I Can’t Breathe Either

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

In much of the United States justice system, prosecutors in pursuit of a criminal conviction may first seek an indictment from a grand jury. The prosecutor presents evidence, and the grand jury then determines if a formal accusation of a crime should be made. If so, a trial is then held. Crucially, grand juries do not themselves determine guilt or innocence, only whether there is probable cause to hold a trial. This is a fairly easy threshold to meet, and prosecutors are nearly always successful in getting an indictment. Only 11 grand juries declined to return an indictment in the 162,000 federal cases seen in 2010. As law professor Andrew D. Leipold notes, “If the prosecutor wants an indictment and doesn’t get one, something has gone horribly wrong”.

In November, a grand jury in Missouri declined to indict former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Few would argue that the incident itself was anything but tragic. However, the circumstances were full of ambiguities, with conflicting witness statements and a claim of self-defense from Wilson. Ultimately, this led to the lack of charges.

Yesterday, a grand jury in New York declined to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo for his role in the death of Eric Garner. Unlike in Ferguson, we know exactly what happened in Staten Island. Because the incident was filmed, we can use our own eyes to watch multiple viewpoints. We can see that Garner was non-compliant, but also non-threatening. We can see an officer use a chokehold which is expressly banned by the NYPD. We can hear Garner’s pleading last words “I can’t breathe”. And then we can see that officers did next to nothing to render aid to Garner while he lay barely conscious on the sidewalk for minutes. Soon after, Garner was dead.

All of that came to nothing last night in New York, and that is deeply unsettling. Given our system’s built-in assumption that police officers always act correctly, these recent outcomes may not be surprising. However, a lack of surprise makes the results no less palatable. On last night’s episode of “The Daily Show”, Jon Stewart just didn’t know what to say. I really don’t either. Things are badly broken and there’s nothing funny about it.

The New York Times editorial board offered a short piece which included these strong words:

What is clear is this was vicious policing and an innocent man is dead. Another conclusion is also obvious. Officer Pantaleo was stripped of his gun and badge; he needs to be stripped of his job. He used forbidden tactics to brutalize a citizen who was not acting belligerently, posed no risk of flight, brandished no weapon and was heavily outnumbered.

Any police department that tolerates such conduct, and whose officers are unable or unwilling to defuse such confrontations without killing people, needs to be reformed. And though the chance of a local criminal case is now foreclosed, the Justice Department is right to swiftly investigate what certainly seem like violations of Mr. Garner’s civil rights.

The Times advises that “those who seek justice should remain hopeful, if skeptical and wary”. Broadly speaking, every American should seek justice. Justice for all is a founding principle of our nation. In both the cases we’ve seen in the media and in those we haven’t seen at all, I count myself among those who seek justice. I, we, must remain hopeful that we can be better than this. Still, it sure would be nice to have fewer reasons to be wary.

After hearing the news in the Garner case, New York Daily News political cartoonist Bill Bramhall created this simple, yet deeply affecting statement:

Lady Justice can't breathe.

Let us hope that more aid is rendered to Bramhall’s Lady Justice, and to our justice system, than was provided to Eric Garner in his last moments. As Bramhall’s colleague at the Daily News Harry Siegel advises, watch the videos. See what happened for yourself, and understand why so many are deeply distrustful of the system ostensibly created to protect them.

This isn’t about politics, it’s about human decency. Eric Garner was a human being with a basic right to exist. He, and so many others in similar situations, didn’t deserve to die, didn’t need to die, and should not have died. Nothing we do now can undo past deaths, but we can work to prevent future tragedies like this from occurring. More to the point, we must.

A Racist Candy Store 

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

This week’s episode of that delightful comedy podcast Just The Tip focuses on candy. It’s entitled “A Wicked Case of the Irish Sourballs” and my pal Amy Jane and I had even more fun with it than usual. In fact, the last eight minutes or so might be my favorite slice of the show’s now 13-plus hours. Do yourself a favor, and take the time to hear about the racist candy store of Amy Jane’s youth.

Who’s Drunk at 5 AM on a Tuesday? 

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Early Tuesday morning, a drunken idiot managed to drive along the sidewalk of the Golden Gate Bridge for 400 yards before his Mustang became wedged.

Wedged Car

Police were initially taken aback, and that’s never a good thing.

“When I heard about this, I had to make a few calls to confirm I was actually reading it correctly,” said California Highway Patrol Ofc. Andrew Barclay.

Fortunately, workers were up to the task.

“It’s good that the Golden Gate Bridge crew like puzzles because the driver certainly gave them a challenge this morning,”

Now that’s the kind of spirit and gumption you like to see from your government workers. The car was eventually lifted out with a crane, while the driver was arrested.

An Interview With Chris Rock 

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Frank Rich had a long conversation with comedian Chris Rock. It is well, well worth a read.

Pomplamoose’s Tour Profits 

Friday, November 28th, 2014

Jack Conte, half of the musical duo known as Pomplamoose, has an enlightening post on just what it costs a small indie band to tour the country.

Hypocrisy? In the NFL? Why, I Never! 

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

Earlier this week, Seattle Seahawks players Richard Sherman held a rather bizarre press conference along with a Doug Baldwin cardboard cutout voiced by Doug Baldwin. The players lampooned the NFL for the hypocritical policies on sponsors and player safety, and it’s definitely something to read (and see).

Only Words 

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Roxane Gay, on Ferguson.

I have to believe we are going to be better and do better by one another even if I cannot yet see how. If I don’t believe that, I, we, have nothing.

Ain’t No Rule Says the Dog Can’t Adventure Race 

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Today is the kind of day that calls for a feel-good story about a dog. How about one involving a dog who joined a team on an adventure race?

Arthur joins the race
Arthur in Action (Fourth from the left)

Pile of Poo Is the Anti-Like

Monday, November 24th, 2014

Oh, yeah, like this site was going to miss a history of the poop emoji? Come on!

Fast Company’s look at the origins of emoji in America is a great read. It’s particularly amusing to realize that despite Google’s role in bringing emoji to the US, their own browser Chrome still doesn’t properly display them on Mac OS X or Windows.

Perhaps the most interesting idea, however, is how the pile of poo can solve a problem in modern society. If you’re at all familiar with Facebook, you know about its culture of Likes. However, one has only the option to “Like” a post, or do nothing. There is no “Dislike” option, which can be problematic in the case of bad news. When a friend loses a job, for instance, you may wish to succinctly express sympathy and solidarity. A “Like” is clearly all wrong for this. But now, there is a solution:

You can do all kinds of funny things with [pile of poo] and use it with skill, but I guess the most common use is probably “that’s unfortunate, and I would like to punctuate my comment with a reiteration that I am displeased at what has just been expressed.” It’s the anti-like.

Yes, the good old pile of poo emoji (💩) is the perfect response, the perfect way to say “Dislike!” with just a single character. So let it be known, the pile of poo emoji is the anti-like. As with Autocorrupt before it, I urge you to pass it on.

Expertise Not Required 

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Russia has put an unknown something into space.

“I have no idea what it is!” space security expert Patricia Lewis of the think-tank Chatham House told The Washington Post in a phone interview.

Well, shit, I could have provided that quote.