Friday, April 26, 2013

Spier beware: Is the Mesa PD's new snitch app actually spying on you?

Is the new Mesa Police Department's new mobile app spying on the very "good citizens" it purports to gather tips from?  If the permissions section of the Android download page is to be believed, it very likely is.  But just how it might be spying on you depends on which app you download, and it's not clear from the cops' webpage which one you're getting.

The MPD announced the other day that they have a new app for taking tips on crime in Mesa, paid for with funds raised through RICO seizures.  Interestingly, clicking on the Android link on their website actually takes you to an application called TipSubmit.  If you are foolish enough to download it, not only does the program track your location very specifically, but it also has full access to the camera on your phone, which it can use "at any time without your confirmation."  Quite disturbing.

But if you go to Google Play, however, and do a manual search for "mesa police Arizona", what you get is a link to a different app, presumably the new one.  Of course, this one, too, has access to your location, but it also has the ability "to call phone numbers without your intervention".

A search for that specific permission brought up a Geek Squad article titled "How to spot a bad Android smartphone application",  which labeled the ability to directly call phone numbers as "[v]ery suspicious".  Indeed, the app itself notes in its own description that this permission "doesn't allow the app to call emergency numbers" -- ironically probably one of the main functions one would expect from such an app.  So who is it calling?  And what does it need those numbers for?  Does this power extend to turning on the microphone?  Certainly, this ought to give any potential user pause before downloading.  Apparently the Mesa PD didn't think these issues were important enough to address in their press conference -- or maybe no reporter thought to ask them.  Certainly users deserve to know.

The Mesa PD has been quite purposeful in its adoption of policing technology over the last few years, recognizing it as a potential force multiplier in its war on the poor.  In a recent Fox 10 article, Chief Frank Milstead said, "We're a very lean department so we have to use technology to make up for deficiency in staff."  At the same press conference in which he rolled out the new snitch app, he likewise touted the MPD's new mobile identification system and on the spot ticketing system.

Clearly the Mesa PD is dedicated to the 1984-ification of policing, and their new snitch app should be seen in this light.  It masquerades as a tool for making everyone safe, but it's really just yet another Big Brother weapon in their arsenal -- an arsenal that is aimed squarely at us.  It's not intended to make us safer, it's meant to make us more easily controlled, to sow the seeds of distrust and turn us against each other.  To turn us all into potential snitches.

What's more, these police apps bombard us with crime news from our neighborhood and city.  Mesa PD's app promises a paranoia-inducing "crime maps" feature, in which we can  "[v]iew real-time crime maps of activities in your neighborhood or across the city. Explore the details behind the crimes."

Chief Milstead put it this way: "People accusing us of misuse of force. I think our officers are safer because people realize they're on video and they're actually being held accountable by videotape for their actions."  In a January interview, Mesa PD Sgt. Tony Landato described the application of their new fingerprint system.  He said, “Our officers stopped a subject who matched the description who was acting very suspicious. ... We ran his fingerprint. It was not our suspect in the domestic violence. It was a homicide suspect.”  They arrested him.  He had been caught in a very wide virtual and physical dragnet.

The Mesa PD wants to watch us at all times, and it's not about making us safer.  In their unblinking eyes, we are all suspects, especially if we are poor or if we're not white.  We're all suspicious in their eyes.  And where gaps in their surveillance exist, they expect us to do the work for them.  Milstead summed it up in a recent NPR interview: “If we don’t use the public’s eyes to help not only to report crime but to help solve crime, we’re going to miss things."  This app is meant to fill in those gaps by reporting on everyone.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The joke's on us: Phoenix cop mocks Olympic athlete, the mentally ill, and wins gold medal in anti-black racism

Police Humor

You'd think in this day and age of internet hacks and data dumps (like, for instance, the one that targeted DPS in 2011), police would have their online information on lock down.  And you'd think, considering the various instances in which these leaks compromised what cops deem important and secret information, and also pointed to ongoing police racism, any officer who didn't have their personal accounts set to private would be very careful about their public posting.  However, if you thought that, you'd be wrong.

In fact, it turns out a casual virtual stroll through the Twitter hashtag #phoenixpd reveals quite a bit of interesting material thanks to one user, @Yuli8987, a Phoenix police officer out of the Maryvale precinct.   @Yuli8987, who a simple Google search reveals to be Officer Yuliana Sobarzo, gave anyone with even a basic understanding of Twitter a glimpse into the life of a cop.

A life which happens to include a casual racist joke comparing highly accomplished Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt to an "escaped prisoner" from county hospital, as well as insulting commentary on proper courtroom attire, the role of divine intervention in our court system, remarks about the out of date hair styles of other cops and some disturbing photos that should give pause to anyone concerned with the increasing militarization of the police in the Valley.

In the above exchange, Officer Sobarzo posted out the photo above.  She tags it with #phoenixpd for some reason, which certainly begs the question of where it was taken and who was the intended audience?  Was the picture taken inside the Maryvale police station, or maybe at the county hospital?  Does it reflect the attitude of Phoenix cops in the Maryvale precinct towards the people in that part of the city?  Is it racist?  It certainly seems so.  At the least, residents of the city deserve an answer as to what message this photo is intended to send.

Indeed, a couple weeks after Officer Sobarzo posted out the picture it elicited a stunned response from another twitter user, who admonished the officer that the photo was offensive and that she ought to "be ashamed of [her]self" for posting it.  "SMMFH", she adds.  The usually loquacious cop failed to respond, but she also didn't take the image down, leaving the obvious impression that she condoned it.

To be clear, comparing Bolt to an escaped prisoner from a mental hospital not only carries the obvious racist connotations about black men and criminality, but it also makes reference to the past racist medicalization of black resistance to white racism  Bolt being a runner, the farce of drapetomania comes to mind immediately, a "medical" diagnosis of mental illness that Southern doctors invented to explain the mysterious tendency of black slaves to try to run away.  It's possible  that Officer Sobarzo doesn't know this bit of history, but in a country that still massively and disproportionately targets and imprisons black men it's worth pointing out.  One doesn't have to know the history of racism to perpetuate racism, and while the institution may have changed, the function has not.

Besides sharing that pic, Officer Sobarzo, who's very religious judging by her tweets, also dishes out advice to women in court, defendants presumably, mocking their attire.

 And here noting the hand of God in the court room.

And here making fun of a fellow cop's hair style.

But it's here with these last couple of images that the joke, such that it is, wears off and we get a disturbing look at another aspect of modern policing.  Officer Sobarzo shared a photo of someone (we assume it's her) holding a loaded magazine with what looks like an AR15 in the background.  Accompanying it is the text "It's a dirty job.... but someone's gotta do it" below it, followed by an enthusiastic emoticon to emphasize its irony.

Then, consider the following photo which shows someone, presumably Officer Sobarzo, holding a hat sporting the Pipe Hitters Union logo (see it for sale here), which features a crusader's shield emblazoned with a skull and crossbones.  Embroidered on the back of the hat is the phrase, "OUR MEETING IS NO ACCIDENT, IT IS GODS WILL [sic]".  Such phrasing and imagery reeks of a judge, jury and executioner attitude.

The Pipe Hitters Union online store describes their mission this way:  "We started 'Pipe Hitters Union' in 2004 as an informal way for all those who live the Warrior lifestyle to show their unification. All of our products are designed to represent the Warrior Attitude and Lifestyle."  Pipe Hitters is slang for  "Someone or a group of people who are willing to go to the extreme in order to get things accomplished." The Urban Dictionary offers this complementary definition: 'A serious thug - Dedicated, professional and highly capable of "gettin' medieval on yo' ass" in highly unique and creative ways, from urban combat to hands-on work.'

The PHU is popular with law enforcement and special forces, two groups that intermingle more and more these days.  So in an era in which the police are increasingly militarized, and staffed by former soldiers, this kind of crusader, take-no-prisoners and go to any length to accomplish the mission attitude is deeply troubling, and even more so when combined with Christian imagery.  For anyone with any doubts about the practical implications of this, last weekend's spree of killings by Valley police officers ought to be proof enough.  Considering that 4 of the 5 people who were directly or indirectly killed by Valley officers last weekend died at the hands of Phoenix cops, does that sound like the kind of image that the Phoenix Police and Chief Garcia want to present?

It's yet another example of the logic, methods and style of the "War On Terror" coming home to roost in our neighborhoods -- poor and nonwhite neighborhoods in particular -- where the domestic version of the War on Terror, the War On Crime, takes place.  These are parts of the city, like Maryvale, where the adversarial command and control nature of policing is no surprise.

In fact, it's all summed up by the PHU's own motto, "The World Is A Battlefield, Dress Accordingly".  Is this the way we want police to look at the neighborhoods they work in and the people they allege to serve?  A worldview in which, for example, a highly accomplished gold medal athlete is reduced in the eyes of police to a racist caricature of an escaped mental patient?  Not to mention the "us vs. them" orientation that it describes, an attitude that evokes the specter of the worst of the the Blue Code of Silence, where officers defend each other above all else, including refusing to rat each other out for breaking the law.  This kind of disposition among police isn't a positive sign for the general public's interactions with the Phoenix PD, especially for a police force asserting its desire to reform and clean up its image.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

In Brief: Immigration Reform and 24/7 Drones on the Border

If there was one thing it could be counted on to expect from the latest Immigration Reform effort, it's this: Congress was not going to hold back on the money for border security.  The Reform bill allocates $6.5 billion dollars for further militarization of the US border with Mexico, including provisions for 24/7 drone flights, improved radio and communication between law enforcement agencies, more horses and helicopters for the Border Patrol, new systems to track all workers and people leaving the country, and eventually a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States.  Whether or not the bills passes it can be expected that Republicans will continue to demand "security before amnesty" and the Democrats will proceed to oblige them.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Goldwater Institute complains that too many poor people and retirees are getting exercise in Gilbert thanks to communist-fascist-socialist-Hitlerite-Stalinism

The free market fetishists and rich-bastard-apologists at the Goldwater Institute have gotten their gold-embroidered underwear in a bunch over a city-owned gym and recreation center in Gilbert.  Are you surprised?  Do they seem like people who know how to have fun?

Like any average group of market psychopaths, they're offended that poor and working class people are getting their exercise at a cheaper than market rate.  In a world where the rule is that the poor pay more, the Goldwater Institute are the enforcers.  I suppose they figure us poor and working class people get enough exercise as it is thanks to our daily regimen of running from cops, struggling to pay the bills and those bootstrap pullups we do all day at our miserable, low-paying jobs (if we can find one these days).  Toss that in with all the meals we skip and you can see why they think we're some hot shit.  Don't hate us because we're beautiful, guys.  Here's a newsflash: running when you're rich and running when you're poor look totally different to the cops.  Especially on Tatum and Doubletree.  Try it some time.  See how many calories you burn.

The infamously delusional and free market institute has filed a complaint with the city objecting to the public service.  Naturally, residents that live in the real world and who use the facility are baffled.
“I can’t believe it. Why are they picking on Gilbert?” asked Darwin Siegel, a Gilbert resident who uses the fitness center for thrice-weekly workouts. “It’s a needed function for low-income people, for older people on Social Security and people on assistance.”
The only fixed income the Goldwater Institute recognizes is the one that comes with an inheritance and a famous name.  In an article at AzCentral, Sharon Maiden makes the painfully obvious point: “Private gyms get plenty of people who can pay for those types of facilities. [Those] gyms don’t cater to the senior citizens nor do they encourage attendance by children.”  Working people, of course, famously don't tend to have the money to hire nannies to take care of their kids while they work out.  They're much more likely to be nannies, it turns out.

Still, the city council seems a bit confused about how to respond.  Several members are vocal supporters of the private enterprise mythology of the Goldwater Institute, a fantasy world where forcing people without money to pay more for things makes sense.  Former Councilwoman Linda Abbott describes them this way: "Some have stated that park land should be sold to developers and that libraries compete with bookstores and should be closed."  Libraries compete with bookstores?  Really?  You can check out as many books as you can afford, Jimmy.  Better go get a job in a sweatshop if you want to do any book learnin'!

Echoing that point, former Phoenix mayor Paul Johnson characterized the Goldwater Institute as “depressing” and “out of touch”.  Of similar complaints he encountered during his time in office from free market sadists fantasists who opposed the building of a city swimming pool, he remarked, “They said, ‘Mayor, if these kids want to swim, they ought to swim in their own backyard.’"  Now I'm no fan of politicians, but that reminds me of a famous Anatole France quote.

But let's get this straight, ok?  The argument they're making is that the city provides the service cheaper than private companies can, which when you get down to it means that these private companies can't provide the service at a price that poor and working class people can afford.  And this is messing with competition somehow?  Competition for what?  Services the private sector admits it can't and won't provide?

And beyond that, who says that everything in life has to conform to the demands of the market anyhow?  The market isn't some natural and inevitable force in life.  We all defy it every day.  We share our beers and cigarettes, we slack off at work, we give each other gifts, we cook for each other, we take care of loved ones and friends.  And what does the Goldwater Institute know about being poor?  Look them in the eye.  Do you think these Kierland Commons warriors know what life is like for the rest of us?  Raised on the mean streets of the Biltmore!

Still, it's worth noting that the Goldwater Institute has suggested they would be satisfied if the rec center, under threat of a bankrupting lawsuit in times of austerity, were merely privatized (so they could raise prices above what poor and working class users can pay) or dismantled and sold off to private interests piece by piece.  Just what distinguishes this from the looting and theft at the barrel of the gun that Goldwater hacks usually oppose isn't clear.  The main point, apparently, is that some rich bastard is going to get some exercise equipment on the cheap.  But why he would need it, given that he can afford a private gym membership?

But maybe there's one last appeal that can get through to the Goldwater privateers: think of the interns!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Valley cops go on a weekend killing spree: "We're all living in fear in our own homes." (UPDATE)

Cops kill with impunity this weekend in Phoenix

Valley police agencies went on a hell of a killing spree this weekend, shooting dead four five people (see update below) between Friday and Sunday morning.  Are there more still to come?

Following a police chase Friday, cops took a 54-year-old man into custody on the on ramp of 19th Avenue and I-10.  After they handcuffed him, "the suspect began to complain of being hot and not feeling well. Officers removed the suspect from the car and became concerned about his appearance and the way he was acting."  Paramedics showed up, and police further restrained him when he became delusional.  He went into cardiac arrest and died.

Then, in Mesa, cops trying to arrest a man on a warrant opened fire, killing him.  Officers aren't sure how many cops shot him or how many bullets were fired, but neighborhood residents were not happy.  One shocked woman described the chaotic and dangerous situation when police starting shooting, disregarding the safety of locals and their kids: "When they started shooting I ran outside to grab my children and we ran to the living and we sat down on the floor. We heard other gunshots go through our kitchen."

She went on to describe her frustration at ongoing reckless police behavior in her neighborhood, saying, "It's unsafe to be out of your house now because you don't know when the cops are just going to have a shootout with somebody. Where's the warning for us. We're all living in fear in our own homes."  Friends of the man killed described him as "a good person" and "a good friend" who was well-loved, but that he was depressed and didn't want to go back to jail.

Meanwhile, in Phoenix, police killed a man who they say pointed a gun at them.  Initial reports weren't so clear, saying that police merely "believed" he had a gun.  Media initially seemed content to leave it at that, as if the mere belief by officers was justification enough to kill someone.  Later, this news report phrased it a bit oddly, saying that the man "was seen grabbing something near his waistband before stepping out of the vehicle and pointing a gun at the officers", at which point cops opened up on him, killing him.

Finally, Sunday morning Phoenix cops responded to a call about a man damaging mail boxes and threatening neighbors.  Police say he refused their orders, grabbed them and picked up a table leg, at which point they shot and killed him.  Sounds like a proportionate response! 

In every case, cops have a convenient excuse for their murderous actions, but Valley cops have a dubious record at best when it comes to violence, so there is ample cause for skepticism, and accountability is near zero for cops that kill.  Take the recent case of 16 year-old Alexander Wilson as a prime example, although there are countless more. Is it really good for a society to have armed men who feel free to act as judge, jury and executioner on our streets?  Unfortunately, the media rarely asks critical questions, serving more often than not as a megaphone for their excuses and justifications.  This leaves it up to us to demand justice and investigate.

It's a sad commentary on the state of policing in Phoenix that I could have written a piece about a killing spree by Valley cops that took four lives and yet I still overlooked one.  Friday afternoon Phoenix police were serving a warrant in a business complex at 43rd and Olive.  According to to police (and as dutifully reported by the news), the man they were looking for "turned toward the officers and pulled out what officers perceived was a weapon", so they shot and killed him.

So, again, we see this pattern where the media treats police perception of a weapon as just as good as actually having a weapon.  And, of course, given the racist nature of policing, cops tend to perceive weapons more frequently when the target isn't white.  And in the era of cell phones, police have ample opportunity to misidentify a threat.  So that makes five people killed by Valley cops since Friday.  For a point of reference, Valley police killed more people than the Boston bombers did.  If this was done by anyone other than the police, the media would be going crazy.

Friends and family held a vigil for Travis Trisoliere Sunday, daring to stand up against the police and their unaccountable violence.  Trisoliere's mother vowed, "This is wrong. I'm not just going to sit back and let this go away. My son deserves better."

Julie Martinez denounced the police and the way their reckless behavior put herself and her children at risk.  Police bullets hit her house.  Her kids were outside playing at the time of the shooting.  Martinez told ABC15, "When I came to the window is when they let out the second round and hit here. So I went like this (ducks), 'cause I was scared and I yelled, and that's when I ran to the front door to get my kids."

Enough is enough.


A number of people attending the Phoenix New Times and KUKQ's annual "That Damn Show" punk festival took to social media on Saturday night to denounce the decision of the event organizers to allow a vendor with white pride and white power apparel to set up a booth and sell their items.

The show featured a national anti-racist punk rock act, and attendees of the show were angered by the presence of a vendor selling "white boy" t shirts with confederate flag and Nazi motifs. The Phoenix New Times has made a reputation over the last decade for it's coverage of the immigrant movement and the racist opposition aligned against it. So we join those who are wondering, "How did this happen, and does the New Times support this vendor's presence at their event?"

Friday, April 19, 2013

Did a wave of bomb threats disrupt AIMS testing this week?

AIMS testing was disrupted by a bomb threat at North High today.

As I wrote yesterday, it's AIMS week in Arizona and not many people are happy about it.  Not teachers, not students and not parents.  So, although the bomb threat is a pretty common way for kids to get out of class, it was a little suspicious when "a woman" called in a threat to Longview Elementary right in the middle of test week. I thought it was an interesting, if isolated event.

But news comes today of another bomb threat at a Valley school.  Police have given the all clear at North High School, but police locked down the school and moved the kids out of the classrooms and onto the football field (and eventually into the gym) as cops scoured the campus for a bomb.  None was found.  Channel 3 reports that "[t]oday is the last day of AIMS testing. It's not clear how the evacuation will affect Friday's testing schedule at North."

This made me a little curious, so I did a little checking.  I was wondering if these were just two isolated incidents now.  But, low and behold, yesterday Willcox schools were evacuated because of a bomb threat as well. Found scribbled on a dumpster by the Agriculture Building were the words "F*** wit us & the kids die Bomb in the school."

Whoever wrote the threat has trouble staying in the lines.

Cops searched for hours and eventually sent the kids home.  Today is a planned day off for the district but their posted schedule shows AIMS testing took place all week, and according to the Sierra Vista Herald, when they were sent home "[m]any of the students were in their fourth and final day of AIMS testing, and had just started the second test of the day."

So the question remains: is it just coincidence?  Or was this week witness to a wave of anti-AIMS bomb threats?  And with so many people against the test, it seems the potential suspect pool would be pretty deep.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The AIMS Test Bombs at Longview Elementary? (UPDATED)

Is it a mad garbage can bomber or an angry AIMS resistor?

Today brings news of a bomb threat at Longview Elementary in Phoenix.  According to cops, a woman called in a warning about a bomb in a garbage can.  The cops dutifully evacuated and searched the school, finding nothing.  Who could do such a thing?  Naturally, thoughts immediately go to this week's Boston Marathon bombing, and helicopter parents were quick to arrive at school to check on their precious little ones.  But with AIMS testing in full swing, and the growing movement of standardized test resistors, the roll call of potential faux bombers is too long to list.

Governor Brewer may have signed the repeal of the AIMS test, but that hasn't stopped thousands of Arizona students from having to take it this week, nor has it removed the pressure on teachers and administrators who have been promised threatened that next year the results from the test's replacement will count heavily against their future funding, pay and employment prospects.

And if you believe the hype, everyone's swinging into full "yay standardized testing" gear.  A local McDonald's dished out free breakfasts to students, hoping to get them charged up on corporate crap and monotonous fill-in-the-bubble-style skills that fast food employees need these days!  And maybe there's a little side benefit: it builds customer loyalty!
"It does. It makes me feel like, oh my God, after so much money being spent here, I finally get something back," says mom Naomi Quintero, who eats at the restaurant every weekend with her family.

Quintero's sons will each get 18 grams of protein in their egg sandwich. That's pretty good fuel for a test, said Simin Levinson, a nutritionist at Arizona State University. "I would consider it to be a well-rounded meal," she says.

But it's not the only place to get one. The nearby Creighton School District says about 4,700 students eat a free breakfast every day. Their families are poor enough to qualify for subsidized meals. Levinson says these meals are nutritionally similar to the free McDonald's menu. But if she had a choice, she'd take the one that's free of corporate influence.

"This is where I can't help but be a little bit skeptical: Is this a ploy that McDonald's is using in creating a whole new generation of consumers that will be brand loyal specific to McDonald's?" she says.

Meanwhile, local schools do their best to get their students hyped on the dismal future that the test implies lies in wait for them.  Huachuca Mountain Elementary School dedicated an entire multi-media spectacular assembly towards their objective of getting kids amped up to sit quietly in their seats for several days straight.  Cheerleaders cheered and a school-created video pummeled kids with the critical importance of number 2 pencils and scan-tron sheets.  A second-grader who was in the video reported that the experience was "kind of weird".  Another student, had another strategy in mind: “Pray to God and think positive ideas."  Maybe God can do something about the income and funding disparities in Arizona schools, because the politicians can't seem to.

Fill in the blank: The AIMS test is a waste of ____________.

However, when it comes to attacking teachers, they have no shortage of ideas.  For instance, how about filling classrooms with shell-shocked soldiers?  Arizona is sixth in the nation for the number of veterans, so it seems like a no-brainer to convert our already prison-like schools into military bootcamps.  In a program that they hope to increasingly target towards controlling those unruly poor children, Troops to Teachers is ready for the challenge!
“They bring a set of skills that enables them to get young people – even disruptive young people – to really sort of sit up straight and pay attention and engage in learning,” Feistritzer said.

Contreras said he thinks his experiences and management skills honed in the military have helped him get through to kids in a classroom setting.

“Classroom management is important, especially for middle school kids,” he said. “You have that military discipline to get them focused, so I think it’s a little easier for me to redirect their attention.”

And, just like with McDonald's little "donation", there's a side benefit for the military as well:  “Just a few weeks ago, an old student came back and asked me about getting into the military and said, ‘Hey, you were one of the reasons I changed my life.’ It’s that satisfaction in knowing that I’m affecting the lives of children and their futures.”  Nice, we always need more cannon fodder.


 Another day of AIMS testing, another bomb threat.  This time at North High School.  Channel 3 confirms they are testing today.  Is this part of the resistance or just kids pranking?

Kids just milling about, but it's still better than AIMS testing.