Category - USA: Gun Violence

America’s gun-toting guards armed with poor training, little oversight

Center for Investigative Reporting, By Shoshana Walter & Ryan Gabrielson, December 9

  • Lack of consistent regulation and training has put the public – and armed guards – at risk.
  • States have allowed people prohibited by law from owning a gun to work as armed guards.
  • The presence of an armed security guard increases the chance of violence in bank robberies, FBI data shows.
  • Armed guards can work in some states even with restraining orders and domestic violence convictions.
  • In 15 states, a person can become an armed guard without any firearms training.

Armed security guards have become a ubiquitous presence in modern life, projecting an image of safety amid public fears of mass shootings and terrorism. But often, it’s the guards themselves who pose the threat.

Across the U.S., a haphazard system of lax laws, minimal oversight and almost no accountability puts guns in the hands of guards who endanger public safety, a yearlong investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting and CNN has found.

Men and women who have never fired a gun in their lives can set off on patrol in uniform, wearing a badge and carrying a loaded weapon, with only a few hours of training, if any. In 15 states, guards can openly carry guns on the job without any firearms training at all.

The results can be as tragic as they are predictable.

Near Atlanta, a former sheriff’s deputy accused of erratic and threatening behavior at his old job later gunned down an unarmed man at his new job – patrolling an apartment complex. In Arizona, an armed guard prohibited by law from possessing a gun shot a teenager who was helping shoplift food from a convenience store, paralyzing the teen from the waist down.

St Louis unrest after police killing of teenager

US police have clashed with protesters in Missouri after an officer shot dead a black teenager close to where another black youth, Michael Brown, was killed in August sparking national protests.

BBC, December 24

A crowd of about 100 gathered at the scene in St Louis early on Wednesday after scuffles the night before.

St Louis County police said the man who was shot had pulled a gun at a petrol station and pointed it at the officer.

For weeks there have been widespread protests over alleged police brutality.

Berkeley is about two miles from the suburb of Ferguson, where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot dead by a white officer.


Police say teen shot dead near Ferguson had pointed a gun

Protests broke out after fatal shooting they said another example of young black men being targeted by white officers

Al Jazeera, December 24

Violent protests broke out again in suburban St. Louis after another fatal shooting of a black 18-year-old by a white police officer.

The shooting happened around 11:15 p.m. Tuesday at a convenience store in Berkeley, Missouri, just a few miles from Ferguson, where Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, was killed by a white officer in August.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar says the Berkeley shooting victim was black and the officer white. Police say video evidence will show that the teenager had drawn a gun on officers before he was shot.

“I had the opportunity last evening to review the video of the incident, and what I saw is not what people portray,” Berkeley Mayor Theodore Hoskins said in a presser Wednesday, referring to claims by protesters that the incident was another in a series of racially-charged shootings of black men by white police officers. “This is not a policeman half-cocked, you know black lives matter — this was not the case (that) you could even compare this with the Ferguson or Garner case.”

The Police Are Still Out of Control

I should know.

Politico Magazine, By Frank Serpico, October 23

In the opening scene of the 1973 movie “Serpico,” I am shot in the face—or to be more accurate, the character of Frank Serpico, played by Al Pacino, is shot in the face. Even today it’s very difficult for me to watch those scenes, which depict in a very realistic and terrifying way what actually happened to me on Feb. 3, 1971. I had recently been transferred to the Narcotics division of the New York City Police Department, and we were moving in on a drug dealer on the fourth floor of a walk-up tenement in a Hispanic section of Brooklyn. The police officer backing me up instructed me (since I spoke Spanish) to just get the apartment door open “and leave the rest to us.”

One officer was standing to my left on the landing no more than eight feet away, with his gun drawn; the other officer was to my right rear on the stairwell, also with his gun drawn. When the door opened, I pushed my way in and snapped the chain. The suspect slammed the door closed on me, wedging in my head and right shoulder and arm. I couldn’t move, but I aimed my snub-nose Smith & Wesson revolver at the perp (the movie version unfortunately goes a little Hollywood here, and has Pacino struggling and failing to raise a much-larger 9-millimeter automatic). From behind me no help came. At that moment my anger got the better of me. I made the almost fatal mistake of taking my eye off the perp and screaming to the officer on my left: “What the hell you waiting for? Give me a hand!” I turned back to face a gun blast in my face. I had cocked my weapon and fired back at him almost in the same instant, probably as reflex action, striking him. (He was later captured.)

US school districts given free machine guns and grenade launchers

Calls to hand back weapons and gear, from M16 rifles to mine-proof vehicles, obtained under Pentagon scheme

AP, September 18

Los Angeles – School police departments across the US have taken advantage of free military surplus gear, stocking up on mine-resistant armoured vehicles, grenade launchers and scores of M16 rifles.

At least 26 school districts have participated in the Pentagon’s surplus program, which is not new but has come under scrutiny after police responded to protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, with teargas, armour-clad military trucks and riot gear.
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SWAT Teams Claim ‘Corporate’ Exemption From Public Scrutiny

ACLU hits brick wall after issuing public records requests for information about deadly force, incident reports, and more.

Common Dreams, By Sarah Lazare, June 27

Operators of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams comprised of tax payer-funded police and sheriffs in Massachusetts claim they are immune to public records requests about deadly force, incident reports, and more because they are private “corporations.”

In addition to SWAT teams run by individual towns, many of these military-style domestic policing units are operated by regional “law enforcement councils,” which are bankrolled by tax-payer money and comprised of publicly-funded police and sheriffs. According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, approximately 240 of the 351 police departments in Massachusetts belong to these LECs.

Some of these LECs have become incorporated with 501(c)(3) status—a classification they say makes them exempt from public records requests.

Jessie Rossman, staff attorney for the ACLU of Massachusetts, told Common Dreams that her organization issued records requests to “a couple of LECs” to obtain information about their policies for a recent report on the militarization of local police. “We got responses from individuals claiming to speak on behalf of the LECs saying they would not be responding because they do not believe they are subject to public records law,” she explained.

Unaccountable Mercenary SWAT teams… huh.

Looking clearly at right-wing terrorism

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Charles P. Blair, June 9

Five years ago the US Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Environment Threat Analysis Division released an assessment of US far-right extremism. Initially intended for law enforcement and intelligence agencies only, the report—“Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment”—was almost immediately leaked.

The report warned that small cells practicing “leaderless resistance” and “white supremacist lone wolves [posed] the most significant domestic terrorist threat.” Significantly, it highlighted the likelihood of expanded attempts by far-right extremists “to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.” Overall, the report warned of trends similar to “the 1990s when rightwing extremism experienced a resurgence.” That far-right extremist rally reached a violent crescendo with the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.

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ALEC facing funding crisis from donor exodus in wake of Trayvon Martin row

The Guardian, By Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg, December 3

New York – An influential US lobbying network of Republican politicians and big businesses is seeking to avert a looming funding crisis by appealing to major donors that have abandoned it over the past two years following criticism of its policy on gun laws.

The Guardian has learned that the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), which shapes and promotes legislation at state level across the US, has identified more than 40 lapsed corporate members it wants to attract back into the fold under a scheme referred to in its documents as the “Prodigal Son Project”.

The target firms include commercial giants such as Amazon, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Kraft, McDonald’s and Walmart, all of which cut ties with the group following the furore over the killing of the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in February 2012.


On the other hand:

The Googlization of the Far Right: Why Is Google Funding Grover Norquist, Heritage Action and ALEC?

Truthout, By Nick Surgey, December 2

Google, the tech giant supposedly guided by its “don’t be evil” motto, has been funding a growing list of groups advancing the agenda of the Koch brothers.

Organizations that received “substantial” funding from Google for the first time over the past year include Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the Federalist Society, the American Conservative Union (best known for its CPAC conference), and the political arm of the Heritage Foundation that led the charge to shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act: Heritage Action.

In 2013, Google also funded the corporate lobby group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, although that group is not listed as receiving “substantial” funding in the list published by Google.

U.S. corporations are not required to publicly disclose their funding of political advocacy groups, and very few do so, but since at least 2010 Google has chosen to voluntarily release some limited details about grants it makes to U.S. non-profits. The published list from Google is not comprehensive, including only those groups that “receive the most substantial contributions from Google’s U.S. Federal Public Policy and Government Affairs team.”

U.S. Reforms “Open Floodgates” on Arms Exports

IPS, By Ramy Srour, October 17

On Tuesday, the largest deregulation in the history of U.S. arms exports took place as part of the Barack Obama administration’s export reform initiative.

But a day after the new reforms came into effect, former government officials and critics from the human rights community are warning of the serious human rights consequences and of the negative long-term impact for U.S. foreign policy.

The reforms are part of the Export Control Reform Initiative (ECRI) brought forward by the Obama administration in 2010, with the goal of simplifying U.S. export practices by eliminating redundant restrictions and regulations.

The most problematic aspect of the reforms is the extensive deregulation of military exports by categorising them as ‘dual-use’ goods, which currently face no trade restrictions under international commercial law.

[…]

“What this deregulation does is move as much as 75 percent of our arms exports to the Commerce Department, with no regulation,” Lowell told IPS.

When Does It End? When Will They Ever Learn?

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The DC Navy yard massacre this week has raised a whole raft of questions, everything from mental health issues to calls for more gun control, which of course I see as the larger issue in this and every other case of mass killings by a single gunman.

(A side note: As my good friend Scott Eric Kaufmann puts it, “I feel sorry for them [conservatives]…if it’s a mental health issue, Obamacare could cover it.”)

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Texas Police Hit Organic Farm With Massive SWAT Raid

Huffington Post, By Radley Balko, August 15

A small organic farm in Arlington, Texas, was the target of a massive police action last week that included aerial surveillance, a SWAT raid and a 10-hour search.

Members of the local police raiding party had a search warrant for marijuana plants, which they failed to find at the Garden of Eden farm. But farm owners and residents who live on the property told a Dallas-Ft. Worth NBC station that the real reason for the law enforcement exercise appears to have been code enforcement. The police seized “17 blackberry bushes, 15 okra plants, 14 tomatillo plants … native grasses and sunflowers,” after holding residents inside at gunpoint for at least a half-hour, property owner Shellie Smith said in a statement. The raid lasted about 10 hours, she said.

Local authorities had cited the Garden of Eden in recent weeks for code violations, including “grass that was too tall, bushes growing too close to the street, a couch and piano in the yard, chopped wood that was not properly stacked, a piece of siding that was missing from the side of the house, and generally unclean premises,” Smith’s statement said. She said the police didn’t produce a warrant until two hours after the raid began, and officers shielded their name tags so they couldn’t be identified. According to ABC affiliate WFAA, resident Quinn Eaker was the only person arrested — for outstanding traffic violations.

The city of Arlington said in a statement that the code citations were issued to the farm following complaints by neighbors, who were “concerned that the conditions” at the farm “interfere with the useful enjoyment of their properties and are detrimental to property values and community appearance.” The police SWAT raid came after “the Arlington Police Department received a number of complaints that the same property owner was cultivating marijuana plants on the premises,” the city’s statement said. “No cultivated marijuana plants were located on the premises,” the statement acknowledged.

Also, “Over 50,000 no-knock SWAT-team-style police raids are carried out annually in the United States.

Hm. Buyer’s Remorse?

An interesting interview on Anderson Cooper’s show last night with one of the jurors on the George Zimmerman panel:

The woman, known as Juror B37, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that when the jury began deliberations Friday, they took an initial vote. Three jurors — including B37 — were in favor of acquittal, two supported manslaughter and one backed second-degree murder. She said the jury started going through all the evidence, listening to tapes multiple times.

“That’s why it took us so long,” said B37, who said she planned to write a book about the trial but later had a change of heart.

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Droning On

This should come as no surprise to anyone, even without the recent foofaraw about NSA grepping phone numbers:

WASHINGTON — FBI Director Robert Mueller acknowledged Wednesday that the agency has deployed drones to conduct surveillance in the U.S., and that the bureau was developing guidelines for their future law enforcement use.

Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the unmanned aerial vehicles, whose use by law enforcement has raised questions from privacy advocates and civil liberties groups, are deployed in “a very minimal way and very seldom.”

“Our footprint is very small,” the director said. “We have very few.” Read More

Blow to NRA as court allows US to track gun sales in states on Mexican border

(The Guardian) – The National Rifle Association has suffered a rare setback in its crusade to block new gun regulations after a federal appeals court allowed the US government to go ahead with a plan to reduce the smuggling of semi-automatic weapons across the Mexican border.

The new rules, introduced by Barack Obama under his executive powers in July 2011, require gun dealers located in states abutting the border to report to federal officials any multiple sales of semi-automatic rifles such as AK-47s to individuals within a five-day period. The administration presented the requirement as a justified move to “detect and disrupt the illegal weapons trafficking networks” operating in Mexico.

The obligation to report such multiple sales would apply to all gun dealers in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas in an attempt to cut off the supply of military-style weapons being smuggled into Mexico. The north of Mexico is being sapped by a virtual war between law enforcement and drug cartels.

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