Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Every Murder Victim Has A Story: Doodley Linsey Derose, Jahed Ahmad Babi, and Isaac Joyner

During the 2010 holiday season, homicides claimed the lives of several young people in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. This article, part of a continuing series on Dissenting Justice, examines three of these cases.

Doodley Linsey Derose

Doodley Linsey Derose, a 19-year-old from Silver Spring, Maryland, was murdered by two unknown assailants on December 21. Doodley attended Kennedy High School, where he was an honors student. At the time of his death, Doodley was a sophomore at Virginia State University, where he was majoring in political science. Doodley was home with his family for winter break when he was murdered.

Doodley's death has caused intense grief for his parents, three siblings, grandparents, and a host of others who knew him. In an article published by the Gazette (a local Maryland newspaper), Doodley's mother Martine Derose reflected on her son's life:
He loved to play baseball, he loved people. . . . He loved his mother; he always called me all the time to say "Mommy I love you" and "Thank you so much for helping me go to school, I'm going to do well for you."
JFK's New Frontier, the newspaper from Doodley's high school, also published an article regarding his death. The newpaper reported that Doodley had recently returned to the school to "speak with students about the challenges of college and how to do well academically." People who knew Doodley have also expressed their grief in various Facebook postings.

The circumstances surrounding Doodley's murder are as mysterious as they are tragic. According to a Gazette report, Doodley was at his parents' home with a friend the day he died. At some point, he went downstairs and answered the door. Three men were at the door. Doodley's father Linois Derose, who was also in the house, knew one man, but not the two others.

After the men began shouting, Doodley ushered in his friend in the house and left the two others outside. Suddenly, bullets flew through the door. One struck Doodley in the chest. He died later that day.

Doodley's father questioned his son's friend about the identity of the two men, but the individual said that he did not know them. Linois Derose, however, found this response highly suspicious. Meanwhile, the police investigation continues.

Update: Police have released a picture and name of a suspect in the murder of Doodley Derose. See here.

Update II: A suspect in Doodley's murder has surrendered to authorities at the Montgomery County jail in Rockville, Maryland.

Jahed Ahmad Babi

On December 20, police in Fairfax County, Virginia discovered the body of Jahed Ahmad Babi, a 19-year-old from Burke, Virginia, in a local park. Jahed lived a short distance from the park in which his body was found.

Jahed graduated from Lake Braddock Secondary School and was pursuing classes at Northern Virginia Community College. Ironically, his family fled from Afghanistan to escape years of violence in the country; tragically, Jahed became a homicide victim in the US.

Jahed's family has declined to speak with media. His numerous friends, however, have honored his memory in press accounts and on Facebook. Jahed's friends describe him as smart, genuine and very friendly -- perhaps to a fault. He reportedly excelled in his studies and graduated from high school a year early.

During an interview with a local Fox News station, Evan Guerrero, who described Jahed as his best friend, said "I honestly don't know what to do. I was with the guy day and night and it kills me to not have him here with me anymore. . . ." In another interview, Abraham Wehelie, whose older brother befriended Jahed, said that "My mom set [Jahed] up as a good example of what I should to aspire to."

Social media, such as Facebook, provide additional insight regarding Jahed's relationship with his friends. One friend offered a touching tribute to Jahed following his funeral:
Your funeral was beautiful. So many people cared about you and have known you as the sweet and generous guy that you were. Many tears were drawn, however we know that this isn't goodbye. None of us can go in peace until this guy is caught and pay for what he's done. See you in the afterlife R.I.P
Police have not released a motive or the names of any suspects in Jahed's death. Police, however, describe the murder as an "isolated incident," which suggests that Jahed's killers targeted him.

Comments by some of Jahed's friends suggest that he may have had connections with the "wrong crowd." According to one friend, Jahed "was a good guy with the wrong crowd, the wrong kinds of people who dragged him along to the darker side. . . ." Another friend said that Jahed "was always a good guy, it's just the people he was with . . . ." Regardless of the motive, Jahed was well liked, and his death remains a painful tragedy.

Isaac Joyner

On December 24, a man approached 14-year-old Isaac Joyner of Baltimore and began shooting at him and two other teens. A bullet stuck Isaac in the head, killing him almost instantly. His friends, however, sustained injuries that are not life-threatening. Now, police are trying to figure out who killed Isaac while he stood outside of his aunt's home at 7:30 pm on Christmas Eve.

Isaac's aunt, Michelle Joyner, was particularly close to her nephew and stated in interviews that she could not celebrate Christmas without him. Isaac's Christmas presents, which included sweaters, shirts and a camera, remain in a closet in her home.

Isaac's grandmother, with whom he and his mother lived, described him as a tender child: "He would tell me every night that he loved me. . . .If I was asleep, he would shake me real good until I woke up and say, I love you, Grandma." Jabril Hall, a friend of Isaac, said that "Issac was so close, he was more like family."

Last year, Isaac watched a documentary sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The documentary, Men II Boys, analyzes the lives of individuals, primarily African-American males, who grew up without their fathers. The film's producer wants to help children deal with the psychological pain of their experiences and to inspire them to achieve in spite of their conditions.

Isaac's reaction to the film, which was quoted in the JHU Gazette, has a chilling significance in light of his untimely demise: "The film really made me think about how hard it is being a black man in America. . . ." Police have not released a motive or the name of a suspect in Isaac's murder.

Final Thoughts

Although these cases have received scattered attention in the media, the stories warrant more attention. Violence is a pervasive problem that victimizes persons in low-income communities of color. This violence is one of the most serious problems the US faces today, and it relates to many other issues, including education, poverty, racism, and the lack of economic opportunity.

Despite the magnitude and severity of the problem, the media often push stories of homicides involving persons of color to the margins. Every murder victim, however, has a story that warrants telling.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Overcoming Prosecutorial Misconduct: Jailhouse Lawyer Wins Freedom

The Wall Street Journal reports that Jabar Collins has won release from prison by acting largely as his own attorney. In 1995, a Brooklyn, New York jury found Collins guilty of murdering Rabbi Abraham Pollack. The trial was a local media sensation.

Pollack served 15 years in prison, and, during much of that time, he filed requests for documents related to his prosecution. After extensive research, he found that prosecutors failed to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence, as required by Supreme Court precedent.

Specifically, witnesses who identified Collins as the shooter received deals from the prosecution that diminished their own criminal liability for separate crimes. Some of them were threatend with prosecution if they failed to testify. During the trial, however, prosecutors denied that the witnesses were rewarded for their testimony.

Another witness who testified placed Collins in the area of the shooting. He also said that he made the 911 call reporting the murder. A voice expert, however, testified that the witness was not the person who made the 911 call.

Finally, many of the witnesses admitted to using drugs at the time of the shooting and stated that they barely remember the events of the day or signing documents implicating Collins. One witness stated that Collins received a bad deal.

Prosecutors threatened to retry Collins even if he won the right to a new trial. Following a hearing in federal court that revealed extensive evidence of misconduct, however, prosecutors relented.

Today, Collins works as a paralegal for an attorney who provided assistance during the final stages of his appeals. Predictably, he would like to become a lawyer one day.

The Wall Street Journal article has many more details. It is a very interesting read.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Smart Power

A couple of recent articles have portrayed Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a very positive light. The articles rebut many of the suspicions that some commentators had regarding Sotomayor during her confirmation process.

Many of Sotomayor's critics questioned her intellect -- despite her tremendous record of accomplishment. Others contended that she lacked judicial temperament. Many Dissenting Justice articles responded to the criticism of Sotmayor (see comprehensive list of articles).

The attacks on Sotomayor had clear racial and gender dimensions. Prior to her confirmation, Sotomayor's powerful presence on the bench was viewed as a negative trait; in male judges, however, this is invariably seen as a positive trait. Despite Sotomayor's record of achievement, detractors questioned her intellect, while white judicial nominees rarely face such scrutiny.

Several critics, including Jeffrey Rosen, questioned whether Sotomayor could match conservative justices (see Dissenting Justice scathing critique of Rosen). According to recent Supreme Court commentary, however, Sotomayor has quickly disproved Rosen's fears regarding her value to the Court's liberal wing.

Today, some commentators rightfully view Sotomayor as a smart justice who engages in very sharp and passionate questioning from the bench. These recent articles provide a far more accurate account of Sotomayor than the picture that emerged during the confirmation process. They also demonstrate how race and class biases, rather than legitimate concerns, shaped much of the criticism surrounding Sotomayor during the confirmation process.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Teena Marie Has Died at 54

Several sources have confirmed that R&B singer Teena Marie has died at the age of 54. Although no major media outlet had published an official obituary at the time of this blog posting, several reliable sources, including the venerable WDAS radio station in Philadelphia have confirmed her death. Also, Ron Isley has stated that Teena Marie has died on his Twitter account.

Update: CNN has also confirmed Marie's death with her manager.

Update II: People Magazine, the New York Daily News, the Palm Beach Post, and several other sources have now confirmed Marie's death. The Palm Beach Post article, written by Rhonda Swan, is a touching tribute. This remains a breaking news story.

Update III: CNN has published a more extensive story regarding Marie and her untimely death. While the cause of death remains unknown, her publicist states that she suffered a grand mal seizure last month.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gators Hire Muschamp; Targeting Smart and Applewhite?

The University of Florida has stunned sports prognosticators by naming University of Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp to replace outgoing coach Urban Meyer. Although Muschamp currently works with the Big 10 Longhorns, he has a long history in the SEC; he even played football at the University of Georgia -- a primary rival of the Gators.

Reaction to Muschamp has been pretty solid, although the decision has shocked many observers. Andy Staples of SI.Com, for example, describes the decision to hire Muschamp as "bold" and "intelligent."

Furthermore, the St. Petersburg Times has collected reactions from many major voices in college football, and the reactions are also very positive. Urban Meyer gracefully describes Muschamp as a "great hire," and Tim Tebow is predictably humble and respectful. ESPN's David Ubben says that Muschamp is "arguably, the best defensive coordinator in college football and one of its best recruiters." And the Gainesville Sun's Pat Dooley expects Muschamp to "bring fire" to the Swamp.

Kirby Smart and Major Applewhite Next?
Muschamp's hiring has led to a new round of rumors regarding new staff for Florida. Even before Muschamp was hired, the sports world tried to predict which coach would replace Meyer; these predictions and rumors were way off the mark. Before Meyer resigned, a flurry of rumors surrounded the much-hated Steve Addazio, the current offensive coordinator for the Gators.

Since the announcement that Muschamp would take over as head coach, two significant rumors have emerged. First, several observers predict that Muschamp will try to convince Kirby Smart, currently at Alabama, to become Florida's new defensive coordinator. Smart has a great reputation, and Alabama already gave him a big raise to keep him from going to the University of Georgia. Smart and Muschamp, however, are close friends. Both played for the University of Georgia, and they have worked together as assistant coaches in the past. Perhaps, the Muschamp's relationship with Smart can seal the deal.

Another rumor thread has Major Applewhite, the running backs coach at Texas, joining Muschamp in Florida. The Applewhite chatter, however, is mixed, with some "reliable" sources saying he will remain in Texas and others saying he will move to Florida.

According to one Texas media site, Applewhite told Malcolm Brown, one of the nation's highest ranking running back scouts, that there might be coaching changes in Texas. Brown, however, refused to say whether Applewhite indicated that he would be leaving Texas. Whether or not Applewhite comes to Florida, if the Gators are indeed looking for an offensive coordinator, then this will please many Florida fans who do not want the current coordinator Steve Addazio to remain in his position.

[Editor's Note: Although this is primarily a law and politics blog, I occasionally comment on sports and other matters related to pop culture.]

Friday, December 10, 2010

Every Murder Victim Has A Story: A Surge In Teen Homicides

During November and early December 2010, several teenagers were killed in the Maryland-Washington, DC-Virginia metropolitan area. Normally, youth homicides catch the attention of media commentators due to their emotional impact. But when the victims are poor and persons of color, this typical pattern does not always occur. The inattention to the violence, however, does not diminish the tragedy and pain surrounding these crimes. Every murder victim has a story.

Ebony Franklin: 17 (Important update in Franklin case: here)

Thanksgiving 2010 permanently altered the lives of Ebony Franklin's friends and family. Ebony, a 17-year-old, lived with her mother in Capitol Heights, Maryland. The Friday after Thanksgiving, Ebony told her mother that she was going to spend the weekend with her father, who lived in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of NW Washington, DC.

By Friday evening, however, Ebony's parents had not heard from her, and her mother filed a missing person's report with the Prince George's County police. Unfortunately, Ebony was not found alive. On Monday, November 29, sanitation workers found Ebony's body stuffed in a trash can in Columbia Heights. She had been stabbed multiple times. Ebony was murdered and discarded like trash.

Predictably, Ebony's friends and family are devastated by the news of her death. Ebony's murder received little attention in local media, but then coverage of her death faded away. But to the people who know Ebony, the pain remains very pronounced.

Friends and family held a candlelight vigil honoring Ebony. Also, several friends' Facebook pages contain commentary about and numerous photos of Ebony. One individual who describes herself as Ebony's best friend, was particularly distraught from the time Ebony went missing and after she was found murdered.
November 28: man im ova here goin crazy prayin for u to cum home to us we love u bestie

November 29: best friend i love u girl who wtf woud do this to my right have they say blood thicker then water but in this case its different i love u gurl n these tears r fallin for u another good one gone n the clouds kisses n a hugs love ur bestie

December 3: i miss u bestfriend n sumtimes i just want to pick up the fone n call u n then it hurts to know that ur just not goin to answer tears ls i love u ebony franklin
Police have not released a motive or the name of a suspect in Ebony's murder.

Miguel Hernandez: 15

On Friday November 19 a group of males surrounded 15-year-0ld Miguel Hernandez as he walked from school in Manassas, Virginia. Members of the group began stabbing Hernandez. He subsequently died from his wounds.

Police have not released a motive for the crime, although several reports suggest that it might have been gang-related. Friends of Hernandez, however, deny that he was ever involved in a gang. After an initial blip of coverage, Hernandez's death lost the interest of local media.

Judging from the multiple Facebook "R.I.P." pages created to honor Hernandez, however, he continues to touch the lives of many people. Here are some posts on the most popular Facebook tribute to Miguel, nicknamed "Mickey":
November 21: When i heard that mickey died from getting stabbed i was sad and i started thinking "why cant the world just get rid of all the gangs, its stupid right just hating some one because they're a different color or because they come from another part of the world, look at how much sadness was caused by the death of mickey. . . .

And here is a very touching dedication from one of Miguel's teachers:
November 22: Mickey was a great student, many of us- his teachers feel this way. We are in just as much pain, I know I am. I've dedicated my life to become the teacher that can make "make a difference" - and now I feel like I failed. Mickey was one of my best and brightest students. Please,.. all of you students, all of you who are predators and are killing our students (gang bangers, dealers, etc), this must end. When will you finally learn.
Despite the pleas from Miguel's friends that others not seek to avenge his murder, another youth was stabbed days after Miguel was murdered. The youth survived, but police believe that his attack was related to Miguel's death.

Raquan Campbell: 15

On December 1, 15-year-old Raquan Cambpell was shot multiple times in the body and head. The attack killed him. The following Baltimore Sun article represents the totality of information regarding Raquan's death in the local news media:
UPDATE: City police just identified the teen victim as Raquan Campbell. 15, of the the 2800 block of Bookert Drive in South Baltimore's Cherry Hill neighborhood.

Some disturbing news out of Southwest Baltimore -- a 15-year-old was shot and killed in Carrollton Ridge. This area has historically been a violent hot spot for drug dealing and violent crime. It's near where a little girl was shot and wounded last years.

Few details are available of this latest shooting. Police told Sun reporter Jessica Anderson that the youth was shot in the head about 5:15 p.m. near South Payson and West Pratt streets and died about an hour later at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

The youth is the 10th juvenile to be killed in Baltimore this year. There were 16 youths killed in all of 2009.
The murder of a 15-year-old child only merits a few sentences in Baltimore's major newspaper. Many of Raquan's friends, however, have filled this void through the use of social networking.

In most of his pictures available online, Raquan, affectionately known as "Ra Ra," has a big smile on his face. Many of his friends spoke of his smile and his warmth on a Facebook page created in his honor:
December 1: Im Cryinq As I Type This RaRa Youu Were So Funny Im Goinq Miss Ya Geekinq Ass Boy W/Ya Gorqoeus Ass Smilee Uqhh Whyy Youu Tho ! Ily & Imy Youu Always Goinq Be In My Heart I Promise Youu Tht!

December 1: Awwww I really can't believe that some coward took your life you was such a respectful young man.. My prayers are with your family may you rest in peace baby

December 2: Damm man my brova one everytime i close my eyes i just see ya smille and hear ya laugh he had no chance to even fight bacc i swear i wish i cuda took his place now i gotta cope with this broken heart Love all my CherryHill Fam . . . .

Colleen Smith, a volunteer with Metro Kidz in Baltimore, wrote a very impassioned statement regarding Raquan's murder:
I know first hand this kid had a future ahead of him, he might have not been doing the right thing right this very second, but he was doing things 90% better than he was at this time last year, he’s one of the boys I used to get to share stories with in the neighborhood, he’s one of the boys who share his heart with me, he’s one of the boys who I got to see make changes in his life, and no he wasn’t at the place where he wanted to be, but he was working hard to get there. He’s one of the boys I fell in love with, who stole my heart, he’s one of the boys who opened up to me, and showed me respect and trusted me for who I am.
Tragically, Raquan is also one of the boys slaughtered on the streets of Baltimore. Police have not identified any suspects or motives in his killing.

Prince Okorie: 16

On November 30 at 4:30pm, 16-year-old Prince Okorie was gunned down in NW Washington, DC. According to one news report, the shooter killed Okorie because he thought he was a "snitch" in another murder case.

The local media dedicated the standard couple of sentences to Okorie's murder. But independent bloggers have provided more details surrounding his life.

Kathryn Gaglione, a freelance journalist and author of the blog Hers for the Reading, wrote a moving tribute to Okorie that speaks about his life and that condemns the media for reducing him to a "statistic":
What this [Washington Post] article fails to mention is that Prince was known and loved by many people. Not only did I work with him in a tutoring program, but I attended the same church congregation, I know his family, and I see how this tragedy is leaving those who cared about Prince in shock. . . .

Prince was your average teenager. He fought with his sister and talked back to his mother and tried pushing the boundaries. But he was also quiet and sweet and smart. He could have been anything, done anything with his life. All that potential lost.

Too many children are eaten alive by the violence of the inner city. And sometimes, no matter how much people love them or how hard people try to help them, the statistics don't play in their favor. So the next time you read about [homicide] statistics, see Prince there. Those numbers are important because there are people behind them. And every one of them matters.
I agree. On December 10, police arrested 20-year-old Raymond Roseboro of NW DC for the murder of Prince.

Jamal Wilson: 19

On November 14, 19-year-old Jamal Wilson was shot and killed in NW Washington, DC. There is very little about Wilson's death in local media -- except for brief articles that merely quote the police blotter regarding the homicide.

Police, however, have arrested two suspects in Wilson's slaying. One of the suspects -- Kwan Kearney -- was subsequently arrested for the murder of Joseph Alonzo Sharps, a 17-year-old murder victim whose killing was profiled on Dissenting Justice.

Scott Staten: 17

Before I could finish editing this article, yet another teenager became a homicide victim in Washington, DC. On December 8, 17-year-old Scott Staten was shot and killed in SW Washington, DC. At the time this article was published, there were very few details available concerning this homicide.

Final Thoughts

Writing about these murders is a very painful task. Ignoring them because they only affect poor persons of color makes others feel safe.

But homicides diminish our collective humanity. Becoming numb to them erodes our own ability to empathize and to better society. Despite the heavy emotional burden involved with confronting this gruesome reality, I choose to focus on the lives of these young victims and to tell their stories. Thank you for reading.

Note: "Every Murder Victim Has A Story" is an occasional series on Dissenting Justice.

The United States: A Nation of Hypocrites

I have said it before. In light of a new survey, however, it is worth repeating: the United States is a nation of hypocrites. According to a Bloomberg survey, most Americans want to reduce the national deficit, but they want to do so without any cuts to entitlements, which are among the biggest budget items. Also, they only want tax increases for the wealthiest individuals. So, Americans want to keep the rate of spending, maintain the same tax rates for most people, and magically eliminate the deficit. Good luck.

"Fuck the President" vs. "You Lie": Which Is Worse

According to several reports, an angry -- but unidentified -- House Democrat said "fuck the president" during a very heated caucus regarding the compromise on tax cuts. I tend to believe that such language is generally unhelpful in public discourse.

In terms of civility and respect for the office of the presidency (not necessarily the individual occupying it), this reminds me of the infamous "you lie" moment during a speech that Obama delivered to Congress regarding healthcare reform. Joe Wilson, a House Republican from South Carolina, essentially heckled the president, but his comment generated so much heat from liberals that he subsequently issued a formal apology. Much of the liberal commentary accused Wilson of inappropriate behavior and racism.

I doubt that the House Democrat's outburst will generate the same reaction. First, the person remains unidentified. Second, liberals probably do not want to bring attention to their own lack of decorum or, even worse, racism. C'est la vie.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Repeat After Me: Obama Is A Moderate

Every time new legislation or policies fall short of the expectations of progressives, several things happen. First, progressives complain that President Obama (yet again) has rushed to compromise with moderates and conservatives. Second, media commentators praise President Obama for being pragmatic and willing to work with others. Third, conservatives describe the legislation or policies as evidence of President Obama's sinister plot to turn the US into a communist society. To all who have engaged in this discourse, repeat after me: Obama is a moderate.

Progressives Continue to Ignore Reality
Regular readers of this blog know that I have long described Obama as a moderate -- even before he was elected. A long list of prior blog entries on this subject appears below this article. During the Democratic primaries, when Obama was the untouchable darling of the progressive community, I often watched with alternating confusion and amazement over the Left's collective worship of Obama and its portrayal of him as a progressive figure.

After Obama was elected, several factors indicated that he would fall far short of the wild expectations that many progressives had of him. He appointed despised Clinton-era officials to positions in his own administration. He chose Hillary Clinton, a "defeated" enemy of the political left, as his Secretary of State. And he would soon show his commitment to some policies of the Bush administration that progressives had vigorously opposed.

Although these decisions caused some progressives to awaken quickly from what I have described as an Obama-Vegetative State (a condition in which the patient is unable to think critically about Obama), clearly, others remain wedded to the unsubstantiated idea that Obama is a true progressive.

Despite the variety of data that prove Obama's moderate leanings, many progressives cling to the fantasy that he is a leftist. Accordingly, they become extremely upset when he dives toward the center and "compromises" with Republicans and moderate Democrats on issues such as the healthcare public option, the Bush tax cuts, and the magnitude and substance of the economic stimulus. Progressives demand that Obama negotiate from the left and move slightly to the right. Surprisingly, they assume that he shares their desire to start from the left in the first place.

The False Pragmatism Canard
In response to progressive criticism over Obama's political moderation, media commentators scold progressives for being partisans. They also praise Obama for being flexible and strategic. These commentators believe that Obama is a progressive but that he, unlike his progressive critics, is pragmatic. Most of these commentators, however, do not even engage the possibility that Obama himself is a strategic moderate who occupies the center not because failing to do so would doom him politically, but because this is the political space that coincides with his own ideological commitments.

The Conservative Red Scare Tactic
No one can convince Obama's rightwing critics that he is not a Muslim, socialist, communist, foreign-born individual causing the inevitable destruction of US society. So, I will leave them to their ideas. It is interesting, however, that the right and the left are equally drawn to their belief that Obama is a progressive.

What Progressives Must Do
If progressives wish to engage in helpful politics, they must first embrace a strategy grounded in reality rather than fiction. President Obama is a moderate. Starting with this premise creates the conditions for effective political action.

Second, progressives must become students of history. Moderate presidents have presided over deeply progressive social change, such as the abolition of slavery, the extension of voting rights to women, and the implementation of extensive civil rights legislation in the 1960s. If progressives study this history, they can learn how to build effective political action for change.

Third, progressives must engage in organized social movement behavior to shape public opinion about the need for change -- rather than exclusively focusing on their defeats. Although many progressives continue to participate in collective politics, these efforts are literally drowned out by the voices of critics who are continually frustrated by a president who does not satisfy their unrealistic expectations about his political ideology.

Finally, progressives need to engage in multidimensional political advocacy. Focusing on one political figure is a completely ineffective political strategy. Historically, political change has come about as a result of complex activism at the local, state and federal level. This political action has targeted voters, corporations, lawmakers, and executive branch officials. It has also involved courts and litigation. For many progressives, however, the national government -- and more specifically Obama -- has absolute centrality.

Social movements have produced remarkable progressive changes in the US. Part of this history involved criticism of political leaders. Nonetheless, a large part of that history centered around crafting public information campaigns and fostering ties with the public and with multiple layers of politicians and private entities to create political opportunities for change. If progressives refuse to follow this historical practice, then they will have to blame themselves as much as (or even more than) Obama for the failure of progressive politics.

The promised reading list on Obama as a moderate:

2008 Is Not 1964: Why Liberal Mania and Conservative Panic Are Nothing But Melodrama

Chicken Little Politics: Moderate Obama Causes Progressive Panic

Criticizing President Obama Is Pragmatic

Progressives Awaken from Obama-Vegetative State

Free at Last? No!

From the "Duh" Files: Effusive Political Adoration Does Not Lead to Social Change

A Sober Look at a Democratic Sweep

If Obama Emulates Lincoln, Will Progressives Follow Abolitionists and Radical Republicans?

Head Explosion at The Nation: Left "Duped" by Its "Own Wishful Thinking"

The "Yes We Can" Movement Gets Sudden Reality Check!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Disturbing "Progressive" Discourse Regarding Assange Rape Charges

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has become a folk hero among progressives. Even though Assange's actions raise important issues about the protection of sensitive governmental information, many progressives praise him as a "whistleblower."

Now that Assange has been arrested for charges of sexual assault, many progressives have lined up to defend him. The presumption of innocence is a cornerstone of every decent criminal justice system, and Assange is absolutely entitled to defend himself vigorously against the charges.

Nevertheless, some of the progressive commentary that has emerged in the blogosphere and on Twitter expresses very dangerous views on gender and sexual assault. Also, some of the comments rush to credit innuendo and one-sided commentary as fact.

Crying Rape?
Several progressive bloggers imagine a Swedish-US conspiracy against Assange. As evidence of this conspiracy, they argue that Assange is not guilty of rape in the common use of the word. Instead, he is supposedly only "guilty" of a "Victorian" crime -- having sex without a condom. This line of reasoning appears on several liberal blogs (see, e.g., here and here). Who is the source of this popular description of the rape charge? Assange's own defense lawyer.

Not only have some progressives failed to wait for the facts to unfold, but they have rushed to dismiss the alleged sexual assault victims, and have placed complete faith in Assange's lawyer's self-serving description of the charges. Furthermore, the description of the charges sounds specious at best.

Although all of the facts are not fully developed, many accounts indicate that at least one of the alleged incidents involved a broken condom. It is possible that the sexual assault charge might relate to the woman's claim that she decided not to have sex after it broke.

Even assuming that the woman initially consented to sex with Assange, if the condom broke during sex, she has the right to withdraw consent. Generally, people can withdraw consent to sex, and the fact that consent was initially given does not preclude a rape charge. This point, however, is completely absent in some of the progressive analysis I have read on this case. By concealing this potential aspect of the case, Assange's defenders can mock the alleged victims and play up the conspiracy narrative.

A popular reader diary on the respected progressive blog FDL adds a new dimension to the discourse. According to the diary, Assange's accusers are radical feminists supposedly connected to the CIA, anti-Castro and anti-communist organizations and to US-sponsored organizations that promote acts of terrorism in Cuba. Of course, none of these allegations is substantiated. Nevertheless, the reader's portrayal of the women as radical feminists and anti-Castro seems to have worked. Most of the comments uncritically accept the claims in the diary and view them as proof of an international plot against Assange.

Keith Olbermann
Finally, Keith Olbermann has entered the fray with a post on his Twitter account. Olbermann says that "Reuters now confirms Swedish rape investigation of Julian Assange is about broken condoms & fear of STD's." The Reuters article, however, is based exclusively upon information provided by "several people in contact with [Assange's] entourage at the time [of the alleged assaults]." Information from this anonymous and potentially biased source cannot constitute confirmation of any specific fact.

Final Take
Although this post condemns emerging progressive commentary regarding the Assange sexual assault charges, I do not wish to imply that all or most progressives have acted inappropriately. In addition, I do not mean to suggest that the criminal charges have merit or that they are connected to the ethical issues concerning Assange's release of confidential governmental information.

Instead, the purpose of this post is two-fold. First, progressives, like everyone else, should wait for the facts of this situation to unfold. Assange is entitled to due process and a day in court. Shoddy argumentation and "fact finding" will not help his cause. To the extent that a budding progressive discourse seeks to "create" its own facts, this development is unfortunate.

Second, progressives should not disparage feminism and alleged victims of sexual assault in order to defend Assange. Protecting free speech does not require progressives to abandon central principles like equality and bodily integrity. I encourage other progressives to reject this ridiculously false choice.

Also on Dissenting Justice: What If Julian Assange Were An Arab Muslim . . . .

Jezebel has a great essay on this issue: "Some Thoughts On 'Sex By Surprise.'"

Elizabeth Edwards Has Died at 61

Just one day after media outlets announced that Elizabeth Edwards was foregoing further treatment for cancer, the successful attorney and advocate of healthcare reform has died. The Washington Post has a detailed article on her life and legacy.

What If Julian Assange Were An Arab Muslim . . . .

I have a simple question about Julian Assange, the praised and scorned leader of the WikiLeaks enterprise, which has released scores of confidential governmental materials to media. Today, in a matter unrelated to the release of any documents, Assange was arrested in London for alleged sexual assaults that police contend occurred in Sweden earlier this year.

Dissenting Justice has not analyzed the WikiLeaks situation. Admittedly, WikiLeaks presents important questions regarding the First Amendment and the control of sensitive governmental information. Nonetheless, as the country engages in a debate regarding the appropriateness of Assange's behavior, I wonder whether his defenders' position and the often tentative US government responses would look the same if Assange were an Arab Muslim.

I find it difficult to imagine the public rhetoric surrounding Assange remaining the same under those circumstances. I suspect that many true progressives would defend Assange regardless of his identity. Yet, I am equally certain that many people who are either on the fence or opposed to Assange would demand vigorous governmental action against him if he were an Arab Muslim -- or, possibly, if he simply were not white and male.

This post is not meant to condemn any particular group or person in the United States. Instead, it represents my thinking about the possible operation of gender, race and religion in this situation.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wimpy, Wimpy, Wimpy? Obama Strikes Deal With GOP On Taxes

In the early 1980s, a television advertisement for Hefty brand trash bags declared the competition "wimpy, wimpy, wimpy." That commercial came to mind when I read about President Obama's deal with the GOP regarding the extension of Bush's tax cuts.

Think Progress has the details, but here are the major points. Under the plan: 1. Bush's tax cuts will remain in place for over two years; 2. in exchange, expired unemployment benefits will continue for another 13 months; 3. payroll taxes will decline 2 percentage points for a year; 4. various tax credits (e.g., the Earned Income Tax Credit) will remain in place; and 5. the estate tax will return at a rate of 35% with a $5 million exemption.

Undoubtedly, mainstream media will declare the deal a sign of Obama's heralded pragmatism. Nevertheless, the compromise represents a retreat from one of the issues that defined his campaign.

Furthermore, the package of tax cuts will also likely add to the deficit because it was not coupled with any spending cuts. The Bush tax cuts have already increased the size of the national deficit. Extending them will likely lead to the same result. Finally, as Think Progress observes, many of the cuts -- particularly the estate tax provision -- represent a major windfall only for the most wealthy households in the nation.

It is unclear how this deal makes sound economic policy. Instead, it looks more like politics masquerading as policy.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Sarah Palin Is Generally Ignorant and Wrong

It seems as if every week some mainstream media outlet publishes an article with the redundant title "Sarah Palin Is Wrong..." The latest version of this tired story, an op-ed written by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, appears in today's Washington Post: "Sarah Palin Is Wrong About John F. Kennedy, Religion and Politics." Last week, Richard Cohen of the Washington Post stated the obvious in his article: "Attack on Michelle Obama Shows Palin's Ignorance of History."

Earth to Cohen and other commentators who are eerily attracted to the loser VP candidate, half-term Alaska governor, and former mayor of Wasilla: Palin is generally ignorant and wrong. Palin's rookie status partially explains her atrocious performance on the campaign trail in 2008. Nonetheless, it has become abundantly clear that her gross lack of intelligence was the leading cause of her ineptness. Even many Republicans acknowledge this. So, perhaps the media and liberals should discard their bizarre fascination with Palin.

Charles Blow, a columnist for the New York Times, shares my Palin exhaustion. He tells the political left and "liberal" media to "get over" Palin. He also suggests that they probably continue to write about her in part to drive traffic to their websites (today's Washington Post op-ed already has over 1200 reader comments):
Yes, she’s about as sharp as a wet balloon, but we already know that. How much more time and energy must be devoted to dissecting that? How is this constructive, or even instructive at this point? What purpose does it serve other than inflaming passions to drive viewership and Web clicks?
Blow has the right idea. The public already knows that Palin is an idiot. At this point, those who do not know agree will never think otherwise. Let it go.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

DADT: Senate Republicans Hold Civil Rights Over A Barrel

Senate Republicans have decided to hold civil rights over a barrel. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that Republicans will not allow a vote on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell until they reach a consensus with Democrats over the Bush tax cuts. Republicans favor extending all of the cuts, which have exacerbated the federal budget deficit. Most Democrats, however, favor allowing the cuts for the highest income owners to expire.

Recently, Senators Scott Brown and Susan Collins, two moderate Republicans, have expressed support for repealing DADT. While Brown's statement does not reference a tax deal, Collins explicitly ties her support for a repeal of DADT to a resolution of the tax issue.

The Republicans are simply engaging in smart political bargaining. Democrats know that the DADT repeal must take place, if at all, before Republicans assume control of the House next year. Republicans are using the DADT issue to gain support for their tax plan.

Good politics, however, also requires parties to frame the terms of the debate. Democrats should continue working on the tax issue, but they should also call out Republicans for threatening civil rights in order to provide handouts to wealthy Americans.

Repealing DADT is a cost-free measure. It is unrelated to tax policy. Repealing DADT will end a policy of irrational and unfair discrimination by the national government. Many Republicans support the ban because they or their constituents oppose equal protection for gays and lesbians. Democrats should not allow their bigotry to go unrecognized in these debates.

Senator Scott Brown Backs DADT Repeal

US Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass), has released an official statement that announces his support for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Although Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says that Republicans will oppose lifting DADT until the Democrats accept their demands on the Bush tax cuts, Brown's statement suggests that moderate Republicans might vote in favor of repeal despite McConnell's threat.

If repeal does not take place before the Republicans assume control in the House in 2011, then DADT will likely remain law for the indefinite future. Even if repeal soon takes place, the Department of Defense will undoubtedly have the authority to determine the timeline and substance of changes to the formal policy. These details will require immense scrutiny from DADT opponents.

Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent initially reported Brown's position on DADT, along with a copy of the his formal statement. New York Magazine, however, wins the prize for the best headline regarding this news item: "Scott Brown Does Not Care If You’re Gay If You’re Willing to Get Blown Up for America."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Every Murder Victim Has A Story: Deangelo Ervin Bowman and Antonio Lorenzo Robertson

Homicides are among the most serious social issues in the United States. These crimes disproportionately impact poor persons, men and persons of color. Black men, often situated at the intersection of these statuses, are the population most deeply impacted by homicide in the US. Indeed, as many studies indicate, the high rate of homicide among black men is one of the leading factors that contributes to the gap between the life expectancy of whites and blacks.

Despite the seriousness of homicide in American cities, media outlets often treat murders of black men and other persons of color as routine and unremarkable events. Typically, media coverage of these homicides consists of tiny blurbs in the local news section; more tellingly, the stories are often just minimally edited versions of police press releases.

Deangelo Ervin Bowman and Antonio Lorenzo Robertson

Deangelo Bowman and Antonio Robertson

Consider the case of Deangelo Ervin Bowman and Antonio Lorenzo Robertson. On September 29, 2010, Bowman and Robertson were fatally shot in a SE neighborhood of Washington, DC. The Washington Post covered the brutal murder:
D.C. police are investigating the fatal shooting of two men found Wednesday night in the 3500 block of 22nd Street SE.

Lorenzo Robertson, 29, was found dead at the scene shortly after 10 p.m. after officers responded to a report of two people shot at the location, D.C. police said. Deangelo Bowman, 21, of Southwest Washington, was unconscious and died after being taken to a nearby hospital.
The above passage represents the entirety of the Washington Post coverage of this double-homicide. The remainder of the article is simply boilerplate that asks anyone with information to call a police hotline. Many other homicide cases receive similar treatment by the Washington Post and other local media.

In contrast to the high volume of national and local attention devoted to murders like the Chandra Levy case, the Washington Post reduces Robertson and Bowman to a few sentences without any discussion of their lives or the impact of the murder on their families, friends and community.

Social Networking Partially Fills The Media Void
Although media coverage of homicides in poor communities often treats these events as unremarkable, social media, such as Facebook, can fill the media void by providing some insight into the victims' lives and the impact of their deaths upon friends and family.

Bowman's Facebook page, for example, chronicles the events immediately preceding his death (I could not locate any online information regarding Robertson). In a passage that sounds ominous after the fact of his death, Bowman posts the following message at 9:38am the day of his murder: "GM FB Fam, up this morning wondering what is in store for today! got to get out of this house! LOL"

Bowman, nicknamed "Scoobz," then apologizes to a "cuzin" for some undisclosed conflict. He also spends time "trippin" with a friend.

At 7:20pm, Bowman announces to his friends that he is about to get his hair styled "in a couple of cornrows," although he "wanted some fishtails." Finally, at 8:12pm, Bowman proudly announces that his hair was "done" and the he was "ready to do something!" Those words were his last on Facebook. Bowman was dead two hours later. What transpired between his last posting and his murder remains a mystery.

Earlier posts indicate that Bowman had a sense of humor, that he -- like many other young persons -- often aired conflicts and grievances with friends and family openly on Facebook, and that he was struggling to find work in a failing economy. Bowman had also recently moved to Washington, DC from North Carolina, although it appears that he had previously lived in the Washington area.

Bowman's Friends and Family Respond
The day following Bowman's murder, friends began to respond. I have posted some of the unedited responses below.

One person said that:
This really hurts, idk wht to feel..........It hurts even more to know that he was a good, nice, funny, sweet,person and someone took his life away. Once our friend, brother, son, cousin, here on earth and now an Angel in heaven. May your soul rest in peace DeAngelo Scoobz Bowman. WE ♥ YOU&&MISS YU DEARLY SCOOBY.
Another individual encouraged people to:
Another friend posted a similar response:
cherish the ppl who come in nd out of ur lyfe ; yu may never kno when one day they wont be there anymore..i still cant see or believe it tht ur gone....ima miss yu nd i love yu...may yu 4ever REST IN PARADISE DeAngelo Scoobz Bowman.
Although these Facebook posts cannot replace serious journalistic attention to the harms caused by homicides, they can fill some of the void left by scant media attention to the emotional impact of homicides in communities of color. Furthermore, while this blog alone cannot alter the content of media reporting, by telling the stories behind the lives of neglected murder victims, I hope to construct a counter-narrative that treats their lives and deaths as newsworthy and that begins to examine the complex social and emotional harms associated with violence.

Note: This article is part of a Dissenting Justice series "Every Murder Victim Has A Story."

Virginia Federal Judge Upholds Health Care Reform Legislation

A federal judge in Virginia has upheld portions of the recent health care reform legislation (see opinion). US District Judge Norman Moon rejected several arguments by Liberty University, the plaintiff, that portrayed the law as unconstitutional.

Among the measures that Liberty University challenged was the imposition of a financial penalty upon persons who failed to purchase health insurance. Although the court rejected the government's argument that the so-called insurance mandate constituted a permissible tax, it held that the provision was a valid exercise of the Commerce Power.

Dissenting Justice has analyzed the relationship between health care reform and the Constitution in several previous blog posts. The court's analysis of the Commerce Clause substantially mirrors the conclusions that those essays reach.

In particular, the court rejects the argument that a decision to remain uninsured cannot constitute economic activity -- which Congress can regulate -- because it simply represents a decision to refrain from commerce, or merely to exist. The court, however, held that the failure to purchase health insurance is not merely a passive, noncommercial act. Instead, it represents a decision by consumers to self-finance their inevitable use of health care. The court found that Congress could rationally assume that the consumption of medical services by uninsured individuals substantially impacts the market for health care in the nation.

In addition to upholding the penalty, the court rejected plaintiff's argument that the law would unconstitutionally require individuals to pay for abortion, regardless of their religious beliefs, and that law violated the Tenth Amendment. These arguments are inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent in this area. The court rightfully rejected them.
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