Time to Kill the Term ‘Officer-Involved Shooting’

(Published on the Huffington Post, May 26, 2015)

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If you subscribe to the Facebook page of the organization “Killed by Police“, you will receive a depressing parade of daily updates on police shootings. This litany of posts drives home the fact that the police in the U.S. kill several people a day on average. But one will also notice that the media typically reports these killings as “office-involved shootings.”

Why has the media taken to reporting the shooting and killing of people by law enforcement this way? It is dangerously misleading. Moreover, it is not just the headline that employs such ambiguous language. Typically, the report goes on to explain that the person “died” as a result of the “officer-involved shooting.” This use of such euphemistic language to describe an incident in which an organ of the state has killed a citizen is not only bizarre, it should alarm us. As Orwell so eloquently explained in such essays as “Politics and the English Language” and “Writers and Leviathan,” such deliberately misleading and opaque use of language can pose a danger to the fabric of democracy. If we do not write clearly about our political system and public institutions, we will cease to think very clearly about them too. … Read more…

The Morality of Opposing Release of GITMO Detainees

(Cross-posted on Tumblr, Jan. 15, 2015)

It was announced this week that a number of Republicans, Senator McCain prominent among them, are seeking to pass legislation to prohibit further releases. The Paris attack last week is being used as a pretext. The specter of detainees “returning to the battlefield” and engaging in new acts of terrorism is the primary argument.

It was announced just today that five more detainees were released from Guantanamo Bay, some 6 years after they were cleared for release by an inter-agency review, and as much as 13 years after they were initially detained. The majority of detainees still at Guantanamo Bay are not terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda or any other terrorist organization, and of course have not been charged with any crime. But Republicans want to ensure their continued and indefinite detention. … Read more…

The Kansas Education Funding Case and Constitutional Democracy

(Co-authored with John Rury, Professor of Education at the University of Kansas – published in the Huffington Post, Jan. 16, 2015).

brown-v.-Board2The ongoing debate in Kansas over school funding is important not only for the state’s education policy, but also for how we think about our democracy. Controversy was rekindled at the end of December when a three judge panel of the District Court in Shawnee County issued a judgment declaring the legislature’s current funding formula inconsistent with the Kansas Constitution. The panel noted that the formula was both inadequate and inequitable, and that as much as $802 million in additional resources for public education could be required for the legislature to meet its constitutional obligations.

Echoing other Republican legislators and conservative pundits, Senator Steven Fitzgerald of Leavenworth was quoted in the Kansas City Star describing the ruling as “terrible,” adding “people who voted for their representatives aren’t going to be too happy with the unelected judges saying their money has to go more into the schools.” This suggests that courts should be subordinate to the majoritarian legislature, which in turn should have complete discretion over how, or even whether, to fund education for everyone.

But this argument misapprehends the nature of constitutional democracy. As conceived since the nation’s founding, constitutions are understood to provide the legal framework for democratic government, distribute political authority among its branches, enshrine rights, and lay out the fundamental values and principles by which to live for generations to come. Given this, other laws and government action must be consistent with the constitution, or be deemed invalid. … Read more…

Boston and the Dangerous Calls for “Enemy Combatant” Status

(Published in the Huffington Post,  Apr. 30, 2013, and The Truman Doctrine blog, Apr. 30, 2013)

The Obama Administration announced last week that it would prosecute Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the Federal criminal justice system. This should have been unremarkable, but it came amidst a cacophony of voices demanding that Tzarnaev be classified and treated as an “enemy combatant.” There were calls to similarly classify the Christmas day bomber, the Times Square bomber, and several other terrorist suspects captured in the United States. Such claims have no legal validity, and are indeed dangerous.

The calls for “enemy combatant” status not only came from various so-called pundits on Fox News and the like, but also from more serious quarters. Senator Lindsey Graham criticized the administration, arguing that Tsarnaev should be classified as an “enemy combatant” under the law of armed conflict for the purposes of extracting intelligence.

Alberto Gonzales, former White House in the Bush administration stated in an interview last week that “nothing prevents the President from deciding: ‘This isn’t working, it’s not going the way we hoped it would go, so I’m pulling him out of the criminal justice system and I’m designating him an enemy combatant.'” … Read more…