TIME Crime

St. Louis Police Officer Fatally Shoots Black Man, Sparking Protests

Crowds confront police near the scene in in south St. Louis where a man was fatally shot by an off-duty St. Louis police officer on Oct. 8, 2014. St. Louis.
Crowds confront police near the scene in south St. Louis where a man was fatally shot by an off-duty St. Louis police officer on Oct. 8, 2014. David Carson—AP

"It’s like Michael Brown all over again."

Protests broke out in south St. Louis late Wednesday after a white police officer fatally shot an 18-year-old black man who police say opened fire during a chase, just after tensions in the area had largely cooled following a similar shooting in August.

The shooting happened just weeks after another police officer shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in the nearby suburb of Ferguson, triggering weeks of sometimes violent protests.

St. Louis Police Chief Col. Sam Dotson told reporters Thursday that an off-duty police officer was patrolling a neighborhood for a private security company Wednesday night when he saw three men run from him, according to the Associated Press. He gave chase, believing that one of the men had a weapon from the way he grabbed his waistband. That man then turned and approached the officer, and during an ensuing altercation fired at the officer, according to Dotson. The officer, a 6-year veteran of the police department who was not identified, responded by firing 17 shots, killing the man. It’s unclear why the officer fired that many rounds.

But relatives of the man shot by the officer said he had been unarmed, according to the St. Louis Dispatch.

“He had a sandwich in his hand, and they thought it was a gun,” Teyonna Myers, who said she was the man’s cousin, told the Dispatch. “It’s like Michael Brown all over again.”

A crowd of some 300 people gathered late Wednesday and into Thursday, though most people dispersed by Thursday morning. Several police cars were damaged, but Dotson said no arrests were made.

[AP]

TIME White House

Obama: Ferguson Exposed ‘Gulf of Mistrust’ Between Cops and Communities

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama waves to the crowd after speaking at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’'s 44th Annual Legislative Conference Phoenix Awards Dinner in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 27, 2014 Susan Walsh—AP

Law enforcement targeting of blacks and other minorities "has a corrosive effect—not just on the black community; it has a corrosive effect on America"

President Barack Obama said Saturday that the shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo. last month exposed the “gulf of mistrust” that exists between law enforcement and local residents in many communities.

Speaking at the Congressional Black Caucus awards dinner, the President said that the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in the St Louis suburb “awakened our nation once again to the reality that people in this room have long understood, which is, in too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement.”

Statistically, the President noted, blacks in the United States are targeted at a substantially higher rate than whites in their cars and on the street, and more likely to get the death penalty. “Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement, guilty of walking while black, or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness.”

“And that has a corrosive effect—not just on the black community; it has a corrosive effect on America,” Obama continued.

To reverse the widening gap between minority communities and the people who police them, said Obama, “we need to help communities and law enforcement build trust, build understanding, so that our neighborhoods stay safe and our young people stay on track.”

Obama’s remarks Saturday came nearly two months after the shooting of Brown sparked a week of sometimes violent protests in Ferguson and outrage around the country at the local police’s handling of the situation.

You can read the speech below:

TIME China

Chinese Firms Are Exporting ‘Torture Devices’ to Africa

China Tools of Torture
In this undated photo released by Amnesty International, Chinese made weighted leg cuffs are displayed at the Chengdu Jin'an Equipment’s booth at an exhibition at an undisclosed location AP

Amnesty International claims at least 130 Chinese firms are involved in the worrying trade

Chinese companies are increasingly getting into the business of selling torture instruments, such as restraint chairs and spiked batons, to police departments in countries with miserable human rights records, Amnesty International claimed in a report on Tuesday.

At least 130 Chinese companies are now selling or manufacturing such equipment, up from just 28 a decade ago, the rights group says.

But as more Chinese companies enter the business, Beijing has not upped protocols to ensure that the exports do not end up in the wrong hands. Instead, most of the equipment is going to African countries where the rule of law is poor and where the potential for abuse is high, according to the respected human-rights watchdog.

Some of the Chinese-made equipment, such as handcuffs and projectile stun guns, is standard police issue that “can have a legitimate use in law enforcement if used correctly and in line with international standards for law enforcement,” says Amnesty.

However, other instruments are described by Amnesty as “inherently abusive” and include weighted cuffs, neck cuffs, electric shock batons and spiked batons, among others.

The report is a collaboration between Amnesty and the Omega Research Foundation, a British group that studies the international use and distribution of law-enforcement equipment. Liberia, Uganda and Madagascar are among the countries that have imported such equipment from China.

The use of torture to extract confessions is ubiquitous in China, although the government has pledged to crack down on the practice. This week, three police officers and four security personnel from the Chinese city of Harbin were convicted of torturing seven suspects to get confessions, according to Xinhua, China’s state news outlet. One of the tortured suspects died of his injuries, Xinhua said.

TIME National Security

New FBI Software Can Process Up to 52 Million Facial Images

And that's got civil-liberties groups worried

The FBI launched a new facial-recognition program on Wednesday, causing controversy among civil rights groups who say its huge processing power poses a threat to the privacy of citizens with no criminal record.

The program, known as the Interstate Photo System (IPS), is one of the final components of the FBI’s enhanced biometric system known as Next Generation Identification, the law-enforcement agency announced in a statement.

“The IPS facial-recognition service will provide the nation’s law-enforcement community with an investigative tool that provides an image-searching capability of photographs associated with criminal identities,” the statement said.

However, al-Jazeera America reported that the rollout has upset civil-liberties groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation. A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the foundation in April revealed that the system could process up to 52 million facial images, including millions of pictures taken for noncriminal purposes.

[AJAM]

TIME feminism

Campus Rape: The Problem With ‘Yes Means Yes’

New students at San Diego State University watch a video on sexual consent during an orientation meeting, Aug. 1, 2014, in San Diego.
New students at San Diego State University watch a video on sexual consent during an orientation meeting, Aug. 1, 2014, in San Diego. Gregory Bull—AP

Having the government dictate how people should behave in sexual encounters is a terrible idea

The campus crusade against rape has achieved a major victory in California with the passage of a so-called “Yes means yes” law. Unanimously approved by the state Senate yesterday after a 52-16 vote in the assembly on Monday, SB967 requires colleges and universities to evaluate disciplinary charges of sexual assault under an “affirmative consent” standard as a condition of qualifying for state funds. The bill’s supporters praise it as an important step in preventing sexual violence on campus. In fact, it is very unlikely to deter predators or protect victims. Instead, its effect will be to codify vague and capricious rules governing student conduct, to shift the burden of proof to (usually male) students accused of sexual offenses, and to create a disturbing precedent for government regulation of consensual sex.

No sane person would quarrel with the principle that sex without consent is rape and should be severely punished. But while sexual consent is widely defined as the absence of a “no” (except in cases of incapacitation), anti-rape activists and many feminists have long argued that this definition needs to shift toward an active “yes.” Or, as the California bill puts it:

“Affirmative consent” means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. … Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent.

The law’s defenders, such as feminist writer Amanda Hess, dismiss as hyperbole claims that it would turn people into unwitting rapists every time they have sex without obtaining an explicit “yes” (or, better yet, a notarized signature) from their partner. Hess points out that consent can include nonverbal cues such as body language. Indeed, the warning that “relying solely on nonverbal communication can lead to misunderstanding,” included in the initial draft of the bill, was dropped from later versions. Yet even after those revisions, one of the bill’s co-authors, Democratic Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune that the affirmative consent standard means a person “must say ‘yes.’ ”

Nonverbal cues indicating consent are almost certainly present in most consensual sexual encounters. But as a legal standard, nonverbal affirmative consent leaves campus tribunals in the position of trying to answer murky and confusing questions — for instance, whether a passionate response to a kiss was just a kiss, or an expression of “voluntary agreement” to have sexual intercourse. Faced with such ambiguities, administrators are likely to err on the side of caution and treat only explicit verbal agreement as sufficient proof of consent. In fact, many affirmative-consent-based student codes of sexual conduct today either discourage reliance on nonverbal communication as leaving too much room for mistakes (among them California’s Occidental College and North Carolina’s Duke University) or explicitly require asking for and obtaining verbal consent (the University of Houston). At Pennsylvania’s Swarthmore College, nonverbal communication is allowed but a verbal request for consent absolutely requires a verbal response: If you ask, “Do you want this?”, you may not infer consent from the mere fact that your partner pulls you down on the bed and moves to take off your clothes.

Meanwhile, workshops and other activities promoting the idea that one must “ask first and ask often” and that sex without verbal agreement is rape have proliferated on college campuses.

The consent evangelists often admit that discussing consent is widely seen as awkward and likely to kill the mood — though they seem to assume that the problem can be resolved if you just keep repeating that such verbal exchanges can be “hot,” “cool,” and “creative.” It’s not that talk during a sexual encounter is inherently a turn-off — far from it. But there’s a big difference between sexy banter or endearments, and mandatory checks to confirm you aren’t assaulting your partner (especially when you’re told that such checks must be conducted “in an ongoing manner”). Most people prefer spontaneous give-and-take and even some mystery, however old-fashioned that may sound; sex therapists will also tell you that good sex requires “letting go” of self-consciousness. When ThinkProgress.com columnist Tara Culp-Ressler writes approvingly that under affirmative consent “both partners are required to pay more attention to whether they’re feeling enthusiastic about the sexual experience they’re having,” it sounds more like a prescription for overthinking.

Of course anyone who believes that verbal communication about consent is essential to healthy sexual relationships can preach that message to others. The problem is that advocates of affirmative consent don’t rely simply on persuasion but on guilt-tripping (one handout stresses that verbal communication is “worth the risk of embarrassment or awkwardness” since the alternative is the risk of sexual assault) and, more importantly, on the threat of sanctions.

Until now, these sanctions have been voluntarily adopted by colleges; SB-967 gives them the backing of a government mandate. In addition to creating a vaguely and subjectively defined offense of nonconsensual sex, the bill also explicitly places the burden of proof on the accused, who must demonstrate that he (or she) took “reasonable steps … to ascertain whether the complainant affirmatively consented.” When the San Gabriel Valley Tribune asked Lowenthal how an innocent person could prove consent under such a standard, her reply was, “Your guess is as good as mine.”

Meanwhile, Culp-Ressler reassures her readers that passionate trysts without explicit agreement “aren’t necessarily breaches of an affirmative consent standard,” since, “if both partners were enthusiastic about the sexual encounter, there will be no reason for anyone to report a rape later.” But it’s not always that simple. One of the partners could start feeling ambivalent about an encounter after the fact and reinterpret it as coerced — especially after repeatedly hearing the message that only a clear “yes” constitutes real consent. In essence, advocates of affirmative consent are admitting that they’re not sure what constitutes a violation; they are asking people to trust that the system won’t be abused. This is not how the rule of law works.

This is not a matter of criminal trials, and suspension or even expulsion from college is not the same as going to prison. Nonetheless, having the government codify a standard that may implicitly criminalize most human sexual interaction is a very bad idea.

Such rules are unlikely to protect anyone from sexual assault. The activists often cite a scenario in which a woman submits without saying no because she is paralyzed by fear. Yet the perpetrator in such a case is very likely to be a sexual predator, not a clueless guy making an innocent mistake — and there is nothing to stop him from lying and claiming that he obtained explicit consent. As for sex with an incapacitated victim, it is already not only a violation of college codes of conduct but a felony.

Many feminists say that affirmative consent is not about getting permission but about making sure sexual encounters are based on mutual desire and enthusiasm. No one could oppose such a goal. But having the government dictate how people should behave in sexual encounters is hardly the way to go about it.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

TIME Law Enforcement

How Electroshock Gun Maker Taser Is Profiting From Crisis in Ferguson

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Taser sean boggs—Getty Images

But at least one analyst says the stun gun manufacturer’s market rally may be overdone

fortunelogo-blue
This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

By Ben Greier

Shares of electroshock gun maker Taser are up 28 percent over the past week amid speculation that the events in Ferguson, Mo., could boost demand for the company’s cameras.

Investors are speculating that following the shooting death of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, the body cameras produced by Taser will soon be de rigueur for police departments nationwide, creating a profit boom for the company.

Not so fast, says one analyst.

“I don’t see that there is going to be a massive deployment everywhere of this,” said Brian Ruttenberg, an analyst and managing director with CRT Capital Group. “And it’s not going to be quick.”

For the rest of the story, please go to Fortune.com.

TIME poverty

How Ferguson Went From Middle Class to Poor in a Generation

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man
A man with a skateboard protesting the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer walks away from tear gas released by police August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Joshua Lott—Getty Images

The same decay that sparked unrest in one Missouri town is taking place across the country

In 1990, Ferguson, Mo. was a middle class suburban enclave north of St. Louis with a population about three-quarters white. In 2000, the town’s population was roughly split between black and white with an unemployment rate of 5%. By 2010, the population was two-thirds black, unemployment had exceeded 13%, and the number of residents living in poverty had doubled in a decade.

Demographic transformation came fast and stark to Ferguson, Missouri. So what happened?

The situation there is “really not so different than the rest of St. Louis County,” said Dr. Norm White, a criminologist with the Saint Louis University School of Social Work. “The problems we saw in the urban core have become the problems of the suburban umbrella.”

The big picture trends White describes aren’t even unique to St. Louis County. Poverty in America’s suburbs has been on the increase nationwide for decades, as the suburbs themselves have grown and affordable housing options moved farther out from urban centers. Opportunities for low-skill jobs—already diminished due to the decline in American manufacturing—in sectors like retail and construction have became more concentrated in suburbs. And its not only a matter of emigration of low income people into the suburbs. Long-term residents in some places have became poorer; suburban areas were hit particularly hard by the recession and housing crisis in the 2000s.

With respect to St. Louis in particular, White points to the razing of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project — a public works project as extraordinary a failure as was the scale of its original vision — as a key factor in the flight to the suburbs. First erected in the early 1950s, the 33, 11-story towers on 57 sprawling acres in St. Louis was designed by the architect who went on to build NYC’s now-fallen World Trade Center.

The complex was intended to be a modern, vibrant community to replace the old poverty-stricken neighborhoods of the poor. In reality, the structures became crime-plagued labyrinths left unmaintained by the city and beginning in 1972 they were torn down, jumpstarting the processes that sent the poor of St. Louis, as elsewhere, out of the city and into the suburbs in search of affordable places to live.

Like most states, Missouri allows for highly fragmented municipalities, each of which retains its own tax revenues and the power to write its own zoning laws. Newer, wealthier suburbs sometimes write zoning restrictions to ban high-density housing, and thus affordable apartments. But Ferguson, an older suburb, has no such restrictions, according to Professor Clarissa Rile Hayward of Washington University in St. Louis. The result is a town where the population of the poor is not only large but also highly concentrated.

“A decade ago, none of the neighborhoods there had poverty rates above 16%,” says Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who has written extensively on the rapid growth of suburban poverty in America. Now every neighborhood but one in the town has a poverty rate over 20%, the point at which typical social ills associated with poverty like poor health outcomes, high crime rates and failing schools start to appear, she says.

“Ferguson is just the place that the scab got pulled off,” White, the criminologist, tells TIME. “The reason why this is so intense is that there are a lot of these little communities that have been left almost to rot. Physically the buildings are falling down. There are no social service programs.”

As to whether or not the spotlight currently shining on the problem of suburban decay will result in a renewed commitment to address poverty in the U.S., White believes politicians and the media will move on. “You listen when the fires are burning,” he said, “but you then go away when the fires are extinguished.”

TIME Crime

California Mayor Urges Cops to Wear Body Cameras After Ferguson

A Los Angeles Police officer wears an on-body camera during a demonstration for media in Los Angeles on Jan. 15, 2014.
A Los Angeles Police officer wears an on-body camera during a demonstration for media in Los Angeles on Jan. 15, 2014. Damian Dovargane—AP

Few police departments in the U.S. use body-worn cameras in the field

A California mayor is calling for the city’s police officers to use body-worn cameras following the fatal police shooting of an unarmed teenager that has sparked violent protests in Ferguson, Mo.

In a letter on Friday, Hawthorne Mayor Chris Brown announced that he would introduce an ordinance at next week’s city council meeting mandating all uniformed officers wear cameras on their uniforms.

“I am simply not willing to gamble with a single life, or the wrongful accusation of upstanding officers,” Brown wrote.

The letter comes a week after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson police, which has ignited riots and focused the nation’s attention on the St. Louis suburb. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon deployed the National Guard on Monday to help keep order. No recording of Brown’s shooting exists, and some have called for more police units to use body-worn cameras, which capture virtually everything an officer sees.

Only a handful of police departments in the U.S. use wearable cameras, due in part to their expense and the limited evidence showing that they increase transparency and curb police misconduct.

While some law enforcement agencies have praised their use—including officials in Rialto, Calif., who they’ve significantly reduced use of force incidents and complaints filed against its officers—there are very few independent studies demonstrating their effectiveness.

Each camera costs an estimated $800 to $1,000. The police department of Hawthorne, located in Los Angeles County with a population of about 84,000, has roughly 100 officers. Cameras for each could cost the agency upwards of $100,000.

TIME U.S.

Make Cops Wear Cameras

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man
A police officer standing watch as demonstrators protest the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown conceals his/her identity on August 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Scott Olson—Getty Images

“Everyone behaves better when they’re on video”

Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, shot to death in Ferguson, Missouri, by police. Eric Garner, a 43-year-old New Yorker, dies from a police chokehold. John Crawford III, 22, shot and killed by police in a Walmart outside of Dayton, Ohio.

Enough is enough. Each of these incidents has an unmistakable racial dimension—all of the victims were black and all or most of arresting officers were white–that threatens the always tense relationships between law enforcement and African Americans. As important, the circumstances of each death are hotly contested, with the police telling one story and witnesses (if any) offering up very different narratives.

Brown’s death in particular is raising major ongoing protests precisely because, contrary to police accounts, witnesses claim that he had his hands up in the air in surrender when he was shot. The result is less trust in police, a situation that raises tensions across the board.

While there is no simple fix to race relations in any part of American life, there is an obvious way to reduce violent law enforcement confrontations while also building trust in cops: Police should be required to use wearable cameras and record their interactions with citizens. These cameras—various models are already on the market—are small and unobtrusive and include safeguards against subsequent manipulation of any recordings.

“Everyone behaves better when they’re on video,” Steve Ward, the president of Vievu, a company that makes wearable gear, told ReasonTV earlier this year. Given that many departments already employ dashboard cameras in police cruisers, this would be a shift in degree, not kind.

“Dash cams only capture about 5% of what a cop does. And I wanted to catch 100% of what a cop does,” explains Ward, who speaks from experience. He used to be a Seattle police officer and his company’s slogan is “Made for cops by cops. Prove the truth.”

According to a year-long study of the Rialto, Calif., police department, the use of “officer worn cameras reduced the rate of use-of-force incidents by 59 percent” and “utilization of the cameras led to an 87.5 percent reduction in complaints” by citizens against cops.

Such results are the reason that the ACLU is in favor of “police body-mounted cameras,” as long as various privacy protections and other concerns are addressed. And it also explains growing support for the policy among elected officials. In the wake of Eric Garner’s chokehold death in July, New York City’s public advocate is pushing a $5 million pilot program in the city’s “most crime-plagued neighborhoods” as a means of restoring trust in the police.

Since 1991, when the beating of Rodney King by the Los Angeles Police Department was captured on tape by an amateur videographer, small, cheap recording devices have become a ubiquitous and effective means by which citizens are able to watch the watchers. In some cases, crowd-sourced footage exonerates the police, while in others it undermines the official narrative.

Over the same period, as the Washington Post’s Radley Balko has documented in Rise of the Warrior Cop, even small-town police departments have become “militarized” in terms of the training they received and the hardware they carry. When the results aren’t tragic, they increase tensions between police and the people they serve and protect.

Mandating that cops wear cameras wouldn’t prevent all tragedies from happening but they would certainly make deaths like those of Brown, Garner and Ferguson less likely. And in difficult cases, body cams would help provide crucial perspective that would build trust in law enforcement across the board.

TIME Crime

Lone Seattle Police Officer Responsible for 80% of City’s Marijuana Citations

Seattle Police Chief
Seattle police chief Kathleen O'Toole salutes during a singing of the national anthem with Mayor Ed Murray at her side on June 23, 2014 Ken Lambert—AP

Cop in question reportedly issued 66 of 83 marijuana tickets handed out in the Emerald City during the first half of 2014

Seattle police chief Kathleen O’Toole has been forced to reassign an officer on her staff after the employee in question reportedly issued 80% of the city’s marijuana citations this year.

Officials are investigating the matter following the publication of the department’s first biannual report relating to marijuana enforcement, according to a statement released by O’Toole on Wednesday afternoon.

The Seattle Police Department report found that 66 of the 83 marijuana tickets issued this year was done so by a single officer, who at times would scribble peculiar notes in the margins of the citations in question.

“Some notes requested the attention of city attorney Peter Holmes and were addressed to ‘Petey Holmes,’” said O’Toole. “In another instance, the officer indicated he flipped a coin when contemplating which subject to cite.”

The police officer implicated in the incident has been taken off his regular patrol duties during the course of the investigation.

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