Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “policy”

Intent to Kill vs. Shoot to Kill – Tom Rossi

There seem to have been a lot of police shootings in the last few years. I’ve been wordering about this. It seems that, if a cop feels he has to shoot at a suspect, the cop most often aims for the chest and pulls the trigger multiple times. Sometimes multiple cops pull their triggers multiple times.

This is fine in the cases in which it’s called for – and armed suspect has killed someone (or a few someones) and there has been a “hot pursuit,” where the suspect is cornered and desperate. In these cases, letting him escape could easily prove fatal for innocent bystanders, or for the very cops in pursuit.

But there have also been shootings where it was unknown whether the suspect was armed. The cops, lately, always say, “He was reaching for his waistband,” or something like that. In these cases, the cops have thought (assuming they told the truth about the reaching) that the suspect was going for a gun. It’s a split-second decision, with lives at stake. And I think we all probably have a “better safe than sorry” reflex built into our brains that activates in these situations.

What I don’t understand is why the police, in these types of cases, shoot to kill. It’s well publicized that cops are trained only to draw their weapons when they intend to kill the suspect. But I think the meaning of this has been lost.

The “only if you intend to kill” imperative was, I think, implemented because guns are dangerous – even in the hands of a well-trained police officer. It would be foolhardy to pull a gun in a situation where you were sure you didn’t want the suspect to die. Shooting a person and hoping they won’t die is a fool’s bet.

The message to young cops is: don’t pull your gun unless it’s okay that the suspect dies. But the intent of that “rule” is not that, once your gun is out, you should shoot to kill. It’s there to make the officer realize that, if you shoot someone, there is a good chance they will die, so don’t take shooting someone lightly, nor even un-holstering your gun.

But once that gun is out, there is nothing – no rule, no imperative, that says: “You must now kill this person, and make absolutely sure he or she is dead.”

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An example where shooting to kill was unnecessary and uncalled-for came all too soon after Johannes Mehserle was given a light slap on the hand by the court for killing Oscar Grant – a time of turmoil for the city of Oakland, California. Derrick Jones, who was unarmed, was shot while running from the police and “reaching for his waistband several times.” (my emphasis) I guess the cops put up with him reaching for his waistband a few times, but then it was just one too many.

The police shot Jones at least five times in the chest and abdominal area, later making a kind of “better safe than sorry” argument. But why? Why couldn’t they have shot him in the leg, and taken one extra second to assess the danger that Jones might have a gun? This seems a reasonable course of action given the circumstances.

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Police officers point out that they are under incredible stress in these situations. But the police are trained for this and they get practice in the real world, especially in a city know for gang violence. Cops are supposed to be the ones to keep cool heads when everyone else is screaming and panicking.

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By and large, cops are brave individuals who perform a great service to our communities. But sometimes, a cop can let emotions rule his or her actions, just like the average citizen might. I think the policy that a cop shouldn’t pull his or her gun unless there is an intent to kill the suspect should be further explained and explored while cadets are in training. It seems like a policy with solid motivation but somewhat poor execution – with dire consequences at times.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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Should the Cheats Define the Policy? – Tom Rossi

It seems that, for most of my life, I’ve heard a lot of whining about welfare cheats and people who cheat medicare, unemployment, social security, food stamps, and several other programs. Additionally, I now hear all about the people who misuse California’s medical marijuana law so that they can get high and have fun.

There really are people who fit these descriptions. But are these reasons to axe the whole programs? The Department of Labor, for example, estimates that 1.9% of unemployment insurance payments go to cheats. While that does add up to a significant amount of money, it also means that 98.1% go to legitimate, unemployed citizens who are in need of help.

Statistics on cheating in state welfare programs are considerably worse (and difficult to find research results on), but appear to be well below 25% attempts at fraud or at least minor tweaking, most of which are caught and stopped.

There can be no doubt that, even if at a statistically low level, this cheating is a drain on our financial resources that should not be ignored. But this is a problem of enforcement of the rules and regulations of these programs. Fiscal conservatives use these problems as justification to call for these types of programs to be shut down completely, or to cut the benefits as low as possible.

These programs are designed to help people in need. People who have lost their jobs, have had a serious illness in the family, are taking care of a special needs child (or adult), or single or just low-income parents. Can we turn our backs on these people because some people cheat?

There are societal costs – real costs – to ignoring the needs of our so-called less-fortunate citizens. It can mean that we lose whatever contribution a person might make if he or she is helped through a temporary setback. It can mean that people are carrying illnesses while mingling with the “rest of us.” It can mean that some (many) children never reach anything like their true potential and never make the contribution they could to our country. Or it could just mean unnecessary suffering by people suffering from anything from the effects of chemotherapy to chronic insomnia.

These are real costs that justify the costs of assistance programs. But I, for one, believe that the purpose of civilization and certainly of America is to insulate us from the brutality of life, or the “law of the jungle.” Otherwise, we could just fire all the cops and say, “If you can’t protect yourself, too bad.”

I want to live in a civilized country – as far from the law of the jungle as is reasonably possible. We can’t define our policies based on those (relatively few) who abuse them. That’s a separate matter. We must define policy based on benefits to our society and then work to keep the process honest. Would conservatives have us shut down the NFL because teams and players sometimes break the rules? Of course not. Think about this when you’re watching your next football game.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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Stop and Frisk: Evidence of Class Warfare – Tom Rossi

It’s come down to this: the end of, “innocent until proven guilty.” That principle is not in the U.S. constitution. However, it’s been the policy that has guided law enforcement in this country for decades.

“Stop and frisk” is a practice whereby the police can stop someone in the street for no other reason than he or she “looks suspicious.” It doesn’t matter if a crime has been committed nearby. It doesn’t matter if the person matches the description of an alleged perpetrator. He or she can be stopped and given a body search simply due to his or her appearance.

Who will they stop? Will it be white men in suits, walking into bank’s corporate offices? Well, that hasn’t happened, so far. So far (and this is what the policy is designed for) the people who have been stopped have been people of very little means – people in poor neighborhoods wearing inexpensive clothing.

In 2011, the New York city police stopped people 685,724 times. Many of those were repeats, as some people got stopped multiple times. Of that number, 88 percent were innocent – in other words not carrying any weapons, drugs, nor rhinoceros tusks. Only 9 percent of the total were caucasians, even though causasians were almost twice as likely as other groups to be found carrying a weapon.

Stop and frisk is a policy that betrays the classism and racism of the security hawks, and it’s spreading. San Francisco is now considering making “stop and frisk” policy. Several other cities are either considering it or have implemented it at least to some degree.

Let me be clear. When I say it’s the end of “innocent until proven guilty,” I’m not talking about jail or prison. That goes on, too, but what I’m talking about is the violation of people’s rights to personal self and privacy.

I’m also talking about the “haves” and the “have-nots,” and the differences between the two groups’ experiences of “our” country and democracy. Stop and frisk seems another way to separate those who are valued in our society from those who are unwanted.

The danger, and what allows these policies to take hold, is that “normal,” middle-class, working people will think, “Oh, that won’t affect me. I don’t look suspicious and I don’t hang out in bad neighborhoods.” But in this, winner-take-all economy, so many lines are being blurred. The once-affluent wear out their clothes because they can’t afford new ones. They live in places they would not have considered before. They drive old cars.

But somehow the people who have managed to keep their jobs still have their attitude that, “That won’t happen to me.” As a result, they aren’t too concerned, and feel that the benefits of increased security outweigh the costs – whatever they may be.

I say the costs of an unjust society are much higher than the, “How does this affect me?” paradigm can measure. More and more of us lose power in this society every day. The Citizens United case in the Supreme Court has accelerated this phenomenon.

Take a stand against injustice, now. When the injustice comes into your house, it may be too late.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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What Do “Occupiers” Want?

The “Occupy” movement that was born with Occupy Wall Street on September 17, 2011 has forced us to face our worst fears – we (the people) now have to actually define what we want and how things should change.

This is no easy task. The temptation is to be exhaustively comprehensive like the U.S. Green Party. Here on this blog, Roger Ingalls posted 8 demands, but I can hardly imagine the leader of a protest calling to the crowd, “What do we want?” and the crowd responding, “Create a nationalized commercial bank to fund small businesses based on the prime lending rate plus overhead costs!” Roger later boiled it down (and I’m only making fun of him a little because he’s a very intelligent guy with a sense of humor) to: “Get the money out.”

While I agree with both of Roger’s posts, in one he was very specific, and in one he reduced it all to a catchy (if right on the money) slogan. In my opinion, what’s needed, for now, is sort of in between these two – a set of general policies that are clear.

As opposed to the avalanche of a platform that the Green Party has created, I myself would propose a set of policies that open up our government to voices of the people. This would differ from what the Green Party has done in that it would not say how things should be (with a few exceptions) but rather open up discussion to topics that are not allowed in our current, corporate-controlled media and government.

It’s so great that people like Roger Ingalls and members of the Green Party are working with such rigor. But I think the first step is one that is being accomplished by the Occupy movement right now – free speech.

We have not been allowed to question capitalism up until now. We have not been allowed to question its juggernautical march toward pure laissez-faire. Now, these discussions are taking place out in the open – even in Washington.

I have my own policy ideas too. But for now I want to think and listen. For the first time in my life I feel as though I can go downtown and talk about my ideas and hear those of other people. The Occupy movement IS a success, but we have to realize that we are still in phase 1. Let’s talk. Let’s share our ideas. Let’s lead by example and be tolerant and really listen to each other.

It is true that to accomplish real dialog on any kind of significant scale we will have to greatly reduce the influence of money on politics and on the media. And it is true that we will soon need much more than dialog. And in phase 2 we will need to lay out policies that represent the ideals of those of us that have the audacity to think that human-beings are more important than corporations. The specifics of how this would work are important. But let’s not jump phase 1 just because the pressure is on – from those who would have us fail.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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