The path to reform.

Today’s Edition (Vol. 2, No. 72) The path to reform.

          There were several important political developments on Monday, but they were again overshadowed by the killing of an unarmed Black man by police. The incident occurred in Pasquotank County, North Carolina during the service of a warrant on Andrew Brown. The shooting happened last Wednesday, but a 20-second clip was shown to the family on Monday. Details are scarce, coming mainly from family members who viewed a partial video of the incident. See NBC News, “Bodycam video showed Andrew Brown Jr. with hands on car wheel before N.C. deputies shot him, family says.” Seven officers have been put on leave; three have resigned, although a spokesperson for the sheriff's office said the resignations “were unrelated to the shooting.” The mayor of Elizabeth City declared a state of emergency and warned of “a period of civil unrest.” The mayor’s statement implies that we should brace ourselves for another disturbing display of excessive force.

          Facts matter, and we don’t know the facts—yet. We should wait for the facts, but local officials have an obligation to be transparent and truthful with the public. The county attorney and local officials have stumbled badly, creating the appearance that they are delaying the release of the facts about the shooting. At the same time, those officials are releasing information that could be interpreted as an effort to justify the use of force against Andrew Brown. A deputy with the Pasquotank County Sheriff's Office said Brown “was a convicted felon with a history of resisting arrest [and] such circumstances [pose] a high risk of danger.” Missing from the deputy’s statement was an assertion that Mr. Brown actually posed a threat to the officers when he was killed.  The killing of Andrew Brown, the effort to spin the facts, and the descriptions of the video are gut-wrenching and dispiriting. When will this stop? What must we do to prevent future incidents?

          April has been a cruel month—but there is reason for hope. On Monday, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Justice Department was investigating the police department of Louisville, Kentucky for a “pattern and practice” of excessive use of force. See NYTimes, “Justice Dept. to Investigate Louisville Police, Garland Says - The New York Times.” Last week, Garland announced a similar investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department. Pressure from the Department of Justice will motivate some law enforcement agencies to begin internal reviews of training, recruiting, and discipline—areas of reform that could reduce incidents of excessive use of force.

          Using the DOJ to hold police departments accountable for the conduct of their officers is one path forward. Another path would be the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021. The House has passed the Act, but it is awaiting action in the Senate. It is opposed by Republicans, who seek to maintain the doctrine of qualified immunity that effectively insulates officers and police departments from money damages for violations of constitutional rights. Republicans would also make the goals and standards of the act aspirational, not mandatory. Finally, police unions oppose the legislation—a strategic mistake on their part. If police unions seek to serve their members, they should strive to be constructive partners in police reform.

          Sadly, it appears that America will suffer another round of grief and anger as family and community members seek answers while officials pretend that the killing of Mr. Brown occurred in a vacuum. Yes, the investigation must be fair to all concerned, but those facts that are not in dispute—such as events recorded in bodycam videos—should not be withheld pending a lengthy investigation. The Pasquotank County Attorney serves the public, not the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office. Maintaining the public’s trust in his impartiality and fairness is critically important.  Let’s hope he takes that obligation seriously.

Don’t Panic About the Preliminary Census Results

          The U.S. Census Department released its preliminary results on Monday to much fanfare. See The Hill, “Six states to gain House seats, seven to lose seats.” Most of the reporting on the results has focused on which states picked up seats and which states lost seats. A superficial analysis of those gains and losses suggests that “blue states” have lost seats to “red states.” See Axios, “States that voted for Biden lose 3 net House seats after Census count, and WaPo, “Republican states gain House seats and electoral votes, new Census determines.”

           I am neither a statistician nor a demographer, but I believe those headlines are superficial and misleading. The first point is that losses in reliably “red” and “blue” states are essentially equal—with Democrats netting a “gain” of one seat when the offsetting losses are considered. That leaves the four “new” seats going to Texas, Florida, and North Carolina—all of which voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020. Should we panic? No! Why not? Read on.

          The question of whether the increase in population in red states will mean more Republican seats in the House and the Electoral College depends on where in the state and among which demographic group(s) the gains are taking place. For example, if most of the population gain in North Carolina took place in urban centers, that fact bodes ill for Republicans. A reader sent a note stating that most of the growth in North Carolina between 2010 and 2020 has been among the non-white population—again, not a favorable fact for Republicans.

          Here’s my point: Until we know more—much more—it will be difficult to make meaningful assessments. But logic says that population gains are likely taking place in urban centers, which tend to be Democratic strongholds. We must also wait for the results of the gerrymandering process, er, I mean, the redistricting process. Even if Republicans carve out four favorable districts in three states, does that mean we give up? No, it means we fight like heck! It will be a while before we have answers. In the meantime, DON’T PANIC!

Why the California Recall Matters to Everyone

         The campaign to recall California Governor Gavin Newsom met the threshold to trigger an election on the question of recalling Newsom. See NYTimes, “Campaign to Oust Gov. Gavin Newsom Qualifies for Ballot.” The California process is confusing. On the recall ballot, if a voter wants to retainGovernor Newsom, the voter must vote “No” (i.e., against recall). Newsom will not even be on the ballot as an affirmative choice. The only candidates on the ballot will be those who would replace Newsom if the recall effort succeeds. Finally, if Newsom is recalled, the candidate who replaces him need not win a majority to be elected governor. The race currently has dozens of candidates in waiting, including many Republicans with strong name recognition (e.g., Caitlyn Jenner). In other words, in a solidly Democratic state, the next governor could be a Republican who wins with 20% of the vote.

          Here’s the worst part (potentially): In California, if a U.S Senator leaves office, the replacement is appointed by the Governor! If Senator Dianne Feinstein were unable to serve out her term, it is theoretically possible that a Republican governor could appoint her replacement. If Newsom is recalled and a Republican replaces him, Mitch McConnell would then replace Chuck Schumer as Senate Majority leader!

          If you are a California Democrat who signed the petition to recall Newsom out of frustration, you have 30 days to change your mind and ask to have your name removed from the petition. Because 30% of those signing petition were Democrats, they have the power to stop the recall effort in its tracks. See KCRA, “Newsom recall: Here's California's recall process for governor and what to expect next.” A voter wishing to withdraw his or her signature must submit a written request to their county elections official to have their signature removed from the petition.  There is no specific format required; however, the withdrawal must include the following: voter's name, residence address (at time of signing the recall petition), voter's signature.

          While the odds are against the recall, we can’t leave anything to chance. If you are a California registered voter who signed the recall petition, please reconsider your action and the potential consequences. You can also help spread the word. See “Women Against the Recall.”

The Supreme Court to Review Two Important Cases

          The Supreme Court is reviewing two cases that may further extend conservative interests in protecting unregulated gun ownership and the ability to raise dark money. In the first, the Court has granted review to consider a New York law that restricts gun ownership to the home. See Vox, “Supreme Court will hear a 2nd Amendment case that could gut US gun laws.” In the second case, the Court heard argument over whether “charities” could keep their major donors anonymous from tax authorities. Here, the “charities” opposing the California law are “Americans for Prosperity, a foundation affiliated with the Koch family, and the Thomas More Law Center, a conservative Christian public-interest law firm.” See NYTimes, Supreme Court Wary of Donor Disclosure Requirement for Charities.”

          The Court continues to give exalted status to guns and religion over all other personal and governmental interests. The radical tilt of the Court is a direct consequence of two seats stolen by Mitch McConnell. See why the California recall election is so important? And don’t get me started on enlarging the Supreme Court . . . . I have run out of space.

Concluding Thoughts.

Today’s newsletter included allusions to The Wasteland and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. You earned 10 bonus points if you spotted them on the first reading. Bonus points have no monetary value but give you bragging rights to friends and family.

          Today is my 65th birthday. My wife (a.k.a. “Managing Editor”) made me include that statement. We met in the First Grade and have never looked back. I am eternally grateful for her love and support.

          Yesterday was the “launch” of the newsletter on Substack. Due to Substack’s commitment to preventing spam, I spent about eight hours in “Spammer Jail” as they reviewed my large, imported email list to ensure that I was not peddling snake oil. Apologies to everyone for the unexpected glitch. As always, if you do not receive my newsletter directly, you can read it online at Why not bookmark that page in your browser now, so it is always handy?

          As I wrote last week, we are in a period of painful progress. Lobbying by activists over the last decade succeeded in forcing the use of body cameras by most police. We must now reckon with the consequences of what we witness on those cameras. They have undoubtedly reduced false complaints against officers but have also highlighted instances of excessive use of force that may have otherwise been concealed or misrepresented. We are always better off with more information, no matter how difficult or disturbing it may be. It is now up to us to make wise use of what we are learning from police body cameras to help reform those departments that need reform and to reward those departments that strike the appropriate balance. Along with educating our children and protecting public health, maintaining peace is the highest calling in a civilized society. Let’s be part of the solution by holding our elected officials to account for their action (or inaction) in rising to one of the major challenges of our time.

          Talk to you tomorrow!