Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Updates on the Corey Jones case and police policy

By Austen Erblat

Two years after Corey Jones was killed by an undercover police officer, the officer in question was fired and arrested and the department he worked at has purchased body cameras for their officers.

Friends, family, local activists and politicians are continuing the fight for justice and accountability and are holding a fundraiser on Saturday, October 21st at Sons & Daughters Farm and Winery in Lake Worth to raise money for the Corey Jones Scholarship Fund.

Local musician, Corey Jones. Photo source: WPBF

I describe the events that led to Jones’ death in a February 2017 post after it was found that the officer that killed Jones, Nouman Raja, violated department protocol as well as direct orders from superiors and then lied to a 911 dispatcher and investigators. Raja was fired from Palm Beach Gardens Police Department and then charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence and attempted first-degree murder with a firearm, charges that could result in a life sentence.

A media representative for the department said they could not comment on an open case, but did say “as we approach the anniversary of Corey’s death, the leadership of the City remains as focused as ever on preventing any other tragedies such as this from occurring. It is a time of reflection for Palm Beach Gardens, as we are sure it is for the rest of the community.”

In January 2017, the FBI released the findings of its investigation into what happened that night in a video that overlays audio recordings with a digital animation.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Raja acted in ways that were “tactically unsound” and was “confrontational” with Jones.

An autopsy report indicates that he was shot in the back, while running away.

Palm Beach Gardens Police Department approved body cameras for every officer in the department in response to Jones’ death. The department also updated their use of force policy earlier this year, according to public records released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Implementing a statewide policy for body cameras has not been easy though. HB 513 (and the identical Senate bill, SB 828), put forward in the Florida House and Senate both died in the state’s Criminal Justice Subcommittee. I reached out to every member of the committee for comment.

Florida House Representative Clay Yarborough informed me that he was just appointed to the Criminal Justice Subcommittee and was not a member when the bill was introduced.

Representative, Emily Slosberg said that the bill never made it to the committee’s agenda, but that she fully supported it because “it increases law enforcement accountability” and that “studies show that body cameras are effective in decreasing complaints.” Slosberg added that she was “not aware of any industry that is opposed to the bill.”

A 2015 study by the Journal of Quantitative Criminology found reductions in use of force against citizens from law enforcement and reductions in citizen complaints against law enforcement officers.

Other local departments have implemented body-worn cameras for their officers, including Boynton Beach Police Department and West Palm Beach Police Department. Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, however, has rejected requests for the cameras and plans for their funding.

Michael Marsh, a friend of Jones, has become an activist for criminal justice reform since his friend was killed. Marsh believes the bills died because law enforcement and other public officials can act with less impunity if their actions are being recorded. “Think about what their dashcams have captured,” he said. “We deserve this transparency, accountability, and accessibility!”

The trial was originally set for this month but was delayed and is currently set for April 2nd, 2018 at 9:30 AM at the main branch of the Palm Beach County Court in room 11E.

To follow the case, you can use Palm Beach County Court case number 50-2016-CF-005507-AXXX-MB or follow Justice For Corey Jones on Facebook.

Jones’ friends and local musicians released an album earlier this year using drum tracks Jones left behind. All money raised from album sales are donated to the American Civil Liberties Union. For the recordings, visit coreyjonesrecordings.bandcamp.com.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The politics of hypocrisy: How the right and left fail to acknowledge their own shortcomings

Originally posted at UPressOnline.com

Opinion: The politics of hypocrisy: How the right and left fail to acknowledge their own shortcomings

An opinion piece published in the University Press, as with most political debates, lacks necessary context while ignoring its own hypocrisy.
Illustration by Dan Bartholomew. For more of his work, he can be found on Instagram at danarchy_toons.
Shock is the last word I would use to describe how I felt after reading Ross Mellman’s misinformed opinion piece about the state of geopolitics.

People flock to political views and identities because of emotional reactions, influence from individuals or organizations with their own interests, misrepresentation of facts displayed out of context, and outright lies. Following the news for the last few years has brought me to a place where nothing surprises me anymore and the realization that “fake news” — what was traditionally referred to as “propaganda” — needs to be identified and confronted.

Mellman’s article is so disorganized and lacks so much context that it's difficult to address its shortcomings, so I'll stick to the factual inaccuracies and “hypocrisy” he seems intent on countering.

It's important to note that leftism, liberalism, and neoliberalism each mean something different.

The article’s subheading reads, “From Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s arms deals to the Dyke March to unfettered migration in Europe, leftist politicians continually harm women and the LGBT community.”

There is a wealth of literature on the differences between liberals and leftists. Justin Trudeau, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton, while left-leaning on certain social issues, are often just as militaristic as their right-wing counterparts, if not more so.

These philosophies tend to be grouped together, but there are important distinctions. It’s over-simplistic and counterproductive to view every political issue as “left versus right,” “democrat versus republican,” or “liberal versus conservative,” because these terms are rendered essentially meaningless by a political discourse as dumbed down as it is today.

A “democratic” missile is no different than a “republican” one to women and children being bombed and displaced by American drones and jets in Yemen on behalf of Saudi Arabia and the other countries we know we are conducting military operations in. Yet there remain important and major differences between the two ideologies driving these political forces.

One can legitimately criticize the policies and actions of any government without being against that country or its people. This criticism serves to check increasing authoritarianism and human rights abuses from Western governments.

I will address and respond to Mellman’s points and hopefully people will come away from this thinking more critically about the political and social issues that affect us all. What follows is a brief summary of Mellman's own hypocrisy and the failures of the American left and right that put all of us at risk.

Deals with despots

To Mellman’s point of Trudeau’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia, much of the hypocrisy in the Canadian prime minister’s social issues are obvious and well documented. But he ignores President Donald Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia earlier this year, where Trump rallied support for closer relations with the regime known for its numerous human rights abuses and material and financial support for terrorists.

Mellman either willfully forgets or just isn’t aware that the United States has had strong ties to the Saudi regime for decades and that former President George W. Bush classified almost 30 pages of the 9/11 Commission Report because it may have implicated Saudis connected to the regime. “While in the United States, some of the hijackers were in contact with, and received support or assistance from individuals who may be connected to the Saudi government,” the recently declassified pages say.

One can argue that the U.S. — and now Israel — is allied with Saudi Arabia to combat the threat that Iran could pose to American and allied nations and military bases in the region.

Instead of doing this, Mellman selectively criticizes one nation’s arms deal with the Saudis while completely ignoring much larger deals and the historical relationship between the Saudi and U.S. governments. Failing to recognize and judge this as he did with the Canadian government is saying that it’s OK when we deal with war criminals, but not when so-called “liberal leaders” do.

Refugee crises and attacks across Europe

Mellman attempts to scapegoat a vague group of “leftist leaders” and their policies for mass sexual assaults reported in Germany on New Year’s Eve 2016 by using questionable data from a known Islamophobe. He fails, however, to provide necessary context by not mentioning the War on Terror and previous Western-led campaigns as the reason so many refugees are forced from their homes in the first place.

That’s besides the fact that the Wall Street Journal later reported two Germans and one U.S. citizen were also arrested in connection with the assaults.

The refugee crisis in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe is not an issue to be taken lightly and the attacks carried out by domestic terrorists and those that have come from war zones are tragic. Only citing immigration policies throughout the European Union as the cause of these attacks while ignoring the history of regime changes, support for genocidal leaders, bombing campaigns, and brutal sanctions waged on much of the Middle East by the U.S. and other Western nations is dangerous, short-sighted, and self-defeating.

Ignoring the lessons of history while discussing political and social issues assures the War on Terror will continue to breed more terrorism and make the citizens of all nations waging it less safe — no matter their political alignment.

Mellman goes on to say that “leftist European countries put women in harm’s way.” Maybe he hasn’t heard about the current American administration’s denial of access to birth control and other health care, Trump’s repeated comments and jokes about sexual assault, or the ever-rising civilian death toll in illegal wars started by what he calls “liberal democracies” that disproportionately affect women and children.

Mellman’s point that leftist hypocrisy endangers LGBT citizens in Western democracies is further discredited by a U.S. vote at the United Nations refusing to condemn the death penalty for consensual homosexual relations. Saudi Arabia voted the same way.

Trump also disrespected the LGBT community, as well as veterans, when he placed a ban on transgender troops from serving in the military, a decision that was criticized by military leaders and soldiers, current and former.

To attribute “mass sexual assaults and rapes” to open borders or migrants is yet another oversimplification. To argue that rape, sexual harassment, abuse, and other violence is exclusive to non-Western cultures is an affront to countless casualties and survivors at home and around the world.

A critical analysis of liberal and “leftist” policies

If leftists and liberals are making the world less safe, it's not through the policies and incidents Mellman argues, but others that need examining.

You could argue the expansion of the War on Terror under former President Obama was the largest contributor to decreasing safety around the world. Policy decisions that expanded and further tainted the war include increasing the number of nations bombed via drones, refusal of due process and extrajudicial killing of Anwar Al-awlaki and his 16-year old son Abdulrahman — both American citizens — in Yemen (Anwar’s 8-year-old daughter, Nawar, was killed in the first raid of Trump’s presidency, along with an American Navy SEAL and multiple women and children).

On top of this, increased CIA, Special Operations Forces, and other covert missions around the world with less oversight, the expansion of warrantless mass surveillance, economic sanctions that have resulted in mass suffering, the use of black sites and secret prisons, rendition, and torture, which were largely implemented by Bush, serve as recruiting tools and inspiration for violent extremists while destroying our own safety and liberty.

I reached out to Mellman for comment on his views but did not receive a reply as of publication time.

In the age of emerging technology where sensationalistic headlines citing mistruths, lies, and fake news get the most clicks, we have to make a conscious effort to filter out the propaganda and let logic and reason prevail. Where this technology and competing interests provide challenges, it's important to recognize the opportunity they create as well.

We should listen to and amplify the voices that have traditionally been censored, silenced, and oppressed to move toward a better, safer world.

And while it's important to immerse ourselves with and confront the shortcomings of those we disagree with, it's equally important to critically assess those from our own tribe, party, country, or other identities we associate with to maximize our potential for achieving truth, justice, safety, and freedom.

Austen Erblat is a former managing editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email austenerblat@gmail.com or tweet him @AustenErblat.

Additional Reading

Saturday, September 2, 2017

As Irma approaches, tips for enduring a major storm or flood and how you can help victims of Harvey

As Hurricane Harvey ravaged Texas, bringing unprecedented rainfall and catastrophic flooding, and Irma barrels toward the Caribbean, many people in coastal cities find themselves wondering, what would I do, in that situation? Am I prepared?

Members of the South Carolina's Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (SC-HART) perform rescue operations in Port Arthur, Texas, August 31, 2017. U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez

Last year, I found myself wondering the same as Hurricane Matthew approached the Southeast United States. Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned that people would die if they did not evacuate. Being on the first floor of my apartment building, and a mile and a half from the coast, I made sure all my drums and vinyl records were raised off the ground. I did what I could to ready my kayak for delivering supplies or evacuating people or animals and I fastened my pets’ life jackets.

Jaco loves his life jacket. Stella, not so much. Photos by Austen Erblat.

In the hours leading up to the storm, I struggled with the decision to stay home or go west. My area got little more than a light drizzle, but Matthew did major damage in other parts of the region. When I saw the aftermath and recalled Hurricanes Katrina, Irene, Wilma, Rita, and stories of Andrew, I promised myself to critically assess my preparations so I wouldn’t be as worried if it seemed like another major storm would hit.

At least 50 people have died, over 30,000 people have sought refuge in shelters, and thousands more are still missing or stranded, according to the Houston Chronicle.

As thousands have already been affected by Harvey, I wanted to educate others so they may feel more prepared and less worried if facing similar circumstances. At the bottom of this page, there are also a few links detailing how you can help victims of Hurricane Harvey from anywhere in the world.

Sometimes, assuring you yourself don’t need rescue is one of the biggest contributions you can make during a disaster. Making sure you and your family are safe and can render aid to others means you don’t consume resources that can go to those less able and more in need. There are a variety of ways to prepare for a disaster, and the best plans are multi-layered. You should have backups and backups to your backups.

Ready.gov provides comprehensive, but easy to follow, information on preparing for, surviving, and recovering from floods, hurricanes, and other crises and disasters.

The National Weather Service forecasts and provides alerts and safety information for floods, hurricanes, and other extreme weather.

How you can help victims of Harvey