Somewhere along the way, the city of Ferguson, Missouri, one of a chain of small towns and neighborhoods buried near St. Louis, began to carry out a criminal enterprise. In a short time, that enterprise grew inside-out. It was wildly successful. It set goals and developed guidance; it applauded and defended its corruption. But Ferguson’s malfeasance never managed to get right-side-up.
In painful details, with statistics, records, and conversations—with emails that matter—the Justice Department shows Ferguson slipped into a parallel world that went almost unnoticed, as Ferguson openly created a criminal enterprise founded on crime! But Ferguson thought it was doing good by doing bad! What guided Ferguson’s fascinating dance on the wild side was a stern Puritan approach toward the majority of its citizens, easily identified by color. That Puritan judgment became racial bias. In the neighborhoods of Ferguson, two-thirds of its residents. people of color, made easy pickings for schemes to fill its coffers and to increase arrests for the city’s public order crimes.
Ferguson acted swiftly and expanded its violations of public order; many crimes were added to the city’s legal statures in order to increase revenues despite having no real public safety benefit. Public order crimes were the gateway to a broad labyrinth of administrative fees and fines, and added costs which developed after routine contact with the police and the court.
Public order crimes usually have no victims; they emanate from statures that criminalize certain behaviors interpreted by the police. “Failure to comply” was a common favorite; so was “manner of walking.” These crimes become an issue when police are out of control and use broad powers to target every slight, real or perceived. Discretion is not only judgment, it is power. In Ferguson, it was only power, a drill abused.
Crime is frequently about bigger things, about money and power. These motives underline bad acts. But Ferguson’s crimes began at the other end; they were the consequence of power: Ferguson converted its public safety and justice missions into revenue streams. Its systems became an ongoing criminal enterprise by violating citizens’ constitutional rights. The city institutionalized these violations as way to make public order crimes pay off for the city! These constitutional violations brought this small city more than a million dollars a year. On Ferguson’s scales of justice, one side, a minority, enjoyed special privileges. They rose above the other, a majority without power, on whom the systemic thumb of authority was an economic burden that weighed freedom down.
Corrupt? Criminal? Unfair? Biased? Ferguson officials disagree. They reject these descriptions and they are sincere. But their story, as they tell it, recycles a familiar canon: biased beliefs and myths about its majority, people of color. The same biases Mitt Romney expressed in the Presidential election. The ones he mentioned during his call to President Obama when he conceded. The ones related to the mythic stories Ronald Reagan often told. The difference in values and beliefs that Rudy Giuliani feels between white Presidents and a black President; a causal, mean-spirited disrespect echoed in the House and the Senate, in every political talking point flashing through social media; in part, the unstoppable outrage of acceptable mistreatment whose vicious blame and ugliness carries with it a simultaneous pledge of no ill will.
But Ferguson was loose about race. Police and court personnel often shared racial humor in moments of levity. In all of these jokes, they claim no intent to harm; it’s only small stuff. One official remarked about Ferguson’s unwritten policy of illegal 72-hour detention, “it was only few days.” When challenged, “it” was only funny/humorous/no big deal/why all the fuss/everyone jokes? Challenges meet with grievance or indifference.
When the police department and court clerks make jokes about eugenics and genocide that’s no laughing matter.
The town, Ferguson, which in the 1960s required all blacks to exit its limits by sundown and at night chained off the main street to Kinloch, the all-black town that was its closest neighbor, saw itself as honest in its bias. It found humor in its version of ugly truth.
Among city officials, court workers, and law enforcement personnel and supervisors, emails made the rounds which supposedly mirrored the profound—and pathetic—truth of being black. In one example, humor lay in associating abortion by black mothers with the laudable and socially acceptable goal of reducing crime. (Why did the pregnant mother who aborted receive a $5,000 check from Crime Stoppers?)
Think about it. As assembled, the joke slips out of joint. On closer reading, the joke implies not only does black life not matter—but that it matters even more and is worth something if and only if it becomes dead.
Of course, the pretense is it is a joke about crime and criminals and criminal activity. But its core intent makes a clear case about competing ideals: about the values society rewards and the reasons why. The joke laces values, rewards, and reason to color by offering a large bounty for aborted black children, who, even unborn, are presumptive criminals—and born to be worthless.
Stand the joke on its head. It points back to a society monitoring intrusively the activities of black families. (In the joke, Crime Stoppers is monitoring the arrivals and birth certificates of black newborns; vigilant in its fear!).
The narrative of the joke denies an opportunity even for life itself; black death is an event and value to be glorified—and made valuable by the illegal cash award (mocking the truth of Ferguson’s illegal transfers!) that strongly suggests that normal social institutions endorse death and share common, dark fears. In the joke, a death certificate is like a coupon. It could be a lottery ticket, a scratch-off. The joke’s world view says the only choice for black youth is crime. It replaces grief and helplessness with cash incentives, makes the high point of black life an early death.
People who laugh at these jokes hold the jokes’ embedded values in their own core. Whether in anger or fun or rage, the narrative’s ruthlessness, closed-off coldness and concept of social good is easy to see, after the shock. Memory (and photographs!) say Southern lynchings were well attended. Black death has long been entertainment in live form or repeated stories. In Ferguson’s world of fungible humor, bounties were offered for dead black children. In the context of crime, laughter was invoked by a bounty for an unviable fetus.
The media, of course, failed to notice this. But CNN did discuss this “second” set of emails (after Hillary’s); its “expert” commenter ignored them and staged the report as the Justice Department coming after the police. He obviously had not reviewed any section of the report. His bit was familiar: liberals and black officials against the police; what else? He was a racist enabler. The anchor had not read the report either. Their questions and answers not in evidence called for speculation and went off-topic to familiar ground. By their insincerity, they were part of the problem. Continue reading Eugenics Is No Laughing Matter: Unconstitutional Humor Laughs at Black Death in Ferguson’s Emails
When things are going bad, people often set out in the wrong direction. It happens all the time and it only makes things worse. The Justice Department’s decision to fine HSBC, a British bank that is Europe’s largest, $1.92 billion was enough to show how wrongheaded American policy is putting belief before truth.
If we believe as hard as we can, and say something over and over while we hide the process from the public, we can rob the country blind, dominate the Congress, and even bring shame to a wounded veteran and former Presidential candidate and Senate leader who, in a wheel chair at age 89, asked the Senate to vote to approve a UN treaty establishing a pledge to full rights for the disabled. This no-brainer only requested the US approve something it had already done; in fact, the US Disabilities Act was the model for the UN treaty. But instead of watching the Senate endorse a treaty that reflects established success in global leadership for the disabled, Bob Dole, former senator from Kansas, watched from the Senate floor as the members of his own party voted the treaty down.
The reason? The fear that the UN treaty with no enforcement or monitoring power, which calls each nation to review its progress for an annual report, would impose yet-to-be-expressed and completely unrelated standards for home schooling on American families. The treaty’s opponents claimed that US honor would obligate the country—each state, city, hamlet and home–to voluntarily submit to the treaty’s principles (whose goals have nothing to do with home schooling!) even if we disagreed. Except that we had agreed to the goals and signed the treaty, but it had not been approved by the Senate.
So an imaginary commitment was used to bring shame to a man who had served his party and his country with real commitment and honor. The imagined idea trumped the real ideals and practices firmly in place, without threat to hamlet or home. Bob Dole, a disabled veteran, watched the Senate vote use the idea of honor to bring shame to the US, before the world.
But things got worse quickly, in the name of justice. The British chartered Hong Kong bank, HSBC, agreed to the US Justice Department’s imposition of $1.92 billion in fines and penalties for the bank’s actions in financing terrorism and crime. HSBC had thousands of violations of the US’ Trading With The Enemy Act. HSBC moved trillions by wire transfers and other means for groups including al-Qaeda and Colombian and Mexican drug cartels for over a decade. The bank’s actions were so far out of control that the Justice Department claimed that no pattern of individual behavior could be established, so egregiously was the total institutional default on every standard and regulation aimed at denying legitimate banking services to global terrorism and crime. Shades of Catch-22! The Justice Department is claiming so many people were engaged in providing traditional banking to criminals and terrorists that it is impossible to tell who was at fault because the entire sphere of activity became routine practice,with its own procedures and rules! In other words, the bank was too big and too greedy to be bad! Continue reading The Bad News Is There Is No Rock Bottom
Who thinks fines work? Large fines, in the millions and billions of dollars, do they really change the corporate culture of open corruption, criminal behavior, the rule-breaking practices, the willingness to cheat that they are supposed to punish and deter? Or are they the cost of doing business for many businesses, especially large, multi-national corporations, whose continued violations damage US security and policy and are a major theft of taxpayers’ money?
In May 2011, the Department of State levied its largest civil penalty ever, $79 million, against a subsidiary of a British firm, BAE Systems, for illegal arms trafficking, after the firm was convicted of conspiracy to violate two international laws an estimated 2,591 times. 2,600 arms deals with Saudi Arabia, Hungry, Tanzania and Sweden, among other countries, were a part of the violations. The State Department settlement was the civil case. BAE Systems paid a $400 million criminal fine.
The Department of State’s Office of Defense Trade Controls addresses civil violations of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), the two acts most frequently violated.
After it was all over, BAE Systems issued a statement thanking the State Department for its help in bringing the company’s inventory, record keeping, and sales program into international compliance. Of course, it has “initiated the appropriate steps.” BAE System is one of the Defense Department’s Top 10 contractors.
Penalties and fines–paid to the Department of State? By military procurers? Yes, State’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), in the Bureau of Political Military Affairs investigates, charges and negotiates civil settlements of US and international violations of arms trade agreements and regulations. This March (2012) it settled nine violations by New Jersey’s Alpine Aerospace Corporation acts for $30,000.
In late June (2012), DDTC landed a bigger fish, a major Connecticut defense contractor, the bellwether United Technologies (UTC). According to a State Department announcement, UTC was fined $75 million “global settlement” for violations of ITAR with China, dating back to 2002, some involving military software. Its stock price rose 3.5% last Friday on the news. State said, “UTC’s numerous violations demonstrated a systemic, corporate-wide failure to maintain effective ITAR controls.” The investigation and fine addressed “arms export violations to China, false and belated disclosures to the U.S. Government about these illegal exports, and many other compliance failures.” But $20 million of the fine was suspended and returned to UTC to be used for remedial compliance!
What court or legal authority gives you money back? Especially after you have potentially damaged foreign policy and arms trade agreements involving software with a major power with whom we have major differences? This is not an intervention with a certificate of completion. These fines were not for acts that were inadvertent, causal or occasional. They were multiple, sustained, and intentional.
In many cases, they were corruption in plain sight, a complete failure of oversight.
Since 2007, the Justice Department has a 44 page list that summarizes its major indictments and arrests for defense exports. These include:
- ~A January 2011 arrest for possession of 300 automatic assault rifles, 150 grenades and other remote detonated explosive devices.
- ~A January 2011 $15.5 million fine and prison terms for providing China with restricted electronics including military phased array radar, guidance systems and satellite communication systems.
- ~A January 2011 attempted sale of an F-5 fighter plane to Iran.
- ~October 2010, 58 tons of weapons and ammunition to Sri Lanka.
- ~A $4 million arms ship to the Ivory Coast.
Are fines closing the gates on the commerce that daily seems to compromise US security? Are the variety of violators operating without fear, taking advantage of lax regulation and oversight to direct arms and technology worldwide while reaping spectacular profits? Media covers the financial markets and their stumbles are front page news. Defense is an ongoing market that represents a bigger and more deadly threat that accumulates daily violations as a matter of course, but is ignored and off the radar of public consciousness. Why? Continue reading Digging Deeper: Are Government Fines a Firewall?