These Syrian-American Christians love Trump because they say he’s like Assad

The Daily Beast reports: Perched on a hard orange seat high above the dirt floor of the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center, waiting for the Harrisburg Trump rally to start, Pastor Joseph Moussa told me Donald Trump gives him hope, in part, because he reminds him of Assad.

Yes, that Assad — Bashar al-Assad — the one whose army is accused of killing upwards of a quarter-million Syrians. In some important ways, Moussa said, Trump and Assad sound similar. And he likes it.

Besides appreciating Trump’s plainspokenness and apparent invulnerability to pressure from lobbyists, Moussa and other Syrian-American Christians living in Pennsylvania like Trump for a unique reason: They think he will do the least to undermine Assad — and, by extension, the most to protect their fellow Christians back in Syria.

“Mr. Trump, he is the only candidate that ever said, ‘I am an evangelical and I am proud of it, and I am gonna protect the Christians,’” he said.

Like any other ethnic group, Pennsylvania’s Syrian-American community isn’t a monolith. And describing it in sweeping terms is as foolish as it is uninformative. But conversations with numerous Syrian-American leaders in the Keystone State indicate that Trump may find many devoted supporters among their numbers. Many of these Christians fervently back Bashar al-Assad, as they feel he treats Syria’s Christians fairly and is their best protection against spreading Islamist extremism in the region. So they like Trump, as they feel he’s their best hope for limiting Western intervention on behalf of the rebels seeking to take down Assad. To an extent, they see Trump and Assad as two of a kind when it comes to protecting the region’s Christians. [Continue reading…]

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It took Barack Obama to crush the Brexit fantasy

Jonathan Freedland writes: o wonder they were desperate that he keep his mouth shut. At his podium in Downing Street Barack Obama flattered his hosts, paid lip service to the notion that the referendum on British membership of the European Union on 23 June is a matter for the British people – and then calmly ripped apart the case for Brexit.

It was the Vote Leavers’ worst nightmare. For years – no, decades – the anti-EU camp has suggested that Britain’s natural habitat is not among its continental neighbours but in “the Anglosphere”, that solar system of English-speaking planets which revolves around the United States. Break free from Brussels and we could embrace our kindred spirits in Sydney, Toronto and especially New York, Washington and Los Angeles. The Brexit camp has long been like the man who dreams of leaving his wife for another woman, one who really understands him.

Obama is that other woman. And today he told the outers their fantasies were no more than that. First in print and then, more explicitly, in person he spelled out that America has no intention of forming some new, closer relationship with a Brexited Britain. On the contrary, a post-EU Britain would be at “the back of the queue” if it sought to agree its own, new trade treaty with the US.

America, he told his British audience – hence his use of “queue”, not “line” – likes the fact that Britain is already married: it works out really well for all three parties involved. His message was unambiguous. Don’t rush into a hasty divorce because you think we’re waiting for you with open arms. We’re not. [Continue reading…]

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Barack Obama: As your friend, let me say that the EU makes Britain even greater

Barack Obama writes: As citizens of the United Kingdom take stock of their relationship with the EU, you should be proud that the EU has helped spread British values and practices – democracy, the rule of law, open markets – across the continent and to its periphery. The European Union doesn’t moderate British influence – it magnifies it. A strong Europe is not a threat to Britain’s global leadership; it enhances Britain’s global leadership. The United States sees how your powerful voice in Europe ensures that Europe takes a strong stance in the world, and keeps the EU open, outward looking, and closely linked to its allies on the other side of the Atlantic. So the US and the world need your outsized influence to continue – including within Europe.

In this complicated, connected world, the challenges facing the EU – migration, economic inequality, the threats of terrorism and climate change – are the same challenges facing the United States and other nations. And in today’s world, even as we all cherish our sovereignty, the nations who wield their influence most effectively are the nations that do it through the collective action that today’s challenges demand. [Continue reading…]

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College student is removed from Southwest Airlines flight because he spoke Arabic

The New York Times reports: A college student who came to the United States as an Iraqi refugee was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight in California earlier this month after another passenger became alarmed when she heard him speaking Arabic.

The student, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, was taken off a flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Oakland on April 6 after he called an uncle in Baghdad to tell him about an event he attended that included a speech by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“I was very excited about the event so I called my uncle to tell him about it,” he said.

He told his uncle about the chicken dinner they were served and the moment when he got to stand up and ask the secretary general a question about the Islamic State, he said. But the conversation seemed troubling to a nearby passenger, who told the crew she overheard him making “potentially threatening comments,” the airline said in a statement.

Mr. Makhzoomi, 26, knew something was wrong as soon as he finished his phone call and saw that a woman sitting in front of him had turned around in her seat to stare at him, he said. She headed for the airplane door soon after he told his uncle that he would call again when he landed, and qualified it with a common phrase in Arabic, “inshallah,” meaning “god willing.”

“That is when I thought, ‘Oh, I hope she is not reporting me,’ because it was so weird,” Mr. Makhzoomi said.

That is exactly what happened. An Arabic-speaking Southwest Airlines employee of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent came to his seat and escorted him off the plane a few minutes after his call ended, he said. The man introduced himself in Arabic and then switched to English to ask, “Why were you speaking Arabic in the plane?” [Continue reading…]

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Muslims used to love living in Tennessee — now it’s a nightmare

BuzzFeed reports: The fire department called before dawn. Daoud Abudiab and his 13-year-old daughter were already awake, so they got in the car quickly. From about a mile away, Abudiab saw a plume of black smoke rising above the low skyline and started getting nervous. He thought back to the arguments over whether to mark the Islamic Center of Columbia, Tennessee, the only mosque in the hundred-mile stretch between Nashville and Huntsville, with a large sign or a small, unassuming one. They had opted for a large one.

Abudiab and his daughter could feel the heat of the fire when they stood at the yellow police tape. A black swastika was spray-painted on the mosque’s facade. Flames pushed out from the burst windows and up through the collapsed roof. Abudiab’s wife arrived with the rest of the kids, followed by other congregants and their families.

Abudiab looked at the women and all he saw was headscarves. “Go home,” he pleaded. “Don’t go out. Don’t go to Walmart. Don’t go anywhere.”

The ringleader of the band of white supremacists who burned down the mosque with Molotov cocktails justified the act by saying, “What goes on in that building is illegal according to the Bible.” This was February 2008. The theory of Barack Obama’s crypto-Islamism was faint chatter on the fringes. But in the years after Obama’s election, Tennessee became a key battleground in a national anti-Muslim movement whose influence has culminated, for now, in the presidential campaigns of Republican frontrunners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, both of whom are being advised by people whose views on Islam were once considered too extreme for mainstream politics. [Continue reading…]

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Andrew Bacevich: Presidential wars

It was a large banner and its message was clear.  It read: “Mission Accomplished,” and no, I don’t mean the classic “mission accomplished” banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln under which, on May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush proudly proclaimed (to the derision of critics ever since) that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended.”  I’m actually referring to a September 1982 banner with those same two words (and an added “farewell” below them) displayed on a landing craft picking up the last Marines sent ashore in Beirut, Lebanon, to be, as President Ronald Reagan put it when they arrived the previous August, “what Marines have been for more than 200 years — peace-makers.”  Of course, when Bush co-piloted an S-3B Viking sub reconnaissance Naval jet onto the deck of the Abraham Lincoln and made his now-classic statement, major combat had barely begun in Iraq (and it has yet to end) — nor was it peace that came to Beirut in September 1982: infamously, the following year 241 Marines would die there in a single day, thanks to a suicide bomber.

“Not for the last time,” writes Andrew Bacevich in his monumental new work, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, “the claim proved to be illusory.”  Indeed, one of the grim and eerie wonders of his book is the way in which just about every wrongheaded thing Washington did in that region in the 14-plus years since 9/11 had its surprising precursor in the two decades of American war there before the World Trade Center towers came down.  U.S. military trainers and advisers, for example, failed (as they later would in Iraq and Afghanistan) to successfully build armies, starting with the Lebanese one; Bush’s “preventive war” had its predecessor in a Reagan directive called (ominously enough given what was to come) “combating terrorism”; Washington’s obsessive belief of recent years that problems in the region could be solved by what Andrew Cockburn has called the “kingpin strategy” — the urge to dismantle terror organizations by taking out their leadership via drones or special operations raids — had its precursor in “decapitation” operations against Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid with similar resulting mayhem.  The belief that “an additional increment of combat power might turn around a failing endeavor” — call it a “surge,” if you will — had its Iraq and Afghan pretrial run in Somalia in 1993.  And above all, of course, there was Washington’s unquenchable post-1980 urge to intervene, military first, in a decisive way throughout the region, which, as Bacevich writes, only “produced conditions conducive to further violence and further disorder,” and if that isn’t the repetitive history of America’s failed post-2001 wars in a nutshell, what is?

As it happened, the effects of such actions from 1980 on were felt not just in the Greater Middle East and Africa, but in the United States, too.  There, as Bacevich writes today, war became a blank-check activity for a White House no longer either checked (in any sense) or balanced by Congress.  Think of it as another sad tale of a surge (or do I mean a decapitation?) that went wrong. Tom Engelhardt

Writing a blank check on war for the president
How the United States became a prisoner of war and Congress went MIA
By Andrew J. Bacevich

Let’s face it: in times of war, the Constitution tends to take a beating. With the safety or survival of the nation said to be at risk, the basic law of the land — otherwise considered sacrosanct — becomes nonbinding, subject to being waived at the whim of government authorities who are impatient, scared, panicky, or just plain pissed off.

The examples are legion.  During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln arbitrarily suspended the writ of habeas corpus and ignored court orders that took issue with his authority to do so. After U.S. entry into World War I, the administration of Woodrow Wilson mounted a comprehensive effort to crush dissent, shutting down anti-war publications in complete disregard of the First Amendment. Amid the hysteria triggered by Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order consigning to concentration camps more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans, many of them native-born citizens. Asked in 1944 to review this gross violation of due process, the Supreme Court endorsed the government’s action by a 6-3 vote. 

More often than not, the passing of the emergency induces second thoughts and even remorse. The further into the past a particular war recedes, the more dubious the wartime arguments for violating the Constitution appear. Americans thereby take comfort in the “lessons learned” that will presumably prohibit any future recurrence of such folly.

[Read more…]

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Panama Papers firm linked to over 1,000 U.S. companies mostly in Nevada and Wyoming

USA Today reports: The law firm at the hub of a global financial scandal has links to more than 1,000 U.S. companies, formed mostly in Nevada and Wyoming since 2001, but appears to have largely escaped the scrutiny of U.S. financial regulators — at least in public.

The leak this week of more than 11 million records from the Panamanian firm, Mossack Fonseca, has led to a global uproar that prompted Iceland’s prime minister to step aside Tuesday. An international consortium of journalists has reported the documents tie the firm, which specializes in shell companies that can be used to conceal assets, to Russian oligarchs, former heads of state and world soccer’s scandal-plagued governing body.

Yet despite those apparent dealings and its operations in the United States, the firm has appeared in only a scattering of court cases and regulatory filings. Most involve government attempts to track money the authorities believed had been concealed behind overseas shell companies the firm helped establish.

The Justice Department is “reviewing the reports” published by international journalists, the head of its Criminal Division, Leslie Caldwell, said Tuesday, but declined to elaborate.

The firestorm around Mossack Fonseca has been tied mostly to its work for foreign customers. But state incorporation records show the firm helped set up nearly 1,100 business entities in the United States since 2001.

The majority of U.S.-based companies linked to Mossack Fonseca were formed in Nevada by M.F. Corporate Services (Nevada) Limited, a one-employee company based out of a low-slung tile-roofed office building 20 miles from the Las Vegas strip. MF Nevada has served as the registered agent for 1,026 business entities since 2001, according to USA TODAY’s review of Nevada business documents. [Continue reading…]

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The Panama Papers: Where are the Americans?

Politico reports: The Panama Papers sent ripples across the globe Monday after revealing that 140 politicians from more than 50 countries, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iceland President Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, were linked to offshore accounts set up by the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Despite its breadth, the scandal so far has barely touched American individuals and companies. There were no mass protests, as occurred in Iceland where protesters demanded the resignation of Gunnlaugsson; no U.S. leaders were forced to deny accusations of tax evasion as Putin did.

How have Americans so far escaped the biggest leak of financial data of all time? It’s not because wealthy Americans don’t use offshore bank accounts to avoid U.S. taxes: they do — to the tune of $1.2 trillion in 2014, according to one estimate. Some professors have suggested that Americans may have disguised their accounts at Mossack Fonseca behind another party. But there’s also a more structural answer, tax experts say — one that has to do with shifts in global financial policy — and, to an extent, taste.

Tax evasion overall is a far larger problem in developing countries, where norms around paying taxes are weak and rules designed to stop such evasion are ineffective. And when wealthy Americans do want to evade taxes, they turn to Bermuda, or the Cayman Islands, or Singapore. They don’t park their money in Panama. [Continue reading…]

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American inquisition: Training teachers to extract confessions from their students

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Douglas Starr writes: About a year and a half ago, Jessica Schneider was handed a flyer by one of her colleagues in the child-advocacy community. It advertised a training session, offered under the auspices of the Illinois Principals Association (I.P.A.), in how to interrogate students. Specifically, teachers and school administrators would be taught an abbreviated version of the Reid Technique, which is used across the country by police officers, private-security personnel, insurance-fraud investigators, and other people for whom getting at the truth is part of the job. Schneider, who is a staff attorney at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, was alarmed. She knew that some psychologists and jurists have characterized the technique as coercive and liable to produce false confessions — especially when used with juveniles, who are highly suggestible. When she expressed her concerns to Brian Schwartz, the I.P.A.’s general counsel, he said that the association had been offering Reid training for many years and found it both popular and benign. To prove it, he invited Schneider to attend a session in January of 2015.

The training was led by Joseph Buckley, the president of John E. Reid and Associates, which is based in Chicago. Like the adult version of the Reid Technique, the school version involves three basic parts: an investigative component, in which you gather evidence; a behavioral analysis, in which you interview a suspect to determine whether he or she is lying; and a nine-step interrogation, a nonviolent but psychologically rigorous process that is designed, according to Reid’s workbook, “to obtain an admission of guilt.” Most of the I.P.A. session, Schneider told me, focussed on behavioral analysis. Buckley described to trainees how patterns of body language — including slumping, failing to look directly at the interviewer, offering “evasive” responses, and showing generally “guarded” behaviors — could supposedly reveal whether a suspect was lying. (Some of the cues were downright mythological — like, for instance, the idea that individuals look left when recalling the truth and right when trying to fabricate.) Several times during the session, Buckley showed videos of interrogations involving serious crimes, such as murder, theft, and rape. None of the videos portrayed young people being questioned for typical school misbehavior, nor did any of the Reid teaching materials refer to “students” or “kids.” They were always “suspects” or “subjects.”

Laura Nirider, a professor of law at Northwestern University and the project director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, attended the same session as Schneider. She told me that about sixty people were there. “Everybody was on the edge of their seat: ‘So this is how we can learn to get the drop on little Billy for writing graffiti on the underside of the lunchroom table,’” she said. One vice-principal told Nirider that the first thing he does when he interrogates students is take away their cell phones, “so they can’t call their mothers.” [Continue reading…]

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Earthquakes caused by oil drillers place 7 million Americans at risk

Grist reports: Earthquake risk is on the rise, and we mostly have ourselves to blame — or, more specifically, the oil and gas industry.

In a new report, the U.S. Geological Survey maps out earthquake hazards for the coming year, and for the first time, its assessment includes the risk of human-induced earthquakes. There’s now so much earthquake activity caused by the oil industry injecting wastewater underground that 7 million Americans in the central and eastern U.S. are at risk of experiencing a damaging tremor this year.

In parts of north-central Oklahoma and southern Kansas, the risk of dangerous shaking is now about 5–12 percent per year — a riskiness on par with traditionally earthquake-prone California. The difference, of course, is that the Californian quakes as we currently understand them mostly stem from natural processes.

Fracking itself is not to blame for the increased earthquake risk, USGS says. Rather, it’s the oil and gas industry’s disposal of wastewater that can cause problems. Sometimes that wastewater is the result of fracking, and sometimes it’s the result of traditional drilling processes. After water is pumped into the earth to help extract oil and gas, it comes back up polluted, salty, and altogether undrinkable. To keep it away from people and other critters, it’s often injected back into the earth into deeper formations (below the aquifers we tap for drinking water). This kind of injection can lead to increased pressure at fault zones, which can cause the kind of slippage associated with earthquakes. [Continue reading…]

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Thomas Frank: The inequality sweepstakes

Reading Thomas Frank’s new book, Listen, Liberal, or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?, I was reminded of the snapshot that Oxfam offered us early this year: 62 billionaires now have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the global population, while the richest 1% own more than the other 99% combined. And in case you’re wondering in which direction inequality is trending on Planet Earth, note that in 2010, it took 388 of the super-rich to equal the holdings of that bottom 50%. At this rate in the inequality sweepstakes, by 2030, just the top 10 billionaires might do the trick. Let me just add that, as Frank makes clear in his brilliant new work, Donald Trump doesn’t have to win the presidency for billionaires to stand triumphant on the American part of our planet. Hillary Clinton will do just fine, thank you.

Listen, Liberal is, in a sense, a history of how, from the Clintonesque 1990s on, the Democratic Party managed to ditch the working class (hello, Donald Trump!) and its New Deal tradition, throw its support behind a rising “professional” and technocratic class, and go gaga over Wall Street and those billionaires to come. In the process, its leaders fell in love with Goldman Sachs and every miserable trade pact that hit town, led the way in deregulating the financial system, and helped launch what Frank terms “the greatest wave of insider looting ever seen”; the party, that is, went Silicon Valley and left Flint, Michigan, to the Republicans.  Only a few years after Bill Clinton vacated the Oval Office the financial system he and his team had played such a role in deregulating had to be rescued, lock, stock, and barrel from ultimate collapse. Quite a record all in all. Put another way, as Frank makes clear, in these years the Democrats (with obvious exceptions) became a more or less traditional Republican party. And if the Democrats are now the party of inequality, then what in the world are the Republicans? Don’t even get me started on the cliff that crew walked off of.

In the following post, adapted from his new book, Frank does a typically brainy thing. Since we’ve all heard for years about how the Democrats have been stopped from truly pursuing their political program by Republican experts in political paralysis, he turns to a rare set of places where, in fact, the Republicans were incapable of getting in the way and… well, let him tell the story. Tom Engelhardt

The blue state model
How the Democrats created a “liberalism of the rich”
By Thomas Frank

[This piece has been adapted from Thomas Frank’s new book, Listen, Liberal, or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (Metropolitan Books).]

When you press Democrats on their uninspiring deeds — their lousy free trade deals, for example, or their flaccid response to Wall Street misbehavior — when you press them on any of these things, they automatically reply that this is the best anyone could have done. After all, they had to deal with those awful Republicans, and those awful Republicans wouldn’t let the really good stuff get through. They filibustered in the Senate. They gerrymandered the congressional districts. And besides, change takes a long time. Surely you don’t think the tepid-to-lukewarm things Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have done in Washington really represent the fiery Democratic soul.

So let’s go to a place that does. Let’s choose a locale where Democratic rule is virtually unopposed, a place where Republican obstruction and sabotage can’t taint the experiment.

[Read more…]

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Google search technique aided N.Y. dam hacker in Iran

The Wall Street Journal reports: An Iranian charged with hacking the computer system that controlled a New York dam used a readily available Google search process to identify the vulnerable system, according to people familiar with the federal investigation.

The process, known as “Google dorking,” isn’t as simple as an ordinary online search. Yet anyone with a computer and Internet access can perform it with a few special techniques. Federal authorities say it is increasingly used by hackers to identify computer vulnerabilities throughout the U.S.

Hamid Firoozi, who was charged Thursday by federal prosecutors, stumbled onto the Bowman Avenue Dam in Rye Brook, N.Y., in 2013 by using the technique to identify an unprotected computer that controlled the dam’s sluice gates and other functions, said people briefed on the investigation. Once he identified the dam, he allegedly hacked his way in using other methods.

“He was just trolling around, and Google-dorked his way onto the dam,” one person familiar with the investigation said.

The search technique has been around for about 10 years, said cybersecurity experts, and is neither illegal nor always malicious. It is primarily used by “white hat hackers,” computer specialists who test an organization’s computer system for vulnerabilities, said Michael Bazzell, a former computer crime investigator for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. [Continue reading…]

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‘A tipping point’: Record number of Americans see global warming as threat

The Guardian reports: A record number of Americans believe global warming will pose a threat to their way of life, new polling data shows, amid strengthening public acceptance that rising temperatures are being driven by human activity.

“I think a shift in public opinion and consciousness has been underway for several years now,” Michael Mann, a prominent climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, told the Guardian.

A spokesman for 350 Action, the political arm of climate activist group 350.org, said meanwhile that politicians who cast doubt on climate science would soon have to take such polling into account. Republicans, he said, “are going to be screwed if they don’t change their tune”.

Polling firm Gallup, which has been tracking public sentiment on the topic annually since 1997, found that 41% of US adults feel warming will pose a “serious threat” to them during their lifetimes. This is the highest level recorded by Gallup, a 4% increase on 2015. [Continue reading…]

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Oil revenue collapse may mean ISIS reliant on Gulf funds, UK inquiry is told

The Guardian reports: A collapse in oil revenues available to Islamic State is likely to have made it increasingly dependent on donations from wealthy Gulf states and profits from foreign exchange markets, the first UK inquiry into the terror group’s funding has heard.

Attacks by the US-led coalition on Isis’s oil installations and convoys are believed to have reduced its oil revenues by more than a third as the funding of the group becomes one of the central fronts in the battle to defeat it in Syria and Iraq.

The government is reluctant to cooperate with the Commons foreign affairs select committee inquiry and has barred the key Ministry of Defence official overseeing efforts to undermine Isis’s funding from giving evidence.

But the Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood said progress was being made, even though knowledge of the group’s opaque finances was sketchy and dependent on intelligence finds.

He asserted that the regime’s oil revenue was collapsing and even suggested the group’s Syrian headquarters in Raqqa could implode if and when the Iraqi army retakes Mosul.

But experts have told the committee the UK government may be vastly over-estimating the importance of oil revenue, and underestimating the extent to which Isis is reliant on foreign donors in the Gulf or its manipulation of the Iraqi banking system.

Luay al-Khatteeb from the Iraq Energy Institute claimed the cost of waging war for Isis must be so high, and its oil revenues now so limited, that it must be accessing large-scale donations. [Continue reading…]

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Police homicides in the United States

Patrick Ball writes: Americans are afraid of many threats to their lives – serial killers, crazed gunmen, gang bangers, and above all terrorists – but these threats are surprisingly unlikely. Approximately three-quarters of all homicide victims in America are killed by someone they know. And the real threat from strangers is quite different from what most fear: one-third of all Americans killed by strangers are killed by police.

This is the story of the hidden numbers of police homicides in the United States. The killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Walter Scott have increased the world’s attention to US police violence, yet most Americans underestimate the threat posed by the people charged with keeping them safe.

Let’s turn to the facts.

There is no national registry of civilians killed by police and corrections officers in the United States. Several states, including Texas, Connecticut and California, maintain complete records, but in most parts of the United States, local law enforcement chooses whether to report officer-involved homicides to the federal government. The lack of systematic data poses a challenge both for those who wish to hold police accountable for their actions and for those who want to propose reform measures to reduce police violence. How many killings are committed by police? [Continue reading…]

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