Archive for books

Snitch: Informants, Cooperators and the Corruption of Justice

Posted in Bruce Bruce's Books, Musings with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2011 by brucepoinsette

Troy Davis is scheduled to be executed tomorrow at 7 pm. He was denied clemency today in what may go down as yet another case of police corruption.

Davis was convicted for the killing of a police officer but he maintains his innocence. Despite several witnesses recanting their stories, Davis is still set to die. One of the two witnesses who didn’t recant his story is presumed to be the killer by many with knowledge of the incident.

This would strike many as shady. However, it might be another case of the corrupt police policy to coddle informants, even potentially dangerous ones.

Ethan Brown breaks down this phenomenon in his book “Snitch: Informants, Cooperators and the Corruption of Justice”.

According to Brown, prosecutors are allowed to reduce sentences on criminals if they are willing to cooperate with law enforcement under Section 5k1.1 of the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Cooperation could include testifying against state targets or going undercover and implicating the targets in crimes.

Even though informants work for the police, they are allowed to participate in illegal activity like drug dealing in order to catch criminals in the act of crimes. Some informants have even been able to get away with murder.

According to Brown, Gary Thomas Rowe, one of former FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover’s informants, beat civil rights workers and attacked them with blackjacks, chains and pistols. He was also present for murders but wasn’t guided to intervene because that wouldn’t make him a “good informant”.

“Snitch” documents numerous cases up until the present of cooperators and informants who have been able to avoid harsh sentences by working with the police. They’ve been let loose on the streets for no other reason than to assist in investigations, often by providing false testimony. These criminals have used 5K motions to continue to commit crimes and “get out of jail free”.

The double game played by these criminals is both detrimental to society and the justice system that created the atmosphere for it.

“Snitch” highlights this corruption with stories of prosecutors relentlessly attempting to implicate innocent men in crimes, and often succeeding, as well as cooperators who never stop committing crimes (One was even implicated in the murder of a prosecutor).

Despite these clear dangers of police cooperation policy, efforts to bring them to light have been stifled, according to Brown.

One of the most infamous of these efforts was the “Stop Snitching” campaign. It started when a barber in Baltimore made a film interviewing people from around his neighborhood, including Carmelo Anthony, about people snitching in the community. The film was filled with threats but it also named names of corrupt police officers and informants.

Media and police tried to demonize the makers of the video for witness intimidation but the “Stop Snitching” movement became a cultural phenomenon anyway (or possibly because of the controversy).

When a policy endangers the public, people have the right to know. What good does it serve society if the police are as dangerous or more so than the criminals they’re assigned to protect us from?

It’s imperative to learn how this system works so more innocent people aren’t killed by it, as Troy Davis is scheduled to be tomorrow.


C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy

Posted in Bruce Bruce's Books with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 12, 2011 by brucepoinsette

After Anders Brevik murdered scores of mostly youth in Norway, American pundits were quick to deny he was a Christian fundamentalist. He wrote a 1500 page manifesto outlining a Christian crusade but that couldn’t shake the selective amnesia (You would swear some on the right practice it as a religion to get closer to Reagan) of right wing pundits who attribute all terrorism to Islam.

This hypocrisy underlies the grip Christian fundamentalism has on authority in the United States. Jeff Sharlet’s “C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy” delves into The Family, a secretive fundamentalist group that exerts its influence throughout American politics and international affairs.

They preach a belief in Jesus, but not the one you’d recognize from the Bible. The Family’s Jesus says God has chosen who should be in power and how these “divine” authorities get to serve the poor.

Not surprisingly, their solutions revolve around free market capitalism, often benefiting the “chosen” more than those they’re supposed to help.

Members include powerful politicians and lobbyists and they’ve railed against government spending, asking what “Jesus” would say about building roads or public education. With the current crusade by Tea Partiers to destroy government, it’s not hard to see these principles in live action.

According to Sharlet, the consequences of The Family’s influence are even more frightening overseas. Members believe it’s better to build friendships with dictators rather than hold them accountable for crimes against humanity. Many times, this has been directly beneficial to members’ business interests.

They have sent many missionaries to Uganda and used the country as a “laboratory” for their homophobic beliefs. The Ugandan government passed measures that made being homosexual a crime that could be punished by death in some instances. While Family members have not said they believe in killing homosexuals, they’ve stood by the Ugandan government based on principle.

This religious inspired slaughter has also seeped its way into our military, according to Sharlet. Although the US military is supposed to be secular by law, a sizable chunk of soldiers are part of Officers’ Christian Fellowship and have openly advocated their fighting in the name of Jesus. Many of these soldiers have been promoted despite this apparent conflict of interest. Even former General David Petraeus, who now heads the CIA, endorsed “Under Orders: A Spiritual Handbook for Military Personnel”.

Thus, it’s not surprising that Sharlet could detail incidents where secular soldiers were accosted by their fellow soldiers to the point where they had to discharge or advocates for religious freedom in the military had their families threatened. One story in particular that stands out is when a soldier painted “Jesus Killed Muhammad” on a vehicle and led his fellows in chanting the offensive phrase while mowing down innocent Iraqis.

While Sharlet covers plenty of ground from US politics to missionary adventures overseas, this book is only one piece of the puzzle in unearthing the religious right’s reach. Crimes in the Catholic Church have gotten some press but massive mortgage fraud amongst Mormon hierarchy has mostly been kept out of the public eye.

Many of these institutions are purposefully secretive but their escapades in power and influence need to be exposed for all. The people that abuse their hierarchical positions don’t just hold down outsiders. They often con their own followers.

When you see a pundit denying the ties to Christianity of a Brevik or ignoring these stories of fundamentalist corruption, chances are they aren’t that stupid. They’re just in on a joke you wouldn’t find too funny.

Follow me on Twitter: @shaft19

Portland Schools Administrator Offers Free Math Books for Kids and Families

Posted in Journalism, News Wire with tags , , , , , , on July 29, 2011 by brucepoinsette

Portland Schools Administrator Offers Free Math Books for Kids and Families.

Check it out. My first piece in The Skanner. Also, be on the lookout for an update following the book giveaway.

Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member

Posted in Bruce Bruce's Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2011 by brucepoinsette

When you listen to a song like NWA’s “Gangsta Gangsta” and hear Ice Cube talking about stomping out people at parties and gunning down others for the hell of it, it might sound strange considering the only member of the group who had a criminal record at the time was the late Eazy-E. However, Public Enemy’s Chuck D once described hip-hop as the “black CNN” and like many rappers, NWA had to get their stories from somewhere. Read “Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member” and you’ll find real life tales of everything you could imagine hearing on a record.

Sanyika Shakur, aka “Monster” Kody Scott’s tales of life as a gang member and his subsequent reinvention as a black national make for a raw, yet irresistible read. The news and most media use static depictions of gang members as domestic terrorists with no thought of hearing their side of the story. Instead Shakur takes you into his mind while giving the reader a better understanding of the culture that surrounds Los Angeles gangs.

As someone that grew up in Lake Oswego, which couldn’t be any further from L.A., phrases like “Can’t stop, won’t stop” would fly over my head on Snoop Dogg songs but Shakur breaks down Crip terminology as well as illustrates the dynamics of gang violence. He describes life in military terms, which should give the reader a chillingly familiar feeling because he refers to much of the same reasoning that compels the US military to murder all across the globe. There’s little reflection on what initially caused rifts between rival gangs and an urge to decimate the enemy rather than come to any kind of a resolution. What Shakur describes is a cycle of brutal vengeance.

However in the midst of the war, the reader doesn’t lose sight of the combatants’ humanity. They all seem to understand the destructive nature of their actions but they accept it as life. Relationships with girlfriends and parents are explored as well as the need to use substances like PCP to maintain the mind frame for war (much like soldiers used heroin in Vietnam).

Shakur’s story takes a turn when he begins to spend more time in prison than on the streets and eventually finds Islam and political consciousness in the way that was somewhat mythologized in The Autobiography of Malcolm X. His rebirth as man trying to unite gangs against a society that has created their condition is as inspiring as the first part of the story is vicious. It also counters the overtures from police and the media that say we should lock these young men up and throw away the key rather than reach out and try to change the conditions.

The lesson “Monster” teaches is that gang warfare is like any other warfare, both in tactics and in the potential for a resolution. Gangs are bastard children of revolutionary movements like the Black Panthers. The rebirth of “Monster” into Sanyika Shakur and his mission to bring others back to the revolutionary roots is a blueprint for ending the violence that plagues black communities as well as ceasing dependence on authorities that don’t care about their welfare. Change can only come from within. The transition from self destruction to black empowerment proves that no one is irredeemable and that simple guidance can transform lives.