Tuesday Reads: Ferguson Updates

ferguson photos

Good Morning!!

I can’t stop thinking about the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and flashing back to similar iconic events in the 1960s. How far have we really come since the days of the Civil Rights Movement? Clearly, racism is alive and well in 2014, particularly in police departments around the country–and not just in the South. Will the disease of racism ever be wiped out in this country, or can we only hope to control it through great effort–with laws, education, organizing, and public demonstrations?

Ferguson citizens were forced to live through another night of chaos last night, and I’m convinced at this point that deliberate police actions are making things much worse. The man in charge, Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Police is clearly being used as a pawn. He was set up to fail, and at this point he is simply putting a friendly face on an ugly show of force intended to intimidate protesters and media alike. And he’s lying to make excuses for what has basically become a nightly police riot. I’ve been watching the live feed from Ferguson night after night, and I have yet to see any evidence of protesters throwing Molotov cocktails or attacking police (UPDATE: Dakinikat says there is one in the NYT video at this link.

Perhaps we’d know more about what is happening on the ground if new helicopters could fly over Ferguson, but police have ordered them not to, saying that only police helicopter can do so. Reporters and news photographers have been arrested and threatened with being maced or shot. Yesterday, as everyone here knows, police in St. Louis arrested 90-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein. From The Independent UK:

Hedy Epstein, a 90-year-old survivor of the Holocaust, was reportedly among those arrested during protests in downtown St Louis as tensions flared over the death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson.

Eight protesters were arrested for “failure to disperse” on Monday after marching from the Kiener Plaza to the Wainwright building where Governor Jay Nixon has an office, St Louis police confirmed on Twitter.

Ms Epstein was pictured being led away in handcuffs during demonstrations against the National Guard’s presence on the streets where clashes between protesters and authorities have been the most severe.

Ms Epstein, a resident of St Louis, is a political activist and speaker widely known for her vocal support of the Free Gaza Movement.

“I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was ninety,” Ms Epstein told The Nation as she was led away by police. “We need to stand up today so that people won’t have to do this when they’re 90.”

Yes, the protests have spread to St. Louis proper now, and people are gathering in many other cities to show solidarity with Ferguson. Also arrested yesterday was Getty Images photojournalist Scott Olson, who is responsible for many of the most dramatic photos from Ferguson since the protests began.

King and Ghandi, Robert Templeton

King and Ghandi, Robert Templeton

But I want to return to the subject of racism and dishonesty in the Ferguson Police Department. I think most people who have been paying attention to this story will agree that the Ferguson cops cannot be trusted at this point. Some history, from Michael Daly at The Daily Beast: Missouri Cops’ License to Kill.

The death of 18-year-old Michael Brown is not the first time an officer supervised by Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson has killed an unarmed man….

Back in 2000, two unarmed young men were shot and killed in a Jack in the Box parking lot in the suburban town of Berkeley adjacent to Ferguson by a pair of officers assigned to a county-wide drug task force where Jackson was deputy commander.

Early reports suggested that a vehicle occupied by Earl Murray and Ronald Beasley moved toward Officers Robert Piekutowski and Keith Kierzkowski, causing them to fear being pinned against another car.

Jackson, then a lieutenant with the St. Louis County Police, told reporters, “I am convinced that the officers were in fear of their lives, that they were in immediate danger.” ….

Subsequently, investigators decided that the car occupied by the two men had not in fact begun to move in their direction when the fatal shots were fired. The officers insisted they were in fear for their lives nonetheless, essentially arguing that the car was itself a deadly weapon pointed their way. That was enough for the shooting to be ruled justified under Missouri state law. The cops were not indicted.

Read more about it at the link. It’s high time Jackson was removed as Ferguson Police Chief.

Civil Rights Movement, Camille Shumann

Civil Rights Movement, Camille Shumann

And then there was the “other Michael Brown.” From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Michael Brown, 23, of Troy, Mo., who was shot and killed along with a friend in October 2005.

Authorities said that Lincoln County sheriff’s Deputy Nic Forler fired through the back window of a pickup, killing Brown and the driver, Tyler Teasley, 22. No one in the truck was armed.

Police said Forler tried to stop Teasley’s truck for speeding but was led on a short chase. When the truck finally stopped, Forler pulled behind it, got out of his patrol car and stood between the vehicles.

Witnesses said Teasley was “freaking out” because he had been drinking, there was alcohol in the car and several passengers were under 21. In his panic, they said, Teasley left the truck in neutral. As the truck rolled backward, Forler fired the fatal shots that struck both victims in the head.

Family and friends demonstrated regularly outside the sheriff’s office. Forler was dismissed from the force and charged with involuntary manslaughter.

In a trial in 2007, moved to Boone County because of the controversy caused in Lincoln County, Forler testified that he believed Teasley was trying to run him over, and he feared for his life. The jury took only three hours to find Forler not guilty.

Read the Post-Dispatch article to learn about two more such incidents in Missouri.

Now let’s take a look at the case that Ferguson Chief Jackson has been building in order to blame Michael Brown for his own death. According to Jackson, Brown committed a “strong-arm robbery” at a gas station convenience store shortly before he was accosted by Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed the unarmed teenager. But did that really happen? I don’t think so.

A couple of days ago people from Ferguson began posting on Twitter that the owners of the store denied reporting any robbery. Then KSDK learned from the owners’ attorney that they never reported any robbery involving Michael Brown and that perhaps a customer had called 911. But did that even happen?

I can’t prove it, but I think what may have happened is that police took surveillance videos from a number of locations and just happened to find the video of Brown in buying cigars. A Ferguson resident on Twitter told me yesterday that the store owners are saying the Ferguson police didn’t pick up the store video until last Friday, not too long before Jackson gave his press conference. And the St. Louis News confirms the tweeter was right.

The owner[s] of the store dispute the claim that they or an employee called 911, saying a customer inside the store made the call.  They also say St. Louis County issues the warrants for the hard drive of surveillance video Friday.

When asked how Ferguson police ended up with the video that the Ferguson police chief issued Friday morning.  The attorney said during the course of Ferguson’s investigation they came to the store and asked to review the tape. But it wasn’t until Friday that St. Louis County investigators issued a warrant for the video many of you have already seen.

Therefore, there is no way that Darren Wilson could have known anything about the “robbery” or that Michael Brown was a suspect.

Civil Rights Line, Janie McGee

Civil Rights Line, Janie McGee

A couple of days ago, Joy Reid of The Grio and MSNBC posted on Twitter that the store video appeared to show that Brown had actually paid for the cigars he took from the store.

Then last night Crooks and Liars put up a detailed post about it, Ferguson Cops Busted? New Video Seems To Show Brown Paying For Cigarillos (Video), by John Prager. Crooks and Liars doesn’t allow copy and paste anymore, so you’ll need to go to the link to read the article, but Prager it looks like Brown buys some cigarillos, then tries to by more, but doesn’t have enough money and so replaces them. Brown did reach across the counter, and that may be why the clerk tried to confront him.

Here’s the video.

Will the Ferguson police get away with murder once again? I think it’s likely unless the DOJ finds that the shooting of Michael Brown is a Civil Rights case. U.S. News today posted an article quoting attorneys who have defended police shooters, Police Attorneys: Brown Head Wounds Not Fatal to Officer’s Defense.

Pathologists said they found a bullet wound at the apex of the 6-foot-4 Brown’s head and what appeared to be a bullet entry above his right eye that continued downward into his jaw and then shoulder. The wounds appear to show Brown was not standing upright at the time he was shot.

“Just because he was shot somewhere near the top of his head, I don’t think that’s indicative of anything at this point,” says New Orleans attorney Eric Hessler, who defended officers involved in the 2005 post-Hurricane Katrina shooting deaths of two people on the Danziger Bridge and another person outside a convention center.

“There are scenarios that I can envision where a police officer would be justified in using deadly force in that situation,” Hessler says of the Brown case. “It depends on what the individual was doing while he was shot.”

Several officers were convicted of crimes in the post-Katrina cases, but the bridge shooting verdicts were vacated and the case is not resolved.

Attorney James Culleton, who defended New York City police officers who shot and killed unarmed black men Amadou Diallo in 1999 and Sean Bell in 2006, agrees with Hessler that the bullet trajectory isn’t necessarily game-changing.

“If the person is facing you, he’s charging at you, he could have put down his head,” Culleton says. “His head could have just slumped like he was falling forward. It doesn’t mean it’s devastating [evidence].”

We’ll have to wait and see. For now, it’s high time for Chief Jackson to be fired and for Darren Wilson to be arrested. This murderer is still receiving his salary!

civil-rights-museum-m

I’ll end with some recent headlines about Ferguson.

LA Times: Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson becomes an international incident.

Reuters: U.S. police come under gunfire, arrest 31 in Missouri racial unrest.

The Guardian: Ferguson: 31 arrested as huge show of force fails to quell unrest.

WaPo: Ferguson protesters: The peaceful, the elders, the looters, and the ‘militants’

NYT: Not Just Ferguson: National Guard Has a Long History With Civil Unrest.

Business Insider Australia: Police Captain Blames ‘A Lot’ Of The Press For ‘Glamorizing’ Ferguson Protests.

The Daily Mail: ‘He’s quiet and respectful': Second friend of cop who shot dead Michael Brown comes to his defense as ‘more than a dozen people have backed up Ferguson officer’s story’.

WaPo: Holder headed to Ferguson on Wednesday, will oversee federal response to shooting.

Jonathan Capehart: Probe into Michael Brown shooting goes to pot.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a terrific Tuesday.


Saturday Reads: The Shooting of Michael Brown and the Protests in Ferguson, Missouri

 

Demonstrators gather along West Florissant Avenue on Friday to protest the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on Aug. 9. Friday’s demonstration ended with protesters clashing with police followed by more looting. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Demonstrators gather along West Florissant Avenue on Friday to protest the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on Aug. 9. Friday’s demonstration ended with protesters clashing with police followed by more looting. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Good Morning!!

I’ve been following the events in Ferguson, Missouri for a week now. Last Saturday, 18-year-old Ferguson citizen Michael Brown was gunned down by a Ferguson police officer in broad daylight. That officer, who was finally named yesterday, is Darren Wilson. So far the media has not even been able to come up with a photo of Wilson, who had nearly a week to wipe out his media presence. He’s a complete mystery man.

After Wilson shot Brown multiple times, he stood over the body and called for assistance without informing dispatch that he had just shot someone. According to witnesses, Wilson did not check Brown for vital signs. Brown’s body lay in the street for an extended period–it’s not clear how long. No medical personnel were called to determine whether he needed assistance or to take his body to a hospital. Eventually police loaded the body into a police vehicle and took it away.

When family and others in the community protested, Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson asked St. Louis County police to provide “security.” As we all know, there was an intense police crackdown on peaceful protesters, and journalists were harassed and even arrested as were several community leaders.

On Thursday, Governor Jay Nixon ordered Ferguson and St. Louis County police to withdraw their military equipment from the streets of the small suburb and had handed over control of security to Captain Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri State Police. Johnson is a lifelong Ferguson resident and is African American.

On Thursday night protesters were left alone to protest peacefully, and police were dressed in normal uniforms. Johnson walked among the protesters and patiently answered their questions. Apparently Chief Jackson and his men were unhappy with the peace and harmony, so they found a way to sow discord once again.

Around noon yesterday, without informing Captain Johnson of what he planned to do, Jackson released an 18 page media handout complete with still images from surveillance video, in which he accused dead teenager Michael Brown of stealing a box of cigars from a gas station convenience store in what he termed “a strong-arm robbery.” The stolen property was valued at $48.00. Jackson released this information immediately after revealing that mystery officer Darren Wilson had shot and killed Brown.

The implication was obvious. Brown deserved to die because he had shoplifted some cigars. The pictures of the young man police claimed was Brown were splashed all over the media and internet–but nary a photo of Wilson appeared.

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson announces the name of Officer Darren Wilson as the man who shot and killed Michael Brown, 18, last Saturday.

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson announces the name of Officer Darren Wilson as the man who shot and killed Michael Brown, 18, last Saturday.

Hours later, around 4PM, Chief Jackson held another press conference in which he admitted that killer cop Darren Wilson had no knowledge of the shoplifting incident that Brown had allegedly been involved in. He supposedly stopped Brown and his friend because they were walking in the street “blocking traffic.” So why was the 18-page handout released, reporters asked? Because reporters had requested it, said Jackson. But that wasn’t true either.

According to “MSNBC contributor” Goldie Taylor, who spent last night trying to find any reporter who had requested information on the convenience store robbery, no one requested it–in fact no one in the media knew about the incident until Jackson revealed it.

Reporters had specifically requested the officer’s report on the shooting and Brown’s autopsy report, but those were not released. Reporters have repeatedly asked Jackson how many times Brown was shot and the locations of the bullets, but he has refused to answer those questions.

Naturally Brown’s family and other Ferguson residents were outraged by Jackson’s behavior. He had poisoned the atmosphere in town once again.

Last night began as Thursday night had, with peaceful demonstrations and normal police presence. But early this morning, outsiders showed up and for a short time looted Ferguson businesses, including the store that Michael Brown had been accused of stealing from. From what I’ve been able to learn on Twitter from people who were there, protesters tried to stop the looters and helped to clean up damage to businesses; and there are reports of that in the mainstream media.

I thought I’d just write my own summary of events to begin with, since this situation is so complex. The racism that has been on display has been just stunning. It’s as if we’ve all been transported back to a much earlier era. But unfortunately the racism is real. You can see it on display in the behavior of law enforcement members in Ferguson and St. Louis, and in the people on Twitter and media comment sections cheering on the hatred against and even the murder of African Americans.

dont shoot2

Some representative articles to read about recent events in Ferguson.

MSNBC: Michael Brown Killing: Police in Ferguson Fire Tear Gas Amid Looting.

Armored vehicles rolled back onto the streets of Ferguson early Saturday, as riot police faced off with looters in the Missouri town gripped by protests since the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teen.

The violence broke the brief period of calm that had settled over Ferguson, Missouri, after outrage over the shooting of Michael Brown spilled over.

Protests had started off peacefully in Ferguson on Friday night. Rev. Jesse Jackson linked arms with protesters, leading them in prayer and urging them to “turn pain into power” while fighting back non-violently, NBC Affiliate KSDK reported. Shortly after midnight, crowds got rowdier and looting began to break out, according to KSDK….
Tear gas was deployed and riot police moved in, with some locals forming lines to protect local businesses from looters.
A handful of owners stood guard this morning at their businesses, doing their best to discourage any more looting or violence.

Rain fell on the scene of broken out windows and ransacked store shelves at businesses like Ferguson Market and Liquor.

The streets of Ferguson mostly were void of protesters by 6 a.m. as dawn broke and the rain continued after the violent night.

After some of the protesters blocked the entrances to businesses and civic leaders, including St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, arrived early Saturday, the scene calmed and the brief outbreak of looting ended.

The police line was still in place near West Florissant and Ferguson avenues but had not advanced to the site of the protest line as of 2:30. Officers also did not move in during the looting.

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man

It’s amazing how quickly a few assholes can ruin things for people who have worked so hard to bring peace and justice after the death of an unarmed young man. Chief Jackson must be very happy with his handiwork this morning.

KDSK.com: Protesters tried to keep looters out of stores.

Several hundred people congregated on a busy Ferguson street Friday night as protests continued nearly a week after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer. It was peaceful until about midnight, when a large crowd broke into the convenience mart that Brown allegedly robbed the day he was killed. The looting continued there for several hours, with looters entering and exiting freely with as many items as they could carry, including the store cash register.

The looting took place despite the best efforts of some who said they were among the peaceful protesters who marched early in the evening.

Michael Davis was among those who were peacefully protesting when things turned violent. “It was positive. Everything was going fairly well with everyone out here during the day. But as it turned night, it got hectic and things got out of hand in front of the Ferguson Market and Liquor store.”

According to Davis, they were having some success in calming things down until police showed up and teargassed the crowd. At that point looters “broke through his protective line and into the store.”

New York Times: Emotions Flare in Missouri Amid Police Statements.

One day after roiling tensions over the police shooting of a black teenager here began to subside, emotions flared anew on Friday as the police identified the officer involved but also released evidence that the victim was a suspect in a convenience store robbery moments before being shot.

The manner in which the police here released the information, which included a 19-page police report on the robbery but no new details about the shooting, led to the spectacle of dueling police news conferences, one led by a white officer who seemed ill at ease and defensive, and the other dominated by a charismatic black officer who expressed solidarity with the crowd even as he pleaded for peace.

The white officer, Thomas Jackson, the police chief in Ferguson, gave a series of incomplete accounts that sowed confusion about whether the officer who shot the teenager knew he was a suspect in the robbery. The black officer, Capt. Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, expressed his displeasure with how the information had been released.

“I would have liked to have been consulted,” he said pointedly about the pairing of the shooter’s identity with the robbery accusation.

Washington Post: Protests and looting return to Ferguson overnight, but most want peace [a collection of tweets from journalists covering Ferguson last night]

Reporters on the ground in Ferguson, most of whom have been there for nearly the entire week, painted on Twitter a dramatic and sometimes frightening scene as the unrest mounted. Emotions were heightened Friday after Darren Wilson was named as the officer who shot Brown and the Ferguson police released video surveillance of Brown allegedly stealing cigars from a convenience store.

The clashes throughout the night seem to have divided the protesters, pitting some who were assembling peacefully against others who were looting businesses in the St. Louis suburb.

As of early Saturday morning, some protesters were helping store owners clean their destroyed shops and many were eager to draw a clear distinction between the angry rioters and the other protesters.

 Head over to that link to read a Twitter timeline.

ferguson signs

More relevant links.

The Washington Post, Seven in 10 black Americans say the criminal justice system treats them unfairly.

Mother Jones, Exactly How Often Do Police Shoot Unarmed Black Men?

Reuters Column, Less than human: Do some police take a step beyond simple prejudice?

Peacock Panache, Conservative Hypocrisy: Bundy Ranch Versus Ferguson Protest Media Coverage.

Addicting Info, Ferguson Police Excuses Destroyed As Anonymous Shares Dispatch Recordings (AUDIO).

Mother Jones, Meet the St. Louis Alderman Who’s Keeping an Eye on Ferguson’s Cops.

Washington Post, Required reading on race, Michael Brown and Ferguson, Mo.

Spocko at Hullabaloo, What’s the Media Strategy of #Ferguson Protesters? The Police Have One. 

The Atlantic, Echoes of Michael Brown’s Death in St. Louis’s Racially Charged Past.

The Atlantic, The Roots of Violence in Ferguson Run Deep.

Jonathan Chait, Joe Scarborough, Mike Allen Form Journalistic Axis of Evil.

I know there’s plenty of other news; I’ve just been focused on this story. Please feel free to discuss and recommend links on any topic in the comment thread.

 

 

 

 


Friday Reads: Bigots Among Us

images (36)Good Morning!

I have read the most horrifying stories this week.  It makes me wonder if a good portion of humanity has a death wish. I’m going to share a variety of links that I’ve found; and a lot of them aren’t the most uplifting, I’m afraid.

Knowledge is power.  Ignorance may be bliss to the holder but not to the folks around them. There is no lack of headlines in the area of bigotry and intolerance. This is truly discouraging to those of us that care passionately about social justice.

Crime rates have been falling recently but our incarceration rates are not. There’s a huge study out on the economic costs of our prison society and its images (37)findings are not pretty.  We’re spending billionaires of dollars locking up the poor, the uneducated, and the mentally ill in a distinctly racist way.

While crime rates have fallen 45 percent since 1990, the memo said that the incarceration rate is now at a “historically unprecedented level,” jumping 222 percent between 1980 and 2012. An African-American man who never graduated from high school has a 70 percent likelihood of being imprisoned by his mid-30s; for similarly educated white men, the rate is about 15 percent. And the United States imprisons at a rate six times greater than most peer nations, including those of the European Union, Japan, Israel, and Mexico.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced rules last month that would give the Obama administration wider latitude to extend clemency or reduce sentences for drug-related prisoners who don’t present a threat to public safety. In addition, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously in April to reduce sentencing guidelines for certain nonviolent criminals, a move now before Congress that could go into effect Nov. 1 if lawmakers don’t take any further action.


Ronald S. Sullivan Jr.
 is a clinical professor of law and director of the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School. The program focuses on criminal practice, education, and research, and hosts a teaching clinic for third-year law students to represent indigent criminal defendants in local and juvenile courts. Sullivan spoke with the Gazette about racial and national sentencing disparities, the economic and social costs of mass incarceration, and the sentencing reforms now under consideration.

GAZETTE: According to the memo, while the overall crime rate fell 45 percent between 1990 and 2012, the rate of imprisonment has spiked 222 percent between 1980 and 2012. What’s behind this disparity? Is that strictly the result of policy decisions like mandatory minimum sentencing, repeat-offender laws, and the growth in for-profit prisons? Or are other factors at work?

SULLIVAN: That’s certainly a big piece of it. … policy decisions in respect of mandatory minimums drive the huge incarceration rate. But there are other factors as well. What those factors are is the subject of a lot of academic debate nowadays. And to be honest, we’re not exactly sure what it is. We do know that on a per-capita basis the U.S. incarcerates more people than any country in the world, including Rwanda, Russia, Cuba, all of the places one does not associate with a robust tradition of liberty. And that’s in many ways shocking.

The theory would be … with the high rates of incarceration that the crime rate would go down and then that would be followed by less incarceration because there just wouldn’t be as many crimes committed. But those numbers have gone in opposite directions. Mandatory minimums simply don’t explain all of it. Part of it, at least I think, has to do with selective law enforcement — the over-policing of certain neighborhoods, particularly minority neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods. That is to say, if police are there and looking for crimes, and over-police certain neighborhoods, you’re going to produce more defendants in particular areas. And if the populations are drawn from poor populations, they’re unable to afford to be released on bail, they’re unable to afford good lawyers, and studies show that if you’re not released on bail you tend to stay in jail after sentencing. An unfortunate reality of the United States is that far too often the justice you receive is a function of how much money you have.

The prison-industrial complex is also an important factor. It doesn’t take an economist to know that if … you make your money by people going into prison, then there’s going to be higher incarceration rates. So I think that certainly plays a role as well.

GAZETTE: What are the areas of debate among scholars?

SULLIVAN: One explanation has to do with the United States’ articulated goals of punishment. Back in the ’70s and before, rehabilitation was an articulated goal of the criminal justice system. The Supreme Court has said clearly now rehabilitation is no longer a penological goal. We look at incapacitation, we look at deterrence, and we look at retribution as goals that the penal system serves. When you take rehabilitation out of the mix, then that de-incentivizes the system from having shorter sentences because there’s no longer an affirmative goal of reintegrating people meaningfully back into the community. That’s one of the things that scholars argue drive up the incarceration rate.

The other has to do with our system of elected judges in most states. Judges who are elected, the argument runs, respond to democratic pressures. We live in a political economy where people think that more and harsher punishment is better, even though most competent data suggests that longer sentences, after a certain point … make people worse as opposed to making them better. But you have democratically elected judges who respond to the will of the people, and if that will is for longer sentences, no matter how misinformed, then judges oftentimes acquiesce to those pressures.

The other issue has to do with legislators. It, again, has to do with the political economy in which we live. With this mantra of being “tough on crime,” legislators essentially race to see who can draft legislation with the harshest, longest penalties. I think that legislators don’t believe that prosecutors will attempt to enforce the most harsh provisions of particular laws, and in that sense, from the vantage point of the legislator, it’s sort of a win-win situation: They can get the political credit for drafting an incredibly harsh law, but not really have to deal with the effects because the notion is the prosecutor will sort it out and will recommend a fair sentence. That assumption, though, just hasn’t really been borne out in reality.

GAZETTE: The current incarceration gap between white men and African-American men is particularly striking. Does that figure surprise you, and what accounts for this gap? Is access to justice a factor?

SULLIVAN: The figure does not surprise me, and it is unfortunate that the figure does not surprise me. The figure reaffirms that race insinuates itself into almost every aspect of our life still, and it has a particular salience in the criminal justice system. … Here we see the effect of over-policing much more dramatically. In our culture, unfortunately … blackness is seen as a proxy for criminality. So the same or similar conduct engaged in by a person of color is seen through a lens that views that conduct as criminal, where others simply are not taxed in the same way.

The debate over the use of lethal injections and the drugs used for state executions continues.   Three newspapers–including the UK Guardian–have sued to 8706624f946740fb5bfd634de4b31b58make public the source of drugs for these injections. Most states are trying to make that information private.  Many of the recent botched executions came from simple druggists compounding the formulations because many of the major drug manufacturers–especially those in Europe–refuse to do so.  Should the formulation and the source of death penalty drugs be kept from the public?

The growing secrecy adopted by death penalty states to hide the source of their lethal injection drugs used in executions is being challenged in a new lawsuit in Missouri, which argues that the American people have a right to know how the ultimate punishment is being carried out in their name.

The legal challenge, brought by the Guardian, Associated Press and the three largest Missouri newspapers, calls on state judges to intervene to put a stop to the creeping secrecy that has taken hold in the state in common with many other death penalty jurisdictions. The lawsuit argues that under the first amendment of the US constitution the public has a right of access to know “the type, quality and source of drugs used by a state to execute an individual in the name of the people”.

It is believed to be the first time that the first amendment right of access has been used to challenge secrecy in the application of the death penalty. Deborah Denno, an expert in execution methods at Fordham University law school in New York, said that more and more states were turning to secrecy as a way of hiding basic flaws in their procedures.

“If states were doing things properly they wouldn’t have a problem releasing information – they are imposing a veil of secrecy to hide incompetence.” “This is like the government building bridges, and trying to hide the identity of the company that makes the bolts,” said Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center. “Those involved in public service should expect public scrutiny in order to root out problems, particular when the state is carrying out the most intimate act possible – killing people.”

A Guardian survey has identified at least 13 states that have changed their rules to withhold from the public all information relating to how they get hold of lethal drugs. They include several of the most active death penalty states including Texas, which has executed seven prisoners so far this year, Florida (five), Missouri (four) and Oklahoma (three). Attention has been drawn to the secrecy issue by the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma on 29 April in which the prisoner took 43 minutes to die, apparently in great pain, from an untested cocktail of drugs whose source was not made public.

Lockett’s lawyers had argued in advance that he might be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment as a result of the lack of information surrounding the drugs, but the state supreme court allowed the procedure to go ahead having come under intense pressure from local politicians, some of whom threatened to impeach judges.

In the wake of the events in Oklahoma, in which the prisoner writhed and groaned over a prolonged period, the state has agreed to pause for six months before carrying out any further judicial killings to give time for an internal investigation to be completed. President Obama described the Lockett execution “deeply troubling” and has asked US attorney general Eric Holder to review the way the death penalty is conducted.

Until last year, Missouri which is now executing prisoners at a rate of one a month, was open about where it obtained its lethal injection chemicals. But like many death penalty states, its drug supplies have dwindled as a result of a European-led pharmaceutical boycott, and in a desperate move to try to find new suppliers it has shrouded their identity in secrecy. In October, the state changed its so-called “black hood law” that had historically been used to guard the identity of those directly involved in the death process.

The department of corrections expanded the definition of its execution team to include pharmacies and “individuals who prescribe, compound, prepare, or otherwise supply the chemicals for use in the lethal injection procedure”. Six inmates have been executed by Missouri since the new secrecy rules came in –they went to their deaths entirely ignorant of the source or quality of the drugs used to kill them. All that is known is that the pentobarbital that Missouri deploys in executions probably came from a compounding pharmacy – an outlet that makes up small batches of the drug to order in the absence of stringent regulation.

We continue to see GLBT civil rights characterized by the right as an attack on their religious rights and their homobigoted behavior and language The-Birth-of-a-Nationwrapped up as a first amendment issue. How does the right play the victim card in a debate about limiting the rights of others?  It is doing the same things with women’s reproductive rights.

While Religious Right leaders are quick to equate criticism as an attack on their freedom of speech and religion, some of them are all too happy to limit the free speech or religious liberty of the people they disagree with. That includes the Benham brothers.

In the flurry of public appearances in the wake of the HGTV cancellation, the Benhams and their right-wing fans have portrayed themselves as committed to the principle that everyone in America should have a chance to express themselves.  On the O’Reilly Factor, David Benham denounced the gay agenda for seeking “to silence those that disagree with it, and it begins with Christians.” Jason warned that “when an idea seeks to silence any other idea that may disagree with that, then we have ourselves a problem on hand.”

But as blogger Jeremy Hooper recently pointed out, back in November 2004, David, Jason, and Flip Benham were all part of a group of about 15 people who went to a Charlotte, North Carolina city council meeting to complain about the gay pride celebration that had taken place in a city park six months earlier. They were among a group of people who had gone to the Pride event to, in Jason’s words, “tell them that Jesus loves you just the way you are, but he refuses to leave you that way.” But the Benhams and their friends were appalled at what they saw. “This is filth, this is vile and should not be allowed in our City,” said David. Jason urged city council members to reject future permits for Pride celebrations – and seemingly for any LGBT-themed event:

They have a right to apply for this permit, but you have a right and responsibility to deny it. I [implore] you not to be governed by the fear in which you feel. If you deny them this permit you will open a can of worms but you in your leadership position have to take that responsibility and you have to not allow the fear of making this homosexual community mad. You have to accept that responsibility and deny them every permit that they ask for.

In the words of Charlotte Pride organizers, “The Benham brothers once tried to silence us. They failed.”

Some Benham fans, like the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, say flat-out that the First Amendment’s religious liberty protections were only meant for Christians and don’t apply to Muslims, Mormons or other minority faiths. Back when many self-proclaimed “religious liberty” advocates were opposing efforts by Muslims in New York to build a community center – which critics gave the inaccurate and inflammatory name of “Ground Zero Mosque” – David Benham and his father Flip were among them. According to the Anti-Defamation League, David participated in protests against the Center, calling it a “den of iniquity” and labeling Muslims “the enemy” that was attacking America.

In these public debates, “Christian” as used by Religious Right leaders often doesn’t really apply to all Christians, but only to a subset of Christians who share their right-wing politics. Other Christians don’t count.  The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, who has bemoaned “cultural elites” who want to “silence” and “bully” people like the Benhams, recently said that pro-gay-equality Christians don’t deserve the same legal protections as he does because “true religious freedom” applies only to those with religious views that align with those of the political Right.

We’ve seen a lot of this coming from Governor Bobby Jindal who is a bully that insists that GLBT rights activists are bullies. 

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s commencement speech at Liberty University was a masterpiece in this type of dishonest projection. Posing as a champion of free speech and freedom of religion, he actually made a chilling argument in favor of stripping both of those freedoms away from ordinary Americans, businesses and anyone who might disagree with turning this country into a theocratic state. He started by defending Hobby Lobby for trying to strip contraception coverage out of their employees’ own healthcare plans. “Under the Obama regime,” he argued, “you have protection under the First Amendment as an individual, but the instant you start a business, you lose those protections. And that brings us to the second front in this silent war: the attack on our freedom of association as people of faith.”

It’s all nonsense, of course. In fact, Hobby Lobby’s intention here is to reduce religious freedom by forcing their employees to adhere to certain religious rules in order to get the benefits they already earned. ( They have a history of trying to impose their religious dogma on non-believers through other means as well.) The only people in any real danger of losing freedom are women, who are in danger of losing their freedom to use their insurance benefits in a way that fits their personal beliefs.

But Jindal was just warming up, claiming the “Obama administration” was gunning to decide “who can preach the Gospel.” This outrageous conspiracy theory was justified, in his opinion, by supposed other attacks on “free speech,” namely that TV networks are reluctant to house the opinions of open bigots. “The left no longer wants to debate. They simply want to silence us,” he said of Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty, who was never silenced and has, to this date, been allowed to say any fool thing he wants. But he was briefly suspended from A&E, leading conservatives to decide that “free speech” means you have a right to your own TV show.

All of this has gotten me interested in again in White Supremacist movements.  I really believe that most of these Southern Republicans fall squarely 67294811_blossoms_241543binto the neoconfederate mold and aren’t that far off the KKK tree.

White supremacy is referenced in relation to specific news events as well. For example, the murder rampage by the neo-Nazi Frazier Glenn Miller, the recent weeks-long debate between pundits Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jonathan Chait about “black pathology”; birtherism; stand-your-ground laws; and the open embrace of the symbols and rhetoric of the old slave-holding Confederacy by the Republican Party have been framed and discussed in terms of white supremacy.

Conservatives and progressive often use the phrase “white supremacy” in divergent ways. Conservatives use the phrase in the service of a dishonest “colorblind” agenda, evoking extreme images of KKK members and Nazis as the exclusive and only examples of white racism in American life and politics. Conservatives use extreme caricatures of white supremacy in order to deflect and protect themselves from charges that the contemporary Republican Party is a white identity organization fueled by white racial resentment. Liberals, progressives and anti-racists use the phrase “white supremacy” to describe the overt and subtle racist practices of movement conservatism in the post-Civil Rights era, and how American society is still structured around maintaining and protecting white privilege. This analysis is largely correct: however, it often conflates concepts such as racism, white privilege, and white supremacy with one another. Language does political work. In the age of Obama, the phrase “white supremacy” is often used in political discussions like an imprecise shotgun blast or a blockbuster bomb. If the Common Good and American democracy are to be protected—countering how the right wing has used the politics of white racial resentment, racial manipulation, and hate to mobilize its voters in support of a plutocratic agenda—a more precise weapon is needed. A necessary first step in that direction requires the development of a more detailed and transparent exploration of the concept known as “white supremacy.”

tumblr_m643ofO3Mw1r194ulo2_1280One of the sure signs to me of either a racist or a misogynist or a homophobic bigot is that they all insist they have no problem women, racial minorities, and/or gay people.  The believe they are the victims by being forced to deal with any one else in terms other than their own choosing. Therein lies the problem.  Here’s a perfect example from Kristen Powers writing at USA Today.   You can’t call out bigotry without being called a bully obsessed with political correctness.  Then, you’re told that the real victims are white conservative christians.

Each week seems to bring another incident. Last week it was David and Jason Benham, whose pending HGTV show was canceled after the mob unearthed old remarks the brothers made about their Christian beliefs on homosexuality. People can’t have a house-flipping show unless they believe and say the “right” things in their life off the set? In this world, the conservative Tom Selleck never would have been Magnum, P.I.

This week, a trail-blazing woman was felled in the new tradition of commencement shaming. International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde withdrew from delivering the commencement speech at Smith College following protests from students and faculty who hate the IMF. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, this trend is growing. In the 21 years leading up to 2009, there were 21 incidents of an invited guest not speaking because of protests. Yet, in the past five-and-a-half years, there have been 39 cancellations.

Don’t bother trying to make sense of what beliefs are permitted and which ones will get you strung up in the town square. Our ideological overlords have created a minefield of inconsistency. While criticizing Islam is intolerant, insulting Christianity is sport. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is persona non grata at Brandeis University for attacking the prophet Mohammed. But Richard Dawkins describes the Old Testament God as “a misogynistic … sadomasochistic … malevolent bully” and the mob yawns. Bill Maher calls the same God a “psychotic mass murderer” and there are no boycott demands of the high-profile liberals who traffic his HBO show.

The self-serving capriciousness is crazy. In March, University of California-Santa Barbara women’s studies professor Mireille Miller-Young attacked a 16-year-old holding an anti-abortion sign in the campus’ “free speech zone” (formerly known as America). Though she was charged with theft, battery and vandalism, Miller-Young remains unrepentant and still has her job. But Mozilla’s Brendan Eich gave a private donation to an anti-gay marriage initiative six years ago and was ordered to recant his beliefs. When he wouldn’t, he was forced to resign from the company he helped found.

Got that? A college educator with the right opinions can attack a high school student and keep her job. A corporate executive with the wrong opinions loses his for making a campaign donation. Something is very wrong here.

The right seems to be really confused about the first amendment, which clearly deals with the relationship between the federal government, religion, the press, and the people’s free speech.  The same idiots that scream that Hobby Lobby can deny its employees contraception and say that businesses should be able to refuse to serve GLBTs will shout out a corporation that says they don’t want to be known for bigotry of any kind.  They also misunderstand the protection given to University professors when it comes to academic freedom.  Companies have to comply with the law.  They do not have to keep employees that don’t represent their corporate values.  PERIOD.

Anyway, it just amazes me that this intense amount of uncivil bigotry and hatred seemed to have burbled up again after all these years.  All it took was an African American President and a few powerful women–namely Hillary Clinton–to bring the crazy out.

I just wanted to mention that most of these silent film images come from “Birth of  a Nation” but one comes from “Broken Blossoms” also known as the “Yellow Man and the Girl”.  Both of these films were directed by DW Griffith around 1919. Both movies starred Lillian Gish and were received differently by white audiences than by the racial minorities they also depicted.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Lazy Saturday Reads: Here We Go Again . . .

Brigit Ganley, The Dramatist

Brigit Ganley, The Dramatist

It’s Saturday!!

 

And a glance at the news headlines today reveals that everything old is new again. Remember 14-year-old Cherise Morales, who committed suicide after being raped by her teacher Stacy Dean Rambold? And G. Todd Baugh, the judge who blamed Cherise for the rape and sentenced the Rambold to only 31 days in jail and probation?

Well that decision *may* be overturned, but now we have another judge in Texas who sounds like a clone of Baugh–except she’s a woman! From the Dallas News: Judge says sexually assaulted 14-year-old ‘wasn’t the victim she claimed to be’.

A man sentenced to five years probation by a Dallas County judge after admitting he raped a 14-year-old girl won’t have to follow many of the restrictions typically given to sex offenders.

And the judge who issued the light sentence said Thursday that she did so in part because the girl wasn’t a virgin and “wasn’t the victim she claimed to be.”

State District Judge Jeanine Howard, who gave 20-year-old Sir Young deferred probation last week, also altered Young’s probation requirements. As a result, Young does not have to stay away from children, attend sex offender treatment, undergo a sex offender evaluation or refrain from watching pornography.

Wait a minute. Let me check my calendar. Is this really 2014?

District Attorney Craig Watkins said Thursday that his prosecutors would “always fight for our most vulnerable victims” like the one in this case. It is rare for prosecutors to critique a judge’s actions, but Watkins said he was “alarmed” by Howard’s decision.

“This young lady was 14 at the time she was sexually assaulted at school, and we cannot send the wrong message to rape victims who have the courage to seek justice,” Watkins said. “I am disappointed the judge would choose to give the defendant probation after he admitted guilt, but even more alarmed the judge failed to impose standard sex offender conditions of probation designed to protect society.”

Make sure you’re sitting down before you read this next bit. Judge Howard is a Democrat. She’s going to withdraw from the case now so she can better explain herself, but she doesn’t have to worry about being reelected because she’s running unopposed.

Howard said she made her decision for several reasons, including: The girl had texted Young asking him to spend time with her; the girl had agreed to have sex with him but just didn’t want to at school; medical records show the girl had three sexual partners and had given birth to a baby; and Young was barely 18 at the time.

“She wasn’t the victim she claimed to be,” Howard said. “He is not your typical sex offender.”

The girl’s mother said Friday morning that her daughter has never been pregnant and she was “livid” over the judge’s comments.

WTF?!

The victim, who is now 17, told The News on Thursday night that she feels it would have been better if she had never come forward about the 2011 assault. She and Young testified last week at his trial that she had told Young “stop” and “no” numerous times before and during the attack at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, where both were students.

“I did what I was supposed to do. I went to the law about this situation,” she said. The judge’s probation sentence and the removal of the restrictions — “that says everything I went through was for nothing.”

Unbelievable! We’ll have to watch what happens with this case. But when will judges learn that 14-year-old girls are not able to consent to sex in the first place?

“Don’t Run for President, Hillary”

Why won't that stupid bitch quit? (WWTSBQ)

Why won’t that stupid bitch quit? (WWTSBQ)

Remember when MSNBC’s Krystal Ball told Hillary Clinton she shouldn’t run for President? Ball said that Elizabeth Warren, who  is approximately the same age as Hillary and has zero experience and would be unlikely to win should run instead because Hillary was once on the board of Walmart … or something? Of course Ball’s nonsensical “advice” was ignored by most rational Democrats.

Now comes Tina Brown, editor of The Daily Beast to lecture Hillary some more: Don’t Run for President, Hillary. Become a ‘Post-President’ Instead. Except Brown seems not to care at all about Hillary’s positions on issues or her qualifications. She simply thinks Hillary should do the easiest thing and avoid the “stress” of a campaign and a tough job like the presidency. Brown apparently has projected her own values onto Hillary, assuming that she (Clinton) is as narcissistic and self-involved as Tina Brown is. Never mind that Hillary has spent most of her life focusing on public service and fighting for causes like women’s rights.

Brown writes:

I know as much as anyone how much her most fervent supporters want Hillary Clinton to run for president. On the opening night of the Women in the World Summit the mere mention of the possibility had the audience on their feet. The fan base is there, and constituencies beyond it.

Because American women want a woman in the White House in their lifetimes, and Hillary has the experince, strength, and passion to do the job.

But should she do it? Would the bravest and best decision be for her to skip it? In the 2008 campaign the chronic negativity of the ladies and gentlemen of the press was relentless, and the gouging of Hillary was wholly unrelated to either her record or her behavior. It was just that her story had gotten old. It required new angles, or, heaven forbid, new facts, to make it interesting—whereas Barack Obama was a story that wrote itself.

The first black president was a hotter plot line than the first woman president. Bad luck for Hillary. Obama stole her exceptionalism, leaving the press only with the hair, the alleged cackling laugh, and the over-familiar back-story, which meant dogging Bill around, hoping he’d lose it once in a while. (He obliged.)

I joined the Hillary bus for a Newsweek story in 2008 I was fascinated how little attention in their copy the traveling reporters actually paid to anything she said when she got out. They were too busy filing recaps of blogs by commentators who weren’t there. Suddenly there would be media uproar about some killer soundbite from Hillary that someone had gotten traction for that in context wasn’t controversial at all. Remember that shit-storm when she said MLK’s dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act?

In other words, the media is full of assholes and even though Hillary could probably handle it, why bother? She should just be a “post-president” in the mode of Jimmy Carter and bask in the reflected limelight of her former-president husband.

Even the Wall Street Journal’s wingnut comumnist James Taranto seems to think Brown’s column is a little strange.

Does Brown disagree with Mrs. Clinton on matters of policy or doubt she would be a good president? One assumes the answer is no, though the column doesn’t say. Nor does Brown offer a more coldly political rationale–say, that Mrs. Clinton would be unlikely to win, or that a different candidate would better enhance the long-term fortunes of the Democratic Party.

Brown sums up her argument as follows: “She should forget it. If she wins, it’s too much stress for too little return.” By “return,” Brown means nothing more than “personal benefit.” By forgoing a campaign, Brown writes, Mrs. Clinton “can have her glory-filled post-presidency now, without actually having to deal with the miseries of the office itself.” ….

Brown….credits Mrs. Clinton with standing for something, namely “her global mission to promote women’s rights, education, and political participation.” She asks if skipping the presidential candidacy would be “the bravest and best decision,” though she doesn’t say a word about why it would be brave.

Her central argument, however, is that running for and serving as president would entail too much suffering, in large part because people, particularly in the media, would not respond to Mrs. Clinton fairly…

Taranto thinks he may have figured out Brown’s real motivation: she’s floating a trial balloon for Hillary, because maybe Hillary has doubts about running and wants to see how her supporters react to Brown’s arguments.

No, Mr. Taranto, that’s not it. Brown is just the latest example of women being women’s worst enemies–like when Gloria Steinem supported Barack Obama over Hillary in 2008. And, by the way, could you please stop referring to Hillary as “Mrs. Clinton?” She is a former Senator and Secretary of State for god’s sake!

Benghazi!!!!

Remember when Boehner thought Benghazi investigations were stupid?

Remember when Boehner thought Benghazi investigations were stupid?

And then there’s the GOP’s obsession with Benghazi!!–which is of course the stick they hope to beat Hillary Clinton with in 2016. From U.S. News and World Report: Boehner says he intends to appoint select House committee to investigate Benghazi.

Boehner said U.S. officials misled the American people after the Sept. 11, 2012, assault on the U.S. diplomatic post in Libya that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. He said emails released this week showed the White House has withheld documents from congressional investigators and asked, “What else about Benghazi is the Obama administration still hiding from the American people?”

“Americans learned this week that the Obama administration is so intent on obstructing the truth about Benghazi that it is even willing to defy subpoenas issued by the standing committees of the people’s House,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement. “These revelations compel the House to take every possible action to ensure the American people have the truth about the terrorist attack on our consulate that killed four of our countrymen.”

Because Darrel Issa hasn’t already investigated enough? If only the House had spent half this much time investigating 9/11, we might know why the Bush administration ignored all those warnings.

Here’s Brian Beutler at The New Republic: The GOP’s Benghazi Obsession Returns With a Vengeance. Pay Attention, Hillary.

It is by sheer coincidence that just as Obamacare recedes as an issue, House GOP leaders have announced their intent to create a Select Committee on Benghazisomething they’ve long resistedand that Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, perhaps overcome by zeal to maintain control over the issue, subpoenas Secretary of State John Kerry to testify about the 2012 attackdespite the fact that Kerry was a senator at the time, and hasn’t been invited to testify, and is currently visiting Sudan.

The pretext for all this is the release of an email from White House adviser Ben Rhodes, which includes as a bullet point the goal that in speaking about the attack, then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice should “reinforce the President and Administration’s strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges.”

Slate’s Dave Weigel did a great job earlier this week of placing the email in chronological context, to discredit the argument that the email represents evidence of a “coverup.” And while it might appear a bit unseemly for administration officials to be concerning themselves with the president’s image and the administration’s competence in the midst a crisis … this is actually completely uncontroversial. Would John Boehner and Darrell Issa have preferred it if Susan Rice went on TV that week and granted that the administration was in complete disarray? Or had refused to take a position on the administration’s handling of the situation?

Beutler goes on to explain that even though all of the Republicans’ claims on Benghazi have been debunked, he is *concerned* because they are still going  to use it to attack Hillary.

if Republicans are serious about working their base into a frenzy over Benghazi, it’d probably behoove liberals to mix a bit more clarity about the events in with the mockery. What’s really happening is pretty straightforward. Of all the Americans who’ve died in dangerous parts of the world over the last decade, Republicans have concerned themselves with Benghazi’s four victims, because they think there’s political utility in fostering suspicion that the administration was more concerned with the coverup than the attack itself.

Something tells me Beutler is another one of those “Please don’t run, Hillary” folks.

What do you think? Please let me know in the comments and, as always, post your links on any topic!


The Kitty Genovese Case 50 Years Later

kitty_genovese-kitty-outside-l

Today is the 50th anniversary of the murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens, New York. This was a crime that shocked and outraged America and the world, and still horrifies and fascinates people to this day. At The New Yorker, Nicholas Lehmann describes some of the reasons this news story has become so iconic and reviews two new books on the case. Lehmann argues that New York Times editor Abe Rosenthal created a news environment in which this particular murder became the focus of so much attention. Lehmann deliberately shaped the coverage of the murder in a sensational and misleading manner. The story ended up as the focus of a classic psychological study.

a post about this in August 2009, and I thought I’d put that post up again today.

I wrote a piece about this in August 2009. I thought I’d repost it today. I’ve made a few minor edits to the original. At the end, I list some recent books and articles for further reading.

The Kitty Genovese Case: A Fascinating Intersection of True Crime, Psychology, and Media Misinformation

A Murder in Kew Gardens

On March 13, 1964, at around 3:30AM, there was a murder in the Kew Gardens section of Queens, New York. The murder probably wouldn’t have gotten much publicity at all if it hadn’t been for a sensational article that appeared on the front page of The New York Times, a couple of weeks later. The Times story led to groundbreaking research in social psychology and the discovery of new and counter-intuitive information about human behavior.

It was very late, very cold, and very dark when 28-year-old Catherine “Kitty” Genovese parked her car at the Kew Gardens train station after driving from Ev’s Eleventh Hour Bar in Hollis, where she worked nights as manager. When she got out of her car, she saw a stranger walking toward her. The man, Winston Mosley, 29, stabbed Genovese two times as she hurried past a bookstore on Austin Street, pehaps headed a local bar named Bailey’s to seek assistance. She called out, “Oh my God. He stabbed me. Please help me,” and fell to the ground. Winston was leaning over her to stab her again, when he heard a man’s voice calling from a window in an apartment building across the street, “Leave that girl alone!”

Winston Mosley
Winston Mosley

Startled, Mosley ran down an alley, got into his car, and backed up, ready to drive off. Lights had gone on in the nearby apartment building, but they went off again. Mosley got out of the car and again followed Genovese, who had reached the doorway of her apartment building, which was in the back of the building at 82-62 Austin Street. As she fell forward through the doorway, crying out, “I’m dying, I’m dying,” Winston caught up with her, stabbed her again, and then raped her. A short time later, a neighbor, Greta Schwartz, who had called the police after receiving a phone call from another neighbor, ran down to the lobby and cradled Kitty in her lap until the paramedics arrived.

From interviews in the neighborhoods of the two stabbing incidents, police learned that as many as 37 people had seen or heard part of the stalking and murder of Kitty Genovese by Winston Mosley, but supposedly none of them had called the police except Greta Schwartz.

The New York Times Breaks the Story

On March 27, 1964, The New York Times published a front page story by Martin Gansberg (Warning, PDF) headlined “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call Police.”

Apathy at Stabbing of Queens Woman Shocks Inspector

For more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens.

Twice the sound of their voices and the sudden glow of their bedroom lights interrupted him and frightened him off. Each time he returned, sought her out and stabbed her again. Not one person telephoned the police during the assault; one witness called after the woman was dead.

That was two weeks ago today. But Assistant Chief Inspector Frederick M. Lussen, in charge of the borough’s detectives and a veteran of 25 years of homicide investigations, is still shocked.

He can give a matter-of-fact recitation of many murders. But the Kew Gardens slaying baffles him–not because it is a murder, but because the “good people” failed to call the police.

Just that brief excerpt contains a number of inaccuracies, which I’ll get to a little later. Nevertheless, it was from this newspaper article that Americans–and people around the world–formed their lasting impressions of the tragic death of Kitty Genovese. The story shocked the nation; everyone was talking about how terrible it was that in big cities like New York, people just didn’t seem to get to know their neighbors or care about them. Those of us who lived in small cities and towns were sure things would be different in our neighborhoods.

Psychological Study of the Bystander Effect

In 1968, J.M. Darley and B. Latane published a study (pdf) in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that was inspired by the supposed behavior of the 37 “witnesses” to Kitty Genovese’s murder. They hypothesized that the reason bystanders did not take action was “diffusion of responsibility,” and that the more bystanders in an emergency situation, the more these bystanders believe that “someone else will help, so I don’t need to.”

Participants in the study were college students in an introductory psychology class at New York University.
Darley and Latane told participants that they wanted to study how students adjust to university life in a highly competitive, urban environment. They said they wanted participants to discuss their problems honestly with other students; and in order to avoid personal discomfort, participants would sit in separate rooms equipped with an intercom system.

There were three different groups. Students in group one were told they would be talking with one other person. In group two, students were told there would be two other people on the intercome with them. Group five was told there would be five other people listening in to the conversation. In reality, all of the students were alone and they the other voices they heard were on tape. The emergency was that one of the participants in the discussion has epileptic seizure (the sounds of the seizure were actually played on tape).

As the intercom discussions began, students heard the first student, a male, tell about his difficulties concentrating on his studies and problems adjusting to life in New York City. He then added, with some embarrassment, that he sometimes had severe seizures, especially when under a lot of stress. Then the conversation switched to the next student. In group 1, the actual student’s turn came next. In the other two groups, the real student heard one or more other students speak first. After the real student took a turn speaking, the first “student” again started to speak normally, then began having a seizure, and asked for help. Darley and Latane measured how long it took subjects to help the student in trouble (helping was defined as leaving the cubicle and notifying an experimenter of the problem).

Why? Not because they were apathetic. All subjects were anxious and showed physical signs of nervousness. Darley and Latane conclued that as the number of people involved in an emergency situation increase, it’s easier for bystanders to assume that someone else will handle it; and the potential guilt for not helping is divided up. Other possible reasons for failure to act are fear of embarrassment or ridicule, fear that they are misinterpreting the situation. The authors also pointed out that most people don’t have much experience with emergency situations and are likely to become confused or overwhelmed when they encounter one.

Joseph De May, Jr., and the Kew Gardens History Page

In 2000, Joseph De May, who had lived in Kew Gardens since 1974, decided to build a website that would contain a comprehensive pictorial history of the neighborhood. As part of his project, De May dug up as much information as he could about the Kitty Genovese murder and then critiqued the original New York Times article and debunked some myths that had grown up around the case. Here is the “short version” of his critique:

# There were only 2 attacks, not 3.

# The attacks were not continuous. There was about a 10 min. interval between them when the killer moved his car to a parking place farther away.

# There were not 38 eye witnesses to either of the attacks. Only 3 people are known to have seen one or the other of the stabbings.

# The first attack on Austin Street – the one that awakened the witnesses – was likely over before all but a few of the witnesses got to their windows.

# Probably many more than 38 were ear witnesses to Kitty’s screams. However, that first attack occurred a few yards away from a bar known for its late night rowdiness.

# After the first attack, Kitty left the scene under her own power without making any outcries for help.

# The second attack took place in a small vestibule in the rear of a building where only one witness was in a position to see it.

# Given the layout of the crime scene, it would have been impossible for anyone to have seen or heard everything.

# Assuming the police were not timely called – a big assumption in my opinion – there were reasons apart from apathy why they were not.

Crime scene photo: back of apartment building where Kitty died
Crime scene photo: back of apartment building where Kitty died

Furthermore, a 15-year-old boy named Michael Hoffman saw Winston Mosley run away after the first attack in front of the bookstore and saw Kitty Genovese get up and stagger in the other direction. He didn’t know there had been a stabbing, but he told his father what he had seen and the father called the police. The police later admitted they had received several other calls. One man did see the knife and understood that a woman was being stabbed. This man never called the police and couldn’t explain his inaction. At least five other people saw Mosley return to the original scene, but by that time Kitty Genovese was gone.

There were two attacks, not three as the New York Times reported. A man on the first floor of Kitty’s building open his door and saw the final attack. He wanted to call police, but said his wife didn’t want him to get involved. He went to Greta Schwartz’s apartment and asked her to call police, which she did. She then ran downstairs with a friend, found Kitty still alive and cradled her until an ambulance arrived. Also contrary to The New York Times story, the occupants of Kitty Genovese’s apartments building knew and were friendly with each other. Many knew and liked Kitty and her roomate Mary Ann Zielonko.

The Real Kitty Genovese

In 2004, on the fortieth anniversary of Kitty Genovese’s death, Mary Ann Zielonko came forward and talked about Kitty publicly for the first time. She was interviewed on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. In the interview, Zielonko, who now lives in Vermont, revealed that she and Kitty Genovese were lovers. A lesbian blogger in Vermont wrote a piece about her own feelings after she learned about Kitty’s sexual orientation.

Hearing that Genovese was a lesbian has shaken up my psyche. Genovese’s name was always a cautionary tale – about being a woman alone in the city at night, about the need to care and take action in the face of assault. But now it’s also somehow more about me as a lesbian, about our denied and undiscovered herstory, about the dangers we faced then – and now.

In 1964, it was not okay to be queer. The only place to go to hold your lover’s hand in semi-public was a bar. Mary Ann remembers the Swing Rendezvous on MacDougal St. and the Seven Steps on Houston. Police raids and being beaten up for wearing butch or femme drag were common events.

Until now we’ve never had the opportunity to ask whether the neighbors’ indifference might have had an element of homophobia (not that the word existed then). Kitty and Mary Ann lived together in the apartment Kitty was so desperately trying to reach that March night. Mary Ann says some of the neighbors suspected they were lesbians, because they were always together. “But we didn’t look ‘gay,’ whatever that means.” Mary Ann got home from her own shift tending bar and went to sleep – until the police knocked at her door at 4 a.m. and drove her from the tree-lined streets of their Kew Gardens, Queens, neighborhood where Kitty died, to the hospital morgue to identify Kitty’s body.

Some of the neighbors may have suspected that Kitty and Mary Ann were gay, but several reported in interviews that she was a friendly, smiling young woman whom they liked. A few told police and reporters that they “didn’t want to get involved,” but most weren’t sure what they had seen or heard and couldn’t say why they didn’t call for help. It was after 3AM on a winter night, in a neighborhood where there were often loud voices and even fighting among people leaving local bars. As with the participants in Darley and Latane’s study, some of the witnesses may have feared giving a false report to police and looking foolish.

In addition, Joseph De May reports that in those days, NYC police demanded that callers identify themselves rather than just accepting reports of emergencies. That may have deterred some from calling police or holding on long enough to get someone to listen. Even if witnesses had called police to report screaming or fighting, they would likely have taken a long time to respond, because of the bars in the area.

In 2004, The New York Times interviewed De May about his research.

In the end, Mr. De May’s conclusion about the murder is that, while the behavior of the witnesses was hardly beyond reproach, the common conception of exactly what occurred that night is not in fact what occurred. What did occur, he argues, is far more complex and far less damning to the residents of Kew Gardens.

”Yeah, there was a murder,” Mr. De May said. ”Yeah, people heard something. You can question how a few people behaved. But this wasn’t 38 people watching a woman be slaughtered for 35 minutes and saying, ‘Oh, I don’t want to be involved.”’

Mr. De May began his research with the seminal Times article of March 27, 1964. ”I remember reading through it, then putting it down and thinking, ‘Well, this doesn’t hang together at all,”’ he said. ”And then I read it again carefully. I knew the area. I knew the crime scene because I go by there every day.”

Mr. De May soon found himself poring through legal documents related to the case, scouring books and articles, and interviewing neighbors. At one point, he even ran the route of Ms. Genovese’s flight up Austin Street, timing it with a watch. He became convinced that his first impression was correct. ”Here’s something that everyone thinks happened,” he said, ”that isn’t so.”

Winston Mosley

Kitty’s murderer had no idea that she was a lesbian. He had set out that night to kill a woman. He was certainly a sociopath and may have been a serial killer. He confessed to having killed at least one other woman after he was arrested for the Genovese murder. In 1968, Mosley managed to escape from police custody and raped a pregnant woman in her home. In April, 2008, the New York Daily News reported on Mosley’s latest parole hearing.

Forty-four years after stalking and stabbing Kitty Genovese, her killer still blames his wife-beating father for the vicious murder.

“My father was at the time stalking my mother and thinking about killing her,” Winston Moseley told the parole board last month when asked about the infamous 1964 slaying.

“But the problem was not just at that moment in time,” he said. “It existed for many years of sort of the emotional trauma that I was going through.”

Moseley, whose parole bid was rejected for a 13th time, has long displayed little remorse for the March 13, 1964, slaying – although he did offer an apology this time, a transcript of the hearing shows.

Further Reading:

Books

In 2008, Charles E. Stoller, the man who prosecuted Winston Mosley for the murder of Kitty Genovese and two other murders, published a book about the cases, Twisted Confessions: The True Story Behind the Kitty Genovese and Barbara Kralik Murder Trials.

Catherine Pelonero, Kitty Genovese: A True Account of a Public Murder and Its Private Consequences (2014)

Kevin Cook, Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America (2014)

Articles

Boston Globe book review, ‘Kitty Genovese’ by Kevin Cook and ‘Kitty Genovese’ by Catherine Pelonero

Nicholas Lehmann, A CALL FOR HELP: What the Kitty Genovese story really means.

AP (via CBS Local NY), 50 Years Later, Kitty Genovese Murder Case Still Grips NYC, Nation.

Fabian Tepper (Christian Science Monitor),  Kitty Genovese murder: would you have helped? 

Nancy Dillon (NY Daily News), Brother of Kitty Genovese to release documentary about sister’s 1964 murder, which prompted ‘Genovese Syndrome’ research