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A Night To Remember

Articles by Jayson Hawkins

PBA Cards and the Problem with Police Discretion

 

by Jayson Hawkins

Police officers have recently been under fire for excessive or even deadly force being used in routine arrests and traffic stops, but some critics have begun to draw attention to a different police behavior that involves how and when officers let people go free.

This criticism covers a broad range of behavior, but some of the most vocal protests concern PBA cards. These cards get their name from the Police Benevolent Association, which is the largest police union in New York City and a major issuer of cards. The cards carry the union logo, along with the name and phone number of the officer it was issued to. PBA members get up to 20 cards each year, and they may give them to any friend or family member. 

These civilians can then present the card when stopped by police for minor infractions, thus earning the cards their nickname: “get out of jail free cards.” The idea is that when an officer sees that the person he has stopped has some personal connection with a fellow officer, then he will be inclined to be lenient. 

There is no data on how effective the cards are, ...

Guilt by Google

by Jayson Hawkins

An extraordinary wealth of information is easily available if one only utters the magic word –  “Google.” The problem arises with the realization that though the Google-genie provides information, there is no guarantee that the information is accurate or fair.

Questions about truth and privacy inevitably accompany any consideration of the new digitally connected world, and there are few areas where these questions produce more troubling answers than in the realm of online criminal records. 

In the not-so-distant past, the maintenance of criminal records was the responsibility of the police agencies and courts that produced those records, but in the internet age, government sites represent only a fraction of the available criminal records online. Companies that specialize in brokering data pay government agencies and courts for bulk sets of arrest reports and other records, and the data are collated with other public records before being sold to background check services, consumer research companies, and sometimes even police agencies. There are apps that post updates about sex offenders in the neighborhood, and websites that put up recent arrestee mugshots charge a fortune to have the photos removed. 

The primary causes of this shift can be ...

Government Enforcers Are Still Cops

 

by Jayson Hawkins 

The police-involved killing of George Floyd in late May 2020 has proven to be a rallying cry against systemic racism across America. The sight of a man begging to breathe while a cop knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes has become the defining image of abuse by law enforcement, and thousands have taken to the streets nationwide to protest. Advocates were outraged, and those who had been on the fence about the need for reforms began to find the notion that “cops are just doing their jobs” hard to swallow. The air was ripe for change. 

The debate over what form that change should take has raged since. 

As early as June, calls to either “defund” or “abolish” police started to gain traction. New York City, for one, responded by reallocating a billion dollars from the police force budget to agencies like mental health and emergency services, which was intended to shift responsibility for part of the police caseload into more appropriate venues. It is too early to determine the effectiveness of this move, but the political right responded immediately by forecasting chaos and anarchy 

while those on the left ...

Campaign Zero Advocates for Police Accountability

The public outrage over the death of George Floyd while in police custody has fueled calls for police reform in a variety of areas, but one thing that has particularly infuriated reform advocates is the difficulty in getting bad cops fired. The advocacy group, Campaign Zero, has made this problem the center of its reform drive, and as public awareness grows, the effort is picking up steam and allies.

The most-often cited cause behind the difficulty in firing police officers is the power of police unions. Like many public sector unions, police unions operate quite differently from traditional organized labor. While they do negotiate for pay and benefits, the core of police union advocacy is the protection of its members from the consequences of their actions, including ...

Fed Position on Pot Pushing Vets to Black Market

by Jayson Hawkins 

The walls in Alex’s home are decorated with medals earned from two tours as a Marine serving in Iraq. He returned to the U.S. in 2007 at age 21, psychologically scarred by a war that left him suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) and crippling anxiety. Veterans Affairs (“VA”) doctors offered him anti-anxiety drugs, but Alex refused after having watched so many fellow vets become addicted to the legal medications. He turned instead to alcohol, numbing the pain with a bottle of vodka a day until developing a possibly lethal pancreas inflammation. Over the next year, Alex managed to quit using alcohol and cope with his emotional issues by smoking marijuana, which has legal status in his home state of California.

For Alex and other vets like him, pot allows them to function despite the traumas they have experienced. Clinical studies have affirmed the benefits of marijuana and cannabidiol, a nonintoxicating extract from cannabis plants, in the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain, and recent trials have supported the use of pot to ease PTSD symptoms. Laws in 33 states and counting have recognized such findings and have legalized either medicinal or recreational marijuana use, ...

Is the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Ready to Investigate Arbery Cover-Up?

by Jayson Hawkins

The murder of Ahmaud Arbery was shockingly mishandled by local police from the very beginning. Two White men chased down and shot a young Black man, and yet they had not been charged two months later, despite the fact that the whole event was caught on tape. Not surprisingly, when the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (“GBI”) took over the case, most onlookers saw it as a step in the right direction. The history of the GBI, however, does not inspire confidence, especially when the case involves delivering justice for a Black man. 

Nearly 600 Black people were killed in lynchings in Georgia between 1877 and 1950, and multiple observers have chronicled the insidious presence of the Ku Klux Klan at every level of Georgia law enforcement in those years, as well as the lasting impact of that presence in the often toxic relationship between Georgia police and the Black community. The GBI is not free from this taint. Founded in 1937, one of the earliest directors of the GBI was Sam Roper, a local Klan leader who later became its Imperial Wizard. Even after the overt presence of the Klan was removed, the GBI has repeatedly ...

The Danger of Police Dishonesty

Recent events have shown what can happen when large sections of society lose confidence in the legitimacy of police power, and though the outrage playing out in cities across the U.S. was mostly inspired by ...

Interrogation Via Zoom: Policing in the Age of COVID

This tactic, known as the Reid technique of interviewing, is intended to raise the suspect’s anxiety level, which in turn makes him or her feel vulnerable and reliant on the mercy of the interrogator. While this seems more civilized than past methods, such as simply beating someone until they confess, the coercive nature of the Reid technique can still generate false confessions.

Advocates for criminal justice reform have been pushing for less invasive tactics, yet recent changes to the way many police departments conduct their business has been spurred by another source entirely – the coronavirus pandemic.

The tight confines of an interrogation room are no longer practical at a time when the safety of both suspects and law enforcement is at a premium. Interviews with suspects in several cities have been moved outside, such as in Clearwater, Florida, where interrogations take place at a safe social distance in the ...

SCOTUS Goes Live on Camera

For the first time in its history, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments over a conference call in May 2020. Ten arguments involving 13 cases were scheduled over six days. The measure was deemed necessary for the Supreme Court to continue to function amid the pandemic, as the majority of the justices are considered especially vulnerable to the coronavirus because of age and/or underlying medical issues.

Perhaps more significant than the justices working from home was that the proceedings were broadcast live to the general public, which had never been done before. On 27 prior occasions, the Supreme Court had allowed audio recordings of arguments to be released on the day they occurred, but the only way to follow the proceedings in real time was to attend in person. The Supreme Court has always been a public institution, but the necessity of having to be in Washington, D.C., early enough to get in line for ...

Chicago’s Police Torture Reparations

The story of police torture in Chicago begins with Jon Burge. In 1972, Burge returned to his job as a detective on the South Side of Chicago after serving a tour as an interrogator in Vietnam.

The brutal techniques he had learned in Southeast Asia—electric shock, suffocation, beating the genitals with a rubber hose—were applied to hundreds of victims, almost all of whom were people of color. Burge obtained countless confessions that sent these victims to prison and even death row. For 20 years, authorities in the police, judiciary, and mayor’s office looked the other way as Burge’s hand-picked crew of officers terrorized the South Side, and Burge himself was rewarded with promotions and commendations.

This reign of terror began to come under fire in 1989 when one of the victims of Burge’s crew brought their behavior to light during a civil ...

 

 

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