Thursday, December 11, 2014

Phoenix cops chase down fleeing white guy with weapon and drugs, don't kill him

Did you notice? Maybe not because only one news outlet covered this seemingly unremarkable story. Yesterday the Phoenix police apprehended a man they accused of a set of crimes that ought to sound very familiar to you if you've been following the local case of Rumain Brisbon, an unarmed black man shot dead by Phoenix Police last week.

Jarrod Nixon
Jarrod Nixon was taken into custody by Phoenix cops after residents reported a man acting suspicious, trying to open doors and asking for people who didn't live there. Nixon is alleged to have fled from police and, when apprehended, according to AZ Central, the only news outlet that reported it, they charged him with "burglary, possession of a weapon by a prohibited person and drug-related offenses."

And, notably, they did not kill him in the process. They spared him. Amazing, right? After all, that list of charges and allegations sounds exactly like what Phoenix cops have said about Rumain Brisbon! Except the officer who responded to a dubious tip about Brisbon gunned him down in the process. Now, far be it from me to allege that Phoenix PD or its officers are racist, but there's one key difference between these cases that might be obvious to the attentive observer. Unlike Rumain Brisbon, Jarrod Nixon was white.

To put some context on this, it's worth turning to a recent USA Today report on the disproportionate rate at which blacks and everyone else gets arrested in America's cities. We reported recently that Tempe and Scottsdale rank at the top of the list for Valley cities whose police agencies target blacks for arrest at starkly different rates than they do whites.

Phoenix, while not scoring as ridiculously high as either of those two cities, still ranked way up there. If you're black in Phoenix, your rate of arrest is 220.5 out of 1000. But if you're not black, your chance is only 77.6. That's almost three times more likely if you're black and, incidentally, it's also a higher rate than that at which the Ferguson PD arrests blacks. Yeah, that's right. Phoenix is worse than Ferguson.


These figures jibe with the experience that is driving the outrage pouring out into Valley streets night after night. Speaking to the media a few days ago, Jarett Maupin, one of many organizers taking protests to the streets, said, "The Phoenix Police Department does not treat white people this way. What that officer did was harass and accost them." These comments could very easily sum up the discrepancy in the treatment that Brisbon and Nixon received. Just in the last couple months, the names of black men and women killed at the hands of Phoenix police have become all too familiar. Not just Rumain Brisbon, but also Michelle Cusseaux and Ngozi Mbegbu.

Meanwhile, in the four years since Bill Montgomery took over as Maricopa County Attorney, there have been 145 shootings by Valley police, including 14 where the person shot was unarmed. And yet Montgomery hasn't seen fit to bring an indictment in a single case against an officer. Zero. Zippo.

The idea that policing is racist and that blacks and other minorities are disproportionately targets of police attention and violence is only controversial among whites, who generally experience policing in its most benevolent form, such as directing traffic or responding to property crime. Whites, without knowing it, are in a real sense the constituency of police, which becomes obvious the minute you look at the way statistics documenting support for the police break down by race, especially in times like this.

If you take the police at their word, the cases of Brisbon and Nixon compare very similarly and go towards exactly the point that angry protesters are making. And yet here we have starkly different outcomes. Brisbon, black, was killed when Officer Rine claimed he feared for his life, mistaking a bottle of pills for a gun. Meanwhile, Nixon, white and apparently armed in some fashion, was taken into custody without lethal force.

Cops were quick to say that Brisbon had a weapon and pot in his vehicle, and to suggest that this amounted to something of a retroactive justification for his killing. A black man with a gun and drugs -- that's meant to evoke the now common racist code word "thug." Meanwhile, according to the one news agency that bothered to cover Nixon's arrest, he was actually in physical possession of both drugs of some kind and a weapon when apprehended. Again, there is no hint from cops that this would have been a justification for shooting him.

Rumain Brisbon
Nixon is also reported to have run from officers, charging into an occupied home and causing a resident to flee out a window. And yet still there is no claim that any officer feared for his or her life, and no officer shot at him. Although witness accounts dispute that Brisbon fled from Officer Rine, the department's public reasoning for his shooting hinges in no small part on their allegation that he did so.

Going by what the police have said, here we have two very similar cases. Indeed, where they differ slightly, the case reported against Nixon is worse. After all, the worst that is alleged about Brisbon is that he may have been selling drugs. The police say Nixon was breaking into occupied homes. And yet only one of these two men is now dead, killed by Phoenix police. The other will get at least a chance at a day in court. The only remaining chance for justice for Brisbon now lies in the streets.


Monday, December 1, 2014

CBS 5 trashes local protester, gives pass to former Steubenville coach who started fight with protesters

Belardine (in black) attacks demonstrators in Scottsdale on Saturday (Dennis Gilman/Phoenix New Times)

CBS 5's Karla Navarrete's story on a protester, arrested at an anti-police protest, featured details on the man's family background, including naming his father and occupation. When it came to the other two men arrested that night, who were accused of attacking protesters, there was no such effort, despite one of the men's involvement in a crime which prompted international outrage.  Had Navarrete googled either of the other men who were arrested after instigating a fight with demonstrators, she might have learned that one of the two men arrested, Matthew Michael Belardine, was involved in the Steubenville rape case.

Belardine in court in Steubenville last April (AP Photo)

Matthew Belardine, while never a suspect in the rape, was at one time the volunteer coach for the Steubenville High School football team and hosted the party that the Steubenville students attended the night that the sexual assault occurred.  In April he was sentenced to 10 days in jail after he plead no contest to serving alcohol to a minor and making false statements to investigators. Belardine could have faced up to six months in jail for each of those charges, in addition he was sentenced to one year of probation, due to expire in April of 2015. Belardine was arrested after an investigation into other crimes tied to the rape of a student by Steubenville football players in 2012.  The volunteer coach was charged along with a district principal and the Steubenville superintendent for their roles in knowing or covering up the assault of the student.


Matthew Belardine's arrest for assault and disorderly conduct on Saturday night occurred after he and a friend attacked participants in the anti-police demonstration on Saturday night, some of whom were wearing the notorious Guy Fawkes mask. His companion Samuel Lee Busic was charged with assault.  Videographer Dennis Gilman captured Belardine's pal Samuel Busic charging through the crowd screaming "Fuck Anonymous!"

Why was Busic so angry with Anonymous? Well maybe because Anonymous played a central role in driving the Steubenville story into the national media and ensuring that charges were brought by officials, who up to that point seemed more inclined to ignore the whole thing, covering up for a popular sports team and players. Specifically, Anonymous doxxed Belardine. Anonymous has also been active in the protests in Ferguson, in particular outing Klan members publicly, including dumping the data of a local KKK leader.

Why was Channel 5, which was so vigorous in digging into the life of a protester accused of a property crime, so curiously negligent when it came to a man now charged with assaulting people at that same protest? The protest on Saturday night was in opposition to police brutality, specifically in Ferguson but also in general. KPHO has been accused over the years of being too cozy with police and specifically the local police union PLEA. And apparently the tool kit of the modern KPHO reporter doesn't include the modern classic, the Google search. And do we need to mention the obvious racial difference between those arrested and the treatment they got? This latest story is another stain on their credibility.

More local media follies:

Emails reveal: New Times Reporter Took a Mulligan on Occupy Phoenix

Fox 10 Producer "Thankful" for drunk driver crashing into Phoenix home

Monday, November 24, 2014

Tempe, Scottsdale arrest blacks at a higher rate than the Ferguson PD

Truly shocking numbers were released today in a USA Today report detailing the massive disparities in arrest rates for blacks compared to, well, everyone else. In the Valley, Tempe and Scottsdale police stood out for particular distinction, with starkly high figures per capita.

The USA Today analysis of arrest records for police departments across the country found that almost 1600 police agencies nationwide took blacks into custody at rates above those in Ferguson, Missouri, the city well-known now for aggressive and racist policing following the shooting of Michael Brown and the turmoil that resulted.

According the the article, blacks were "more likely than others to be arrested in almost every city for almost every type of crime. Nationwide, black people are arrested at higher rates for crimes as serious as murder and assault, and as minor as loitering and marijuana possession." If you're not black, you're more likely to escape arrest for comparable crimes. Notably, the data, which came from the FBI, does not track arrests of Latinos, which in the Southwest is a major shortcoming. That number would be very good to have.

Of particular note, two Valley police agencies, Tempe and Scottsdale, not only have arrest rates for blacks higher than Ferguson, but take blacks into custody at more than double (triple in the case of Scottsdale) that which has set the Missouri city on fire with accusations of police harassment of a black population by white police agency.


Tempe, this year found itself embroiled in controversy when ASU professor Dr. Ore, who is black, was stopped off campus by a white university cop. The stop, which many viewed as unnecessary, aggressive and racially-motivated, set off a media firestorm and enraged many residents of the college town, some of whom took their anger to a Tempe city council candidates forum, disrupting the event.

Tempe, which likes to brand itself as a progressive city despite its history as a Klan bastion, will have a hard time making the case that these numbers don't indicate a serious problem for a police force that many see as out of control. While Ferguson's arrest rate for blacks was 186.1 (versus 66 for whites) out of a thousand, Tempe's came in at a staggering 405.5! Anglos, on the other hand, got arrested at a rate of 120 per 1000 in Tempe, still almost twice that of Ferguson but over a third less frequently than blacks. If you're black, Tempe PD has its eyes on you.

Tempe police have come under scrutiny lately as a result of a program called "Safe and Sober", which involves upwards of 20 police agencies flooding downtown with officers, making thousands of stops of all kinds, ostensibly to battle alcohol consumption. Locals report harassment and profiling.

The city hasn't released final numbers on this years' program (which has run for two years now) -- including data on the race of those people that were stopped -- but numbers like those compiled by USA Today lend support to suspicions that racial bias is very likely at work. Back of the envelop calculations by local activists put the rate of stops during the three weeks that "Safe and Sober" runs in Tempe at per capita levels comparable to NYC's highly controversial "Stop and Frisk" program, which was ruled racially biased this year.


The City of Tempe has suffered a series of public black eyes around the issue of policing in the last couple years. In 2013, during the first year of "Safe and Sober," local cops gunned down Austin Del Castillo in broad daylight in downtown Tempe, sending bullets into a nearby restaurant.  Before that, in May of the same year, Tempe police opened fire on a man who had broken into the wine cellar of a local restaurant downtown. Then there was the Dr. Ore incident. In July, Tempe police were caught on video beating a homeless man, again on Mill Avenue downtown. An internal review by the police of the police ruled the violence justified, although they admitted that proper procedure wasn't followed when officers failed to file the use of force paperwork that should accompany such incidents. Tempe has also raised concerns by failure to come clean on their possession and use of a StingRay cell phone spy device and whether and how that is being used to snoop on residents.

Critics of the Ferguson PD point to giant disparities between the percentage of cops who are white on the force compared to the general population. A recent NY Times article. "The Race Gap in America’s Police Departments", highlighted these discrepancies in several departments nationwide, including half a dozen in Arizona. The study didn't give stats for Tempe, but it did show clearly that whites were over-represented in all the Valley departments surveyed, sometimes skewing (in the case of the Phoenix Police Department) as much as 35% more white than the local population they police. The Phoenix PD, by the way, ranked in the USA TODAY study at 220.5 for blacks, and 77.6 for everyone else. Incidentally, the city with the smallest gap between population and police, demographically, was Scottsdale. But that was only because Scottsdale is 84% white. There isn't much room to go higher than that, although SPD does manage to still put 6% more whites on their force than the general population.

Changing the racial makeup of the police force won't solve the problem of police brutality and profiling, but the fact that they are so out of whack with the general population again gives cause to believe, combined with those radically skewed arrest stats, that profiling is probably going on. And a lot of it.

We asked TPD if use of force paperwork was 
filed in the above case and they never replied

This data also shows how little things have changed in the Valley. Tempe and Scottsdale, both historically "sundown towns" where nonwhites were strongly encouraged, to put it mildly, to make themselves scarce when nightfall came, obviously still put a heavy emphasis on the policing of blacks within city limits. As troubling as Tempe's outrageous data is, Scottsdale's is even more disturbing. It wasn't that long ago that scandal wracked the SPD when it came out that some officers were enforcing what they called a "no n*gger zone" in the wealthier parts of a generally very well-off city. These stats show an inexcusable gulf between the policing that blacks and everybody else gets in Scottsdale.

Either way, if you're black in Scottsdale and Tempe you have good reason to worry about the police. Just like Dr. Ore, you may very well find yourself attracting the special attention of local law enforcement, for no other reason than your skin color. Perhaps data like this is the reason why Tempe has been so reluctant to release the racial breakdown of the "Safe and Sober" stops. But that's all the more reason why they should.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

National League of Cities Prepares to Pressure Congress for More Military Equipment

As an expected grand jury decision could arrive this week in the case of the white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shooting and killing black Ferguson resident Michael Brown.  Brown, who was  unarmed when confronted by officer Wilson, died after being shot six times.  Brown's killing triggered long existing tensions between police and the residents, resulting in riots, and then protests in Ferguson. The rebellion in Ferguson also sparked a national debate in response to the images of the police and how the military grade weapons and equipment used to quash the protests got into the hands of the police.

The militarized show of force in the small community of Ferguson shattered any illusions that it was only the major cities that relied on such equipment. The proliferation of military equipment and weapons into small town police departments could be traced to America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and had its origins in the drug war hysteria of the late 1980s.  This movement of surplus military goods from the US military to police departments, both big and small, is run out of the Defense Logistics Agency's the Department of Defense Excess Property Program, or more commonly known as the 1033 program.

This program faced a critical review from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in the wake of the Ferguson rebellion, with senators questioning why the Department of Defense continues to provide used, and often new weapons to local police departments.  Despite the increased coverage from journalists, outrage from protesters, and scrutiny from senators, the program is not without its supporters (principally law enforcement) and the advocacy group the National League of Cities may be joining them.

The National League of Cities (NLC) is an advocacy group for more than "19,000 cities, villages and towns it represents," and one of the key tasks of the NLC is to influence federal policy by lobbying Congress.  The NLC will be holding the Congress of Cities, their annual conference, later this month in Austin, Texas.  Among the resolutions up for a vote during the meeting is a pro-1033 program resolution passed by the Public Safety and Crime Prevention (PSCP) Steering Committee during their annual meeting held in Tempe this past September.

The resolution supporting the 1033 program takes into account that the majority of the equipment received from the Department of Defense are "non-military" items, such as office equipment, computers and recording gear, and other supplies for disaster response.  However, the resolution makes note of the criticisms raised over the transfer of specifically military hardware, such as "Humvees, mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles, aircraft (rotary and fixed wing), boats, sniper scopes and M-16s."

While these concerns are noted, the resolution highlights the use of military equipment in the response to the Boston Marathon bombing, and "other incidents where police officers have been under attack by heavily armed criminals." The resolution concludes by supporting increased pressure on the Presidential administration and Congress to "ensure local law enforcement agencies continue to have access to the 1033 program." The PSCP Steering Committee approved the resolution, as confirmed in an email response from Yucel Ors, the NLC's Program Director of Public Safety & Crime Prevention. Ors explained that the next step is for the resolution to be voted on by the full membership of the PSCP committee, then, if passed, it will face a final vote by the NLC's membership during the annual meeting.

There is much to worry about for the residents of Ferguson in the coming days.  Amnesty International denounced the human rights abuses committed by the assembled law enforcement agencies against those protesting the police.  Ferguson residents ready for the repressive police presence, comparing the possible upheaval from the grand jury decision as akin to "getting prepared for war."  Ferguson police are indeed also gearing up for war, preparing to turn the city streets of Ferguson into a war zone once again, having spent $100,000 on new helmets, shields and batons, in addition to restocking their supplies of pepper spray, smoke canisters and rubber bullets.  If the NLC's membership approves the 1033 resolution this month, then they will have joined the side of the domestic militarists in working to persuade Congress to keep the flow of military weapons and gear into police agencies for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Megapolitan in a Mega-Drought? A Guide to the Sun Corridor

from the Stop CANAMEX project

Plans for massive new transportation projects in Arizona such as the Interstate 11, South Mountain Freeway Loop 202 Extension, and High Speed Passenger Rail seem out of touch with reality. As the urban heat island effect expands and the drought gets worse, it may be inevitable that residents will have no choice but to use expensive water piped in from desalination plants on the coast of Mexico or California. The massive amounts of energy needed to construct this infrastructure for desalination and transport also requires an immense amount of water--an endless ridiculous cycle--but one that is profitable to a few. Will those with the vision for the future of the so-called Sun Corridor, a "megapolitan" including Phoenix and Tucson, ignore these problems, and simply promote growth by building new roads like Interstate 11 and the South Mountain Freeway to allegedly improve the region's position in the global economy and provide the private sector with opportunities to make money on transportation projects?

Even the authors of the report to which most of the popularity of the Sun Corridor concept is owed admit that they're not so sure about the environmental sustainability of such a concept, yet at this point, many city and state officials as well as others take the Sun Corridor as inevitable. According to some in local government, media, and academia, it is both already the Sun Corridor, as well as a work-in-progress that requires strategic planning, infrastructure such as Interstate 11 and high-speed passenger rail connecting Tucson and Phoenix, intentional branding, and a regional identity.

Sun Corridor cheerleaders have projected that the area would double in population from 5 million to 10 million by 2050. The Sun Corridor is taken as a given, or inevitable because of this growth. It is allegedly justified both to accommodate the projected growth and to encourage it. The relationship between Phoenix and Tucson is described as natural and organic, despite the fact that the entire basis upon which the cities' settlement and expansion has been achieved has been through theft and exploitation of land, water, and other resources.

Primarily a project of think tanks with funding by large foundations, the Sun Corridor is one of several "megapolitans" in the US which were defined only about ten years ago based on projected population, proximity between two or more urban areas, an economic integration across boundaries, and their importance in global trade. In some ways it is a prediction based on a trajectory, but mostly it is an agenda for profit-seekers. The Sun Corridor concept is by no means homegrown. Some local officials adopted it after being informed by consultants of the “benefits” of the global competitiveness it would bring, or by the institutions pushing public-private partnerships or state trust land reforms for more developments or infrastructure.

Megaregions, Global-City Regions, Mega-Cities, etc. as trade hubs that surpass the metropolitan scale are not at all specific to the US, nor are they new. These and the accompanying finance, infrastructure and governance projects arose out of free-market-oriented models across the world, largely promoted and pushed by the World Bank specifically through structural adjustment programs and development over the last couple decades. The economic integration mirrors that of arrangements such as NAFTA paired with infrastructure like CANAMEX/I-11, or the the European Union with their passenger rail system. The Sun Corridor is part of a much broader shift towards large private companies attempting to gain access to decision-making and tax dollars to carve their design into the land in effort to increase economic competitiveness.

Profit-making opportunities abound for the few who are in a position to take advantage if the Sun Corridor comes to fruition. First, a megapolitan is seen as an important node in global trade, a way for the region to become economically competitive, or at least this is the justification used for promoting growth. It is also an opportunity for companies to win infrastructure deals, since pushing the megapolitan concept brings along "necessity" for infrastructure like roads and rail. It may allow for changes to laws regarding state trust land, which would enable transportation projects and new development projects. Megapolitans, along with other megaregions, span municipal and sometimes state or even international lines and render the area vulnerable to imposition of new methods of organization and governance, with the full intention of providing private interests access to decision-making and new "partnerships." An arrangement called a public-private partnership (P3) is an integral part of the megapolitan plan.

Financial Interests

Big banks, consultants, engineering and construction companies, and real estate developers all have interests in these new projects, even if they're not quite all on the same page. Those with the most power and influence are the large financial institutions with their relationships to think tanks, foundations, and academia.

Despite the high degree of interest in the construction of new roads and such, the the overarching motivation mustn't be overlooked. As explained in More than Bricks and Mortar, the primary incentive is likely a growing effort on the part of financial institutions and those who see common interests to find more profit-making opportunities.
Arizona Sun Corridor Partnership
"... 'infrastructure' is less about financing development (which is at best a sideshow) than about developing finance..." "what is being constructed are the subsidies, fiscal incentives, capital markets, regulatory regimes and other support systems necessary to transform 'infrastructure' into an asset class that should yield above average profits." 
Public-private partnership (P3), a variation on privatization, is the increasingly preferred “innovative financing solution” used to accomplish arrangements for transportation projects, sometimes involving toll roads for example, but often instead, companies get paid through taxes. P3s may be somewhat new to the US, but they're not new to the world. Since the 1980's, investment banks have developed new ways of making sure they receive full repayment for loans to countries across the world, rather than accepting when they've made bad investments. Repayment was ensured through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which saw major neoliberal influence in the early 80's, with a major role played by the Rockefeller Foundation, whose sway did not stop there. Indebted countries were then required to make institutional reforms called "structural adjustment programs" which cut back on social welfare programs and opened the country up to privatization and further foreign investment. Increasingly, investment banks and others have sought opportunities for profit-making in various developing countries, but also in Europe and North America through P3s for infrastructure projects. While structural adjustment programs had largely functioned as austerity measures and accepted only as conditions for accessing loans (with little to no choice), P3s in the US are portrayed as smart options for building roads and such.

In the early 2000s, financial institutions began to arrange for public-private partnerships (including the reform of state laws to enable P3s) to fund infrastructure projects in the US. These ranged from preservation and repair of old transportation infrastructure to development of new infrastructure, specifically trade corridors and transportation that would facilitate conurbation, such as intercity passenger rail. The relationships between the World Bank, Rockefeller Foundation (and other Rockefeller institutions and individuals), JP Morgan Chase, the Brookings Institution, and beyond is integral to this direction. The projects that get completed will have more and more to do with what these elite institutions decide to arrange financing for.

The "Megapolitan" in particular was conceptualized in the mid-2000s. It largely arose out of a graduate urban planning studio at University of Pennsylvania School of Design in 2004 called "Plan for America" involving the Regional Planning Association (RPA) and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (with connections to the World Bank and close ties to the Brookings Institution). RPA and the Lincoln Institute, sometimes along with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Rockefeller Foundation, and/or the Ford Foundation sponsored several more forums, conferences, studies and documents. Out of this came America 2050 (funded by the Rockefeller Foundation through RPA, as well as the Ford Foundation), which is a primary proponent of the megapolitan concept, along with high-speed passenger rail.

Central to the definition and promotion of megapolitans and the Sun Corridor is Robert E. Lang, originally of Virginia Tech, with fellowships through the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and the Brookings Institution and involvement in America 2050. He co-authored numerous papers on US megapolitans, as well as the book Megapolitan America. Making the "Sun Corridor" a much more recognizable name, he worked with the Morrison Institute (with Grady Gammage Jr.) on the Megapolitan: Arizona's Sun Corridor while a visiting professor at Arizona State University. Lang became a spokesperson for the concept.

In 2008 when this Morrison report came out, the Arizona Republic printed an article in which Lang (with John Stuart Hall) revealed some of the primary reasons for interest in the Sun Corridor:
Mega regions will be closely watched because of the importance of more people to federal funding formulas (such as with transportation), marketing targets and venture-capital options.
The Sun Corridor also has unique challenges. For example, how state trust land will be developed is a critical wild card since more than a quarter of the Sun Corridor is managed by the State Land Department.
State Trust Land

In the context of a major drought, imagine a whole new city of another million residents being planned south-east of Phoenix. The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy has been particularly interested in state trust land reforms, notably in Arizona for this project called the Superstition Vistas.

State trust land was provided to various states by the United States Congress for each state to lease or sell as a way to generate revenue to benefit public institutions such as schools. Currently, Arizona state law requires that parcels of land are sold at auction to the highest bidder, making it nearly impossible for such a large section of land to be purchased with one central plan in mind. Most of the planning for Superstition Vistas dropped off due to the recession, but the land, or some of it, will likely be up for auction soon. The planning has taken place with the hopes that legal obstacles can be overcome.

Prior to the Sun Corridor report, the Morrison Institute (with Lang and Gammage) was commissioned by the Superstition Vistas steering committee for a study on the development of the land which they published in 2006 (The Treasure of the Superstitions). The steering committee also brought in the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and the so-called conservation group, the Sonoran Institute based out of Tucson, around which time, the two groups created a joint venture.

Interest in this project and the involvement of Lang and the Lincoln Institute  seems to have been integral to the advancement of the megapolitan concept and the Sun Corridor in particular. Characterizing the area as a megapolitan region could be used to justify a development project like the Superstition Vistas and the necessary state trust land reforms, and accommodate cross-boundary governance which could more easily bring in private interests. Changes to the state trust land laws in Arizona would facilitate other development and transportation infrastructure projects, such as Interstate 11 connecting Las Vegas with Phoenix and potentially beyond. According to Megapolitan: Arizona's Sun Corridor, "...this effort could become a model for mega-scale thinking about state trust land and its role in the future of Arizona."
To recap and add some context, Robert Lang and the Lincoln Institute got involved in the Superstition Vistas project around the time that Lang (with his fellowship from the Lincoln Institute) was working on the megapolitan concept. The Morrison Institute Sun Corridor report was published two years after the Superstition Vistas report. Also significant may be that in 2005, the Lincoln Institute hired a new president, Gregory Ingram, who had worked for the World Bank and International Finance Corporation (the World Bank's private arm that is heavily involved in infrastructure investment). Ingram remained president until 2012 and may have had influence on the direction of the Institute in favor of the megapolitan concept. Also significant is that the Arizona state land department Commissioner as of 2012, Vanessa Hickman, sees importance in the success of Superstition Vistas and is now also on Arizona's Transportation and Trade Corridor Alliance (TTCA), a public/private entity that promotes the importance of "key commerce corridors"--essentially trade infrastructure.
The Morrison Institute reiterates the importance of this land in their 2012 report. "The 2.4 million acres of State Trust Land that make up 18% of the total Sun Corridor area will be critical to the future growth of the area." Additionally, they emphasize the role of this land for high speed rail. "It is possible to site a high speed rail line between Phoenix and Tucson largely on state trust land. While there are considerable legal challenges to this, the rewards would be substantial." 
Freeways and High Speed Passenger Rail
The importance of high speed rail (HSR) to the megapolitan and megaregion concepts can not be overstated. It is difficult to determine whether rail-builders' interest was what boosted the megapolitan idea, or if it is the megapolitan concept that requires the intercity rail. What is clear is that HSR would play a very important role in tying the urban areas together.
The Arizona Department of Transportation has a study in the works for a high speed passenger rail between Phoenix and Tucson. Of the three routes they’ve narrowed it down to, the eastern-most (orange) alternative runs right through the area some planners still hope will be the Superstition Vistas. The central (yellow) route could also serve this area.

The first of five objectives of the Sonoran Institute, one of the main promoters of the Superstition Vistas project, was to “promote a commuter rail system linking Phoenix and Tucson," according to their 2010 publication “Riding the Rails to Sustainability,” as part of their Sun Corridor Legacy Program.

While the best selling point for megapolitan development is high speed passenger rail as an alternative to driving, it is not as incompatible with new highways as it's made to seem. Certain environmental non-profit organizations citing research on megapolitans and population are promoting studies that show a decreasing number of drivers and therefore less need for new highways, and yet the megapolitan vision requires new roads as well, particularly the important trade corridors. Specifically, USPIRG and AZPIRG are funded by the Rockefeller Foundation for their HSR projects, and their publications reference America 2050, the primary promoter of the megapolitan concept, which is also funded by the same foundation. Aside from America 2050, most of the promoters of pairing the megapolitan concept with passenger rail also see CANAMEX or trade corridors in general as necessary endeavors.

While AZPIRG has solicited support for their HSR campaign from groups opposing Interstate 11 and the South Mountain Freeway, they likely will not join the opposition to these roads themselves, other than releasing a report naming the I-11 as one of several money-wasting “boondoggles.” It may be lost on them that the Sun Corridor concept justifies and even requires the trade corridor that I-11 would become, and the truck bypass that the South Mountain Freeway/Loop 202 extension would provide. The megapolitan is nearly always portrayed as an international trade hub, which requires massive multi-lane roads for freight trucks. "A successful Interstate 11 will be a smartly designed multi-modal trade corridor that yields multiple benefits for rural and underserved communities on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border," is the opinion of the Sonoran Institute, or at least its Sun Corridor program director, who recently wrote in favor of the I-11. Dowdy lists rail specifically in an October 8th pro-I-11 commentary.

This is not the only mention of I-11 having multiple modes for transportation (and possibly for energy and even water). Potentially, the excitement for HSR could inadvertently be used to facilitate an acceptance of I-11, even despite PIRG's portrayal of I-11 as a boondoggle in their vaguely pro-HSR report (the report is largely based on their Rockefeller Foundation-funded research by both PIRG and the Frontier Group including the more blatantly pro-HSR "A Track Record of Success"). In a September 29th letter to the editor from AZPIRG, the director wrote, "We agree that 'this isn't about cars vs. transit' and that there should be a larger vision for an Intermountain West multi-modal corridor." The AECOM Sun Corridor report states that there's a potential to share right-of-way between rail and highway. Additionally, ADOT's 2011 Rail Plan (prepared in part by AECOM as a consultant, including Mike Kies and John McNamara who are involved in the I-11 Study) stated, "The proposed Interstate [11] route may be developed as a multimodal corridor, including freight rail, and is part of the Canamex high priority corridor, which is envisioned to include intercity or high-speed passenger rail service." Again, even if the I-11 is not justified by pairing it with HSR, there is demand for trade corridors with or without HSR.
Due to issues with increased development contributing to pollution, the urban heat island effect, increased water usage, impacts to wildlife, displacement of people, and damage to South Mountain in the case of the Loop 202 extension, the Sun Corridor's architects know that this megapolitan idea will only be accepted if it can be portrayed as “green”--as environmentally sustainable and responsible. But there are many ways of making something appear green that really isn't, such as can be seen with market-based mechanisms which involve turning things into commodities such as carbon for trade. Greenwashing is a term used to refer to the "unjustified appropriation of environmental virtue by a company, an industry, a government, a politician or even a non-government organization to create a pro-environmental image, sell a product or a policy," according to SourceWatch. This is not to imply that the benefits of HSR are enough to greenwash trade corridor infrastructure. HSR also requires a certain amount of greenwashing to justify itself. And this is not the only way that paving over the land to make space for transportation will be greenwashed.

HSR map overlaying Megapolitan map from USHSR
High speed rail would not only be used to make the megapolitan or trade corridors acceptable. It supports the concept of the megapolitan as a node in international trade, it is meant to facilitate regional identity and economic integration, it is another piece of infrastructure that provides finance opportunities, and would contribute to the destruction caused by increased development. It is true that HSR makes sense to many in an era of diminishing oil. But the political and economic stability sought by having alternatives to oil-based transportation is meant to support commercial and financial productivity, not to save the planet.
That which primarily inspired early proponents of HSR including Robert Lang to promote US megapolitans paired with HSR is the European model of regionalism and the ways HSR facilitated economic integration (the EU) and regional identity. Lang and a couple of RPA/Lincoln Institute colleagues promoted HSR as early as 2005, while most others (Brookings Institution, AECOM, PIRG, and even Lincoln Institute as a whole) didn't pick up on it in any significant way until 2009 when Obama promised billions of dollars in federal funds for HSR, at which point the HSR lobby grew exponentially. State officials, but especially the private sector, have gathered that alternative modes of transportation are necessary and desired, yet profit is the underlying motivation. Legislation continues to be introduced to facilitate more HSR in the US. Rockefeller Foundation/America 2050's U.S. High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program has made investments of $10.1 billion in high-speed and conventional passenger rail corridors across the country, according to a 2011 report. How much money would their associates (board members even?) stand to make from these projects? 

Private-Sector Imposition

Most likely any high speed rail project in Arizona, if it gets built, will be a public-private partnership (P3), like many are in Europe. The way things are going, the same could be said for roads as well. P3s can involve concession such as rail fares or tolls on roads, but can in some cases allow for an arrangement in which private companies can access financing that they couldn't otherwise, in the form of low-interest federal loans, tax-free bonds, and payments from tax-payers via local government. P3s are more attractive to governments because the arrangements allow for getting transportation projects finished without relying on the minimal government funding, although they often don’t work out in the public’s favor. The companies themselves are interested in profit, and on a larger scale, financial institutions are able to make money as well.
As described in More than Bricks and Mortar, "Under PPPs, the private sector builds, finances and manages a project in return for the government guaranteeing a revenue stream from the project’s users (in the case of a toll road, for instance, the government undertakes to pay should usage fall below a minimum number of cars per day) and giving other contractual undertakings." The report explains that the situation has been described as a “'build now, pay later' scheme that is 'no different from the credit card consumerism boom that contributed to the global financial crisis.'" An illusion is created in which it seems that financing is coming from a private source, but in the end, taxpayers or service users are making the payments. Elsewhere, P3s are often compared to mortgages, and we've seen how well we can trust banks and the government to keep these debt-based transactions from impacting the broader economy.

Nearly any document promoting megapolitans and/or trade corridors also touts P3s for their indispensable benefits, even including the early megapolitan-related 2004 City Planning Studio/Lincoln Institute document, Toward an American Spatial Development Perspective. The Brookings Institute in particular has been producing documents and policy recommendations for P3s for years. The primary Brookings document related to the Sun Corridor is by Robert Lang called Mountain Megas (2008).

Other publications that advanced the Sun Corridor concept, trade corridors, P3s and megapolitans include North America Next: North American Opportunities and the Sun Corridor (2009) prepared by the North American Center for Transborder Studies (NACTS) at ASU (now defunct); and the Sun Corridor, Future Corridor report (2010) by AECOM Global Cities Institute.

As with many neoliberal-leaning institutions, the view is that the federal government's role is to facilitate free-market policies such as free trade. In chapter five of Brookings' Mountain Megas document, entitled "Forging a New Federal-Mega Agenda for the Intermountain West" which highlights the Sun Corridor, the authors emphasize CANAMEX/I-11 and high speed passenger rail along with P3s.

Brookings and other think tanks have had success in moving the federal government in the direction of P3s. The megapolitan/P3 project has increasingly been taken on by the federal government as shown by tax-breaks and other forms of corporate welfare, as well as providing resources for local governments to implement policy changes. Case in point is the September 9, 2014 announcement of the federal government’s Build America Investment Initiative, although this is not the first effort to promote P3s. According to,
The part of the President’s new initiative that could provide the most immediate benefit is creation of a new office within the US Department of Transportation called the Build America transportation investment center. The center will open by November 14. The President said it will serve as a “one-stop shop for cities and states seeking to use innovative financing and partnerships with the private sector to support transportation infrastructure.”
The center will play an informational role. It will make federal resources more understandable and promote access to federal credit assistance programs to help finance transportation infrastructure.
This initiative includes a joint investment between the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation of “over $1 million to support innovations in U.S. infrastructure. The new partnership will expand the infrastructure pipeline by incubating innovative public private collaborations, including... Provide seed capital for promising regional collaboration models, including regional infrastructure exchanges, that make it easier for localities to attract private finance…” “Regional” here likely implies megaregions or megapolitans.

It is worth noting that large foundations serve many roles. In addition to acting as tax shelters, foundations often have political agendas relating to the interests of their board members and/or the companies they invest in. For example, there has been a long-standing relationship between the Rockefeller Foundation and JP Morgan Chase. Many think of foundations as simply a provider of charitable donations and grants to non-profits. Tax law requires foundations to spend a minimum of 5% of their taxable assets on grants and administrative expenses, which allows much of the rest to be invested. Foundations such as Ford and Rockefeller are not politically neutral, but instead are particularly interested in proliferating free-market capitalism, managing dissent, maintaining economic and political stability, and strengthening US hegemony. They are part of the power elite. Governance allows for participation not just from the companies that foundations have relationships with, but also from non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) who often do their bidding--all with an appearance of being more democratic.

Another example of obvious involvement of the federal government is the Federal Highway Administration website and their promotion of megaregions such as in their Megaregions Report and literature review prepared by Catherine Ross (member of the National Committee for America 2050) in 2011. This, along with their promotion of P3s, has likely resulted due to lobbying. Although it may appear as a more horizontal governance approach through incentive funding and relaxation of current laws rather than top-down state power, the intention is that private interests will benefit from federal government-given protectionism and subsidies. This is a variation of “actually-existing neoliberalism,” a form that utilizes the state to allow the private sector into decision-making and financing that it previously had little access to. Governance facilitates an entry of the private sector into official decision-making such as for more infrastructure and more P3s. In the case of these types of governance structures, decisions tend to be made behind closed doors.

Brookings also promotes a new method of governance. In their Mountain Megas report, they advocated for tweaking Municipal Planning Organization (MPO) law and creating governance structures such as the Joint Planning Advisory Council (see below), and to incentivize other innovations in governance for megapolitans. This echos Lang's early writings on the megapolitan concept: " super MPOs could result from future legislation that directs Megapolitan Areas to plan on a vast new scale."

The junction of megapolitans/megaregions, governance, and P3s is rooted in "new regionalism," as Ross' FHWA report discusses:
...'new regionalism', proposes an institutional shift in regional emphasis from government to governance, and emphasizes public and private-sector partnerships and joint ventures... The new institutional forms require a strong coordination of governments at different scales, and public and private actors...The territorial and functional reorganization of the power of the national government means the changes of its boundaries in terms of roles, emphasizing the coordination of the boundaries between public, private, and other actors.
In this same report it was argued that the Sun Corridor "will have to consider a different form of governance, regional cooperation and infrastructure investment that will promote its global perspective and shift the paradigm to solidify it as a new geographic entity."

Described as a milestone in Sun Corridor efforts, a Joint Planning Advisory Council (JPAC) was formed in 2009 by the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG), the Pima Association of Governments (PAG) and the Central Arizona Association of Governments (CAAG). They are joined by their private “partnering agencies," the Arizona Mexico Commission (a P3 unit that is said by their CANAMEX expert to be the "godfather" of CANAMEX), the CANAMEX Coalition (also a P3 unit), AECOM, and the Morrison Institute.

Trade with Mexico
This same collaboration as initiated with JPAC is considered highly important according to the NACTS report, which the authors argued "should be implemented to take advantage of international opportunities." NACTS, the now-defunct ASU establishment, was an extension of the Security and Prosperity Partnership via the Council of the Americas. They have been a major proponent of NAFTA and the CANAMEX Trade Corridor and they conceptualized the Sun Corridor as a multi-modal inland port.

CANAMEX is a NAFTA trade corridor stretching from the western Mexican port of Guaymas up through five US states to Alberta, Canada. Interstate 11 is needed to create a better truck route between Las Vegas and Phoenix, but is intended to extend the length of the CANAMEX corridor or some variation on it called the Intermountain West Corridor, therefore going through or near Tucson to Mexico (read more on the I-11 confusion at Filling in the I-11/CANAMEX Gaps). AECOM defines the Sun Corridor as a piece of the CANAMEX Corridor and envisions the Sun Corridor as an inland port with a strong trade relationship with Mexico. Their Sun Corridor, Future Corridor report (2010) was written by AECOM Global Cities Institute. One author was AECOM's John McNamara who is now instrumental in the Interstate 11 Study and was involved in the Arizona Trade Corridor Study, an early CANAMEX document of 1993.
AECOM, which is one of the private partners within JPAC, seems to have entered the megapolitan game when they got a board member on RPA in 2006 (Kevin S. Corbett, DMJM Harris). They are involved in various types of transportation infrastructure and P3s, including high speed passenger rail and roads, the I-11 Study being only one of them. Just like the Brookings Institution's Mountain Megas report, both AECOM in their Sun Corridor, Future Corridor report (2010), and the Central Arizona Association of Governments (2011) prioritized I-11/CANAMEX and high speed rail as central to the Sun Corridor project.

Also check out more on AECOM and I-11 at Privatized Roads, Privatized Water 

The Sun Corridor and its position within the CANAMEX Corridor claim to provide business opportunities such as for the Casa Grande-based PhoenixMart, a massive wholesale trade center involving a foreign trade zone. Casa Grande is planning an "inland port" involving proximity to one or more Foreign Trade Zones (FTZ) and increased rail infrastructure. FTZs and other such zones are being increasingly created to provide incentives to big companies to do business in those areas, allowing them to avoid paying certain taxes and fees. Last year, in "PhoenixMart seen as catalyst" Melissa St. Aude wrote (likely confusing the term megapolitan with megalopolis):
Casa Grande could someday be the epicenter of a sprawling Sun Corridor megalopolis, spanning from Tucson to Phoenix.  That was the vision given Friday by PhoenixMart Chief Executive Officer Steve Betts and AZ Sourcing President Jeremy Schoenfelder...
At the center of the megalopolis would be PhoenixMart, a nearly 2-million-square-foot sourcing center with 1,750 manufacturer showroom suites, attracting wholesale buyers from around the world and triggering development of various spin-off businesses ranging from hotels, restaurants and warehouses to other services.
The promise of Arizona's economic growth has everything to do with trade with Mexico. As Albert Lannon of the Avra Valley Coalition pointed out, the I-11 Corridor Justification report use of certain projections to explain the benefits of the Interstate is telling.
The key words in the projections are “nearshoring” and “integrative manufacturing.” The planners predict that, as Chinese wages rise, Mexico will become more attractive to corporations. With U.S. manufacturing labor costs at 100 on an ADOT index, China is 5 and Mexico 12. As “trade with Mexico expands,” the report argues, so will “the current trend of moving manufactured goods production … to Mexico. ... Mexico was the most popular choice for nearshoring, where hourly compensation costs are nearly as low as China.”
The report suggests “industry clusters” and “integrative manufacturing” to house the making of parts in the U.S., with assembly in Mexico. Kies told the stakeholders, “Mexico is happening!”
The report discusses planned improvements at the Mexican port of Guaymas for container traffic. That impacts high-paying jobs in the West Coast stevedoring, trucking and warehouse industries. The report discusses receiving even more goods from Asia as another “alternative future scenario.
In their discussion of marketing I-11 to the public, the pitch is “enhancing economic vitality” and “commercial opportunities.” I-11 is being sold as a way for corporations to make more money. Period. There is no expressed interest in workers except as cheap labor across the border.

The Megaregion/megapolitan, due to its alleged promise of prosperity, is popping up everywhere, with different interests promoting varying concepts with a lack of coordination. Arizona and Sonoran government officials recently signed a partnering agreement called the Arizona Sonora Binational Megaregion. One of their listed guiding principles is to "Use the megaregion as a framework to further enable the development of local relationships to advance projects/initiatives of regional significance on both sides of the border in areas such as transportation and infrastructure, education, economic development, border security and public safety, trade area promotion, commerce and tourism."

And there's also the Southwest Triangle Megaregion, seemingly having everything to do with I-11. This specific megaregion is a new concept notably used in the I-11 Study documents by AECOM and CH2MHill. The triangle connects the Sun Corridor, Southern California Megapolitan, and Las Vegas. Older plans for high-speed passenger rail making this same triangular connection likely play a part in the creation of this megaregional conceptualization. Additionally, some other people came up with the nearby Cali-Baja Binational Megaregion. Perhaps all of this will turn into the Southwest-Sonoran Trapezoid Mega-mega-region.

Somehow the logic of globalization does not acknowledge the absurdity that the population growth in the Sun Corridor is used to justify the area's role in global trade, specifically NAFTA, even though it is policies like NAFTA that have caused the displacement south of the border, leading to migration and population growth in Arizona. The population projections for the Sun Corridor are based on the growth of the region leading up to the primary studies on the concept around the mid-2000's. More recent estimates show lower numbers but still project a few more million in the area by 2050. Pro-NAFTA institutions such as the Rockefeller Foundation, Brookings Institution, NACTS, etc, would have us believe that we can still expect trickle-down benefits from these sorts of trade arrangements. We are to accept the idea that this the Sun Corridor should be a trade-hub, with its accompanying foreign trade zones allowing tax- and duty-free transactions for corporations.

Migration from south of the border is a primary factor in local population growth and encouraging or embracing that growth through Megapolitan development would seem to hasten the likelihood that white people will become the minority, a rather silly concern. Nonetheless, Robert Lang dedicated a portion of his book, “Megapolitan America” to easing the fears of white people about getting out-numbered. He reasoned that the definition of whiteness is fluid and will be expanded. There are a number of environmentalists who also concern themselves with the ethnic and racial composition of population growth.

Recent history has shown us that racists and xenophobes use environmental concerns to try to push their population control policies, ranging from border security to sterilization (not to mention the Rockefeller Foundation's role in population control campaigns across the world). The real problem with megapolitans in the context of environmentalism is that they don't just accommodate population growth, they encourage expansion and consumption on a mega scale. The infrastructure and accompanying resource extraction are the much bigger problems.

Environmental Sustainability

A new study shows that Arizona may be amidst a mega-drought, depending on how the next couple decades go. Yet the Morrison Institute's 2012 Sun Corridor report describes the Sun Corridor as natural and organic. While they may see the ways that a tendency towards conurbation has occurred without much private or state intervention, a glaring omission of perspective is the basis upon which the settlement and urbanization occurred in the first place.

What isn't acknowledged is, for example, "a coalition of lawyers, businessmen, and politicians engaged in 'legal theft' to turn this high desert, called Black Mesa, into one of America’s largest strip mines. The energy from that coal would power the excesses of Las Vegas and pump the Colorado River over three mountain ranges to Phoenix as part of the Central Arizona Project, the world’s most expensive water system," as described in a review of Judith Nies new book "Unreal City." Also ignored is that Tucson as a settler city was able to survive and grow due to the pumping of groundwater from the Tohono O'odham San Xavier reservation, that O'odham water rights have been undermined, and that their access to Central Arizona Project water was contingent on not having the power to prevent more pumping and pollution (e.g. from mining) of their groundwater.

The Morrison Institute report, Watering the Sun Corridor, a follow-up to the original Sun Corridor document, contains concluding remarks that are rather myopic, and pretty much racist, with this in mind. They write, "The Sun Corridor exists only because past Arizonans worked together tirelessly to build a vast, complex plumbing system. Using the power of government to do this represented the clearest consensus imaginable about serving the needs of society through collective action" (my emphasis). This report is also laden with admissions of the limitations regarding knowledge about whether the Sun Corridor area has enough water to sustain it. Overall, it recommends proceeding with caution, and attempts to legitimize the development even if it takes more drastic infrastructural changes to accommodate it, along with a few less swimming pools.

The impact of settler infrastructure projects on indigenous communities is not a thing of the past, but continues, for example in the building of roads like the South Mountain Freeway, which would be central to the junction of the Sun Corridor and the I-11 Las Vegas-Phoenix Corridor. Its function as a truck bypass would cut through the mountain sacred to the O'odham and cause damage to the environment and to health.
In addition to the impacts of global warming, the urban heat island effect, largely due to roads, will raise temperatures. In one study, the researchers show "the intensification of observationally based urban-induced phenomena and demonstrate that the direct summer-time climate effects of the most rapidly expanding megapolitan region in the USA—Arizona’s Sun Corridor—are considerable." Can't we just paint all the roofs white to reduce the impact of the heat island effect? Well, that might be nice if it didn't also decrease rainfall by as much as an additional 4% on top of the 12% from Sun Corridor growth as discussed in "Researchers emphasize need for evaluation of tradeoffs in battling urban heat islands."

Just like the impact of coal mining in northern Arizona has been overlooked, so too have repercussions of copper mining. Freeport McMoran, the largest copper producer, with various mines in Arizona (and elsewhere) and an office in downtown Phoenix, has interests in state trust lands; they're buying up farmland for water rights; and they're scheming to gain access to more tribal water rights across Arizona. With one of the highest paid CEOs in the world, Freeport has finagled Arizona water legislation to allow them to pollute ground water (not to mention what they've done in New Mexico). In January, Freeport hired the previous director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources as their director of water strategy. Freeport is a major participant and sponsor of the Arizona-Mexico Commission--self-identified as the god-father of the CANAMEX Corridor--most likely because of their interest in the Port of Guaymas. Mining requires an exorbitant amount of water, yet individual residents will be made to feel guilty about how long they shower.

"Follow the money" is more than a cliché. The infastructural projects are clearly a means to make a few people money. Furthermore, the Sun Corridor is a fantasy at best, a heat- and drought-ridden, abandoned and perhaps apocalyptic scene at worst. Or there is no Sun Corridor. Growth, development, resource/energy extraction, can all be slowed or stopped with enough effort.

Published with the permission of the Stop CANAMEX blog

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Cops say what they really think about ASU Professor Ore in online fourms and it's not pretty

Just keyboard warriors? Behold one cop's response to the arrest of Professor Ore. Here's what a bunch more had to say. Are you mad yet?

REM870 is a reference to a shotgun commonly used by police

On August first, ASU English professor Ersula Ore will be sentenced for "passively resisting an unlawful arrest" after Officer Stewart Ferrin confronted her for jaywalking and obstructing traffic in closed off a construction zone near the university.

The case sparked outrage, protest and even some drama at one of the Tempe city council candidate forums when outraged community members vocalized their frustration with local cops. As the scandal put pressure on ASU, the officer was put on leave and the two top bosses at the university cop shop were eventually replaced. Local dissident cop blog, The Integrity Report, has been documenting the internal shakeup which at least some officers seem to hope will create an opportunity to rein in a police force that they allege (with a good deal of evidence) is unaccountable and out of control.

Professor Ore (Photo via Phoenix New Times)
But since Ore took responsibility for her act of self-defense, much of the tension has dissipated from this once highly controversial and contentious case. Coverage was mixed in the media but it has mostly dropped off the radar as she moves towards sentencing.

Notable exceptions include a recent exchange of letters to the editor, one by former Mesa cop Bill Richardson defending Ferrin's character, followed by a response challenging it ("Letter: Police officer's personality doesn't matter"), both run in the State Press, ASU's east campus newspaper. Over the course of the scandal, one particular local weekly news blog/magazine left some very interesting things out of the story, but we'll come back to that at the end.

We at Down and Drought pay a lot of attention to the police, including cop online forums. So when we saw last week that New York Magazine had run a piece focusing on the comments from officers on various cop websites regarding the recent death of a cigarette vender, who appears to have died as a result of very rough treatment by the NYPD, we thought we'd give the Ore case the same treatment. We thought: let's see what cops have to say online about her case, under the cover of (what they think is ) anonymity.

As the NY Magazine article points out, in order to post on cop forums like, you have to register and be verified as an actual cop or retired law enforcement officer. boasts over 200,000 members and claims that they "confirm the status of all officers registering... by calling that officer’s department directly." Which means when you read opinions from commentators on their forums, you can be pretty sure you're getting the thoughts of a cop or former cop.

We were able to track some of these officers back to their departments ourselves through basic internet searches and confirm that they are in fact cops, but we weren't able to link any of them directly to ASU -- although some of the comments we looked at demonstrated knowledge of policing in Tempe and Arizona.

That said, it's important to note that the comments we're sharing here, while outrageous, weren't out of step with the general tenor of comments we found. No comments defended Ore and most posters thought that Ferrin had been too forgiving with her. As we've demonstrated before, Phoenix and Tempe police have notoriously bad senses of humor (see here, and here, and here). So there's no reason to think that they are any better than online cops in terms of their opinions.

So let's dig in and see what some cops had to say about the Ore arrest. To get things started, here's one officer making a joke referencing sexual assault. Remember, Ore objected vocally on the video about Ferrin's manhandling of her causing her dress to hike up. Thus an officer naturally thought this was an appropriate joke to make.

 In the same comment thread, another officer chimes in:

In a different post on the same site, user "SgtDavidWilliams" rushes to Ferrin's defense, counseling that she's lucky she didn't get the rougher treatment he thinks she deserved:

Advocating for less tolerance and a higher degree of violence was common in the online cop forums we looked at. Most officers took the position that Ferrin had been too kind in his interaction with Ore.

Officers also frequently argued for liberal use of the Taser. One user hinted in a "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" sort of way that "I did see a taser on his belt, correct?" In the comment below, the reference to "sparky" (the taser) may or may not be a double entendre also alluding to the ASU mascot, but it certainly indicates a casualness that is disturbing when it comes to the use of a weapon that has been linked to many deaths over the years.

Along similar lines was another comment boasting that the "college professor would've met the pavement far sooner had I been arresting her." Yet another joked that Ferrin should "probably work on that straight arm bar takedown." Later in the thread another member says, "She really needed to taste the color of the paint on the hood."

Another set of comments focused on Ore's race and gender, reflecting the usual tact and sophistication that one tends to expect from the reactionary right.



In an era of increasing skepticism and worry about the police, even on the traditionally law and order right, comments like those we found don't do cops any favors in the PR department. If white middle class people -- the traditional base of support for law enforcement, no matter how brutal -- are worried about their interactions with police then it's an indication of something significant going on. Police should be worried. The carte blanche they've had for, well, basically forever may be in danger.

And those curious omissions I mentioned at the beginning? One of the curious features of the Ore coverage was the oddly reactionary treatment from the Phoenix New Times, spearheaded by Ray Stern. Stern went pretty hard against Ore. He conceded Ferrin's approach appeared "mildly thuggish," but when Ore pleaded guilty he pronounced somewhat smugly that, "it looks like Ore's done fighting the good fight. We're not expecting her to follow up on the threat she made in the video to sue the (bleep) out of the officer or ASU."

In one article, Stern in passing gives us a brief history of Stewart Ferrin, who it was revealed early on hails from a law enforcement family and had long harbored aspirations of continuing that legacy. But what legacy? Strangely, Stern fails to mention another little bit of Ferrin law enforcement family history -- one detailed in the very archives of the Phoenix New Times itself!

In a September 1998 article entitled "Thrust and Parry," the New Times detailed in a feature article the story of Alvin Yellowhair, a Native American student at ASU who alleged that Stewart Ferrin's father, John Ferrin, then an officer with the Tempe PD, had beaten and sodomized him with a nightstick after arresting him at a party.

"Advocating for less tolerance and a higher degree of violence was common in the online cop forums we looked at." 

The case, which involved missing evidence and allegations of obstructionism from city officials, was eventually ruled in Ferrin's favor, and he came out the winner in a lawsuit by Yellowhair, too, which was finally resolved by jury in 2005. But the case led to allegations of an out of control police force without proper supervision and the revelation that the senior Ferrin, at that point, had had four citizen complaints against him which the city didn't want to reveal. Does any of this sound familiar? White cop, civilian person of color, ASU, use of force, out of control police force, potential cover up and lack of investigation? Quite an omission, if you ask me!

But Stern's probably right when he says that "ASU's very sensitive to the pubic perception, especially given President Michael Crow's goal to attract 100,000 students to lucrative online-degree programs." Indeed, the University should be concerned about how they will be viewed by prospective or returning students and their parents. Especially if those students aren't white.

Nothing to see here!

As Professor Ore faces sentencing, with a shakeup going on at ASU PD, and with residents in the surrounding neighborhoods increasingly fed up with both the actions of local cops and the complete failure of the politicians to do anything about it, the university and the city would each be well-advised to consider taking immediate public steps to address these concerns with concrete actions.

Locals have put forward several options, from repealing the loud party ordinances that so quickly can escalate under heavy handed policing, to canceling the upcoming "safe & sober" campaign (in which cops invade the neighborhoods and detain residents at rates higher than NYC's "stop & frisk" program), or selling off controversial spy equipment like the Stingray mass cell phone monitoring device.

How about a program of de-militarizing TPD in general? In an era of mass corporate tax giveaways downtown, why not raise some cash by selling off that useless cop clutter? On a related note, does the Tempe Citizens’ Panel for Review of Police Complaints and Use of Force even meet? Down and Drought has been following the public page for this supposed oversight board for a year now and have yet to see a single posting for a public meeting nor any updates on what they're up to.

Meanwhile candidates for city council have to be forced by angry crowds to discuss the police, and the only solutions they seem to have is lavishing them with even more expensive toys which residents can be assured they will abuse. Increasingly, Tempe government looks completely out of step with a public that is asking themselves just what the hell is going on with the cops that patrol their neighborhoods. Does the city have any answers for them? It appears that answer is, no.