“… the political class… uses the multiplication of criminal offenses as a form of moral exhibitionism.” [George Will, Washington Post/syndicated]
Eric Garner, asphyxiated during his arrest on Staten Island, had been repeatedly picked up by the NYPD for the crime of selling loose cigarettes. Washington Examiner:
The crime of selling “loosies” was not considered a serious one in the past. Many corner stores in New York City once sold them quietly upon request. But former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s cartoonish anti-tobacco crusade changed that and everything else. Smoking in public places was banned. Punitive taxes and a legal minimum price of $10.50 were imposed in an effort to push prices ever-upward, so that a brand-name pack of 20 cigarettes now costs as much as $14 in New York City.
As a result, the illicit sale of loose and untaxed cigarettes became more commonplace.
I noted at yesterday’s Repeal Day panel at Cato that according to figures last year, New York’s unusually high cigarette taxes had brought it an unusual distinction: an estimated 60 percent of consumption there is of smuggled or illegal cigarettes, much higher than any other state. Another way to think of it is that New York has moved closer to prohibition than to a legal market in tobacco. [earlier 2003 Cato study]
In his history of Prohibition, Last Call, Daniel Okrent cites (among many other law enforcement misadventures) the fatal shooting of Jacob Hanson, secretary of an Elks lodge in Niagara Falls, New York, in a confrontation with alcohol agents — though Hanson had a clean record and was not carrying alcohol. At the time, many saw Hanson’s death as reflecting poorly on the Prohibition regime generally. For some reason, though, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has drawn fire from some quarters for making a parallel observation about Garner’s death. [BBC; note however that while Garner’s frictions with the local NYPD seem to owe much to his repeated cigarette arrests, the proximate event leading to his arrest seems to have been his attempt to break up a fight]
Even when it’s all caught on video, in daylight, with witnesses. Even when the cop blatantly broke the NYPD’s very clear ban on chokeholds. Even when the victim was heard “gurgl[ing] that he could not breathe” and the cop was heard bantering afterward with colleagues.
The confrontation between officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. had several elements that worked to bolster Wilson’s defense, including evidence that Brown had assaulted Wilson in his car and contradictions in the testimony of eyewitnesses. By contrast, the case for a Staten Island grand jury to return at least some charge in the choking death of Eric Garner at the hands of officer Daniel Pantaleo would seem considerably stronger. (Garner had tried to break up a sidewalk fight before police intervened, then argued with police and was uncompliant when they intervened; in accounts after the death, police said he had frequently tangled with law enforcement because of his habit of hanging out on the sidewalk selling “loosies” — single cigarettes out of their packages, a tax violation.)
Some of yesterday’s Twitter discussion:
Is there anyone defending the Garner homicide non indictment? I don't see how it's not at least negligent homicide.
— tedfrank (@tedfrank) December 3, 2014
(This morning, New York Post columnist Bob McManus does defend it.)
“I cant breathe.” pic.twitter.com/eJvmhnSsSv
— Andrew Kirell (@AndrewKirell) December 3, 2014
Typically, the Twitter law degree crowd gets angry a lot – but my timeline is filled with apoplectic ACTUAL lawyers #EricGarner
— Keith K (@kkaplan) December 3, 2014
1928, NY Judge tells jury police can't just "shoot and kill any offender who may not yield to his command…" pic.twitter.com/Ic3hRHnbT2
— profloumoore (@loumoore12) December 3, 2014
— Ali Gharib (@Ali_Gharib) December 3, 2014
Seeing lots of "Garner story shows cop cameras don't work" tweets. But transparency isn't meant to be a solution. Just exposes the problem.
— Radley Balko (@radleybalko) December 3, 2014
Be skeptical of "untaxed cigarettes" myth. Didn't appear until day after death, when it suddenly b/c part of narrative. Unmentioned at 1st.
— Scott Greenfield (@ScottGreenfield) December 3, 2014
Pass a law against something very petty – realize that it will be enforced with LETHAL FORCE against someone who persistently violates it.
— Arthur Kimes (@ComradeArthur) December 3, 2014
— Walter Olson (@walterolson) December 3, 2014
By the way: the guy who recorded the video of Eric Garner being murdered? HE was indicted. Of course. http://t.co/fpLIc1se7q
— Christopher Bowen (@superbus) December 3, 2014
— Walter Olson (@walterolson) December 3, 2014
modest proposal: when there is a civilian death at the hands of law enforcement, a public defender is named to be the special prosecutor
— Chris Tolles (@tolles) December 3, 2014
— Walter Olson (@walterolson) December 3, 2014
Frustrated by Grand Juries? Read this 2003 Cato paper by W. Thomas Dillard, Stephen Ross Johnson, and Timothy Lynch: http://t.co/zFOGr8J9Ke
— Matt Welch (@MattWelch) December 4, 2014
The city of Phoenix quietly erases police misconduct records: “The practice, which the Department refers to as ‘purging,’ has been standard for more than two decades under the police union’s contract, but the public has been unaware of it.” [Justin Price, Arizona Republic; Tim Cushing, TechDirt]
Although the Supreme Court’s Brady doctrine requires prosecutors to inform defense counsel of evidence undermining the credibility of police witnesses, the right can amount to little if matters are so arranged that past instances of officer dishonesty never come to their attention in the first place [Steve Reilly and Mark Nichols, USA Today] In Baltimore, following the conviction of several officers in the notorious Gun Trace Task Force scandal, the state’s attorney has begun throwing out nearly 800 convictions tainted by the wrongdoers’ testimony [my Free State Notes post]
Meanwhile: “The former New York police officer who was fired in August for using a chokehold during Eric Garner’s deadly arrest five years ago is suing to be reinstated.” [Doha Madani, NBC News] Earlier, New York’s Police Benevolent Association said the city’s police commissioner would “lose his police department” if he followed a judge’s recommendation and fired Daniel Pantaleo [Jonathan Blanks, Cato; Joel Mathis, The Week]
- Quite a story: “Las Vegas cop behind controversial killing now influential union leader” [Las Vegas Review-Journal]
- Strife betwen NYPD union and City Hall long predates current NYC mayor [David Firestone, Quartz; Guardian]
- “Report: Massachusetts police grant ‘professional courtesy’ to other officers caught driving drunk” [Radley Balko; earlier on cops’ refusal to ticket cops]
- “Cleveland police union defends fired cop, saying others did far worse” [Cleveland Plain Dealer, earlier]
- After cartoon ire, did union chief tell police departments not to give information to Bucks County, Penn. paper? [Jim Romenesko via Balko]
- Oldie but goodie: “hit it with a flashlight until we gain compliance” [Officer.com]
- Miami FOP: chief’s view of the Eric Garner case isn’t ours [Washington Post via Amy Alkon]
- And for a contrasting view, check out the generally pro-police-organization site of Ron DeLord;
Last month the Cato Institute hosted a panel celebrating Repeal Day
with me, alcohol policy expert Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Stacia Cosner of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and Cato Digital Marketing Manager Kat Murti as moderator.
On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, supposedly ending our nation’s failed experiment with prohibitionism. Yet, 81 years later, modern-day prohibitionists continue to deny the laws of supply and demand, attempting to control what individuals can choose to put into their own bodies….
Some links related to the discussion:
- All the panelists quoted from Daniel Okrent’s excellent history of Prohibition, Last Call. You can find out more about the book at the author’s site.
- I quote from a speech by the late Christopher Hitchens delivered ten years almost to the day before our panel. It is excerpted in this David Boaz post.
- Radley Balko wrote a 2003 Cato Policy Analysis, “Back Door to Prohibition: The New War on Social Drinking“. More: The federal Centers for Disease Control, as I noted, has been an agency of choice for public health campaigners because of its legacy of scientific credibility, yet this credibility is itself put increasingly at risk as the CDC lends its name to propaganda. Jacob Sullum provides examples from the agency’s elastic application of the term “binge drinking” to the trouble it seems to have acknowledging that minor alcohol consumption does not seem to correlate with poor health outcomes;
- As I mention, the Prohibition episode was important in eroding constitutional protections against various law-enforcement tools, especially search and seizure, the law being inherently aimed at contraband goods. The same is true of the nascent Drug War undertaken following the Harrison narcotics act of 1914. You can read about one of the resulting Supreme Court cases here.
- The role of exorbitant cigarette taxes in contributing to New York’s giant black market in cigarettes came to wider public notice following the police custody death of Eric Garner on Staten Island; more here, here, etc. The New York Post reported that Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered the city law department to refrain from filing an intended press release over a would-be landmark suit filed over untaxed cigarettes the week of the Garner grand jury decision, because it interfered with City Hall’s efforts to downplay the role of the tobacco black market.
Ramsey Orta, whose street video of Eric Garner’s chokehold death at the hands of NYC cops became a worldwide sensation, has only days later been nabbed by that same police force on grounds of an unlawful gun infraction in what the police describe as a known drug location. “To decipher some of the police jargon, every location in New York other than St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a ‘known drug location’ as far as the police are concerned,” writes Scott Greenfield [Simple Justice]
- Harvard lawprof Ronald Sullivan Jr. driven from post as faculty dean of a residential house at the university after student protests of his representation of Harvey Weinstein [Jeannie Suk Gersen, New Yorker; Dianna Bell, WBUR; and for a different perspective Tyler Cowen] Stuart Taylor, Jr. has some questions about Harvard’s investigation, on charges of sexual misconduct, of noted economist Roland G. Fryer Jr. [Real Clear Investigations] 30 protesters rush the stage, ending Harvard President Lawrence Bacow’s speech: “The heckler’s veto has no place” [Robby Soave, Reason]
- Rules mandating gender quotas in hiring committees at French universities may have backfired, as “committees affected by the quota were significantly less likely to hire women” [Chris Woolston, Nature]
- Maryland lawmaker proposes collective bargaining for student athletes [Bruce DePuyt, Maryland Matters]
- “…and suggested that Plaintiff obtain an expensive genetic test to see if she could qualify as Native American or American Indian to garner better chances of being accepted to” the professional school [John S. Rosenberg, Minding the Campus] Families of wealth and standing have special reason to dislike standardized testing. But they’re quite good at dressing up their resentments as progressive [Daniel Friedman, Quillette]
- “Does Yale Law School’s Antidiscrimination Policy on Subsidies for Student Employment Discriminate on the Basis of Religion? [Ilya Somin, who concludes that it doesn’t]
- This year, as every year, checking the line-up of commencement speakers provides a handy way to size up the Forces of Unanimity on the American campus [Keith Whittington]
Laws on hate crimes raise longstanding questions of fairness both in theory and application, including (when enacted at the federal level) dangers of overextension of federal criminal law and inroads on the prohibition against double jeopardy. The role of hate crimes as culture war rallying points can make things worse. In the Jussie Smollett episode, journalists came under fire for raising questions about unlikely elements of the actor’s story — Smollett had been “doubly victimized as the subject of speculation by the media industry and broader culture,” said the head of one progressive outfit — and even for hedging their stories about with words like “allegedly.”
After Smollett’s story fell apart, some advocates argued that no matter what might have happened this one time, data show that hate crimes are sharply on the rise and reports of them hardly ever prove unfounded. Is that the case? I tackle the question in a new piece at Inside Sources
An oft-repeated talking point is that FBI statistics last year, to quote Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), “revealed a 17 percent increase in the number of hate crimes in America.”
Let’s be polite and say those FBI figures are difficult to interpret….
In the state of Oregon, the college town of Eugene reported 72 hate crimes to the FBI in 2017, about as many as the rest of the state put together. According to the Daily Emerald, the difference reflects “the city’s active approach. … The city carefully catalogs reported instances … and even classifies certain crimes — such as vandalism — as a hate crime that other cities would classify in a different way.”
Word is that the Eugene approach is spreading as other cities get interested in steps such as asking officers to write up on their own initiative as a hate incident a graffiti epithet they might see, rather than only if a public complaint happens to come in.
Should those methods spread in coming years, the FBI count of reported hate incidents is sure to mount — yet still not demonstrate with any certainty a genuine rise.
For whatever reason, many of us are predisposed to accept findings that seem to highlight the prevalence of terrible injustice. The impulse to believe extends to matters of scholarship. So it was with a recently retracted 2014 study that purportedly found “structural stigma” in society shortens the lives of LGBT persons by a remarkable 12 years. The authors acknowledged that they had inadvertently committed a coding error with the data; once it was corrected, there was no statistically significant correlation at all between “structural stigma” and mortality. Yet the paper, with its inherently implausible findings, had already achieved “highly cited paper” status, and has continued to garner citations even after its retraction.
More: David Kopel 2003 (recommending stronger penalties for the perpetration of hoaxes).
- “Georgia’s Highest Court Limits Power Of Private Probation Industry” [WABE, Augusta Chronicle, earlier here, here, here, and here]
- Federal judge slams as “preposterous” DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) actions in raid on Tampa pharmacy [Tampa Bay Online]
- “At Least 40 Federal Agencies Now Conduct Undercover Operations” [Jesse Walker]
- “’Gotcha’ program designed to rake in revenue”: “Nassau County Lawmakers Repeal Speed Camera Program” [CBS New York]
- “Creepy”: “FBI Agents Pose as Repairmen to Bypass Warrant Process” [Bruce Schneier]
- Somewhere an old guy in his room is wondering about ending it all, and somewhere a fanatic has been made happy [Elizabeth Nolan Brown on launch of Anaheim, Calif. shaming program to post names of sex purchasers online indefinitely]
- Heather Mac Donald: In defense of broken-windows policing [Time]