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Walter Scott’s Death Should Bring Progress and a Reminder of the Importance of Filming Police Misconduct

walter scott death police misconduct

Walter Scott’s death was the result of a traffic stop that went terribly wrong. A white North Charleston police officer, Michael Slager, shot Walter Scott, an African American, eight times in the back, as Scott ran away, following a traffic stop for a broken tail light. A video shot by a bystander clearly shows that Slager was not in immediate danger. Despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled in 1985 that it is illegal to shoot a suspect in the back unless there is “reasonable fear of danger to the police officer or the public,” Slager shot Scott in the back anyway.

The officer involved in the shooting was obviously aware of the law, evident by the fact that he stated he “felt threatened” before shooting Scott and that Scott “took my Taser.” Even though the video clearly shows that no CPR was performed until paramedics arrived, the police report falsely states that the officers at the scene performed CPR on Scott. If these blatant lies by Slager are not shocking enough, the video also shows Slager initially walking over to Scott, running back to his firing spot, picking up his Taser, and finally walking 25-30 feet back and dropping it next to Scott’s lifeless body.

Although police misconduct has been a reality for many years, it wasn’t until the brutal beating of Rodney King in1992 that it was brought to national attention. The acquittal of the police officers involved in the beating resulted in riots throughout the City. The similarity between the two cases is that both were caught on film.

Scott’s case stands out among the recent cases of police misconduct, involving the murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Although their deaths resulted in unprecedented national-protests, neither one of the officers involved were indicted for murder. However, the Walter Scott case stands out because Slager was arrested, indicted and charged with Scott’s murder.

Scott’s slaying is likely to provide a similar rallying point for civil rights activists who highlight that the acts of excessive police brutality are targeted largely towards men of color. It is important to note that while both Scott and King have video documentation of the incidents, Eric Garner’s death, caused by a chokehold which was banned by the New York City police department, was also videotaped but did not result in a grand jury indictment of the officer.

The videotaping of police misconduct has been a subject of controversy, as well as the implications of police retaliation against those who film the events. For example, a reporter was detained and assaulted by police officers while attempting to film a protest in the town where Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer. Similarly, in the Garner case, a grand jury did bring an indictment against the man who filmed the incident, allegedly on weapons charges. However, these charges were curiously brought soon after the filming of Garner’s death. Other instances of retaliation have occurred, despite the fact that these filming’s are currently legal.

Police officers are rarely charged for excessive force. Research from Bowling Green State University shows that only 41 officers were charged with murder or manslaughter, in comparison to FBI data that there were 2,781 justified homicides by police in the same time period. The data was collected over a seven year period ending in 2011. Along with these staggering numbers, many legal issues have arisen when it comes to citizens recording the actions of police.

Twelve states currently have a law known as a “two party consent”, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington. In these states, both parties must know and consent to a recording. However, the laws were initially enacted to protect one’s privacy during a phone call and the Supreme Court has yet to rule that the police have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Nonetheless, due to the increases number of videos documenting police brutality, some states are seeking to place restrictions on private citizens recording the actions of the police. For example, in Texas, a bill has been introduced to make it illegal to tape the police within 25 feet. There are even Texas legislators that are attempting to amend the bill to make it a misdemeanor to film the police at all.

It is important for citizens to know their rights if they have the unfortunate experience of witnessing a shooting, or other forms of brutality, by a police officer.

  • There is right to photograph or videotape any actions that are in plain view if those actions take place in a public space.
  • Unless the police have a warrant, they may not confiscate, or even demand, that a person turn over a photograph or video. Likewise they may not delete anything from a digital video or photograph.
  • If the police feel that a person’s activities are interfering with their ability to perform their job, it is legal for the police to order a person to stop an activity. Therefore, it is important to take pictures and videos far enough away, as to not get caught in the middle of a physical altercation with the police and the alleged suspect.

Without the video of the murder of Walter Scott, at the hands of a white police officer, the story would turned out much differently. Slager likely would not have been indicted and Scott’s name would have been smeared in the media to justify the shooting, as was the case with Garner and Brown. Hopefully, the murder of Scott will result in police accountability and reduce the number of men of color assaulted and killed by the very officers whose job it is to protect and serve.

Should Parents Be Taxed or Fined for Not Vaccinating Their Children?

Vaccinations became a popular talking point after the Disneyland measles outbreak occurred earlier this year. The topic became very divisive and individuals were either pro or anti-vaccinations. Regardless of which side you are on, it is undeniable that there is a rise in unvaccinated children in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • The national average of school children vaccinated for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) is 95%, but this number is not consistent throughout all 50 states.
  • 26 states have not reached the national goal of 95% and fall far below.

children vaccineThe average number of vaccinated children varies from state to state due to various state exemptions and vaccination requirements.

  • 48 states allow parents to opt out of vaccinations through religious exemptions.
  • 20 states allow parents to opt out based on philosophical exemptions.
  • States also provide for medical exemptions for children going through chemotherapy or other health treatments that would not allow for vaccinations.

Due to the rising number of children not partaking in vaccinations and the spread of deadly diseases like the measles, many want to know if parents can be held legally accountable for not vaccinating their children.

The cost of outbreaks can be high for both families affected by the disease and the general public. For example, a single case of measles can cost state agencies more than $10,000 to track and stop the spread of the disease.

Due to the economic and physical harms that anti-vaccination can cause, some are calling for vaccine taxation or even more severe penalties, such as legal liability. Proponents of a vaccine tax want non-vaccinating parents to front the bill for these costs. The proposed procedure is to impose fees or have parents pay a charge up-front for not vaccinating.

Many supporters of the tax believe that it’s justified because it would be a deterrent for parents who do not vaccinate their children. Also, supporters believe it would be fair to parents that do vaccinate their children because they wouldn’t be force to pay for the risks taken by non-vaccinating parents.

On the other hand, many people are skeptical that this solution would work because tracking down the unvaccinated individual responsible for the outbreak would be difficult. Still, many are in support of taxes because they believe money is a great motivator that can change an individual’s behavior and choices with regards to vaccines.

States have yet to adopt these taxing laws, so there really isn’t a definitive answer to whether these penalties will be effective or not. Only time will tell if vaccination trends will naturally change or are influenced by government intervention.

Judge Directs Couple to Get Married after Woman Attempts to Light Her Boyfriend on Fire

Courts have handed a number of creative sentences over the last few years. Judges have ordered criminal defendants to wear signs outside the store they shoplifted from and buy flowers for their estranged wives. In western Pennsylvania, Quenesia Catasphany plead guilty to reckless endangerment. Last October, Ms. Catasphany had doused her boyfriend, Andrew White, with lighter fluid. Judge Joseph Williams III gave Ms. Catasphany an unusual option: Judge Williams could work out a lesser sentence if Ms. Catasphany and her boyfriend/victim got married.

pennsylvania judgeThe reasoning behind Judge William’s proposal was rather simple. Catasphany was pregnant and would give birth to their fourth child two days later. Catasphany had accused her then boyfriend of having an affair and threatened to set White on fire. In the judge’s eyes, Catasphany lacked stability in her life. So in the hearing on March 23, Judge Williams proposed the two of them get married. If they did, Judge Williams stated they “might be able to work this out better.”

Later that day, Catasphany and White got married. Judge Williams personally married the couple himself. Catasphany told local media that she was very grateful for the opportunity to better their relationship and she appreciated the judge speaking on her behalf.

Married by Duress or Happy Ever After?

Catasphany seems to be happy with the end result, but there’s no word on whether her new husband is happy with the arrangement. Getting doused with lighter fluid and then having a judge arrange the victim’s marriage to the attacker doesn’t sound like a very romantic engagement. If one of the new spouses becomes unhappy, could Catasphany or White use their unusual marital circumstances as a way to untie the knot?

Theoretically, Catasphany and White could claim Judge Williams had coerced them into getting married. Marriage by duress would mean that the parties didn’t consent to being married and the marriage could be annulled.

This sounds good in theory, but courts interpret duress very narrowly. Catasphany was forced to make a choice between marriage and getting a higher sentence, but it was still her choice. Likewise, White could have declined the judge’s proposal and refused to marry the woman who threw lighter fluid at him.

In all the prior creative sentencing, the judge’s alternative sentence did not continue indefinitely. Using state power to convince people to get married is potentially a life sentence, a sentence longer than any jail time the judge could hand down for this particular crime. It’s also a continual relationship between a potential domestically violent relationship. Given the nature and length of this “sentence,” Catasphany and White each should have consulted an attorney before making a life-impacting decision.

Judge Williams proposal was reasonable, but expecting the couple to make a decision within three days meant that Catasphany and White couldn’t possibly foresee all the problems this alternative sentence might cause them in the future. Best of luck to the newlyweds.

How the Nanny State and Technology Intersect to Stop Crime

Ronald Bjarnason, 59, was arrested in Northern California last week on suspicion of a hit-and-run and for possession of marijuana with intent to sell.

Nanny State Police TechnologyNobody reported Bjarnason, no one was involved in the accident, and there were no witnesses. So how did the police know to show up at the scene?

The BMW he crashed sent out an automated distress call, alerting the police.

Police found the car crashed into a guardrail at around 12:20 a.m., but Bjarnason was nowhere to be found. An officer heard rustling in a bush nearby, and a homeowner said his surveillance system captured a man running across his lawn right after the accident occurred.

Officers then came upon a duffel bag filled with 13 pounds of marijuana along the suspected path Bjarnason took to escape the scene.

Police eventually found Bjarnason and arrested him. The Corte Madera police, Marin County Major Crimes Task Force, and the Central Marin Special Response team then obtained a warrant to search Bjarnason’s home in Piercy. They discovered 2,000 marijuana plants, pounds of cultivated marijuana, Ecstasy pills, psilocybin mushroom cultivation, weapons, and cash.

Bjarnason is out of custody pending possible charges.

Nanny State and Smart Technology

Would Bjarnason have gotten away if his BMW did not send a distress call? To be honest, probably not. He still crashed, and he was still caught on camera. The only difference is that the police arrived on scene faster. Is this the result of a nanny state?

In my opinion, it’s not. New technology doesn’t hinder us, it allows us to be safer in a world where 1.3 million people die in car crashes every year. That automated distress call can save the valuable seconds a person needs in order to survive.

When Will Drones Be Available for Commercial Use?

Drones are typically associated with the military use. Recently, however, private companies have being developing commercial uses for drones, such as delivering consumer goods, recording videos, and providing Internet service.

CaptureCurrently, drones are only approved for private use. Companies like Amazon, want to change this and are urging the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to quickly create regulation for commercial drone use.

Businesses are not happy with the FAA because the agency is taking a long time to create rules and regulations for commercial drone use. In 2012, Congress told the FAA to submit guidelines and final regulations by September 2015. This deadline is still not appeasing business. Amazon has critiqued the slow U.S. regulatory process and has praised other countries for their quick action and procedures.

While the U.S. is delaying commercial drone use, several countries have already approved it, including Canada, France, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

Businesses usually have to wait up to six months before getting permission to test their technology with the FAA, whereas the wait in foreign countries is between one to two months. This waiting period is crucial because the technology may become obsolete by the time the FAA gives its approval.

To solve this problem, the FAA has recently stated that it plans on approving a “blanket” requirement that will allow companies to test their commercial drones without seeking further permission from the agency.

The FAA’s proposed new rules may also include the following requirements:

  • Drone pilots must be licensed
  • Drones may only be used during daylight hours
  • Drones cannot fly higher than 400 feet
  • Drones must stay within eyesight of the person controlling the aircraft at all times

The FAA may be dragging its feet on creating regulation because of other concerns, such as privacy violations. Or the fear that drones could collide with airplanes or other aircrafts. While approving regulations will quickly win favor from businesses and entrepreneurs, the agency may be criticized for not properly weighing the pros and cons of this new technology. Due to this tough balancing act the agency must perform, it is unlikely that commercial drones will be used to deliver your holiday gifts, or textbooks any time soon.