| NEWS of the Day - January 8, 2012
|on some issues of interest to the community policing and neighborhood activist across the country
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following group of articles from local newspapers and other sources constitutes but a small percentage of the information available to the community policing and neighborhood activist public. It is by no means meant to cover every possible issue of interest, nor is it meant to convey any particular point of view ...
We present this simply as a convenience to our readership ...
From Los Angeles Times
Blacks in New Orleans cry foul over French Quarter curfew
The City Council says stricter rules are meant to protect kids, but critics accuse members of wanting to keep low-income blacks out of sight of tourists.
by Richard Fausset, Los Angeles Times
January 7, 2012
Reporting from Atlanta
From a distance, it seemed like common sense: an ordinance meant to keep children away from an open-air night-life zone with more than 350 places to buy booze, an abundance of strip joints and a 300-year-old reputation for iniquity.
But last week, as the New Orleans City Council approved a strict curfew for youths 16 and younger in the French Quarter, it sparked an incendiary debate that laid bare some of the tensions over race and police priorities that the Louisiana city — which suffers from the nation's highest per capita murder rate — is struggling to resolve as it navigates its post-Hurricane Katrina future.
The ordinance, which was unanimously approved Thursday, revises a long-standing 11 p.m. curfew on Friday and Saturday nights to 8 p.m. for the French Quarter and part of the nearby Faubourg Marigny neighborhood.
In the rest of the city, an 11 p.m. curfew remains on weekends, with an 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. curfew on weekdays, depending on the season.
Councilwoman Kristen Gisleson Palmer, whose district includes the French Quarter, wrote the ordinance. The goal, she said, was to protect children from violent incidents like the headline-grabbing shootings last Halloween night, in which two people were killed and a dozen injured by gunfire on or around the packed Bourbon Street party strip.
"If we can, in any way, protect children from that, I think it's very reasonable," Palmer said.
But in a pair of emotional public meetings, a number of residents, most of them African Americans, criticized the idea. Some alleged that the lawmakers were trying to keep low-income blacks out of the sightlines of tourists.
"There is this desire not to have these black males in the French Quarter," said Tracie L. Washington, an attorney who heads the Louisiana Justice Institute, a nonprofit civil rights group.
Palmer, who is white, dismissed the allegations.
Washington has called for an African American boycott of the French Quarter to begin on Jan. 16, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
New Orleans has seen a remarkable rebuilding effort since Katrina in 2005. The 2010 election of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, a white candidate who earned a broad swath of black and white support, was widely viewed as a promising new chapter in a city with a history of racial animosity.
But the current flare-up demonstrates the enduring anxiety that pervades civic discourse — an anxiety exacerbated after the storm, when African Americans cried foul over rebuilding proposals that they feared would keep them out of badly flooded neighborhoods that were traditionally black.
At the same time, post-Katrina New Orleans has been unable to solve a murder problem that plagued it long before the hurricane. Its 2011 tally of 199 homicides was a 14% increase from 2010.
Many of the killings are black-on-black crimes that occur far from the tourist-filled streets of the Quarter. And thus far, tourists have not been scared away. In 2010, New Orleans hosted 8.3 million visitors, the first time the 8-million-visitor threshold had been surpassed since the flooding.
Tourism is the city's largest source of employment, and it would seem foolish for a city government to neglect the French Quarter's safety.
But critics of the new curfew fear it is an instance of misplaced priorities.
At the council meeting Thursday, critics said the curfew would result in racial profiling of young blacks. One man called it "the equivalent of a black code."
Another African American speaker said that instead of "sugar-coating" the issue, the council should "just tell us straight up — you don't want us."
Some worried that police would harass black kids going to and from restaurant jobs, or when they were busking or tap-dancing for tips from tourists. Palmer, the councilwoman, said those kids would be left alone because the ordinance exempts, among others, people at work or headed to and from work.
Many critics argued that the new curfew hours would seem more fair if they were enforced citywide. Palmer said her staff was working on a new ordinance to do just that.
Ronal Serpas, the city's police superintendent, said he had asked his officers to be more diligent about enforcing the existing citywide curfew since he took charge of the police department in May 2010.
Some French Quarter residents have applauded the new curfew, but other New Orleanians wonder whether police, in enforcing the rules, will be distracted from more crucial duties. In many cases, youths breaking the curfew will be told to go home, but in some instances police might take them into custody.
Rudy Matthew Vorkapic, editor and publisher of the New Orleans Levee, a satirical newspaper, said it's likely that one of the city's time-honored traditions will fall victim to the new rules: the Bourbon Street teenage bender.
That retching rite of passage, Vorkapic said, may now have to play out the way it does in the rest of the country: "In schools, or at home."
A far cry from 'CSI'
Many forensic pathologists are unprepared for complex child death cases.
by A.C. Thompson
January 8, 2012
California Gov. Jerry Brown is considering granting clemency to Shirley Ree Smith, a grandmother convicted in 1997 of shaking to death her 7-week-old grandson, Etzel Glass. Sentenced to 15 years to life in prison, Smith insists she's innocent.
Prosecutors built their case against Smith almost entirely on the findings of forensic pathologists at the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner. During an autopsy, doctors discovered a small amount of bleeding on the infant's brain and in his optic nerves. Based on this bleeding, the forensic pathologists concluded that somebody had violently shaken Etzel's body, killing him.
They ruled the death a homicide. Others, however, aren't so sure.
Etzel's body exhibited few of the signs typically associated with fatal head injuries. One doctor testifying on Smith's behalf dismissed the notion that Etzel was murdered as "fantasy." In a 2006 opinion, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals expressed a similar skepticism, saying there was "simply no demonstrable support for shaking as the cause of death."
Whether or not Smith is ultimately pardoned, her story provides a window into the increasingly rancorous scientific debate about shaken baby syndrome, a once-widely accepted theory that violent jostling can cause fatal head injuries in infants. Based on studies dating back to the 1960s, many doctors came to believe that a signature trio of symptoms — bleeding and swelling of the brain, and hemorrhaging of the retinas — provided conclusive proof that someone had shaken a child to death.
But now a growing number of experts have doubts about the diagnosis. Official reviews in Canada and Britain have uncovered cases in which people were wrongly convicted based on the shaken baby theory.
As a journalist for ProPublica, I've spent more than a year scrutinizing the inner workings of the nation's system of coroner and medical examiner offices responsible for probing sudden and suspicious fatalities. In the course of that research, my colleagues and I analyzed roughly two dozen instances in which people were wrongly accused of killing babies or small children.
Questionable autopsy findings played a central role in each of these cases. Some experts, like Dr. Michael Laposata, the chief pathologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, think there are more innocent people still serving time in prison. "I don't think it's a handful," Laposata told me last year. "I think it's far more."
When children die unexpectedly, the authorities often look for unnatural causes, and rightly so; in recent decades our society has become far more vigilant about detecting and prosecuting child abuse, an admirable accomplishment.
But child deaths can pose special problems for forensic pathologists. When babies and small children die, the clues can be quite subtle. Oftentimes, doctors are hunting for microscopic indicators that a child has suffered head trauma or has been asphyxiated. Such cases require a high degree of expertise.
A key concern is that forensic pathologists may confuse the symptoms of a natural ailment for a sign of abuse. That could well be what happened with baby Etzel. There are dozens of afflictions that cause bleeding and bruising and can easily be mistaken for child abuse. One of the leading textbooks on child abuse now includes two chapters on these mimics, which range from certain forms of cancer to sickle cell anemia to trauma suffered during the birthing process.
Unfortunately, many forensic pathologists aren't prepared to deal with the complexity of child death cases. According to a 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences, only a third of the coroner and medical examiner offices in the U.S. had the equipment to do a microscopic tissue analysis. The report painted a dismal portrait of the profession, citing poor funding, a lack of decent facilities and a severe shortage of qualified doctors.
Reality, it turns out, bears very little resemblance to "CSI."
My colleagues and I surveyed the nation's 69 busiest coroner and medical examiner offices. More than 1 in 5 of the physicians working in these morgues — including the chief medical examiner of Washington, D.C. — were not board certified in forensic pathology, the branch of medicine focused on the mechanics of death. Experts say such certification ensures that doctors have at least a basic grasp of the science, and should be a requirement for anyone performing autopsies in a possible homicide case.
Located at the intersection of science and the law, coroners and medical examiners are subject to little regulation in most states and, as the National Academy pointed out, there are no national standards for the field. By contrast, nursing homes, hospitals, dialysis centers, clinical laboratories and many other medical facilities receive oversight at both the state and federal level, and can be fined if they fail to operate properly.
So as Gov. Brown considers Smith's request to commute her sentence, he might consider another question, as well:
Are there any other criminal convictions he should be taking a close look at?
A.C. Thompson is a reporter for ProPublica. His investigation of child deaths can be found at http://www.probublica.com
From Google News
Chief On The Beat
January 7, 2012
DALLAS, TEXAS - Dallas Police Chief David Brown has a new community policing effort called, "Chief on the Beat," and it's off to good start.
The event was held Saturday at Eastgate Baptist Church in Oak Cliff. It highlighted crime prevention, safety and health screenings.
The key aspect, however, was the opportunity for neighbors to get to know the police officers.
Oak Cliff resident Arthur Winn says, "I think you'd feel a whole lot more comfortable if you know the police, know how they respond to you, how often they come to your area."
Eighth grader Anthony Potts said the event made him feel more comfortable around police officers. "If there's something wrong or something bad I would go to them and tell them because its the right thing to do," Potts said.
Chief Brown was on hand throughout the event and spoke to many residents about a variety of concerns. Brown says one of his goals is to boost the number of active crime watch groups in Dallas.
"There's about 500 active crime watches in Dallas and that's too small a number for a city of this size. We need around a thousand or more crime watches in Dallas. The safest neighborhoods in Dallas are the one's organized around a crime watch," Brown said.
Six additional "Chief on the Beat" events will take place throughout the city in the near future.
From the FBI
How Can You Protect Yourself?
- Obviously, make sure your computer's anti-virus software is up to date.
- Don't click on e-mail attachments from unsolicited senders. NACHA, FDIC, and the Federal Reserve all say they don't send out unsolicited e-mails to bank account holders. If you want to confirm there's a problem with your account or one of your recent transactions, contact your financial institution directly.
- Don't accept unsolicited jobs online that require you to receive funds from numerous bank accounts and then wire the money to overseas accounts—you could get caught up in a criminal investigation.
Malware Targets Bank Accounts
‘Gameover' Delivered Via Phishing E-Mails
Cyber criminals have found yet another way to steal your hard-earned money: a recent phishing scheme involves spam e-mails—purportedly from the National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA), the Federal Reserve Bank, or the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)—that can infect recipients' computers with malware and allow access to their bank accounts.
The malware is appropriately called “Gameover” because once it's on your computer, it can steal usernames and passwords and defeat common methods of user authentication employed by financial institutions. And once the crooks get into your bank account, it's definitely “game over.”
Gameover is a newer variant of the Zeus malware, which was created several years ago and specifically targeted banking information.
How the scheme works: Typically, you receive an unsolicited e-mail from NACHA, the Federal Reserve, or the FDIC telling you that there's a problem with your bank account or a recent ACH transaction. (ACH stands for Automated Clearing House, a network for a wide variety of financial transactions in the U.S.) The sender has included a link in the e-mail for you that will supposedly help you resolve whatever the issue is. Unfortunately, the link goes to a phony website, and once you're there, you inadvertently download the Gameover malware, which promptly infects your computer and steals your banking information.
After the perpetrators access your account, they conduct what's called a distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attack using a botnet, which involves multiple computers flooding the financial institution's server with traffic in an effort to deny legitimate users access to the site—probably in an attempt to deflect attention from what the bad guys are doing.
But that's not the end of the scheme: Recent investigations have shown that some of the funds stolen from bank accounts go towards the purchase of precious stones and expensive watches from high-end jewelry stores. The criminals contact these jewelry stores, tell them what they'd like to buy, and promise they will wire the money the next day. So the next day, a person involved in the money laundering aspect of the crime—called a “money mule”—comes into the store to pick up the merchandise. After verifying that the money is in the store's account, the jewelry is turned over to the mule, who then gives the items to the organizers of the scheme or converts them for cash and uses money transfer services to launder the funds.
In many cases, these money mules are willing participants in the criminal scheme. But increasingly, as part of this scheme, we see an increasing number of unsuspecting mules hired via “work at home” advertisements who end up laundering some of the funds stolen from bank accounts. The criminals e-mail prospective candidates claiming to have seen their resumes on job websites and offer them a job. The hired employees are provided long and seemingly legitimate work contracts and actual websites to log into. They're instructed to either open a bank account or use their own bank account in order to receive funds via wire and ACH transactions from numerous banks…and then use money remitting services to send the money overseas.
If you think you've been victimized by this type of scheme, contact your financial institution to report it, and file a complaint with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.