Bad Blood

 

Being the strange case of the Shooting Incident of Michael Brown Jnr. (May 20, 1996 – August 9, 2014), by Officer Darren Dean Wilson (b. May 14, 1986),on Canfield Drive Ferguson Missouri, 12.02pm Aug. 9 2014.

Just before 12pm on the 9th of August, a security camera caught Michael Brown (6 feet 4 inches (193 cm)) stealing a box of cigarillos not far from Canfield Drive, Ferguson, Miss., and assaulting and intimidating a shop assistant. The police were called. At 12.01 Officer Wilson saw two males walking up the middle of Canfield Dr. and asked them to get off the middle of the road. These were Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson. Accounts differ as to what Brown said to Wilson. Suffice it to say that Wilson asked Brown to get off the road and Brown refused, citing that they were nearing their destination. Wilson drove on, then reversed right up to Brown and Johnson, realizing Brown matched the description of the Convenience store Cigarillo thief. There then followed a fight, with Wilson still in the car unable to exit it. So Wilson is fighting with Brown who is leaning into the car. Wilson (6 feet 4 inches (193 cm)) is being punched by Brown. Wilson is fighting back and Brown and Wilson are each struggling for Wilsons service weapon (a 40 Caliber Sig 229 [13 rounds, 12 in the magazine, 1 in the chamber]).

Sig Sauer P250 Compact 40 S&W with 13-Round Magazine

Wilson said he feared for his life at this point. Wilson pulls the trigger four times. Two shots go off. One misses. One bullet hits Brown in the arm. Brown and Johnson flee. Johnson hides behind a car. Wilson gives chase to Brown. Accounts differ as to what happens next.  Wilson calls to Brown to stop. Brown turns facing Wilson. Brown moves towards Wilson. Wilson calls to Brown to stop. Brown keeps moving towards Wilson. 10 Shots go off. 6 bullets hit Brown, who is unarmed. The final shot, which penetrated the middle of his skull, kills Michael Brown.

Exactly how far Wilson and Brown are from each other at this point is again open to interpretation. the overall distance travelled from Wilsons cruiser to  where Brown fell dead is 153 feet (45 Metres). Less than 90 seconds pass from the initial altercation to Michael Brown’s death.

Image from Dr. Michael M. Baden

 

The incident sparked enormous public outcry and a huge series of demonstrations, both peaceful and violent, and much public discussion about longstanding accusations about police racial profiling. Peaceful and violent riots ensued in the area. An FBI civil rights investigation is underway.

Witness testimony on any incident is subject to the Rashomon effect. The name, coming from the Akira Kurosawa movie Rashomon (1950), is about how a crime is described four different ways by four different witnesses. This is the notion that anyone witnessing any particular incident is subject to bias of one kind or another or an inability to properly see something for what it actually is. The following image is from PBS and asks a list of questions.

(If you have difficulty reading the list below, then right-click it and select ‘open in a new tab’)

Some witnesses say Wilson opened fire as Brown ran away, then shot at him after he turned. (This is unlikely as the shell casings were all found in or about 2963 Canfield Drive.) Some say Brown had his hands raised and the final shots were murder. Dorian Johnson, Browns friend, claims Brown shouted he didn’t have a weapon and for Wilson to stop shooting. A construction worker at a nearby apartment complex disputes the claim that Brown rushed Wilson, saying it wasn’t a ‘bull rush’. Cell phone video obtained by CNN depicts the same construction worker at exactly the time of the incident shouting that “He (Brown) has his fucking hands up!” Others dispute this.

A police officer can use lethal force subduing a subject in the USA under two circumstances (1) To protect their life or the life of another innocent party” — what departments call the “defence-of-life” standard. (2) To prevent a suspect from escaping, but only if the officer has probable cause to think the suspect’s committed a serious violent felony. (Framework USA Supreme Court decisions laws – 1980 — Tennessee vs. Garner / Graham v. Connor — set up a framework for use of deadly force by police)

image

Wilson believed his life was in danger when Brown was punching him and twisting his gun from him. The notion that someone would reach into a police cruiser and start fighting with a policeman for his weapon is somewhat incredible, but possible. Nonetheless Wilson appeared to have suffered minor bruising on his face rather than the savage pummelling a series of blows from a 292 pound (132 kg) well nourished18 year old teenager in the prime of health would have given him. After Brown and Johnson fled, Wilsons life was no longer in danger. Wilson states he felt Brown was going to kill him during Wilsons 156 foot chase of Brown. He claims Brown went for his waistband with his injured right hand as if he were going to draw a gun on him. This is another odd aspect to the story. If Brown had a weapon, why didn’t he draw it after the shooting started right by Wilsons cruiser? If Brown had a gun and saw Wilson was going to use his, why didn’t he draw down on him? (okay not a fair question). Also, why didn’t Wilson give chase in his cruiser if he felt his life was in danger? Why didn’t he (Wilson) wait for backup if he felt his life was in danger?  Why didn’t he try to cut the two Teenagers off using his car in order to save time and increase his response time? When the shooting started, why didn’t he (Wilson) shoot Brown in the legs rather than the more lethal torso or final deadly head shot? Wilson was the trained professional. A few nonlethal legshots would have stopped even the bulk of a Michael Brown. The story doesn’t add up.

The most controversial aspect strangely enough isn’t the shooting but the subsequent Grand Jury which after many tense near announcements and agonized waiting on the part of the public and the Brown family, finally gave its announcement not indict Wilson. After so much testimony not to indict on any charge from second degree murder to the lesser charge of excessive use of force is very strange. it sparked further outcry and more public demonstrations. A Grand Jury  usually meets for about a day or so to decide whether or not the main suspect involved in the shooting (Officer Wilson in this case) has any case to answer. Usually police officers or specialists involved in the investigation are called as witnesses. The defendant usually is not asked to testify, and the prosecutor (Robert Mc Cullouch in this case) usually provides a range of charges that the grand jury needs to indict.

In this instance none of this happened. As the joke goes, a grand jury would indict a turkey for Christmas. This particular grand jury met for 25 days over three months.  Wilson testified for four hours, and over forty witnesses were called, and they bizarrely decided not to go to trial. Then the court documents were released by Mc Cullouch after the grand jury decided not to indict. Usually the evidence is kept secret for a possible trial. Mc Cullouch’s functional definition of a Grand Jury, being to determine probable cause to indict, seems contradict itself. It seems to have gone further than that and drifted into a trial itself.  The job of a Grand Jury is to enquire into the foundation a charge is made, not to analyse and look into a defendants exculpatory evidence. Finally (as far as memory serves) in the USA the last date figures are available for Grand Juries is 2010. In 2010 there were 16,000 Grand Juries. Of those only 11 decided not to indict the accused, which puts the Wilson Grand Jury into some kind of perspective.

Darren Wilson is resigning from the police force. It is unlikely he could continue to be a police officer in the area after the events of August 9th 2014. Ferguson Police Dept. will conduct an internal investigation to see if Wilson’s conduct was in line with policy, according to Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson.  Finally the National Bar Association is questioning how the Grand Jury, considering the evidence before them, could reach the conclusion that Darren Wilson should not be indicted and tried for the shooting death of Michael Brown.

Me too. From firearm charges to the use of excessive force to the degrees of manslaughter charges, there appears to be so many questions unanswered, so many reasons why this should have gone to trial. Whatever ones political leanings, the facts have a tendency to speak louder than ones emotional bias. That Officer Wilson is not at the very least given the opportunity to answer charges in a fair trial will lead to more bad blood and more racial tensions in this strange and tragic case, that is representative of an underlying problem of racial profiling in the USA. The Wilson-Brown case has all the appearance of a damage limitation exercise. I shudder to think what will happen if another youth is killed in a similar way.

Ursula K Le Guin’s Cracking Speech at the National Book Foundation Awards

 

Ursula K. Le Guin accepts the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 65th National Book Awards on November 19, 2014.

A Brief Riveting Speech by a Mistress of Letters about the difference between writing for a market and writing for art.

 

A few days back a brilliant writer, someone who was somewhat relegated to the genre of science fiction and fantasy, was hugely honoured at the U.S. National book awards. This is in itself a matter of considerable significance. Ursula Le Guin has been re imagining our possible futures for decades in her novels and poetry, and science fiction, a genre which never really got the kinds of recognition it deserved as an art form ( I am a huge fan of same) is now beginning to be really recognized, because we are now living in the age of science fiction.  As Videos tend to disappear from You Tube,I quote Le Guin’s speech here in full. She received the award from Neil Gaiman. 

“Thank you Neil, and to the givers of this beautiful reward, my thanks from the heart. My family, my agent, editors, know that my being here is their doing as well as mine, and that the beautiful reward is theirs as much as mine. And I rejoice at accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long, my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction—writers of the imagination, who for the last 50 years watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.

I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.

Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. (Thank you, brave applauders.)

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial; I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us, the producers who write the books, and make the books, accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write. (Well, I love you too, darling.)

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.

I have had a long career and a good one. In good company. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want—and should demand—our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.

Thank you.”

Brilliant Stuff from a brilliant mind.

Contains adult themes and may be offensive

Or 

HOW CYBERBULLIES WILL REINCARNATE AS BACTERIUM

I went off Facebook for a several months – mainly because of the extraordinary invective I was receiving from certain quarters after the death of Sarah Lundberg. The majority, indeed most of the communications were heartfelt condolences, and will remain with me as a comfort for my life. But there were others who made being on Facebook dreadful. Even the experience of being online was somewhat fraught for me. One was afraid of some nasty remark being lobbed at one from some quarter or other. To be honest, Facebook is an entity I have very mixed feelings about. I find it hard to decide whether it is the best or worst of things. However I have friends there, and I miss them when I am not on Facebook. However my point is the experience of  cyberbullying  was shocking. The term seems to be mainly used for teens, but it really extends to everyone. Anyone can be bullied online. For myself, when it happened, sometimes I could not believe what I was reading. Most of it is unrepeatable here. Moreover, at the time, it was something I could not really deal with. I was simply too raw, too confused and too sad about the death of someone I had spent much of my adult life with. Added to that there was the sadness associated with the fact we had been separated for about eight months when she took her own life. I have no agenda here to add to the catalogue of already well recorded statistics around the painful effects of what is called cyberbullying but I do note that the Law Reform Commission, according to the Irish Times today, has published an issues paper asking for a wide ranging  series of contributions from as wide a demographic as possible on cyberbullying –  “…the posting of private, false, humiliating, shameful or otherwise harmful content, notably through social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, without the consent of the subject…”

It (the commission) goes on to say that the effects of cyberbullying is particularly insidious. this is because word spreads online at the speed of light. So, whatever a particular keyboard hero is out there posting unpleasantries, venting their own ill considered insecurities and distorted view of reality online, it can be worldwide in minutes. In the hands of the wrong person, this can be a bad thing indeed. The times article quotes once more from the LRC position paper that the idea behind the submission is to widen the scope of Section 10 of the 1997 non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act to include cyber bullying. I encourage everyone who reads through this blog post to contribute their views on this one. There’s a billion people on Facebook alone. And everyone pretty much has email.

Oh, and if it happens to you:

*Block The Person  *Keep the Message/s *Report the bully /ies

The paper is available at lawreform.ie

And here is the link to the Irish Times Article

Overcriminalization

 

Its probably due to just how complex and increasing complex a society it is, but very year in the United States, thousands of new laws are added to the statute books. There are so many of then no one could really know them all. Actually it would require such an exotically savant- like level of  understanding of the law that either one becomes a kind of barrack room lawyer or remain forever at the mercy of an un navigable matrix of rulings and amendments that goes into the hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of pages, a kind of unknown the likes of Google might be able to consume.  Speaking of Google and many Google like search engines consider, if you like, the legal implications of the fact that the entire digital world is currently being rebuilt simulacra like inside computing systems, which help run search engines. Every person, place, and thing—and all the relationships in between—are being catalogued. According to Stefan Weitz (the director of Bing – Microsoft’s  search engine) in his very badly titled book Search: How the Data Explosion Makes Us Smarter (Green House Collection) Hardcover – November 4, 2014. It’s nearly 4 Zetabytes this year alone. That’s enough to fill 130 billion 32GB iPads. So if everything is being catalogued, virtually and reliably, then it is a matter of time before everything pertaining to you becomes potential evidence.

Thus the experience of being stopped or questioned by a policeman (who can now legally search your ‘smart’ phone) puts any average or indeed not so average person in a vulnerable position. (Its a staple of so many cop shows that the panic stricken citizen is stopped by the hardass cop and intimidated into some kind of admission of guilt.) Legally speaking, it seems that the citizen is always at a disadvantage saying anything to a police officer. For example: given that though anything you say may be taken down in evidence against you, equally anything you say may not be taken down to exonerate you, a very strange and seemingly unjust thing. Furthermore if you do say something and it is misrecorded, the fact that you may later deny what you said has no validity – it apparently is what is referred to as hearsay. That is but one example. There are so many others.

Despite its endless complexities, the USA is a country whose laws and justice system fascinate us. Millions of books are written about it and every night hundreds of cop shows demonstrate the dynamics of American law. Its also equally true that whatever one might think of the justice system in the United States, no one on the planet remains unaffected by it. I came across this interesting video which talks about the dangers of overcriminalization of American society how, when too many laws begin to detract from justice (where one can, for another example, be arrested for importing a lobster that is too small or to eating a French fry in a subway), the best course of action is to never ever speak to a police officer. For myself I have had lengthy conversations with police. I talk endlessly and ask too many questions. Also I have on many occasions naively  answered all questions that were put to me and never for a moment felt I was in any way shape or form incriminating myself. But I live in Ireland and have a rather unadventurous lifestyle.

Anyway, this is a highly entertaining, well presented, funny, informative, and thought provoking video. It also paints a foreboding picture of the relationship that possibly exists between regular citizens and the police. I regret to say I have not been able to find out the name of the law Professor who gave it. But still, a great lecture.