Monday, April 21, 2008

Much Mythmaking About Special Order 40
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

A beleaguered LAPD chief William Bratton after weeks of being pounded and badgered by assorted right-wing talk radio show yakkers, and anti-immigrant rights groups, immigrant rights groups, and the L.A. City Council says that he’ll soon tell what LAPD officers can and can’t do in regards to the much attacked, much defended and much misunderstood Special Order 40. The controversy and the muddle has spawned much mythmaking about what the Order actually says and what it allows officers to do.
The Order specifically says that LAPD officers can’t initiate any “police action with the objective of discovering the alien status of a person,” and with the objective of arresting or booking a person for “illegal entry” into the United States.

In plain English, the Order and the policies and procedures that the LAPD top brass put in place decades back to under gird how the Order is interpreted and enforced on the streets prohibits officers from asking a person about his or her alien status and from notifying the ICE about a person’s undocumented status unless the person has been arrested.

That line has been widely cited by those that want the Order dumped and has stirred the anguish of Jamiel Shaw Sr., whipped up frenzy among anti-immigration reform activists, and gave right wing talk hosts the wedge they needed to pound the city council and Bratton and sneakily push their anti-immigration reform agenda. The part of the Order that they have sloppily misread or deliberately ignored never forbade LAPD officers from participating in task force investigations, responding to requests from the ICE for information regarding suspected illegal aliens, or assisting ICE agents in the execution of arrest warrants.

That’s just the start of the public and political mythmaking on the Order. It does not bar an LAPD officer from notifying ICE of the immigration status of a person arrested for a crime if the officer learns of that information. Further, nothing in the Order bars an officer who is investigating an individual for criminal activity other than an immigration violation from asking that person about his or her immigration status and then advising ICE.

The Order was never intended to prevent officers from not checking whether anyone being investigated for or arrested for a criminal offense, let alone arraigned and held in the county jail pending prosecution, from notifying ICE about the possible illegal status of the suspect. Even on the hotly disputed and debated point that the LAPD officers can’t ask a person who has been arrested for a crime about his or her alien status, there is nothing in the Department’s policies and procedures that explicitly prohibit that.

There’s nothing in the policies and procedures of Special Order 40 that prohibits LAPD officers from interacting with ICE agents for investigative purposes. This includes the issue that has caused the most confusion and inflamed public opinion and that’s officers providing the names of known gang members to the ICE in response to a request from the agency for information. There is also nothing in Special Order 40 that forbids LAPD officers from joining in a task force with ICE where the feds are investigating criminal violations of immigration laws at the same time that the LAPD is investigating violations of state criminal laws relating to say drug dealing or violent crimes. LAPD officers are certainly not prohibited from assisting the ICE to arrest a gang member for whom a warrant had been issued.

Here’s an added check list of what LAPD officers can do to nail gang members and violent criminals that are suspected illegals. They can:
*Respond to requests from ICE to provide information regarding an individual’s criminal activities or whereabouts.

*Assist ICE to execute arrest warrants for violations of the immigration laws.
*Provide tactical assistance when ICE is planning to conduct any operation that will prevent criminal acts and violence.

*Can provide the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department with the names of gang members or those suspected of involvement in criminal acts that are suspected illegals to ICE once the criminal investigation process has started.
The problem is not and never has been that Special Order 40 ties the LAPD in such tight knots that it has been hapless and ineffective in dealing with violent gang members who may be illegals. The problem is the muddle in interpretation and enforcement of the Order. LAPD officers have gotten confused and mixed signals from LAPD officials about what they can and can’t do on the streets with criminals suspected of being illegals.

As it turns out they can do a lot to get them off the streets and eventually out of the country. It doesn’t take a full blown, divisive, and racially polarizing campaign fueled by myths and misunderstanding about the Order to do that.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Swatting SWAT
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The instant that LAPD chief William Bratton called for a fresh look at the practices and gender make-up of SWAT in 2005, the howls went up from the LAPD Police Protective League, and the reflexive opponents of any LAPD change that Bratton was out to gut SWAT. This was silly, hyper-defensive, and politically motivated. Bratton was hardly out to dampen down the effectiveness of SWAT. The unit has had a solid record in handling tough situations with tact, professionalism, and most importantly a relative minimum loss of life.

The problem is that SWAT has made glaring operational mistakes in some very volatile situations. The equally big problem is that SWAT simply does not reflect the changing face and gender of the LAPD. The department in its blunt report dissecting SWAT said so. It called it insular, a good ole boy, and self-protective unit. Translated that means the unit is an iron-clad closed shop outfit, that brooks no outside interference, direction, and has doggedly resisted the entrance into SWAT of any other than hand-picked, elite male officers. This is a sure fire prescription to reinforce the clubby “them versus us” mindset and code of silence that has bedeviled the LAPD for decades.
This is the mindset that Bratton has sworn that he will do whatever he can to end during his second term at the LAPD helm.
But judging from the horrified reaction to the report and the changes that it recommended to break down the insular culture of SWAT, Bratton will have his work cut out for him on this. He’ll have an even tougher job in trying to make operational changes, or better still policy changes, on the thorny issue of the use of force. While SWAT has been lauded for handling most stand-off situations without resort to gunplay, on a few occasions when it has used force the result has been disastrous.

The most glaring and tormenting example of this was the accidental slaying of 19 month old Susie Pena, in a South L.A. hostage standoff in 2005. That forced a deep soul search within the department and within SWAT on when and when not to use force, and how much force is appropriate in tense situations. It also forced the LAPD top brass and the police commission to look at something else about SWAT. And that is when force may be inappropriate, or flat out overkill, in a situation where innocent civilians are injured or slain as a result. The question is how accountable are SWAT commanders and officers for the killing, and what if any punishment is meted out when a shooting is ruled out of policy.

The report found that in almost all cases where there was the questionable use of force by SWAT, the shooting was not found out of policy. The couple of times that the shootings were ruled out of policy there was no indication what, if any punishment there was to the shooters?

This is no small point. This begs for a policy change and that change is that the department must establish clear and firm guidelines on when an officer, in this case a SWAT officer, can and can't use deadly force. The vague rule is that an officer can use deadly force when he or she feels their life is endangered. What does that really mean?

That's the first step to confronting this problem. The second is discipline. A chief must have full authority to punish an officer found guilty of using excessive force. That includes SWAT officers. This too must be addressed and changed.
The overuse of excessive force is still the single biggest thing that poisons relations between the police and minority communities. It has sparked deadly racial turmoil and civil unrest in Los Angeles and other cities.

Bratton should be applauded, not stoned, for having the foresight to examine all parts of the LAPD to see what works, what doesn’t work, and where appropriate changes can be made to make those parts work even better.

No one is condemning SWAT for the way it handles things, nor is anyone calling it an out of control bunch of Cowboys. It has repeatedly been praised for getting it right most of the time. However, it’s those times when it doesn’t that the report simply says demands some change. After all we all want to see SWAT be the absolute best that it can be. Don’t we?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Hang in There Tavis Smiley, Don’t let the Black Obama Thought Police Run You Out
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

As late as this past January, black talk show host Tavis Smiley was the darling of black America. Three months later he’s the butt of black America. The tip off that Smiley’s personal stock has plunged was his abrupt announcement that he was quitting his long standing post as political commentator on the nationally syndicated Tom Joyner morning show. The Joyner show is virtually the airwaves Bible for legions of blacks. For more than a decade, Smiley was the show’s black political and social issues voice. He was widely considered the go to guy for blacks on cutting edge social and advocacy issues.

So what is Smiley’s great sin? He had the temerity to be less than a court cheer leader for candidate Obama. He compounded the sin with the black Obama thought police by having the added temerity to invite and warmly greet and thank Hillary Clinton for speaking at his annual State of the Black Union (formerly State of Black America) forum in February. Then he had the added added temerity to publicly criticize Obama for offering to send his wife Michelle as a fill-in.

That did it. The howls went up that Smiley was A. anti-Obama B. A closet Hillary backer C. an egoistic, self-absorbed, full of himself, bad host and ingrate. One columnist summed up the chorus from the black Obama thought police with this plunge the knife in the back title “Who Died and made Tavis King?” That title and the sentiment behind it would have been nothing short of heresy in January.

But putting the suddenly hate Smiley tide aside for a moment. There are two shames and tragedies here. The first is that if an African-American, and it makes no different whether it’s a Smiley, or anyone else, even dares breathe a kind word about Hillary Clinton they will be run out of Dodge on a rail. Heaven forbid if they declare that they will vote for Clinton. No matter how many reasoned arguments they give—her experience, grasp of the issues, programs, and positions, staunch history in support of civil rights, women’s rights, and social justice issues and Obama’s paper thin if not outright dubious record on all of the aforementioned. Then remind the Obama chorus that the last time they looked the strength of democracy and the first amendment is the right to back a candidate of their choice and not be subjected to a verbal public lynching for making their choice.

The second shame and disgrace is that those blacks that exercise their democratic right to pick the candidate they think will do the best job and not blindly back a candidate based solely because he’s black are considered race traitors. This is almost a text book variation on the old Orwellian Animal Farm saga of when the formerly oppressed flip the power table and suddenly become the new masters. They think, act and behave like the bunch that they kicked out of power. They are just as oppressive, stifling and thick headed toward any views and opinions that don’t conform to theirs.

Given the history of the racial scorn heaped on them, blacks should be the absolute last ones to impose a racial code of conduct on other blacks. Unfortunately, in their absolute dogmatic, unyielding, Obama mania, they have turned what in any other season would be a healthy give and take reasoned dialogue and even debate on political issues into finger pointing, name calling, bashing, and yes as Smiley unhappily said “hate” toward any black who disagrees that Obama is the second coming of Dr. King.

Here’s the challenge to Obama. Smiley has given him countless opportunities on his TV show, website, radio show, a presidential debate, and other public venues that he’s hosted to amply express his views. That hardly sounds like an inherent political enemy. Why not issue a statement simply saying that Smiley’s a stellar and consistent media and public voice for black causes, and a man worthy of respect and admiration. But most importantly, he has the right to hold and voice his political opinions on the presidential candidates and that even includes principled criticism of candidate Obama.

He has the right to do that without being vilified and verbally assailed. This in no way diminishes his credibility or value to black America. In other words, knock off the “hating” on Smiley (and others). Tavis, let me know when, but more likely if, that statement is ever issued. Meanwhile hang tough, and don’t let the black Obama thought police run you out.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).

Race Is Still the X Factor for Obama
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

There’s a good and bad note for Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama in the recent exit polls of white voters in Democratic primaries. The good note is that by a lopsided majority of six to one whites said that race was not a factor in considering whether to back Obama or not. That pretty much conforms to virtually every poll that’s been taken since Obama tossed his hat in the presidential ring a year ago. His red state Democratic primary and caucus wins and the handful of endorsements he’s gotten from the red state Democratic senators and governors seem to bolster the poll findings as well as his camp’s contention that the majority of whites have bought his race neutral change and unity pitch.

The bad note for him, though, is buried in the racial rose tinged poll numbers. In fact, they were actually buried there even as he rolled up big numbers in his primary victories in Georgia, Mississippi, Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, and South Carolina, and the District of Columbia. Blacks make up a substantial percentage of the vote in those states, and he bagged eighty to ninety percent of their vote. But much less noted was that Clinton got almost sixty five to seventy percent of white votes.

It wasn’t just the reverse racial numbers for Clinton and Obama. Obama does incredibly well in netting the vote of college educated, upscale whites. But Clinton does just as well in bagging support from lower income downscale, and rural white voters. This has huge potential downside implications for Obama in a head to head battle with John McCain in the red states. A significant percent of the voters there are lower income, rural and less educated whites. Obama banks that he can pry one or two of the red states from the GOP. Yet, if he can’t convince Clinton’s white vote supporters, and they are Democrats, to back him, the chances are nil that he’ll have any more success with Republican and independent white voters in these states.

A hint of that came in the Democratic primary in Ohio. Clinton beat out Obama in the primary, and she did it mainly with white votes. But that wasn’t the whole story. Nearly one quarter of whites in Ohio flatly said race did matter in voting. Presumably that meant that they would not vote for a black candidate no matter how politically attractive or competent he was.

An even bigger hint of the race difficulty could come in Pennsylvania’s April 22 primary. The voter demographics in the state perfectly match those in Ohio. A huge percent of Pennsylvania voters are blue collar, anti-big government, socially conservative, pro defense, and intently patriotic, and there’s a tormenting history of a racial polarization in the state. Pundit James Carville has even described Pennsylvania as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, with Alabama in between. Carville’s characterization is hyperbolic, but devastatingly accurate. Take the state’s two big, racially diverse cities out of the vote equation, and Pennsylvania would be rock solid red state Republican. While polls show some fluctuation in Clinton’s decisive lead over Obama there, she still has a solid lead.

The near unanimous backing that whites give to the notion of voting for a black candidate for president also deserves to be put to a political test to see how much truth there is to it. The question: “Would you vote for a black candidate for president?” is a direct question, and to flatly say no to it makes one sound like a bigot, and in the era of verbal racial correctness (ask Don Imus), it’s simply not fashionable to come off to pollsters sounding like one. That’s hardly the only measure of a respondent’s veracity. In a 2006 study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, a Yale political economist found that white Republicans are 25 percentage points more likely to cross over and vote for a Democratic senatorial candidate against a black Republican foe. The study also found that in the near twenty year stretch from 1982 to 2000, when the GOP candidate was black, the greater majority of white independent voters backed the white candidate.

Republicans and independents weren’t the only ones guilty of dubious Election Day color-blindness. Many Democrats were too. In House races, the study found that Democrats were nearly 40 percent less likely to back a black Democratic candidate than a white Democrat.

Obama’s Democratic primary and caucus wins certainly show that many white voters will vote for him. They obviously feel that he has the right presidential stuff. But a large number of whites aren’t quite ready to strap on their racial blinders even for a candidate who has leaned way over backward to run a race neutral, bipartisan, unity campaign. The big question is just how many whites will refuse to strap on the racial blinders on Election Day. That’s still the X factor for Obama.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Saving Lives is Silliness? A Stunt? Dr. King Had an Answer for the L.A. Times Editors on the Murder Moratorium
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

On April 16, 1963 a group of prominent white Alabama churchmen wrote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. an open letter demanding that he call off demonstrations against segregation in Birmingham. The churchmen ridiculed Dr. King’s efforts by branding the demonstrations “untimely” and “unwise.” King’s first reaction was to shrug off their belittlement as the rantings of yet another pack of do nothing, obstructionists and nay sayers who delight in sitting on the side lines and taking cheap shots at any effort made for change. They, of course, won’t lift a finger to contribute time, energy or their dollars to groups and individuals that are trying to make positive change.

King made an exception and responded to his frozen in the sand critics with his famed Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “The demonstrations seek to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.” King went further and said radical action was needed to wake up citizens and involve them in the change fight.
His response spoke to the ages and applies to the Los Angeles Times editorial board.

They blasted the call by the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, the L.A.Civil Rights Assn. and other civil rights leaders for a 40 Hour King Assassination Memorial Moratorium on Killing as “silliness” and a “stunt.” It supposedly sullied the name and legacy of Dr. King. The tip off on the Times misunderstanding, or deliberate distortion, of the goal of the moratorium was its incredibly, sloppy, wrong headed, and idiotic earlier news headline (“City Council rejects ban on homicide”). The Times couldn’t even get the story of what the Council did right. The Council approved the call to end killing for 40 hours (the 40 hours marked the 40 year anniversary of the assassination) as a tribute to King.

King, of course, passionately and eloquently argued in countless speeches, letters, and interviews for non violence and ending killing whether in Vietnam or the streets of America’s cities. In an article published 12 days after his murder, and what stands as his last admonition from the grave, his voice still rang out loudly for an end to killing.

The moratorium in his name was not a silly, utopian, or wasteful call to end homicides. It was simply a challenge to L.A. residents that have seen many neighborhoods in the city torn by murder violence to pay tribute to the man who is one of world history’s foremost and most beloved champions of non-violence. The call during the period of reflection and thought on the meaning of King’s life and death by violence was a call to residents to commit, engage, and dialogue with friends, relatives, and loved ones in the schools, at work and on the streets, about ways to prevent violence in our city.

It was a timely opportunity for citizen and community engagement, even empowerment, in the ongoing and tormenting fight against murder violence. The moratorium was a rare chance for Los Angeles to provide a working example and a model for peace and nonviolence for other cities torn by murder violence. The moratorium showed what could be done when citizens join in the fight to take back their streets.
We talked with many persons old, and especially, young. They, unlike the tin ears and blinded eyes of the naysayers and head shakers on the Times editorial board got the point. They did not ridicule or belittle the moratorium call. They are the ones that are most at risk from violence. They hardly considered any effort to reduce that risk as silly. They understood that if the moratorium saved even one life during the forty hour observance then the correct word that starts with the letter “s” to describe it is not stunt or silliness but success. This sailed way over the head of the Time’s editors.

Unfortunately, the moratorium did not attain one goal, namely no homicides during the 40 hour period. There were several fatal shootings. But the moratorium did attain the larger goals of calling attention to Dr. King and his struggle for nonviolent solutions to conflicts, and in engaging the community to continue the search for proactive solutions to the murder plague in L.A.
Does this sound like something that’s silly or a stunt?