No Evidence Required

Sir Bedevere:             What makes you think she’s a witch?

Peasant:                      Well, she turned me into a newt!

Sir Bedevere:             A newt?

Peasant:                     I got better.

Crowd:                       Burn her anyway!

        —Terry Jones as Sir Bedevere, and John Cleese as the Peasant in Monty Python and the Holy Grail


Let me start by saying this up front: if you do things like commit rape and murder, you should have to face the consequences, including going to jail (or, in appropriate cases, facing the death penalty).

But you really should have to be convicted of that crime first.

Over the last few weeks a number of women have been coming out of the woodwork to accuse actor/comedian Bill Cosby of committing various forms of sexual assault at various points in the increasingly distant past.  The most recent is a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles telling an at least somewhat implausible tale of a 15 year old meeting Cosby on a movie set in 1974 along with her 16 year old friend.  According to the lawsuit, Cosby invited the girls to his tennis club where he got them liquored up, then took them to Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion and had the accuser perform sex acts on him.

The rather fanciful nature of the story raises obvious questions as to its veracity.  And wealthy celebrities like Cosby make easy targets for those who might want to extort a settlement check, particularly 40 years after the fact when there is little evidence left except her word vs. his (there is a reason we have statutes of limitations).  I note that the lawsuit comes not only 40 years after the alleged incident, but only after several others have made rape allegations against Cosby, giving this latest claim (and its accompanying demand to get paid) a certain “me too” piling-on quality.  But giving this accuser and the others the benefit of the doubt, the most we can say at this point is that we don’t know whether the allegations are true.

And that’s the point, but it doesn’t seem to be stopping the punishment train from rolling out of the station.  On Thursday the Navy announced that it was revoking the honorary title of Chief Petty Officer it bestowed on Cosby in 2011.  This follows NBC’s and Netflix’s cancellation of projects with Cosby, cable’s TV Land yanking reruns of The Cosby Show, and Temple University pressuring Cosby to resign from its board of directors.

All because of allegations.

As of this writing, William H. Cosby, Jr. hasn’t been convicted of anything.  He hasn’t been tried.  He hasn’t even been charged.  In point of fact, of the dozen or so women currently accusing Cosby, only one has even filed a civil lawsuit (it is worth noting that Cosby settled a lawsuit in 2006 brought by another woman making similar allegations).  I admit the number of accusers suggests there may be something to the allegations, but that in itself is not evidence that any one of the allegations is true.  Yet our modern politically-correct court of public opinion has already proceeded to the punishment phase.

And this is the disturbing trend in today’s world of instant internet news, where any accusation, innuendo, or rumor can go viral and become publicly entrenched as the “truth” before the actual evidence has a chance to emerge.  Worse, even when that evidence does emerge, too many allow their emotions to be manipulated to the point that they are unwilling or unable to look at it and distinguish reality from the false narrative pushed by those with other agendas.

Witness the situation in Ferguson, Missouri.

By now you know the meme: racist white cop guns down an unarmed black teen affectionately known as the “gentle giant” in cold blood (and possibly in the back) while the child had his hands up in an effort to surrender.  This was the story initially and continually pushed by the media, and egged on by the usual professional race-baiting, grievance-mongering crowd.  It quickly became the public truth, and thus Officer Darren Wilson was convicted of murder in the court of public opinion within hours of the shooting.

But as John Adams once observed, facts are stubborn things.

The grand jury—which actually had and looked at the evidence—saw things differently.  Michael Brown, the so-called “gentle giant,” was videotaped physically assaulting a shop owner while in the course of robbing the store minutes before the shooting.  Brown’s blood and DNA were on Wilson’s squadcar door handle, inside the car, and on Wilson’s gun, all of which supports Wilson’s story that Brown initially attacked him in the car and attempted to get Wilson’s gun when Wilson shot him the first time.  Three reviews of the autopsy—including one highly-publicized third review by a medical examiner hired by Brown’s family that, once conducted, quietly went away—all found wounds indicating that Brown was neither shot in the back (as first reported), nor with his hands up; they showed wounds consistent with charging forward, head down, as if to tackle.  Significantly, the autopsy results were not only consistent with Officer Wilson’s story, but also with the testimony of several black eyewitnesses who said Brown was charging at Wilson.  Based on this evidence, the grand jury declined to indict Officer Wilson.  But because the “truth” of what happened had already been established, the evidence didn’t matter.

The court of politically-correct public opinion had once again already moved on to sentencing.  Hence we now have protestors and even members of Congress running around blindly (ignorantly?) holding their hands in the air chanting “hands up, don’t shoot,” even though the testimony of black eyewitnesses and the physical evidence have fully discredited that version of events; in other words, the incontrovertible fact is that Michael Brown did not have his hands up when he was shot, but that fact is irrelevant to the protesters’ perception of the truth.

Other geniuses claim they just want “justice,” and to that end we needed to have a trial so all the facts could come to light.  To one who says that I say fine, let’s start by putting you on trial for murder.  You will undoubtedly react with righteous indignation and say there’s no reason to put you on trial, because there is no reason to suspect you committed murder.  To which I say:

ExactlyThere is no reason to put a man on trial when there is no reason to suspect he has committed a crime.

A grand jury doesn’t operate on the familiar “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard for conviction in a criminal trial.  It operates on a standard of “probable cause.”  And it’s a one-sided affair in favor of the prosection; the accused has no lawyer there to cross-examine witnesses, and does not get to put on a defense (yes, I know Officer Wilson got to testify, and that that’s unusual, but that’s neither totally unheard of (defendants generally don’t testify because they are invoking their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, not because they can’t) nor is it the same thing as presenting a defense case).  Yet despite a low threshold and a tilted playing field, the grand jury refused to indict; in other words, it wasn’t even close.

Under those circumstances, there is no more reason to put Wilson to the expense and anguish of a trial than there is anyone else.  But the myopic “justice seeker,” just like the race-baited protestor, isn’t interested in facts, because he has already established the truth in his own mind, evidence be damned.

It is a dangerous place where allegations alone warrant skipping past trial and conviction and moving straight to sentencing.  It is more dangerous still when allegations and rumor trump undeniable facts.

I have no idea whether Bill Cosby committed rape.  But rather than send him directly to be flogged at the pillory in the town square, perhaps we should take a deep breath and see what the evidence of the facts is first.



Put away that gun, this part is simple

Try to recognize what is in your mind

God help us, help us lose our minds

These slippery people help us understand

What’s the matter with him? (He’s all right)

How do you know? (The Lord won’t mind)

        —Talking Heads, Slippery People


Just a little food for thought today.

Having successfully stalled on immigration so his party didn’t have to face the voters on the issue, President Obama is now locked and loaded to move forward with unilateral executive action on amnesty, bypassing a Congress that come January will be controlled by the largest Republican majority in some 60+ years.  It used to be that “elections have consequences,” but I guess that’s only true if you still believe the Constitution and its concepts of separation of powers and enumerated (read: expressly limited) powers still mean anything.

Article I is really pretty clear on this:

“The Congress shall have the Power . . . To establish an [sic] uniform Rule of Naturalization[.]”

To the extent that the authority to regulate the border is exclusively the province of the Federal government, that power is vested solely in Congress.  It appears nowhere in Article II, and thus is not among the powers granted to the President.  In the land of the New Imperial Presidency, where a Republican landslide gets spun as simply an electoral mandate to give Obama whatever he wants, however, it appears that things are going to work a little differently.

But an added development is a little chilling.

NBC’s Tuscon affiliate is reporting that the Office of Border Patrol Training and Development has been inspecting border agents’ M4 carbines (the modern version of the old M-16, the military version of what we civilians carry as the AR-15).  I’m all for training, and periodically inspecting the weapons deployed in the field to ensure they are in good working order seems like a reasonable practice, except there’s just one minor problem:

The agents aren’t getting their rifles back.

That’s right, when the DC boys come to inspect, many of these rifles are not being returned, nor are they being replaced.  Agents are left with so few rifles that they are forced to share from a common pool, meaning no one has a rifle with sights adjusted to their particulars.  And many of the rifles removed from service have only routine minor maintenance issues that frankly any competent armory ought to have sufficient parts in stock to accomplish the repair on site.  Yet the men and women charged with securing the border are being left without adequate firepower to do it effectively, let alone safely.

We face an unprecedented wave of illegals, encouraged by the Imperial President’s promises of amnesty.  Reports that nearly a half million were caught last year—begging the question how many weren’t—were cleverly suppressed until after the election.  Now the Emperor’s minions are systematically disarming your Border Patrol.  But let’s look at this in its broader context.

This is the same administration that deliberately furnished thousands of military grade weapons to Mexican drug gangs, then lied about it, and is now hiding from it.  This is the same administration that is militarizing non-security-related government branches such as the Department of Education, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, purchasing thousands upon thousands of weapons and billions of rounds of ammunition.  And they can’t manage to find spare parts to get Border Patrol rifles back in service?

Obama and his Progressive hoardes have been trying to disarm you, the American Citizen, for years.  You no longer need guns for self-defense—not that that’s the valid Constitutional inquiry—they argue, because you have government security in the form of, among other things, the Border Patrol and Police.  Now they’re actually disarming the Border Patrol.  Meanwhile the likes of Eric Holder are stoking the embers of what will inevitably become an anti-police inferno in Ferguson, Missouri, thus effectively disarming the police nationwide, as they now face the Hobson’s choice of either not defending themselves, or being subject to politically-driven automatic murder indictments regardless of how legitimate the evidence shows their actions to have been.

Obama’s already gutted the military.  Now he’s rendering the Border Patrol and local police operationally impotent.  Which begs the question:

Who’s minding the gates to the castle?

A Tale Of Two Guns

Why you trying to second guess me?
I am tired of second guessing.
—R.E.M., Second Guessing
Here’s a story that may not be getting much attention outside of Texas, but you may want to watch.
Last Wednesday, police in Brownsville—a city on the Texas/Mexico border—shot and killed 15 year old Jaime Gonzalez in a middle school hallway.  His godmother complained to the Brownsville Herald that “[i]t was not right . . . They didn’t give him a chance.” 
I can only assume she was there and saw the whole thing to know that.
His parents, predictably, are already looking for a lawyer, and want to know “[w]hy was so much excess force used on a minor?”  Civil rights groups are demanding an investigation.  I assume it’s only a matter of time before we have Quanell X, Al Sharpton, and the other usual spotlight vultures showing up to decry once again The Man’s police brutality against people of color.
Excess force.  Didn’t give him a chance.  Hmm.
Here’s the thing.  Jaime Gonzalez was carrying a gun.  In a school.  That alone really ought to end the discussion, but there’s more.  The incident began when Jaime beat up another student, prompting school officials to call the police.  The 911 tape reveals that officers repeatedly—repeatedly—ordered Jaime to drop the gun, and he didn’t do it.  He then pointed the gun at the police, who immediately opened fire.
What makes this a little more complicated is that the gun young Jaime was carrying turned out to be a .177 caliber CO2 pellet pistol.  So between the victim’s age and the nature of the weapon, the narrative quickly becomes an anti-police tale of Cops Kill Boy Holding Toy.  But take a quick look at the photos at the top.  One of these is the pellet gun carried by Jaime Gonzalez.  The other is a 9mm Glock 17, a weapon used by police and militaries around the world.  The pellet gun probably won’t kill you, but the Glock most certainly will (yes, I know, guns don’t kill people, people do—try to keep up).  And I challenge you to give them just a brief glance and see if you can distinguish between the two.
Now try it under life-and-death duress.
It’s a funny thing about cops:  when you point a gun at them, they’re not inclined to ask you what it is.  They don’t have time to study it.  They don’t get the opportunity to have you drop the magazine so they can inspect the ammunition, or measure the bore diameter.  They react to defend themselves and those around them, and they do so with deadly force.  They shoot center mass, because it’s easier to hit under duress, and far more likely to stop an assailant than a shot to the arm or leg.  And if there’s more than one cop around when you point that gun, all of them are going to fire.  It’s called “suicide by cop.”
They have to be this way.  In 2011 alone, 177 police officers were killed in the line of duty in the U.S., 71 of them by being shot.  That’s up from 153 in 2010.  It’s a dangerous business, and it’s why they carry weapons in the first place.  And a gunman in a school is no laughing matter, either.  Since 1996, there have been 80 school shooting incidents in the U.S., resulting in 164 dead.  What’s more disturbing is the trajectory:  the period between 1996 and 2005 averaged 2.8 such incidents per year, while the period between 2006 and 2011 has seen a sharp uptick to 8.7 per year, a threefold increase.
Jaime Gonzalez’ death is tragic, as is the loss of any young person, under any circumstances.  One can understand his parents’ grief.  But to them, and to the civil rights zealots who are so quick to throw the police under the bus (or set up their lawsuit—I note Mrs. Gonzalez had the presence of mind to take photos of her dead son with her cell phone “to document the bullet wounds”) let me ask a couple of questions.  First, what the hell was Jaime Gonzalez doing at school with any gun, toy or otherwise?  His parents swear they didn’t know he had it and have no idea how he got it, answers that will no doubt be very convenient for their lawyer.  I’ll bet you dollars-to-donuts the truth is that gun was a Christmas present; of course, they’ll never admit that now.  But giving them the benefit of the doubt, I’ll respond with the same query I noted Bill Cosby posing to the black community the other day: why don’t you know that?  
My second question is more important:  what would you have had the police do in that situation?  Better yet:  what would you do when a person you don’t know refuses multiple commands to drop what as best you can tell is a gun and then points it at you?  The police have a right to protect themselves, and a duty to protect others.  I don’t know the range at which the police shot Gonzalez, but the maximum reach of a Taser is only about 35 feet; one doubts they were that close.  Obviously, batons, pepper spray, and compliance techniques require reducing that range much closer, not exactly practical against someone potentially wielding a gun.  That doesn’t leave the police with many options.  Gonzalez’ death is a tragedy, but how much more tragic would it have been had he been about to take a real gun on a Virginia Tech-style rampage, and the police failed to stop him?  What would we be saying to the parents of however many innocent victims?  What would we be saying to the wife and children of a slain officer had the police delayed their reaction long enough to permit Jaime to open fire first?  The police can’t take that chance.
The job of the police is difficult under the best of circumstances, but it gets harder and harder when every move is handicapped with worrying about who’s going to question their actions, and how they’re going to explain them when they get sued.  It’s very easy to play quarterback from your sofa with instant replay and slow motion; it’s very, very difficult when life-and-death decisions have to be made in a nanosecond.  The fact of the matter is if Jaime Gonzalez doesn’t bring a gun—of whatever sort—to school, if he doesn’t beat up a classmate, if he simply complies when the police tell him—again, repeatedly—to drop the gun, the police aren’t put in that situation and this never happens.
My heart goes out to Mr. and Mrs. Gonzalez; I wouldn’t wish the loss of a child on anyone.  But it also must go out to the officers involved, who did what they had to do in a situation that afforded no time for contemplation, and no margin for error; they will have to live with Wednesday’s events for the rest of their lives. 

Justice Denied

Kid:                Who kills Prince Humperdinck?  At the end, somebody’s gotta do it.  Is it Inigo?  Who?
Grandpa:       Nobody.  Nobody kills him.  He lives.
Kid:                You mean he wins? 
—Fred Savage as the Kid, and Peter Falk as Grandpa in The Princess Bride
The older I get, the less ardent I become in my support for the death penalty.
But this one pisses me off.
On Wednesday Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced his office was abandoning the death penalty case against former Black Panther and convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, after the Supreme Court declined to review a 2008 ruling from the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals that Jamal’s sentencing was improper.  Although Jamal will spend life in prison, he now avoids the death penalty to which he was originally sentenced.
For those who may not be familiar, let’s review the facts as recited by the Third Circuit (taken essentially verbatim from the lower court ruling to the same effect):
“On December 9, 1981, between three thirty and four o’clock in the morning, Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner made a traffic stop of a Volkswagen driven by William Cook, Abu-Jamal’s brother, on Locust Street between 12th and 13th Streets, in Philadelphia.  Officer Faulkner radioed for backup assistance, and both men exited their vehicles.  A struggle ensued, and Officer Faulkner tried to secure Cook’s hands behind his back.  At that moment, Abu-Jamal, who was in a parking lot on the opposite side of the street, ran toward Officer Faulkner and Cook.  As he approached, Abu-Jamal shot Officer Faulkner in the back.  As Officer Faulkner fell to the ground, he was able to turn and fire at Abu-Jamal, striking him in the chest.  Abu-Jamal, now standing over Officer Faulkner, fired four shots at close range.  One shot struck Officer Faulkner between the eyes and entered his brain.”
The Court went on to note that backup officers who responded within one minute of Officer Faulkner’s radio call arrived to find Jamal sitting on the curb next to the body.  Officer Faulkner’s service revolver was found with one spent casing, and the bullet that struck Jamal was ballistically matched to that gun.  A second .38 purchased by and registered to Jamal was found next to Jamal with five spent casings.  Although the bullets that killed Officer Faulkner were too mutilated for a specific match, fragments had barrel markings consistent with the make of Jamal’s gun.  Four eyewitnesses saw Jamal stand over the wounded Officer Faulkner and shoot him in the face, with three of them positively identifying Jamal as the shooter (the fourth saw the shooter from behind).  A security guard and police officer at the hospital heard Jamal say twice: “I shot the m—–f—–, and I hope the m—–f—– dies.”
Jamal was convicted by a unanimous jury in just three hours.
Over the last 30 years, Jamal has had some 17 appeals, including multiple trips to both the State and federal Supreme Courts.  Not one has upheld any complaint regarding the guilt phase of Jamal’s trial.  Yet, despite overwhelming evidence of his guilt, Jamal became the subject of a virulent protest movement that claimed Jamal was railroaded because he is black and Faulkner was white (my wife and I had the misfortune of running into a parade on his behalf in Philadelphia about 12 years ago, and its participants bore an uncanny resemblance to the aimless, unwashed, tattooed/pierced mobs now comprising the “occupy” movement; not exactly poster children for credibility).
But in 2008 the Third Circuit, relying on the Supreme Court’s decision in Mills v. Maryland, ruled that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was “objectively unreasonable” in approving the Court’s instructions regarding Jamal’s sentencing.  Pennsylvania’s sentencing system at the time required the jury to impose the death penalty if it either (a) unanimously found at least one of a series of statutorily-defined aggravating circumstances was present, or (b) unanimously found one or more aggravating circumstances that outweighed any of a list of statutorily-defined mitigating circumstances. 
The Third Circuit overturned Jamal’s death sentence based on an argument that the proximity of the word “unanimously” to the discussion of considering mitigating factors, and the Court’s repeated emphasis on the need for unanimity, could have confused the jury into believing that it could not consider a particular mitigating circumstance unless there was unanimous agreement as to the mitigating circumstance itself.  Here’s the actual text from the relevant part of the verdict form (the Court’s instructions were to the same effect), and judge for yourself whether it’s subject to any confusion:
(2) (To be used only if the aforesaid sentence is death) We, the jury, have found unanimously
            [  ] at least one aggravating circumstance and no mitigating circumstance.  The aggravating circumstance(s) is/are     .
            [X]  one or more aggravating circumstances which outweigh any mitigating circumstances.  The aggravating circumstance(s) is/are    A.
            The mitigating circumstance(s) is/are    A.
The aggravating and mitigating circumstances found by the Jamal jury (indicated by the “A”s) were that he killed a police officer acting in the line of duty, and his lack of a significant criminal record.  After the verdict the jury was polled—very common practice—and each affirmed that they were in agreement with the verdict.
I don’t see that the form is subject to much confusion, and I’m not sure I care.  The language of the form and the Court’s instructions tracked almost verbatim the Pennsylvania sentencing statute—the trial judge followed the law, as he was supposed to do.  And the unanimity requirement is included to protect the defendant!!!!  Had that language not been there, Jamal would surely have been complaining about its absence.  Furthermore, the Mills case forming the basis of the Third Circuit’s decision was decided in 1988, six years after Jamal’s sentencing trial.  In other words, Jamal’s death sentence was overturned based on jury instruction standards that did not exist at the time of his sentencing.
But here’s the thing that really gets me.  The argument is that the instruction could have confused the jury into not considering a mitigating circumstance, but nowhere in the 48 pages of the Third Circuit’s opinion (with concurrence) or the 200+ pages of the District Court’s opinion is there any suggestion of any particular additional mitigating circumstance the jury failed to consider, such as Jamal was on drugs, or Officer Faulkner was participating with Jamal in a felony.  There isn’t even any indication that Jamal has offered one.  Yet although no one appears even to have argued that the jury actually missed something in Jamal’s favor, because of a dubious technical failure to comply with a Supreme Court opinion that hadn’t yet been handed down, Jamal’s sentence is overturned.
This isn’t a case of actual innocence.  Four people saw Mumia Abu-Jamal shoot Daniel Faulkner in the back, then stand over the wounded officer and shoot him in the face (meaning Jamal was almost certainly looking Officer Faulkner squarely in the eyes when he pulled the trigger).  Jamal himself proudly admitted the crime to two others.  Jamal and his gun—which contained exactly the number of spent casings as shots that hit Officer Faulkner—were found sitting next to the dying officer.  There is neither a question whether the guy did it, or whether the jury missed a mitigating factor that would somehow have outweighed these facts.  Yet despite his undeniable guilt, through a 30 year war of attrition, Jamal has finally managed to bleed the system the system dry of time, money, and patience.
25-year-old Officer Daniel Faulkner wasn’t guilty of anything.  But he didn’t get 30 extra years for endless appeals.  Nobody granted him clemency based on a technicality.
And now, apparently, he won’t get justice, either.