Category Politics & Government

STATISTICS, ENFORCEMENT AND THE RACIAL DIVIDE

Black Live Matter is a group that carries a lot of clout in the political-racial landscape in America. That’s obvious. What’s not obvious are the statistical facts about alleged racism in law enforcement and justice which shows that all people of all ethnic and racial bases can, and often are, holding prejudices. Of course, Black Lives do Matter, but that’s not to the exclusion of white, browns, Latinos, Asians, females, males, midgets and giants. We ALL matter.
     Too often we hear about terrible disparities in crime statistics and the justice systems in general, particularly as it pertains to race. Based on sheer numbers, it appears that these systems, comprising police, courts and prisons, are prejudiced against black people, invoking accusations of systemic racism at its worst. For the most part, it’s simply not true. Key word: “systemic.”
     Yes, statistics are grossly disproportionate. But there’s a reason. FBI and the Bureau of Justice reveal that over a period of 28 years, 1980 to 2008, over 52 percent of murders were committed by blacks, while 45 percent were by whites. Yet blacks comprise only 12.7 of the population, and black males only 6.3 percent. Thus, citing the sheer numbers of whites versus blacks in criminal research, lopsided population ratios has nothing to do with a racist system. It means a very small segment of the population is responsible for a disproportionate number of violent crimes. That’s just a fact.
     Statistics are not a valid gauge from which to judge fairness. If we were held to a ratio goal, based on demographics, females should occupy prison cells by 51 percent and males only 49 percent. But records tell us that only 10.5 percent of homicide convictions are female. Even more ridiculous is suggesting that males are unfairly targeted for sex crime arrests compared to females. Never mind, that 98.9 percent of all arrests for rape are males.
     Unfair? Should cops be arresting people according to population ratios pertaining to race and gender? Should half of those arrested for perpetrating rape, be women?
     Of course, that’s absurd. But so is claiming that the prison populations should comprise numbers in line with racial demographics.
    Some folks constantly invoke the bane of racism, which does more harm than good. That may be warranted in isolated cases, but not all. I recently engaged in a short debate with a local African-American attorney, compliments of Florida Today’s civility discussion program, in which the topic was the “Black Lives Matter” movement which suggests that too many cops are predisposed to systemic bias against blacks. The debate never addressed the origins of that movement which, in truth, had nothing to do with racial discrimination.
     “Black Lives Matter” spiraled from the 2014 shooting death of 18 year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, after he had just robbed a local store. When Officer Darren Wilson spotted two suspects walking on the roadway, he stopped and ordered them to get off the street. Big boy Brown charged the police car and sucker-punched the cop through the window, then attempted to wrest the officer’s pistol away. Imagine how surprised that cop was.
     Brown had committed serious felonies. As he turned away, the officer rightfully ordered the felon to stop, at gunpoint. Instead, Brown again charged the officer in a menacing manner. This mammoth “boy” stood over six feet and weighed over 300 pounds. Wilson fired. Brown died.
     Some media journalists used explosive terms emphasizing how the “child” was “unarmed,” which ignited the community into outrage. The shooting was ultimately deemed justified when a grand jury heard testimony from several eye witnesses, all black. Eric Holder, Attorney General, did not file federal charges because there were none validated.
     The town of Ferguson suffered riots causing damages to homes and businesses by the millions. The department was criticized for not having enough black officers, in contrast to demographics. Never mind, that most local young adult blacks could not qualify because of police records, or had no interest in being associated with law enforcement. It was tough to get young black males to apply.
     I understand that dilemma, having faced similar situations following the Miami riots of 1980.
     The Ferguson incident remains the poster case which elevated “Black Lives Matter” to prominence though based on a falsehood. Officer Wilson didn’t shoot Michael Brown because he was black. The “boy” had already assaulted and attempted to disarm the cop. And, the “boy” was huge.
     There’s always more to the story. Sure, there may be exceptions, but to blame crime’s lopsided statistics on actions taken by on-the-line officers as “systemic” racism is just not true. Not in today’s climate.
     Truth be told, ALL lives matter.
 
 

HOW TO REFORM LAW ENFORCEMENT – OP-ED – M. FRANK

(This article appears in news OpEd, Florida Today, this date.)
 

After serving 30 years in Miami-Dade County law enforcement — plus managing a major national security company for four more — I’ve seen my share of problems concerning life, death, crime, security and justice. There is so much to overhaul and streamline, it would exceed the limits for newsprint so I’ll narrow my views to a sampling of ideas.

If I had the magic wand, I would…

  • Do away with electing sheriffs in counties by appointing chiefs/directors much like what’s done in municipalities. It has worked effectively in Miami-Dade County since 1966. Such a system diminishes politics and does away with good-old-boys, or its perception.
  • Renovate the system of small city/town departments by merging local governments for efficiency. This would be more effective with the focus on services, training, and coordinating criminal matters. The four municipalities along 15 miles of Highway A1A is patrolled by four small departments under four police chiefs and its mini-bureaucracies. That could be reduced to one.
  • Reduce jail and prison populations by invoking the European model, which hands out far shorter or lesser sentences while converting savings into funds for training and education.
  • Help prisoners re-adapt to society after being caged for decades. A huge number of prisoners who return to society have no support system or opportunities to survive, particularly with criminal records. This often results in choice recidivism, i.e. convicts who commit crimes in order to return “home.”
  • Decriminalize prostitution and establish laws that protect the consumers. This would legitimize, sanitize and control such unenforceable “crimes” that have been in the service business for centuries, regardless of laws.
  • Reestablish a method by which we could identify people suffering from serious psychotic issues, even insanity, and rebuild our sanitarium systems as welcoming medical centers to treat the mentally ill — before they commit a crime, not after. This would include reserving space for prison inmates who are suffering from severe mental disorders.
  • Abolish the death penalty, which is not a deterrent. It is an outrageous cost to taxpayers while the risks of killing an innocent are far too great even if only one in a thousand. The system is too flawed, as we’ve seen locally in Brevard County alone with too many innocent men being wrongfully convicted (that we know of). The state should not be in the business of killing
  • Invoke a compromise in the abortion dilemma.  Keep abortions legal for women in the first trimester, or fourth month, but prohibit late terms except to save the life of the mother. This should keep everyone happy without re-igniting the abortion black market, which was a nightmare for cops and courts. I know. I was there.
  • Appoint a civilian committee made up of legal, social and law enforcement personnel, to redesign drug laws that would put more emphasis on control, treatment and mental health, rather than banishing users into prison cells for mega-years. That would also impact the supply side by decriminalizing many laws, thus paralyzing the black market that destroys lives indiscriminately while filling prisons.
  • Do away with minimum-mandatory sentences. Statutes generally come with a certain number of years to serve if found guilty in court regardless of mitigating circumstances. Prosecutors use these laws to an advantage, often threatening defendants with long sentences while securing a guilty plea in exchange for a reduced sentence. Meanwhile, judges are stripped from exercising judicial discretion.
  • Restart policies for community policing throughout America, establishing productive, eye-to-eye relationships between citizens and businesses. Just check where such programs have been enacted with success and follow that lead.
  • Within strict procedural and social limits, states should allow for “stop-and-frisk” policies. It’s a policy that was enormously effective under two New York City mayors, saving hundreds of lives.

There is more, but that’s a start. Anyone listening?

How to reform law enforcement, from a retired cop 

TO WIN THE WAR ON DRUGS: LEGALIZE

(This Op-Ed by yours truly appears in today’s issue of Florida Today)
On Nov. 8, just 70 miles south of the U.S. border into Mexico, drug cartel savages opened fire on three American adults and six children, burning and killing them all. Murder is commonplace. It’s not so unusual in Mexico to see bodies hanging from bridges. 
Why? It’s all about messages.
It’s no mystery. Cartels have been killing for years. No matter how many authorities claim they are fighting the drug war, too many — here and abroad — are beholden to warlords, in fear for their lives and the lives of loved ones, so the carnage continues all for money and drugs.
Mexico’s president was criticized recently after he declared a policy of “hugs not guns” in fighting the drug war. He’s too smart to be that stupid.
Arresting drug chieftain El Chapo was good news, though it accomplished nothing. No more than believing that radical Islamic Jihad is stunted because Bin Laden was killed. Great news, perhaps. Nothing changed. Drugs continue to flow. People die.
There are some who have suggested that domestic wars would be over if drugs were legalized. Hmm. Interesting thought. In fact, there is an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) in which present and former police officers have banded together to further that idea. Crushing black markets via legalizing puts a new face on the situation. It might be worth thinking about this. LEAP is an organization of criminal justice communities who oppose the “War on Drugs” to be replaced with a system of legalized regulation as more efficient in dealing with drug use, abuse and addiction.
According to the Drug Policy Allowance, the U.S. spends $47 billion a year fighting the lost drug war. In 2018, that translated to 1.6 million drug arrests. That’s a lot of court dockets and prison cells. Over 200 thousand people have been killed in Mexico’s drug wars since 2006.
Whatever happened to the old adage about doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results? Why don’t we have leaders who think outside the proverbial box?
Black markets drive crime rates, in many modes, not just drug wars.
Does anyone really think that keeping prostitution illegal is going to stop prostitution? The black market has been driving prostitution for centuries. The world’s oldest profession is doing just fine under the radar, where police do their share of expanding criminal records and jail terms. If a hooker gets lucky she can opt to become an informant for other crimes. Las Vegas has the right idea. Legalize, license, tax, zone and medically control. It works fine in Nevada. Why put people in jail? What good does that do, America?
If former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke had his way with criminalizing the sale and ownership of firearms, he would have created the mother of all black markets. He should be the poster boy for naivety. Americans may tolerate some form of firearm regulations, but they would never cede to erase Amendment 2. 
What happened when Uncle Sam restricted the consumption of alcohol during Prohibition from 1920 to 1933? The black market thrived while people drank themselves silly. Organized crime was in seventh heaven, thank you Congress. It was another failure in trying to control what cannot be controlled in a free society.
If we made all abortions illegal, we’d spark another black market where novices and butchers conduct the procedures in animal vets and backroom parlors. That’s the way it was prior to Roe v. Wade. I know. I was there.
Some behaviors simply cannot be legalized. Like it or not, deterrents are necessary in order to control and prevent dastardly activities such as child pornography, sex trafficking or slavery. But if we didn’t need to deploy 800,000 cops in the U.S. to fight unwinnable crime wars, we’d have far less than 2.2 million people wasting away in prisons, therefore creating a windfall of savings to the taxpayer.
Perhaps if we diverted the gigantic cost savings from eliminating drug wars into programs that aid and treat drug addicts and the mentally ill, tax money would be better spent. We might actually safe lives.
 

DECADES OF ADDICTION KILLED MY BOY

(This Op-Ed by yours truly, appears in Florida Today, 20 October 2019, under title “I Got The News Families of Addicts Fear.”)
 
In 1972, a flower-child, divorced mother of a 12-year-old named Bennett introduced her son to marijuana. Pot use had been common in the household, so she said to Bennett, “Here. Try this. You don’t have to do this behind my back.”
So he did. Not only that, he found her secret stash in a closet and brought a pocketful to school, which turned out as a lucrative endeavor, hoisting his status to a seventh-grade drug dealer.
Not only did his mother ignorantly and wrongfully teach him that drugs were harmless, the subliminal message was worse, as he wondered why the one person who is supposed to protect her child from wrongdoing, actually encouraged it. So he wondered: Why doesn’t my mom love me?
Fast forward to age 18. After several episodes of runaway behavior, minor crimes and shifting residences with his single father, Bennett began showing signs of mental problems. A prominent psychiatrist diagnosed him as “manic-depressive,” which entitled Bennett to Social Security disability income from the government. Bennett spent three months in a treatment center under care of the doctor. When released, Bennett was prescribed Haldol and Lithium, powerful drugs meant to balance bipolar disorder.
The results were catastrophic. Bennett turned into a quivering, drooling zombie, with loss of control of body functions. Basically, the psychiatrist prescribed powerful drugs, of all things, to a drug addict, while earning his fees from the government. The doctor said he’d have to take those drugs for life.
Eventually, Bennett ran away again and went on into a drug-infested lifestyle while still collecting money from Uncle Sam for 40 years. Repeated efforts to help by family members never helped. He could not hold a job and ultimately joined the ranks of America’s homeless and mentally ill populations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributes roughly 70,000 deaths a year to drug overdoses. Some 553,742 people experienced homelessness at least one day in 2017 while 19 million generally experience “housing insecurity.”
The CDC estimates that 50% of homeless people suffer from addiction. A study by the National Institute of Mental Health reports that 20% to 25% of homeless people suffer from severe mental illness. In a separate report, 17.3% of mentally ill prison inmates were homeless prior to arrest.
The crisis is clear: The land of prosperity, the free and brave, turns its back on those who are clearly mentally ill, drug dependent and imprisoned, giving them no hope at all other than more drugs and/or jail cells.
What is wrong with us?
We open our gates to third-world populations providing all the benefits of American citizens, while turning our backs on so many bona fide Americans, including war veterans suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder, relegated to finding bushes for shelter and thievery for bread.
Basically harmless to others, Bennett found ways to survive while living in a derelict used car lot, pandering for nickels and dimes. Thanks to government disability, he still maintained his flow of drugs from doctors who overlooked his motives.
In his last doctor’s visit in January, unkempt and needy, Bennett asked and received refills for Xanax and OxyContin. The next morning he was found dead in the back seat of a derelict SUV with a needle filed with Fentanyl in his arm and two empty vials of Xanax and OxyContin.
At age 58, he had struggled enough. The government system gave him money for 40 years, which only helped to maintain his habits. But he had no life.
The next morning, a plainclothes cop wearing a badge on his belt knocked on the door of a house in Suntree, Florida, and asked the man, “Do you know someone named Bennett Frank?”
“Why?” the man asked. “Is he dead?”
“Yes.”
That man was a former police detective who had notified family members of deaths hundreds of times. This time, that family member was me. Bennett was my son.
There are no lobbyists or committees for homelessness or the mentally ill.
Out of sight …
The full story of Bennett Frank’s life and death, and what we can do, is outlined in Frank’s new book “A Boy Who Mattered.”

Marshall Frank is a retired police captain from Miami-Dade County, author and frequent contributor. Visit marshallfrank.com.        

FOCUS ON GUN ACCOUNTABILITY NOT CONTROL: Op-Ed. M. Frank

(This article appears as Op-Ed in Florida Today, this date)
 
Here we go, focusing on “control” as a means to fix the nation’s problems with gun violence. Government leaders, to one degree or another, offer the perennial answer which is to control gun ownership by people who have a history of mental illness and/or felonious behavior. We’ve been doing this for many years. How’s it going so far?
     Now, the House of Representatives is considering new legislation which will improve background checks, ban high-capacity magazines and create red-flag laws entitling local police to remove guns from people believed to be a threat. Well, something is better than nothing. But it will not reach the heart of the problem. Nothing is really going to change.
     Year after year, decade after decade, we’re constantly focusing on “gun control,” instead of “gun accountability” as the issue in need of attention. Background checks are important, but they do not identify people who have severe mental problems unless they’ve already been incarcerated, and then it’s too late. Most of the recent notorious shooters had no past record by which a background check would mean anything. The real issue should be “accountability” and not “control.”
     Guns are certainly dangerous instruments, but they are also needed for self-protection and we must never deny a law abiding citizen their 2nd Amendment rights. But there is an alternative, if politicians and the NRA had the guts to implement. That is, treat every gun as it were an automobile. Every owner should receive due process after passing similar requirements that protect others, as well as themselves, when cars are on the road.
     American citizens possess two instruments that are responsible for the majority of violent deaths in America; Cars and guns. But there is a vast difference between the two regarding accountability. Automobile ownership has stringent accountability requirements while guns do not.
     When someone owns and operates an automobile, he/she must provide records that they have a license to drive. They must also show status of insurance plus a title of ownership when purchasing from a dealer or a private party. Same as with cars, private sales should be recorded for accountability. Nothing in the 2nd Amendment, which guarantees rights to gun ownership, prohibits any of these things. It’s simply a matter of holding gun owners (and car owners) accountable. Things have changed enormously since the 2nd Amendment was ratified in 1791, from single shot weaponry to repeating bullets and magazines that can hold hundreds of cartridges.
     Criminals buy and sell guns in the streets. The current proposed legislation would have no effect on that.
     Passing gun “control” and extended background checks will have very little impact on the mass shooting dilemma. It will make some law-makers look good, that’s about all. Thousands of felony crimes in the U.S. are committed using stolen or illegal weapons from the “hot” marketplace. Chicago, among others, is well-known for their random shootings, year after year. According to the Chicago Tribune, as of August 12th, this year 1,692 people have been shot so far in 2019. Most of those guns were bought or obtained illegally by criminal elements with no accountability.   
     The National Safety Council reports that 40,100 people died in vehicular crashes in 2017.  The Center for Disease Control reports 39,773 died by gunshots the same year. A dead heat. The death records are almost identical, so why not accountability?
 
     Focusing on “control” offers little in terms of doing anything that will actually impact the problem. There are many other issues that we should be focused upon, particularly within inner cities. One would be the dilemma of fatherless kids throughout big cities in America. Studies are replete with statistics and predictable outcomes when young males choose gangs as their adopted family over mothers. And, yes, automatic repeating weapons and large capacity magazines should be prohibited.
     In order to make a real difference, we must invoke accountability as a starting point. That may irk some pro-gun folks, but it’s also hard to argue the logic.