St. Louis prosecutor joins war on cops

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The Unablogger

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner (D) wants to control all investigations of police “use of force” incidents, including officer involved shootings. Her proposal would seize these proceedings from the Police Department’s existing Force Investigation Unit, and she has requested $1.3 million of scarce city funds from the Board of Aldermen to set up her own shop to go after cops.

Riding a wave of discontent following a not guilty verdict in the bench trial of Jason Stockley, an officer charged with first-degree murder in the death of an African American alleged heroine dealer, Gardner claims that people — “especially people of color” — feel that the current system is rigged against them. The current system involves investigation and discipline by the police department and, in this case, trial on criminal charges in which the charged officer has the same rights as any other criminal defendant. Stockley’s exercise of his right to waive trial by jury and be tried instead by a circuit judge is the focus of public protests that have lasted three weeks and counting.

Gardner wants to provide what she calls “unbiased” investigations that “promote confidence in the criminal justice system.” She believes that the Force Investigation Unit cannot be trusted because that is just police passing judgment on their own “brothers.” That’s a fair criticism. Yet, the St. Louis Police Officers Association opposed its initial creation, fearing that investigators who were out of touch with real-life police work would be second-guessing  officers’ split-second decisions in the field. The SLPOA now favors the Unit’s continuation, facing the prospect of Gardner’s draconian proposal.

Gardner’s investigations would be anything but “unbiased.” I wrote shortly after Gardner’s election (actually her primary victory that left her unopposed in the general election) that she appeared to be a protege of Marilyn Mosby, the controversial cop-hating Baltimore state’s attorney. Gardner’s election had been opposed by both the predominantly white SLPOA and the predominantly black Ethical Society of Police. I observed then that Gardner owes her office to the black community and owes law enforcement nothing but payback. Within the past week, Gardner told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that she had been entrusted by residents to hold police accountable, especially in officer-involved shootings. However, it is clear from the ongoing protests of the Stockley verdict that the only acceptable form of police accountability is finding the charged officer guilty. Gardner even publicly belittled a charged officer’s constitutional privilege against self-incrimination, stating, “If you’re telling the truth, you have nothing to fear.” Such a statement about any other criminal defendant could result in professional discipline, and should in these cases as well. With that mindset and mission statement, Gardner’s office’s investigation would have an anti-police bias from start to finish. Gardner would provide revenge, not justice.

Gardner’s proposal would empower her investigators to guide all witness interviews and the collection of evidence. That often determines the outcome of the case. Tea Partiers recall how the office of St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch (D) insured that the brutal attackers of vendor Kenneth Gladney outside a Russ Carnahan town hall in 2010 would walk scot-free by not calling (or even interviewing) key witnesses.

There is more to this issue than just giving Gardner a pile of money. The Post Dispatch reports that Alderman Terry Kennedy, chair of the aldermanic public safety committee and a Gardner ally, has suggested that creating a team giving Gardner the authority over police shooting investigations would probably require a new ordinance or even a charter amendment requiring a city-wide vote of the people.

Gardner’s proposal is just the latest hit on police morale. Mayor Lyda Krewson (D), perhaps intimidated by protesters who had earlier stormed her home with bricks and red paint, called out police for chanting the protesters’ own chant ‘Whose streets? Our streets!” while arresting protesters for vandalism on the third night of protests. Police stress, she said, was no excuse. She also dressed down her interim police chief for saying that police had “owned the night,” claiming that it was inflammatory. The mayor had little or no criticism of the vandalism itself.

Police perform a great public service that is both difficult and dangerous, but their actions are not beyond scrutiny. They need to be held accountable, just like the rest of us, but not by the star chamber Gardner envisions. A truly unbiased (or balanced bias) investigation of alleged police misconduct would include representation from both police and a cross section of the citizenry. Existing civilian review boards could either perform the function or serve as a model for a separate investigative unit. The only proper role of the prosecutor would be to prosecute any offenses documented by the independent investigation.

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Sanctimonious bipartisan grandstanding

The Unablogger

State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal (D-University City)’s ill advised late-night Facebook response to a friend, expressing a desire for the assassination of President Trump, has presented politicians of all stripes a golden opportunity to lay claim to the moral high ground. They uniformly criticize her, which is fair and proper, but most also take the extra step of calling for her resignation and/or expulsion from the state senate.

Before getting to a rational discussion of the senator’s post, I want to call out those who are opportunistically piling on. Republicans calling for her resignation and/or expulsion, including Gov. Eric Greitens and Lt. Gov. Mike Parsons, are acting partisan, seeking to deflect some of the negative press coverage aimed at President Trump over to a high-profile Democrat. Some might say they also want to remove a Democrat vote from the senate for a while, but Republicans already hold a prohibitive senate majority even with Sen. Chappelle-Nadal in place.

Democrats calling for the senator’s ouster, including U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill and U.S Rep. Lacy Clay (both D-MO), emit a different, but equally foul, odor. McCaskill, whom CNN (I know, fake news) has tabbed as the nation’s most vulnerable Democratic senator up for reelection next year, is desperately trying to portray herself as a fair, even-handed, moderate, even bi-partisan public servant. Her record, especially her repeated votes to block debate on even the most sensible changes to the fatally flawed Obamacare legislation, contradicts that phony image. She sees piling on the controversial, outspoken Chappelle-Nadal as a low-risk high-reward ploy. From Claire it’s a cheap shot.

Clay has payback on his mind. Chappelle-Nadal challenged Clay unsuccessfully for renomination to his otherwise safe congressional seat last year, and Clay is jumping on the opportunity to destroy her credibility in case of a rematch.

The bipartisan piling on worsens a trend that is harming political discourse. Bullies on the left insist that everyone criticize President Trump’s inclusion of the alt-left in blame for the Charlottesville incident, identifying anyone who applies even the slightest nuance, or even remains silent, to be a Nazi! Now politicians are acting similarly towards anyone who dares to defend Chappelle-Nadal. This process intimidates rational discussion.

Nuance is good.

Now the promised rational discussion of Chappelle-Nadal’s post. What should happen is already in progress. The U.S. Secret Service is investigating the incident. They will examine her intent and the possibility that her post might inspire others to take action. I personally believe that Chappelle-Nadal’s post was merely an emotional outburst of hyper-partisanship with no intent either to cause or inspire actual harm to the President, but that’s not my call. If the Secret Service determines that her post is worthy of charges being brought against her, then her resignation and/or expulsion becomes appropriate. Opportunistic politicians jumping the gun and calling for such actions before then are wrong.

Yes, Chappelle-Nadal is being justifiably criticized for her remarks. But calls for her resignation and/or expulsion are not justified at this point.

Jamilah Nasheed campaigns on public dime

The Unablogger

Today I received the 2017 End of Session Newsletter from State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed (Democrat, 5th District). It’s a lovely puff piece, complete with four full-color photos of Nasheed (three on the first page) and her summary complaints about  Republican legislation. She invites recipients to three town hall meetings she has scheduled, in north St. Louis, south St. Louis and the Central West End. (Curiously, the last page asks recipients to return the form to her, with our own postage, even though the form is not a questionnaire seeking any input from recipients. That’s weird, but just a diversion from the point of this post.)

This is a fairly typical newsletter, produced at state expense (without any “paid for by” disclaimers required for campaign mailers), that all state senators and representatives get to send to their constituents. The problem? I am not a constituent of Sen. Nasheed. I live in the 4th District, a few miles from the closest boundary with Nasheed’s 5th District. I have my own state senator from whom to receive publicly financed propaganda.

Why would Sen. Nasheed send her mailing to me and others out of her district? She is probably planning to run for another office, perhaps citywide or maybe Congress. The three town hall meetings throughout the city that the newsletter promotes would certainly promote such a candidacy. While I don’t live in her district, I do live in the city and the First Congressional District in which Nasheed resides and wields clout. It would benefit such a campaign if people within the boundaries of whatever office she is seeking got to see her puff-piece newsletter. Not having the campaign literature disclaimer might even give it greater credibility. All the better if she doesn’t have to spend her own campaign funds to produce and mail it!

This abuse needs to be curbed.

Hostility to women not responsible for Wagner’s withdrawal

The Unablogger

Consistent with the mainsteam media’s continuing campaign to paint the Republican Party as inhospitable to women, Roll Call published a Nathan Gonzales column blaming perceived GOP hostility to women for the withdrawal of Congresswoman Ann Wagner from consideration for the GOP nomination to oppose Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill’s reelection next year. Gonzales is wrong.

Wagner was justifiably concerned about two sources of opposition to her candidacy within her party. The first and best known, and touched on by Gonzales, is the effort by establishment party elders like former Sen. Jack Danforth (generally regarded as the father of the 1970s Republican revival in Missouri) to get newly elected Attorney General Josh Hawley into the race instead of Wagner. Sam Fox, a major Missouri Republican donor and Danforth ally, had publicly urged Republican donors to hold off donating to any senate contenders until Hawley decided whether to enter the contest. That put a slight crimp in Wagner’s impressive early fundraising. Danforth and Fox’s motives were not sexist; they were based on concerns that Wagner might not be a strong enough candidate to beat McCaskill, or at least not as strong as Hawley would be. Hawley led the Republican ticket last year with 58.5% of the vote in the first statewide Republican sweep in Missouri in nearly a century. It is important for Republicans, both in Missouri and nationally, to take down McCaskill in 2018, important enough to go with their best shot, not just good enough to get it done with no margin of error. That’s how the establishment thinks, and in this case it makes sense.

The second and less publicized source of concern was vocal opposition to Wagner from the Tea Party faction. While Wagner scores relatively well on national measures of conservatism (88% American Conservative Union rating for 2016, but only 63% on the Heritage Action scorecard), the Tea Party is angered by her actions and votes designed to benefit Big Business donors at the expense of fiscal responsibility, a core Tea Party value. Wagner’s vote to save the Export-Import Bank is an example. The Tea Party regards Wagner and Sen. Roy Blunt as part of the pay-to-play swamp that President Trump wants to drain.

Another possible GOP senate contender, especially if dream candidate Hawley opts out, is Rep. Vicky Hartzler from western Missouri. I have heard no Tea Party complaints about Hartzler, who sports an excellent 2016 ACA rating of 96, although she scores only slightly better than Wagner on the Heritage Action scorecard with 69%. If any sexism exists towards Missouri Republican women, it rests with Gonzales, who indirectly dismissed Hartzler by calling Wagner “the GOP’s . . . only top-tier female hopeful,” even though Hartzler has won more elections and served longer in Congress than Wagner. Hartzler won her seat in the Tea Party revolt of 2010, prevailing over a tough primary field before unseating venerable 34-year incumbent Rep. Ike Skelton. At the time, Skelton was chair of the House Armed Services Committee.

Like the establishment elders, the Tea Party opposition to Wagner has nothing to do with gender; unlike the establishment elders, it has everything to do with policy concerns. While the establishment is quite comfortable with Wagner’s policies, the Tea Party is not.

Resist bullying: Vote NO on Props 1 & 2

The Unablogger

Voters in the City of St. Louis (but not the suburbs) are being asked to pass Propositions 1 and 2 on April 4, which would raise both the sales and use taxes in the city, primarily to provide $60 million in public funding towards a new Major League Soccer stadium. The sleazy campaign supporting the propositions is reason enough to oppose them.

First, stadium supporters are taking immoral advantage of a city recently jilted by the National Football League, much like a guy at a bar taking advantage of a recently dumped woman on the rebound. The ownership group is devoting $1 million that could have been spent on the stadium to a campaign committee called AspireSTL, which is using misleading emotional appeals to the pride of the city, suggesting that these proposals are the city’s only chance to avoid a death spiral. St. Louis is falling behind, they say, claiming MLS will help us get untracked. They claim (without substantiation) that a professional soccer team will “help keep St. Louis vibrant and relevant, bringing in younger and international fans to watch the game.” SC STL’s Paul Edgerley tried to shame city voters into backing the propositions. “We also think that the community that’s going to get some benefit wants to be part of this. If the community doesn’t feel like it’s the right priority for the community, I think that probably says something as well.”

Proposition 1, a sales tax increase ostensibly tied to MetroLink expansion, is being used as bait, to lure low income voters (who suffer the most from a regressive sales tax) into supporting the stadium funding package.

Meanwhile, the predominantly suburban (and wealthy) fan base for professional soccer is not being asked to contribute, other than their incidental payment of sales tax while slumming in the city. This corporate welfare scheme is redistribution of the wealth – from poor to rich.

After St. Louis’ terrible experience with the NFL, would MLS really be an improvement? I think both professional leagues are cut out of the same Machiavellian cloth. Most visibly, MLS, which has never turned a profit, is demanding an outrageous $150 million franchise fee to join. Can you say “Ponzi scheme?” One might also question whether the perpetually unprofitable league will even survive long enough for its franchise to honor a 30-year lease commitment.

MLS has also shown its heavy hand by directing the location of the new stadium. The league’s ownership is fixated on a downtown location, both here and elsewhere. In Miami, it downplayed soccer great David Beckham’s bid because his stadium wasn’t downtown. Here, the MLS rejected a rival proposal of Foundry St Louis to own a franchise in a privately funded stadium near St. Louis University, just two miles west of the SC STL’s site in Downtown West. The Foundry site would have been closer to the millennial fan base it seeks, at college soccer institution St. Louis University, nearby trendy neighborhoods like The Grove and the Central West End, and millennial-friendly entertainment districts in Midtown and along South Grand. Nope, the inflexible know-it-alls at the unprofitable MLS want downtown. I suspect that they don’t even realize that their preferred site is actually well west of downtown. Shhh!

Why not raise $60 million privately, among new investors? If this stadium is the sure thing financially that supporters claim it to be, getting new investors should be a snap. SC STL just needs to expand the pool of investors beyond their private little circle of cronies. It turns out that Foundry St. Louis actually offered to provide the rest of the funds so that public financing could be avoided, but SC STL declined. Why continue to gouge taxpayers? My guess is that SC STL wants to use tax funds to leverage their investment and not have to share their profits with other investors. So, beneath the veneer of selfless civic leaders lies a core of greed.

Frankly, the city has higher priorities. We have a violent crime problem that discourages tourists and locals alike from going downtown, and our police department is understaffed, underpaid and demoralized. St. Louis Public Radio quoted Glenn Burleigh of the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council: “If you talk to the people about why they’re leaving the city, never heard people say it’s because we do not have a MLS team. I’ve heard lots of people say because we don’t have enough police officers. I’ve heard lots of people say there’s not enough jobs.” Opponents of the propositions justifiably question whether a soccer team is going to provide much benefit to residents in struggling neighborhoods.

Even the yoked investment in MetroLink expansion is questionable. MetroLink has become best known recently as a magnet for violent crime. Nationally, light rail’s popularity has peaked. The big urban fad of the 1990s is no longer hip. People are beginning to realize that public transportation needs are better served by buses, whose routes can be changed as needed, without expensive, high maintenance infrastructure.

St. Louis shouldn’t be afraid to call MLS’ bluff. We are in a stronger negotiating position than supporters let on. The fact is, MLS really wants St Louis. MLS Commissioner Don Garber admitted to SI.com earlier this year, “St. Louis has been on our radar screen as long as the league’s been in existence.” We are a city rich in sports tradition and (by U.S. standards) soccer tradition, and we are ideally situated for natural rivalries with existing teams in Chicago and Kansas City. MLS needs St. Louis more than St. Louis needs MLS.

City voters should stay tough, stand tall, refuse to be bullied, and vote No on Propositions 1 and 2.

McCaskill tows party line on Trump’s immigration order

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The Unablogger

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is following Democrat talking points in opposing President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily halting travel to the United States from seven countries with ties to terrorists. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, McCaskill expressed outrage over temporary delays in travel for certain cherry-picked Muslim travelers and Trump’s direction to give priority to Christians for allowing entrance into the U.S.

The referenced delayed traveler, Hameed Darweesh, is an Iraqi man who had reportedly helped the U.S. as an engineer, interpreter and contractor and who possessed a valid visa. Darweesh was then vetted pursuant to the government’s new vetting process and was allowed to proceed into the U.S. less than 24 hours after arrival. According to the Post, McCaskill said that made her “want to throw up.”

McCaskill’s Republican colleague, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), explained the situation in more measured tones. While noting his own opposition to a blanket travel ban on Muslims, Blunt explained that Trump’s order increased vetting of people traveling from countries with extensive terrorist ties or activity. He properly prioritized keeping Americans safe.

Democrats have falsely claimed that the countries selected by Trump to be subject to the restrictions were selected because of their Muslim majorities, and that Trump had excluded Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and other Muslim countries with Trump business ties. Trump selected the seven countries because people traveling from those countries provide the greatest risk to the security of the U.S. They were the same seven countries that the Obama Administration singled out for exception under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015. The Muslim nations with Trump business ties were also not excepted by the Obama Administration under the visa law.

The Post also referred to a McCaskill statement criticizing Trump’s willingness to give Christians facing persecution preferential consideration for refugee resettlement. Apparently McCaskill either didn’t notice or didn’t care that Christians in those nations were disproportionately the victims of Islamic terrorist violence. When ISIS refers to “infidels,” they mostly mean Christians. That is exactly who should be allowed to enter as refugees. Trump’s order was in direct contrast to the Obama Administration’s admission of Muslim “refugees” while leaving most Christians refugees behind to die. The Clinton Administration policy of allowing Bosnian Muslim refugees in the 1990s was consistent with the fact that Muslims were the ones then being persecuted. Priority should be given to identified groups who are at risk of genocide and pose no ascertainable risk to the U.S. It is appropriate to single out specific religions when religion is the motivation of the persecution.

McCaskill is following the Democratic Party line. Her fellow Democrat senators, including those who, like her, are facing tough reelection campaigns next year, followed the same script as McCaskill. Democrats want to characterize everything Trump does as racist or xenophobic, regardless of their merits. Embarrassed by losing an election they expected to win, Democrats are trashing the new president at every opportunity. McCaskill is piling on.

A national electorate of snowflakes?

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The Unablogger

Close presidential elections often turn on small seminal moments that matter. The moments that decided the two most recent presidential elections were not important matters of policy or qualifications, but emotional reactions to off-the-cuff remarks by the losing candidate. My friend and blogger extraordinaire Bill Hennessy has pointed out repeatedly that people make decisions on emotion, not facts; then they marshal together whatever facts support their decisions. This includes decisions on how to vote. This dynamic of human nature reelected Barack Obama and made Donald Trump his successor.

These emotional seminal moments produced a backlash of voters who felt the candidate was disrespecting them. The 2012 moment was Mitt Romney’s remark at his own fundraiser (secretly taped by Democrat operatives who had infiltrated the event) that people receiving government benefits (47% of all voters) were too dependent on government to vote for Republicans. Those 47%ers felt targeted and disrespected, any many of them who were considering Romney either stayed with Obama or (more likely) became discouraged and didn’t vote.

The 2016 seminal moment was supposed to be the release of the 11-year-old Access Hollywood tape of Donald Trump making lewd remarks about women. It actually was the seminal moment for politically correct suburban voters (especially the country club set) who either felt personally violated by Trump’s remarks or who didn’t want their friends and business colleagues to associate them with Trump.

Other voters got over it when concerns surfaced over the reopening of the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton. Many now conclude that the FBI caper was 2016’s real seminal moment.

While all of those matters impacted the 2016 election, I believe the real seminal moment for most voters had already occurred in early September with the release of Hillary’s off-the-cuff characterization of some Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” Voters who even thought about supporting Trump felt that Hillary had called them “deplorable.” That’s not what Hillary literally said, but the impression stuck. Voter resentment was reinforced by Hillary’s media sycophants who doubled down on the idea that anyone who helps Trump advance what they called his “racial, religious and ethnic bigotry” is part of that bigotry. Tired of being maligned by a society that retroactively shamed old attitudes, equated matters of sincere religious faith with bigotry and otherwise demanded political correctness, voters rebelled against elites by voting for Trump.

I don’t doubt the accuracy of Hennessy’s observation about people making decisions based on emotion, but I do lament it. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the political outcomes of Obama’s reelection and Trump’s coming presidency, there should be serious concerns about momentous national elections turning on hurt feelings instead of issues. Maybe those collegiate “snowflakes” demanding “safe zones” to protect them from contrary opinions are just following the inadvertent mentorship of parents or other older acquaintances that they see making important decisions based on who did or didn’t hurt their feelings.

We gotta grow up!