Nothing good can happen when people fear the other

We cannot come together, if we fear each other. Our democracy is doomed unless we overcome fear. Here’s an interview of Marilynne Robinson conducted by our president, Barack Obama. From billmoyers.com,

When Barack Obama sits down for an interview, he’s usually the one answering the questions. But he’s had a hankering to turn the tables lately, and so, last month, the president spoke with his first interview subject: Marilynne Robinson, author of Housekeeping, Gilead, Home, and the 2014 National Book Award finalist Lila. At the start of the interview, which was published in print and as a podcast by the NY Review of Books, Obama tells Robinson that he chose her to talk with because he’s been a fan of her work since reading Gilead, a book set in Iowa, while campaigning in the state prior to the 2008 election. He first met Robinson when he presented her with the National Medal of the Humanities in 2012, and they have remained in touch ever since.

Here’s a link to the print version of the interview that he conducted in Des Moines, Iowa last month.

Here’s a link to the podcast, which is by subscription.

9 Responses to Nothing good can happen when people fear the other

  1. William Walton says:

    Prof, where does the April, 2015 SCOTUS ruling on traffic stops come into play in the Sandra Bland Case?

    • The case on point is Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 US 106, 98 S. Ct. 330, 54 L. Ed. 2d 331 (1977) in which the SCOTUS held that an officer can order a motorist to get out of the car, even if he lacks a reasonable suspicion to believe the driver is committing a crime. The Court said,

      The facts are not in dispute. While on routine patrol, two Philadelphia police officers observed respondent Harry Mimms driving an automobile with an expired license plate. The officers stopped the vehicle for the purpose of issuing a traffic summons. One of the officers approached and asked respondent to step out of the car and produce his owner’s card and operator’s license. Respondent alighted, whereupon the officer noticed a large bulge under respondent’s sports jacket. Fearing that the bulge might be a weapon, the officer frisked respondent and discovered in his waistband a .38-caliber revolver loaded with five rounds of ammunition. The other occupant of the car was carrying a .32-caliber revolver. Respondent was immediately arrested and subsequently indicted for carrying a concealed deadly weapon and for unlawfully carrying a firearm without a license. His motion to suppress the revolver was denied; and, after a trial at which the revolver was introduced into evidence, respondent was convicted on both counts.

      After noting that many officers have been killed by a motorist they stopped, the Court said,

      The hazard of accidental injury from passing traffic to an officer standing on the driver’s side of the vehicle may also be appreciable in some situations. Rather than conversing while standing exposed to moving traffic, the officer prudently may prefer to ask the driver of the vehicle to step out of the car and off onto the shoulder of the road where the inquiry may be pursued with greater safety to both.

      Against this important interest we are asked to weigh the intrusion into the driver’s personal liberty occasioned not by the initial stop of the vehicle, which was admittedly justified, but by the order to get out of the car. We think this additional intrusion can only be described as de minimis. The driver is being asked to expose to view very little more of his person than is already exposed. The police have already lawfully decided that the driver shall be briefly detained; the only question is whether he shall spend that period sitting in the driver’s seat of his car or standing alongside it. Not only is the insistence of the police on the latter choice not a “serious intrusion upon the sanctity of the person,” but it hardly rises to the level of a “`petty indignity.'” Terry v. Ohio, supra, at 17. What is at most a mere inconvenience cannot prevail when balanced against legitimate concerns for the officer’s safety.

      Rodriguez v. United States (decided 4/21/2015) may be the case you’re thinking about. It involved a length of detention issue. The Court held that the officer unreasonably delayed the motorist he had lawfully stopped for 7-8 minutes (after issuing the citation) for a backup officer to arrive and take over so that he could retrieve his K9 from his vehicle to do a dog sniff. The Court said,

      Officer Struble, a K–9 officer, stopped petitioner Rodriguez for driving on a highway shoulder, a violation of Nebraska law. After Struble attended to everything relating to the stop, including, inter alia, checking the driver’s licenses of Rodriguez and his passenger and issuing a warning for the traffic offense, he asked Rodriguez for permission to walk his dog around the vehicle. When Rodriguez refused, Struble detained him until a second officer arrived. Struble then retrieved his dog, who alerted to the presence of drugs in the vehicle. The ensuing search revealed methamphetamine. Seven or eight minutes elapsed from the time Struble issued the written warning until the dog alerted.

      The Court held that absent reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures.

      Trooper Encinia had not handed the warning citation to Sandra Bland, so the contact probably would have been deemed to still be ongoing. Therefore, he could order her to get out of the car. When she refused, he had a lawful basis to arrest her for resisting arrest under Texas law. Therefore, she likely would have lost her legal argument pursuant to Mimms. See this link for a more detailed analysis.

      I have to say that I disagree with Mimms and have previously argued at Firedoglake that he had no lawful authority to order her to get out of the car. After rereading Mimms, however, I think I was mistaken.

      If only he had already given her the warning citation . . .

  2. William Walton says:

    I think Obama has done well for the nation. Prof, what is your legal opinion on the Sandra Bland case. I read the autopsy report and could only think that my Dad would turn over in his grave with the comment from the Waller County, Texas DA’s office that the autopsy was ineffective. Dad being involved in General Medicine, General Surgery, and Trauma Surgery was called upon to consult on many an autopsy. I have heard him say that an autopsy was screwed up but never heard him use the term of ineffective autopsy. Might want to look at Dr. Wecht’s comment on the autopsy and his professional opinion on what caused Sandra Bland’s death.

    • I listened to a podcast interview of Dr. Wecht who said,

      1. An execution by hanging causes physical damage to the spinal column and the soft tissue. The cause of death typically is not asphyxiation. It’s blunt trauma to the neck severing the spinal cord.

      2. A suicide by leaning forward into a ligature causes death by asphyxiation and leaves little or no internal damage. The ligature marks the skin with a furrow, but it’s not a complete circle. The back side of the neck usually has no mark and the ends along the sides trend upward toward wherever the rope or cord is attached.

      3. Death by epileptic seizure is difficult to detect because it leaves no sign of damage to the brain. Usually reserved for deaths where every other cause is ruled out and the deceased had a seizure disorder or was known to have suffered seizures.

      4. Concussions are also difficult to detect. Based on the audio, he believes she may have suffered a concussion when thrown to the ground and that might have caused a seizure and hearing loss.

      5. He was very disturbed by the information that green vegetable matter was still embedded in her back because it meant that the jail did not permit her shower before dressing her out. He thought the arrest and physical assault was barbaric.

      6. No marijuana would have been detected in her blood after 3 days (not sure I agree with this point).

      7. Petechiae might or might not be present in cases of self-asphyxiation.

      8. If she reported suicidal thoughts, the jail should have monitored her on video with a five-minute suicide watch, which they apparently did not do.

      He did not rule out the possibility that she might have died from a seizure caused by a combination of the physical trauma of the arrest and the jail’s refusal to let her keep her anti-seizure medication. In other words, jail personnel might have staged the scene to look like she committed suicide. However, based on the limited information available, he couldn’t reach a conclusion.

      With the possible exception of his opinion about not being able to detect canabinoids in blood three days after ingestion, I agree with everything he said.

      This case stinks.

      • Malisha says:

        There should be a complete “psychiatric autopsy” to address specifically the notion that she committed suicide. There are such things. In fact, considering the life history of Sandra Bland and the fact that she would have been quite likely to sue the police department after she got out of jail (her bond being so low that her emergence from the jail was imminent) I will bet that the police would have had to answer for the inappropriate arrest, etc. This makes it quite possible that they deliberately killed her and staged her death, or negligently allowed her to die from a seizure while incarcerated and then staged her “suicide,” just to eliminate her as a witness in a damn big civil rights suit against them.

        “Kill the witness” after “abuse the profiled victim” is a police tactic that cannot be ruled out in this case.

      • According to the source I read, the result of the second autopsy, which was arranged and paid for by the family, has not been released to the public.

        There is an indication that she may have attempted suicide in the past. She had parallel scarring tissue lengthwise on her forearm, possibly indicating cutting behavior or a suicide attempt(s). Whomever screened her at the jail should have noticed that and taken appropriate action, such as placing her on a suicide watch. Definitely so, if she had mentioned feeling suicidal.

        • gblock says:

          The scarring is a somewhat tricky issue in a psychological autopsy. Many people engage in cutting behavior over a lonb period of time without a suicide attempt, by keeping the cuts shallow enough to not be life-threatening. Still, I agree with you that this should have been a red flag warranting a suicide watch.

  3. I love Obama – what an amazing mind. Those who fear and hate him are nuts.

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