Category Archives: Crime

Mexican general: Stop using army in drug war


In Mexico, the war of drugs has become more than a metaphor, as military troops have been ordered into the field, engaging in armed conflict with troops from the cartels, a policy which has lead to growing body counts on both sides.

In a short, fierce fight Monday, Mexican marines killed at least 14 cartel soldiers who had ambushed a patrol,  and in June 2014, soldiers killed at least 22 people, 12 of them innocent civilians, when they engaged in a killing spree ordered by superiors.

And then there was the involvement of soldiers in the events leading up to the 26 September 2014 abduction of the still missing 23 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa.

The drug war, in short, has tarnished the military’s reputation.

And now, says the country’s top general and defense secretary, it’s time to pull the troops out.

From teleSUR English:

Mexico’s defense secretary has called for all troops fighting the drug cartels across the violence-ravaged country to return to their military headquarters and quit fighting a battle that should be handled by law enforcement.

“We did not ask to be here, we do not feel comfortable here, we did not train to pursue criminals, our role is another and it has been distorted,” said General Salvador Cienfuegos. “We would love the police forces to do their job. . .but they don’t.”

The Mexican army has been fighting a war with drug traffickers since December 2006 when then President Felipe Calderon declared a “war on drugs.” This period accounts for some of the bloodiest years that has left close to 200,000 people dead, at least 28,000 disappeared, and at least 8,000 cases of torture documented since 2007.

This militarized drug war policy has been continued by current President Enrique Peña Nieto.

“Ten years ago it was decided that the police should be rebuilt, and we still haven’t seen that reconstruction,” Cienfuegos said. “To sum it up, there are a large number of deaths that shouldn’t be happening. . .This isn’t something that can be solved with bullets; it takes other measures and there hasn’t been decisive action on budgets to make that happen.”

Within the framework of international law, human rights organizations have accused the Mexican government of committing crimes against humanity due to the number of documented cases of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances and torture. These crimes have been committed repeatedly since the Mexican government began its war with drug cartels.

The general is right.

Using the military against a country’s own citizens, even citizens who are criminals, is a really bad idea.

Using the military is like using a hammer to perform brain surgery when a scalpel is called for, and soldiers are trained to annihilate an enemy, not arrest them.

Dutch TV profiles a Black Lives Matter founder


Black Lives Matter, perhaps the most significant new American social movement since the Occupy phenomenon, coalesced following the 26 February shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, and the acquittal six months later of his killer, George Zimmerman.

Three community organizers — Opal Tometi of Brooklyn, New, York, Alicia Garza of Oakland, California, and Patrisse Cullors of Los Angeles — gave the movement its name and form.

But it was the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on 9 August 2014 that gave the movement national attention, when organizers headed to Missouri and helped organizer protests that brought the focus of the world’s media to bear.

It was Patrisse Cullors along with another activist who seized the stage from Bernie Sanders during a Town Hall forum in Phoenix in July 2015, drawing yet more attention on the movement.

In this documentary from Dutch public television we get a closer look at Cullors, and the complexity of a figure at the center of the movement. It’s a fascinating story.

From VPRO Backlight:

Black Lives Matter

Program notes:

In 2013 in Sanford, Florida, vigilante George Zimmerman was found not guilty of the murder of 17-year-old African American Trayvon Martin. As a result, the struggle against police violence flared up under the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and turned into one of the biggest grassroots movements in the United States. VPRO Backlight talked to co-founder Patrisse Cullors about the various forms of violence against black citizens, and why resistance is essential.

Director: Nirit Peled
Research: Henneke Hagen

Headline of the day: cruel and unusual, anyone?


The very definition of what’s prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.

From a London Daily Mail screencap of the homepage teaser for this story:

blog-cruel

State Department sternly warns on travel to Mexico


As the holidays draw near, if you’re thinking of heading south across the border to catch a little fun and sun in Mexico, you might want to think again: the U.S. State Department has issued a strong warning advising against it.

Or at least to some parts of a nation wracked by unprecedented levels of violence.

From Spain’s El País:

The US travel warning comes against a backdrop of rising violence in Mexico, with 29,000 murders registered in the country in the year to the end of September. Of those murders, 16,749 were assassinations. If that trend continues for the rest of the year, 2016 will be the most violent 12 months since Mexico’s embattled President Enrique Peña Nieto came to office in 2016.

A UCLA study published in January said the rise in the number of homicides in Mexico from 2000 to 2010 has reduced the average life expectancy of its citizens.

According to the study, life expectancy among men who live in the north, the most violent part of the country, had fallen by three years over the period.

Mexico continues to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. Recently, police in Mexico’s Gulf Coast state of Veracruz said 14 criminal suspects had been killed in a gun battle with a patrol of Mexican marines.

Spelled out in dire terms

Singled out in the warning are some of the most popular tourist destinations in the country.

From the advisory:

U.S. government personnel and their families are prohibited from personal travel to all areas to which the Department recommends “defer non-essential travel” in this Travel Warning. As a result of security precautions that U.S. government personnel must take while traveling to parts of Mexico, our response time to emergencies involving U.S. citizens may be hampered or delayed.

Gun battles between rival criminal organizations or with Mexican authorities have taken place on streets and in public places during broad daylight. The Mexican government dedicates substantial resources to protect visitors to major tourist destinations and has engaged in an extensive effort to counter criminal organizations that engage in narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout Mexico. There is no evidence that criminal organizations have targeted U.S. citizens based on their nationality. Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the level of drug-related violence and crime that are reported in the border region or in areas along major trafficking routes.

U.S. government personnel are prohibited from patronizing casinos, sports books, or other gambling establishments in the states of Coahuila, Durango, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosi, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Jalisco, Colima and Nayarit.

Kidnappings in Mexico take the following forms:

  • Traditional: victim is physically abducted and held captive until a ransom is paid for release.
  • Express: victim is abducted for a short time and commonly forced to withdraw money, usually from an ATM, then released.
  • Virtual: an extortion-by-deception scheme where a victim is contacted by phone and coerced by threats of violence to provide phone numbers of family and friends, and then isolated until the ransom is paid. Recently, hotel guests have been targets of such “virtual” kidnapping schemes.

U.S. citizens have been murdered in carjacking and highway robberies, most frequently at night and on isolated roads. Carjackers use a variety of techniques, including roadblocks, bumping/moving vehicles to force them to stop, and running vehicles off the road at high speeds. There are indications that criminals target newer and larger vehicles, but drivers of old sedans and buses coming from the United States are also targeted. U.S. government personnel are prohibited from intercity travel after dark in many areas of Mexico. U.S. citizens should use toll roads (cuotas) whenever possible. In remote areas, cell phone coverage is limited or non-existent.

The Mexican government has deployed federal police and military personnel throughout the country as part of its efforts to combat organized criminal groups. U.S. citizens traveling on Mexican roads and highways by car or bus may encounter government checkpoints, staffed by military or law enforcement personnel. In some places, criminal organizations have erected their own unauthorized checkpoints, at times wearing police and military uniforms, and have killed or abducted motorists who have failed to stop at them. You should cooperate at all checkpoints.

One region singled out is the of Guerrero, where 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College on 26 September 2014 are still missing [previously].

The report warns:

Personal travel to the state of Guerrero, including Acapulco, is prohibited for U.S. government personnel with the exception of travel to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo by air. In Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, U.S. government personnel must remain in tourist areas. The state of Guerrero was the most violent state in Mexico in 2015 for the third year in a row, and self-defense groups operate independently of the government in many areas of Guerrero. Armed members of these groups frequently maintain roadblocks and, although not considered hostile to foreigners or tourists, are suspicious of outsiders and should be considered volatile and unpredictable.

Forensic criminal science based on very few facts


If you watch American television, you know one thing for certain: The wonks and wizards in the nation’s crime labs employ that latest infallible scientific tools to find and incarcerate serial killers, arsonists, and other doers of dastardly deeds.

Reassuring, no?

Especially if you’re sitting on a jury a deciding on the fate of the man or woman in the dock, a decision that could, perhaps, lead to a lethal injection.

But you would be wrong to place unquestioning faith in those crime lab wizards, for unlike the televised version of forensic science, the realty is a shabby simulacrum of the glib screenwriter’s version.

And while wealthy criminals can afford their own forensic guns for hire, poor defendants relying on cash-strapped public defenders stand little chance of rebutting the men and women in the white coats, adding yet another element of injustice to American criminal jurisprudence.

We witnessed the process first-hand in our years of reporting on the courts.

We offer two dissections of forensic science from two leading legal scholars.

First up, a Young Turks interview with the the dean of the UCLA Law school:

Is Some Forensic Science “Junk” Science? Jennifer Mnookin Interview With Malcolm Fleschner

Program notes:

Malcolm Fleschner of The Young Turks interviews Jennifer Mnookin, Dean of the UCLA School of Law. Malcolm and Dean Mnookin discuss why hopelessly faulty forensic science is going unchallenged in courtrooms across the country and being used to put countless innocent defendants in prison.

Bite marks are bunk, even fingerprints questionable

Another detailed debunking comes from Jessica Gabel Cino, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Law, Georgia State University, writing in the open source academic journal, The Conversation:

Forensic science has become a mainstay of many a TV drama, and it’s just as important in real-life criminal trials. Drawing on biology, chemistry, genetics, medicine and psychology, forensic evidence helps answer questions in the legal system. Often, forensics provides the “smoking gun” that links a perpetrator to the crime and ultimately puts the bad guy in jail.

Shows like “CSI,” “Forensic Files” and “NCIS” cause viewers to be more accepting of forensic evidence. As it’s risen to ubiquitous celebrity status, forensic science has become shrouded in a cloak of infallibility and certainty in the public’s imagination. It seems to provide definitive answers. Forensics feels scientific and impartial as a courtroom weighs a defendant’s possible guilt – looking for proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

But the faith the public and the criminal justice system place in forensic science far outpaces the amount of trust it deserves.

For decades, there have been concerns about how the legal system uses forensic science. A groundbreaking 2009 report from the National Academy of Sciences finally drew the curtain back to reveal that the wizardry of forensics was more art than science. The report assessed forensic science’s methods and developed recommendations to increase validity and reliability among many of its disciplines.

These became the catalyst that finally forced the federal government to devote serious resources and dollars to an effort to more firmly ground forensic disciplines in science. After that, governmental agencies, forensic science committees and even the Department of Defense responded to the call. Research to this end now receives approximately US$13.4 million per year, but the money may not be enough to prevent bad science from finding its way into courtrooms.

This fall, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released its own report on forensic science. It’s a more pronounced acknowledgment that the discipline has serious problems that require urgent attention. Some scientific and legal groups are outraged by or doubtful of its conclusions; others have praised them.

As someone who has taught forensic evidence for a decade and dedicated my legal career to working on cases involving forensic science (both good and bad), I read the report as a call to address foundational issues within forensic disciplines and add oversight to the way forensic science is ultimately employed by the end user: the criminal justice system.

Is any forensic science valid?

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology recognized ongoing efforts to improve forensic science in the wake of the 2009 NAS report. Those efforts focused on policy, best practices and research around forensic science, but, as with any huge undertaking, there were gaps. As PCAST noted, forensic science has a validity problem that is in desperate need of attention.

PCAST focused on what’s colloquially termed “pattern identification evidence” – it requires an examiner to visually compare a crime scene sample to a known sample. PCAST’s big question: Are DNA analysis, bite marks, latent fingerprints, firearms identification and footwear analysis supported by reproducible research, and thus, reliable evidence?

They were looking for two types of validity. According to PCAST, foundational validity means the forensic discipline is based on research and studies that are “repeatable, reproducible, and accurate,” and therefore reliable. The next step is applied validity, meaning the method is “reliably applied in practice.” In other words, for a forensic discipline to produce valid evidence for use in court, there must be (1) reproducible studies on its accuracy and (2) a method used by examiners that is reproducible and accurate.

Among the forensic science they assessed, PCAST found single-sourced DNA analysis to be the only discipline that was valid, both foundationally and as applied. They found DNA mixture evidence – when DNA from more than one person is in a sample, for instance from the victim and the perpetrator, multiple perpetrators or due to contamination – to be only foundationally valid. Same with fingerprint analysis.

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Duterte: Donald Trump makes me ‘feel like a saint’


The brutal Philippine president, who has drawn international condemnation for ordering police and vigilantes to kill drug dealers on site, racking up a body count in the thousands, says he’s just talked to The Donald, and the call left him dancing on air.

It’s easy to understand why they get along. After all, it was Duterte who called Barack Obama the “son of a whore.”

From the Associated Press:

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says he felt “like a saint” after his phone conversation last week with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, who he said praised him for “doing great” in his deadly campaign against illegal drugs.

Duterte said in a speech Wednesday that Trump told him not to worry about Americans criticizing him, saying “you are doing good, go ahead.” He said Trump invited him for coffee if he visits the U.S. to hear how he deals with the media, his critics and the public.

Duterte quoted Trump as saying, “We should fix our bad relations.”

The friendly exchange was a departure from Duterte’s hostility toward President Barack Obama. He lashed out at Obama for raising concerns over the drug crackdown, which has left more than 4,000 suspects dead.

Headline of the day II: A death in Trumplandia™


From the London Daily Mail:

Horrifying surveillance video shows black Oregon teen sprinting away from speeding Jeep being mowed down by ‘white supremacist’ couple

  • Russell Courtier, 38, charged with mowing down Larnell Bruce Jr, 19, with his Jeep in Oregon
  • Colleen Hunt, who was Courtier’s passenger, has pleaded not guilty to hate crime charges in the case 
  • Witnesses reportedly heard Hunt shouting at her boyfriend, ‘Get him, baby!’ and ‘Run him over! 
  • CCTV video shown in court Monday depicted Bruce’s final moments before Courtier’s red Jeep mowed him down 
  • Footage showed the teen running, with the Jeep speeding after him and jumping a curb  
  • Court documents said Courtier and Bruce were arguing and came to blows before his death
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