Friday, July 9, 2010

L.A. Touts Serial Killer Arrest to Quash Civil Liberty Concerns (UPDATE)

Today the topic is DNA, with the arrest of Lonnie David Franklin Jr., charged in a string of murders dating back to 1985. Dubbed the Grim Sleeper, for a long stretch of inactivity, a profile was built of a serial killer who preyed on women in south L.A. and dispatched them using the same small caliber pistol each time. Police reportedly recovered DNA evidence from at least two victims, but never had a person to match it to. That was until Mr. Franklin's son was convicted on a weapons charge. His son's DNA was entered into a database where it was then processed by California's familial DNA search program, which then led to the identification and arrest of Mr. Franklin. Seems like a win for the good guys right? Science being used to get an evil person of the street, simple as that?

Not quite. It wouldn't be the first time that science has been wrong. Police already bungled the investigation once and arrested the wrong person based on ballistics evidence. They had termed that arrest to be a "solid case" as well. No wonder victims' families are cautiously optimistic this time around. Former governor and state Attorney General Jerry Brown has no such reservations however, boldly stating, "This arrest provides proof positive that familial DNA searches must be a part of law enforcement's crime-fighting arsenal. Although the adoption of this new state policy was unprecedented and controversial, in certain cases, it is the only way to bring a dangerous killer to justice."

So much for the presumption of innocence.

How does one go about implementing a totalitarian police state in a free country? Say it's for our own good of course. Whenever the police and prosecutors want to move the goalposts ever closer to state dictatorship over every facet of our lives, they tell us it is for our own good, for our own safety, to protect us from evil things, and then march out before us some heinous criminal who "might never have been caught if it weren't for..." whatever new law or technology they are trying to implement. They raise a rabble by selling fear and vengeance to silence those who might question yet another violation of the liberty spelled out by the nation's founding fathers. Most folks go ahead and fall right in line with the agenda. After all, no one wants to side with some brutal killer, even if it means saying goodbye to the last few essential rights we have. In this way, we not only hand over our liberty and everything it means to be an American, but we demand it!

No doubt there are many draconian dragnet fishing expeditions the police could go on that would bring up results. Like calling every citizen out of their houses and onto the street at 1 a.m. to submit to a DNA test and a retina scan perhaps. The only real question here is, where does one draw the line? Clearly, the police and prosecutors see no line to be crossed and won't be happy until everyone in America is swabbed for DNA and implanted with a microchip to monitor every movement and thought process. Maybe we should just go ahead and put everyone in prison right now, to be on the safe side. It isn't enough that we already keep more people in prison than any other country in the world. (The U.S. has less than 5% of the world's total population, but 25% of the world total prison population.) For now though, it is time to push this agenda of the presumption of guilt by association.

Maybe, just maybe they happened to be right this time, and nabbed a viscous serial killer. That is no guarantee of future results. What it does guarantee is that suspicion will be cast on many innocent people simply because they are related to someone who was once arrested. (14 states hold DNA records on people who are arrested, regardless of whether or not they are actually innocent or convicted.) Folks will be plucked from their daily lives and then dragged in for interrogation. In some instances they will be held indefinitely without a lawyer, as is becoming more customary in many cases. (In another recent case, police held two men suspected of setting booby-traps against police officers in an L.A. suburb for five days without charges. It is not known whether or not they were given access to a lawyer during that time.) They will be subject to every sort of threat and coercion that the police can muster in a closed room, free from the prying eyes of the public or a lawyer, not only to force them to confess but to submit to their own DNA testing as well. (The Supreme Court has ruled that police may now continue an interrogation, without a lawyer present, even after the "right" has been invoked and a lawyer requested.)

Perhaps some folks would be willing to subject themselves to such an ordeal, and face the idea of going to prison as an innocent person, in the name of public safety. Especially since it is only being used against the most dangerous sort of criminals, right? Wrong. In one of the first cases of its kind, police in Denver, Colorado used familial DNA to catch a person who had broken into a car to steal $1.40 in change. But the problems with this sort of evidence do not end there. Aside from the fact that DNA science itself it not as foolproof as late night dramas would have the public believing, this familiar DNA search is extremely biased against men and blacks. Because black Americans constitute a larger portion of people arrested by police, this means that the black population as a whole, regardless of any criminal activity, will be genetically profiled to a much larger degree than other races. Furthermore, females cannot be accurately identified with familial DNA profiling. as this technology is based on mapping Y chromosomes.

Aside from presumption of guilt over innocence, guilt by association, racial and sexist bias, the undermining of Constitutional values, and a whole host of other concerns that are now being overlooked with the arrest of this man said to be a prolific serial killer, there is also the concern of how this may impact family relations. What will this do to family and personal privacy in regards to adoption, children born of affairs or incest, transgendered persons, estrangement, etcetera? How will this play out when it comes to twins? All of these concerns are being brushed aside in a public outcry of support for the invasion of our own rights, disguised as justice. How many innocents will be persecuted, how many lives turned upside down, for the extremely rare instance that a deranged maniac is actually caught based on this technology?

Raising these questions though, will not be popular at all now, and the media is helping to ensure that. A CNN article pulls at the heart strings by specifying one victim over all the others, since she was only 18. The old "it's for the children" propaganda being played there with some subtlety. Southern California Public Radio had this to say...

"The familial DNA search had been criticized as an invasion of privacy but now that it’s yielded amazing results, should it [be] used without hesitation?"

How can the question even be asked before a conviction is brought? An arrest is certainly no "amazing result" at the cost of privacy and the violation of liberty. According to the National Research Council of National Academies who advises the government on scientific matters, these sort of databases should never have been created in the first place, noting "serious issues of privacy and fairness." Of course, the warnings will go unheeded as they always do, drowned out by the mass of short-sighted, historically forgetful, fearful and vengeful citizens so easily manipulated into knee-jerk reactions. Another sad day for liberty, and another victory for tyranny. All in the name of public safety.

"Those who would trade in their freedom for their protection deserve neither." ~Benjamin Franklin

7/10/10 UPDATE:

Reports out today show that suspect Lonnie David Franklin Jr. was arrested at least 15 times in the past four decades, but was never sent to prison and never had a DNA sample taken in recent arrests. He was arrested for serious crimes including burglary, car theft, firearms possession and assaults, but despite recommendations of probation officers, he was still never sent to prison or had a DNA sample taken. So clearly, this familial DNA technology is not, in fact, "...the only way to bring a dangerous killer to justice," as stated by Attorney General Jerry Brown. Now the public is supposed to submit to even more infringement upon their own rights and liberty because the government can't even use the tools it already has effectively? Tell us Mister Brown, how is your incompetence, "proof-positive" as you put it, "that familial DNA searches must be a part of law enforcement's crime-fighting arsenal" when you and your office let this man go free time and time again? According to the Associate Press article on Yahoo News, one of his victims was killed in 2003 when Mr. Franklin should have been in jail for stealing a car, but was instead released early.

Of course, some will use these revelations to endorse a "build more prisons, get tough on crime" agenda once again. Sure, give even more money and power to those who don't even know how to do their job. Feed the incompetence. The answer is not more jails and stiffer sentences. It's about picking and choosing the battles. Rather than keeping a bunch of people locked up for selling some marijuana, maybe the government should let them out and make room for the real criminals. Violent repeat offenders with multiple felony convictions. And in the bigger picture, maybe the leadership of this nation should get things on track economically so that folks don't become so desperate that they feel they have to resort to crime in the first place. That would certainly help to smoke out the real maniacs, if they weren't camouflaged by so many would-be regular folks being persecuted as arch-criminals just for trying to survive on mean streets.

Back to the topic of DNA specifically, there is another troubling aspect of this case. The manner in which they collected the DNA sample from the suspect. As reported by the same AP article linked above, "An undercover officer pretending to be a waiter in Los Angeles collected tableware, napkins, glasses and pizza crust at a restaurant where Franklin ate, allowing detectives to obtain a DNA match."

By what right do the police clandestinely collect DNA material from a citizen? They had no other evidence linking this man specifically to any of the killings, or even to the familial DNA sample taken from his son. They had no reason to suspect him specifically, other than a hunch. They had no way of knowing if Mr. Franklin was indeed his son's genetic father. Nor could they be certain that it wasn't any number of other people with a similar DNA profile. This reeks of typical police fishing expeditions under the guise of "you match the description" just because he happened to be a black man related to a felon.

So it seems now that the police can take anyone's DNA sample at will, so long as they have a hunch that you might be a criminal. A very dangerous precedent indeed in what was once a free country, where people had inviolable rights to privacy. How long before police are putting citizens up against the wall for a cavity search and a genital swab, just because they happened to be in a ten block radius of a crime scene? But of course, no one complains about it right now, because police got the big fish on their expedition this time, as they trampled all over the Constitution. What happens though, when they start spending more of your tax dollars hand over fist on these expeditions, coming up short more often than not, or for something as petty as $1.40 in change, leaving a trail of wrecked homes and lives behind them? If the police could just go in and secretly take Mr. Franklin's DNA at will, who is to say they won't simply start doing this to everyone at will? What is to stop crooked cops like murderous Louis Eppolito and Steven Caracappa from taking your DNA evidence and planting it on a murder victim? How would crooked cops like them even be caught once they have their manipulative hands on the Holy Grail of evidence? What is to stop a lab from making mistakes, or even being willfully fraudulent in their findings with your DNA in hand? There's an old adage that the founding fathers no doubt knew. "Never trust someone who doesn't trust you." They certainly trusted no government, and saw it only as a necessary evil, meant to be limited in every respect possible.
"It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others: or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own.
Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty."
~Thomas Jefferson

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