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    • CommentAuthorHitoriga
    • CommentTimeAug 13th 2008 edited
     (3301.1)
    <a href="http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5jypHZNgftqxSfgX2MymtfD-6oIIwD92H9CA80">

    By JON GAMBRELL – 9 hours ago

    "HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. (AP) — Officers armed with military rifles have been stopping and questioning passers-by in a neighborhood plagued by violence that's been under a 24-hour curfew for a week.

    On Tuesday, the Helena-West Helena City Council voted 9-0 to allow police to expand that program into any area of the city, despite a warning from a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas that the police stops were unconstitutional.

    Police Chief Fred Fielder said the patrols have netted 32 arrests since they began last week in a 10-block neighborhood in this small town on the banks of the Mississippi River long troubled by poverty. The council said those living in the city want the random shootings and drug-fueled violence to stop, no matter what the cost.

    "Now if somebody wants to sue us, they have an option to sue, but I'm fairly certain that a judge will see it the way the way the citizens see it here," Mayor James Valley said. "The citizens deserve peace, that some infringement on constitutional rights is OK and we have not violated anything as far as the Constitution."

    The area under curfew, in what used to be a West Helena neighborhood, sits among abandoned homes and occupied residences in disrepair.

    White signs on large blue barrels warn those passing by that the area remains under curfew by order of Mayor James Valley. The order was scheduled to end at 3 p.m. Tuesday, but Valley said the city council's vote would allow police to have the same powers across Helena-West Helena.

    Among the curfew operation's arrests, 10 came from felony charges, including the arrest of two people carrying both drugs and weapons, Fielder said. The police chief said the officers in the field carry military-style M-16 or M-4 rifles, some equipped with laser sights. Other officers carry short-barrel shotguns. Many dealing crack cocaine and marijuana in the city carry pistols and AK-47 assault rifles, he said.

    "We've had people call us, expressing concern for their children," Fielder said. "They had to sleep on the floor, because of stray bullets."

    Fielder said officers had not arrested anyone for violating the curfew, only questioned people about why they were outside. Those without good answers or acting nervously get additional attention, Fielder said.

    However, such stops likely violate residents' constitutional rights to freely assemble and protections against unreasonable police searches, said Holly Dickson, a lawyer for the ACLU of Arkansas who addressed the council at its packed Tuesday meeting. Because of that, Dickson said any convictions coming from the arrests likely would be overturned.

    "The residents of these high-crime areas are already victims," she said. "They're victims of what are happening in the neighborhoods, they're victims of fear. But for them to be subject to unlawful stops and questioning ... that is not going to ultimately going to help this situation."

    The council rejected Dickson's claims, at one point questioning the Little Rock-based attorney if she'd live in a neighborhood they described as under siege by wild gunfire and gangs.

    "As far as I'm concerned, at 3 o'clock in the morning, nobody has any business being on the street, except the law," Councilman Eugene "Red" Johnson said. "Anyone out at 3 o'clock shouldn't be out on the street, unless you're going to the hospital."

    The curfew is the second under the mayor's watch since the rival cities of Helena and West Helena merged in 2006. That year, Valley set a nightly citywide curfew after a rash of burglaries and other thefts.

    Police in Hartford, Conn., began enforcing a nightly curfew for youths after recent violence, including a weekend shooting that killed a man and wounded six young people.

    Helena-West Helena, with 15,000 residents at the edge of Arkansas' eastern rice fields and farmland, is in one of the nation's poorest regions, trailing even parts of Appalachia in its standard of living.

    In the curfew area, those inside the homes in the watch area peered out of door cracks Tuesday as police cruisers passed. They closed the doors afterward. "

    Discuss.
    • CommentAuthorRenThing
    • CommentTimeAug 13th 2008
     (3301.2)
    "Now if somebody wants to sue us, they have an option to sue, but I'm fairly certain that a judge will see it the way the way the citizens see it here," Mayor James Valley said. "The citizens deserve peace, that some infringement on constitutional rights is OK and we have not violated anything as far as the Constitution."

    ...I'm thinking the problems there aren't just with the criminal element.
  1.  (3301.3)
    George Bush needs to use that one line up there. "The citizens deserve peace, that some infringement on constitutional rights is OK and we have not violated anything as far as the Constitution." How does that work?

    While I understand the problems of rampant crime. You cannot swap out the fear of one gang of thugs for another that just wears badges.
    • CommentAuthorraff i el
    • CommentTimeAug 13th 2008 edited
     (3301.4)
    there was that line from the gandhi's biopic where the british officer who ordered a massacre of peaceful protesters was getting chewed out by a tribunal. tribunal, "Did you make any provisions for the wounded?" officer, "We were prepared to help any who applied" tribunal, "how exactly does a child hit with a .50 caliber shell 'apply?'"

    it seems kind of like that. sure, any sane court would realize that this violates constitutional rights, but how many of those people have the wherewithal to defend themselves in court?
  2.  (3301.5)
    "As far as I'm concerned, at 3 o'clock in the morning, nobody has any business being on the street, except the law," Councilman Eugene "Red" Johnson said. "Anyone out at 3 o'clock shouldn't be out on the street, unless you're going to the hospital."


    3am is the best time to be on the street!
    •  
      CommentAuthorCOMTE
    • CommentTimeAug 13th 2008
     (3301.6)
    Amazing country I live in - I'm not entirely convinced the big fence we're erecting on our Southern border is so much intended to keep illegal immigrants OUT, as it is to keep our own home-grown nut-jobs IN...
    • CommentAuthorRenThing
    • CommentTimeAug 13th 2008
     (3301.7)
    @Comte

    The answer is C) all of the above.
    •  
      CommentAuthoraRgus
    • CommentTimeAug 13th 2008
     (3301.8)
    HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. (AP) — Mayor James Valley develops cutting edge law enforcement policies in the war on poor people: Preemptive prisons!

    In the preemptive penal system, inmates are detained BEFORE they commit a crime, thus saving the state the costs of due process. Adding to the savings, prisoners are responsible for buying their own food, paying for their quarters, and of course, paying taxes. Officer Fielder explains that it's all for the children:

    "We've had people call us, expressing concern for their children," Fielder said. "They had to sleep on the floor, because of stray bullets, so we told them they couldn't leave. You know, for the children."
  3.  (3301.9)
    ...I'm thinking the problems there aren't just with the criminal element.

    No, it's that the criminals are the ones in charge.

    Fuck me... I can't even begin to comment on how wrong this is. I'm surprised they actually let a reporter get into the tri-county area.

    Then again, I'm not, because arrogant arseholes that call themselves local politicians always want to get their names in the spotlight. I have visions of the mayor rolling around in all the bad press and rubbing it all over himself.

    "That's right, baby. I violate civil liberties. People lock their doors when I'm around. Oh, yeah, baby, I'm bad."

    People like that get off on the bad press, the feeling of power. Makes me sick.
    • CommentAuthorseverian
    • CommentTimeAug 13th 2008
     (3301.10)
    What worries me even more are the officers. It doesn't matter as much whether the guns the officers carry are civilian model AR-15 semiautos or full auto M-16s. It's the fact that no matter how much of a nice person they possibly could be out of uniform, once an officer is told they're doing this for the good of the community and you hand them a DAMNED MACHINE GUN you will have some lapse in judgment and overstepped authority.

    With the recent Supreme Court decision that affected the DC handgun ban I'm afraid that some more depressed areas will see this as the less likely to cause legal trouble should they try to reduce high violent crime levels. The community won't improve overnight because of "business initiatives" in the poorer areas, but you can have your own private army against your own local "terrorists" that threaten to make refugees out of your fine upstanding citizens.

    Both ranks of criminals need a solution. I'm just glad where I live the city council takes the time to remember that the citizens include people who may not have yearly country club memberships.
  4.  (3301.11)
    Hold up... isn't a 24 hour curfew essentially house arrest?

    (Otherwise it's like the Section 40 that we have over here in the UK that lets the police stop and search people without need for suspicion - last used in my area because the parents at the school where my brother teaches were arming their kids to go and chop up the black kids.)
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeAug 13th 2008 edited
     (3301.12)
    Let's see:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Helena

    Population: 15,000

    "Up to now, the police have made several arrests in connection with the 24-hour curfew, ten of which have resulted in felony charges. However, Fred Fielder, the chief of police for Helena-West Helena, has stated that, to date, no one has been arrested specifically for violating the curfew."

    "Based on U.S. Census reports for both cities prior to the merger, the 2000 population of the area comprising Helena-West Helena was 15,012. There were 5,516 households, and 3,765 families residing in the city. The racial makeup of the city was 31.85% White, 66.63% African American, 0.19% Native American, 0.47% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.27% from other races, and 0.58% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.89% of the population."

    A quick google search on Mayor Valley turns up the fact that was recently involved in an animal abuse scandal involving dumping abandoned dogs and cats in the woods outside town on the theory that God would provide for them.

    So you have a smallish town with a mayor who's in trouble over an unrelated issue.

    You've got an ethnically divided community which was two sepearate municipalities up until a few years back (and yes I know Valley himself is black.)

    I know there's a lot of crime in many parts of the small-town America but I find it hard to believe that a town of 15,000 people supports a big enough drug market for regular shoot-outs between rival gangs.

    Oh and I wonder what the curfew is costing the township and what percentage of the police budget its taking up.

    I've never set foot in Helena so I'm speculating here but everything I read about this in the course of my extensive 15 minutes of internet research suggests this is a cynical possibly racially-motivated stunt by a dumb-ass politician engaged in covering up his shortcomings.

    Anyone who has a better understanding of the place and the peoplr involved is welcoem to correct me.
    • CommentAuthorbuzzorhowl
    • CommentTimeAug 13th 2008 edited
     (3301.13)
    Like that Section 40 thing you're talking about, yes. They said above that "if you had a good reason to be out" you would be let go.

    It's basically being used as a way around the Fourth Amendment to our Constitution, which protects us from search and seizure without probable cause. The problem is that it's being done against poor people who can't afford to sue the government, which is why the ACLU is getting involved--they have the budget to file suit against the government for this. The district court MIGHT uphold the curfew, but I'm sure they could appeal it a step or two up the chain of courts and get it overturned. This shit is so blatantly unconstitutional its ridiculous.

    Ack! xposted w/Kosmopolit--this was @Reynolds.
  5.  (3301.14)
    @Kosmo
    Actually, no Helena is a shitburg. Most people I know just avoid it like the plague. Local news has been reporting murder/shootouts down there for years. I don't doubt that it's gotten as bad as they say. I haven't been through there in a year or two though. Arkansas in general actually has quite a bit of drug traffic. We're part of a corridor between the northern states and Mexico thanks to our highway that runs up from Texas.
    My guess is that it has actually gotten pretty bad. Strangely Arkansas has been in the news for gang violence before, in the 90's we had a horrible gang problem here in Little Rock. There was a documentary done on it, Bangin' in Little Rock.
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeAug 13th 2008 edited
     (3301.15)
    Steve, like I said, I was theorising. Thanks for correcting me.

    Still I have to question whether the curfew is a sensible way to handle the problem.
    • CommentAuthorbuzzorhowl
    • CommentTimeAug 13th 2008
     (3301.16)
    I'm with you. It just presumes that everyone in the area is guilty til proven innocent. It's totally antithetical to the ideas this country was founded on. Not to get all patriotic and shit, but god damn it, you know?
    •  
      CommentAuthorBee-Lo
    • CommentTimeAug 13th 2008
     (3301.17)
    Something similar to this happened early June in Trinidad, Washington. It didn't really seem to help things all that much, since they had to put up some more curfew checkpoints a month later after another serious shooting. This curfew probably won't have any real lasting effect either.

    There must be better and constitutional ways to solve problems like this. Even if the curfews were catching every criminal (they aren't), are they doing any better than having patrol cops out at night and doing investigations on cases?

    It just seems a little weird to post a sign that essentially says "There will be police in this area for the next 24 hours randomly checking any people who come into the area". Why not just... wait?
  6.  (3301.18)
    I know there's a lot of crime in many parts of the small-town America but I find it hard to believe that a town of 15,000 people supports a big enough drug market for regular shoot-outs between rival gangs.

    We've got a population of less than 5,000 in my town, and even if you combine the surrounding municipalities, we still don't crack 15,000, but there's more than enough of a drug market to go around. That's likely the only reason we haven't been having gangland wars (yet... we do have some biker gangs looking to move into the area, which will likely start taking regular customers away from the current runners).

    No meth on sale (regularly) but there's plenty of a racket in both marijuana and heroin. A few of the local auto dealers are regularly coked out of their minds, enough that they can't get through the weekly auction without running out to the back lot to do a line or two. I watched some guy that looked like he was Mickey Rourke's stunt double in Get Carter cut a deal with three teenagers outside the local gas station Monday night.

    Small towns are the best markets. Less money for proper enforcement, and if you can get one so-called important person in town in your pocket, you've got a free market.
  7.  (3301.19)
    @Kosmo oh don't get me wrong, I seriously doubt that automatic weapons and curfews are the proper way to handle this but there is very likely a serious gang problem down there. Meth and crack are probably kicking around most of it, this stuff is super popular around here.
  8.  (3301.20)
    @justineger I agree that small towns are a good market... I come from a rather small midwest town myself, and it was a small jump for a fair number of people that I knew from smoking a lot of pot out of boredom (or whatever) to switching to heroin because it was more readily available.
    Then you get into the availability of items for making meth because it's a farming community, the unemployment rate, lack of police funding, complete absence of programs to assist people.. and it's a recipie for disaster.

    The fixes for situations like this aren't easy, and they aren't quick.