How useful are guns in civilian hands for defending against “active shooters”? Not very much.

June 23, 2022 • 9:15 am

The common defense of gun ownership by private individuals is that “what stops armed bad guys is armed good guys”. (This is a quote from Ted Cruz). Such is the defense for much private gun ownership, and also now for the ridiculous movement to arm teachers to deter or kill school shooters. Of course if you include police and security guards as “armed good guys,” the mantra has more credibility, but the mantra is often used to justify gun ownership by private citizens.

A new article in the New York Times (click on headline below) tests whether the Cruz Mantra is a verity, at least as far as “active shootings” are concerned.

It turns out that the answer is that the “conventional wisdom” is wrong for active shooters. It’s also wrong for home invasions in general, as private gun ownership involves accidental deaths, or suicides, far more often than it stops (by shooting) individual altercations between innocent citizens and “bad guys”. But today we’re talking about “active shooters”.

What is an active shooter? The paper, drawing from data collected by the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State, collaborating with the FBI, defines active shooter attacks this way:

[Active shooter attacks are those] in which one or more shooters killed or attempted to kill multiple unrelated people in a populated place.

And they’re increasing—currently up to more than one a week. Here’s a figure from the NYT (all figures from the article) showing the number of active shooter attacks per year from 2011 to 2021. (According to the Washington Post, we’ve had 250 already in 2022; although their figures are for “mass shootings”, these seem the same as “active shootings”).

According to the data, there have been 433 active shooter attacks in the US from 2000-2021. What the figure below shows is how they ended, divided into two main groups: attacks that ended before police arrived (249) and those that ended after police arrived (184).Each of the two main divisions is further subdivided.

Click to enlarge:

 

Here are the lessons (bold headings and indented stuff are taken from the paper):

a.) Police officers shoot or physically subdue the shooter in less than a third of attacks. ”

Most events end before the police arrive, but police officers are usually the ones to end an attack if they get to the scene while it is ongoing.

Hunter Martaindale, director of research at the ALERRT Center, said the group has used the data to train law enforcement that “When you show up and this is going on, you are going to be the one to solve this problem.”

The average response time for police to get to the scene is very fast: three minutes. But this doesn’t mean that the cops themselves nearly always end the attack. Very often the shootings end when the attacker simply leaves the scene (not because he’s being shot at, kills himself, surrenders, or is subdued without guns.  These add up to 65% of total active shootings.

b.) The rate of suicide is extraordinarily high in these events. 110 of the 433 events ended with the attacker killing himself (there are a few women who carry out these attacks, but nearly all are by men). This is most likely either via “suicide by cop” or the result of a realization by the attacker that he’s going to be either caught or shot.

c.) When attacks are stopped by bystanders rather than security guards, cops, or off-duty cops, they are ended more often by physical force than by shootings.  Of 54 cases of attacks stopped by citizen bystanders, 42 of them—78%—were stopped by subduing rather than shooting the perp. Further, when attacks are stopped by shooting before police arrived, about half of them (10/22, or 45%) are stopped by security guards or off-duty cops than by citizens.

d.) When attacks are ended by the shooting of the attacker, the vast majority of time it’s by a police officer, on or off duty, or a security guard.  The number of attacks shopped by shooting the perp were 120. Of these, 12, or 10%, were stopped by citizen shooters. But 12 is only 2.7% of all active shootings that were ended.

Conclusion (from me): When mass shootings are stopped, only a very small percentage are stopped via shooting by armed citizens who are not cops or security guards. And attacks stopped by private citizens were most likely to be stopped by subduing him than by shooting him (42/54, or 78%; this drops to 66% if you include “bystander” cops or security guards.

But taking all the ways that active shootings could end, including the shooter leaving the scene (most are captured later), suicide, or subduing the shooter, only 2.8% of them are stopped by private citizens shooting perps (12/433). Ergo, Ted Cruz is wrong: in these mass shootings, at least, it’s not the “armed good guys” (implying private citizens) but other forces, tactics, and people (including cops) who stop the shootings. 

I have no objection to cops or security guards carrying guns; I do have objections to private citizens carrying or owning guns. In most cases these lead to the death of innocent people more often than to the extirpation of “bad guys.”

I’ll end with a couple of quotes from the article:

“It’s direct, indisputable, empirical evidence that this kind of common claim that ‘the only thing that stops a bad guy with the gun is a good guy with the gun’ is wrong,” said Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama, who has studied mass shootings for more than a decade. “It’s demonstrably false, because often they are stopping themselves.”

. . . But armed bystanders shooting attackers was not common in the data — 22 cases out of 433. In 10 of those, the “good guy” was a security guard or an off-duty police officer.

“The actual data show that some of these kind of heroic, Hollywood moments of armed citizens taking out active shooters are just extraordinarily rare,” Mr. Lankford said.

In fact, having more than one armed person at the scene who is not a member of law enforcement can create confusion and carry dire risks. An armed bystander who shot and killed an attacker in 2021 in Arvada, Colo., was himself shot and killed by the police, who mistook him for the gunman.

Now remember that this post (and the article) is about “active shooters,” which seem roughly equivalent to “mass shooters”. We’re not talking about home invasions or private confrontations between people. And at least in this case, almost no benefit is derived from arming citizens. When you compare that to the down side of arming citizens, the Ted Cruz defense falls to pieces.

What’s the deal with San Francisco?

June 9, 2022 • 9:45 am

I used to say that if I could live in any place in America, my first two choices would be Boston (actually, Cambridge) and San Francisco. I go back to Boston yearly, but haven’t been to San Francisco in ages.  From what I read about it, it’s gone downhill: crime-ridden and full of druggies and homeless people.

I took all this as true until I read the three articles below in recent issues of The Atlantic. It turns out that crime (at least major crime) hasn’t gone up much, if at all, although statistics for crimes like drug possession and shoplifting, because they’re not prosecuted so often, may be rising.

But the main problem, and all three articles agree on this, is homelessness, which isn’t so much a source of crime as a source of anxiety for San Francisco’s residents. This discomfort may, as the articles below suggest, be responsible for this week’s defenestration of San Francisco’s district attorney Chesa Boudin, who vowed when elected to reform the criminal justice system in the city. He’s a Democrat, and you can’t get a more Democratic city than San Francisco, so his recall (by a vote of over 60%) can’t be blamed on Republicans.

It’s instructive to read all three pieces since they agree on so much. Click to read (although you may find them paywalled as there’s a “free read limit”):

 

First, what did Boudin do as D.A.? From Lowrey:

Boudin has ended cash bail; ceased prosecuting cases in which the evidence came from “pretextual” traffic stops, such as when a police officer pulls over a car for a broken taillight and ends up booking the driver after finding drugs; stopped using “enhancements” that add years to the sentences of gang members; quit using the state’s “three strikes” law; filed charges against a San Francisco police officer accused of brutality; instituted a commission to identify and overturn wrongful convictions; cut the number of young people incarcerated in half and reduced the pretrial jail population. He has also expanded the use of diversion and restorative-justice programs.

That doesn’t seem so bad; it seems “progressive” in the right sense. But it gives the voters someone to blame.

Bowles:

Under Boudin, prosecutors in the city could no longer use the fact that someone had been convicted of a crime in the past to ask for a longer sentence, except in “extraordinary circumstances.” Boudin ended cash bail and limited the use of gang enhancements, which allow harsher sentences for gang-related felonies. In most cases he prohibited prosecutors from seeking charges when drugs and guns were found during minor traffic stops. “We will not charge cases determined to be a racist pretextual stop that leads to recovery of contraband,” Rachel Marshall, the district attorney’s director of communications, told me.

Boudin is a big proponent of “collaborative courts” that focus on rehabilitation over jail time, such as Veterans Justice Court and Behavioral Health Court, and under his tenure they tried more cases than ever before. In 2018, less than 40 percent of petty-theft cases were sent to these programs, compared with more than 70 percent last year.

Yet the effect of these changes on crime rates is debatable, and major crime doesn’t seem to have risen under Boudin.

Lowrey:

In San Francisco, the number of murders increased from 2019 to 2021, with the homicide rate jumping 37 percent. But San Francisco has had 41 to 58 murders a year for the past decade-plus, save for 2012, when there were 68. The years of 2019, 2020, and 2021 all fell in that narrow band. The city has a similar murder rate to that of Omaha, Nebraska; and St. Paul, Minnesota. Deaths by homicide occur at roughly a quarter of the rate they do in neighboring Oakland.

Since Boudin has been in office, reported rates of violent crime in general have decreased, with the number of rapes and assaults falling well below their pre-pandemic levels. But hate crimes against the city’s Asian residents have soared, according to the police department. The city continues to have relatively high rates of property crime, and the pandemic seems to have shifted criminal activity away from touristy areas to residential ones. More people are getting their cars stolen and apartments broken into, while fewer people are getting their bags snatched.

All these numbers—local and national—come with some degree of uncertainty. Crime data are patchy and subject to significant lags. “We can tell you how many chickens were sold last week across the country,” Jennifer Doleac, an economist at Texas A&M University, told me. “But we have no idea how many homicides there were.”

On the other hand, petty crime statistics are harder to suss out. Shoplifting has clearly risen since it’s been made a misdemeanor in the city and police simply don’t respond to calls for shoplifting. As Bowles notes, “About 70 percent of shoplifting cases in San Francisco ended in an arrest in 2011. In 2021, only 15 percent did.”  This has resulted in many stores simply locking up their wares, so—like here in Chicago—if you want to buy toothpaste or deodorant, you have to find an employee to unlock a cabinet for you. Toothpaste!  This gives a sense of a city in decline, with the quality of life plummeting.

And that gets to the theses of all three articles: Boudin’s recall can’t be pinned on a real increase in major crimes but on at least six different things:

  • perception of increase in major crime that isn’t justified
  • A perceived decrease of quality of life in the city
  • The ubiquity of homeless people (4,400 sleep on the street nightly), which also causes people to see a decrease in the quality of life. For example, near City Hall is a plaza where drug addicts can shoot up, buy drugs, and get clean needles and food. People are lying around insensate, and in other parts of the city people lie dead for days without any response. Again, the sense of quality-of-life decline is exacerbated
  • A simple incompetence of Boudin and his associates at dealing with these issues, simply assuring residents that everything’s all right.
  • A conflation of homelessness with criminality (homelessness is not a crime).
  • Boudin could have been a scapegoat of the pandemic, with people staying inside and then assuming that it’s unsafe, crimewise, to go out. Also, people are in general more peevish during the pandemic, and that leads them to look for someone to blame.

Here’s one example from Bowles:

One day, [resident Jaqui] Berlinn was out looking for Corey in the Tenderloin neighborhood when she came across someone else’s son. “He was naked in front of Safeway … And he was saying he was God and he was eating a cardboard box.”

She called the police. Officers arrived but said there was nothing they could do; he said he didn’t want help, and he wasn’t hurting anyone. “They said it’s not illegal to be naked; people are in the Castro naked all the time … They just left him naked eating cardboard on the street in front of Safeway.”

What happened to the man at the Safeway, what happened to Dustin Walker—these are parables of a sort of progressive-libertarian nihilism, of the belief that any intervention that has to be imposed on a vulnerable person is so fundamentally flawed and problematic that the best thing to do is nothing at all.

All three articles give the sense that the city and Boudin didn’t care about perceptions, and even if some perceptions don’t reflect reality, they still have to be addressed. This has resulted in the claim that Boudin is incompetent.

Lowrey:

Perhaps [progressive prosecutor Brooke Jenkins’s] strongest argument was that Boudin simply isn’t good at the job. Half the lawyers working for him have quit, retired, or been fired. She personally decided to quit after he declined to hear her out on not accepting the insanity plea of a defendant who had murdered his mother. “He never requested to meet with me via Zoom or any other mechanism,” she said. “He never requested to see the file to review.” She declined to go to court to enter into the agreement. “That was a level of irresponsibility and recklessness that I wasn’t going to participate in,” she said.

Boudin has also shown himself to be less than adept at the political role he’s taken on as D.A. He’s arguing with his own constituents about their lived experience. He’s sniping at the mayor and feuding with the police force. I can’t remember interviewing a politician who seemed less politic. I asked if there was a crime wave in San Francisco, and he said the question was in some sense fundamentally unanswerable, before citing the police statistics showing that crime had gone down. I asked if it was a problem that so many prosecutors had left his office, and he

Friedersdorf:

But Henry Grabar argues that voters aren’t motivated by crime as much as homelessness:

Crime and homelessness are not, in fact, the same issue at all. They are not meaningfully correlated; they do not share causes; they do not share solutions. But in both San Francisco and Los Angeles, Democrats’ inability to address the homelessness crisis is going to cost them generational progress on criminal justice, as the forces for reforming the police go into retreat.

It’s tough to watch. Reformers like Boudin (and the left wing of the Democratic Party generally) are right on principle and in practice to dismantle the system of unaccountable police, cash bail, and long prison terms for petty offenses. But they’re going to lose their chance to make it happen, because Democratic leaders have proved themselves so inept in confronting an issue that can easily be conflated with crime.

Bowles:

What happened to the man at the Safeway, what happened to Dustin Walker—these are parables of a sort of progressive-libertarian nihilism, of the belief that any intervention that has to be imposed on a vulnerable person is so fundamentally flawed and problematic that the best thing to do is nothing at all. Anyone offended by the sight of the suffering is just judging someone who’s having a mental-health episode, and any liberal who argues that the state can and should take control of someone in the throes of drugs and psychosis is basically a Republican. If and when the vulnerable person dies, that was his choice, and in San Francisco we congratulate ourselves on being very accepting of that choice.

I’m just the messenger here, as I haven’t seen the city in ages, but the agreement of three writers with different politics is striking. My own take is that Democrats, especially progressive ones, must address the voter’s perceptions as well as the facts. One way, of course, is to dispel the misperceptions with facts, but Boudin seems to be so bumbling that he couldn’t even do that. This would also apply to the hay Republicans are making of Democrats’ supposed fondness for teaching Critical Race Theory in classes. Insofar as that’s exaggerated, it needs to be addressed. But of course there are some cases where CRT infusion has gone too far, and one anecdote can overwhelm a lot of abstract argument.

In the case of the SF school board, three of whose members were recalled by voters, there was more tangible cause: the kerfuffle about renaming schools that were named after people like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. That’s insane (the idea was ultimately shelved), and I would have voted those people, out too. (Remember, SF voters are mostly Democrats.) Bowles details other missteps of the city school board.

Of all three writers, only Bowles has suggestions about how to fix the city: the subtitle of her article is about how San Francisco could recover.  But here she has little to offer. She extols the beauty of the city, which will remain, but her suggestion is simply “more rage and recalls”.  That may work, and we may be seeing signs of voters getting fed up with “progressive” liberal reforms, but this is not a suggestion that needs to be read, pondered, and adopted: it will, if it happens, happen of its own accord:

For so long, San Francisco has been too self-satisfied to address the slow rot in every one of its institutions. But nothing’s given me more hope than the rage and the recalls. “San Franciscans feel ashamed,” Michelle Tandler told me. “I think for the first time people are like, ‘Wait, what is a progressive? … Am I responsible? Is this my fault?’”

San Franciscans are now saying: We can want a fairer justice system and also want to keep our car windows from getting smashed. And: It’s not white supremacy to hope that the schools stay open, that teachers teach children, and, yes, that they test to see what those kids have learned.

San Franciscans tricked themselves into believing that progressive politics required blocking new construction and shunning the immigrants who came to town to code. We tricked ourselves into thinking psychosis and addiction on the sidewalk were just part of the city’s diversity, even as the homelessness and the housing prices drove out the city’s actual diversity. Now residents are coming to their senses. The recalls mean there’s a limit to how far we will let the decay of this great city go. And thank God.

Because Herb Caen was right. It’s still the most beautiful city you’ll ever see.

And for me, Boston has moved into the #1 slot for the city I’d most like to live in. (It’s cheaper, too.)

 

U of C students continue calls to abolish the campus police after three murders of students and a new incident when a man fired at a cop

February 11, 2022 • 12:45 pm

I swear, there is no sight more ridiculous than a group of college students demanding to abolish a campus police department right after cop shoots a guy in self defense after the perp started shooting at the cop!   And this is a particularly sad but egregious case, because the perp was walking down the street waving a handgun, shooting it in the air . And then he started firing at a campus cop when the cop pulled up and demanded that the guy drop to the ground. It turns out the perp was mentally ill and off his meds, and was out on a declared mission to commit “suicide by cop.” He wanted that violence. And yet the students blame the cops!

And all of this is happening in an academic year when three of our own students were killed off campus by robbers or after being hit in other gunfights  It’s been the worst year for off-campus violence in the 36 years I’ve been here. Yet student calls to abolish the campus cops (note: not defund them—ABOLISH them) get more persistent. 

I happened upon the most recent incident about an hour after the shooting described below took place. I was going to get fruit and veg, but four or five blocks around the small shopping center had been rendered off-limits with yellow tape, and cops were everywhere. When I asked one what had happened, he wouldn’t tell me (this laconic response, which is probably the legal response, is common). But the story was on the news that night, and an account appeared in our increasingly woke student newspaper, The Chicago Maroon (I will make no puns here). Here’s the account (click on screenshot):

 

The details:

A man was wounded in a shootout with the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) late Tuesday morning near the intersection of East 53rd Street and South Woodlawn Avenue.

A UCPD officer encountered the man carrying a handgun near 53rd and Woodlawn at 11:43 a.m. on Tuesday, according to an email sent to the University community by Eric Heath, the University’s associate vice president for safety and security.

According to University reports, the officer stopped his vehicle to investigate, after which the man fired shots and the officer ordered him to get on the ground. The individual then came in the direction of the officer, who fired his weapon and struck the individual twice in the thigh, Heath wrote in the email. Chicago Police Department (CPD) units were called to the scene soon after, according to police scanner reports.

According to a follow-up email sent by Heath on Wednesday, UCPD supplied the individual with medical aid before taking him into custody and bringing him to the University of Chicago Medical Center. The man is currently in critical condition, according to Heath’s second email.

Heath’s email stated that no one else was injured in the incident.

CPD and the University are both conducting investigations into the event. “Preliminary evidence indicates that the suspect began firing shots before he reached the intersection, and also fired at the officer,” a University spokesperson told The Maroon.

You can see some video here (note that the bodycam video starts 30 seconds in as there is a time delay):

On Wednesday, UCPD released videos of the shooting taken from the officer’s body camera and two security cameras at Kimbark Plaza. The body camera footage indicates that the officer fired three shots before the individual can be seen advancing, then two shots that struck the man. The officer then moved behind a parked vehicle and fired another four shots. At the end of the video, the man is seen on the ground.

The perp is identified as Rysheen Wilson.

And a walk-through of the videos by the Hyde Park Herald is here.  If you watch them, the beginning of the altercation is a bit unclear because the bodycam hadn’t started, but other evidence recently presented by the State’s Attorney shows that the suspect fired at the officer first, and only then did the officer take refuge behind a wall, order the suspect to get to the ground, and then shoot him when the man continued firing at the cop. The man was, as noted above, given medical aid and taken to the U of C hospital. He’s no longer in critical condition, and has been charged, among other things, with attempted murder of a police officer. (If Wilson is convicted, that will pretty much bring him a life sentence

The Chicago Sun-Times article (below) notes that the perp himself, before he went traipsing down the street waving his gun, called 911 and told the City of Chicago Police that he had a gun and wanted to commit “suicide by cop” (i.e., provoke the cops to shoot him). It’s pretty clear that the guy has some serious mental issues—watch some of the video when he’s dancing around waving the pistol:

The article shows that Wilson did suffer from serious mental problems. This is a tragedy, because perhaps if he’d stayed on his meds he might not have provoked this incident. But we can’t hold Wilson innocent, nor especially hold the cops culpable, when a mentally ill person begins shooting at police and the cops shoot back:

Wilson, 27, was “having mental issues” when he called his cousin Tuesday morning and told him where he was, Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy said in court. The cousin found him crying and talking about killing himself, Murphy said.

Wilson — who suffers from schizophrenia, PTSD and mood swings — was off his medication, Murphy said.

Wilson ran away from his cousin, pulled out a gun and called 911, Murphy said, telling the dispatcher his name, giving a description of what he was wearing and where he was.

The University of Chicago cop didn’t know about the 911 call, and the incident occurred when the patrolling officer drove by the man waving his gun. Nor, of course, did the officer know that Wilson was mentally ill—not that it would (or should) have made a difference in the cop’s behavior.

[Officer Nicholas] Twardak was driving down the street and saw Wilson pointing a gun at him and slowed down, Murphy said. As the officer stepped out his squad car, Wilson allegedly opened fire at Twardak.

The officer ran for cover toward parked cars on the other side of the street, and then moved to the front porch of a brick home as Wilson continued firing, Murphy said. Using the brick stoop as cover, the officer fired at Wilson, then repeatedly ordered Wilson to get on the ground, Murphy said.

Wilson moved toward the officer’s squad car in the middle of the street, and the officer fired at Wilson again and struck him, Murphy said. Wilson suffered two gunshot wounds to the thigh, two to the lower leg and one to the groin.

As Twardak approached, Wilson said he “wanted to bleed out,” Murphy said.

Three witnesses saw the shooting unfold, including a person in a car in Wilson’s line of fire. She reversed the car and then noticed bullet holes in her windshield and hood, Murphy said.

The sad irony of this is that officer Twardak was also involved in a 2018 incident when he shot (but didn’t kill) a mentally ill student who was having a breakdown and, after breaking windows and bashing up cars, charged the cop with a metal stake. Again ordered to drop the stake, the student continued to rush the cop and the cop defended himself shooting the student in the shoulder. I feel bad for everybody here, but one should also have sympathy for the cop instead of characterizing him as a serial shooter, as some students have done.  As far as I can see in both cases, the cop had no choice but to defend himself.

Those facts nonwithstanding, the organization #CareNotCops has increased the volume of its cry to “defund the U of C police”.  Their object, as you can see from the hashtag, is to argue that proper therapy and mental-illness treatment is a good substitute for police.  But not in this case, and not in the three cases of our murdered students this year—all killed by people outside the University community. Of course it’s possible that, at least in the 2018 case, therapy might have prevented the nonfatal shooting. But the victim, Charles Thomas, did not seek therapy, and went on to commit other crimes. He’s left the University but has completed a program that keeps him out of jail. Thomas’s lawsuit that he was shot in violation of regulations was dismissed.

And so a band of badly misguided students are blaming the police, and seeking their disbanding, in response to an increase in violence against students that could not possibly be stopped by “care”. What kind of crazy world do these students live in?

Here’s a Maroon article on the latest campus rally to protest the shooting of the guy who wanted to commit “suicide by cop” (click on screenshot):

Check out this logic:

#CareNotCops (CNC), a student group dedicated to the abolition of the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) in favor of investing in South Side communities and mental health services, gathered on the main quad in front of Levi Hall at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, February 4, to protest the recent shooting of community member Rhysheen Wilson by a UCPD officer.

Fourth-year CNC organizer Alicia Hurtado began the rally by giving a speech calling for the abolition of UCPD. They asserted that far too many UCPD encounters with community members result in “escalation, violence, and criminalization.”

Hurtado spoke out against the increased patrols and surveillance that the University instituted in response to 24-year-old recent UChicago graduate Shaoxiong “Dennis” Zheng being shot and killed during an attempted robbery at 956 East 54th Place on November 9.

“When the University announced their expansion of their private armed police force, I knew that it only had one predictable outcome,” Hurtado said. “That outcome was not safety or an answer to gun violence.”

The students want safety (see the Maroon article below) but when a student gets killed during a robbery, they get angry at the subsequent increase in policing. What on earth do they want? Patrolling therapists? (Click on screenshot):

Next, Hopie Melton, a third-year CNC member, read a statement on behalf of Students for Disability Justice (SDJ), an advocacy organization that promotes disability activism and discussion within the University community and Chicagoland. The organization said that UCPD and emergency dispatchers are not properly trained to handle mental health crises and unnecessarily escalate many confrontations as a result. SDJ also demanded that the University further invest in mental health services.

“[UCPD] responds to every situation with the same heavy-handed, violent approach, leaving behind the people that need our help the most,” Melton said, reading the statement. “Our Black neighbors are under constant surveillance. Our mad and neurodivergent neighbors are judged and have been pathologized for their differences. Our disabled neighbors are under constant threat, and UChicago acts as a further disabling force.”

This is, as John McWhorter notes, the voice of religion.

No, the two mentally ill people WERE ATTACKING THE CAMPUS POLICE OFFICERS, one with a metal stake and the other with a gun. How would proper mental health training of cops have changed that situation?

Now of course with mental health problems among young people rising rapidly, it behooves any school to ensure that proper therapy is in place. College is a stressful time. But it also behooves the students to develop some sense about how the world works. When a guy is trying to kill you with a gun, you don’t yell at him, “Go home and take your meds!”

Jussie Smollett found guilty on 5 of 6 felony charges

December 9, 2021 • 5:40 pm

Yes, it’s breaking news: a jury in Chicago just found Jussie Smollett guilty on five of six counts of felony disorderly conduct for faking a report of a hate crime that he concocted against himself. (He was acquitted on one charge.)

In class 4 felonies like this, the judge can sentence Smollett to up to 3 years imprisonment and $25,000 in fines on each count, with sentences to run consecutively or concurrently. Maximum sentence would thus be 15 years in jail and a $125,000 fine, but that won’t happen. In fact, I’m not sure that Smollett will see the inside of prison at all.

Smollett isn’t out of the woods yet, as Chicago is suing him in civil court for $140,000 to recover the costs of the police investigation.

I was correct again, but you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to see this coming.

Aside from the sentencing, this is the last time I’ll mention Juicy unless he pulls another stunt.

Three found guilty of murder in Ahmaud Arbery case

November 24, 2021 • 1:38 pm

I hope that those people who beefed about the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse as an instance of white supremacy will mute their cries that there’s no justice for black people, for this afternoon there was a verdict that, as far as I can see, was eminently just.

An innocent black man, Ahmaud Arbery, was shot to death in Georgia by one of three white men who were practicing vigilante justice with no cause other than the Arbery’s race. They said they were attempting a “citizen’s arrest” when Arbery, who had no weapon, tried to grab one of the vigilantes’ guns, and was himself gunned down. But there was video, and it didn’t support their story. All three men were convicted this afternoon. 

The convicted murderers, Travis McMichael, 35; his father, Gregory McMichael, 65; and their neighbor William Bryan, 52, will likely get life in prison. And that’s just the beginning for them, for that was just a trial in state court.  The trio also face federal charges: hate crimes and attempted kidnapping. That trial will begin in February

Not all of them were convicted on all counts though. From the NYT:

The jury has found Travis McMichael, the man who shot Ahmaud Arbery, guilty on all nine counts, including malice murder and felony murder.

The jury has found Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael’s father, not guilty of malice murder, but guilty of all other counts he faces, including felony murder.

The jury has found William Bryan, who filmed the fatal encounter with Ahmaud Arbery, not guilty of malice murder. He was found not guilty of one count of felony murder and one count of aggravated assault, but guilty of three counts of felony murder and three other charges.

I predicted this result, but it wasn’t hard to do. Although the murderers claimed that Arbery was a burglar, pointing to video of him wandering inside a house under construction, he didn’t steal anything. (I used to wander into houses like that when I was a kid.) And the video clearly showed the three men pursuing Arbery, who was running away from them.  It’s fairly clear that he was being pursued because he was black.

Condolences to Arbery’s family, who had to sit through the whole trial, and no pity for the other three. The verdict and sentencing will hopefully be a deterrent to others like them, and perhaps the miscreants will some day reform, but surely now they need to be removed from society.

Catholic magazine accepts article exculpating Jerry Sandusky, then rejects it because it didn’t want the Church to deal with accusations of pedophilia

August 16, 2021 • 11:15 am

In January, 2018, I reported how Fred Crews, former chair of English at UC Berkeley, had published an article in Skeptic Magazine that cast strong doubt on the conviction of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky for child abuse. Sandusky has been in prison since 2012, convicted, as Wikipedia notes, of “eight counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, seven counts of indecent assault, one count of criminal intent to commit indecent assault, nine counts of unlawful contact with minors, 10 counts of corruption of minors and 10 counts of endangering the welfare of children.” He was sentenced to 30-60 years in jail, which is a life sentence for a 77-year old man.

The “evidence” as reported in the press convinced nearly everyone (including me) that Sandusky was guilty. But then I read Fred’s article, which itself mirrored a book on the thin evidence by Mark Pendergrast, The Most Hated Man in America: Jerry Sandusky and the Rush to JudgmentKnowing that Fred was scrupulous in dealing with evidence, and that the evidence against Sandusky was, to put it mildly, very weak or even fabricated, I wrote a post calling for that evidence to be reexamined, which could lead to a new trial. As I recall, readers were mixed in their views, but many of them considered Sandusky absolutely guilty, and some felt that one shouldn’t even bring up the case, as it involved pedophilia and Sandusky must have been guilty to be convicted.

Well, I think that if you feel that way, you should read the piece on Medium below, a longer exposition of the Sandusky case by Fred. I won’t summarize it, as my letter endorsing its publication (also below) points out the weak spots in the case.

Fred then condensed the article for publication in a widely-read venue (“Saint Sandusky”, below) and, as you can imagine, had trouble placing it in any magazine or website. Finally, though, someone decided to publish it, and it does deserve to be published. If you want the short-form defense of Sandusky, read the following:

The place that accepted it, curiously, was the Catholic magazine First Things, and I was glad that these issues were finally going to get a public airing. At the very least, there are serious flaws in the case against Sandusky that need to be heard. Surely we all agree that everyone deserves a fair trial, and if the facts adduced in “Saint Sandusky” be true, Sandusky’s trial wasn’t fair.

After Fred submitted the article above to First Things, I, along with several others, wrote a blurb endorsing “Saint Sandusky”‘s publication.  But then the magazine got cold feet, and First Things bailed. They cancelled the publication of “Saint Sandusky.” That sad story of journalistic cowardice is recounted in a short piece by Fred at Medium, the “2 min read” below:

An excerpt from “The Unspeakable Sandusky”:

. . . Sandusky, now 77 years old, has been imprisoned since 2012, but he still insists on his innocence, and–believe it or not–there isn’t a shred of credible evidence that he ever molested anyone. Indeed, it is now known that he was physically as well as morally incapable of doing so.

Since Sandusky first began to be demonized in the press, 14 months before his trial, no print magazine has published a single word in his defense. Until recently, I hit the same wall myself when trying to place an essay detailing the many troubling aspects of the case. My luck seemed to change, though, in December 2020 when an editor at the conservative religious magazine First Things solicited my essay, provocatively titled “Saint Sandusky?” Although I am neither conservative nor religious, I found a tolerant atmosphere among the staff. The article was scheduled for publication on July 9, 2021, in the magazine’s August/September number.

Anticipating outrage and canceled subscriptions, the editors asked me to gather favorable opinions that could be posted online to cushion the blow. Easily done. In circulating my drafts to friends and acquaintances, I had already accumulated many heartfelt endorsements. First Things intended to post statements submitted by Noam Chomsky, Elizabeth Loftus, Carol Tavris, and Jerry Coyne among others. But those testimonials didn’t appear, because . . . the article didn’t, either.

First Things is a vehicle of the Institute on Religion and Public Life. At the eleventh hour, as the mortified editors informed me, the institute’s Catholic board canceled publication of my article. Perhaps you can guess the reason: the Church has a pedophilia problem, and Jerry Sandusky is assumed to be a pedophile. It was thought best to avoid any association, however remote, between Catholicism and his cause.

Now you may ask yourself “How was Sandusky physically incapable of molesting children”?  This is what the article has to say:

But Jerry had another, even more telling, medical deficit that would have forestalled priapic feats. He had been born with vestigial testicles that left him almost devoid of testosterone and, necessarily, less interested in sex than other men. That is one reason among several that no pornography was found in his possession; he was closer to a eunuch than a satyr. Revealingly, his conspicuous deformity went unremarked by every “victim,” including all thirty-six who would eventually divide Penn State’s settlement pie of $118 million.

It’s unthinkable that the lawyers didn’t make a big deal of this in his trial, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered. If ever there was a rush to judgment, it was the Jerry Sandusky trial. You can’t even get the counterevidence published!

First Things‘s acceptance and then rejection is cowardice, pure and simple, and so Fred had to place “Saint Sandusky” on Medium as well. Fred’s comment on this pusillanimous site:

To my mind, this timidity is sadly ironic. Sweeping sexual abuse under the rug has been routine policy for the Church, and it has only magnified the worldwide scandal of predation and hypocrisy among the anointed. Moreover, we know that some priests have been falsely accused by fortune seekers–an exact parallel to the Sandusky case, as my essay shows. And finally, Jerry Sandusky himself happens to be a devout Methodist. The editors of First Things had supplied their guardians with every reason to believe that a man of faith has been wrongly incarcerated, but that consideration was overruled by image polishing. As I wrote to the editors, “Your board is Catholic, but it isn’t Christian.”

I’ll reproduce below the letter I wrote in support of the publication of “Saint Sandusky” in First Things, which gives some idea of the holes in the case:

Response to “Saint Sandusky”

Jerry Coyne

Although Jerry Sandusky’s conviction for pedophilia is universally accepted, until I read Frederick Crews’s “Saint Sandusky” I had no idea how thin the evidence for that verdict is. The legal conviction, as well  as the public’s firm view of Sandusky’s guilt, now appears to be based on a variety of evidence—all of it questionable. Much of the testimony from accusers is based on the discredited technique of recovered memory therapy, in which psychologists or psychiatrists, whose diagnoses are predetermined, induce people to remember things that didn’t happen by planting suggestions in their mind. Further, the evidence of Sandusky’s accusers was inconsistent, with some even asserting that Sandusky never engaged in a pedophilic act, but later changing their minds under pressure. The inconsistency extends to the timeline itself, with discrepancies of nearly a year in when Sandusky’s acts are said to have occurred. Some testimony was retracted but the retractions were ignored. And there was also an explicit pecuniary motive, with some accusers deciding to testify after a huge payday from Penn State was in view. Further, police questioning of accusers was hardly “neutral,” with the police telling them before questioning that Sandusky had been ascertained to be a pedophile.

Crews’s narrative shows that the conviction of Sandusky was a put-up job, confected by the desire of police, prosecutors, therapists, and Penn State itself to get Sandusky into prison as soon as possible.

While Sandusky may indeed be guilty of the crimes of which he’s accused, it’s clear that the investigation of his alleged pedophilia was motivated not by a desire to find the truth but to convict him.  As for a fair trial, forget it.  While one can’t judge Sandusky’s guilt or innocence from Crews’s article, the article makes a compelling case that Sandusky didn’t receive justice in any sense. Justice can be dispensed only with a retrial or a hard-nosed legal review of the record. Unless that happens, Sandusky will sit in prison until he dies.

But don’t take my word for it, read either of the first two links above and judge for yourself if there was a miscarriage of justice.

Should police and the media release the ethnicity of unapprehended criminal suspects?

June 13, 2021 • 12:30 pm

To me the answer to the question above is a no-brainer: “Of course.” If someone who did a crime is on the loose, then anything that might help apprehend him (most criminals are men) could be useful. That includes height, weight, presence of glasses, facial hair, clothing, and ethnicity. In fact, of all of these identifiers, ethnicity is the hardest to change if you’re fleeing the cops.

And yet the media often (as in this case) quails at specifying the ethnicity of perps, as if somehow that would lead to stereotyping. But I don’t see how it could, unless it simply reinforces those bigots who would say, “See, another X did a crime.” But bigots don’t become more bigoted that way, and it seems to me that the advantage of helping police apprehend a criminal outweighs any considerations of reinforcing racism.

In fact, in this case the newspaper at issue refused to report any identifying information (though clearly race was the hot button) even though the cops already had. And they explained that they left out the information because it might “reinforce stereotypes.” Right then and there you know the criminal is black or Hisptanic.

The incident was the mass shooting in Austin Texas on Friday night, a shooting that injured 30 people, two critically. Here’s the first report (now archived) of two suspects on the loose from the Austin American-Statesman (click on screenshot)

Notice that this was published Saturday morning.  At the bottom of the article, however, is this “editor’s note”:

But in fact the description isn’t too vague to help cops apprehend the suspect, or the public to identify him.  Below is the bulletin issued yesterday morning by the Austin Police Department with the “vague description of the suspected shooter” (click on screenshot). It’s not that vague, and says that one suspect is “described as a black male, with dread locks [sic], wearing a black shirt and a skinny build.”  Surely this is of value in helping apprehend somebody. If someone is caught but doesn’t have dreadlocks, it would be easy to find out if he had them right before the shooting.

The paper clearly saw the police report, which came out the same day as the article above, and I strongly suspect that the paper didn’t describe the one suspect (not yet apprehended when the article came out) not because of vagueness, but because the suspect was an African-American. In fact, I know this is the reason because the newspaper says so: publication of the description “could be harmful in perpetuating stereotypes.”  As I said, this is a strong clue that the suspect is either black or Hispanic, so the disclaimer above is doubly ludicrous.

Here’s the police report.

When the suspect was arrested, a later report in the paper (curiously, with the same time of filing) still does not give details of who the suspect is (which is now less relevant except for those who keep track of race). But it has exactly the same disclaimer at the bottom! That makes even less sense.

While there’s no pressing need for a paper to describe someone who’s apprehended, I highly doubt that they’re withholding information because it could “perpetuate harmful stereotypes.” Instead, they’re withholding it because they think the paper will look racist if it identifies an apprehended suspect as an African American.

And their claim that “We will update our reporting” goes up there with “the check is in the mail” as One Big Lie. Remember, we’re talking about a mass shooter here, not a shoplifter or petty burglar.

The updated report:

I’ve seen the unwillingness to identify the ethnicity of unapprehended suspects in other media reports, but that often involves simply omitting identifying details rather than making an explicit statement about why they’re doing it.

We’ve come to a pretty pass when the fear of being called “racist” is so strong that it keeps journalists from giving information that might reduce crime. But sometimes criminal justice must outweigh social justice, particularly when the latter is—as it is here—misguided.

Life without parole: man receives “third strike” sentence for possessing more than an ounce of pot

May 14, 2021 • 12:00 pm

Reader Ken sent me this article from the Associated Press (click on screenshot) which shows how brutally insensitive the prison system is in America—at least in Mississippi and other “three strikes” states. Those are states in which, if you’re convicted of three successive felonies (one of which in Mississippi must be a “violent offense”), they lock you up for life and throw away the key. You’ll leave prison only in a box. You cannot get probation, and the governor cannot parole you.

It recounts the story of Allen Russell, aged 38, who received his third felony conviction for possessing between 44 and 80 grams of marijuana—more than 30 grams, an ounce—is a felony). Before that, Russell served 8 years for two home burglaries and was released from prison in 2014. This was not a violent offense, though now all burglaries are considered “violent offenses.”.  Then felony #2: Russell was found in possession of a weapon as a convicted felon. For that he served two years.

Finally, on November 29, 2017, Russell was arrested for carrying somewhere between 44 and 80 grams of marijuana, which is a felony since the amount exceeded 30 grams.

Under state law, Russell was then sentenced, after the third “strike”, to life in prison without possibility of parole.  He appealed the sentence, saying that it was “cruel and unusual punishment and is grossly disproportionate” to possessing a smallish amount of marijuana.

But in their opinion, which you can find here, the court appears to have been split 4-3), they majority said that he wasn’t being sentenced for the marijuana alone, but because he was a “habitutal offender,” and thus subject to Mississippi law, which remains in force.

Here’s a bit of the majority opinion (my emphasis):

The jury convicted Russell of possession of marijuana in an amount greater than 30 grams but less than 250 grams. During the sentencing hearing, the State presented evidence of Russell’s prior felony convictions. In April 2004, Russell pled guilty to two separate charges of burglary of a dwelling and received two concurrent fifteen-year sentences in MDOC’s custody. The State presented evidence that Russell served eight years, seven months, and three days on each charge for burglary of a dwelling before being released from prison in February 2014. In October 2015, Russell then pled guilty to possession of a weapon by a convicted felon and received a ten-year sentence in MDOC’s custody, with two years to serve, eight years suspended, and five years of post-release supervision. Based on the State’s proof of Russell’s two prior felony convictions, the circuit court found Russell to be a violent habitual offender and sentenced him to life imprisonment without eligibility for probation or parole. Russell unsuccessfully moved for a new trial or, alternatively, a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Aggrieved, Russell appeals.

Now in what world should a 38 year old man be locked up for life for two burglaries committed at the same time, possession of an illegal firearm, and a smallish amount of marijuana? Is there no possibility of rehabilitation? It’s not like Russell committed three murders, rapes, or armed robberies. He burgled two houses without violence, had possession of an illegal firearm that he didn’t use in another instance, and then was found with a few bags of marijuana. For that he deserves to rot in jail forever?

From the minority opinion:

The purpose of the criminal justice system is to punish those who break the law, deter them from making similar mistakes, and give them the opportunity to become productive members of society. The fact that judges are not routinely given the ability to exercise discretion in sentencing all habitual offenders is completely at odds with this goal. Additionally, “[t]he discharge of judicial duties requires consideration, deliberation[,] and thoughtful use of the broad discretion given judges under the laws of this State.” White v. State, 742 So. 2d 1126, 1137 (¶44) (Miss. 1999). In instances such as these, the duty of the judiciary, as an independent branch of government, is frustrated because courts are not allowed to take the facts and circumstances surrounding a habitual offender’s prior offenses into account at sentencing. In cases like Russell’s any discretion really lies with the prosecution rather than the judiciary. Once an offender is charged and convicted as a habitual offender, courts have no option but to “rubber stamp” the decision by sentencing an 20 offender under section 99-19-83 instead ofsection 99-19-81.10 In fact, situations like the one currently before us are a prime example of why many people have called for criminal justice reform with regard to sentencing.

I’m not sure how many states have a “three-strikes-you’re-out” policy, but even one is too many.

Conservative Supreme Court takes away a route to rehabilitation for juveniles convicted of capital crimes

April 23, 2021 • 11:30 am

The tweets below alerted me to the fact that yes, the Supreme Court is acting conservatively, as we expect, but in this case it’s also changing course. In the just-decided case of Jones v. Mississippi, the judges ruled 6-3 that giving a juvenile a mandatory sentence of life without parole for a crime committed under the age of 18 does not, as it did before in Mississippi, require a finding that the criminal be “permanently incorrigible”. The dissenters were, as expected, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Breyer—the three liberals on the court. (The decision, written by Brett Kavanaugh, is here, which includes Sotomayor’s strong dissent. Have a look at that dissent.)

As Nina Totenberg reports at NPR, Brett Jones, now 31, was only 15 when he stabbed his grandfather to death in a fight about Brett’s girlfriend. Despite his age, Jones was sentenced to life without parole.  There was no finding of “incorrigibility” involved, as the law required. His lawyer took the case all the way up to the Supreme Court, arguing that the defendant at least deserved a chance at parole, especially because he’s been a model prisoner over the past 16 years and graduated from high school while incarcerated. As Jones stated, “”I’ve pretty much taken every avenue that I could possibly take … to rehabilitate myself … I can’t change what I’ve done. I can just try to show … I’ve become a grown man.”

From the NPR report:

Over the past two decades, the law on juvenile sentencing has changed significantly. The Supreme Court — primed by research that shows the brains of juveniles are not fully developed, and that they are likely to lack impulse control — has issued a half dozen opinions holding that juveniles are less culpable than adults for their acts. And the court has also ruled that some of the harshest punishments for acts committed by children are unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

After striking down the death penalty for juvenile offenders, the court, in a series of decisions, limited life without parole sentences to the rarest cases — those juvenile offenders convicted of murder who are so incorrigible that there is no hope for their rehabilitation.

But all of those decisions were issued when the makeup of the court was quite different than it is now. This case was the first time the court has heard arguments in a juvenile sentencing case with three Trump appointees on the bench, including new Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who replaced the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Previously, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired in 2018, repeatedly was the deciding vote in cases involving life sentences and other harsh punishments for juvenile offenders. But with Kennedy retired and replaced by Kavanaugh, and with Ginsburg replaced by Barrett, the court in this case indicated that it is not inclined to go the extra mile to protect juvenile offenders from the harshest punishments.

What this means is that the Supreme Court has blocked a way for juveniles to show sufficient rehabilitation to be considered for parole.  Yet as we know, one of the purposes of incarceration is supposed to be rehabilitation, and in the last 16 years Jones has shown encouraging signs of that. But it’s no use: given the decision, he’ll probably spend the next four or five decades, until he dies, locked up for a crime he committed at 15.

I think this is unfair, coldhearted, and a repudiation of what “punishment” is supposed to effect.  Is there no possibility of rehabilitating these prisoners? At least there used to be a procedure for determining if an incarcerated juvenile was “permanently incorrigible”. Now that’s gone in the state. And according to NPR, 25 states do not allow “life without parole” sentences for juveniles.  Six others have nobody serving such a sentence. The other 19 are like Mississippi, allowing sentences of life without parole for those who kill as juveniles.

The upshot: the conservative Justices don’t give a rat’s patootie about rehabilitation, for their view of justice is retributive. If you think someone like Jones can be reintergrated safely into society, what is the point of taking away any chance of parole?

NPR’s conclusion:

Thursday’s ruling will certainly make it more difficult for juvenile offenders like Jones to show judges they deserve another chance at freedom somewhere down the road, says Cardozo Law School’s Kathryn Miller. “It’s going to be much harder to convince judges” that evidence of rehabilitation is relevant, she says.

“A lot of times these judges really want to still focus on the facts of the crime” even though it is years or decades later, she said. “They’re not interested in the rehabilitation narrative.”

Neither, it seems, is the newly constituted conservative Supreme Court majority.

Here are tweets by Mark Joseph Stern about the case; he’s a legal reporter for Slate:

Verdict reached in Derek Chauvin trial: Guilty on all three charges

April 20, 2021 • 2:53 pm

UPDATE: The verdicts:

Second-degree murder: GUILTY

Third-degree murder: GUILTY

Second-degree manslaughter: GUILTY

Chauvin, who was remanded into custody, faces up to 40 years in prison.

____________________

 

According to many sources, including the New York Times, the jury in Minneapolis has reached a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial. That means that it’s unanimous.

And if it’s that quick, I’m betting on at least one “guilty” verdict. In fact, I’d bet $200 on that outcome. (The charges are second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.)

I’ll post the verdict itself, which is supposed to be announced in an hour, right here. I hope that, if a guilty verdict is reached, it’s the kind of guilty verdict that won’t incite riots  because it’s the “wrong” verdict, one not perceived as bringing “justice.”

In the unlikely event that Chauvin is cleared of all charges, batten down the hatches.

Stay tuned.