Is lack of intelligence a requirement to be a judge in Illinois?

I honestly don’t know what else to conclude after reading this article than it must be a requirement to have next to zero intelligence to be a judge in Illinois. This is sort of a follow-up to the Christopher Drew case that I blogged about back in 2010 June. It involves a very similar abuse of the state’s wiretapping law.

AlterNet reports on the plight of 41-year-old Michael Allison of Bridgeport, Illinois. His crime was keeping non-working cars on his mother’s property in the nearby town of Robinson. Both cities have “eyesore” laws requiring inoperable cars to either be registered or kept in a garage. The nasty part of this is that in Illinois, registered vehicle owners can be randomly selected for liability insurance verification questionnaire mailouts, and a failure to respond to such a questionnaire results in the suspension of the registration. (In Texas, by contrast, one only needs to show proof of insurance at the time of registration and–since Texas requires it as well–annual safety inspection. Though it is technically frowned upon, in Texas one can get insurance, renew registration and/or bring the inspection current, then immediately cancel the policy.)

Anyway, Michael sued the city of Bridgeport in 2007 claiming the “eyesore” law was a violation of his civil rights and the city’s impound fees amounted to a cash grab. This resulted in local police harassment and threats of arrest over the next couple of years.

Fast forward to 2010 January. Michael requests a court reporter for his hearing and is denied. In the letter he made it clear that he would be recording the proceedings himself were his request denied–an understandable action from a citizen who feels he is being wronged by the system and merely wants to document himself for his own protection.

Quoting the story, here’s what happens next:

Just after he walked through the courthouse door the next day, Allison says Crawford County Circuit Court Judge Kimbara Harrell asked him whether he had a tape recorder in his pocket. He said yes. Harrell then asked him if it was turned on. Allison said it was. Harrell then informed the defendant that he was in violation of the Illinois wiretapping law, which makes it a Class 1 felony to record someone without his consent. “You violated my right to privacy,” the judge said.

Allison responded that he had no idea it was illegal to record public officials during the course of their work, that there was no sign or notice barring tape recorders in the courtroom, and that he brought one only because his request for a court reporter had been denied. No matter: After Harrell found him guilty of violating the car ordinance, Allison, who had no prior criminal record, was hit with five counts of wiretapping, each punishable by four to 15 years in prison. Harrell threw him in jail, setting bail at $35,000.

This is a blatant attempt at intimidation which the entire citizenship of Illinois should be ashamed of. I don’t know where Mr. Harrell (a man I believe unworthy of the title of “Judge” or “The Honorable”) gets off claiming he has some kind of privacy rights in a public courtroom, especially after Michael asked for a court reporter.

I’m not sure how Mr. Harrell became a judge. But I do know lawyers and judges are supposed to uphold the concept of equal justice for all. This abuse of a poorly written wiretapping law flies in the face of anything resembling justice.

Indeed, the story also refers to Carlos Miller’s excellent blog, Photography Is Not A Crime, which he started after being arrested on trumped-up charges for exercising his legal right to photograph police officers in a public place. I can’t blog about every one of them, but the media is full of stories about police abusing their power. Intimidating citizens into giving up their rights is wrong, and is the hallmark of a police state run amok.

I refuse to quietly let the USA become a police state. A lack of resistance and public outrage in cases of clear official intimidation and harassment such as Christopher Drew’s and Michael Allison’s is all it takes for us to quietly slip into such a police state. If you are in Illinois, please make your objections known to your elected officials and the local news media. I would love to do a follow-up post about protests related to either of these two cases, or similar cases involving the abuse of this absolute garbage they call a wiretapping law in Illinois.

For residents of the other 49 states, I quote Thomas Jefferson: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” In this case, it’s keeping up with proposed legislation, and voicing emphatic and angry (but polite) objection to your state passing laws or amending existing laws similar to those laws currently on the books and being abused in Illinois.

Together, we can stop the police state. Enough is enough.

Cops vs. citizens with recorders: who wins?

A recent Gizmodo post discusses videos depicting police abuse and what is a dubious at best reaction from law enforcement. Specifically, some states are now making it illegal to record or photograph an on-duty law enforcement officer. From the article:

In response to a flood of Facebook and YouTube videos that depict police abuse, a new trend in law enforcement is gaining popularity. In at least three states, it is now illegal to record any on-duty police officer.

Even if the encounter involves you and may be necessary to your defense, and even if the recording is on a public street where no expectation of privacy exists.

The most alarming example comes from Christopher Drew, who recorded his own
arrest for selling $1 artwork on the streets of Chicago. The charges of
peddling in a prohibited area and not having a peddler’s license were dropped;
instead, Christopher is being prosecuted for eavesdropping, a class I felony.

Christopher documents his experience with some very pointed commmentary in this blog entry which includes a quote from Robert Lederman’s instructions to artists in New York City about documenting everything. Christopher also delivers this white-hot flame against the sad state of affairs in Illinois with regard to the eavesdropping law, which I quote in part (and agree with completely):

If you are a corrupt public official or a person involved in corruption its in your favor to have an eavesdropping law that prevents anyone from recording anything in public without the fear of a felony. A corrupt person feels more comfortable in a state like that. Unfortunately, its possible for a lot of honest people to end up felons while the real felons walk free. That’s why I ask – what is the state of our police in this state we are in?

Christoper’s experience is a huge blemish against the reputation of the city of Chicago as friendly to artists and those who express themselves. A blemish that a city of that size cannot afford.

Radley Balko wrote an editorial about Christopher’s rejected motion to dismiss the case, which asks many pointed questions, and also points out the history of the Illinois eavesdropping law, which originally had an expectation of privacy exception, but has not since 1994. Quoting Radley’s article:

Here’s where it gets even worse: Originally, the Illinois eavesdropping law did also include a similar expectation of privacy provision. But the legislature stripped that provision out in 1994, and they did so in response to an incident in which a citizen recorded his interaction with two on-duty police officers. In other words, the Illinois legislature specifically intended to make it a Class I felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, to make an audio recording of an on-duty police officer without his permission.

The fact that this came about in response to an incident involving a conversation with two on-duty cops should say everything about the intent of the state legislature. This already-bad law, of course, has not gotten better with age; in fact technology and the ubiquity of small devices capable of recording audio and video has made this bad law even worse.

So is it always risking arrest to record an on-duty cop in those states? Well, not really, as quoting from the Gizmodo article:

In short, recordings that are flattering to the police – an officer kissing a baby or rescuing a dog – will almost certainly not result in prosecution even if they are done without all-party consent. The only people who seem prone to prosecution are those who embarrass or confront the police, or who somehow challenge the law. If true, then the prosecutions are a form of social control to discourage criticism of the police or simple dissent.

This kind of law, combined with blatant selective enforcement, is entirely out of place in free society, and a mockery of the standards by which decent people live. Indeed, I believe the criticism and challenge of unjust laws to be an essential part of a free society. I’ve used this quote from the FSF before, but it applies yet again:

The idea that laws decide what is right or wrong is mistaken in general. Laws are, at their best, an attempt to achieve justice; to say that laws define justice or ethical conduct is turning things upside down.

Indeed, the abuse of eavesdropping and wiretapping laws is another example of how those charged with enforcing the law often view themselves as above the law. It’s in the same general category as cops conveniently disregarding stop signs, traffic lights, speed limits, prohibited turn signs, etc at their convenience (when not responding to a bona fide emergency, and I specifically exclude the donut shop closing for the night in five minutes from the definition of such an emergency). Indeed, it’s incredibly convenient that getting video of these types of reckless acts by those sworn to serve and protect is risky business in some places, yet one could easily take all the video one wants of, say, a cop hugging his daughters.

I’d expect the kind of insanity in certain other countries: UK, Germany, France, maybe even Mexico or Canada. But the United States of America was founded on freedom from tyranny, and it is in the direction of tyranny that these laws take us. This egregious trampling of the First Amendment cannot continue unchallenged, lest those who fought to acquire and maintain that freedom and others are to have ultimately done so in vain.

Finally, I encourage everyone to support Christoper Drew’s legal defense, either financially or just by raising awareness of this serious issue. This is wrong and the real criminals here are the ethically bankrupt Chicago police and prosecuting attorneys. I’ll post more details on exactly what Christopher needs as I get them.

The most important audio innovation?

The Telegraph reports on Sony’s Walkman topping a poll conducted by the British tech magazine T3 for the most important audio (music) innovation of the last 50 years. The patent-encumbered MP3 codec (compression format) came in second, followed by the Apple iPod, the CD, and the original (free) Napster.

Which brings us to what is completely missing on the list:

  • Diamond (later SONICblue) Rio: the original portable digital audio player introduced in 1998. Without the Rio and myriad others to follow, there wouldn’t have been an Apple iPod.
  • The cassette tape format: Ditto. The Walkman would not have been what it was without the prior success of the cassette format (originally designed for dictation). The cassette was introduced in 1963, and easily qualified for inclusion.
  • Ogg Vorbis codec: This is at least as important as MP3; Vorbis is not patent-encumbered and with the reference encoder and decoder available under a BSD-style license, one may now include compressed audio in games without paying royalties to the MP3 patent holders.
  • Creative Sound Blaster: Prior to the widespread availability of the Sound Blaster card and clones, sound coming out of a PC was restricted to the internal speaker, called the “squeaker” and myriad derisive names by PC gamers of the era. (Arguably, the sound sampling capabilities of the Commodore Amiga could be said to be the forerunner of the Sound Blaster.)
  • Advances in the technology of headphones, most notably in the last 20 years. (Wikipedia’s article on headphones states headphones were actually invented in the 1920s; those headphones are crude by today’s standards.)