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Are cameras mightier than guns?

If the pen is mightier than the sword, then the camera is mightier than the gun. This is particularly true when it comes to citizens recording their encounters with police. Time just ran a story involving Anthony Graber, a Maryland Air National Guard staff sergeant, facing 16 years in prison. “His crime? He videotaped his March encounter with a state trooper who pulled him over for speeding on a motorcycle. Then Graber put the video — which could put the officer in a bad light — up on YouTube.” See below

Some states are trying to make it a crime to record police officers on grounds of wiretapping, which essentially makes it a crime to record someone’s conversation without their consent. After the Oscar Grant debacle and others like it, “cameras have become the most effective weapon that ordinary people have to protect against and to expose police abuse. And the police want it to stop.”

The logic of disallowing recordings of police is indefensible. When cops have cameras mounted on their cars, their no consent with the person being pulled over. If I drive and a speed camera snaps me for speeding, I don’t consent to that but it keeps me honest. The larger issue is that cameras keep everyone honest. No matter how advanced the technology, sunlight is always the best disinfectant.

The problem I have is that police that do their job the right way shouldn’t fear any citizen recording their activity. Lest anyone underestimate this issue, imagine your loved a victim of police abusing their authority and your ability to raise awareness or develop your case would be with or without a videotape of said incident.

Stay up fam,

Brandon Q.


Justice Clarence Thomas’ nephew tased

What’s up fam,

So boom. Justice Clarence Thomas’ nephew was beaten and tased down in New Orleans. Here is how the Washington Post described it,

“Derek Thomas, 25, was immobilized with a stun gun Thursday after he tried to leave the emergency room at West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, La., his sister told WDSU, a local television station. Security responded after Thomas refused a doctor’s request to put on a hospital gown and started to leave, Kimberly Thomas said.”

Don’t you just love media framing? A stun gun sounds so innocent doesn’t it? When I hear “stun gun” I think about being wrapped up in a blanket in the winter and getting shocked when I go to turn on the light. However, stun guns are also known as tasers. God forbid Derek Thomas didn’t die from this ordeal but others were not so lucky like Ryan Wilson. (When Ryan took off running, officer John Harris pursued the 22-year-old for a half-mile and then shot him once with an X-26 Taser. Ryan fell to the ground and began to convulse. The officer attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but Ryan died.)

Some would say, “Well, things happen. If you don’t get in trouble, you won’t get tased.” Of course this presupposes some idea of criminal activity right that is simply unfounded. Take Derek Thomas for instance, he didn’t want to put on a hospital gown. That’s what he got tased for? The problem is that tasers are dangerous tools because well-intentioned police will use them in non-life threatening situations using the following logic,

1)    Life threatening situations = gun
2)    Non-life threatening situations = taser.

This logic assumes that the weapon used by the police officer will be commensurate to the situation. However, “Ryan is one of nearly 200 people who have died in the last five years after being shot by a Taser stun gun. In June, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would review these deaths.”

The issue is not about being soft on crime or aggressive on crime, it’s about making sure we apply our intelligence to the tools we use to fight crime ensuring their use is proportionate to the situation at hand. Surely, we wouldn’t use tanks to bust down people’s doors when a small ram is sufficient (I don’t know the technical term for “ram”).

Nevertheless, imagine if Derek Thomas died from that ordeal. How could his family explain that their loved one died after being tased for refusing to put on a hospital gown? It ain’t right.

So then I thought about this case making its way to the Supreme Court and even though Justice Thomas would have to recuse himself, let’s assume for argument’s sake that he sat for this case and wrote the opinion. (I would be waiting on this opinion like I was waiting on the Mega Millions winning numbers to drop)

I have not read all of Justice Thomas’ opinions but from what I have read, he is almost surely to be in favor not limiting the acts and authority of the police. What do you think his opinion would say? Would you give him praise for realizing the error of widespread taser use or would you give him respect for being consistent to his judicial philosophy despite the personal impact on his family?

I got the photo from here.“Don’t tase me bro” is a popular phrase after a UF student was tased after asking John Kerry some questions. While it has become popular in a joking sense to some, it is not funny at all. I leave you with the video of that ordeal below,

Stay up fam,

Brandon Q.

Water Wars Redux

What’s up fam,

This week’s Economist magazine had a great 16 page report on water and I strongly recommend you buy it because we are entering new territory regarding access to clean water. Previously, I have written about the growing battle for the right to water and The Economist does a great job of sounding the alarm. Roughly 1.1 billion people don’t have access to clean water. What really had me thinking was two main things. The first surrounded the notion of water wars and conflicts over water. The Economist highlighted the work of the Pacific Institute in California that has an awesome interactive map detailing the history of water conflicts across the world.

The old adage is that “a hungry mob is an angry mob.” but without 1.1 billion people without access to clean water, that adage may have to change to say that “a thirsty mob is an angry mob.” I was distressed reading about how diarrhea is the biggest single cause of child deaths across the globe. Now think about all the water and nutrients that need to be replaced when you have diarrhea and imagine the pain that three and four year olds are suffering from even as you read these words. For more information on this topic, I found some good info from the US Coalition for Child Survival.

Moreover, I remember reading about water shortages years ago and thought, “Why don’t we just get water from the ocean?” I find it interesting that the cover story for The Economist magazine involved man-made life but with all of man’s intellect and hubris, we still haven’t found a way to efficiently desalinize salty ocean water. Of course, desalinization is no silver bullet and we have to reduce demand through shorter showers, rejecting bottled water, revising irrigation strategies, washing our cars less, etc. In short, we need a world changing water master plan that decreases conflicts over water. Do your part.

Stay up fam,

Brandon Q.

Chaos or Community: Detroit

What’s up fam,

This has been a sobering week for Detroit and while I can’t quite make sense of it all, I know I need to write and revisit my thoughts later. So please, bear with me and indulge my stream of consciousness.

For those that don’t know, the city of Detroit has been ransacked by a wave of violence in the past couple of weeks involving the unrelated deaths of two children and a cop. Brian Huff, a cop, was shot dead when he and other police officers were called out to investigate shots fired from a vacant house. When the cops entered the home, the people inside the home opened fire, wounding four cops and killing Huff. Huff, 45 is survived by his wife and 10-year old son. Here is where we stand thus far according to what is being reported in the press regarding the children. Chauncey Owens, a 34 year old male shot and killed 17-year old Jerean Blake.
Read More…

It’s all connected

What’s up fam
This piece is going to be a mix of various things that have been on my mind.

1.    If you haven’t noticed yet, the flurry of news surrounding Haiti relief is done. This is where the real work begins because character is what we do when no one is looking. So here we go, no more moving facebook updates, editorial cartoons, or grand speeches by political leaders. Now that no one is looking is the perfect opportunity to give more of your self. So let’s chill with the “We will never forget” slogans because if you remember and don’t do anything, what’s the point?

2.    So it appears that the Dems have decided to finally commit to using reconciliation to finish health care reform. Senate Majority Leader Reid put forth a goal of having this done in 60 days and I hope and pray Democrats get this done because it is simply unconscionable for a country flush with so much wealth to have so many people go without adequate healthcare.

3.    I wanted to share a quote that has had me thinking, “The greatest hindrance to living is expectancy, which depends upon the morrow and wastes to-day.”

-Lucius Annaeus Seneca
“On the Shortness of Life”
translated by John W. Basore, Loeb Classical Library
London: William Heinemann, 1932

In response to this quote, what expectations do you have of yourself and others?  How do you think these expectations have helped or hindered? What informs these expectations? Do you really carpe diem or are you one of those people who go through the week like a zombie expecting to truly live when get off work on Friday?

4.    I haven’t heard anything about the guy that flew his plane into the IRS building. See now if the guy was Muslim, it would be front page every day for at least two weeks. What I don’t want is more finger pointing based on race, what I want is appropriate and proportional responses based on behavior, not race.

5.   Black History month is almost over and before we move on, I just want to thank all the Black people whose efforts and names will never make it into a history book or a PBS Black History month program. I represent am 27 years of Black History but I also stand on the shoulders of giants and so many elders have pulled me aside to show guidance and encouragement. Black History did not end with Civil Rights but it will be if we don’t have a burning desire to make the world better for our kids and grand kids. How much more would those coming after us resent us for being so selfish for not fighting as if all is well.

Stay up fam,

Brandon Q.

p.s. I really wish I could write more fam. Law school and life make it difficult to write the more in depth pieces I used to do more often. My apologies.

Rethinking redevelopment

I entered the Washington Post’s America’s Next Great Pundit contest a couple of weeks ago. I did not make the list of top 10 finalists, so the country will have to keep reading here to my punditry for a least the next little while.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed writing this opinion piece on gentrification. Take a look.

One Love. One II.

Are newly opened Starbucks, pedestrians with designer sunglasses, and big box retailers symbols of revitalization or the death of a neighborhood? Culturally speaking, it’s a funeral.

Neighborhoods become cool because of their history. History trumps gang wars, drug havens, and panhandlers when it comes to earning the “up and coming” title. Think Harlem. Its history as the Mecca of early 20th century black creativity made it a cool place to live despite the effects of its crack epidemic.

The model for capitalizing on the cool is simple: 1) buy a house, 2) renovate it, and 3) quadruple the price. This ensures that new, more attractive people will move in and manifest the coolness. The problem is that when black and Latino people are displaced, so are their memories, values, and relationships.

Revitalization brings us shiny new stores and unfamiliar neighbors. Unfortunately, new stores don’t mean new friends for our sons to play football with or our daughters to jump rope with. They also don’t mean new friends for our veterans to play dominoes with at the VFW.

What’s left are neighborhoods without souls. Gentrification has a way of inducing schizophrenia upon a place. A block that was once filled with locally-owned, locally-supported, complimentary businesses is now stuffed with unrelated chains fighting for attention. Cohesive cultural scenes become disjointed commercial conglomerates. Aimless neighborhood development does give at least one gift: bad traffic.

Neighborhoods can be made safer and redeveloped without economic displacement. This happens when capital investments are targeted toward strengthening communities rather than supplanting them.

We need less overpriced lattes and more family-owned restaurants. We need fewer high-rise, low-quality condominiums and more streets where everyone knows everyone else’s names. We must build on the genuine relationships that made our neighborhoods what they are, not break them apart and auction them to the highest bidder. Now is the time to double down on building America up in ways that celebrate the rich histories of every corner, of every neighborhood, everywhere.

What Makes a Black Man?

I penned an article for the Rising Oak Foundation Newsletter that was published this week called “What Makes a Black Man?”

It’s the first of a two-part series on the topic. Here’s an excerpt:

The responsible man is always accountable in everything he engages in. The responsible man has a sense of accountability that actively denies hypocrisy wherever it tries to creep in. The responsible man is healthily consistent in his worldview, while be sensitive and introspective enough to realize that he may need to update his view from time to time.

Rising Oak does a lot of great work around the country empowering communities and organizations that focus on strengthening the quality of the lives of Black boys.

Enjoy the piece, and stay tuned for part 2.

One Love. One II.