Category Archives: Civil Liberties

Threat to free speech

There is a Senate bill, along with a companion bill in the House, working its way through Congress with strong bipartisan support, that poses a significant danger to free speech. One would think this bill would be a big deal but, surprisingly, the bill has not received much coverage in the mainstream media.

Fortunately the American Civil Liberties Union is alert to efforts undermining free speech. Thus, in a July 20th article on the ACLU website about S. 720/H.R. 1697, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, Bryan Hauss, Staff Attorney, wrote:

The bill would amend existing law to prohibit people in the United States from supporting boycotts targeting Israel — making it a felony to choose not to engage in commerce with companies doing business in Israel and its settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Violations would be punishable by a civil penalty that could reach $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.

Hauss continues:

The bill is aimed at advocates of boycotts targeting Israel, most notably the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement — a global campaign that seeks to apply economic and political pressure on Israel to comply with international law. Specifically, the bill sponsors intend the act as a response to the U.N. Human Rights Council’s 2016 resolution calling on companies to respect human rights, including in occupied Palestinian territories. No matter what you think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one thing is clear: The First Amendment protects the right to engage in political boycotts.

Amazingly, supporters of this bill seem to have a problem with calling on companies to respect human rights! Who would draft such a problematic bill that stifles free speech and nonviolent political action?

The website carried a July 19th article by Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Grim that said:

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that the bill “was drafted with the assistance of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.” Indeed, AIPAC, in its 2017 lobbying agenda, identified passage of this bill as one of its top lobbying priorities for the year.

This AIPAC-influenced bill is consistent with AIPAC’s long-term pattern of advocating for the interests of a foreign nation, Israel. AIPAC is one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, D.C. and many members of Congress seem to automatically toe its line. Thus it is not surprising that 46 senators and 245 representatives have already signed on to the bill originally introduced on March 23rd.

Greenwald and Grim added that cosponsors include liberal Senators Ron Wyden, Richard Blumenthal, Maria Cantwell as well as conservative Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Ben Sasse. In the House, cosponsors include conservatives such as Jason Chaffetz, Liz Cheney, and Peter King as well as liberals Ted Lieu, Adam Schiff, and Eric Swalwell. Greenwald and Grim noted that these latter three members, who have built a wide public following by posturing as opponents of authoritarianism, are cosponsoring one of the most oppressive and authoritarian bills that has pended before Congress in quite some time.

Many of the cosponsors claim they were unaware of the penalties that could be applied in the bill whereas a few others state that they have a different reading of the bill, particularly related to the criminal penalties.

In addition to using AIPAC and other groups to lobby Congress, Israel previously directly inserted itself into our legislative process. For example, in 2015 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blatantly campaigned to derail the nuclear agreement with Iran. Also of concern, many U.S. and Israeli political experts thought Netanyahu clearly tried to sway the outcome in the 2012 U.S. Presidential election in favor of the Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

We must protect our free speech by opposing this highly questionable bill designed to benefit a foreign nation. In Colorado this means questioning Senator Bennet and Representatives Lamborn, Coffman and Buck, about their support for this appalling bill. We can also thank the other members of the Colorado delegation for not cosponsoring this terrible affront to free speech and the Constitution.

By Ron Forthofer/DissidentVoice

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Crooked Cops Need Tighter Restrictions, Not Financial Incentives to Invent Crimes

Cops plant evidence to meet quotas, compete, and settle scores. Eased asset forfeiture with little oversight would just bribe them to do more damage.

In January, a Baltimore police officer planted drug evidence before activating his body camera and “finding” the probable cause he and his buddies needed to make a bust, according to the city’s Office of the Public Defender. Images of the cop placing a soup can full of white capsules on the ground were captured in the 30-second buffer of the camera and then preserved after the device was officially turned on. Now prosecutors are reviewing 100 other cases in which the same trio of officers may have been up to similar shenanigans.

Most news reports are treating the incident as a peek at problems in troubled Baltimore’s police department. They need to look a little further afield.

These Baltimore officers, and their colleagues around the country, are the same cops that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions thinks are burdened with excessive oversight. In April he vowed, “this Department of Justice will not sign consent decrees that will cost more lives by handcuffing the police instead of criminals.” And just days ago, Sessions rededicated his department to working with local law enforcement on civil asset forfeiture efforts that bypass the need for criminal convictions to seize property—and also bypass state and local safeguards. Forfeited funds are split between federal and local agencies in a lucrative arrangement for everybody but the victims. “Equitable sharing” collaboration between federal and local agencies was suspended under former Attorney General Eric Holder, but the new regime is jump-starting the program

Yes, Sessions promised that “the federal government will not adopt seized property unless the state or local agency involved provides information demonstrating that the seizure was justified by probable cause.” But that’s cold comfort if the probable cause comes from eager cops planting bags of drugs hither and yon.

The evidence—not planted—suggests that police officers don’t need more incentive to falsify reasons for slapping on the cuffs. Day-to-day pressures to meet arrest quotas, out-do colleagues, or spackle over errors in judgment seem to have already done the job in spades.

Michael Slager, a North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer, faced accusations that he’d planted the Taser found near the body of Walter Scott, the man he killed after a traffic stop. Slager claimed Scott wrestled the Taser from him and then brandished it as a weapon. But video showed Slager picking the device up from a good distance away and moving it closer to the dead man’s body. After a mistrial in his trial for murder, Slager pleaded guilty to violating Scott’s civil rights.

In 2014, two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were charged with planting guns at a marijuana dispensary to justify arrests and hefty prosecutions for employees of the business. Further investigation revealed that the two were members of a police gang that described themselves—in a pamphlet—as “alpha dogs who think and act like the wolf, but never become the wolf.” They competed among each other for status and seemed to plant guns as a routine tactic.

Across the country, a New York City narcotics detective caught on camera in the act of planting cocaine on four men in a bar told a court that “it was common practice to fabricate drug charges against innocent people to meet arrest quotas.” He said he “flaked” the bar patrons to help a buddy who was in danger of missing his target numbers.

The heartland isn’t immune, either. Cops in Tulsa, Oklahoma, testified that they planted drugs on suspects up to a dozen times—although they swore that they only did it to people they were absolutely certain were guilty. A police corporal kept a supply of crack cocaine in a tackle box in his car so it was available to be dropped as needed. They also stole cash found during searches, which is sort of like civil asset forfeiture, but with a very streamlined paperwork process.

A handy supply of illegal drugs seems to play a common role in greasing the squeaky mechanism of legal bushwhacking. In Georgia, Murray County Magistrate Bryant Cochran, a sheriff’s captain, a deputy, and a friend of the judge all were convicted of, among other things, planting drugs on a woman who complained about Cochran’s sexual advances while he was presiding over a case in which she was involved.

Yeah. These folks all need lots more incentive to dig into the tackle box for some of that instant probable cause—and less oversight while they do so, of course. “Every year, police and prosecutors across the United States take hundreds of millions of dollars in cash, cars, homes and other property—regardless of the owners’ guilt or innocence,” notes the Institute for Justice with regard to civil asset forfeiture of the sort that Jeff Sessions has now revived as a joint federal-local project. Do you think that’s enough of a lure for the likes of go-getter cops and crooked judges who haven’t shown much restraint about fabricating crimes?

Not that federal oversight is a guarantee of anything. It wasn’t so many years ago that legal commentators were trying to calculate just how many thousands of criminal cases the FBI tainted with bogus crime lab results tailored to help prosecutors. In 2014, the Justice Department’s Inspector General again reported on “serious irregularities” in the lab’s management and cited the execution of a defendant despite a review that found “the FBI Lab analysis to be scientifically unsupportable and the testimony overstated and incorrect.”

It’s possible that the feds may not be in much of a position to provide moral guidance.

And the latest incident in Baltimore is just one more argument that loosening the reins on law enforcement, and providing the morally flawed officials of the criminal justice system financial incentives to find evidence of crime, is a terrible idea.

J.D. Tuccille/Reason

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Kamala Harris and Rand Paul: To Shrink Jails, Let’s Reform Bail

Kalief Browder, a 16-year-old New Yorker, was arrested on charges of stealing a backpack in 2010. To ensure he would show up for trial, and because of a previous offense, the judge set bail at $3,000. But his family could not afford to pay. So Mr. Browder was sent to jail on Rikers Island to await his day in court. He spent the next three years there before the charges were dismissed. Haunted by his experience, Mr. Browder hanged himself in 2015.

Our justice system was designed with a promise: to treat all people equally. Yet that doesn’t happen for many of the 450,000 Americans who sit in jail today awaiting trial because they cannot afford to pay bail.

Whether someone stays in jail or not is far too often determined by wealth or social connections, even though just a few days behind bars can cost people their job, home, custody of their children — or their life.

As criminal justice groups work to change sentencing and mandatory minimum laws, we must also reform a bail system that is discriminatory and wasteful.

Excessive bail disproportionately harms people from low-income communities and communities of color. The Supreme Court ruled in Bearden v. Georgia in 1983 that the Constitution prohibits “punishing a person for his poverty,” but that’s exactly what this system does. Nine out of 10 defendants who are detained cannot afford to post bail, which can exceed $20,000 even for minor crimes like stealing $105 in clothing.

Meanwhile, black and Latino defendants are more likely to be detained before trial and less likely to be able to post bail compared with similarly situated white defendants. In fact, black and Latino men respectively pay 35 percent and 19 percent higher bail than white men.

This isn’t just unjust. It also wastes taxpayer dollars. People awaiting trial account for 95 percent of the growth in the jail population from 2000 to 2014, and it costs roughly $38 million every day to imprison these largely nonviolent defendants. That adds up to $14 billion a year.

Bail is supposed to ensure that the accused appear at trial and don’t commit other offenses in the meantime. But research has shown that low-risk defendants who are detained more than 24 hours and then released are actually less likely to show up in court than those who are detained less than a day.

It is especially troubling that our bail system does not keep us safer. In a study of two large jurisdictions, nearly half of the defendants considered “high risk” were released simply because they could afford to post bail.

Our bail system is broken. And it’s time to fix it.

That’s why we’re introducing the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act to encourage states to reform or replace the bail system.

This should not be a partisan issue.

First, our legislation empowers states to build on best practices. Kentucky and New Jersey, for instance, have shifted from bail toward personalized risk assessments that analyze factors such as criminal history and substance abuse. These are better indicators of whether a defendant is a flight risk or a threat to the public and ought to be held without bail.

Colorado and West Virginia have improved pretrial services and supervision, such as using telephone reminders so fewer defendants miss court dates and end up detained.

These nudges work. Over the second half of 2006, automated phone call reminders in Multnomah County in Oregon, resulted in 750 people showing up in court who otherwise may have forgotten their date.

Instead of the federal government mandating a one-size-fits-all approach, this bill provides Department of Justice grants directly to the states so each can devise and carry out the most effective policies, tailored for its unique needs.

Enabling states to better institute such reforms also honors one of our nation’s core documents, the Bill of Rights. In drafting the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits excessive bail, the founders sought to protect people from unchecked government power in the criminal justice system.

Second, our bill holds states accountable. Any state receiving support must report on its progress and make sure that reforms like risk assessments are not discriminatory through analyses of trends and data. This will show that it’s possible to demand transformation, transparency and fairness.

Finally, this bill encourages better data collection. Data on the pretrial process is notoriously sparse. By collecting information on how state and local courts handle defendants, we can help guarantee that reforms yield better outcomes.

The Pretrial Justice Institute, an organization that works to change unfair and unjust pretrial practices, estimates that bail reform could save American taxpayers roughly $78 billion a year. More important, it would help restore Americans’ faith in our justice system.


Posted by The NON-Conformist

The Strange Phenomenon of Voter Self-Suppression

As a Trump-commissioned panel searches for phantom fraud, its requests for data have convinced some citizens to opt out of their right to vote preemptively.

From the moment the president announced the creation of a panel to examine voter fraud and elections, voting-rights advocates warned that the real purpose of the commission was to suppress lawful votes. Then a series of reports from around the country over the last two weeks played directly into those fears, as voting officials in several states said citizens had been calling and asking to have their registrations canceled, rather than turned over to the commission as part of a huge request for data. Instances popped from Florida to Washington state and North Carolina to Colorado.

The good news is that so far there don’t actually seem to be that many cases of voters actually canceling, with most of them concentrated in Colorado—though nearly 4,000 people have withdrawn there, enough to swing a close election. Yet even if the scale of the problem is not great, the phenomenon of Americans willingly surrendering one of their most fundamental political rights in order to protect their privacy is a worrying one that touches on the future of voting in the United States as well as on the question of how public records like voter rolls should function in the internet age.

In charging that the commission is aimed at suppressing votes, critics have noted that it was created to answer an illusory problem of illegal voting; its de facto leader, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, has a history of attempting to disenfranchise legitimate voters and wrote in a recently divulged email that he wants to enact stricter registration requirements; and the methods it appears to be considering are both methodologically unsound and risk exposing private data.

Cancellations by privacy-minded citizens represent extremely effective voter suppression: Simply by requesting voter rolls from states, the election panel has convinced people to take themselves out of the voting game. Keeping people from registering is a venerable voter-suppression technique—it was a staple of the Jim Crow south, achieved by placing barriers like poll taxes and literacy tests in the way of, or simply intimidating, would-be registrants—but this would be a modern and streamlined way to achieve the same result.

Kobach, a longtime crusader for stricter voting laws whose penchant for producing false positives for supposed fraudulent votes has become a leitmotif, embraced the idea that the commission is already causing voter self-suppression. In an interview with Breitbart, he speculated that those with concerns were actually the fraudulent voters.

“It’s interesting,” he said. “It could be a number of things. It could be, actually, people who are not qualified to vote, perhaps someone who is a felon and is disqualified that way, or someone who is not a U.S. citizen saying, ‘I’m withdrawing my voter registration because I am not able to vote.’”

The epicenter for voter withdrawal is Colorado, where almost 4,000 voters had canceled their registrations as of earlier this week. Amber McReynolds, the director of the city of Denver’s elections division, estimated that 700 to 800 of those were in the Mile-High City.

“I’ve been reading through a lot of emails, and I spoke to voters myself. They’ve absolutely been stating it’s because of privacy concerns,” she said. “It’s very disheartening. I’ve done this for over 12 years. I never thought I would come to work and see more withdrawals in a week than registrations.”

But Colorado is an outlier, at least so far. In Pasco County, Florida, for example, elections supervisor Brian Corley said the number of concerned citizens getting in touch had surprised him. “It’s really surreal to be honest with you,” he said. But he told me that he and his staff had been begging voters not to cancel registrations, and that as far as he knew, those pleas were successful: Only three Pasco County voters—out of some 350,000—had actually canceled their registrations.

Officials in some other jurisdictions also reported that despite widespread concern about the Trump commission’s request, they weren’t seeing an unusually large number of canceled registrations. The North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has received hundreds if not thousands of messages of concern about the elections commission, spokesman Patrick Gannon said, and at least one person has written to the board asking to cancel their registration because of the collection. But he said the state board doesn’t have a tally of how many cancellations have occurred, because counties handle both registration and withdrawal.

Elections officials in several of the state’s largest counties said they hadn’t seen an unusual number of cancellations. In Guilford County, home to Greensboro and High Point, there hasn’t been a noticeable uptick. In Durham County, there have been eight cancelations by voters for any reason in July, out of 220 registrations removed from the rolls overall. Mecklenburg County’s elections board, which covers Charlotte, said about five voters have called a day recently inquiring about withdrawal. Wake County (Raleigh) hasn’t seen any uptick in withdrawals, despite many complaints about the panel, either. Voters can choose to offer a reason when they cancel a registration, but they don’t have to.

Nor has Washington seen many cancellations. “We have had only a handful of people who have responded to the election commission’s request for data call our office or email our office and inquire about dis-enrolling from the database,” said Erich Ebel, spokesman for the Washington secretary of state. He said his office had received “thousands” of emails, plus hundreds more phone calls and social-media contacts. “Of all of those I would say maybe a dozen to two dozen specifically asked about disenrollment,” he said. (Ebel pointed out that Washington just reached an all-time high for voter registration.)

One factor in Colorado is that the state has made much of its registration system easily available online: A voter can complete the registration process from his web browser. But he can also easily withdraw his registration on the same site, meaning Coloradans who decide to withdraw don’t encounter the friction of filling out a paper form, nor do they have to call a board of elections official who might try to them them out of it.

Another big difference in Colorado seems to be that the office of the secretary of state actually recommended that people cancel their registrations and then re-register later if they were concerned about privacy. “I heard that and I thought, why would they ever suggest that?” McReynolds told me.

Elections officials I spoke to told me that was probably not a wise move. Citizens risk failing to re-register, in which case they have voluntarily surrendered their right to vote. Meanwhile, it’s far from certain that tearing up a registration will really protect anyone’s data. Washington, for example, requires that voting records be maintained as a public record for several years, so withdrawing only prevents voting. The Kobach commission could also request past or future records, several officials noted.

Even if the numbers of de-registrations are small, they could be significant. Several states saw vote margins in the 2016 presidential election of just five figures. In Colorado, for example, Senator Michael Bennet won in 2010 by fewer than 30,000 votes. Thousands of people withdrawing from rolls, especially in urban areas that tend to vote Democratic, like Denver, could help swing elections. (Democrats like Missouri’s Jason Kander, a rising party star, leapt to convince voters not to withdraw.) Beyond that, any de-registration is remarkable because it represents a citizen surrendering one of her fundamental rights.

The election commission didn’t make these things public records, but it did alert many citizens to just how much information is available publicly. What Washington, Florida, Colorado, and North Carolina share is that they have fairly open voter-records laws. In some cases, that means the information is easily available on state websites. (The commission’s letter to states muddied the waters by asking for some information that is standard record, along with some that is typically not, like the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers.)

The Trump commission’s request has revealed, and exacerbated, a tension in the Internet era between privacy and public records. Voter rolls have historically been public information in most jurisdictions—one tradeoff of getting to participate in a democracy is that the public is entitled to know who votes. Those rolls are how candidates and political parties know who is registered as a Democrat or Republican, where to mail campaign literature, what doors to knock, and who to call. But getting that information used to require traipsing down to the board of elections to collect it.

Today, much of that is available online. In some cases, states make the information readily available (you can look up any North Carolina voter with just a first and last name). In other cases, states’ registration-lookup requires more detailed information, but third parties have purchased rolls and put them online in easily searchable forms, like A network of such sites, sometimes including propaganda about illegal voting, is owned by Tom Alciere, a former Republican New Hampshire state legislator who resigned after endorsing the killing of police.

Voters didn’t necessarily realize that information like their address, birth date, and party registration was public until now, though. “Because of the letter from Secretary of State Kobach, it caused a realization of just how much information is publicly available online,” said Corley, the Pasco County official. He said the fact that the information came from the government seemed to rattle people, in a way that other information available about them online did not.

The easy availability of so much information does present some difficult dilemmas. Corley pointed out that in Florida, citizens can pre-register to vote at 16. Even though they can’t vote, these minors’ names and information are included in the public record. (More than one angry parent has called his office.)

Officials also said they had heard from victims of domestic violence or other crimes who were concerned that their abusers would be able to track them down. Some states offer confidential voter registration, in which a voter can sign an affidavit that having their information public could expose them to danger or harassment.

These tensions existed, theoretically, in the pre-internet era, but the easy availability of the data online now makes the balance between privacy and public record harder to strike. Some election officials believe laws need to be modernized.

But many of the voters who have called their local authorities since the Kobach commission request have had far more mundane objections.

“A lot of people have really expressed more concern about their party affiliation being public than anything else,” McReynolds said. “That’s just something that people considered to be their own.”

Individual voters aren’t the only ones objecting to the election commission’s request for data. State officials, including many Republican state officials, have argued that the data demand is an imposition on citizens’ privacy rights. “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great state to launch from,” that state’s GOP secretary of state, Delbert Hosemann, memorably replied. Some states have complied at least in part, even while critiquing the request, because of obligations under state public-records laws.

Many officials also complain that the panel has not offered clear guidance on how it intends to safeguard the data it has already received. The administration didn’t give much reason for hope when it released correspondence it had received about the voting commission without redacting voters’ personal information.

“There’s been confusion because the commission hasn’t really outlined its plans, its mission, its goals,” McReynolds said. “Until they clearly define what their mission is, people will be concerned.”

There are several reasons to suspect the goal of the commission is to make it harder to vote, and to register to vote. But during its first meeting on Wednesday, members spoke about how they saw the panel as one way to bolster faith among ordinary citizens in the voting process, so as to foster greater engagement in civics. So far, however, the commission seems only to have undermined faith in the electoral process to the extent that thousands of Americans have decided they’d rather opt out altogether.

By DAVID A. GRAHAM/TheAtlantic

Posted by The NON-Conformist

A Culture War Against Tolerance

In case you haven’t noticed, the United States is a country deeply divided on a large number of basic issues: racial issues, gender issues, issues of sexual preference, the role of government in society, the role of religious views in shaping laws, and so on. Influential Institutions, such as media outlets, are being labeled as “left” or “right” depending on how they report or relate on these issues. Battles now rage on these topics in the halls of Congress.

Finally, the Supreme Court’s legal decisions on cases that reflect these questions have been trending toward the “conservative” end of the spectrum. All of this makes it quite difficult to have a meaningful discussion or debate about such issues in the public realm. Such attempts have often led to further divisiveness instead of reconciliation – reflecting what some might describe as an ongoing culture war.

The one place where thoughtful debates are usually encouraged is on the university and colleges campuses. This is particularly so in the “humanities” and “social sciences” classrooms, where you find courses in history, English, foreign languages, sociology, anthropology, political science and the like. Such areas of study draw on diverse source material and examples. And so, running against the popular grain, so to speak, divisive issues often become legitimate aspects of study.

This process of study and discussion concerning controversial topics has been going on on U.S. campuses at least since the end of World War II. By the 1970s clear preferences as to how these issues should be thought about appeared. And, they consistently agreed with a tolerant stand that maximized the virtues of equality and social justice. It should come as no surprise that faculty in these areas are usually left of center on the political spectrum.

Thus, the campus consensus is that while an individual can privately feel as he or she likes about topics such as homosexuality or racial integration, and can choose their social circle accordingly, it is wrong to publicly act in an overtly discriminatory way. Until recently the courts have agreed with this position, but now things appear to be changing. Such a trend in the direction of public intolerance has begun to isolate the campus environment while at the same time denigrating the tolerant position as “political correctness” – as if being correct and thus legitimate, appropriate and proper was a failing.

A Republican Attack on the University

This process of isolating one of the staunchest bastions of active public tolerance has recently been highlighted by a new (July 2017) report of the Pew Research Center entitled Sharp Partisan Divisions In Views of National Institutions. According to the report, there has been “a dramatic attitude shift on higher education among Republicans and people who lean Republican.” It would seem that “Republicans have soured on higher education, with more than half [a reported 58% of them] now saying that colleges have a negative impact on the United States.” The more conservative the Republican respondent described him- or herself, the more likely they are to have a negative view of higher educational institutions. This compares with 72% of Democrats who saw the contribution of colleges on society as positive. Of course, Democrats now have problems getting elected.

There is a link between those who hold a negative view of institutions of higher learning and those who confine themselves to watching or listening to the country’s right-wing media. As it turns out, “Virtually every day Fox News, Breitbart and other conservative outlets run critical articles about free speech disputes on college campuses, typically with coverage focused on the perceived liberal orthodoxy and political correctness in higher education.” Now consider that Fox News is the most popular news (or shall we say, alleged news) show on U.S. television.

The success of right-wing news and other media is a good example of viewers practicing, perhaps unconsciously, confirmation bias. The criterion for the information you seek out is not accuracy or truth, but rather its ability to confirm an outlook you already hold.

Of course, one does not have to be right-wing to play this particular game but, ultimately it makes a difference if you are among the intolerant. Intolerant worldviews are closed systems. Once you have committed to them you have put on blinkers and become one of the faithful – no more debates, no more discussions, no more broadmindedness, no more tolerance. People without your blinkers start to appear as dangerous, heretical, unpatriotic. You are now bound to a “group think” that is starkly undemocratic.

Poisonous Sour Grapes

As intolerance under the leadership of Republicans and neo-Republicans (Trump, Bannon, Tea Party types, etc.) becomes more widespread, those institutions that value tolerance come under pressure. This sometimes comes from right-wing media, sometimes from special interest donors and lobbyists, and sometimes, in the case of college and universities, from pockets of students (both right and left) who have decided that some outlooks are so unacceptable that they must be silenced. Whenever reasonable this last action should be avoided. If you don’t like what campus speakers stand for or say, one’s default position should not be to shut them down, but rather to use their presence as a teaching moment: here is how not to build a healthy society. However, in the midst of a culture war, the tolerant may ultimately find themselves painted into a corner.

We can legitimately ask how far the Republican right is willing to push their campaign of intolerance against tolerant college campuses. Having lost the open campus debates on an array of divisive issues, they now react with a poisonous version of sour grapes. They declare that “colleges have a negative impact on the United States.” If they take this charge to Congress or to the courts, we may come to a point where tolerance of extreme intolerance is no longer reasonable. Given that level of threat we should all be aware of Karl Popper’s description of the paradox of tolerance: “unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”

This is the dilemma that is forced upon us when war – in this case a culture war – takes over the public mind. The space for tolerance shrinks and it is the barbarians among us who start to define the rules of social interaction.

By Lawrence Davidson/CounterPunch

Posted by The NON-Conformist

‘NC is the only state where no doesn’t mean no’: Court case ruled women can’t back out of sex

On the evening of May 16, 1977, Beverly Hester was assaulted.

But the North Carolina Supreme Court declared that under the law, it wasn’t rape if Hester told the man to stop after – not before – sex began.

Hester testified in court that the man who assaulted her, Donnie Leon Way, threatened to beat her if she didn’t have sex with him. According to a summary included in the N.C. Supreme Court Decision, State v. Way, Hester said Way asked her out on a date. They went with another couple to a friend’s apartment, and Way asked Hester to go upstairs “because he had something to show her.”

She went with him to a bedroom upstairs. He shut the door. Then he tried to take off her pants. She said no. But Way wouldn’t stop.

He told her that he would beat her if she didn’t take off her clothes and have sex with him, she said. When she tried to leave, he allegedly hit her in the face. She said she took off her clothes because she was scared of him.

Hester told the court she tried to call for help, but the music was too loud. She said that Way told her her “head would be through the wall” before her friend could get to her. And then he threatened to hit her again, she said. He told her he would kill her. She said she begged him to stop.

Way was convicted of second-degree rape, because the judge told the jury that a woman could revoke her consent. But the N.C. Supreme Court disagreed, upholding a state law that it wasn’t rape if a woman consented at any time, even if she said no after intercourse began. Way’s rape conviction was thrown out, and he was given a new trial.

Ever since that 1979 case, North Carolina has said that once a woman says yes to sex, she can’t change her mind once it’s started. The State v. Way case set a precedent – ruling that a woman cannot revoke consent after intercourse begins, meaning that even if a woman said “no,” the intercourse would not be ruled rape.

The Supreme Court ruled that “if actual penetration is accomplished with the woman’s consent, the accused is not guilty of rape, although he may be guilty of another crime because of his subsequent actions.”

Because of the 38-year-old ruling, women in North Carolina who allegedly agree to sex but change their minds or say “no” during intercourse aren’t protected by laws against rape.

State Sen. Jeff Jackson of Mecklenburg County thinks that’s absurd.

“Legislators are hearing more and more about women who have been raped and are being denied justice because of this crazy loophole,” Jackson told The Fayetteville Observer. “North Carolina is the only state in U.S. where no doesn’t mean no.”

And Hester’s case in 1977 is far from the only example. Women across North Carolina have been left with little recourse after rape or assault, including Aaliyah Palmer, 19, who allegedly agreed to sex with a man at a party, but changed her mind when he turned violent.

“If I tell you no and you kept going, that’s rape,” Palmer told The Fayetteville Observer.

Amy Guy, of Wake County, told WRAL that her estranged husband showed up drunk to her apartment in December, demanding sex.

“Since he was getting angry, I figured it would be better to go ahead and agree to the sex because I figured that was the safer thing for me to do,” she said.

But he turned violent, and wouldn’t stop even though she begged him to.

Her estranged husband, Jonathan Wayne Guy, initially was charged with second-degree rape, but because of the Supreme Court decision in State v. Way, the charges were lowered to misdemeanor assault on a female. Guy pleaded guilty and is serving a 10-month sentence.

“I was devastated,” Amy Guy told WRAL. “I didn’t understand how that could be because I knew I had been raped. I don’t understand how the law can say that I wasn’t.”

State law does not define consent or require either party to procure it prior to sexual activity. In North Carolina, first-degree rape must be vaginal intercourse by force with the threat or reality of violence, indicating that an encounter must be violent in some way before it would be considered first-degree rape in North Carolina. The law does not account for rape of men or boys.

Jackson is sponsoring Senate Bill 553, which would make it a crime to continue intercourse after a woman revokes consent.

The “Revoke Consent for Intercourse” bill would amend current law so that “a person who continues to engage in intercourse after consent is withdrawn is deemed to have committed the act of intercourse by force and against the will of the other person.”

The law specifically mentions the withdrawal of consent for vaginal intercourse. It would make it a crime to have sex with a woman after she has revoked consent, though it makes no mention of protections for men who revoke consent.

The bill now rests in the Senate’s Rules Committee, where Jackson said it likely will be dead for the remainder of the two-year legislative session.

Jackson filed a similar bill with two Republican co-sponsors in 2015.

“There’s no reason for this to be partisan,” Jackson told The Fayetteville Observer. “It’s about doing what’s obviously right.”

While North Carolina may be the only state where women explicitly can’t withdraw consent after sexual intercourse has begun, most other states see this as a gray area, according to a Broadly report. Only South Dakota, Connecticut, California, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Kansas and Minnesota affirmatively recognize that consent can be withdrawn at any time during sex; Illinois is the only state that’s made it law.

For information on North Carolina rape crisis centers or to find one in your area, go to

BY ABBIE BENNETT/NewsandObserver
Posted by The NON-Conformist

Sacrificing Black Lives for the American Lie


A memorial in Ferguson, Mo., where Michael Brown was killed by the police in 2014.CreditCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

Why are police officers rarely charged for taking black lives, and when they are, why do juries rarely convict?

Many Americans asked this question when a Minnesota jury decided that Philando Castile was responsible for his own death and that the officer who shot him, Jeronimo Yanez, did nothing wrong. Many Americans asked it again a few days later, when the police released the seemingly damning video from the dashboard camera of Officer Yanez’s patrol car.

We may never know why justice is still segregated from black death. Prosecutors, like juries, deliberate behind closed doors. But that has not stopped people trying to find answers. On one side, people say: America is racist, and jurors are like cops — they hate black people. On the other: The police account is indisputable. Black lives do not matter.

The deeper answer is that black death matters. It matters to the life of America, by which I mean the blood flow of ideas that give life to Americans’ perceptions of their nation.

In these high-profile cases, it is not just police officers who are on trial. America is on trial. Either these deaths are justified, and therefore America is just, or these deaths are unjustified, and America is unjust.

Many Americans — possibly most — think the criminal justice system is fair. Nearly 63 million Americans elected a president who rejects the idea that there is a systemic war against black people and accepts the idea that there is a systemic war against cops. A survey by the Pew Research Center last year found that 50 percent of whites feel the races are treated equally by the police, compared with 16 percent of blacks. Even more whites feel the races are treated equally in the courts. The survey found that 38 percent of whites think their country has no more racial work to do.

These Americans refuse to see their country as a place where racist politicians and judges maintain laws that form a racist criminal justice system that produces and defends racist cops who disproportionately kill innocent black people. When they are told that black males aged 15 to 34 were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police officers last year, they assume something must be wrong with those young men, since discrimination is over. They cannot help blaming Mr. Castile, even though he calmly told the officer about his registered gun, even though he never pulled it out, even though he had been stopped by officers 49 times in 13 years.

“Post-racial” is a new term with an old pedigree. Ever since Thomas Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal,” Americans have seen their nation as post-racial, as egalitarian.

As a result, Americans defended slavery by characterizing it as a necessary evil or a positive good. As Florida secessionists stated in their unpublished Declaration of Causes in 1861, Americans enslaved black people because “their natural tendency” was toward “idleness, vagrancy and crime.”

A century ago, Americans believed the “Negro problem” had been solved through the separate but equal wings of Jim Crow, so those who violated its laws deserved to be punished. “The greatest existing cause of lynching is the perpetration, especially by black men, of the hideous crime of rape,” President Theodore Roosevelt said in his Annual Message to Congress on Dec. 3, 1906.

Fifty years ago, some Americans blamed the “rioters” who rebelled and were killed by the police in nearly 130 cities for their own deaths.

And over the past few decades, prosecutors and juries ruled that the officers who killed Eleanor Bumpurs and Amadou Diallo and Rekia Boyd and Michael Brown and Eric Garner were innocent.

When black criminality ceased, black death would cease, President Roosevelt suggested. Black people were violent, not the slaveholder, not the lyncher, not the cop. Many Americans are still echoing that argument today.

This blaming of the black victim stands in the way of change that might prevent more victims of violent policing in the future. Could it be that some Americans would rather black people die than their perceptions of America? Is black death more palatable than accepting the racist reality of slaveholding America, of segregating America, of mass-incarcerating America? Is black death the cost of maintaining the myth of a just and meritorious America?

This is not just the America people perceive. This is the America people seem to love. And they are going to defend their beloved America against all those nasty charges of racism. People seem determined to exonerate the police officer because they are determined to exonerate America.

And in exonerating the police officer and America of racism, people end up exonerating themselves. Americans who deeply fear black bodies, who think their fears are sensible, can empathize when cops like Officer Yanez testify that they feared for their lives.

To diagnose police officers’ lethal fears as racist, juries and prosecutors would also have to diagnose their own fears of black bodies as racist. That is a tall task. It may even be easier to get a racist cop convicted of murdering a black person than it is to get a racist American to acknowledge his or her own racism. Racist Americans keep justice as far away from black death as possible to keep the racist label as far away from themselves as possible.

But this can change. Killing the post-racial myth and confessing racism is the first step toward antiracism. Police officers can recognize that label as the start of their better selves instead of the end of their careers. Americans can recognize that label as an opening to a just future.

Black people and the post-racial myth cannot both live in the United States of America.


Posted by The NON-Conformist