Tuesday, April 28, 2015


"Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson.

"Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones — jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles — head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.

"And in almost every case, prosecutors or judges dismissed the charges against the victims — if charges were filed at all. In an incident that drew headlines recently, charges against a South Baltimore man were dropped after a video showed an officer repeatedly punching him — a beating that led the police commissioner to say he was 'shocked.'

"Such beatings, in which the victims are most often African-Americans, carry a hefty cost. They can poison relationships between police and the community, limiting cooperation in the fight against crime, the mayor and police officials say. They also divert money in the city budget — the $5.7 million in taxpayer funds paid out since January 2011 would cover the price of a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds. And that doesn’t count the $5.8 million spent by the city on legal fees to defend these claims brought against police. [...]

"The city’s settlement agreements contain a clause that prohibits injured residents from making any public statement — or talking to the news media — about the incidents. And when settlements are placed on the agenda at public meetings involving the mayor and other top officials, the cases are described using excerpts from police reports, with allegations of brutality routinely omitted. State law also helps to shield the details, by barring city officials from discussing internal disciplinary actions against the officers — even when a court has found them at fault. [...]

"Since 2011, the city has been involved in 102 court judgments and settlements related to allegations of civil rights and constitutional violations such as assault, false arrest and false imprisonment, making payouts that ranged up to $500,000. (The statutory cap can be exceeded when there are multiple claims in a lawsuit, and if there is malice the cap may not apply.) In 43 of the lawsuits, taxpayers paid $30,000 or more. In such settlements, the city and the officers involved do not acknowledge any wrongdoing. [...]

"Department officials said some officers were exonerated in internal force investigations, even though jurors and the city awarded thousands of dollars to battered residents in those incidents.

"For years, leaders in Baltimore’s Police Department, the nation’s eighth-largest, didn’t track or monitor the number of lawsuits filed against each officer. As a result, city officials were unaware that some officers were the target of as many as five lawsuits.

"The Sun’s findings include only lawsuits that have been settled or decided in court; dozens of similar cases are still pending. The city has faced 317 lawsuits over police conduct since 2011 — and recently budgeted an additional $4.2 million for legal fees, judgments and lawsuits, a $2.5 million increase from fiscal 2014. [...]

"A clause in the city’s agreements prohibits any public statement about the incident that triggered the lawsuit. Limitations on 'public statements shall include a prohibition in discussing any facts or allegations … with the news media' except to say the lawsuit has been settled, it states.

"The penalty for talking? City lawyers could sue to get back as much as half or more of the settlement. [...]

"According to city policy, officials are bound to defend officers as long as they follow departmental guidelines when using force to make arrests. An agreement between the city and police union guarantees that taxpayers will pay court damages in such cases.

"Although police officials declined to release individual personnel records, they did discuss the issue in broad terms, saying that from 2012 through July, the department received 3,048 misconduct complaints against officers. Of those, officials sustained 1,203 complaints — 39 percent — meaning investigators could prove the claims were true.

"That led to 61 resignations and discipline for more than 850 officers, measures ranging from written reprimands to suspensions.

"But in some cases that resulted in settlements or judgments, officers were not disciplined even after they were found liable in court."

Non serviam

"Finally, the media found, the protesters were behaving according to the script — the one that casts black communities in America as powder kegs that can be contained only by the cops. Never mind that chucking hot dog buns and condiments at police and smashing up police vehicles and store windows is inherently less destructive, at least in terms of human life, than fatally severing a person’s spinal cord or shooting an unarmed man multiple times in the back. The latter two operations were performed under the sanction of U.S. law enforcement, whose behavior, no matter how outrageous, is still defended from public outrage by media and politicians alike. [...]

"The Gray family’s lawyer has described the motive for Gray’s arrest on April 12 as 'running while black.' According to reports, he ran from police unprovoked and was arrested and placed in a police van. Somewhere along the way, his spine was compromised, and he ended up in a coma, dying a week later. A pocketknife of legal size was found on his person.

"Although running from police hardly constitutes probable cause, the Supreme Court has ruled that such an act can nonetheless merit detention by cops when it takes place in a 'high-crime area' — a conveniently ambiguous denomination. [...]

"Baltimore-born pastor the Rev. Graylan Hagler also spoke about law enforcement’s long tradition of dehumanizing blacks and cited ongoing advancements in the oppressive arts, thanks to training sessions in Israel for U.S. cops. Israel’s vast experience in the curtailment of civil liberties and human rights means it’s an ideal accomplice in the increasing militarization of police, one effect of which is that sections of the domestic population end up being seen as enemy combatants. [...]

"And on Monday, when tensions boiled over and young Baltimoreans repeatedly threw rocks at police tanks and cruisers, the scene was eerily reminiscent of the Occupied Territories, which should surprise no one who has followed U.S. police militarization in accordance with the Israel Defense Forces model.

"In his speech, Hagler urged the audience to forget the issue of black versus white; the real problem, he said, is blue — the color of the police uniform. He’s right. Contemporary police behavior constitutes an affront to justice, enforcing a system of race- and class-based oppression in which blacks disproportionately occupy the lower rungs of society." - Belén Fernández

Thursday, April 9, 2015

"Like workers in all industries, pilots deal with personal tragedy and pressures at work and in their personal lives. When you are not fit to fly, physically or mentally, the regulations and expectations stipulate that you stay home. It would be fair to say, however, that machismo is quite prevalent in aviation, and most pilots would rather not fly because of a bad cold than admit they are dealing with mental health problems.

"While the culture of the aviation industry has improved over the last few decades, mental health issues remain an enormous taboo. One major problem is that most pilots who clear the substantial hurdles to sit in that seat (having the skills, having the finances, relocating, finding a job) will do anything to keep their position. Apart from grieving and going through a divorce, it is not an insignificant risk to admit to your colleagues and employer in the airline industry that you are dealing with issues that are not of a physical nature. The fear of losing your job is very real, even paralyzing.

"Commercial pilots are required to have a Class 1 medical certificate, which has to be renewed every year (and more even regularly as you age). This is on top of regular proficiency checks, where an examiner assesses whether you are up to your job. Lose or fail any of those, and it can quickly be the end of your career and your livelihood.

"Naturally, airlines select candidates who can deal with the stresses and pressures of flying. Lubitz himself was the product of Lufthansa Flight Training, a prestigious institution that uses the DLR flight aptitude and skills test. This exam is one of the hardest selection procedures in the industry and has a very low pass rate. However, like all current selection procedures, the test does not check for mental illness. Psychological profiles are assessed, but these simply determine if someone fits the job profile and the company culture.

"There is no adequate support system in place for pilots suffering from mental health issues, even if brought on by fatigue or a variety of other causes common to the industry. The perception among pilots is that if we ask for help we will be out the door, with no hope of returning to work. This pressure is not conducive to optimal mental health for those sitting at the controls. [...]

"The point is not to justify Lubitz’s actions, but to try to understand why a human being might behave in such a way, so as to prevent similar tragedies in the future. Within aviation over the last few decades, this has been the goal of aircraft accident investigations: not to heap blame on any particular individual, but to try to uncover a chain of events in order to draw lessons. Similarly, we shouldn’t just throw up our arms and declare Lubitz a “madman” or a 'rotten apple' who lived in a social vacuum.

"We should instead situate Lubitz’s actions in the context of both the degradation of work experienced by pilots and the degeneration of the aviation industry. Hyper-individualized analyses of cause and effect won’t get us very far."