This speech by Professor Michelle Alexander is amazing. I was spellbound for more than an hour watching it. Yes, you need to commit more time than your average Twitter post, but…well, amazing.
Wayne LaPierre, the Grand National Orifice of the National Rifle Association, infamously said in one of his emissions of verbal flatulence that “the guys with the guns make the rules.”
Anyone who dares to speak out on the American gun crisis has learned recently that the rules of the guys with the guns are cowardly threats. LaPierre and others of his ilk have sought to mobilize fear and anger in the United States. They want to get their pathetic troops out of their masturbatory fantasies in their grandmothers’ basements and onto the street, armed and ready to kill like so many jack-booted thugs. They want to murder the First Amendment and anyone who exercises their rights under that Amendment to express an opinion with which they disagree.
This post is about an example. It’s only one example out of many one could cite.
Last April I happened to appear for a few minutes in an excellent hour-long CNBC documentary titled
“America’s Gun: the Rise of the AR-15.” Here is a relevant clip from the documentary, which I highly recommend as having fully and fairly represented all of the many facets of this complex and troubling phenomenon.
I recently got a reply to the question I raised. It was posted as a comment on this blog.
Here is that reply:
In a nutshell, one “G. Wright” answers that it is I that he (or she) — or in his (or her) squishily evasive convention “they” — would like to kill.
It turns out that I, Tom Diaz, am the very face of oppressive government. I haven’t been elected to any office. I don’t run a powerful lobby for the gun industry, like the NRA. I am nothing more than a citizen expressing my educated point of view, as is my right to do under the Constitution of the United States.
Okay, if I am truly that powerful, I decree that the United States government take the cost of one (just one) nuclear submarine out of the Pentagon’s budget and spend it instead on building a decent education infrastructure in every town, city, hamlet, and school district on America. Call me the “Education Face.”
As a rule, I do not allow trash like G. Wright’s emission into the comments section of my blog. I used to let all comments in. But I realized that I was often just underwriting ignorance, the bleating know-nothingness of the Great Pestilential Stupidity that has infected America.
However, given the obvious passion of “G. Wright,” I decided to make an exception. I emailed G. Wright and invited him to provide his name and a brief biography. I figured that if he felt so passionately about his “rights” and the commandments of his “God,” he would be proud to attach his name to his opinion.
I’ll be honest.
I was not the least bit surprised when it turned out that “G. Wright” is a coward, a snake in the grass, a weak and no doubt mentally unbalanced person who emerges from the night, spray-paints the world with his simplistic and ill-informed hatred, and leaves a fake email address as his calling card.
Here is the email I sent to him and the “bounced back” response I got:
Yep, “failed delivery” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As it happens, I know exactly who G. Wright is. The following video describes him in some detail, and includes my response to his cowardly threat.
Let’s be clear about one thing. G. Wright’s threat is not about me. It’s about you, and you, and you. It’s about whoever has an opinion that people like Wayne LaPierre, G. Wright, and other “guys with the guns” don’t like and don’t want this country to hear.
Shame on them. They are no different from and no better than the masked terrorists of al Qaeda, Hezbollah, or the Ku Klux Klan.
Shame on us if we let them get away with their terrorist campaign.
Sometime between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m., about two dozen LAPD officers faced an angry crowd at the intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues. The cops were outnumbered to begin with, the crowd was growing into a mob, and the mob was howling mad at the police. An LAPD lieutenant, Michael Maulin, made a tactical decision that would cost him his career in the orgy of retrospective finger-pointing that followed the riots. He ordered the police officers to withdraw. The hard-charging, in-your-face, proactive thin blue line faded like a gaggle of Las Vega showgirls at curtain time. “It was widely believed in South Central that the LAPD did not want to protect the city’s poor, minority neighborhoods,” journalist Lou Cannon observed. “The shocking reality was that the LAPD was unable to provide that protection.”
Tom Diaz, No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement, p. 96.
Thus was the iron-fisted, mirrored-sun glasses, take-no-prisoners, paramilitary creation of legendary chief Darryl Gates—the proud Los Angeles Police Department—humbled by the infamous “Rodney King riots” of April 1992.
The LAPD would never be the same.
The lesson for today is quite simply this: uniforms, badges, tough-guy swagger, ballistic vests, and most of all guns do not protect law enforcement. Respect and the healthy fear of consequence do. When a society surrenders those two foundations of “law and order,” there are not enough guns in the world—not enough good guys with guns—to protect police, prosecutors, and judges from men who are willing to kill them.
Now we are seeing the truth of this implacable maxim, revealed in a prophetic spate of ruthless murders of law enforcement officers. In Colorado, the state’s prison chief is shot to death on his doorstep. In Texas, two county prosecutors are shot to death in separate incidents. In West Virginia, a sheriff is shot dead in his car.These incidents are but the latest and most recent examples of a growing trend of blatant attacks on law enforcement.
Please note that it is not the quantum, the total of law enforcement officers murdered, so much as it is the growing demonstration of willingness to confront law enforcement with armed violence. And that willingness–that willful disregard of fear and respect–is the inevitable consequence of two long-term currents in the United States.
One is the suppurating wound inflicted on America’s public discourse by the reckless gospel of insurrection that has been promoted by the National Rifle Association and the gun industry that it represents since at least the 1980s. This rotting lesion has consequences that go far beyond the kabuki theater of rhetorical exchange in Washington, a place where both sides need each other for the show, and ritual has displaced action.
The stinking, hateful matter emitted by the NRA has dangerously infected the minds of many of the dullest and worst of our society. Ideas have consequences, and when the idea that “government is our enemy” is combined in the minds of the unbalanced and the psychopath with easy access to increasingly deadly guns…well, to all but the ideologically intoxicated, the inevitable is clear.
The other factor is the utter collapse of not only moral will, but moral discernment itself, in Washington. This infection at the heart of our political discourse has paralyzed a body politic that might with capable discernment and strong will have cured itself of the hateful wound inflicted by the NRA and its ilk.
What we see today—elaborated at length in my latest book, The Last Gun—is the triumph of Third Way politics, micro-politics that seeks only political success for career politicians and their waddling retinue of mere technicians—pollsters, advisers, spin-masters, lobbyists.
These are people—Democratic party leaders and their fawning servants—who describe in great detail the polling, focus with frightening precision on the tiniest “swing” group, and then define a message that will appeal to that micro-fraction of America.
These “leaders” have, in the end, defined themselves as soulless people, willing to accept only “what we can get” and “what is politically feasible” in place of real change. They are either incapable of—or unwilling to—make grand moral judgments, define causes to lead, and stand up for principle. Reelection for its own sake is enough.
Thus has the powerful chorus of national moral outrage that followed the Moloch’s slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School been pared down to a whimper, to “negotiations” about inconsequential legalisms between the likes of the artfully consummate Third Way deal-maker Sen. Charles (“Chuck”) Schumer and the implacably thick-witted Senator Tom Coburn.
While these career politicians—many of whom have never done anything of substance in their lives other than curry elective favor—nitter and natter around the margins of America’s gun problem, the country is sinking to its gunwales in military-style firearms. Disrespect for law enforcement burgeons among radicals and career criminals alike, fueled by an irrational hatred of compromise and fact-based discourse.
If this sounds like Mexico, it is.
Conventional wisdom has always been—and still is among conventional “expert” thinkers like those of the hapless private spy agency Stratfor which, not incidentally, failed to protect its vast files from hacking some months ago—that organized gangs and transnational criminals will never attack law enforcement in the United States because the consequences would be too great.
This is the argument of the smug, the proud, and, oh, yes, by the way, the grand consultants retired from law enforcement selling their “expertise.” It can’t happen here because we are so good.
Well it is happening.
It is just as reasonable, and I would argue more reasonable, to conclude that the war for control has begun. We already see one federal prosecutor withdrawn from a major gang and drug prosecution. The drug “cartels” are not stupid. The examples recited above—no matter by whom they are ultimately found to have been perpetrated—make it clear that determined, ruthless men can indeed assassinate law enforcement officers pretty much at will in America today. So much for fear. It doesn’t matter, in the overall sense, who was behind the last four murders. What matters is the brazen impudence with which they were carried out. That’s straight outta No Country for Old Men.
Do not for one minute think that the chill of necrosis is not creeping into hamlets, counties, towns, cities, states, and even Washington. A member of Congress who received multiple death threats for simply suggesting that gun owners be required to insure themselves decided, for example, to skip a public ceremony, mindful of the recent near-fatal wounding of another member.
Vamos a ver. We’ll see.
“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”
“Even a modestly competent district attorney can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.”
Former Judge, Now Law Professor (and Ex-Con) Sol Wachtler, with respect to whom, see http://www.law.columbia.edu/media_inquiries/news_events/2009/december2009/wachtler-mental.
It will be four years in June since the United States government shocked the world and threw a legal fragmentation grenade into the home of Alex Sanchez. On June 24, 2009 Sanchez was arrested and charged under the federal racketeering law popularly known as RICO.
The essence of the federal charge was that Sanchez—an anti-gang activist whose prominence at the time cannot be exaggerated—was secretly continuing his membership in the huge and violent Latino gang, MS-13, a transnational racketeering organization. In plain words, Sanchez was accused in the indictment of plotting, as a boss or “shot caller,” to kill another gang member.
The government recently dropped the charges against Sanchez.
But the great, gray, anonymous and tight-lipped agglomerations of suits that is “the government” collectively muttered under its breath that it is going to “review” the evidence and likely will indict Sanchez again. They’ll be back. The prosecution asked the judge to let it take its embarrassingly shredded case back to a grand jury.
Ooops! We indicted a ham sandwich. See, your honor, what we really meant to do was to indict a taco. The image of Groucho Marx in a court room springs irresistibly to mind. “That’s our evidence, your honor. If you don’t like it, well, we’ll find other evidence.”
Charge first, evidence later?
With the conspiracy to murder charge toasted like last week’s Cinnabon, perhaps the genius bar at the U.S. Attorney’s office can assign half of the federal agents in Southern California to follow Sanchez around and nail his ass on a charge of felonious crossing against a “don’t walk” sign.
Sanchez is due more than one apology, and I’ll start with mine.
I’ve followed this story for three years with a series of caustic and skeptical posts. The trouble is, I was skeptical about the wrong party. Although I have always been careful to note Alex Sanchez’s claim of innocence, looking back over past posts, it is clear that I had a grain, nay a fist-sized rock, of salt stuck in my throat.
My blind spot was that I simply could not believe that the government would indict a man as well known and, frankly, beloved as Alex Sanchez unless the government case was locked up tight. As I have written many times, you better be damned sure you’re right if you indict Mother Teresa. I also knew that the government has a barracks full of informants and “flipped” gangsters, so they must have had solid evidence against Sanchez.
I am sorry. I apologize to Alex Sanchez and to those who had faith in him. Because it now appears that the U.S. government, with all the power and resources available to it, screwed up in such a way that assistant U.S. Attorneys and some law enforcement agents ought to be fired, or at best reassigned to wear out their shoe leather on student loan collection work.
If it has not committed a massive miscarriage of justice, the U.S. Department of Justice has certainly left the appearance that is has, skulking behind a forest of sealed files. There is virtually NO public record in the Alex Sanchez case other than the juicy tidbits the government has chosen to dribble out. If it makes you feel any better, this is not the only case in which trial by sealed memoranda and plea bargain—as opposed to a public trial and proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury of one’s peers—has become the norm, rather than the exception.
If you have not followed the story, here is a concise summary from a brief filed on behalf of Sanchez more than two years ago. I posted this extract in Accused Secret Shot-Caller Alex Sanchez’s Take-No-Prisoners Brief Flames Trial Judge Manuel Real — Bottom Line: Judge Doesn’t Get It.
The brief sketches a factual review of a man grievously wronged by arbitrary and misdirected government conduct:
Mr. Sanchez quit gang life nearly 15 years ago, beginning a journey of redemption leading him to become one of the foremost anti-gang interventionists in the United States. In 2006, he became the Executive Director of Homies Unidos, an organization dedicated to extricating youths from gangs and brokering and maintaining peace in communities afflicted by the scourge of gang violence.
On June 24, 2009, however, Mr. Sanchez, a long time resident of Los Angeles and the 38-year-old father of three, was arrested at his home and taken into custody on an indictment charging 24 defendants with various crimes in connection with alleged activities of the Mara Salvatrucha (“MS-13″). Within days of his arrest, over 100 social workers, professors, politicians, clergy, law enforcement and former gang members from around the country raised a chorus of support to release Mr. Sanchez from custody, all attesting to his good character, commitment to peace and ties to the community. This overwhelming support included over $2.5 million dollars in bail pledges and property.
At the detention hearing, the government claimed a chest tattoo indicated Mr. Sanchez had not quit the gang and four phone calls where Mr. Sanchez mediated a non-violent resolution to an intra-gang dispute supposedly evidenced a plot to kill one of the disputants. Announcing “the only determination I have to make on this motion” is “whether or not Mr. Sanchez was there” and “what they were discussing,” the district court precluded Mr. Sanchez from rebutting the government’s evidence about the significance of his chest tattoo while refusing lay and expert testimony contradicting the government’s interpretation of the calls.
How could the federal government—with its awesome access to technology and expertise—get the single most important piece of evidence in the only meaningful charge against Sanchez wrong? Namely, the phone calls in which the operative facts were all about who was walking to whom about killing whom?
You tell me. But they did. And now they grudgingly admit it.
The government’s expert witness, it turns out, completely misidentified a participant in the supposed plot to kill phone calls. And when the real participant surfaced, he blew up the government expert’s theory of the case.
After Sanchez’s new lawyer filed a motion to throw the case out, the U.S. Attorney’s office got some new lawyers on the case to reply and fess up…sort of:.
In their Motions to Dismiss, defendants Alex Sanchez (“defendant Sanchez”) and Juan Fuentes (“defendant Fuentes”) (collectively “defendants”) raise serious questions regarding the evidence presented to the grand jury and the manner in which it was presented. Although the government disputes defendants’ allegations of misconduct and grand jury abuse, the government agrees that the grand jury presentation with respect to the conspiracy to murder Walter Lacinos, aka “Camaron,” was flawed. In order to correct the errors and omissions in the initial presentation, the government asks the Court to dismiss without prejudice, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 48(a), the following counts…
The government makes this request with the express intention of re-filing certain of the dismissed charges, including certain charges with respect to defendant Sanchez, as part of a superseding indictment in this case.
In a footnote, the government grumbles, “a determination of which of the dismissed charges will be pursued will be made only after a thorough re-review of the evidence.” Say what? We’re going to see if there is a ham sandwich lurking in here? Or a taco? Or just anything to save our face?
Here is where it gets really interesting. All the basic documents in this courtly exchange are sealed. But one juicy little piece of sizzling meat somehow escaped the Czar’s censor. This is an extract from Alex Sanchez’s defense reply to the government’s request for a do-over:
The government has not filed an opposition to the Motion to Dismiss and has avoided addressing the factual arguments therein: that the government presented false evidence to the grand jury issuing the indictment; that a government prosecutor lied to the grand jury in subsequent proceedings; that the government failed, for more than three (3) years, to take any action to formally acknowledge or attempt to correct an indictment based on false evidence; and that government prosecutors withheld from Mr. Sanchez favorable and exculpatory evidence.
Insofar as newly assigned government prosecutors have finally performed the analysis and evaluation that should have occurred years ago, Mr. Sanchez does not contend that the government’s Request to Dismiss, filed December 17, 2012, is in bad faith. Mr. Sanchez does not waive his right to revisit this issue, should he subsequently become aware of evidence suggesting that the Request for Dismissal is motivated by anything but a desire to fairly seek justice.
Wowser, sir! These are serious allegations: false evidence to a grand jury? A government prosecutor lying? Withholding evidence? Career-enders and maybe even…criminal conduct? By the good guys? Does the late Senator Ted Stevens come to anyone’s mind? Or a bar association misconduct proceeding?
I have no idea whether Alex Sanchez is a saint or a sinner, the anti-gang activist he appears to be, or a secret agent for Zombie Nation. But I do know “enough” when I see it.
Finish this case without Alex Sanchez and let him stay home to raise his children.
You screwed the pooch.
Alex Sanchez, the “anti-gang activist” who was accused last June of being a secret MS-13 gang shot-caller, is out on bail. (For background details, start here and follow the links.)
Sanchez’s lawyer successfully beat back an Associated Press motion to make public the transcript of the star-chamber secret bail hearing conducted under the octogenarian aegis of Federal Quirky Judge For Life Manuel Real. (Go here for details.) His Honor agree to protect the spineless political hack(s) who testified on behalf of Sanchez.
Lesson: the public has no right to know anything and the First Amendment rights of a Free Press do not reach into the Realm of El Rey Real.
Meanwhile, Sanchez’s supporters cooked up this nicely done video in which The Mother Teresa of Gangsterdom turns his soulful eyes to you (woo-woo-woo) in thanks. (Go here for link to the Simon & Garfunkel song, “Mrs. Robinson,” to which the preceding parenthetical refers, kid.)
A nice touch in this video — which is making the rounds of the “immigration rights” movement — is the background music, a cover of Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up (For Your Rights).” None of Sanchez’s bobbleheads want to get up, stand up, for their right, much less the right of the public, to know what went on behind locked doors in the chambers of Doktor Herr Schiedsrichter Real.
And completely forget about the rights of ordinary people to be free from gang violence.
As Kurt Vonnegut once wrote: poo-tee-wheet, poo-tee-wheet. Joltin’ Joe — a “Real” role model — may be gone, but we still have Alex!
Look around you, all you see are sympathetic eyes
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home …
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you, woo woo woo …
DiMaggio was born in Martinez, California, the eighth of nine children born to immigrants from Italy, Giuseppe (1872–1949) and Rosalia (Mercurio) DiMaggio (1878–1951). He was delivered by a midwife identified on his birth certificate as Mrs. J. Pico. He was named after his father; “Paolo” was in honor of Giuseppe’s favorite saint, Saint Paul. The family moved to San Francisco, California when Joe was one year old.
The murders of several U.S. citizens connected to the American consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico has elicited the usual transparently fake concern by the usual suspects in Washington.
President Obama sent out to a flack to say that the Chief Executive was “deeply saddened and outraged.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that the murders:
… underscore the imperative of our continued commitment to work closely with the Government of President Calderon to cripple the influence of trafficking organizations at work in Mexico.
The unspoken overalls in the chowder of Secretary Clinton’s declarations about working closely with Mexico and crippling drug lords is the fact — political, historical, and inconvenient — that the Administration of President Obama has no intention whatever of taking on the U.S. civilian gun industry (and import houses) that are major suppliers of firearms smuggled to Mexico for use by the drug gangs and other criminals.
One of the most popular is the Barrett 50 caliber anti-armor sniper rifle. Although its inventor calls his gun “an adult toy,” Mexican criminals understand its real capabiliities, which are basically its ability to punch holes in armor from a thousand or two yards away.
Although there is nothing amusing about the war in Mexico, here’s a charming little video about the Barrett rifle.
Having written extensively about the Alex Sanchez case, I was looking forward to the so-called “Daubert hearing” to test the expertise of LAPD Detective and MS-13 gang expert Frank Flores.
The hearing was originally scheduled for Monday, March 8, 2010.
But — lo and behold — that hearing has been mysteriously postponed, from Monday until late April — by mutual agreement of defense and government.
This struck me as curious, because Sanchez’s mouthpiece has been aching to do a legal orchiectomy on Det. Flores for almost a year.
Why postpone the surgery, I wondered?
So, I started poking around.
See, the last two big gangsters I have tracked who suddenly entered into a series of friendly postponements with the government were working out plea bargains (Nelson Commandari and a loathsome creature who went by the nickname of “El Culiche,” or “Tapeworm.”)
Please be sure to note that there is NO evidence whatsoever that Alex Sanchez is negotiating a plea, because he — to the contrary — insists he is completely innocent of the charges and can prove it, and his counsel is fighting like a banshee to do just that.
But I do like to keep track of these sealed filings — and there are a LOT of them in this case — because weird things happen all the time. Especially in the closed, secret, under-the-radar, star chamber type proceedings that federal criminal courts are turning into.
(This business of secrecy is serious, people. Some day it may be your turn to have some imperious life-time appointed judge and an arrogant, anonymous, bureaucrat-prosecutor seal your case off. Good luck to you, then, my friend. You will be a tree falling in a forest. See, it’s their government, not yours!)
Call me nosy.
Well, what a shocker!
It turns out that Los Angeles is not Kansas, Dorothy!
And open court has a totally different meaning, dude, in LaLa Land.
Like, get out and shut up, man!
Watch the Razzies or something.
What I found was a curious set of recent filings concerning the transcript of the famous closed Sanchez bail hearing.
If you read Fairly Civil, you may recall that the U.S. government’s witness list was inadvertently made available on PACER just long enough for me to find it and publish it before it was sealed!
On the other hand, Sanchez’s cozy little list of friendly witnesses have never been publicly disclosed. People of principle, but they like to keep their principles in the closet, you understand.
Bottom line: Federal Judge Manuel L. Real has ruled against the Associated Press and ordered that the transcript of the secret, star chamber, bail hearing be kept sealed … i.e., none of us … none of Alex Sanchez’s many alleged ditto-head supporters … and none of his putatively former gangster buddies … can find out exactly what was said, by whom, and why the judge changed his mind and sprang Sanchez!
See, he’s innocent.
But you don’t need to know anything, except for the wonderfully redeeming power of Faith, man. Can you feel it, brother? Heal, I say! Heal! Satan, get thee out of this skeptic!
Apparently, AP reporter Christina Hoag reported Judge Real’s denial of its paltry motion on behalf of a Free Press and the Public. But the report was not picked up extensively. Certainly not in the Los Angeles Times. Yawn. More fun to read about the latest adventures of Lindsay Lohan.
Here is the state of play, as I make it out by reading the docket:
So the record remains sealed. In other words, Sanchez does not want the public to read why he was released! (Please, counsel, spare me the phony argument that the hearing record contains hearsay and evidence that would be inadmissible at trial. What a crock!)
Not only that, a flurry of sealed documents have been filed in the case. Sorry, none of your business. Even requests to seal documents are sealed.
It might to some look as if Sanchez (and/or his lawyer) are trying to protect the politician(s) who showed up on his behalf, and who are rumored to have been City Council Member Ed Reyes and/or City Council Member Tony Cardenas, and perhaps others.
But that would be crass, cynical, and not at all like Mother Teresa, to whom some have compared Sanchez. You know, the truth shall make ye free, etc., etc.,etc.
Talk about judicial administration by the dark of the moon! Hey, I know, let’s seal the whole trial and just let Judge Real read from an envelope and announce a verdict, like the Oscars!
All the legal bureaucrats implicit in this charade can show up on the red carpet.
I can hear the snarky commentary now:
“OOOH, the new U.S. Attorney is wearing an absolutely daring two vent, European cut Navy blue pinstripe suit … oh, wait, it’s just the suit! How clever! And will you check out the alligator skin Manolo Blahniks lead defense counsel is wearing!”
Where are all the “civil liberties” advocates who would be going bananas if some common
thug were held two minutes incommunicado from the professional mouthpieces who service gangsters?
Where is WitnessLA? Where is the Gangsta Tea Party and Marching Social Justice Band that shows up at every public orchestration of the government’s horrible oppression of gangsters?
Where, for the love of all the Bill of Rights and “transparent” judicial administration are Tom Hayden, Barack Obama, and Eric Holder?
Apparently, they all agree.
It’s none of our damned business!
Judicial administration roughly equivalent to the Soviets dragging dissidents down to the cellar of Lubyanka Prison and putting a nice round of 9mm in the back of their heads.
Or, boiling frogs one degree at a time.
How does it feel, suckahs? Freedom rocks, right?
“This isn’t the Boy Scouts. It isn’t the chess club. It’s a world of violence.”
Los Angeles Police Department Detective and gang expert Frank Flores, quoted in article on MS-13 trial in Charlotte, NC, Charlotte Observer, January 14, 2010
Just when you thought Los Angeles couldn’t get any goofier or more self-defeating, an entrepreneurial former gang member turned “anti-gang activist” has started a gangland bus tour.
Alfred Lomas, 45, a former gang member and the creator of the tour ($65, lunch included), said this drive-by was about educating people on city life, while turning any profits into microloans and other initiatives aimed at providing gang members jobs.
“A Gangland Bus Tour, With Lunch and a Waiver,” The New York Times, January 16, 2010
Like the mudslides and wildfires that remind us the Los Angeles Basin was intended by its Maker for other than human habitation, this idea roared through the arid mind canyons of the Left Coast and swept thoughtful analysis into the Pacific Ocean like so much polluted runoff.
Not on the Tour
First, let’s be clear about one thing. Lomas’s “tour” is going to skip the fundamental reality of gang life in Los Angeles. You know, the inconvenient bits – drug and human trafficking, extortion, robbery, theft, armed violence, and most of all the visible toll of the dead (think funerals) and the limping, less visible trail of walking or wheelchair-bound wounded (think spinal injuries and those little plastic waste bag appendages).
This You Tube video fills in that weak point of the enterprise.
NOTE: Some idiot at You Tube disabled the video I had posted here some months ago — without warning — on the grounds that the images of actual gunshot victims in the video were merely shocking.
You Tube’s Google owners have learned well from their Chinese masters. I’ll find another venue to host the video and add the link back here when I get it.
Meanwhile, I took down my You Tube site in protest of this idiotic and heavy-handed censorship. Be warned.
I assume that one of the LA gangster world’s bought-an-paid-for-politicians got to YouTube, or some other thug-hugger. In a paraphrase of Gen. Douglas MacArthur: The Video Shall Return.
Superficial Rationales Sufficient for the Chattering Class
Rationale # 1. “Hey, it’s America, right?”
“What the heck, market what you got,” said Celeste Fremon, who writes the criminal justice blog Witness L.A. and has studied the city’s gangs.
Although she disputed whether several of the sites had a solid gang association, she said, “if it makes money for a good cause, more power to them.”
Rationale # 2. “Hey, his heart’s in the right place!”
Kevin Malone, a former general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers who came to know Mr. Lomas through the center and is one of the financial backers of the project, said he might accept the criticism “if it was somebody other than” Mr. Lomas.
“But I know the guy’s heart,” he said. “He is not taking anything out. All he is doing is serving and giving. If that is exploitation, I hope somebody does that to me.”
Rationale # 3 (maybe … maybe not … demi-semi quavering). Gloria in excelsis scelestus ?”
“Everybody says we are the gang capital of the world, and that is certainly true, no denying that,” said the Rev. Gregory Boyle, who has spent decades trying to steer people out of gangs into legitimate work. “It’s hard to gloss over that. But there are two extremes we always need to avoid. One is demonizing the gang member, and the other extreme is romanticizing the gang.”
With all due respect to Boyle, Malone, Lomas and Fremon, this is a bad idea on so many levels it makes LA’s most densely stacked freeway interchange look like a rural crossroads.
Snarky rebuttal # 1. Making money for a good cause? That’s the test?
Let’s see, every whacked out terrorist in the universe – especially the ones who strap bombs into their underwear – thinks his or her cause is not only good, but also superior to every other cause on the planet.
Fund-raising for these “good causes” is intimately entwined in the depredations of global organized crime – included human trafficking, sex trafficking, drug trafficking, cigarette trafficking, traffic in phony products from lethal baby formula to fake designer jeans, and the bloody mayhem that accompanies all of the above. In fact, there is a school of serious thought that the war in Afghanistan is at least as much about the drug trade as the Taliban’s odd socio-religious tyranny.
And by the way, the point of this spear of criminality comes right down to L.A.’s ubiquitous marijuana “clinics,” which are a wonderful system of retail outlets for the illegal production and trafficking in weed by the Mexican drug cartels and their affiliates, the Gangs of Los Angeles.
Bad idea, good cause.
Snarky rebuttal #2. “If it were anybody else …”
Say, what he say? This logic twists my mind like a pretzel.
Okay, pick a hero in your life. Any hero. You know, like … um … Brangelina … Barack Obama … Mother Teresa … Alex Sanchez … Lindsay Lohan … Pat Robertson … Glenn Close … whoever you look up to in your personal universe.
Just imagine – stick with me here, this is just a “mind exercise” – that your hero decided that running 13-year old child prostitutes up from Pueblo Pobre, Qualquiera, and vending them out in slam pads was a damned good way to raise funds for … well, a good cause, no profit here.
See, if it were anybody else … love the sinner, love the sin? Certainly, no one, definitely not Fairly Civil, suggests that there is anything unlawful about the gang tour. But the logic is the same.
Bad idea, good-hearted personal hero.
Snarky rebuttal # 3. The demi-semi quaver.
In fairness to Father Boyle, it is at least possible that he told The New York Times reporter that this gang tour was definitely a bad idea because it glorifies gang life. Reporters and editors sometimes cut out the sharp points in a “reader.” But the quote attributed to him came across as an “on the one hand, on the other hand” equivocation. What the modern news media call “even-handed.”
Well, be that as it may, here is a more pungent comment from another source:
Is there a danger of romanticizing or even glorifying the culture that has cost so many lives and caused so much heartache and tragedy to go along with the poverty that pervades the area? You think? There are a number of tours of past gangster lairs and stomping grounds from those occupied and traveled by Jesse James to John Dillinger to name only a couple. But those who made these locations infamous or famous are long gone and the thrill is far more benign than what one might expect where there still is ongoing horror.
“L.A. gangland tour is a bad idea,” Dan K. Thomasson, Scripps Howard News Service.
Human tragedy is human tragedy.
The Sicilian Connection
Finally, it is instructive to look at this tour in the context of another gang-infested culture: Sicily, home of the original mafia, Cosa Nostra (not “La Cosa Nostra,” as the U.S. federal government mistakenly and irreversibly misnamed the American variant.)
It’s well worth reading the history and sociopolitical culture of this scourge. So much that is fundamentally bad about the Sicilian Mafia and its relation to civil life can be seen in the L.A. gang culture.
You can read some of the best books about Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian mafia, and decide for yourself. My recommendations:
Los Angeles Police Detective and gang expert Frank Flores has been tossed on the griddle in the ongoing MS-13 racketeering (RICO) prosecution in Los Angeles.
But first, a big shout-out to Celeste Fremon and her WitnessLA blog, which was named “LA’s Best Police Blog” by LA Weekly. Although Fairly Civil and WitnessLA have different perspectives, Fremon and WitnessLA have done a great job of filling a vast vacuum — journalistic dark hole — left by the indifferent Los Angeles Times on this and other pivotal gang cases and programs.
Back to the subject at hand, the famous (or infamous) Alex Sanchez case.
According to the federal district court’s official minutes of a January 13, 2010 hearing – not (yet) sealed – Det. Flores will be grilled at a so-called “Daubert Hearing” in March:
The Court sets a Daubert Hearing on Detective Frank Flores’s expertise to testify for the government at trial as an expert witness on March 8, 2010 at 1:30 p.m., to be held in Courtroom 890 of the Roybal Courthouse.
“Criminal Minutes – General,” United States v. Jose Alfaro, United States District Court for the Central District of California, CR-09-466-R, filed January 13, 2010.
This could be huge, folks.
Det. Flores has been in the defense lawyers’ sights from the beginning because it is his expertise that “connects the dots” among much of the cryptic gang talk on key wiretap tapes. He also can provide the “big picture” and overall perspective on MS-13 as a criminal enterprise – the core of a RICO conspiracy case.
Big gorilla of a question: Can the federal prosecution team keep Flores out from under the bus?
One may assume that the prosecution has other experts on its bench, but if Flores gets tossed, the defense will win a huge “moral” victory.
One may be assured, therefore, that this will be as rough and tumble a legal gang bang as Judge Manuel L. Real will tolerate in his courtroom. Let’s hope Judge Real keeps this one open to the public.
What the Heck is a “Daubert Hearing” and Why Care?
Fairly Civil is no expert on Daubert Hearings, but pulled together the following notes from a few websites devoted to the subject. (Links to sites are in the titles.)
What is a Daubert hearing? It is, in effect, a mini-trial within a trial, conducted before the judge only, not the jury, over the validity and admissibility of expert opinion testimony.
Actually, of the trilogy of cases, Daubert, Joiner, and Kumho Tire, discussed at this symposium, Kumho Tire is perhaps even more important than Daubert because of two central points in that decision.
- It clearly states that a Daubert determination of reliability must be made in all cases where expert evidence is offered, whether we call it scientific evidence or technical knowledge or skilled profession.
- The Daubert inquiry is to be a flexible one. All of the factors identified in Daubert that guarantee the kind of reliability the Supreme Court said was needed for admissibility of opinions based upon scientific knowledge, such as replicability, established error rates, peer review, and so on, do not necessarily apply to all forms of expert testimony with the same rigor. They apply with full force only to those disciplines to which such factors can be applied. Conventional wisdom holds that these factors cannot be applied, in the manner spelled out in Daubert, to handwriting identification or to many other forensic sciences where cases deal with problems that are unique and where the accuracy of a specific finding cannot be stated with a measurable statistical degree of confidence.
Prior to the adoption of the Federal Rules of Evidence, all federal and most state courts followed the “Frye” test to determine the admissibility of scientific evidence. In Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., the United States Supreme Court held that the Federal Rules of Evidence, and in particular Fed. R. Evid. 702, superseded Frye’s “general acceptance” test.
Fed. R. Evid. 702 contains two requirements. First, the evidence must be reliable, or in other words, trustworthy. Trustworthiness guarantees that the information is supported by scientific methods and procedures. Second, the evidence must be relevant. The criterion of relevance has been appropriately described as one of “fit.” To satisfy this requirement, the proffered testimony or evidence must be sufficiently tied to the facts of the case that it will help the jury in resolving a factual dispute. “Rule 702′s ‘helpfulness’ standard requires a valid scientific connection to the pertinent inquiry as a precondition to admissibility.”
Faced with a proffer of expert scientific evidence, the trial court is charged with the role of “gatekeeper” and must initially determine, pursuant to Fed. R. Evid. 104(a), whether the expert is proposing to testify to scientific knowledge that will assist the trier of fact to understand or determine a fact in issue. This decision demands an evaluation of whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is scientifically valid and can be applied to the facts at issue.
In Daubert the Supreme Court provided four nondefinitive factors that trial courts should consider in making this determination. First, the court should evaluate whether the theory or technique can be and has been tested. Second, the court must determine whether the theory or technique has been subjected to peer review and publication. Third, the court should consider the known or potential rate of error. Finally, the court should evaluate the general acceptance of the theory in the scientific community. The Seventh Circuit has added an additional consideration: whether the proffered testimony is based upon the expert’s special skills.
In addition to these four Daubert factors, other safeguards exist to protect against the admission of unreliable or irrelevant scientific evidence. Federal Rules of Evidence 703, 706 and 403 each provide an independent check. Procedures familiar to every trial attorney, such as vigorous cross examination, the presentation of contrary evidence, and careful instruction of the jury on the burden of proof, also help guard against the acceptance of suspect scientific evidence. Finally, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure prevent cases from going to trial where the evidence is unreliable.
Abuses and Misuses of Daubert Hearings
In the following discussion one caveat is called for: We do not suggest that hearings on reliability and relevance are inherently inappropriate. Daubert challenges may, in fact, reflect attorneys’ confidence in their own experts’ views and justified suspicion of the experts’ opinions on the other side. Thus, in a best-case scenario, the challenge leads to achievement of a just and favorable outcome, obviating the expense and uncertainty inherent in a trial. Moreover, when an opposing expert is proffering innovative testimony, the ethics of practice, concerns about legal malpractice, and concerns about claims of ineffective assistance of counsel may require such a challenge.
In contrast to these valid concerns, when the attorney feels that a case is weak or that the client is unattractive to potential jurors, the attorney may want to see if the opposing expert can be “knocked out of the box” from the start by a Daubert challenge. While this ploy poses uncertainties of its own, the effort may be economically justifiable to the retaining attorney.
The Daubert hearing is not unique in being subject to abuse. Many other valuable safeguards of the fundamental fairness of the legal system exist, such as insuring that a defendant is competent to stand trial before facing the rigors of the adversary system. Yet, in our experience in Massachusetts courts, a motion to invoke this useful safeguard can be and has been used as a delaying tactic to permit the attorneys to prepare the case more thoroughly, to set the stage for a later insanity plea, or even to foster the hope that witnesses will become less sure about recalled testimony.
Similarly, a Daubert hearing may be requested by one side or the other—even when the relevant science is basic, established, and non-controversial—as a comparable delaying tactic designed to secure some advantage by the delay, although, as the law evolves, such challenges to established science may become less common. In our experience, challenging the use of even absolutely standard psychological testing is a common ploy in this category.
The Dry Run
By providing a picture of the expert in action under cross-examination, expert depositions commonly serve as “dry runs” for trial preparation. However, Daubert hearings have the advantage of providing a second opportunity to probe the expert, as well as to obtain an otherwise unavailable assessment of the trial judge’s attitudes toward the case. In those jurisdictions where depositions do not occur or are not allowed in civil or criminal cases, thus depriving attorneys of the opportunity to perform a dry run of the cross-examination of the opposing expert, a Daubert hearing may serve the purpose of obtaining an equally valuable advance look at the opposing experts’ opinions, bases, methodology, and courtroom demeanor. The resultant data can be put to very good use by the attorney in case preparation, mastery of the relevant literature, and the like.
Impeachment: Laying a Foundation
Just as moving for an unnecessary examination for competence to stand trial may aid the attorney in laying a foundation (if only in the public’s mind) for a later insanity plea, moving for an unnecessary Daubert hearing may lay the foundation for later efforts to impeach the expert’s reasoning on scientific grounds. Even if the expert’s opinion is ultimately not excluded, the knowledge gained in the process (the dry run suggested in the prior section) may be helpful to the attorney in designing more effective cross-examination for trial.
Rattling the Expert
The motion for a Daubert hearing may constitute no more than an attempt at simple harassment of the experts, designed to shake their confidence in their own testimony by a threshold challenge to their approach, methodology, reasoning, and professional acceptance of the experts’ theory of the case.
In a related manner, a mid-testimony hearing may be attempted on a specious issue, to overextend the expert’s time on the witness stand, perhaps interrupting the flow of case-related testimony that the jury hears. This approach may generate sufficient distraction and breach of concentration in the jury to obscure the gist and impact of the expert’s testimony.
Because a Daubert hearing involves costs for the time and participation of the parties and assistants (e.g., stenographers), the hearing may be requested by a large, rich firm, to drive up the costs for an opposing small, poor firm and thus to discourage or render more difficult the latter’s participation in the suit.
Similarly, because of cost restrictions from the client or insurers, a law firm unable or unwilling to hire its own reputable expert may be forced to put its efforts into attempting to disqualify the other side’s expert through Daubert challenges. Theoretically, such an approach may also serve to create a record designed to refute a later claim for legal malpractice in this situation. An attorney’s specious introduction of standards for reliability and relevance (that no expert could meet) in this setting may also constitute an attempt to excuse his or her failure to retain an appropriate expert.
Shooting the Messenger
A highly unusual twist in the Daubert question has occurred with one of us (H.B.) when an attorney hired several experts, but one of them did not present a favorable opinion after review. The attorney presented that expert’s opinion to the other side in a distorted way that invited a Daubert challenge, which was feebly and ineffectively resisted by that attorney. The attorney then used the successful challenge to rationalize not paying the expert for work already done, based on the alleged failure of the opinion to meet the standard.
Fairly Civil reports. You — or someone in authority — will decide.