Regarding the Harding Street drug raid violence and related matters

During the evening of Monday, 2019 January 28, the execution of a drug-related search warrant by Houston Police Department officers ended with five officers going to the hospital, four for gunfire-related injuries and a fifth with a knee injury (KHOU.com report). In the aftermath of this, the president of the Houston Police Officers Union, Joe Gamaldi, minced no words in calling those who fired back upon the HPD officers “dirtbags” in addition to stating the following (quote from a later KHOU.com story):

If you’re the ones that are out there spreading the rhetoric that police officers are the enemy, just know we’ve all got your number now, we’re going to be keeping track of all of y’all, and we’re going to make sure that we hold you accountable every time you stir the pot on our police officers. We’ve had enough, folks. We’re out there doing our jobs every day, putting our lives on the line for our families.

I feel the need to address these latter comments as a long-time outspoken critic of some activities of law enforcement and the legal system.

First, I have never advocated violence against law enforcement officers or others who work in the legal system (such as attorneys, judges, etc). I condemn the violence that occurred this Monday with the same vigor that I condemned the murder of Deputy Darren Goforth in 2015. The actions of the suspects are an outrageous affront to decent society and it is my hope that the officers injured in the shootout make the best and speediest recovery possible given current medical technology.

I get that as the president of a police officers union in a large city, a lot of the job is PR and, by extension, playing up the cops as the good guys. I wish I could say for sure exactly what was intended by the words “stir the pot” in this context. I would like to think that First Amendment-protected nonviolent free speech, in the form of criticism of law enforcement officers who betray the trust of those they are supposed to be serving and protecting, is not being targeted as “stir[ring] the pot”.

It is unavoidable that sooner or later, some cops will prove it was a mistake to trust them with the power of the badge. There are bad apples in every field: medicine (doctors, nurses, EMTs), fast food/restaurants, messengers/couriers, information technology (including internet help desks and sysadmins), marketing and PR, entertainment (including youth-focused classes of entertainment such as face painting and balloon twisting), just to name a few. It stands to reason that some who enter law enforcement and the practice of the people’s/state’s side of criminal law will wind up showing their lack of fitness to serve their respective professions.

The difference is that a bad cop or a bad DA can really screw up a life or even multiple lives with a mistake, more so than most other professions. When they do, we, the people, have the right to be heard and speak out about it. We, the people, have just as much of a right to hold law enforcement and DAs accountable as we do to hold anyone else accountable. Sometimes the last-ditch appeal to the press is the only thing that really works.

I get that law enforcement is a risky business. But don’t forget the US Constitution is part of those laws as well.

In re Charlottesville, and related events of the past few days

Hopefully this didn’t take too long; as I’m putting the finishing touches on this post, the Charlottesville protests are about a week ago. For reasons that should be obvious, this post is one of my more difficult posts to write. It’s about many “hot” topics. I am using the Wikipedia article on the events as my main source for an account of the event. As with all things on Wikipedia, it may have been changed by the time you read this.

We have reached a point in our history where the symbols of the Confederacy are starting to be seen for what they are: symbols of hate, symbols of racism, and perhaps more importantly, symbols of defeat and failure. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the town of Charlottesville voted to take town a statue of the Confederate war figure Robert E. Lee.

I have no issues with peaceful, nonviolent protests. However, the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, even if it started as a nonviolent protest, was not going to remain such owing to several factors. One, racism and anti-Semitism is a hot-button issue. Waving of Confederate flags and chants such as “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” definitely approaches the line of so-called “fighting words” (as defined by Justice Frank Murphy, “those which by their very utterances inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace”). Some have argued that the Confederate and Nazi flags and symbols stand for, respectively, the enslavement and extermination of large masses of people, and based on that alone would run afoul of the “fighting words” exception to the First Amendment.

The counterprotesters chanted slogans such as “Kill all Nazis” and “punch a Nazi in the mouth.” There is no question these phrases definitely cross the line of “fighting words.” In addition, both the protesters and counter-protesters were carrying firearms, including semi-automatic weapons. It is difficult to say with certainty that the armed protesters and counter-protesters intended this to be a non-violent protest.

Given this, on one hand it’s a good thing that there was no shootout. On the other hand, there were deaths related to the aborted rally: two were from a Virginia State Police helicopter crash, and one was of course Heather Heyer from an auto-pedestrian crash that also non-fatally injured 19 other counter-protesters. Heather’s death in particular was tragic, senseless, and completely unnecessary. This does not imply the deaths of Troopers H. Jay Cullen and Berke M. M. Bates were not tragic–they were, though we do not have the full accident reports from the NTSB yet to better understand how their deaths happened.

As a rule, I condemn violence in protests of this sort. This is definitely not a case where I feel I can make an exception; we are intelligent creatures, not jungle animals, and protests like this are more the sort of thing that jungle animals do.

I can’t keep talking about this without talking about the campaign that elected our current president, who I will only refer to by his initials, DJT. DJT built his campaign on divisiveness and hate, and was elected by a popular minority of the people due to the way the Electoral College is set up. Those of us who voted otherwise watched in horror as the ballots were totalled up. It’s a bit off-topic, so I’m not going to devote pages to this, but to say the least I think DJT winning is the strongest indictment of the Electoral College system to date.

At least the other presidents to win elections despite not winning a popular majority were at least somewhat qualified. Wikipedia’s list of presidents of the US by experience shows DJT as the fifth president to have never held office before being elected president, after Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, Herbert Hoover, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Taylor won a plurality but not a majority of the popular vote in his first election; Grant, Hoover, and Eisenhower all won the popular vote in their respective first elections. That leaves DJT alone as a president elected with a minority of the popular vote and without holding office before.

While the disaster in Charlottesville was not directly the result of DJT winning the election, I find it difficult to believe it would have happened with anyone else as president, whether that was Hillary Clinton, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, or Daffy Duck. (Yes, I think a cartoon character would be more fit for the office than DJT, but that’s a whole ‘nother rant I’ll have to post later.) It even took a while for DJT to find the right words after Charlottesville; at first he condemned both sides, those protesting against the monuments being taken down who wanted them to remain up, and those counter-protesting against those who wanted the monuments to remain up.

Again, George Santayana’s quote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” comes into play. At first glance, DJT clearly doesn’t remember World War II and what happened to Nazi Germany as led by Adolf Hitler. Alternatively, he does remember and just flat out doesn’t care. That in many ways is far worse if it’s true. Either way it’s inexcusable for the leader of a world superpower to fail to immediately and decisively condemn racist, discriminatory, and violent conduct.

DJT needs to accept that part of the blame for the events in Charlottesville falls directly on him and his campaign. At numerous times during the campaign, DJT was compared to none other than Adolf Hitler. I was derided for sharing the comparisons among my Facebook friends, but unfortunately the accuracy of those comparisons is now starting to show. I will more directly address this in a later post.

On the recent violence involving law enforcement

I had hoped when I wrote my post some eleven months ago about the murder of Darren Goforth that it would be the last time I wrote anything about the topic of violence directed against police. Sadly, the recent murder of five Dallas Police Department officers during protests of the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

So we add the following events to the timeline from my previous post linked above (not yet intended to be a complete list):

  • 2016 July 5: Alton Sterling was shot by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, following a 911 call from a homeless person saying Alton was threatening people with a gun.
  • 2016 July 6: Philando Castile was shot by Jeronimo Yanez, an officer with the St. Anthony Police Department in Minnesota.
  • 2016 July 7: Five Dallas area police officers are killed (four from Dallas PD, one from DART’s police force) and nine other people are injured in an ambush at a protest organized by Black Lives Matter. It is the deadliest day for law enforcement since the terrorist attacks of 2001 September 11.

The loss of life which Black Lives Matter was protesting in Dallas and elsewhere was unfortunate. I’m not going to go into whether either shooting was justified, but what really bothers me is that someone got angry enough about this to go ambush a bunch of police officers who had nothing to do with either shooting as an apparent symbolic retaliation.

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway for the record. I fully condemn the attack on Dallas area law enforcement officers as a senseless act of terrorist violence and an egregious affront against our decent society and the laws which govern it. Further, an attack against police officers of a completely different jurisdiction than those involved in the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, or for that matter any violent response to the shootings of those two men, is not going to solve a damn thing.

I believe it is still possible for us to unite as a society against violence. If the officers who shot Alton or Philando were wrong, they need to be held accountable. We cannot allow those in charge of enforcing the laws which maintain order in our society to get away with breaking those same laws, or the agency/department policies that govern their work.

As long as they remain non-violent, I encourage whatever future protests Black Lives Matter or other organizations feel necessary to address this issue. But I reiterate the point I make above: violence isn’t going to solve a damn thing. All it’s going to do, especially after the law enforcement officers in the Dallas area have lost their lives for no good reason, is make whatever strife and conflict between citizens and cops even worse.

And yes, I have criticized law enforcement agencies on this blog in the past, and and some point will probably do so in the future. However at the same time I recognize that law enforcement is a tough and dangerous job, and that laws are what hold our society together. As stated by the FSF on their “Words to Avoid” page: “Laws, at their best, attempt to implement justice.” And as I have said before, usually those who make the laws get it right, but not always.

An attack on video gamers in the wake of Sandy Hook

I’ve weighed in on this topic before, but this is a different angle that more directly affects me. Specifically, the kind of thinking I have found out about most recently is extremely flawed, and dangerous to video gamers everywhere if allowed to become a mainstream point of view.

A recent Salon.com article entitled “‘Gamers’ are not the enemy” by Andrew Leonard takes a highly critical look at a recent report on the Sandy Hook shooter by New York Daily News reporter Mike Lupica. As summarized by Andrew’s article, Mr. Lupica calls a spreadsheet of past mass murders found in the house where the shooter was living a “score sheet” and makes the jump that it was the shooter’s goal to put a new “high score” on that list.

Andrew fights back in his post, with the facts. Such as this gem:

According to the CDC, “Homicide rates for males, ages 10 to 24 years, declined from 25.7 per 100,000 population in 1991 to 15.3 per 100,000 in 2007.” Now there are surely factors influencing that drop that have nothing to do with video games, but judging from that one statistic alone, logic would dictate the conclusion that playing video games has been beneficial to society instead of the reverse. Certainly, a massive increase in hours spent video gaming has not resulted in a rising murder rate.

I will add that if there’s any logic to the view that video games fuel violence, there should have been a steep drop in homicide rates in 1983, and maybe 1984, 1985, and 1986 as well (due to the video game market crash of 1983) that picked right back up again in about, say, 1985. I haven’t looked, but I doubt either any drop in homicide rates from 1982 to 1983 or any rise in homicide rates in any later years prior to about 1990 are anywhere near as sharp as needed to give any credibility to this theory.

Even if the bit about this being a “score sheet” is true, the vast majority of video gamers don’t engage in this type of behavior, and it is more indicative of other mental illness(es) which don’t have anything to do with the fact the shooter was a heavy video game player. To blame the video games on this is incredibly short-sighted and smacks of a flimsy excuse to severely cripple (or possibly kill off outright) an entertainment medium which is still relatively young.

It is far more relevant that the shooter had such easy access to firearms. Of note, the shooter did not actually own these firearms, his parents were the registered owners. These are facts conveniently left out of the campaign for gun control laws–no amount of background checks would have kept a shooter in a similar situation from getting access to the guns!

It goes back to how we take care of the mentally ill in this society, and the stigma we have placed on mental illness as a society. These are the problems we need to solve if we want to keep another Sandy Hook, another Columbine, another Bath from happening. We won’t fix them by doing a hatchet job on video games, and we won’t fix them by castrating the Second Amendment.

Thoughts on the Sandy Hook tragedy and its aftermath

I’ve said I’m going to weigh in on the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting (and the Lone Star College-North Harris shooting which received additional press as a result of its timing), and I am. Instead of citing a news article like I usually do, I’m going to cite Wikipedia’s article about the Sandy Hook shooting since I’m pretty sure it’ll be around long after whatever link rot usually hits the online news articles I cite.

In summary, where we are at two months later: a ban on so-called “assault weapons” has been proposed. For a while, it was impossible to avoid news coverage relating to proposed changes to firearms regulations. Meanwhile, the coverage related to what we’re going to do about mental health issues as a society is near zero.

First, just to be sure we are clear: I vehemently condemn this senseless act of violence. I don’t know what the shooter was thinking, and none of us probably ever will. But I don’t want the Sandy Hook kids to have died in vain, thus the rest of this post.

I believe gun control in general to be a dubious concept. “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” is more true than most people would like to think. There are certainly ways for the next Sandy Hook shooter intent upon causing death and destruction, from my old favorite the potato cannon all the way down to domestic improvised explosive devices (IEDs) made with chemicals purchased at hardware stores and model rocketry supply stores.

Really, you can background check, fingerprint, retina scan, DNA sample, urine sample, and psychologically examine all you want, but in the end, those who want to will still find ways to buy either pre-assembled tools of terror or the components to assemble such a device of disturbance. The hobbyist horticulturists in our society will certainly take a dim view of requiring a background check and another license to buy fertilizer.

I’m also against more ridiculous regulations on the video game industry. Getting rid of violent video games completely wouldn’t stop this (not that anyone is advocating this, of course). If nothing else, violent games can always be released as free software for computers over the Internet, and there are huge First Amendment issues from trying to stop such a release. Other attempts to restrict video games by content have already been ruled as against the First Amendment. (This is another reason I really don’t do proprietary console games anymore, as game console makers such as Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft use Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) in an attempt to maintain control over what games can play on their respective consoles. It is impossible today to release a game to play on an unmodified game console without having it appoved by that console’s manufacturer, and usually “mod chipping” a console voids the warranty at minimum and can cause problems playing legitimate games.)

Mental health shouldn’t have the stigma that it does. This is part of the problem and getting rid of the stigma behind a diagnosis and/or getting help for mental illness needs to be part of the solution. We also need to re-examine mental health care and make sure those who need help can get it.

(I’m sorry this took so long to get written and posted, but I feel the issue is still timely as the debate is still ongoing.)