Tag Archive for 'arizona'

Police Use Deadly Force in a Brawl with Christian Musicians

A family of traveling Christian musicians brawled with four cops in a Walmart parking lot on March 21st.  The fight resulted in an officer shooting and killing one of the brothers.

Arizona Walmart Brawl Deadly ForceThe brutal 9-minute long fight was caught on the cop car’s dashboard camera. The fight started when a female employee tried to use the restroom at the Walmart and was shoved by two of the brothers because their mom was using the restroom.

The family immediately started to assault the cops as soon as they arrived at the scene. Punches were thrown and the cops attempted to subdue them by pepper spray and a Taser. The family kept fighting even after pepper sprayed and hit with a Taser, prompting the officers to call for back up.

A struggle for one of the officer’s guns left Enoch Gaver dead, and David Gaver shot in the stomach.

Peter Gaver, Ruth Gaver, Nathan Gaver, and Jeramiah Gaver were all arrested and are facing charges for aggravated assault, resisting arrest, and hindering prosecution.

Was the Police Use of Deadly Force Legal?

Police officers can use deadly force in self-defense. If an officer feels there is imminent threat to his or the public’s safety, he is allowed to and is legally protected if he deems it necessary to use deadly force.

Enoch Gaver reached for and struggled to grab the officer’s gun. Therefore, the “reasonable choice” the officer had in the situation was to immediately kill him. Deadly force may be used when no other action is believed to succeed. In this case, the officer either needed to kill, or be killed. The shooting was completely justified.

A Teacher Was Raped and the State’s Response Is Unacceptable

A female teacher was raped in an Eyman Prison in Florence, Arizona on January 30 2014. She was administering a pre-GED exam to seven convicted sex-offenders and mentally handicapped prisoners. The convicts arrived unescorted, and the classroom was in a remote location without security cameras or in the view of security guards. After the test, all inmates left with the exception of 21 year old Jacob Harvey. Harvey was convicted of a day-time home invasion where he brutally raped and beat a woman while her toddler watched. He was sentenced to 30 years in March 2013.

Jacob HarveyHow can an unarmed woman who is not trained in self-defense protect herself when in a classroom of convicted sex offenders? Should the state be held liable for her injuries? After all, she is an employee, isn’t it their job to protect her? According to Laurie Roberts of The Arizona Republic, the attorney general’s reasoning was essentially “The woman knew she was in a prison, so what did she expect?”

The only communication device she was given was a radio to reach prison guards if an incident occurred. When the inmate attacked the teacher, she tried using the radio, but it was tuned to a channel the guards didn’t even use. She also tried screaming, as Harvey threw her to the ground and stabbed her with pencils, choking her and slamming her head into the floor all at the same time. No guard came to help. The teacher has accused the state of negligence, false imprisonment, and violation of her civil rights.

The state of Arizona has requested that the teacher’s negligence lawsuit be thrown out. But, U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton stated that the suit “contains sufficient allegations” and is letting the civil suit go forward. She stated the teacher “faced an unusually serious risk of harm” and the defendants “acted with deliberate indifference in failing to take steps to address that danger”.

The Attorney General’s Office stated the teacher “has attempted to recast absolutely routine prison events”. So an employee being raped by a prisoner is a routine prison event?

Scott Zwillinger, the teacher’s attorney, believes this is a classic case of victim-blaming. On top of physical injuries, he stated “the emotional part of this has tore my client’s life up” and it’s like we’re back in 1952 because “Absolutely, it’s blaming the victim”.

Who is at fault, is yet to be decided. The pretrial conference is set for February 23rd. To me, if an employee is subjected to physical harm with a clear lack of protection that is expected from a prison, the state is at fault and should pay the highest amount of restitution. Victim blaming is not the answer.

Arizona Town Fights to Keep Non-English Speakers Off The Ballot

To me, Arizona is like an incredibly gifted and interesting kid with low self-esteem.  The state has a lot going for it on its own that would make most people want to visit and like it.  It’s got the Grand Canyon along with a bunch of other beautiful national parks, it’s one part of the Four Corners states, it has great ski resorts, and a rich history.  Yet for some reason, much like the aforementioned low self-esteem child, it thinks the only way to get attention is by acting out.

Seriously, first it tries to pass that cockamamie immigration law, SB 1070, that would have required every alien to constantly carry around their papers.  And now there’s a town in the state that’s trying to keep a person off a seat for city council due to her less-than-basic English skills.  Hmm, okay, maybe that latter cry for attention isn’t all that unreasonable.  But still, it makes you want to just shake the state and tell it to love itself.

But seriously, for real this time, San Luis, a small town in Arizona, has recently made some waves in the media over some controversy with the town city council elections.  A candidate by the name of Alejandrina Cabrera, a native Spanish speaker, wants to run for a spot on the council, but was blocked in court by the city’s mayor, Juan Carlos Escamilla.  Escamilla claims that Cabrera isn’t qualified to serve on the council because her English skills aren’t up to snuff.  Though he also admits his own English isn’t perfect, he asserts Cabrera’s English shortcomings are severe enough to be a hindrance to her governing abilities.

Cabrera has conceded that her English isn’t great and a linguist’s report shows her to only possess “basic survival level” English, but she argues that in a town like San Luis this is sufficient.  She might have a point as the town only has about 25,000 residents, is mostly bilingual, and sits right on the U.S.-Mexico border.  As it stands right now, the Court must decide whether or not to strike Cabrera from the ballot come election time.

It’s worth noting that many states have laws requiring citizens in political position to be able to speak English, and not surprisingly Arizona also has such a law in place.  The issue is that many of these states, including Arizona, don’t really specify how much English a person needs to know in order to be considered able to speak English.  It might sound like a trivial detail, but as you can see in Cabrera’s case, it’s quite literally her whole case.  As Arizona’s law sits today, there’s not much guidance in this area, only a general provision.  About the only good thing about this situation is that the story serves as a great jumping point for how an English-requirement law should be written and whether or not it should even exist.

But before we get to that, it’s worth noting that many people think this law is discriminatory, and should be a form of illegal governmental discrimination.  However, that’s simply not the case under the Constitution; states are given a general police power under the Tenth Amendment that allows them to legislate for the general welfare of the state’s citizens.  Furthermore, it’s long been established by the U.S. Supreme Court that both state and federal governments can establish basic requirements that must be fulfilled if one is to take a leadership position in our government.  And setting a language requirement is certainly within both the federal and state government’s rights.

Now that that’s out of the way, back to solving the English requirement issue.  I don’t know about you guys, but I think figuring out how proficient someone is in English was already solved a long time ago by the Department of Education.  The answer is simple: standardized testing.  It doesn’t even have to be university level, just the basic ESL test given to all foreign students is sufficient to determine how proficient a prospective candidate is in English.

I don’t know why these legislators never thought about including something like this before in their state laws.  In order to establish one’s fluency in English for political office, that candidate must be able to pass an ESL test.  If they do, then they can run for the government position.  And to avoid any Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment equal protection issues, make the test applicable to all candidates running.  Even the native speaker – everyone has to pass it.  Simple, right?  I think so.

But the bigger issue here is whether an English requirement for political office should even exist.  Technically our country has no official language, despite the prevalence of English.  We are a country of immigrants after all and we were founded on the principle of equality.  In that sense, why require anyone to speak English at all?  However, we can’t deny the reality that most everyone in this country speaks English and therefore in order for one to be an effective leader here, that candidate must be able to communicate with the people in this country in the language that the majority speaks.

Ultimately, I think this is too big of a question to answer . . . on my own that is.  English as America’s official language has always been a contentious subject.  So I leave this question’s answer to you, dear readers?  What do you think about the English requirement?  Nay or yea?

Arizona Bans “The Tempest” and Any Other Book that Might Encourage Discussions about Racism

Arizona is on a roll. First, it passes one of the most restrictive anti-immigration laws in the country, on the (false) premise that the federal government is becoming lax in its enforcement of existing immigration laws. Its largest county continues to elect a sheriff who blatantly disregards the constitution, and fails to investigate hundreds of sexual assault cases because he’s devoted all his resources to going after immigrants.

And now, another one of that state’s brilliant and not-at-all-racist laws is having some…interesting consequences. A recent state law bans public schools from teaching ethnic studies courses. This effectively bans schools from teaching subjects like Mexican-American studies.

The law officially bans public schools from teaching any subjects that “promotes the overthrow of the United States Government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” Taken at face value, this law seems pretty reasonable. However, it’s had the effect (which was its intended effect) of banning just about any class that seeks to educate students about other cultures.

An Arizona court has just ruled that Shakespeare’s play The Tempest cannot be taught in class. This is because The Tempest is about a banished duke who seeks revenge through magic, and deals with themes such as colonialism, slavery, and racism. Apparently, it’s just not OK to discuss those subjects in the classroom.

As you can imagine, I’m not in favor of this action, or the law that prompted it. I’m not sure what’s going on in Arizona, but it’s definitely nothing good. In a school district where close to 60 percent of the students are Latin American, a law that effectively bans schools from teaching students about that group’s history and culture sends a pretty clear message, whether it was intended or not: your culture has so little value that we feel the need to ban public schools from teaching any classes about it.

Laws like this will probably be short-lived, as Latin-Americans are by far the fastest growing demographic in Arizona, and contrary to the apoplectic ravings of talk radio hosts, most of them are there legally, and of those, a large percentage are U.S. citizens, meaning that they can vote.

To be honest, I don’t even have much of an opinion on the educational value of ethnic studies programs in public schools. However, this law pretty obviously is not motivated by an honest, good-faith belief that these programs lack educational value and that school resources are best spent elsewhere. It seems to be motivated by antipathy towards, or at least suspicion of, Latin-American culture, and Latin-Americans in general.

From a legal standpoint, however, I don’t know if there’s anything that can be done to stop this. States are free to regulate the curriculum of public schools, and there’s nothing in the Constitution that stops them from doing so. Unless Arizona begins segregating its schools by race, it’s unlikely that the federal courts can do anything about it. And, frankly, I think it might be counterproductive for the federal courts to intervene at this time.

We live in a time where many people are extremely suspicious of the motives, and even the very legitimacy, of the federal government. So, if the federal courts were to intervene, there’s a chance that Arizona officials could simply refuse to comply with whatever the court orders, regardless of the order’s legal merits. This would leave the federal government with an incredibly unpleasant decision: give the government of a state a pass on obeying the law, or taking more forceful measures to enforce a court order.

Given the current political climate, nobody wants that.

Ultimately, I hope that our country moves past this nativist, xenophobic phase we’re going through. It seems that we go through a phase like this every few decades, and they usually coincide with economic hardship and/or social unrest. And they eventually pass.

Hopefully, what we’re seeing now is also just a phase. Of course, I should note that the concerns that these laws, and others like them, mean to address are not entirely imaginary. Illegal immigration is a real issue, and we need a sane policy to deal with it. Personally, I think that the solution to illegal immigration, to the extent one exists, is to simplify the entire immigration process, and to make it easier to come into this country legally.

I hope, in the long run, that cooler heads will prevail on the issue of immigration.

Arizona’s Religious Freedom Law Has Hidden Agenda

Oh, Arizona. Will you ever stop making my job so easy? Never change (as long as I don’t have to move to you).

Arizona has passed a law which, on its face, actually seems pretty progressive – appearing to be a major expansion of religious freedom. Basically, it creates an absolute exemption from professional licensing and discipline rules, if a violation of the rules was motivated by religion.

This is basically an amendment to Arizona’s version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This federal law essentially requires federal courts to examine any law which burdens a person’s ability to freely exercise their religion under “strict scrutiny” – meaning that, for a law that interferes with a religious practice to be valid, it must be shown that the law advanced a compelling government interest, and that it is narrowly tailored to that end.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been primarily used to protect the religious practices of Native Americans. For example, some tribes have used the law to carve out an exception to the federal law against the use of peyote, which has been used in the religious rites of some tribes for thousands of years. And I know I’m painting with a broad brush here, but these types of exemptions tend to be fairly popular with those who find themselves a bit to the left on the political spectrum, and perhaps also to certain “conservative” factions, like libertarians.

Arizona, however, is not known for its liberal tradition. And many of its policies, while very conservative, could be considered anything but libertarian. I wonder if anyone has told the Arizona Legislature that this law, as written, would also apply to Muslims. Zing! Anyway, this appears to be yet another play to the conservative base in Arizona.

So, what’s the deal with this law? Well, it appears that its purpose is to make it easier for doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, and other professionals, to refuse to provide their services when doing so would violate their religious views. This includes doctors refusing to perform abortions, or refer a patient to a doctor who will, pharmacists refusing to prescribe “the pill” or other forms of birth control. It might also extend to lawyers refusing to represent LGBT clients, without any fear of facing discipline from the relevant state licensing authority.

The sponsors of the legislation cite a proposed rule by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which would require doctors who oppose abortion, and refuse to perform one, to refer the patient to a doctor who will.

Over the last few years, a controversy (as part of the broader “culture war”) has been brewing: to what extent should doctors, and professionals who provide essential services, be allowed to refuse their services based on their personal beliefs?

I don’t know if there’s an easy answer to this. After all, when you become a doctor, a lawyer, or a pharmacist, your right to freely exercise your religion doesn’t suddenly disappear. And it’s well accepted that, on occasions, religious exemptions to generally-applicable laws are warranted, but it’s rare that the exemptions are as absolute as the ones contained in the Arizona law.

But a state has an interest in making sure that everyone has access to essential services like medical care and legal representation, especially when it regulates those professions, ostensibly for the public good. As usual, the state has to strike a delicate balancing act.

But, once again, Arizona doesn’t seem to be very interested in balancing the religious hang-ups of individual doctors and lawyers against the public good. Instead, this seems like a pretty blatant attempt to appease a political base of social conservatives, coming down firmly on the side of protecting a professional’s “right” to engage in discrimination, over the public’s right to have access to essential services.

Interestingly, depending on how this law is applied, it might run afoul of another clause in the First Amendment. Ironically, an attempt to protect the right of a particular group of people to practice their religion, especially when it creates exceptions to generally-applicable laws, can actually run afoul of that other provision of the Constitution dealing with religious freedom: the Establishment Clause.

I should clarify. There are two distinct clauses in the 1st Amendment that deal with religion. They are the free exercise clause, and the establishment clause. It reads, in relevant part: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The free exercise clause is pretty clear in its meaning: everyone is free to exercise their religion in the U.S.

The meaning of the establishment clause isn’t as self-evident, however. It basically means that the government cannot adopt (or “establish”) an official state religion. This has been read to mean that the government cannot enact laws that substantially favor one religion over another. If this law is applied in a way that clearly favors Christians (or any other religious group), it could be held unconstitutional, as applied.

However, it’s written so broadly that, depending on the preferences of those in power in Arizona, it could just as easily be applied in a perfectly reasonable and constitutional manner.

Time will tell.