The Kids Say: Lorrin Freeman Should Step Down

Lorrin Freeman is a good person, and I supported her in 2014 when she ran against Boz Zellinger and John Bryant. But I have to say, the Kids are Alright when they call for her resignation. Her handling of the COVID virus in the courthouse and the protests in Raleigh has been deplorable. Her seeking of the death penalty last year in two cases – the black defendant was the only one to be sentenced to death – was horrific. She should step down, say the kids.

We’re Looking for Your Help!

We need help with not just the protest cases that I’m volunteering to represent, but also general criminal defense work – primarily the death penalty, post conviction case we have, and murders that are appointed by the courts.

This is a criminal defense law firm in Raleigh with a number of pending appointed murders including two potential capital (death penalty cases). We are also working with another lawyer on post-conviction litigation (North Carolina habeas) in a death penalty case from some years ago. We have a need for a law student and future criminal defense lawyer to do real substantive work – review discovery, interview clients, work with experts.

Please only law students who have completed at least one year of law school! We can’t pay a salary.  We can cover parking, lunches, defray costs of travel to locations (jails, crime scenes, etc) so that the clerkship is not a net cost to someone. I’m also COVID-Friendly so we try to keep people safe (by not showing up to my office all the time) and allow them to work remotely although a person must be able to come into the office from time to time or to travel to locations. We use various video conferencing (Zoom) to keep in touch – and the phone. Must be somewhat computer savvy to navigate discovery – video, PDFs, etc. – that we receive from the State or Federal Government. They must be absolutely discreet, and capable of honoring and abiding by court orders that from time to time demand absolutely confidentiality. In addition, they must understand and honor attorney-client privilege rules.

Future criminal defense lawyers only!  Also, please be located in the Wake County area, and please be able to drive to various locations. We had four trials last year (2019) alone – multi-week triple homicide death penalty case in Raleigh (jury rejected the death penalty!), a federal appointed gun case in Elizabeth City where the client was on video shooting a gun at a person at a club (hung jury!), a RICO/murder “Blood” case in federal court in Charlotte (won a “special sentencing factor!”), and a first-degree murder case in Raleigh (hung jury! 10 to 2 voting to acquit!).

Most importantly: someone with a deep commitment to correcting class and racial injustice.  POC and women and LGBT preferred, understanding that we deal with a wide variety of folks from different backgrounds who may disagree with you. People may say things to you that you regard as morally repugnant or beyond the pale. We are looking for people who have the patience to tolerate, ignore, overlook, or forgive peoples’ prejudices, and sometimes repugnant political or moral views.  If you have particular boundaries, please disclose them upfront so that we can see whether we can accommodate them.

Spanish-speaking (fluent) preferred.  While we take COVID-19 precautions and provide masks etc., sometimes we have to go into jails or in places that aren’t well-sanitized. People concerned about Coronavirus or who are immunocompromised may wish to not apply.

Please send a resume and a writing sample to us at dena@chetson.com. Please no phone calls at this time. We will follow-up with candidates who seem like they might fit.

This can be shared.  Thanks for all everyone is doing to speak out about racial, sexual, and class injustice.

Priorities, People

I get the anger over broken windows in downtown Raleigh. I understand that people are upset over property damage. I do not advocate property damage.

But in the list of things to be concerned about, it strikes me that people miss the point if they fixate on broken windows and vandalism, but ignore the larger issues:

  1. Police Brutality has left Black men and women beaten and killed across this country, and in Raleigh.
  2. An economic system that privileges property over people (whatever their color): There is something wrong about a Government that spends billions outfitting civilian police departments in riot gear and military-style armaments, but says it can’t afford to ensure that people have health care, a decent standard of living, and a future for themselves and their kids.
  3. A criminal justice system that, particularly when it comes to drug crimes and fundamentally non-violent crimes, sentences people to cages for years or decades, sometimes in private prisons.

These are the fundamental problems that give rise to what a good friend of mine – and downtown Raleigh shop owner whose store was vandalized – calls the “hopelessness” that results in property destruction. He told me as he cleaned up the glass this week in downtown Raleigh to try to get his store back open – after it’s been closed for two months – that he isn’t angry, but rather sad.

Sad that a system like ours has turned out to be such an utter failure at providing a good life for so many people.[[

[UPDATE: Here I am interviewed on WRAL.]

Double Standards

No adult believes the world is fair. African Americans have been on the blunt end of the American stick for 300 years. Why should it be any different today?

But there’s something amazing the way police have handled the response to yet another police orchestrated murder – what else do you call kneeing for 7 minutes on someone’s neck while he says nearly a dozen times that he can’t breathe. Police have an obligation to de-escalate, to preserve human life, and to mitigate damage to property.

But not modern police forces, which have been trained and equipped as if they were occupying forces. Rather than come out dressed in civilian clothes, they appeared on Raleigh’s streets – many of them – in gas masks, “tactical” gear, and with batons. The same was true in most American cities last night that saw protests.

But that wasn’t true a month ago, when largely white crowds protested the COVID closure like this:

Raleigh Woke Up Today

Raleigh woke up today to broken store windows throughout the downtown district – up and down Fayetteville Street, on Wilmington, and along the side streets. Salisbury looks comparatively untouched. The CVS on the corner of Hargett and Fayetteville was the most thoroughly vandalized. If other stores were looted, I couldn’t really tell.

I was at the protest yesterday afternoon – which was entirely peaceful – and then later was a legal observer as it grew dark. Violence, from whatever corner, is not appropriate. But the violence – the tear gassing of protesters who were, generally speaking, peaceful – from police is quite simply inexcusable. A police force is not a military occupying force. In addition, photographs and video online show tear gassing and pepper spraying of apparently non-violent demonstrators.

Protester Pepper Sprayed by Raleigh Officer

If Mayor Baldwin has something to say about how the police will be held to account, then now would be the time to hear it.

Volunteers are out today cleaning up the broken windows, and removing the graffiti and paint that was thrown on various buildings. That’s good to see. It’s good when people come together as a community.

But coming together as a community means real reform, both as to police violence, criminal justice reform, and economic justice. Durham did not suffer the same fate last night. Is that because it’s a city that has done somewhat more to be inclusive among classes and along racial lines? It’s too early to tell.

But Raleigh is a divided city. When you have thousands of people out of work or underemployed, either because of the virus, or because of the long term effects of class and racial bias, you create the conditions that give rise to protest and disorder.

The solution is not to have a few more wealthy businessmen of color in Raleigh with a stake in the downtown. The solution is a more systematic redistribution of wealth, and a reordering of the economic system that leaves so many people excluded.

Outside Provocation by Forces of “Order” is Cause of Violence

Minneapolis officials have confirmed what most people know: that the violence that was wrought last night in the streets was not by protesters, but rather by outside agitators – agents provocateur – who descended upon the city to provoke and justify a militarized and violent response from police.

[CORRECTION: Turns out that the civil authorities were either lying or incorrect; the violence did come from people from MN. It should be noted that the police throughout this country have engaged in some unspeakable acts of violence during these protests, and the line between peaceful protest and riot often depends on what the police do when they’re suited up like storm troopers on American streets.]

Evidence has also emerged on various channels, including twitter, that at least some of the instigators are apparently police officers or their allies themselves who dress up as black bloc protesters in order to incite violence.

Raleigh has seen its own attempts to incite violence. For weeks now, out-of-city fascists have appeared on city streets with military-grade weaponry and have gone unchallenged by police. These people seek to create the grounds for a violent crackdown.

Here’s Cornel West speaking eloquently about this problem:

Why do so few RPD officers live in Raleigh?

Raleigh is a wonderful city with a population approaching 500,000 people. It is livable, with plenty of affordable housing, parks, good schools, shopping, and good neighborhoods. And it has a police force – the Raleigh Police Department – that is one of the 75 largest police forces in the country with just over 800 sworn officers and roughly 100 additional civilian support staff.

Since good policing is an integral part of a viable community, it’s important that the police officers come from and represent the people they police. That prevents the police from being regarded as an occupying force that comes in during work hours to police a different population from the neighbors and people who they live with day-to-day.

According to 538, the data and statistics website, Raleigh barely 25 percent of the RPD police force in 2010 actually lived within the confines of the city. That is a striking figure – just shy of 75 percent of the police offices who patrol the cities streets actually lived within the city boundaries for the latest year that 538 published data.

Poor policing is a function of many different conditions. But certainly a police force that does not reside among the people who it policies is a problem that needs to be corrected.

COVID Sniffing Dogs: Quarantine Theater

“Security theater” is a phrase used to describe practices that give the illusion of improving physical security, but are in fact basically worthless. One example is the use of dogs – K-9 – to sniff for drugs, a tactic often used by police in drug trafficking cases to try to uncover the presence of drugs.

Radley Balko, a Washington Post columnist, has written extensively on the use and misuse of drug-sniffing dogs, noting that:

[N]arcotics-detecting dogs and their handlers aren’t very good at discerning the presence of illegal drugs. Multiple analyses of drug-dog alerts have consistently shown alarmingly high error rates — with some close to and exceeding 50 percent. In effect, some of these K-9 units are worse than a coin flip.

While dogs are capable of sniffing out drugs (or diseases), the handler – the human being working with the dog – has a great deal of influence over the dog. In the drug-sniffing scenario, handlers can sometimes intentionally or unintentionally prompt the dog to respond or “trigger,” and therefore give probable cause to conduct a search, even though the dog wouldn’t have otherwise alerted to drugs.

In addition, because dogs can’t speak and explain why they alerted, the human being handler – the law enforcement officer – is left to explain that the dog did alert, and that the dog alerted because the dog detected drugs. Where drugs are found, the discovery of drugs in some sense “proves” the handler’s claim. Where drugs are not found, the person is sent on their way with an apology for the inconvenience, and no subsequent courtroom testimony uncovers the error because the person is never charged with a drug trafficking crime.

Now CNN reports that dogs are being trained to help identify people with COVID-19. While a similar bias may not distort outcomes, it’s not entirely clear that COVID-sniffing dogs would be much more than security theater.

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