Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Weed, Guns, "Stop and Frisk" and Sudden Death in South Carolina

If you're interested in marijuana laws, gun laws, "stop and frisk," and similar police issues, take a look:

This "very minor arrest" in Cayce, S.C., on the night of November 17 that ended in the fatal shooting of a black suspect by two white officers raises a lot of questions, but they are as much about the law the police were enforcing as about the performance of the police themselves. 

This is a training version of the police dashcam video published by Calibre Press, which conducts seminars for police on "street survival," and it notes quite rightly that the officers are very, very cool and polite and, indeed, were about to let the suspect go until he inadvertently pulled a bag of marijuana out of his pocket (about which more later). 

Then, as the suspect apparently realized that they would find the gun in his belt, he pulled it and fired off a round next to one officers, then got the other in the leg before he ran into an alley (off camera) where one of the officers shot at him, hitting him twice, and killed him.

The suspect, 21-year-old Demetrius Shelley Bryant, of Columbia, S.C., had been sitting in his car smoking dope and clearly was stoned when the police came up to him. One of the officers said the car reeked of weed when he opened the window. The car's registration was not in order either. But Bryant was just sitting there, doing no harm—at least at that moment—and the police sound like they were disposed to let him go.

In the controversial policy known to cops as "stop-question-and-frisk" and to its critics as "stop-and-frisk," the questioning is actually quite important, and you see here how it can play out.

The police have stopped to see what this guy is doing in this car in the middle of the night. He rolls down the window. It's obvious he's been smoking dope. They question him extensively, in the friendliest possible way, and they do not frisk him, which is why they don't know about the gun in his belt. (They have seen a knife on the floor of the car, but don't seem too concerned about that.) 

In the course of questioning him about weapons he might have, they ask him to empty his pockets and, bingo, he turns out the dope he said he didn't have. Then, quite calmly, they ask him to put his hands behind his back to be cuffed, he tenses up and resists, breaks free, pulls his gun and fires.

Bryant reportedly had been charged in the past with drug possession and with unlawful carrying of a pistol—which, perhaps surprisingly, actually is illegal for some people in South Carolina, even though buying one requires no background check and no license of any kind. For a second misdemeanor marijuana offense, Bryant could have faced a $2,000 fine and a year in jail.

Maybe Bryant was thinking about going straight. He told the officers he had just gotten a job at Amazon, and was waiting for his paycheck to register his car. Maybe not. But he was smoking dope, which probably shouldn't be a matter for the police, and he was carrying a gun, which he had bought quite legally (there is no way buying one in S.C. is illegal) even if he was breaking the law by carrying it on his person.

Because of these two bad laws about possession, one criminalizing a minor vice, the other legalizing easy access to a killing tool, he's dead.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The American Civil War and Current Events, Essays by Christopher Dickey

My New York Times Journey in May - Grant and the Unexpected Victory at Shiloh

I'll be on this New York Times Journey, talking about the roles of Grant and Sherman, Beauregard and Nathan Bedford Forrest, but also the tactical and strategic intelligence battles that played a vital, if largely neglected, role in this first truly bloody confrontation of the American Civil War. It was supposed to end the conflict. What it did in fact was give a taste of the horrors to come.

OUR MAN IN CHARLESTON: Civil War History and Contemporary Events: Essays ...

OUR MAN IN CHARLESTON: Civil War History and Contemporary Events: Essays By Christopher Dickey -  After the publication in July 2015 of Our Man in Charleston, which, by pure coincidence, came just after the tragic murders at Emanuel A.M.E. Church, I wrote several essays drawing on the research for the book and suggesting what it might tell us about current events...