Vasquez testified in federal court in the case of a former inmate, Ernesto Lira, who was gang validated in part based on a drawing that included an image of the huelga bird, the symbol of the United Farm Workers. While the image has been co-opted by the Nuestra Familia prison gang, Vasquez testified that it is “a popular symbol widely used in Hispanic culture and by California farmworkers.” Lira’s validation was one of a handful to ever be reversed in federal court—though not until after he was released on parole, having spent eight years in the SHU. And though the court ruled that the huelga bird is of “obscure and ambiguous meaning,” it continues to be used as validation evidence.
Gang evidence comes in countless forms. Possession of Machiavelli’s The Prince, Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power, or Sun Tzu’s The Art of War has been invoked as evidence. One inmate’s validation includes a Christmas card with stars drawn on it—alleged gang symbols—among Hershey’s Kisses and a candy cane. Another included a poetry booklet the inmate had coauthored with a validated BGF member. One poem reflected on what it was like to feel human touch after 14 years and another warned against spreading HIV. The only reference to violence was the line, “this senseless dying gotta end.
While violent terrorism is undoubtedly real, it is worth restating a few basic statistical facts about the level of threat it poses to the average American. In their 2010 report for Foreign Affairs, John Mueller and Mark G Stewart constructed a comparative analysis of terrorism compared to other potential causes of death to Americans. What the results showed was that the average American on an annual basis is more likely to be killed by one of their home appliances, drowning in a bathtub, or in a car accident involving a deer, than they are to be killed in a terrorist attack. This is to say nothing of the threat of ordinary violent crime, which poses a greater threat by several orders of magnitude than that of terrorist violence and continues to churn on at an industrial scale throughout the country.
Nevertheless, due in large part to unbalanced and sensationalist media coverage, Americans have been more willing to part with their rights and freedoms in response to perceived threats from terrorism than they have from violent crime - the latter of which receives proportionately scant media attention. Viewed in this light it is easier to reconcile how tens of thousands of gun deaths a year can be taken in stride as “the price of freedom”, while a single bombing can prompt calls for the suspension of the once-cherished civil liberties granted to citizens by the American Constitution.
Gun show background checks are pretty universally popular in New Hampshire…and Kelly Ayotte is facing some serious backlash from voters in the state for voting against them last week.
Ayotte now has a negative approval rating with 44% of voters giving her good marks and 46% disapproving. That’s down a net 15 points from the last time we polled on her, in October, when she had a 48% approval with 35% disapproving. 75% of New Hampshire voters- including 95% of Democrats, 74% of independents, and 56% of Republicans- say they support background checks. And 50% of voters in the state say Ayotte’s ‘no’ vote will make them less likely to support her in a future election, compared to just 23% who consider it to be a positive.
If you think the death penalty is a just response to murder or important to provide victims’ families with closure, then trying to limit it to a small number of multiple murders makes no sense. Why does taking one life not merit death, while taking two, three, or any other arbitrary number does? Why is the pain of one victim’s family any less important to address than the pain of families whose loved one was part of a multiple murder? There are many families that deserve the satisfaction of knowing their loved one’s murderer received society’s stiffest sanction for their crime, and it’s far from clear that the death penalty fills that need better than life without parole — indeed, it may even prolong a families’ grief. Yet the moment we say one victim, or set of victims, must be avenged by death, we lose the ability to consistently limit the death penalty’s application to rare cases — and the uncertainty and arbitrariness that plagues capital sentencing generally comes flooding back. When life without parole is the harshest penalty our courts dole out, such a sentence will stamp everyone who receives it as among the very worst criminals without opening the door to an unjust and unconstitutional policy.
So the death penalty is arbitrary. It discriminates on the basis of race and income. It kills the innocent. It is unconstitutional. And it may even deepen the wounds of families already grieving from the most terrible tragedy imaginable.
What about capital punishment being a futile act? How restorative is it?
My first reaction on hearing of the Senate’s failure to get 60 votes for even modest measures to regulate the flow of guns into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, such as background checks supported by 90 percent of Americans, was to be furious at the spinelessness of the four Senate Democrats who voted against the measure (Mark Begich, Max Baucus, Mark Pryor, and Heidi Heitkamp), as well as the Republicans. And also with Harry Reid, who wouldn’t lead the fight on changing the filibuster rule when he had the chance.
The deeper message here is that rural, older, white America occupies one land; younger, urban, increasingly non-white America lives in another — and the dividing line on social issues (not just guns, but abortion, equal marriage rights, and immigration reform) runs between the two. Begich, Baucus, Pryor, and Heitkamp may be Democrats but they’re also from rural, older, white America. That land has disproportionate political power in the Senate, and a gerrymandered House — which may not bode well for immigration reform over the next few months, and suggests continuing battles over “state’s rights” to determine who can marry and when human life begins.
Over time, though, older, rural, white America is losing ground to a nation becoming ever younger, more urban, and increasingly non-white — a fact that threatens the former so much that it’s in full backlash against the forces of change.