Fault Lines version 2.0

When Fault Lines first blasted onto the Interwebs, it was devoted as a place for those in criminal law to provide the best legal insight possible. The intention was for Fault Lines to be the place that you got legal news and analysis from people working in all areas of the criminal justice system.

So far, we’ve got the goods when it comes to “all areas.” Right now our contributor base includes defense attorneys, a prosecutor, a badass Chicago SWAT cop, a former cop turned defense attorney, and Article III judges. We pull no punches and do nothing to massage your personal feelings on the law. It’s been such a great ride that we’ve made the ABA Blawg 100 two years in a row.

Like any great endeavor, there’s always room for improvement. While Fault Lines is eternally grateful to have birthed as a corner of Mimesis Law, it needed its own shiny new home. And because our managing editor and contributing staff always think bigger and better, we asked the question “Why can’t we be an educational non-profit? We’re the ones on the web actually educating people about the law.”

Today I am proud to announce two great new developments to Fault Lines.

First, we have a new home at www.faultlines.us. This is our new, standalone, online legal magazine tasked with our original stated mission, “Monitoring the Cracks in America’s Criminal Justice System.” From this point forward, all Fault Lines posts will appear here instead of at Mimesis Law. The site looks infinitely better, and for those of you who get your Fault Lines Fix on mobile devices you’ll find the site a far easier read.

Second, we have confirmed status as a 501(c)(3) educational non-profit organization. That means if you like the content we provide you weekly, you can hit that sweet Donate button on the side of the website and make a tax-deductible contribution to Fault Lines’ continuing efforts to make the public smarter when it comes to issues in criminal justice.

Now that we’ve gotten the announcements out of the way, there’s a couple of things you can do to help us that don’t take much time or effort. Or even money.

First, if you were previously accessing Fault Lines through Mimesis Law, take a moment and update your bookmarks to make www.faultlines.us the place where you get your Fault Lines Fix. Without that, you’ll be missing out on the best legal analysis the web has to offer. You don’t want that, do you?

Second, if you were a previous subscriber to our newsletter (and why weren’t you, if not?), go to www.faultlines.us and re-subscribe. It takes a few seconds, and we won’t sell your information to anyone. All the goodness we put on the site will simply be delivered to your inbox daily, ad-free, spam-free, no bullshit.

Finally, tell a friend about the move! If Fault Lines is a site that enriched your life in some respect (or if my dumb jokes are amusing to you) then tell someone we’re now at www.faultlines.us. Encourage them to sign up for our newsletter. It’s available for the price of Free-99, we promise to never sell your information to anyone, and we won’t spam you. It’s just the best legal insight you’ll ever find on the internet every Monday through Friday.

Hope you enjoy Fault Lines version 2.0. Stick around, because if you thought what we did before was good, baby you ain’t seen nothing yet.

*One more thing: Are you a legal professional who’s got the chops to educate the public on a regular basis? If so, Fault Lines is interested in you. Email me at chris at clsesq dot net for further information.

Wil Wheaton Makes People Dumber On The Internet

Wil Wheaton has an audience and a platform far beyond the little niche corner of the internet reserved for unmentionable types like me. He’s got Star Trek cred, Big Bang Theory fans, and even his own show for board games. When he writes, he usually does so on Medium, the Twitter owned “platisher.” Usually I can forgive his navel gazing, but with a recent post called “FBI Agents Are Attempting to Sway a Presidential Election. That’s Horrifying,” I’ve no recourse but to call him out.

I will begin by saying Wil Wheaton is a smart guy. He’s articulate enough to get to speak at MENSA. He knows a lot about several different subjects, and passionate enough to pass as a “geek” for those who care for labels. One thing he is not, however, is a law “geek.” Wheaton isn’t a lawyer, nor does he have a law degree. He does have an audience passionate enough to take his words seriously, and with a post on a platform called “Bullshitlist,” Wheaton commits the sin of making people dumber on the Internet.

Citing to a Spencer Ackerman story listing “unnamed sources” within the FBI who were either unwilling or uncleared to speak on the record, Wheaton paints a picture of the FBI as “Trumpland,” an organization where “deep antipathy” exists for the Democratic Presidential Candidate. Proceeding on to discuss how the FBI is to serve “all Americans,” Wheaton whips up a climate of fear by asking what the average American can expect if this can happen to Hillary Clinton.

None of this would surprise me. Wheaton has no obligation to his readers to cite credible sources, dig deeper, ask questions, or do anything actual journalists do. He just gets to bullshit on a site called Bullshitlist, and spread, well, bullshit. The moment he starts talking law is when his bullshit becomes absolutely intolerable, and people like me call him out on it.

James Comey has either lost control of his bureau, or he’s implicitly approving these politically motivated leaks that are likely violations of the Hatch Act. In either case, he is unfit for his position, and should resign immediately.

If there is any hope of restoring faith and confidence in the FBI, an independent investigation must happen as soon as possible. Every agent at the FBI who was involved in this effort to influence our election should be fired, and perhaps prosecuted for violations of the Hatch Act.

Wil? Allow me to introduce you to a real prosecutor. One who wasn’t afraid to call bullshit on a Senator, and damned sure isn’t afraid to call bullshit on you. His name is Andrew King, and he’s the type of person who actually prosecutes people for crimes. This is what he recently said about the “Hatch Act” nonsense being tossed about.

And just stop it with the Hatch Act nonsense—looking at you Senator Reid. When political people commit crimes, it’s going to be political. Ignoring these crimes would simply encourage more corruption and wrongdoing. Under this theory, mafia dons should get a get-out-of-jail-free card by seeking political office. The same people that worry about Russia influencing the election are often the same ones advocating the Russian way of governance. But as long as their preferred candidate wins, what difference does it make?

Which leads us to the present day. Wil has yet to step forward and laud Director Comey for his tireless work in service of our republic, since Secretary Clinton has been cleared of wrongdoing once again by the good Director. Maybe he’s busy getting ready for a new season of Tabletop. Or maybe Wil’s finally realized despite playing the really smart kid or guy on a television series doesn’t give him a single iota of credibility when it comes to speaking about the law. Hopefully, someone on his team finally told him he fucked up the First Rule Of Being A Geek, and he actually behaved more the fool than the scholar on this occasion.

Or maybe there’s another motive to it. Maybe because he went from BernieBro to “With Her,” now it’s time to just sweep the entire legal misstatement under the rug.
Wil, your gaffe is forgiven. Just leave the lawyering to those of us who do this on a regular basis. You want to find out where the best, unbiased legal analysis is on the web, I’m happy to point you in that direction. And the best part is you’ll have your mind exposed to all sorts of new, uncomfortable opinions that will make you think.

That’s what us lawyers who don’t believe in confirmation bias do. You’re welcome.

One Year In The Blawgosphere

About a year ago Scott Greenfield put the call out for new talent at this website he’d co founded with Lee Pacchia called “Fault Lines.”  The thing that made Fault Lines so unique, so different from all the other blawgs and websites was that its contributors came from all walks of the criminal justice system, and were active participants in it.  I’ve always been a writer at heart, and I loved Scott’s blawg Simple Justice, so I thought I’d reach out to him and see if he was interested in taking on a “baby lawyer” to his new team.

“Maybe.  Send me something.  I might say no” was the response I got back.

That evening I dashed off a piece on the A.J. Johnson rape case, Stephen Ross Johnson’s trial strategy, and how it all framed against the Christian/Newsom murders in Knoxville.  Scott’s response was quick back:

“I want you to write for me.  You have two days a week.  Get your pieces in by 5 PM the day before.  Don’t miss deadlines.”

Tomorrow’s piece is my one year anniversary at Fault Lines.  Below you’ll find some links to some of the favorite stories I’ve worked on over the last year.  Before I get to that, a bit of thanks are in order.

First, to Scott Greenfield:  Thank you for giving me a shot, thank you for letting me write as much as I wanted, and thank you for kicking my ass repeatedly to make me a better writer.  The difference between that first post and the drafts I send in now are night and day.

To Lee Pacchia:  Thank you for helping give Fault Lines some web space.  Thank you for putting me on podcasts and video spots on the YouTube channel.  The stuff you’ve done has made a difference in our world.

To all my co-contributors, past and present: Thank you for your contributions to Fault Lines.  Without you I wouldn’t have as much fun as I do on a regular basis with the site.

And finally, to you, the readers: Thank you each and every week for your comments and contributions to what we do.  Our work is there to make sure that you walk away a little smarter at Fault Lines.

Here’s to another great years’ worth of work pointing out the cracks in the criminal justice system.  Let’s do another anniversary post in a year to see how far it goes.

Some of my favorite posts:

Inquiry Launched After Massive 6th Amendment Violation By Kansas US Attorney

In Tennessee, A Child Abuse Registry Without A Crime

A Judge’s Simple Request Meets A Cop-Friendly Mayor

Don’t forget my spat with the Indigent Defense Task Force:

An Open Letter To The Tennessee Indigent Representation Task Force

Tennessee Indigent Defense Task Force Responds (and So Do I)

Tennessee’s Indigent Defense Task Force Does Nothing

Tennessee Task Force On Lying To The Poor

There was the first ever co-post at Fault Lines with Andrew Fleischman:

Just As The Founders Intended, The Right To Rape Reasonably

And my favorite “joke post” at Fault Lines:

Pokemon Go Must Go

Let’s do this again in August 2017.

 

Bob, Katherine, Eric, Let’s Talk Rockwood (Update)

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m a big fan of the show “Howell & Yarbrough” on NewsTalk 98.7 here in Knoxville.  They’ve been kind enough to give me a chance to appear on their show a couple of times to discuss issues regarding a number of legal matters, my favorite being Representative Andy Holt’s pissing contest with Knoxville’s Chief of Police over red light traffic tickets.  In a world where journalistic integrity is falling short, Bob and Katherine are two that actually get what news is like.

Today, Katherine brought up the body cam footage of Rockwood, Tennessee Officer Chris Kennedy pepper spraying former Roane State Basketball player Xavier Howard.  As can happen, the discussion of this “use of force” spiraled into a full blown discussion over whether Xavier Howard actually “complied” with officer demands, whether using pepper spray in a situation like this was appropriate, and where the line is drawn when law enforcement officers escalate the use of force.  Sometimes I’d call in for a discussion on the merits of a case like this.  Today, I wanted to listen and hear what the community had to say.

First of all, it’s imperative you understand the First Rule of Policing before you get anywhere else in discussing situations like this.  That rule is simple: “get home in time for dinner.”  As Fault Lines Managing Editor Scott Greenfield repeatedly points out, this seems trivial to those who don’t wear a badge, but it’s the first thing that a cop thinks about before strapping on his or her service belt.  No amount of money from a pension, no gold shield, nothing makes up for the loss of a husband, son, father, mother, daughter, or wife.  That’s why force escalates so quickly in situations like this.

Second, police are increasingly trained to view interactions with civilians through the lens of “warrior vs. enemy combatant” instead of the “protect and serve” approach to community policing.  For further reading, please see Radley Balko’s seminal work Rise of the Warrior Cop. Posts at Fault Lines are littered with issues concerning escalation of force.  Do check out Greg Prickett’s work when you have a moment, especially his analyses of cop shootings.

And there’s the “just comply and you won’t get hurt” argument.  That argument holds absolutely no weight among members of the defense bar.  It certainly didn’t help Charles Kinsey, who laid on the ground, hands up, explaining to cops he was attempting to help one of his special needs patients from a weapon “discharging” into Kinsey’s leg.  Compliance doesn’t always equal walking away with your life or liberty intact.

Now that we’re past all that, let’s take a look at the video.

First, Officer Kennedy responds once Harris opens the door with “Where’s he at?  I heard him in there, where’s he at?” while shining a high intensity flashlight in her eyes.  When she attempts to tell Officer Kennedy the two were just having an argument, he responds with “I heard y’all fighting.”  That’s when Howard enters the frame, hands up, denying he’s touched Harris.  The two attempt to assure Officer Kennedy there’s no reason for cop intervention, but he insists “We got called here…we’re going to figure this out.”

Shortly after Howard asks “You want to search me?” he turns his back to the officer and drops his hands.  Kennedy then responds with “Get your hands away from that knife!”  Howard protests he didn’t see a knife, but Kennedy assures Howard it’s there and then orders him to come forward.

At the 3 minute mark Kennedy orders Harris in an elevated tone to “get over there” and radios “Sarge, step it up.”  His tone of voice escalates heavily as he yells at Harris and Howard.

Pepper spray is deployed around the 3:17 mark in the video, when Howard places his hands in front of his face, allegedly shielding his eyes from the flashlight Officer Kennedy continues to use.  Kennedy justifies deploying pepper spray by telling Howard he shouldn’t have come at him, when it’s clear there was no forward motion towards Kennedy.

Around 3:30 you can hear Kennedy say “I sprayed him, Sarge,” and another officer runs in while Howard is on his knees to cuff the former Roane State Community College player.  Howard’s coughs and pleas for help are ignored as the cops lead him out of the apartment.  Howard says around the 4:19 mark that he can’t see. By 4:35 Howard is begging for something to wipe his face off.  The cops respond “not right now.”  By 5:30 Howard is complaining he can’t breathe, and Kennedy responds with “You’re breathing.  You’re talking.”

Around the six minute mark Howard loses his cool, refers to the collar as “bullshit” and continues to call Kennedy a liar for the repeated assertions Howard charged at the officer.  By 6:54 Kennedy is justifying his actions to other officers on scene, saying “He wouldn’t comply with my commands, he kept coming at me.”  It’s almost as if Kennedy is framing the narrative for his eventual after-action report, even though the body camera tells otherwise.

By eight minutes, Howard’s face still hasn’t been cleaned off.  He’s not told the reason for his arrest.  Kennedy simply replies to repeated requests of why Howard’s arrested with “I’m going to figure this whole thing out.” Howard’s left in the car, potentially suffering from a severe allergic reaction to the pepper spray, while Kennedy discusses the events with “Sarge.”  Every statement is refuted by the body cam footage, especially the “I told him to step back but he wouldn’t.” (The command was “Stay right there,” which Howard lawfully obeyed)

Was the use of force necessary in this situation?  I’m not a cop, nor have I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express recently, but I’m going to land on the side of “no” here.  Everything Officer Kennedy did from start to finish was indicative of a “warrior cop” mentality, one trained to view Howard as an enemy rather than a person who needed to be investigated.  And the pepper spray, despite many listeners’ comments about how it’s “not that big of a deal,” wasn’t justified in use.  The entire matter stinks from beginning to end.

Bob, Katherine, Eric, if you’re reading this, I’m going to run the incident by Greg Prickett, Fault Lines’ ex-cop turned lawyer, to see if he’s got different eyes on this, but right now I’m calling this definitely a use of excessive force.  Katherine was right to question this, and kudos to her for bringing this to the audience’s attention.

**UPDATE**

I reached out to Greg Prickett and asked him to review the body cam footage from Officer Kennedy.  He’s an absolute treasure trove of information when it comes to reviewing officer-related shoots, and getting his analysis on this was worth the extra effort.  Here’s his response.

Jesus, where do you find these? That’s major f’ed up. I did not see any reason for the officer to spray Howard, and there damn sure wasn’t an arrestable offense that I saw. What are you going to arrest him for? You are forcing your way into the apartment, which is arguably legal if checking on the welfare of the parties. Of course, here you have both sides telling you to go away, everything is fine.
Then, after you tell him to move away from a knife that I never saw, you spray him because he’s not kowtowing to your insane demands? Howard never charged the officer. Then the sergeant kept saying to arrest him for domestic violence without any complainant or evidence of DV that I can see. Unless the state allows arrest for speech only (and not threatening speech, which there wasn’t any evidence of either), it’s a BS charge without a scintilla of evidence to support it.
Both the officer and the sergeant should be fired and charged criminally for violating Howard’s rights.

 

Cathars, Cops, And Personal Reflection

Over at Fault Lines, David Meyer Lindenberg recently posted an incredibly well-written piece called “The Persecution of Cathars and Cops.”  It’s an excellent reminder of how history has a tendency to repeat itself, and made me stop and examine some of the statements I’ve made concerning police misconduct in the past.  Am I really anti-cop, and is the message I send one against law enforcement, working in the trenches as an attorney?  While at times I’ve definitely taken what could be perceived as an anti-cop stance, I think it’s safe to answer that question as “no.”

First off, you’d be hard pressed to find a criminal defense attorney that hates cops.  No one hates cops, unless you’re an idiot.  What we hate is the continued culture of thuggish brutality, the warrior mindset embraced by those who should view us as part of the community, and the continual lack of accountability that seems to justify every single jack-booted reaction.  We work tirelessly to make sure those without a badge have just as much of a voice in the process that ostensibly flags everyone as “innocent until proven guilty.”

Another major issue is the public’s continued embrace of the cop as the “guardian and protector” of the community, automatically granting those with a shield a special status as an “authority figure” whose every demand must be obeyed on pain of death.  If someone doesn’t wrestle their son to the door for cops to arrest, they’re obstructing justice.  If you don’t take two steps to the left with your hands raised, you’re not complying with the law and deserve a good pepper spraying.  The continued shoulder-shrugging of those who say “Just comply and you won’t get hurt” is infuriating to those of us with our eyes open.

Yet we do have a voice, and there is a debate currently going on in our modern society over the role of police and their continued use of force in situations that otherwise might warrant a different approach.  The temptation is to pile on the negative side, and continually roll our eyes at every cop who claim they were in fear for their lives when they shoot a young black man in a heartbeat.  It’s something that leads the public down the path of “police are no longer deserving of our respect.”  That’s a scary place to be, especially when the cops are the ones out there every day ostensibly ensuring our streets are safe.

So where does this fit in with David’s post?  It’s easy to escape to our own realms that allow us unfettered access to confirmation bias.  With every “anti-cop” article or post you read on the Internet, it’s more likely to enforce your belief in that worldview.,  With every “Blue Lives Matter” statement you endorse the more pro-police you’re going to become.  Either way, it’s terrible, as David points out, to endorse a solution that’s “clear, simple, and wrong.”

So where does this fit in with me and my own ideas on how the police/misconduct angles work?  I think it’s best to say my views are more nuanced than originally seen.  I’ve spoken with family in law enforcement, and they can’t believe guys like Tyrel “The Tennessee Imbecile” Lorenz still have a job.  I know cops who’ve exercised incredible amounts of discretion on the job; some even going as far as driving publicly intoxicated folks home and getting them in the house. That doesn’t mean I can’t boost the signal of those who take the public’s trust and abuse it.

And I’ll continue to fight the good fight, and I’ll keep telling the cops that are out their doing their jobs the right way that I respect them for actually being the good ones.  That’s the only intellectually responsible thing to do.

DCS Rules of Engagement.

I’ve gotten a couple of calls requesting help from residents in the Volunteer State with issues regarding the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) or Child Protective Services (CPS) ever since my article on the “Vulnerable Persons Registry” went live at Fault Lines.  While I appreciate all the requests, I can’t help everybody.  My time and energy is limited, but there are a number of tips I can provide people experiencing issues with either DCS or CPS.

A couple of housekeeping notes before we begin.

  1. None of this is legal advice.  That you pay for.  This is free.
  2. Your mileage may vary depending on your state with these tips.  I’m dealing specifically with Tennessee here.
  3. If you’re not in Tennessee, you might have different acronyms (i.e. DCF in some states as opposed to DCS).  I’m using Tennessee’s for clarity and my own ease.

If DCS shows at your door, lock the door, tell them to get a warrant, and start recording the conversation.  

The first type of interaction most people have with a DCS or CPS worker is via a request to look around the residence and talk to your kids “to make sure they’re okay.”  This is a patently false statement on their part, as DCS workers showing at your door means someone called in a report of child abuse or neglect against you and a caseworker at your local office found the claims worthy of at least an in-house review.

Andrews v. Hickman County, Tennessee, a 2012 Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals case held DCS workers are subject to the same restrictions when entering private property as police officers.  If they’re asking to come into your residence and “look around,” that’s the equivalent of asking to search your home, and you’re allowed to refuse that search and ask DCS to get a warrant.  If they continue to persist in their efforts to come in and search your home, simply wish them a good day and tell the caseworker they’re not allowed in your residence until they produce a warrant.

The Department and its caseworkers don’t like this holding.  When the decision was originally announced in December of 2012, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services head brass in Nashville announced no caseworker would remove a child from a residence before a three day probable cause hearing occurred. This position wasn’t overturned in Nashville until a number of Juvenile Court judges and magistrates spoke out openly against the policy, opining the Department’s failure to act could put some children in danger.

Record the conversations with any and all interactions you have with DCS or CPS workers.  They’re aware how much you care about your kids, and they will attempt to scare you with any number of outlandish statements.  The tone changes drastically if they’re being recorded.  It changes even further if you show them you’re recording their every statement.  I’ve had great fun sticking a voice recorder on the table at every single DCS meeting I attend and seeing the nature of the conversations change.  Regardless, the material you gather in every recorded interaction may be of use to you and your counsel later.

Get an attorney the moment DCS shows up.  Don’t answer any DCS questions or sign any documents DCS provides without having an attorney look them over first.

If DCS contacts you to “come in” and talk about a “crisis situation” in your household, your next call should be to a family law professional in your area.  Make sure DCS knows you won’t be attending the meeting absent counsel.  They will tell you that you don’t need an attorney, and they may get adversarial and hostile to you if you let them know you want counsel present.  That should give you an understanding of just how badly they want you to incriminate yourself.

Another great aspect of having an attorney present, even if it’s just for the first meeting, is the unspoken signal to DCS that you’re a headache they don’t want.  DCS workers love their jobs when it’s easy and compliant parents just sign the forms, complete all the steps in a permanency plan, and go on to another phase in life.  If you show up with an attorney present who plans on fighting all the issues DCS claims are present in your residence, then you’re potentially more trouble than they care to deal with.  This especially helps before a Juvenile Court Magistrate gets a Department Petition To Adjudicate Dependency and Neglect or Delinquency Petition on their desk.

One important note regarding “Delinquency” petitions.  I’ve seen cases where parents are carted before a Youth Services Officer (YSO) after kids act out at school or in another place and told if they don’t sign a Delinquency petition on their child the kid will be removed.  This is a half-truth, and a dangerous one.  It is true that a Juvenile Magistrate or Judge might find your child’s circumstances worthy of a Delinquency adjudication.  That doesn’t mean you have to sign off on a Delinquency petition on your own child at risk of having that child removed from their home.  Furthermore, if you sign a Delinquency petition on your kids, you run the risk of having a Petition to Adjudicate Dependent and Neglected (D&N) filed against you.

Ask about your status on the Indication (Vulnerable Persons) Registry.  Demand to see the indication letter if one exists.  Exhaust all remedies.
Finally, we get to the indication registry.  If you’ve had a D&N petition filed against you in Juvenile Court, you’re probably “indicated” as a person who “potentially” committed child abuse or neglect.  If a DCS Caseworker comes to your door and talks with you, there’s a good chance you’ve been “indicated” as well.  Ask about your status on the Indication registry or Vulnerable Persons Registry.  If the DCS worker acts clueless, demand to speak to someone who knows what they’re talking about.  This is a live registry that as of February 2015 went live and actively reports “indications” for people suspected of child abuse or neglect.  This list is used to deny people homes, jobs, and access to places where kids might be present.  You could potentially find yourself on the list and not know it until someone with a web browser and internet connection decides to snoop on you!

There is a letter that is to be sent to all “indicated” parties.  It informs them of their status on the registry, the allegations that gave rise to an “indication,” and outlines steps to challenge the indication.

It is imperative you challenge the indication letter. If you do not, you will be stuck on a list of people who actually abused children and the elderly and were found guilty of those offenses in a court of law.  There will be no distinction, and if you don’t timely challenge the letter within the dates proscribed you won’t get a second chance.  You will remain on the registry until a court overturns your status on the registry or the bureaucrats in Nashville get a clue.

Keep these tips in mind and leave with one parting thought.  DCS and CPS workers have badges, ranks and official titles.  They also have the state-sanctioned ability to deprive you of your rights and liberties.  These are things we grant police officers, and yet we treat DCS and CPS workers differently because they’re ostensibly not looking  for criminals.  They’re doing a “thankless job” for “the good of the children.”  Don’t fall for that line of bullshit.  Treat every interaction with DCS or CPS, no matter how minor, like it’s an interaction with cops, and you’ll come out better for it.

Notes on the Fault Lines Debate

Today I debate my fellow Fault Lines contributor Noel Erinjeri over whether African-Americans killing cops is justified.  There’s a couple of points I want to make in light of this debate.

  1. While I appreciate our managing editor, Scott Greenfield prefacing the debate this morning by making it clear neither Noel or I truly believe killing anyone is the answer, I want to state it again.  I do not believe killing another person for any reason is justifiable.  I do not believe violence is the solution to any problem, unless you’re a trained professional fighter and the problem is “beat the other guy.” This was a debate, and I picked the side of “violence is justified” because I wanted the logical exercise.
  2. Our fellow co-contributor, Greg Prickett, believes the debate as framed is too narrow.  His take is that this issue extends far beyond African-Americans and Black Lives Matter. I agree with him on this point, but as this is a debate, Noel and I were constrained to argue a specific, narrowly-tailored question.
  3. Someone will inevitably tell me that I have no place in this argument because I haven’t “lived the black experience” or something like that.  To those who would make such an argument, I tell you now to piss off.
  4. Someone will inevitably ask either Noel or I if there’s a solution to the problem.  I think any solution to the issue of ending police violence against African-Americans will run into the H.L. Mencken variety, but I will offer a few ideas below on how we can begin.

First, eliminate the section 1033 program that gives police departments access to military hardware.  All police departments with equipment under the 1033 program have sixty days to arrange for pickup or disposal or face fines and sanctions at the Federal level for failure to comply.  It’ll be rough without war toys for a little while until the cops finally figure out the whole “community policing” approach works better than “comply or we kill you” with the communities they serve.

Second, stop training cops with a warrior mentality.  Eliminate “warrior” culture from police forces.  No cop needs to see the community they serve as a battlefield and every potential encounter with civilians as an unseen threat.  They’re people too, and a return to the days of police patrolling “beats” and knowing the neighborhoods they monitor would be a positive step forward.

Third, eliminate Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights from collective bargaining agreements struck between police unions and governments.  This is a huge deal, and most people don’t know in the wake of a shooting like Alton Sterling’s or Philando Castile’s, cops have enhanced rights above and beyond those of an average citizen. Placing police on the same level as those without a badge in the wake of a death would help restore some trust among the communities affected by these deaths.

Fourth, end proactive policing for protests and demonstrations.  Yes, it’s important to make sure no demonstration gets out of hand and turns into a riot.  However, confining protests to “safety zones” or keeping the protest monitored heavily with a police presence only invites those who want to antagonize other parties into doing so.  Once one side antagonizes the other, then the entire debacle spirals into nothing but arrests and more anger.  Targeted arrests and detentions only lead to more over-crowding of jails, and that’s a problem we don’t need in any police district.

There is no easy, concrete solution to this troubling boiling point at which we find our nation.  There are a number of steps we can take to begin addressing the issue in a positive fashion that won’t see constitutional rights violated and a start towards real justice begin.

Something has to give.  The cycle of violence, while potentially foreseeable and preventable, cannot stand.

 

Fault Lines: Join Us

Several months ago I reached out to Scott Greenfield, the managing editor of Fault Lines, and asked for a shot at writing on the site.  I sent a submission, as the worst he could do was say “no.” Today I write three to four times a week at Fault Lines, the only online legal magazine featuring criminal law analysis from professionals ranging the scope of the criminal justice system, including three Federal judges.  And it’s time for more to join our ranks, according to the managing editor.

Fault Lines isn’t a place to come if you’re looking for someone to nod their head, pat you on the tummy, and confirm you’ve got the correct opinion.  There are times some of the contributors posted articles that made me want to destroy my laptop.  Andrew King, our prosecutor, is the one usually responsible for this.  We harbor no bias and examine all views, even if I usually think Andrew King is wrong about everything.
Content isn’t just the best part of Fault Lines  As I’ve said in the past, any asshole can express an opinion on the Internet, and many unfortunately use the Web to make people dumber.  Fault Lines brings you insight from all perspectives across the system we can muster in a smart, reasoned fashion currently in the system.  We have criminal defense attorneys, an active prosecutor, three Federal Judges, and an ex cop turned lawyer.  We’re always looking for more perspectives, and I know one we’d love is an active duty cop.

There are requirements for Fault Lines.  You have to be able to stick to deadlines no matter what.  You have to be able to write in a reasonable, coherent fashion.  You also need to be fairly bulletproof to criticism, as our commenters often demonstrate.  And you need to make sure when you discuss an issue, you get the law right.   If you possess the necessary qualifications, we want you.

Since writing at Fault Lines I’ve been on the radio discussing legal issues pertinent to Tennessee, I’ve managed to piss off a few prominent politicians as an effort to effect change, I’ve gotten business, and continued improvement in my content output as a writer.  If you want to write, and want a national platform, and would like to get better at your writing, the best shot you have is applying for Fault Lines.

If you want to give it a shot, here’s how to apply.

Verdict in the Legion of Doom Twitter Fight

Today, in case you hate fun and intelligent conversation, Andrew King, our resident prosecutor at Fault Lines, wrote a post defending the freedom of speech of both Milo Yiannopolous and the NJ Weedman.  It was one of those times King wrote something I didn’t want to excessively drink over, throw something, or punch him regarding.  He was right, and the post merits a good read.  What I took issue with was him calling the league of us Internet super villains the “Legion of Doom.”  Specifically, because he referred to Milo as “Lex Luther.” With hair no less.

Now I’m a DC neophyte, and I remember a timeline where Luthor (not “Luther”) had hair.  But I remembered a bit where the author of that storyline declared it non-cannon.  I called King out on his shit, and it turns out I have to give him at least some credit.  He knows his comic book references.  This time I was in the right.  I was sure of it.  And I needed a third party neutral to prove me right.  So I pooled my resources and got a comics shop owner who is a DC comics guru to issue a ruling.  The response was so classic it didn’t merit a Twitter response.  I had to share it here.  The owner didn’t just settle the debate, he did so in legalese form that was so hysterical it merited a blog post.

“Plaintiff Seaton wishes to prove the Alexander Luthor storyline non-cannon in the DC universe.  In doing so, Plaintiff fails to describe an accurate description of the word “cannon,” as DC has fucked themselves with cannon regularly. See “New 52,” and “Flashpoint.”  However, the Dollar Comics Universe regularly fucks itself in the ass with canonical resets and erasures. See “Hush,” for an example.”

“Defendant King wishes to prove the Alexander Luthor story is cannon. Technically, the New 52 and Flashpoint erases Defendant King’s argument since they render the Alexander Luthor story invalid.  Plaintiff Seaton has the better argument here, but I cannot ignore the will of the writers or the company when making this ruling.”

“Accordingly, the holding of this “judge,” (which I find hysterical, by the way), is that Plaintiff Seaton has failed to meet his standard of proof the Alexander Luthor storyline, buttressed by decades of DC cannon and only erased by stupid corporate moves, is not cannon.  Therefore, Defendant King wins, and the Internet Supervillain group called “The Legion of Doom” involving Milo Yiannopolous (who’s done more for free speech than most Americans) may be called as such.  This is remanded to both assholes for work consistent with my findings.   And the next time King and Seaton engage me in this I’m charging a consulting fee.”

So I publicly apologize to Andrew King for not getting comic book cannon right.  I was wrong.  I will admit it.  And you need to read Fault Lines to get any sort of understanding of why this debate is so important.

The Maggie McNeill Incident

When I write at Fault Lines I usually do so from a very serious perspective. This is because keeping the cracks in our criminal justice system visible and educating the public about the law is serious. When the weekend comes, we usually loosen our belts, let our hair down, and have fun. My mischief caught the attention of Maggie McNeill this week, and the whole story is a great lesson in communication.

Every Friday afternoon at Fault Lines I usually post something I find funny or interesting.  This week’s post was a “suggestion” we make it a felony should a car seat manufacturer create a child safety seat that’s so complex it requires a special certification or rocket science degree to install.  This happened because of an incident I experienced this week installing my son’s new ReCaro car seat and nearly devolved into a murderous rage over it.  Fault Lines gives me a national soapbox and a chance to tell some really bad jokes, so I made it a point to find a story about car seats being a “public health crisis” and suggest criminalizing every car seat manufacturer that produced a seat responsible for a death.

One of the nicer perks of being a Fault Lines contributor is that when someone links to my posts, I get an email notification.  This time it was from the Honest Courtesan blog, and the link stunned me a little bit.

“Solution to “public health crises” used to be vaccination; now it’s prison.”

This was not good.  I had to do something to instill a little clarity here.  Maggie McNeill is one of the most interesting people on the web, if you don’t read her work regularly.  She’s a writer, an academic, and a sex worker.  This is not someone you want to get into a fight with when it comes to criminalization of conduct in any way, shape, or form.  It’s not that I’m afraid of a good verbal spar with Maggie, I just know my limits and I know if I stray into certain areas (like sex work) with her, I’m probably going to be in for a twelve round, judges’ decision level fight.  I had to at least clue her in on the gig, so I tweeted Maggie and told her it was a joke.

About three PM Eastern she replies with an apology and says she had no idea Fault Lines posted anything but 100% dead serious content.  I respond by linking her my “Modest St. Paddy’s Day” proposal and showing her some of the reactions from last week’s skewering of Nick Fuhst’s conduct at a local Hooters.  My boss doesn’t exactly like it when I throw out puns, so I’d made it a point to write for my audience with those bits of business.

My editor did jump to my defense, and I appreciate his support sincerely.  Maggie’s blog is one of the cooler places on the web to go, and she’s quite accessible on social media.  I just had no desire to piss her off, so when I saw the link hit from the beginning I knew I’d have to take some action.

I also appreciate Maggie letting her readership know I’m not on the side of over-criminalization.  The fact this escaped her here, when she’s linked to my work in the past concerning kids and the way the system treats children, makes me wonder just what communication error was in play here.  She had the guts to tell me the joke bombed, which I respect, but did I really come across as someone who found such a drastic action worthy of legislative consideration?  Regardless, it’s definitely something I’m going to have to consider going forward as I write what we affectionately term our “Friday Funnies.”  It’s my one outlet for stand-up comedy since I don’t really do open mics consistently anymore, and I want to see Fault Lines’ readers end their weeks with a laugh and not wondering whether I support some creep’s behavior.

There’s good to come from all of this, though.   If you’re not following Maggie McNeill on Twitter, do so.  And read her blog, “The Honest Courtesan.”  If you’re coming here from Maggie’s socials and blog, do me a solid, follow me @clsesq on Twitter, @cls.esq on Instagram, and clsesq on Snapchat.  And sign up for Fault Lines’ newsletter, so you can see all my bad jokes at the end of the week in your email inbox.