I write this), Chicago had 469 gunshot injuries, 2 shot by the police, plus an additional 87 gunshot deaths,  none of those by police.  The police aren't the major problem for life and death here.  This is my main disagreement with the phrase "Black Lives Matter"--If the studies I'm basing my opinion on are correct, the "lives" part isn't a racist issue. We need to fix that problem, but if police murders aren't significantly different by race then looking to solve the problem via race is unlikely to work.  On the other hand, Black Rights Matter--and the racial aspect is far more likely to be important.  I do believe that blacks are unjustifiably abused by police at a much higher rate than whites.  This makes logical sense--a racist cop can abuse blacks in smaller ways and be almost guaranteed to get away with it, but a killing will be investigated thoroughly.  I also think that millions of smaller abuses are more important than a handful of deaths. 

What do we do? As individuals, I don't know what we can do, other than don't be racist and support government policies that will help. 

Policies that I think will help:

End the drug war--Not just decriminalizing pot, but legalization of virtually everything.  Whether or not a chemical is available to the general public should be based on its danger to others and not on its potential for recreational use.  Maybe pure fentanyl or LSD is too potent as a poison to allow unrestricted use, (I don't know) but then it should be treated like cyanide or similar, and more than likely dilute forms should be allowed.  The fact that some people might enjoy it should be considered a positive if it is considered at all.  I would probably support a prescription requirement for most antibiotics--misuse of antibiotics can harm others by reducing their future effectiveness. 

Even better, eliminate all victimless crimes--If you aren't harming or seriously endangering someone else without their consent, it should not be a crime. Not just drugs, but prostitution, gambling, sin taxes, etc--you should be free to do really stupid stuff to yourself.  Reduce selective enforcement.  If we can't or won't enforce a law, take it off the books...and if you can prove selective enforcement that should be an affirmative defense.  You should probably be allowed to be peacefully drunk in public, disturbing the peace while sober should be the same as disturbing the peace stoned or drunk.  Note, DUI laws stay, that's endangering others. 

End qualified immunity  If police or a policeman violates your rights in a meaningful way, they should be liable under almost all circumstances.   Police departments should be responsible for most property damage they cause--virtually all damage to an innocent party's property, and even to a criminal's property when the damage isn't reasonable compared to the crime. 

End civil asset forfeiture and other forms of policing for profit.  There should be no permanent forfeiture without a conviction.  Fines and forfeitures go to the general fund, not to the department, and the general fund can't give them back or otherwise incentivize fines. Where state law forbids civil forfeiture, end loopholes where departments can partner with federal agencies for a percentage of the seized assets...or just end federal forfeiture.  While it may be reasonable for some items to be held by police until trial to make sure they aren't hidden, the bias needs to be towards the owner.  Very early in the process there should be a hearing, and the State should have to show the criminal connection with at least the same standards as a civil trial. The police should be responsible for damages to items they hold, and if they are found to hold something without cause they must return the item plus a percentage of the item's value that's similar to the interest rate that the owner would qualify for.   

End investigatory no-knock warrants, or more likely all no knocks except to capture dangerous, violent felons.  In particular, the potential for the destruction of evidence isn't justification for a no-knock.  We also need to verify that no-knock warrants are following proper procedures--that the application isn't just a cut and paste, and that the judge is actually reading and reviewing, that there isn't a less risky method available.  Judges should be random, police should not be able to judge shop.

As much as possible, end "the process is the punishment".  Bail needs to be reasonable and based on how likely that person is to show up for trial, with a basis in statistics for that particular crime.    There need to be incentives against excessive bail or a high bail used as leverage for a plea bargain.  I would probably like to see some process for refunding bail bondsman costs for someone found innocent, or for a substantially lower crime.

Get coercive plea bargains and over-charging under control.  I do want incentive for a guilty person to plead guilty, but we need to make sure we don't have incentives for innocent people to plead guilty.  Plea bargains should never be for a tiny fraction of the potential jail time or fine.  I think I would like something similar to the English system where an early plea to the crime charged gets half your sentence reduced, with less reduced as you get closer to the final verdict.   I'd also like to require that prosecutors prove the crime charged or the suspect goes free--in other words if you charge someone with attempted murder but only prove assault then there's no conviction.

End pretextural stops, where "you crossed the center line, I haven't decided whether to give you a ticket, may I search your car for drugs and weapons?"  The officer should have to record what the justification is in a timestamped form before the stop is made, and there should be a bias towards dashcam or body cam evidence.  The recorded justification doesn't have to be fancy, just a verbal announcement on the cam prior to the stop would be enough.  This goes for stop and frisk as well--if the policeman doesn't have a reason, he doesn't get to stop.  There also needs to be some tracking of how often the suspicion is correct--if a particular officer suspects a gun often but rarely finds one...

None of these are racial, all of them will have a disproportionate benefit to blacks.  None of them depend on having just the right people with power.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Selling fear

I recently heard a presentation by Strategos International on workplace safety and suicide prevention.  The speaker almost immediately set off my BS detector.

Bits and pieces of the speech, paraphrased and filtered through my memory:
We're a big deal with major clients.  I'm Vice President of... (If your company is a big deal, why is a vice president doing a routine speech?)
We love companies like...who hire us before they have an incident.  (Incidents are inevitable without their help?)
I bet the White Settlement Texas church wished they had a security plan before there were 3 dead (The murderer was shot and killed by a member of the security team, while several other parishioners drew guns and advanced on the shooter.  That sounds like they had a plan, even if it didn't turn out perfectly)
The world is a more and more dangerous place  (except statistically it isn't, murder is at or near the lowest level it has been in my lifetime)
We've had XXXX school shootings since... (No definition given, so what counts as a school shooting?  What does it have to do with workplace safety?)

The speech was padded to be half an hour, but could be summed up in a few lines--Most suicides and spree shooters show signs, talk of violence before they strike.  so "see something, say something NOW"

According to Google, their headquarters is a little one-story building next door to a strip mall.  Google Street View shows the strip mall's parking lot to be oddly empty.   It turns out that the strip mall is entirely occupied by the International House of Prayer University.  Strategos main focus appears to be church security, but they got their start with a grant to teach defense against school shooting.  According to their website, the Vice President for Operations is a black belt in Sho-Lum-Tae Karate.  Searching "Sho Lum Tae", the top results are all that the vice president of operations is a black belt.   Basically nothing I found on Google helped to disarm my BS detector, it just got more and more odd.