Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ezell Ford

The LAPD police chief met with people questioning the circumstances of the police shooting of 25 year old Ezell Ford last week.
The atmosphere in a South Los Angeles church was at times tense Tuesday night as residents and activists peppered Los Angeles police officials with questions about two officers' fatal shooting of a mentally ill man.
Pictures of Ezell Ford dotted the Paradise Baptist Church, where a crowd of more than 200 people often shouted and interrupted Police Chief Charlie Beck as he tried to address concerns surrounding the investigation into Ford's death.
Beck emphasized that the investigation was only a week old, saying that officials had not yet gathered all the facts. But the crowd grew frustrated when he declined to share information such as the names of the officers involved or why they had stopped Ford.
"Of course that is important to us," he said when asked why the officers approached Ford. "And that will be revealed in the investigation."
The crowd groaned.
"Wait, wait. Stop, please," Beck said. "I will not give you half a story.… We have to find out all the facts."
The meeting came amid continuing questions about the Aug. 11 killing of Ford, 25, who according to his parents was diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. Beck was joined at the meeting by rank-and-file officers and top brass, along with Police Commission President Steve Soboroff and Inspector General Alex Bustamante.
Conflicting accounts about Ford's death have emerged. An LAPD statement, citing a preliminary investigation, said Ford tackled one of two gang officers who approached him on West 65th Street and reached for the officer's gun, prompting both officers to open fire. But a friend of Ford's family told The Times that she witnessed part of the incident and saw no struggle between the officers and Ford.
The LAPD has pledged a thorough and transparent investigation into Ford's death, which will also be reviewed by an independent inspector general and the district attorney's office. But the LAPD has drawn criticism for not releasing more information, including the names of the two gang officers who shot Ford.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a civil rights advocate who met with top LAPD officials last week to discuss the shooting, said that releasing the officers' names is an essential part of being transparent.
"We want to know if there's a prior history of complaints or misconduct, if this officer has been written up, if this officer has been disciplined," said Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable. "You then determine if this is truly an isolated event, unfortunate and tragic, or if there may be a history for one or more of the officers involved."
For members of a community with experience of repeated incidents of police shootings of unarmed black people, usually men, and police investigations ultimately clearing the shooters, scepticism of police accounts and practices is warranted. This holds as well for this week's St. Louis police shooting of another 25 year old black man police said threatened them with a knife. Police investigations have lost, deservedly so, their epistemic authority with the public and scepticism is the reasonable response.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Nightmare in Ireland: Protection of Life During Pregnancy

Here's a story that will haunt your dreams: a suicidal pregnant rape victim was refused an abortion in Ireland and was coerced into a caesarean delivery at 25 weeks.
The woman, who is an immigrant and cannot be named for legal reasons, was refused an abortion even though at eight weeks she demanded a termination, claiming she was suicidal.
After she then threatened a hunger strike to protest the decision, local health authorities obtained a court order to deliver the baby prematurely – at around 25 weeks according to some reports – to ensure its safety. The infant has been placed in care.
The case is the first proper test of the 2013 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which allows for limited abortions in Irish hospitals. The law provides for cases where the woman's life would be in danger if she goes full term, or in cases where she is suicidal in such instances as rape and incest. Critics say that in this instance the law has proved of no practical value to the woman concerned.
Picture this: you are a young woman in a strange country who is raped, then finds herself pregnant, and in all good faith goes through the requisite legal hoops for a legal abortion, only to be refused, then in despair, you go on a hunger strike, to find yourself targeted by a court order requiring that you undergo a caesarean delivery of a very premature baby, one which presumably faces the enormous medical and developmental burdens of extreme prematurity, a baby which is now 'in care' and presumably not in your legal custody, and to top it all off, this is all done under the auspices of the "Protection of Life During Pregnancy" act. I hope this woman's English is good enough at least to appreciate the irony.

wtf philosophy: McGinn

From Daily Nous there is word that Colin McGinn, he of his self-described 'genius project, was the philosophy department's choice for  a visiting position at East Carolina University, only to have it yanked by the university administration, a story subsequently picked up by the Chronicle. Is this unfair? Some charge that it is since there is no official finding that McGinn was responsible for sex harassment of the graduate student who filed a complaint. But this suggestion overlooks the fact that McGinn resigned before such a finding. Furthermore, his own blog posts* and published remarks demonstrate, as much as any official finding, that he is, or was, at least in the recent past, unable to perceive the distinction between philosophical mentoring and sexual predation.

On his blog, Eric Schliesser rightly concludes:
So, let me stipulate for the sake of argument that it is possible that McGinn was treated unfairly at Miami; I also understand why some folk would want to give him a new chance within professional philosophy. But it is a bit rich to pretend that McGinn never expressed a lot of views on the nature of his own philosophical pedagogy, views -- which (recall) sexualize the student-teacher relationship and erase the boundaries between the personal and the professional -- that ought to weigh quite heavily against hiring him in a modern university. I am not suggesting that such reasons ought to be decisive, but they are not wholly irrelevant.
Schliesser's point can be supplemented by appeal to a principle of pedagogic non-maleficence:
Avoid harming your students
Hiring committees and administrators with reliable information that a candidate would likely cause harm to students have an obligation to their students to weigh this very heavily. McGinn, with his recent blog posts defending his conduct and views of the permissible relations between teacher and students provided strong evidence that he would pose a threat to future students, and the university rightly thwarted the appointment. The department at ECU should have taken that step before it had gotten that far. 

*which he has subsequently taken down after retiring his blog

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Marketing human kidneys: the Israel-Costa Rica connection

Here's a fascinating NYTimes story on the illegal international trade in human kidneys, centering in Israel and Costa Rica, outlining a complex network of desperate kidney patients, impoverished kidney sellers, thuggish middlemen, moonlighting surgeons, and willing hospital administrators. Why such a demand from Israel? As the Times explains, Israel has a very low rate of donation from deceased donors based on a mix of religious beliefs queasy about the idea of brain death and a practice of deferring to family objections to donations from deceased registered donors. And then there is this:
“The general mentality of the public, and of many rabbis, is that they don’t see why people should risk their lives if there is somebody in Ecuador willing to sell them a kidney,” said Dr. Yechiel Michael Barilan, an Israeli physician whose book, “Jewish Bioethics,” was published this year. “There is no sensibility about the social dynamics of exploitation.”
Many argue that the sale of kidneys is no different than prostitution and both should be legal; these sales are private transactions between two willing parties. But prostitution usually involves just two parties, not a small army of surgeons, anesthesiologists, nephrologists, nurses, hospital administrators and insurance companies; these transactions depend upon the functioning of robust medical institutions supported by society. And acknowledging the necessary role of these institutions and the people in them obviates the 'private consensual transaction' rationale. Instead, the issues revolve around what kinds of institutions and institutional practices we as a society choose to endorse. As Dr. Luc Noel of the WHO is quoted in the Times:

“If you have a line of naked individuals,” Dr. Noël said, “devoid of external signs of societal position, and you can recognize the rich from the poor simply by counting their kidneys, is that the kind of world you want to live in?”
While beneficence and life saving are primary values in biomedical ethics, so is justice and questions of burdening the poor to save the lives of the well-off cannot be dismissed.

Another contention often heard is that everyone else in the medical institutions involved in transplants gets paid for kidney transplants---the only unpaid volunteer in the system is the donor. And that's true. However, everyone else involved does this work repeatedly, day after day, year after year. Providing a kidney is a one-off transaction.  

What about the analogy between kidney sales and the sale of blood or gametes? This one is a closer match, but certainly it involves many fewer players than transplants and more importantly, does not pose a risk of death or debilitation to living donors in the way that kidney harvesting does. And providing blood or gametes, unlike providing a kidney, are repeatable.

These points do not by themselves provide decisive reasons to continue the legal ban on organ sales, but they deserve consideration in arguments concerning this matter.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The war at home

James Fallows comments on militarized policing and provides helpful links,particularly to Radley Balko's book: Rise of the Warrior Cop.
 The images from Missouri of stormtrooper-looking police confronting their citizens naturally raises the question: how the hell did we get to this point? When did the normal cops become Navy SEALs? What country is this, anyway?
This Ferguson, Missouri episode is obviously about race, and is (another) occasion for pointing readers to Ta-Nehisi Coates's powerful "Reparations" article. It is also about how we govern ourselves, and about how far the ramifying self-damage of the post-9/11 era has gone.
"Self-damage"? All the literature about terrorism emphasizes that the harm directly done in an attack is nothing compared to the self-destructive reactions it can induce. From Fallujah to Ferguson, that is part of what we're seeing now.
I won't belabor that theme for the moment but will say: perhaps these incredible police-state-like images will have some arresting or "enough!" effect, like their counterparts from another era (below). Meanwhile, check out Balko's book.

Hands up, don't shoot

Like many, I've been stunned by the militarized police activities in Ferguson this week, where a small group of protestors were confronted by military style vehicles and police apparently armed with assault rifles, where demonstrators and an entire neighborhood were repeatly assaulted by tear gas and last night, rubber bullets, flash bang grenades, and smoke bombs , where last night, two reporters were arrested for not leaving a McDonald's quickly enough,where last night, a St Louis alderman was arrested for getting out of his car. I've been stunned by the takeover of a town by an massive armed police presence enforcing a curfew that doesn't exist, banning television trucks, and issuing dispersion orders that haven't been given by legitimate authorities.

Race is an important part of the story in Ferguson, as it is around the country, but so is the militarization of equipment and tactics.I guess I'm old fashioned, and believe in things like the right to assemble and civilian control of police, things like law and accountability, but I had better get used to 21st century militarized policing in America.

PHOTO: An explosive device deployed by police flies in the air as police and protesters clash, Aug. 13, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Boots on the ground in Ferguson

More on the LA police shooting of unarmed Ezell Ford:
An eyewitness to the killing of Ezell Ford told The Huffington Post on Wednesday that he heard an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department shout "shoot him" before three bullets were unloaded into the unarmed, 25-year-old black man, who was on the ground.
"It is unknown if the suspect has any gang affiliations," the LAPD said in a statement after the killing.
But people in Ford's neighborhood said the young man was not remotely involved in gang activity. Leroy Hill said he was an eyewitness to the shooting Monday night, and confirmed that he heard three shots.
"He wasn't a gang banger at all," Hill said to HuffPost. "I was sitting across the street when it happened. So as he was walking down the street, the police approached him, whatever was said I couldn't hear it, but the cops jumped out of the car and rushed him over here into this corner. They had him in the corner and were beating him, busted him up, for what reason I don't know he didn't do nothing. The next thing I know I hear a 'pow!' while he's on the ground. They got the knee on him. And then I hear another 'pow!' No hesitation. And then I hear another 'pow!' Three times."
At one point while the police had Ford on the ground, but before the shooting took place, Hill said, he heard an officer yell, "Shoot him."
Meanwhile, this is the scene in Ferguson MO.

Enough: Ezell Ford

An unarmed man named Ezell Ford was shot and killed Monday night by the LAPD.
 Family members said Tuesday that a 25-year-old man was complying with police orders when he was fatally shot by LAPD officers in the Florence neighborhood South Los Angeles.

Officers responded to a report of a possible officer-involved shooting at the intersection of West 65th Street and South Broadway (map) at 8:12 p.m. Monday, Lt. Ellis Imaizumi of the Los Angeles Police Department said Monday evening.
Patrol officers had “conducted an investigative stop” in the 200 block of 65th Street, and “during the stop a struggle ensued” and police opened fire, an LAPD news release issued midmorning Tuesday stated.
The man was transported to a hospital where he underwent surgery, according to Officer Sara Faden, spokeswoman for the LAPD. He later succumbed to his injuries, police confirmed.

Officers sustained minor scrapes during the altercation and did not require hospitalization, Imaizumi had said very early Tuesday. The news release stated no officers were injured.
Police were being tight-lipped with details about the incident because of a “gathering” at the scene of the shooting, Imaizumi said.
It was unknown if the “suspect” had any gang affiliations, police said in the news release.
I guess that's true. It is also true that it is unknown whether Imaizumi has any gang affiliations, or for that matter, whether you or I do.

A woman who said she was the deceased man’s mother identified him in a phone call to KTLA as Ezell Ford.
“My heart is so heavy,” Tritobia Ford said in an interview Tuesday evening. “My son was a good kid. He didn’t deserve to die the way he did.”
Her son was lying on the ground and complying with the officers’ commands when he was shot three times, Tritobia Ford said.
It's not clear how Ford knows this, and the account doesn't provide any named witnesses.
In the aftermath of the shooting, she said, police refused to inform her of where Ezell Ford was hospitalized.
An LAPD supervisor at the scene of the shooting was unaware of anyone being denied information, Faden said Tuesday.
The victim’s family members interviewed on camera at the scene of the shooting on Monday night supported Tritobia Ford’s account.
A man who did not give his name and identified himself only as a cousin of the victim described what he witnessed, saying he had been around the corner when the altercation first occurred.
“They laid him out and for whatever reason, they shot him in the back, knowing mentally, he has complications. Every officer in this area, from the Newton Division, knows that — that this child has mental problems,” the man said.
 “The excessive force … there was no purpose for it. The multiple shootings in the back while he’s laying down? No. Then when the mom comes, they don’t try to console her … they pull the billy clubs out.”
How reliable the unnamed 'cousin' witness is cannot be determined.

The LAPD seems to be very closed lipped about this shooting.
 Reaction to the South Los Angeles shooting was spreading on social media Tuesday under the hashtag #EzellFord. A rally was being organized for 3 p.m. Sunday at LAPD headquarters, according to a Facebook invitation.