Crime & Public Safety

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Season 2 of 'Serial' Started Today

Posted By on Thu, Dec 10, 2015 at 11:31 AM


Attention everyone with desk jobs, mindlessly staring into their computers and helplessly waiting for 5 p.m.: Season 2 of Serial started today, and Episode 1 is online now. 

After much speculation it turns out, yes, Season 2 is going to focus on Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. solider who was held prisoner by the Taliban for five years after leaving his Army outpost in eastern Afghanistan.

Here's Serial's description of Season 2: 

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Monday, December 7, 2015

Into the Mild: Sorry, Prostitutes Can´t Stay in the Dormitory

Posted By on Mon, Dec 7, 2015 at 10:00 AM

Santiago, Chile


Was I bored or hungry? My night shift at the hostel seemed to be moving in slow motion that night. I stepped away for a couple of minutes to grab food from the staff refrigerator in the back yard. A coworker, Julie, watched the office for me.

I returned to an empty office and an open door. I went out to see why the door was open and found Julie talking to a man through the fence. The man was around 45 years old and needed a bed for the night for a friend. He didn’t have a reservation but claimed to know the owner, Jon. Jon would vouch for him. They were friends. I talked with the man as my coworker went back inside to call Jon. The man asked again if he could have a room and then gave us 10,000 Chilean Pesos (15 dollars), said he didn’t need the change, and signaled to the car across the street.

When the man brought his friend out, I immediately saw why he had left her in the car during our initial conversation. She was roughly 45, distraught, and wearing a very short skirt & very high heels, one of which had a broken strap. A strong limp and eyes that told of recent drug use came into focus as she got closer. I stepped inside for a minute to brief my coworker. Neither of us knew what to do. Our daily workload focused mostly on arranging reservations and giving tours. I must have missed the training session on dealing with battered woman escorted by their abusers.

I stepped back outside, opened the gate, and let the woman in. The man tried to follow her in, putting his hand on my shoulder as he talked to me. I told him twice not to touch me, each request followed by him removing his hand for five seconds. The third time, I told him very colorfully to leave, pushed him out, and slammed the gate as he yelled at me.

The woman obviously needed help so I led her in and took her to the dining room. I then found Julie and told her “She’s pretty f***ed up, we should call an ambulance.” I then saw the two guests in the same room and regretted not pulling Julie to the side to say it. We went to a smaller room near the kitchen. The woman said that she was hungry so I brought her bread and butter as Julie began asking her what had happened. Julie was Latina, charismatic, and spoke Spanish as her first language. The woman warmed and opened up as she spoke with Julie.

I felt that they would be more comfortable in private so I left them and grabbed the phone in the office. No one picked up the emergency line for the hospital, so I gave up and called the police instead. They told me they would send a unit by soon.

I went to update Julie and hoped that things weren't how they looked. They were. In addition to the bad ankle, her speech was slurred and she had a long red mark on her face that she earlier tried to hide with her hair. She eventually opened up and said that the man had been beating her and she didn’t want to return.

What to do?

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Friday, September 18, 2015

About Ahmed Mohamed's Not-a-Bomb Clock and the School/Police Reaction

Posted By on Fri, Sep 18, 2015 at 12:00 PM

Ahmed Mohamed made national and probably international news when the 14 year old brought a homemade clock to his Dallas high school which some people thought might be a bomb, and when they realized it wasn't, accused him of bringing a prank bomb to school. He was detained, questioned without being allowed to talk with his parents and handcuffed. As a former high school English teacher, I've been running through the scenario in my head, thinking about what I might have done if I had been involved and how the school should have responded to the situation. I'm using the details as they were described in a NY Times article.

I'm reasonably certain that Ahmed's dark skin and Muslim faith caused a heightened reaction from the school and the police, that this situation would have been handled better if he were white, but let's neutralize that issue for the moment. This was a student in my class, his name was Ahmed or Andy, he was black or white, Muslim, Christian or nonreligious.

So. Ahmed/Andy is a student in my English class. I hear something beeping in his backpack. I ask to see what it is. This nice, shy, somewhat nerdy kid reaches into his backpack and pulls out a metal briefcase with a clock face on the front. What do I do?

The first thing that happens inside me, I'm guessing, is I experience an electric shock of panic in my chest. I think, "Oh shit, that looks like the kind of bomb I've seen in a dozen spy/terrorist movies!" What do I do? My first reaction is to protect the safety and welfare of my students and other students at the school. Whatever temporary problems I create for Ahmed/Andy are secondary, I'll worry about that later. This may be a bomb, and this seemingly nice kid may be one of those people who does some terrible thing, after which everyone says, "He was such a nice kid, I never would have suspected he would have done something like this."

My best reaction, I think, would have been to tell Ahmed/Andy to pick up his belongings and come into the hall with me, away from the other students. Then I would say, "Tell me what that device is." If he answered, "It's a clock I brought to school to show to my engineering teacher," my next best reaction would be to say we'd better take it to the office, where I would explain the situation to an administrator. When I felt comfortable the administrator understood and had things in hand, I would return to my class. If I was feeling especially panicky and feared it might be a bomb that could go off at any moment, I'd take him outside with me. We would set all Ahmed/Andy's belongings some distance away from the school, then we could move back toward the school so we would be out of potential danger. At that point, I would somehow alert an administrator or one of the campus cops to help with the situation. (Would I have reacted this calmly if I were actually in this situation? I honestly have no idea.)

Now that the potential threat is away from the school, the situation changes. My responsibility is no longer to the students in my class or in the school. It's to Ahmed/Andy's welfare. Assuming this isn't a bomb, assuming this kid did nothing wrong, he's been through a frightening experience through no fault of his own. I should do whatever I can to lessen the negative impact of his being suspected of doing something as horrible as bringing a bomb to school. "Look," I might say, "Your clock scared the crap out of me. I saw that box and I imagined what might happen if it were a bomb. Why did you bring a thing like that to school?" If he repeated the story about bringing it to show to his engineering teacher, I might smile and say, "Yeah, Mr. Stephens [or whatever his name is], did he like it?" Maybe talk a little about Mr. Stephen's class to move us emotionally out of the present situation. Then I might say, "I hope you know, what I just did, pulling you out of class, that wasn't about you, it was about the concern I felt seeing that box. I would have done the same thing with any student. That's my duty, to do everything I can to keep my students safe. I can't tell you how relieved I feel right now knowing I was worried about nothing."  I might ask, "How are you doing? Are you OK?" to gauge his mental state.

Once it's determined this was nothing but a homemade clock (which they must have decided quickly, because the bomb squad wasn't called), the well-being of Ahmed/Andy should become the school's primary focus. As much as possible, this should be a school-based action, not a police action. If it's determined that this kid brought the clock to school as a prank, some appropriate disciplinary action should be taken. It's distantly possible, I suppose, that this was a trial run for sneaking a bomb into the school. Both of those possibilities should be considered. But the higher probability is that this was exactly what Ahmed/Andy said, that he brought the clock to impress his engineering teacher. If someone in the administration went down and talked to the teacher and confirmed the student's story, that would pretty much have put an end to the situation. But that's not what happened, and that's where this situation went astray.

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Friday, September 11, 2015

A Case of Mistaken Identity, and Theft of Dignity

Posted By on Fri, Sep 11, 2015 at 9:54 AM


Story: A neatly dressed, well groomed 30-something man is standing outside a nice hotel in Manhattan, waiting quietly, a smile on his face. At the same time a sting operation is going down inside the hotel where the police are arresting some people who have been accused of identity theft. The man just standing there minding his own business is identified as looking like one of the people in the theft ring. Oh, and, by the way, the 30-something man is white.

How do the plainclothes officers outside the hotel respond? Do a few of them move in this man's direction, form a loose circle around him, show their police identification and tell him to put his hands up, then only take more aggressive action if he fails to comply? Or do they rush him without warning, pick him up, body slam him to the ground and cuff him? Either scenario is possible, but since he's only a suspect, not someone who they've seen commit a crime, since the crime he may have committed is a white collar, nonviolent crime, and since he's standing quietly in front of the hotel, I think good police work would mean refraining from the use of force unless it's necessary.

The incident I described unfolded Wednesday night in front of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan, but one thing about the man is different than the way I described him. He's black. He's James Blake, the 35 year old tennis star who has retired from the tennis circuit but is still playing in the Champions Tour with the likes of John McEnroe and Jim Courier. When he was identified as one of the people possibly involved in the identity theft ring, he was waiting for a car that would take him to the U.S. Open where he was going to be interviewed. According to an interview Blake gave on ABC News, a plainclothes policeman wearing t shirt and shorts without a visible badge charged him.
"I saw someone from the street running directly at me. . . . He picked me up and body slammed me,  put me on the ground, told me to turn over, shut my mouth, and he put the cuffs on me."
Sure, it could've happened to any well dressed, 30-something guy standing quietly on the sidewalk outside a fancy hotel who the police thought had committed a crime, but the chances are far more likely that the aggressive take-down would happen to a black male than a white male who was similar in every way except for skin color. It can be dangerous to be Driving While Black, Walking While Black or Standing While Black.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

ACLU of Arizona Sues City of Surprise Over an Ordinance That's Pretty Terrible to Domestic Violence Victims

Posted By on Fri, Aug 28, 2015 at 9:00 AM

  • Courtesy of Photospin
The City of Surprise has this ordinance in place that allows a landlord to evict tenants who place calls to the police more than four times in 30 days, and there are no exceptions if the tenant is the victim of said crime. Well, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arizona have decided to challenge that rule on behalf of a domestic violence survivor.

Nancy Markham was a victim of "repeated domestic violence" who "needed to contact and rely on the Surprise police for protection and assistance at her rental home. In response, Defendants sought Ms. Markham’s eviction," the lawsuit, filed Thursday, says. Markham is a single mother of two children.

Between March and September of last year, Markham’s ex-boyfriend choked her, punched her, and threatened her with weapons. A Surprise police officer then enforced the nuisance ordinance by notifying her landlord about the police calls and encouraged her eviction, the ACLU argues. "In September 2014, the property manager of Markham’s apartment notified her that she would be evicted for having violated the law, even though the police never mentioned the law to Markham during any of her calls," the press release says. 

The groups argue the so-called "nuisance ordinance," passed by the Surprise City Council in 2010, violates the First Amendment right to free speech, ignores the Fair Housing Act's prohibition on gender discrimination, as well as an Arizona housing law that states there shouldn't be a limit on how many times a tenant can call the cops, among other allegations, according to a press release from the ACLU of Arizona. 

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

E.W. Has an Update for the 'Serial' Obsessed

Posted By on Tue, Aug 25, 2015 at 10:30 AM

Adnan Syed
  • Adnan Syed

I was so late to the Serial* bandwagon. I listened to the entire series in two days, only taking a break when coworkers would approach my desk demanding attention. When I finished the final episode, I was unsatisfied. I, having been a big reader/television watcher all my life, wanted a satisfying answer. A well throughout, all encompassing final chapter. But this is "real life" and this story isn't over just because we're ready for a Law & Order-style recap. 

Though Serial is done with the story that kept us so entranced last season, the story is still developing. Through Undisclosed, more details of the case are being discovered. This time around, there's no This American Life level production and the narrator is firmly on Team Anon. Its content will be interesting for Serial fans, but Undisclosed is absolutely a different experience. 

Entertainment Weekly has been kind enough to keep up with this for us and wrote something up giving us a Serial recap, the facts relevant to each claim and (!!!) five new things that have come up since the original podcast ended.  

Head over to EW to read the whole thing, but I'll leave you a taste here: 
3. The cell phone tower pings mean nothing

If Gutierrez had paid closer attention to an AT&T cover sheet that included information about the cell phone towers pinged by Adnan’s phone on Jan. 13, the trial may have ended differently. The cover sheets stated, “outgoing calls only are reliable for location status. Any incoming calls will NOT be considered reliable information for location.” One of the reasons for this disclaimer was due to a glitch with AT&T at the time, which had incoming calls ping the tower near the person making the call rather than the person on the receiving end. The two key phone calls in the case, at 7:09 p.m. and 7:16 p.m., pinged the tower that covers Leakin Park and the surrounding areas. The State claimed the pings from those calls placed Syed in the park, where he allegedly buried Hae. However both of those calls were incoming calls, thus making it impossible to determine the location status. According to Syed’s current attorney, C. Justin Brown, the fax cover sheet was included in Gutierrez’s file, but she “simply failed to act on it.”

*I'm not going to summarize it for you, you just have to listen to it. I'm obsessed with it, everyone is obsessed with it, just do it. You've put it off long enough.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Remember Kandis Capri and Stop The Killing

Posted By on Mon, Aug 24, 2015 at 4:00 PM

Friends, family and allies gathered last Wednesday in a vigil remembering Kandis Capri. - ANNE SCHMITT
  • Anne Schmitt
  • Friends, family and allies gathered last Wednesday in a vigil remembering Kandis Capri.

Kandis Capri was murdered last week. This added her to the list of trans women of color being brutally destroyed at a rate that continues to increase.

  • Anne Schmitt
This calendar year is far from over and we have already passed the number of hate-fueled murders of trans women from last year.

What we don’t know is how accurate any of these numbers really are. The statistics say there were a dozen trans women murdered last year, and in 2015 we already have 20. These are the known murders of trans women and many more may be tangled in the system by the names on their driver licenses, the name at the top of the report, the failure of some families to accept who their children are, and until recently the limited ability of most news sources to know how to approach the subject. These issues need to be addressed to bring this violence into view.

Kandis Capri was loved by many people. At the vigil held this past Wednesday in Phoenix, there was an incredible mix of humanity there to attest to that love. There were  lots of little kids who adored her playfulness and friendship, buddies from childhood who had accepted the change from Dedrick to Kandis and only spoke lovingly of how Kandis remodeled the GI Joe they played with in their youth. There were members of the gay and trans youth groups showing respect and asking how to keep themselves safe. But most of all there was Adrias Gaines, Kandis' mother, who had the grace and strength to stand up and talk about the importance of love. 

Monica Jones served as the MC at this event. Her prostitution arrest garnered media attention as being only a case of “walking while trans.” Monica, who is studying social work at ASU, has stepped forward as a community activist. This is a mantle she wears well and her sincerity was beautiful. 

It is really easy to read about a murder in the paper and then never think of it again. It is easy to say that someone was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Violence is so much a part of the American cultural experience that we consider it entertainment. We stop and mourn when someone famous dies or when the event is spectacular. Something is innately wrong with this scene.

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Juneteenth, 150 years

Posted By on Fri, Jun 19, 2015 at 9:00 AM

  • Illustration

With the horror of the shooting at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, a little more than 24 hours old, and with the racial hatred that led the murderer to fire on the members of a devout Bible study group so palpable, I feel that it's more important than usual to point out that today, June 19, is Juneteenth—actually, the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth. It's a celebration of the end of legal slavery in the U.S. and a reminder of how great the resistance was at the time and how jagged the path to racial equality was and continues to be.

This old white man, who considers himself reasonably well educated, knows very little about Juneteenth. I hadn't even heard of it, I believe, until the posthumous publication of Ralph Ellison's novel, Juneteenth, in 1999, and I might not have paid attention even then if Ellison's Invisible Man wasn't one of my all-time favorite novels. Juneteenth: it seemed like a strange word and an odd title to me at the time. I put the blame partly on myself for not digging deeply enough into the history of race relations in the U.S., but I can't blame myself for not having the holiday even mentioned in the history textbooks I read in school or in the mainstream media I absorbed all my life. That omission, as well as the omission of so much of the history of racial oppression in this country from slavery to the present day, is part of that same jagged path, with all its switchbacks and washed-out bridges, we are taking in our attempts to increase our knowledge and understanding of our shared history and to move toward greater racial equality. That the road is so torturous is one of the great shames of our nation.

Here are two descriptions of the history of Juneteenth you can read if you wish. One is on the website. The other, a more caustic and cynical view titled The Hidden History Of Juneteenth, appeared on the Talking Points Memo website yesterday.

Here's a very short history of the events leading to the holiday, which I'm quoting directly from the website so I don't put my shameful ignorance on further display:
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

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