Standing For The Anthem

In our sports-obsessed culture, when a professional athlete declines to stand for the National Anthem and says it is because he is protesting race relations and police brutality, it’s news.  In this instance, Colin Kaepernick’s actions have provoked some fans to burn his San Francisco 49ers jersey and generated reactions from all points on the political spectrum.

tsjcI don’t get the jersey-burning.  Of course, under the First Amendment, Kaepernick has a right to protest and advocate for his position on important issues of the day, period.  We all do.  Although some people increasingly seem hell-bent on punishing and eventually criminalizing free speech, through speech codes and “safe zones” and other contrivances designed to protect our delicate sensibilities from unpopular views — and, of course, quash the expression of those views in the first place — every American still has a right to peacefully express their views on topics like racism.  Kaepernick’s actions aren’t unAmerican; they’re quintessentially American.

And anybody who thinks sports figures should just take their big salaries and keep their mouths shut is kidding himself, too.  Sports have been politicized for as long as I can remember, since at least the 1968 Olympics when John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists and bowed their heads during the playing of the National Anthem.  And the NFL itself has become increasingly involved in public issues, with events like breast cancer awareness weeks where the players wear garish pink towels and socks.  Breast cancer is a pretty safe public issue, but it’s a public issue nevertheless.  To the extent there ever was a line between sports and the real world, that line has long since been erased and crossed.

Kaepernick’s gesture shows the power of free speech — which is why the founding fathers were so interested in protecting it.  One player sits during the National Anthem, and it provokes a firestorm. Kaepernick obviously picked the National Anthem because he knows that every sports event starts with its playing and that it is a source of pride to Americans.  Showing disrespect for the Anthem is an effective way of drawing attention to your cause, just like burning a flag was during the campus protests in the 1960s.

Of course, we can wonder whether Kaepernick will just sit during the Anthem, or will go beyond exercising his free speech rights to actually do something to promote better race relations or address police actions.  The San Francisco police have invited him to come to the police academy to open lines of communication and learn about the challenges facing the thin blue line.  I hope he accepts that invitation, and uses the interest his one-man protest has generated to increase understanding and help improve things.  Sitting is one thing, taking meaningful action is quite another.

How Divided Are We, Really?

Another week with really bad news.  Two African American men in two different states are killed in encounters with police that inexplicably escalated into fatal shootings, followed by five Dallas police officers shot down by a sniper at a protest of those police actions.

It’s the kind of grim, bloody ugliness that causes people to question whether the social fabric of the country is being ripped apart, and whether the common threads linking us all as Americans are snapping, one by one.

Police Shootings ProtestAnd yet, I don’t think there is an irreparable divide — at least, not yet.  No one I know, regardless of their race or political views, thinks that police should be shooting African Americans who are stopped simply for driving with a broken taillight.  No one I know, from any point on the political spectrum, thinks that police officers who are doing their duty at a peaceful protest should be assassinated.  There may be tiny fringe elements of disturbed people who believe such actions are appropriate; America has always had its share of lunatic loners.  But I’m quite confident that the vast majority of Americans unequivocally reject what we have seen in Louisiana, and Minnesota, and Dallas this week.  In that, at least, Americans can stand united.

So why, then, are people feeling a gnawing sense of despair about where the country is, and where it is headed?  I think it’s because we’ve seen these same scenarios before . . . and nothing gets done.  We feel disturbed because we don’t think our political leaders, or even our political culture generally, is capable of addressing the problem in a meaningful, effective way. We don’t understand how we can have gotten to the point where police shootings have become so commonplace, or where a military veteran can become so disaffected that he takes a rifle and starts indiscriminately killing police officers and shooting others at a protest — but we have a nagging fear that these incidents, too, will produce no answers.  We expect that we’ll see Facebook memes, and we’ll see people of different political views retreat to their corners, and we’ll see talking heads vigorously disagree about whether the problem is racism, or guns, or poorly trained police, or a general sense of hopelessness, but we fear that ultimately nothing will change, ever.

It’s another example of how the citizenry is being ill-served by the political classes.  I honestly don’t think the American people are deeply divided on these incredibly basic, core issues.  We know that what we are seeing in Dallas and Minnesota is flat-out wrong and can’t be countenanced.  We just don’t think that the people who are charged with trying to deal with the problems are up to the task.  We don’t think they’re willing to cast aside their knee-jerk reactions and pointless bromides and actually sit down to talk honestly and work out a possible solution — and we’re probably right.

That’s why so many people are walking around today, feeling an immense sense of sadness and discouragement about our country.  We feel like we’ve seen this before, and before, and before, and we know exactly how it will play out this time, too.

Cleveland’s Lucky Get

When the Republican National Committee picked Cleveland to host the 2016 Republican Convention back in July 2014, it was good news for the City by the Lake.

Back then, of course, no one knew how the Republican race would shape up, or precisely who would be competing for the nomination.  So happy Cleveland city elders probably anticipated your normal Republican convention, where one candidate would long since have the nomination sewn up, polite delegates wearing silly hats would flood into local restaurants to buy fine meals and drinks, and the only drama would be identification of the vice presidential candidate and whether Clint Eastwood would give another speech to a chair.  Delegates would come to town, toast the new nominee, spend some money and generate some tax revenues, and compliment Cleveland on its new look.

elite-defenderjpg-72ac43921b785fbaIt hasn’t exactly turned out that way.  With four Republicans still in contention and splitting up delegates, new twists and turns every day, “establishment” Republicans vowing to fight against a nomination of Donald Trump at all costs, and party leaders openly talking about a brokered convention, Cleveland could host the most eventful party convention in decades — perhaps since the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968.  And the kind of police-protester clashes that made the Chicago convention so memorable might be replicated, too, if the Trumpeters feel that their candidate has been screwed out of the nomination and decide to take their angry, “anti-establishment” mindset a few steps further.

So I wasn’t surprised when I read that Cleveland is looking to spend $50 million on riot gear and other crowd control materials in preparation for the convention.  According to news reports, the money will be spent on things like black, robotic-looking riot control suits complete with a robust and no doubt comfortable codpiece, 26-inch collapsible batons that police can use to crack protester heads if necessary in the name of public order, special riot-control suits for officers riding bicycles (riding bicycles?  in a riot?), and miles of interlocking steel barriers, ranging from 3 1/2 feet high to 6 1/2 feet high, for crowd control purposes.  Cleveland also plans to have a special force of 5,000 police officers — many recruited from neighboring communities — on hand, just in case things get feisty.

Whoo-hoo!  It could be hot times in Cleveland come July.  Let’s just hope the hat-wearing, button-sporting Republican delegates can still see and enjoy some of the city sights over the steel barriers and past those warmly welcoming black-suited riot police.

Fuel To The Fire

New Year’s Eve might be even a bigger deal in Europe than it is here.  (Google “drunk Brits new years eve” if you don’t believe me.)  But in Cologne, Germany — and in other cities in Germany and elsewhere — the drunken mayhem took a turn for the worse.

In Cologne, mobs of drunken men surrounded, assaulted and robbed women in the huge square outside the city train station; two rapes also were reported.  German police now estimate that as many as 1,000 men were involved in the incidents and are looking for 16 men in particular.  More than 100 women and girls have come forward to report the gropes, robberies, and attacks by the men, and they describe a chaotic and lawless scene in which the gangs of men did whatever they wanted without fear of apprehension or reprisal.  The women say there was no meaningful police presence at the scene, and the Cologne police chief said the scale and nature of what happened was “a completely new dimension of crime.”

GERMANY-EUROPE-MIGRANTSWhat makes the story even more incendiary is that witnesses described many of the men gathered in the square as being northern African or Arab in appearance.  Critics of Germany’s recent decision to permit more than 1 million refugees from the Middle East to enter the country have seized upon the attacks in Cologne and elsewhere as another reason to reject the open-door policy.  German authorities have said, however, that there is no evidence that the men who committed the robberies and assaults were recent refugee arrivals.

And there is an undeniable undercurrent of distrust of German authorities lurking in reports of the incidents, too.  The initial police report on the New Year’s Eve celebration in Cologne said there was a “joyful, party atmosphere” and a celebration that was “mostly peaceful.”  It was only after countless women began telling people about being mauled and robbed that authorities changed their reports to acknowledge the lawlessness and disorder.  You can’t read about the Cologne mobs without wondering whether the initial reaction by authorities was to minimize the extent of the criminal activity in order to avoid additional criticism of the German immigration policy.  Indeed, comments by Cologne’s mayor, Henriette Reker, amazingly seemed to suggest that the assaulted women bore some of the responsibility for the attacks, saying they should “keep at an arm’s length” from strangers and “stick together in groups, don’t get split up, even if you’re in a party mood”.

We’ll have to wait to see whether the German police apprehend and identify specific suspects, but the failure of authorities to be forthcoming about the incidents in the first place simply, and unnecessarily, adds fuel to the anti-immigrant fire.  It’s hard for many of us to accept, but Donald Trump apparently appeals to some Americans because of the perception that he is “speaking truth to power” — and that perception can be created only if there also is a perception that power isn’t speaking truth in the first place.  When authorities are seen as trying to downplay the facts or bury the true story, it only reinforces that underlying perception and gives blowhards like Trump more ammunition for their anti-immigration rants.

Cracking Down On Jaywalkers

As I was walking home last night, I saw a blurb on the news crawl on the facade of the Columbus Dispatch building about Columbus police cracking down on downtown area jaywalkers.  Oh, great, I thought: another questionable allocation of police resources to address a negligible problem when more pressing issues need attention.  It reminded me of an incident that occurred many years ago, in which a lawyer hot-footed it into our firm to avoid being ticketed for jaywalking by a policeman.

But when I read the Dispatch article on the effort, I saw that the effort is far more nuanced than the blurb indicated, and I actually support what the police are doing.

The underlying problem is the recent time change, which means that Columbus is plunged into darkness in the middle of the evening rush hour.  The statistics show that deaths from car-pedestrian collisions increase during the fall, so there is a real problem to be addressed.  And, according to the Dispatch report, the enforcement effort is both even-handed — police are looking for jaywalkers and for drivers who make illegal turns or fail to yield to pedestrians who have the right of way — and is designed to focus on reminding people of their legal obligations, by having yellow-jacketed motorcycle cops stationed at key downtown intersections to talk to pedestrians and look for drivers who don’t yield, and representatives of city organizations handing out leaflets about the traffic laws near bus stops.

As I’ve noted recently, if drivers are inattentive, being a pedestrian can be very dangerous.  And if Columbus police are going to target drivers who fail to yield, it’s only fair to cite pedestrians who fail to comply with traffic laws, too.  We’re all sharing the streets and crosswalks of downtown Columbus together.  (And while we’re at it, looking for cyclists who ignore the rules of the road would be a good idea, too.)

I always cross at crosswalks, anyway, and while I like to make good time on my daily journey to and from work I’ll gladly restrain myself from crossing too early in exchange for police efforts to remind drivers about keeping an eye out for the pedestrians among us.

The Law Enforcement Nod

If you’ve publicly encountered anyone involved in law enforcement or security lately — whether it be police officer, Highway Patrolman, or black-shirted rent-a-cop security officer — you’ve probably received what I’ve come to think of as the “law enforcement nod.”

The encounter begins as you approach the law enforcement person, who undoubtedly is wearing mirrored sunglasses and a wholly deadpan expression.  They give you an obvious head-to-toe visual inspection, apparently checking to see if you are armed or whether your guilt about some recent criminal wrongdoing will cause you to begin sprinting away in mad panic.  If you continue on your path, smiling pleasantly and up to no apparent mischief, you are likely to receive “the nod” — a barely discernible head movement signalling that you have passed muster.  And then, after you have passed by, you breathe a sigh of relief.

It’s amazing how uniform and widespread “the nod” is.  I’ve received it in every corner of the country and from every imaginable person charged with maintaining order.  It’s pervasiveness reminds me of the anecdote at the beginning of The Right Stuff, where Tom Wolfe observes that every airline pilot curiously seems to speak with the same chuckling West Virginia drawl, mimicking the patois of Chuck Yeager, the pilot who broke the sound barrier.  Somewhere, I wonder, was there a trend-setting police officer who first decided that the best approach to interaction with the law-abiding members of the general public was a slight yet unmistakably judgmental nod of acknowledgement that has since been copied by law enforcement personnel throughout the land?

It didn’t always used to be this way, I think.  In days gone by, when cops walked regular beats and got to know the residents along the way, conversations and other more normal forms of human interaction were routine.  But now our encounters with police officers tends to be much less frequent and much more impersonal — how often do you meet a patrolman on the street, as opposed to seeing one zooming by in a cruiser? — and police officers and citizenry both seem to be constantly on guard.  And, with the shootings of police officers that we have seen, I can’t really blame law enforcement officers for being focused more on scrutinizing everyone they encounter as an act of self-preservation.

Hence, “the nod.”  I understand it, but I think the old ways are better.

Memorial Day Money-Making

Memorial Day is one of the great American holidays.  It’s also widely recognized as one of the biggest driving weekends of the year, as people kick-start their summer with visits to relatives or a long weekend at a beach or lake.

So . . . why do our uniformed friends want to make the weekend painful for patriotic American motorists by looking to hand out speeding tickets by the bushel basket?

On our drive from Columbus to Cleveland on Friday afternoon every conceivable law enforcement representative — from the Ohio Highway Patrol with their spiffy gray muscle cars, to helmeted and booted motorcycle cops, to “County Mounties” and local police officers, seemed to be out on the road, aiming their radar guns at motorists.  It’s weird and unnerving to see a uniformed person pointing a gun-like device your way, and it aggravates an already stressful driving experience.  The roads are clogged as it is, and the immediate braking when a patrolman comes into view just adds to the congestion and the hassle.

Many people theorize that there are speeding ticket quotas each month that officers need to meet to help bring money in to governmental coffers, and therefore you’re more likely to see police stopping speeders and handing out tickets at the end of the month than at the beginning.  I’m not sure about that, but Kish and I saw more police officers out on I-71 on our drive up on Friday and back this morning than we’ve ever seen before.

I recognize that we can’t have people playing Max Max on our highways, but is it really necessary to send every officer of the peace in the Buckeye State out to hand out tickets?  How about letting us celebrate Memorial Day without getting hit with a fine?

A Cleveland Morning Walk (IV)

 
As we walked past the courthouse we passed news crew and the beginnings of a protest.  Inside a judge was ruling that a white Cleveland police officer, Muchael Brelo, was not guilty of two counts of manslaughter and assault in the killing of an unarmed African-American couple.  Prosecutors had contended that Bressi had stood on the hood of the couple’s car and fired 15 shots at them through the windshield after a high-speed chase that involved many police cars and the firing of dozens of shots by multiple officers.  The incident was one of several instances cited as examples of excessive force by police that have caused concern in the Cleveland African-American community.

The Long, Hot Summer

There was rioting in Baltimore Saturday night.  Demonstrators protesting the death of Freddie Gray broke windows, smashed storefronts, threw rocks, and vandalized cars.  Gray died from spinal injuries a week after being arrested by police, and his funeral is today.  The Baltimore protests follow protests last year in Ferguson, Missouri.

Gray’s death, the shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson police, and other recent incidents involving African-Americans and police have raised tensions in our urban communities.  One incident follows on the heels of another, and the barrage seems to be having a cascading effect.  Many African-Americans feel that they are being racially targeted and, at times, brutally mistreated by the police, and the police in turn feel that they are under siege and unfairly maligned for a handful of incidents out of thousands of uneventful apprehensions and arrests.

Those of us who lived during the ’60s remember summers where rioting and violent clashes with police seemed to be routine and block after block of inner cities in America were looted, vandalized, and left gutted and smoking by arson.  Many neighborhoods that were destroyed never recovered and are still haunted ruins even now, decades later.  The ’60s were an especially turbulent time for many reasons, but that doesn’t mean what happened then could never happen now.  Simple protests can turn into riots when people feel sufficiently desperate and hopeless.

At this point, many of us are holding our breath and hoping that we can avoid another high-profile incident that might prove to be the tipping point.  Having lived through the ’60s, I have no desire to see another long, hot summer.

In Favor Of More Police Cameras And Fewer Assault Vehicles

The fatal shooting of a homeless man by four Los Angeles police officers is the latest incident to show the value of cameras in police cars and on police uniforms.

The shooting occurred in LA’s Skid Row neighborhood.  Police say that the man, who had a history of mental illness, was the suspect in a robbery and was shot after he reached for an officer’s gun during a scuffle.  However, witnesses — including the man who shot the video of the incident that went viral on the internet — instead describe a situation in which four police officers tried to subdue the man, apparently Tasered him, and then shot him five times.  At least two of the officers involved had activated their body cameras, but the footage hasn’t been released yet and will be used as evidence as the incident is investigated.

Police officers have a difficult job and deserve our support.  However, that doesn’t mean they should get a free pass on whatever they do or that deadly force incidents shouldn’t be objectively evaluated and, where warranted by the facts, prosecuted.  In 2014 alone, 16 people were shot and killed by Los Angeles police; 252 people have been killed by LA police since the year 2000.  With so many instances of deadly force, in Los Angeles and elsewhere, we should ensure that we have meaningful evidence that allows us to fully investigate those incidents, protect police officers from false accusations of excessive force, and ensure that police officers are complying with use of force rules. Routine placement of cameras in patrol cars and on uniforms would supply such evidence.

I believe that the vast majority of police officers are well-trained and careful, and therefore video evidence of deadly force incidents will likely show that the use of force was justified in most instances — but I also think the recent wave of fatal shootings is undermining public confidence in the men in blue.  In addition, such shootings can fuel racial tensions and trigger large-scale public disruptions, like the riots in Ferguson, Missouri.  We would all be better served if our police departments refrained from buying more assault vehicles and instead invested in cameras that will allow the public to see the difficulty of police officers’ jobs, and how well they perform one of the most important roles in our society.

Trivializing The Police

In America, we’re going through an awfully rough period of relations between the police and the citizenry, culminating in the recent, terrible murders of two New York City Police Department officers. It’s the rockiest period we’ve seen since the ’60s.  The police feel that they aren’t being fully supported by the political classes or appreciated by those who they work to protect, and among the citizenry there’s concern about militarization of the police, a seeming change to more aggressive policing tactics, and potential racial profiling.

There are no doubt a lot of reasons for this shift in attitude, but I think it is caused in part by the expansion of the role of police beyond the classic assignments of investigating serious crime and protecting civilians from violence.  Our legislators have made so many forms of conduct into crimes that officers increasingly are asked to police behavior that, to many of us, just doesn’t seem important enough to warrant personal involvement by the armed security forces of the state.

IMG_4459The recent choking death of Eric Garner was precipitated because he allegedly was selling single cigarettes in violation of a law.  Anyone who uses a gas station or drives a car has seen the ad campaigns warning that the police will be watching to see whether we’re all wearing our seat belts, and if we aren’t we’ll be stopped and ticketed.  And while no one questions the importance of trying to stop drunk driving, the commercials that show multiple police officers faded into the scenery at every corner, ever watching us, has it’s own creepy quality that feeds into the unhelpful, “us versus them” perception on both sides of the police-citizen division.

I appreciate the hard work of the police in protecting our communities and risking their lives to do so.  I also think, however, that the criminalization of certain economic activities, like selling single cigarettes, and stupid personal behavior, like driving without wearing a seat belt, trivializes the importance of the police and hurts the relations between the police and the community at large.  When officers are stopping people to ticket them for failing to “click it,” they seem less like an essential part of a civilized society and more like officious busybodies who are just looking for an excuse the hassle people. And such interactions also raise the risk of a confrontation that escalates into something truly unfortunate.

We would do well to revisit our statutes, get rid of the petty offenses, and reserve the power of the police for investigating murders, rapes, burglaries, and other significant crimes and apprehending the criminals who engage in such conduct.  If police were returned to their obviously important, but more limited, core functions, the respect and support for the officers of the law would increase.

Eroding Trust On Both Sides Now

There was rioting in Ferguson, Missouri last night after a prosecuting attorney announced that a grand jury had declined to indict white police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager.

The prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, said that the racially mixed grand jury had met on more than two dozen occasions over three months to hear the testimony of more than 60 witnesses.  He said the members of the grand jury were the only people to have heard all of the evidence and to have weighed the credibility of every witness, and added that they took their job seriously and “poured their hearts and soul into this process.” 

Shortly after the verdict was announced the police officer’s grand jury testimony was released.  According to the Associated Press report, Wilson said he had seen Brown walking with a handful of cigars, which he connected to an earlier report of a convenience store robbery.  Wilson testified to an escalating confrontation in which Brown punched Wilson while Wilson sat in his patrol car, Wilson drew his gun, the two struggled, Brown ran away, Wilson gave chase, Brown turned to face the policeman, and ultimately Wilson fired the fatal shots.

Rioting began almost immediately after the no-indictment decision was announced, with crowds setting fire to vehicles and buildings and looting local businesses.  Police fired tear gas and made numerous arrests.  President Obama quite properly appealed for calm and noted that the United States is a nation of laws and the grand jury was the institution charged with deciding whether the officer should be charged with a state-law crime.

Of course, both the prosecutor and the President are right:  only the members of the grand jury heard all of the evidence and its decision must inevitably be accepted.  Similarly, no rational person doubts that serving as a police officer is a difficult, dangerous job that requires split-second decision-making in moments of great stress.  Still, we can fairly question why so many deadly police shootings happen in our country — in Cleveland, for example, on this past Saturday afternoon, a rookie police officer fatally shot a 12-year-old African-American boy who was holding a pellet gun — and whether officers are too quick to use deadly force.  In too many of our communities, there seems to be an us versus them mentality on both sides of the police-civilian divide that makes these fatal confrontations much, much too likely to occur.

We Are Not Sheep To Be Herded

Fortunately, things seemed to calm down last night in Ferguson, Missouri, where people have been protesting the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager Saturday night.  A change in police tactics — which basically avoided the shows of overwhelming force police had exhibited on prior nights — seems to have eased tensions.

The Ferguson situation raises serious questions about the “militarization” of police forces and their responses to protests.  That issue, in turn, raises bigger questions about police accountability and whether officers have an unnecessarily confrontational “us vs. them” attitude that promotes clashes with a citizenry that is simply trying to exercise its constitutional right to assemble and protest.

ABC News image of police in FergusonThe weaponry police displayed in Ferguson — armored vehicles, army-style helmets and uniforms and tactical equipment, even sharpshooters — was astonishing.  (Why the need for sharpshooters in these circumstances?  Who were they targeting?)  It’s legitimate to ask why municipal police need such equipment in the first place, and politicians from across the political spectrum are doing so.  Separate and apart from the cost of purchasing and maintaining such equipment in times when many cities are strapped for cash, the reality is that once such equipment is acquired the impulse to deploy it will become irresistible.  In Ferguson, it seems pretty clear that the use of the military equipment, tear gas, and rubber bullets unnecessarily fanned the flames.

Police have a tough job, and the vast majority of Americans understand and support them as they perform it.  The police role, however, is a limited one — to enforce laws and apprehend criminals.  When a protest occurs, police of course may properly arrest anyone who throws a brick through a window or who assaults a police officer.  But police are public servants, and when there is a question about whether police have overstepped their authority by engaging in improper use of lethal force, as in this case, citizens have every right to question, and protest, and take photographs of police as they perform their jobs.  When police are arresting journalists in a McDonald’s, tear-gassing news crews, and firing rubber bullets randomly to try to disperse crowds, as happened in Ferguson, it’s fair to conclude that police have overstepped their role

We are not sheep to be herded, and police officials need to understand that.  Law enforcement authorities must respect the fact that Americans have the right to protest and question police activities.  I’m hoping that the Ferguson situation causes municipal authorities across the country to reassess their need for military equipment and their tactics when protests occur.

Freedom To Photograph

A settlement in Baltimore may clear the way for citizens to more freely exercise one of their First Amendment rights — in this case, their right to take photographs.

IMG_5977The Baltimore case arose from an increasingly common incident. The police were making an arrest, and a citizen was recording the events on his cell phone. A police officer told him to turn off the cell phone camera, claiming it was illegal to make such a recording. It isn’t, but the officers then took the citizen’s cell phone and deleted his recordings — including some personal recordings. He sued, and ultimately the City of Baltimore decided to settle. Part of the settlement is the establishment of new rules and policies governing the behavior of police officers who are being recorded by video. The general rule of thumb in the new policy is that, if a citizen is in a place where they have a right to be, they can take photographs and make recordings — and police officers can’t interfere, intimidate, or confiscate the cameras.

Police officers have been skittish about being photographed since the videotape of police officers beating Rodney King sparked riots. All too often, their response has been to attempt to bully the people taking the photographs, even when those people are acting lawfully and aren’t interfering with police activities. If the Baltimore settlement causes other governmental entities to adopt similar codes of conduct, it would be a great step forward.

Our cell phone cameras are a powerful tool to protect the population against police misconduct — and, for that matter, against other forms of improper governmental actions as well. Once police officers and other public employees realize that their activities may be recorded and then posted to YouTube or some other website, they may temper their excesses and take extra care to make sure that their conduct conforms to law and departmental policy. That’s a good thing for everyone, police included.

Rolling The Dice On Cleveland’s Casino

On Monday Cleveland’s Horseshoe Casino opens.  It will be the first to open of the four casinos Ohio voters authorized when they passed a constitutional amendment several years ago.

The casino, which is located in the heart of downtown, right on Public Square, next to Cleveland’s landmark Terminal Tower, has been the focus of significant hope and concern.  The hope is that the casino will kick start the struggling downtown economy by bringing jobs, foot traffic, and tourist dollars to local restaurants and businesses.   In some ways the casino has already delivered on some of the hope; it is housed in a vacant space formerly occupied by a closed department store that had to be refurbished, and it has hired workers to deal cards, serve drinks, and do the other things that casino workers do.

The concern is that the Public Square location might not show Cleveland off to the greatest advantage.  It is an extensive open area that is frequented by vagrants and panhandlers; it’s also the place where RTA riders board buses and vice versa.  Clevelanders fear that casino visitors who see homeless people in the surrounding area might not venture out to explore the rest of downtown Cleveland — and the hoped-for broader economic impact won’t materialize as a result.  In an effort to spiff up the area, Cleveland police have increased their patrols and worked to roust vagrants from the area.

The big question with casinos as an engine of economic activity is whether visitors will leave the casino grounds and check out the rest of the area.  If casino patrons don’t feel secure enough to do so, they’ll just stay in the casino, punching buttons on their slot machine of choice and eating and drinking the casino’s fare.  The challenge for Cleveland is to do what it can to prevent that from happening.