Tag Archives: Citizens For Justice

Campaign Promises are Sacred

During the campaign to authorize the use of government surveillance cameras in Downtown Columbia, the voters were sold a bill of goods by Keep Columbia Safe and the camera proponents within the city bureaucracy. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, now that the cameras are in place, the final product looks quite different than what was proposed. 

It is important to note that while the Prop 1 initiative and the ordinance it produced merely authorized the installation and use of cameras, it has been interpreted as a mandate for action. If we are to accept the ordinance as a command to action, it is important that the camera parameters that were spelled out during the campaign and in the ordinance be strictly adhered to.

Unfortunately, the city has ignored the will of the voters and, in a series of bureaucratic head-fakes reminiscent of the events surrounding the building of our behemoth, eyesore parking garage, the will of the voters and the ordinance itself have been repeatedly and summarily ignored. 

Cost:

During the campaign, the proposed camera system was repeatedly estimated at a cost around $50,000 for the first year. Based on that number, The District offered to fit half of the bill for the first year and so budgeted $25,000 of their special tax funds for the project. When it was all said and done and the council voted to install the cameras, the price tag was actually $75,000 per year, a 50% increase.

This may seem trivial when considering a tax funded, government program. After all, it’s rare for a government program to come in at or under budget, but this budget was important to the debate that formed voter opinion. When camera opponents argued that an additional officer would be a better use of public funds, camera proponents made the claim that the salary and training costs, estimated at $125,000, involved in hiring an officer were far more than the relatively inexpensive, estimated $50,000 price tag for the cameras. Had the proponents been honest with the cost and the gap between camera cost and officer cost been narrowed, many fiscally concerned voters may have voted against the cameras. 

Conspicuous?

The camera ordinance states that, “Downtown safety cameras may only be deployed so as to be conspicuous…” 

This has been a point of contention since the moment of installation. Before they were installed, Lt. Chris Kelly of the Downtown Unit told the Tribune that the plan was “to keep them unmarked, or ‘plain Jane,’ so the cameras blend in with the environment.” 

Lt. Kelly later claimed that he was quoted out of context, but I can’t imagine a context that would change the meaning of those words. In reaction to his foot-in-mouth moment, Lt. Kelly announced that his camouflaged cameras would be adorned with a CPD logo to make them “conspicuous.” 

Even with the 5 inch CPD stickers, the cameras are still not easy to spot if one is not consciously looking for them. During a visit to Tom Bradley‘s morning radio show on September 21st, 2011, CPD Public Information Officer Jill Weineke stated that the cameras are small and that she often has to point them out to people. I guess Jill hasn’t read the ordinance. 

The Live Feed:

Again, during the campaign, camera proponents promised one thing but the city did another. The folks at Keep Columbia Safe repeatedly poopooed fears articulated by civil libertarians, myself included, that the cameras would be used for live, Orwellian surveillance. Proponents claimed that the police did not have the time or resources to play Big Brother and monitor law abiding citizens on the city streets. They claimed plainly that the cameras would only be used as recording devices and that those recordings would only be accessed in search of evidence if a crime was committed and voters made up their minds based on these claims. Only a few short months after installation, it came to light that the live feed from the cameras was being monitored by the CPD. 

 

It all boils down to the fact that camera proponents lied to the voters. As Dan Viets so eloquently pointed out, “A campaign promise is sacred.” 

Thanks to Citizens For Justice for this footage.

Intimidation:

As Mitch Richards pointed out in his address to the Columbia City Council, there is a stationary camera pointed Directly at The Blue Fugue, a bar that is a popular meeting place for liberty advocates. The Blue Fugue is among the safest establishments in town, and sees none of the violent crime that might merit government surveillance, especially when compared with other bars in the area.

So why point a camera directly at The Blue Fugue? I won’t venture a guess at the official explanation, but it is important to note that the CPD has a history of intimidating those who dare to criticize the department. For proof, one need look no further than the case of Greg Williams and Officer Robert Fox. Mr. Williams participated in a protest against the use of SWAT dynamic entries for the service of search warrants for non-violent crimes like Columbia’s infamous Kinloch Ct. SWAT raid. Officer Fox, and probably other officers, ran police background checks on the protesters. This came to light after Officer Fox released Mr. Williams’s juvenile record in the Tribune’s online comment section. Most of the stories regarding the indecent focused on the criminal release of sealed juvenile records in an attempt to discredit a protester who was merely exercising the most basic of American liberties. What the media accounts failed to recognize was that the CPD was running background checks on law-abiding citizens who dare to speak up and speak out when they see their public servant police force violating civil rights. 

With this in mind, it is not much of a stretch to imagine how this camera system might be used to intimidate the public and ultimately violate the First Amendment. Let’s not forget that the American Revolution and our beloved Bill of Rights was fomented over a few pints of ale in a few New England pubs.  

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A Star is Born

****UPDATE**** It looks like the city has pulled the video from their website. It should be available via a FOI request. We will have a copy up in a day or two.

****Update**** After filing a Missouri Sunshine Law request we have obtained a copy of the video and added it to this blog. The video is still missing from the City Channel. 

 

 

 

While searching for more information regarding the recent disclosure by CPD Lt. Chris Kelly stating that the police have been using our new so-called “Safety Cameras” for real-time, live monitoring of Downtown Columbia’s law abiding citizens I ran across an interesting and somewhat disturbing video on the City of Columbia website. The video entitled Downtown Surveillance Cameras features the founder of Keep Columbia Safe, the local, private, political committee that successfully lobbied in favor of the camera program.

[watch the video here

 

 

 

The video is anything but a subjective look at the latest Orwellian tool to be employed by our local government overlords. As you can see, it plays more like a promotional video for Keep Columbia Safe than an objective government public service announcement and is rife with the same falsehoods that were spewed during the original campaign that spawned the one-eyed Big Brother brood.

At the 1:03 mark in the video, Karen Taylor is allowed to tout the fine work of her group as she says:

Keep Columbia Safe was formed through the um work of adopting the “safety camera” ordinance but um our goal is to promote law enforcement and improve safety in our community.

Then she goes on to repeat the same unfounded claims that were made during the campaign as she says:

We looked at a number of cities that use safety cameras and the one thing that was pretty evident was that once communities started using safety cameras they found the value and they added more and that they really found them beneficial.

The problem with this statement, other than the repeated use of the blatantly propagandized moniker “safety cameras,” is that there is not one shred of empirical evidence that says surveillance cameras are effective at keeping people safe. In fact, there are myriad studies that say exactly the opposite, again and again.

And then she lays on the scare tactics laced with a creative statistical claim…

 …if you look at so many crimes these days whether it’s murders, abductions, assaults, most of the time cameras are involved in solving the case

Really? “Most” of the time? Cameras are used to solve the majority of murders, abductions, and assaults? Wow! Who knew? And who knew that downtown Columbia was the murder, assault, and abduction hot spot in town? Apparently, the City Channel supports these claims (and with your tax dollars).

Ms. Taylor also states that:

We didn’t say that it [the cameras] would necessarily end crime or prevent crime although we hoped it to be a deterrent, but it was another tool for law enforcement.

Well, actually, Ms. Taylor and her well funded media marketing machine repeatedly made the claim during the campaign that cameras would prevent crime. Heck, the invented name “safety camera” alone shows the intent to have folks believe that the cameras will keep them safe. Check out the first 30 seconds of following video as evidence of one of countless times when the “cameras equal crime prevention” argument was made by Ms. Taylor.

 

After watching the Keep Columbia Safe promotional propaganda video on the City of Columbia website, funded, produced, filmed, and hosted by the City of Columbia’s City Channel, I decided to write the following email to Don Cizek, one of the top dogs at the City Channel. 

Dear Mr. Cizek,

          I recently viewed a video on the city website entitled “Downtown Surveillance Cameras,” featuring Karen Taylor, founder of Keep Columbia Safe. The video was produced by you. I’m hoping you can provide me with information outlining the steps our organization, Keep Columbia Free, should take to have a similar promotional video directed and produced by city staff, hosted and promoted on the city website, and financed by the city.

          The video referenced herein can be found at this url:http://gocolumbiamo.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=492

 

 

          Thank you for your assistance with this matter. I look forward to working with you and your staff.

Sincerely,

Mark Flakne

President

KeepColumbiaFree

www.KeepColumbiaFree.com

573.808.4770


Not surprisingly, I received the following response from Toni Messina, Communications Director for the City of Columbia:

Mark:

          Thanks for your recent email regarding this topic.

          The video informs viewers of an initiative that was passed by voters and became a duty, with implementation authorized by the City Council and funded in the City budget. It is not private advocacy or an opinion piece, although the individual who brought the issue to voters’ attention is prominently featured. That was an unusual situation due to inability to schedule other internal spokespersons.

          I hope this is clear and that you understand we will not be scheduling a video shoot with your organization.

Toni Messina
Communications Director
701 E. Broadway
Columbia, MO 65201
Phone: 573-874-7660
Fax: 573-442-8828

trmessin@gocolumbiamo.com

Really, Toni? You couldn’t find anyone on the city staff, especially the police department, to be a spokesperson for the downtown cameras? You couldn’t get Lt. Chris Kelly, whose downtown patrol unit spends their evenings glued to the live video feed,  to spend a few minutes extolling his latest crime fighting tool?

Here is the response I sent to Toni:

Toni:

          Thank you for your response, but there are a few things I still find unclear.

          While your sense of duty is admirable, it is important to note that the Prop 1 initiative that was passed by voters did not create a duty for the city to implement the downtown camera system. The ballot language was specific and merely authorized the deployment of cameras. The ordinance language reflects the same.

http://www.gocolumbiamo.com/Council/Columbia_Code_of_Ordinances/Chapter_24/131.html

          To help you understand the difference between authorization and duty, I offer the following example.

          As a citizen of theUnited States, presuming you are not under some sort of court ordered house arrest, you are “authorized” to travel toKansas City. While you are legally “authorized” to travel toKansas City, it is not your “duty” to do so.

          I do not understand your department’s inability to schedule other internal spokespersons. Who did you ask to take part? Was this film made on a deadline of some sort? If so, why was there a deadline? How does your department’s inability to schedule internal spokespersons justify the use of a private, partisan spokesperson?

          I also take issue with your statement that the video in question “is not a private or an opinion piece,” since Ms. Taylor was allowed to outline the work of her private group and give several of her own unfounded opinions about the effectiveness of government surveillance systems.

          Your email has outlined the City Channel policy for making videos. From your email it is clear that groups that campaign for a ballot measure that creates a clear duty for city staff and win voter approval in the election will be provided the opportunity to have a video produced and hosted by the city. Please provide me with a copy of that policy or a copy of the policy that outlines the protocol for deciding what topics will be covered by the City Channel.

          While the Prop 1 camera initiative does not fit the criteria you’ve outlined, there is one past ballot initiative that does. In 2004 a ballot initiative to make marijuana the lowest priority for law enforcement was passed by moreColumbia voters than was Prop 1. The ordinance creates a clear “duty” for local law enforcement. When will a video be produced regarding this issue and starring one of the proponents of that ballot initiative?

http://gocolumbiamo.com/Council/Columbia_Code_of_Ordinances/Chapter_16/255.2.html

          As I’m sure you are aware, equal access to public institutions is a bedrock in the foundation of ourAmericanRepublicand our beloved democratic rights. The City Channel is no exception.

          Thank you in advance for taking the time to clear up these issues.

Sincerely,

Mark Flakne

President

KeepColumbiaFree

www.KeepColumbiaFree.com

573.808.4770

 

 

Toni Responded with the following:

Mark – The cost for a DVD is $3.98.  If you agree to this, then we can produce it and have ready some time today or tomorrow.  I will prepare an invoice and you can pay at our cashier’s office and get a receipt.  Will that work for you?

          Also, in response to your question about City Channel policy, I can tell you that the City Channel exists to support all City agencies and the City Council with broadcast programming and meeting and event services.  The City Channel is a “division” of the Public Communications Department with two distinct functions.  On the broadcast side, “the Channel” produces and airs public service-oriented programming to local cable television service subscribers in Columbia:

  • Live and rebroadcast meetings of the City Council, Planning and Zoning Commission and Board of Adjustment;
  • Regular and special news conferences;
  • Special meetings on City issues;
  • Video segments on City services and programs; and
  • Announcements of City jobs, City-sponsored events and other community events.

          On the “events” side, City Channel staff installs, maintains and sets up all audiovisual equipment needed for meetings held in the Council Chamber, Conference Rooms 1A and 1B and the Mezzanine in City Hall.  City agencies pay reasonable costs for both types of services through intragovernmental charges.

          While this business practice for programming has been in place since the Channel was established in the 1990’s, I am not aware of any policies that provide specific guidance.

Toni Messina
Communications Director
701 E. Broadway
Columbia, MO  65201
Phone: 573-874-7660
Fax: 573-442-8828
trmessin@gocolumbiamo.com

 

In short, “We do what we want.”

If any of what you’ve read here concerns you, we recommend that you contact Toni Messina at the email or phone number found above.

It will be interesting to see what our FOI request turns up.

 

Stay tuned…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Memorandum Regarding the CPRB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEMORANDUM

To:                           Mike Matthes, City Manager

                                Mayor and City Council Members

                                CPRB Board Members

From:                     Keep Columbia Free, a political action committee registered with the MO Ethics Commission

Ref:                          Proposed Changes to CPRB Ordinance

Date:                       August 28, 2011

 

The recent business addressed by the board and a number of related news items have drawn attention to concerns about potential changes to the CPRB Ordinance.  Recent matters brought before the board have made it clear that both the Columbia Police Department and the Columbia Police Officers Association seek to promulgate an adventitious interpretation of the board’s duties and purpose under the ordinance as they relate to the original interpretation held by many and as would seem most appropriate to accomplish said purpose.

Below we address the majority of the issues outlined by the Mayor before the City council regarding differences of opinion between the police chief and the CPRB.  It is our sincere hope that the council considers the input of other interested parties, specifically concerned citizens’ groups, as it turns to address these issues.  We further urge you to keep in mind the greater potential of fostering police accountability to the community as well as community trust in the police.  A great deal of this potential exists given nothing more than the ordinance as it currently exists.  Any changes that are unnecessary or counter to its purpose threaten to stifle that potential, as the influence of excessive, unbalanced input from the police, unfortunately, seems to already have done.       

Problem: The definition of misconduct.

Recommendation: No change is warranted or desirable.  Providing a definition in addition to those that already exist in law and department policies serves no practical purpose.  Rather, including a definition in the ordinance may hinder the board in performing its duties.

Chief Burton voices concern that there is no definition of misconduct given.  Notwithstanding the adoption by the board of the previously suggested definition, he provides yet another.  Either seems sufficient for the purposes proposed, but it seems clear from the ordinance section 21-44 that the board is tasked with addressing misconduct both “actual” and “perceived.”  Thus, a complaint need not be tested against any particular definition to be appropriate for review by the board, except in that the body of the ordinance only deals with those which have been through the normal complaint process.  Any complaint that alleges something that doesn’t technically fall under whatever definition has been adopted could still easily fall under the class of misconduct that is “perceived” but not “actual,” and yet be dismissed without review. 

The broader purview described in the ordinance should allow for the board to address the general perception of police among the citizenry, or the general concerns of a complainant independent of any allegations of specific actual misconduct by LEOs or the department.  As an advisory body, the freedom to address these concerns is vital to the board’s mission to make recommendations under Section 21-49(3) because if only violations of standing policies are permitted, complaints for which the best remedy might be a change in policies could be excluded from the board’s consideration.  Let us address three general classes of issues that the board might be asked to address:

The first is an allegation that an officer violated federal or state law, city ordinance or behaved in some other way illegally.  Clearly, the proper place for this to be addressed is in the courts, and the board should recommend that the specific allegation be handled by the prosecuting attorney.  The board is not a council of jurists and lacks the powers and restraints that come with the handling of such allegations in the judicial system.  Its place is instead to determine if any recommendations need to be made regarding policies, procedures and training in an attempt to prevent future problems.

The second is an allegation that an officer violated an existing department policy, guideline, directive, rule, regulation, or order.  Clearly, the proper place for this to be addressed is within the Internal Affairs department.  The board is not a surrogate chief of police, and should most properly recommend that any discipline be handled within the department.  The one exception is the directive under Section 21-49(1) to review appeals from the police chief’s decisions.  As made clear in Sections 21-52 and 21-53 the role of the board in these cases is to act as an additional intermediate step before appeals proceed to the personnel advisory board or the city manager.  In fact the ordinance seems to mandate that the normal complaint process be followed and that the board act only as an intermediate step, providing citizen input at the request of an appellant.  It may make recommendations, but its findings and recommendations are neither final nor binding, and thus cannot determine the final disposition of a particular case.

The third class of issues is a complaint regarding policies, procedures, or training that is not necessarily related to any specific incident of alleged actual misconduct.  These complaints address perceived misconduct, or potential problems that may threaten police accountability and community trust in the police.  The products of this class of reviews will be, again, recommendations on any changes that need to be made in policies, procedures, or training.  Among such recommendations might be suggestions that the definition of misconduct needs to be altered.  Currently, the board dismisses this class of complaint out of hand, and yet since the other two classes seem to require little involvement of the board beyond providing recommendations, it would seem that this class of concern should be recognized as exactly the kind of issue on which the board should devote the majority of its time and effort.  This is a serious problem that is addressed further below.

In all three cases, either the existing definition of misconduct has no bearing, or the duty of the board will include consideration of the appropriateness of the definition in use by another body.  The board might recommend that the definition being used as part of police policies, procedures, and training needs to be altered.  The board might recommend that the definition being used by the chief of police needs to be altered.  At no time is it bound by a specific definition, unless the chief’s recommendation is adopted by the City Council and a definition is included in the ordinance.  At no time should it be bound by a specific definition if it is to best accomplish its purpose.

The only consequence that should be expected from making this change is that the second class of complaints might then be taken out of the jurisdiction of the board, with the simple claim that “The complaint alleges behavior that does not fall under the specific definition of misconduct.”  Any such attempt to limit or bypass the board would counter-productive, as the purpose outlined in the current ordinance makes it clear that misconduct need not be “actual” to be addressed.  Providing a definition in addition to those already extant in law and department policies serves no practical purpose.

Problem: Open Records, Closed sessions and interviews.

Recommendations: No change is warranted or desirable.  As has been clarified, the only elements of the records that are opened are those pertaining to complaints, which have a bearing on the board’s considerations.  Again, board meetings are not trials, and the members of the board are not judges.  The information revealed by the provisions of Section 21-54 might bring to light problems and patterns that should rightly be addressed in the board’s recommendations.  Furthermore, while it might be reasonable to make accommodation for complainants who are concerned about harassment and retribution, the concerns for the officers are unfounded.

Especially given his/her privilege of qualified immunity, it seems troubling that any public servant would be concerned with the requirement that he/she honestly answer for their behavior.  What might be revealed in an interview that should not be heard by the public? Furthermore, under Missouri Revised Statues Section 610.022.3, closed meeting shall be closed only to the extent necessary to address the specific reasons for closing the meeting, and no other business should be discussed or votes taken “which does not directly relate to the specific reason announced to justify the closed meeting or vote.”  State law allows for certain specific situations under which a meeting can be closed and are more stringent than the criteria proposed by the chief of police.  Section 21-54(b) seems to allow for these exceptions already, and any potential closed sessions would by practical necessity have to be in addition to the normal monthly meetings outlined in Section 21-47(b) in order to comply with statute.  Surely these limitations and opportunities should be considered before any effort to alter the ordinance is undertaken.  In any case, it seems that the specific concerns brought forth by the CPOA and other parties could easily be addressed under the existing Section 21-52(a), under which independent investigators can be contracted to interview and investigate outside of the public meetings and then publicly report to the board and Section 21-55, under which the board is directed to develop a mediation process.  Why put the public nature of the board in jeopardy simply at the request of an officer accused of misconduct, when other remedies for specific concerns already exist, available at the discretion of the board?  Why risk violating State statute in an effort to address questionable concerns?

Problem: Training recommendations.

Recommendations: The proposed changes are both onerous and of questionable merit.  Surely there is some benefit to be derived from additional information and training, but a strictly mandated schedule of obligations when no funding is provided puts an undue burden on members of the board.  Furthermore, the appearance of bias that is inevitable if the police department provides and directs such a large portion of the training should be avoided.  Instead, it is recommended that the City Council determine an appropriate level of training funds for the board and that the specific nature and scheduling of said training be at the sole discretion of Council members and inspired by suggestions from all concerned parties.

Problem: Police policies to be posted online, regular reports on complaints.

Recommendations: These issues are not addressed by the Chief, except by a general statement of assent.  They are nothing more than reasonable requests by the board to help accomplish the purpose of providing a greater sense of police accountability and trust, and should be obeyed to the best of the department’s ability.  In principle, it seems that the board should rightly be encouraged to make whatever requests it determines are appropriate.  In fact, these two requests simply fall under the directive of Section 21-49(3) and are a perfect example of the third class of issues outlined above.  Making these requests and recommendations are exactly what the board was established to do, and it should be supported in the fulfillment of its duties and purpose.  Instead of posing these recommendations as “differences of opinion,” they and the method by which they were arrived at should be embraced by the board and the council by clarifying that the board welcomes appeals regarding concerns outside the strict standing definition of misconduct.  This brings us directly to the last question:

Problem: Who can make an appeal?

Recommendation: The proposed change is neither warranted nor desired. Instead, the definition of “complainant” should be broadened to make it clear that in order to most effectively address “police accountability to the community and community trust in the police” the board needs to have an official mechanism to address concerns independent of standing or of a specific officer or incident. 

Limiting the sources of complaints to individuals that are alleging specific acts of misconduct has the result of hampering the ability of the board to fully fulfill its purpose.  As an advisory body for the city and police department, and an advocate of the citizenry, it is vital that the board have a mechanism to address concerns beyond appeals from the police chief’s decision on specific allegations of actual misconduct.  Under the proposed changes, the agenda of the board will be limited to consideration of specific incidents, initiated by the complaining citizen or the disciplined officer, and the initiative of board members.  This is already the de facto state of the process, but that needs to change.  There needs to be a means by which other concerned parties can bring issues to the board’s attention.  Currently, that mechanism is generally understood by the citizens to be the complaint process, but the confusion of the board, police chief and CPOA and the identification of this as a problem by the mayor make it clear that the procedure should be clarified.  If the board is to fulfill its purpose, that clarification should allow for both appeals from the police chief’s decisions and appeals directly to the board to address concerns not inspired by a specific case of misconduct.  In any case, the council has only recently dealt with this question, and the decision to limit complainants to county residents both addresses the concerns raised by the board’s first appeal and allows for the kind of general citizen input that is so vital to the board’s mission.

In the minds of many members of the community, there should a role for the board in handling concerns that do not stem from specific allegations of misconduct; that it should be their voice, and act as a liaison with the police department and city council on matters of law enforcement policy and procedure.  The intentional inclusion of 21-51(a)(4) seems to indicate that the council recognizes this, and given the stated purpose of the board, it would seem that providing a more flexible way for the board to fulfill that role is vital.  The simple solution would seem to satisfy this need while also addressing many of Chief Burton’s concerns:  a type of filing independent of allegations of actual misconduct and the appeals process should be clearly written into the ordinance.  This process would provide a ready means for citizens to petition the board to make recommendations, and all but one of the essential elements already exist in the ordinance. 

By a surface reading of the ordinance, it would seem that the only impediment is the definitions of “complainant” which limits what can be brought before the board.  An additional class of filing, perhaps a “request” or “submission” should be included in the ordinance as a means to initiate review under the duties described in 21-49(3) without burdening members of the police department with having to answer specific allegations.  Members of the community could suggest recommendations to the board for review and, if deemed appropriate, the board could pass those on to the city manager, the police chief, and/or the City Council.  During these reviews, many of the clauses that are troubling for Chief Burton and the CPOA would not apply, because Sections 21-50 through 21-53 specifically refer to appeals and Internal Affairs procedures.  From the point of view of the council, department, and board, little would change, and yet the citizens would likely feel much more empowered to voice concerns, accomplishing much in the effort to address perceived misconduct and increase community trust in the police.  The proposed change would look something like this:

Sec. 21-44.  Purpose.

 

     The purpose of this article is to provide an external and independent process for review of actual or perceived police misconduct thereby increasing police accountability to the community and community trust in the police.

 

Sec. 21-45.  Definitions and rule of construction.

 

     The following definitions and rules of construction apply to this article:

 

     “Board,” when not otherwise specified, means the citizens police review board.

 

     “Complainant” means a person who files a complaint with the police department against a police officer or who files a recommendation submission for review by the board.

 

     “Complaint” means a written statement alleging misconduct of a police officer involving interaction with the public.

 

     “Notice” shall be considered given when it is hand delivered or three (3) business days after it is mailed.

 

     “Police officer” and “officer” means a commissioned law enforcement officer, other than the chief of police, who has the power of arrest and who serves in the Columbia police department.

 

Summary: The proposals made by the chief are presented as a collection of reasonable, simple changes intended to “tweak” the ordinance to address minor concerns.  In actuality, they would go a long way towards undermining the intended and stated purpose of the board and silencing concerns regarding the relationship between the police department and the community.  Officers are not under a constant threat of inquisition as pretended, but are granted an incomparable level of privilege and power by the government.  It is not only reasonable but absolutely necessary that what is in practical and legal terms little more that a review and advisory body maintain as much independence as possible to conduct business and direct its own procedures and conduct if the true intent is to foster accountability and trust.  We at Keep Columbia Free, along with many other individuals and groups in the community, have grave concerns about the potential for misconduct and abuse without meaningful and vigorous civilian oversight of law enforcement.  The board has the ability to address these concerns, but only if it is clear that it is free from hindrance or interference by the very government agency subject to its review.

The ordinance at its outset hints that both actual and perceived problems can have very real consequences.  If the chief’s recommendations are implemented, not only will the actual ability of the board to fulfill its mission be greatly hampered, but the perception that the board functions as little more than a public relations arm of the police department will be strengthened.  We strongly encourage the CPRB and the Council to do its best to avoid such an outcome.

 

 

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Thoughts on the CPRB Public Hearing and Work Session

The recent Citizens Police Review Board public hearing and subsequent work session was nothing short of entertaining. Outside of Bill Easley’s cantankerous rant and Marlon Jordan‘s “klan” theatrics, the public hearing was moving. The overwhelming majority of the nearly 80 in attendance, and the 15 or 20 folks who addressed the board in 3 minute increments, were there to ask that the board reject the changes proposed by Chief Burton and the Columbia Police Officers Association. [See our previous blog on the proposed changes] There were a handful of seats occupied by current and former police officers or police volunteers, two of whom addressed the board in support of Chief Burton and the CPOA, but there were no civilians who voiced approval for the ordinance change.

When the public hearing came to a close, after a 30 minute extension, the board’s work session began with an invitation for Chief Burton and CPOA representatives, Eric Dearmont and Ashley Cuttle to take a seat on the stage. Much to the chagrin of the citizens in the crowd, public comment was stifled as these three were given unlimited time to rebut and refute any and all input from the public.

It is important to note that while the Chief is a public employee and an argument could be made for him having a seat in the work session, neither Eric Dearmont nor Ashley Cuttle are public employees and are instead paid employees of the CPOA. The CPOA, while comprised of citizens employed as police officers and attorneys hired to represent them, is not a public entity. It is a private organization, not subject to sunshine laws or official public scrutiny. In reality, the CPOA is no different than any of the other reputable organizations that were in attendance at the hearing and limited to only 3 minutes of input each.

The message sent by allowing the CPOA unlimited and unrebutted input into the proceedings is undeniable. The review board has been labeled as sympathetic to the police since its inception, and allowing the CPOA a bully pulpit at a work session only serves to bolster the label.  The reaction from the crowd in attendance was also undeniable as eruptions of vocal discord periodically interrupted the work sessions with shouts of “bullshit” (disguised as sneezes) and loud demands for public rebuttal to the misleading and outright false claims made by both the Chief and the CPOA.

In an interesting turn, one board member, Susan Smith, who this blogger previously derided as a police stooge, heroically stood her ground against the unencumbered onslaught from Chief Burton and the CPOA, and forcefully repelled the attack with well reasoned arguments. This180 degree about face caused several jaws to drop in the audience. It was a truly pivotal moment as Ms. Smith informed the Chief that it was the City Council and not the CPRB who had already ruled on who might have standing in front of the board so asking for another change would be futile. Not only had the City Council ruled on standing, they had broadened the scope of who can file a complaint after the board suggested it be tightened. Smith made it clear that the board would not be making the same request twice. Ms. Smith went on to point out the many holes in how the Chief described the board’s rulings. Kudos to you, Ms. Smith.

There were two more vocal heroes who piped up during the work session. Betty Wilson continued her stalwart support of the citizenry as she made it clear that she was having none of what the Chief and the CPOA were offering. Even Rose Wibbenmeyer, in her role as city legal council for the board, pointed out why a charter city like Columbia does not need to adhere to State definitions of misconduct and went on to refute several other disingenuous legal arguments made by Eric Dearmont. Rose maintained her professional distance and did not offer an opinion,merely facts.

Even newcomer and former LAPD officer, Roger Dowis, challenged a few of the Chief’s points, seemingly finding his voice on the board. Strangely, many for the other board members spoke only once, or for procedural rules of order, or not at all. 

Enjoy a few videos from the hearing, most of which are courtesy of the amazing folks over at Citizens for Justice.

 

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Who Will Watch the Watchers?

Since its inception, our local Citizens Police Review Board has garnered a great deal of media attention. Whether it is fielding an appeal from California marijuana activist and global pot guru Ed Rosenthal or defending the human dignity of local Derek Billups, the CPRB continues to end up in the news. The recent decree from Mayor Bob McDavid that the CPRB and the Columbia Police Department resolve their differences is no exception.

Seemingly in response to recent CPRB rulings with which he did not agree and no doubt with the help of the Columbia Police Officers Assiation, the local police labor union, Police Chief Ken Burton submitted a written request to the city asking for changes to the ordinance which governs the board. Each of the suggested changes in his five-pronged attack, if implemented, would serve to weaken the board both in appearance and reality.

The appearance of the CPRB, as it is perceived by the public, is important. The board’s reputation has already been tarnished as Chief Burton summarily ignores every ruling or suggestion made by the board. This, along with his front and center presence at CPRB meetings, jumping to the podium frequently, without invitation, but also without protest from the board, has given the impression that the CPRB is slowly becoming a branch of the police department or is, at most, an impotent bureaucratic ruse.

For the most part, but with a few respective exceptions, the individuals on the board have done a fair job of judging each complaint. The ordinance which currently governs the CPRB is already weak. If the changes recommended by Chief Burton are added, the CPRB may as well be dissolved.

Here are Chief Burton’s proposed changes along with a few more issues as identified by the Columbia Missourian:

1. The definition of misconduct

The Chief of Police had recommended a definition based on the Missouri Revised Statute. The review board had recommended misconduct to be defined as “any violation of federal law, state law, city ordinance, city regulation or police department policy, guideline, directive, rule, regulation or order.”

Regardless of how the State of Missouri defines “misconduct,” the fact remains that this is our local police force, sanctioned by our local community to use force when necessary and funded by our tax dollars. It is right and just that these public servant police officers, whom we have hired to protect and serve the citizens of our community, should be answerable to the citizens of our community, either directly or via a representative board like the CPRB. To suggest that the citizens of Columbia do not have the right to define “misconduct” as it applies to the actions of officers in our Columbia Police Department is not only wrong, it is obscene.

2. Who can make an appeal?

The police want to limit the right to make an appeal only to people directly involved in the incident or parents or legal guardians of people directly involved.

The review board maintains it should not be limited.

This suggestion is an obvious attempt to place another bitter bit in the mouth of the CPRB by further limiting who has standing before the board. This plank in Burton’s campaign of domination reeks of the prevailing paternal police perspective as it implies that the board cannot judge standing or the legitimacy of any case on its own. The board should decide what cases are legitimate and what cases are not.

3. Open records

Due to a section in the review board’s ordinance, the filing of a complaint causes opening of records that are otherwise closed by law, including police officer personnel files and closed criminal reports. Police recommend that this section be eliminated. This would allow the board to review the personnel files, but they will be off-limits for the public.

The review board disagrees with this recommendation.

4. Closed sessions and interviews

Police have recommended giving complainants the option to make a request for a closed testimony. In an earlier Missourian report, the board’s new chair, James Martin, had said the board’s sessions should not be closed.

These two points speak to the issue of transparency. The purpose of this board is to pierce the “Blue Shield” of police secrecy that has plagued Columbia for some time. Before the CPRB, complaints would often be swept under the rug or buried in department bureaucracy and red tape. While personnel and employee privacy questions may seem valid, we must remember that, as public employees, the police are employees of the public. As employees of the public entrusted to use lethal force in the line of duty, transparency is of even greater import.

5. Training recommendations

McDavid said the police have asked for “more defined” training standards for the review board members.

The Missourian missed the meat of this issue. The police and their labor union have repeatedly asked that the board submit to an increasing amount of police-directed training. Board members already do some training directly with police and can always request to voluntarily meet with police for a ride-along or any other investigative/learning session. It is also true that several members of the board are former police officers or have had some police training. The newest member of the board, Roger Dowis, is a longtime veteran of the LAPD who served during the Rodney King era and is surely well versed in the use of force in law enforcement. Carroll Highbarger is a retired, career police officer who rose to the rank of Deputy Chief of the CPD before retiring to teach criminal justice at Columbia College. Susan Smith, who sadly seems to represent the police more often than not,  is a former prosecutor who also teaches criminal justice. Also in the law enforcement mix is Steve Sheltmire who is the graduate of civilian police academies in both Kansas City and Columbia.

The public, especially the African American community, already sees the CPRB as somewhat weak and weighted heavily by former officers and law enforcement lackeys.  This requirement for more training, while certainly providing the opportunity for the department to directly influence board members, would send the undeniable message to the civilian citizens of Columbia that the CPRB is in bed with the CPD and the CPOA and is therefor useless. How’s that for some confusing acronym usage?

6. Police policies to be posted online

One of the differences is the review board’s recommendation that police post their policies online so that the public, the board and police can easily access them. The police department didn’t address this issue in its report.

Of course the police failed to address this issue just as they fail to address any issue brought to light by the CPRB. The Chief as thumbed his nose at the board since its inception and he will continue to do so unless reigned in by both the elected and appointed representatives of the public he paid to serve.

7. Regular reports on complaints

The review board has asked the police department to provide it with monthly and annual reports containing information on complaints.

It will be interesting to see if the department provides this report and if the report is thorough and accurate. I’ve not heard much discussion on this issue and it seems like a reasonable request.

At a recent CPRB meeting a discussion took place regarding these changes. Several attorneys and members of the public asked the board to deny the chief’s requests and stand their ground. Here are Mitch Richards’s remarks on behalf of Keep Columbia Free. His exchange with the newest appointee, former LAPD narcotics officer Roger Dowis, happens during the last half of the video.




During the meeting seen in this video, the CPRB opted to have a public hearing on the proposed ordinance changes. It is of vital importance that the citizens of Columbia take the time to come to this hearing and take part in democracy at the basic and most important level. There will be plenty of opportunity for public comment if you have something to say, but you don’t have to speak. Just show up and show support. Just show up and let the City Council and the CPRB know that it is important to you that our local police become and remain accountable directly to the citizens whom they serve. Please put this public hearing on your calendar. It is August 24th at 7:00 pm at the new City Hall building. Everyone is welcome.

Mark Flakne

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Rex Rebstock on Immigration

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Free Immigration: “Judge not lest ye be judged”

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“He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither…”

The above was a complaint about the tyranny of George III, from a little document you may have heard about called the Declaration of Independence. This document also makes the outrageous claim “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” How does the desire for a healthy level of immigration and a declaration of human equality jive with our current immigration policy? The unfortunate fact of the matter is that it doesn’t. How does vigorous defense of our borders and aggressive enforcement of demanding immigration laws jive with American ideals? It doesn’t.

I quote that document with the idea that perhaps some here might have some inkling of respect for the sentiments expressed within, and I contend that if one looks at the issue from a practical economic standpoint, or a moral standpoint, or the uniquely American natural law-based political philosophical standpoint, permitting free migration into this country is both beneficial and just. I further contend that our current system, as well as those changes most often proposed are on the other hand detrimental to both the economy and to the individuals excluded from that economy as so-called “illegal immigrants.” Finally, I contend that the arguments used against such free migration are illogical, counter-productive, anathema to traditional American ideals, and instead dependent on the kind of tribal, collectivistic and anti-individual ideology some of the opponents of free immigration find so abhorrent in other situations.

In answer to all the complaints that these immigrants are a drain on the economy because as non-citizens they don’t pay the same taxes but are beneficiaries of government programs, I say the solution is simple: allow them to become citizens. They want to work and pay rent and participate in our economy. That’s why they come here. If you stop them from participating in contributing, then it is your fault if their effect is a net negative. As a legal worker, they would contribute to and draw from the public coffers in the same ways that natural born citizens do.

In answer to the complaint that they take jobs from native workers and unfairly compete by accepting a lower wage, I say the solution is simple: allow them to become citizens. As citizens they will be subject to all the regulations that any other Americans are, and won’t be any more likely to accept a sub-standard wage than any other citizen in a comparable situation.

In answer to the complaint that they aren’t assimilated to our culture and don’t speak the language, I say the solution is simple: allow them to become citizens. It worked with the Italians, Irish, Chinese, and Eastern Europeans that flooded into the country in previous decades. Most of them didn’t speak the language at first, and by necessity gathered together into neighborhoods in which the culture of their home country was dominant. That phenomenon lasts about a generation, but it doesn’t last forever. Do you not see that “No Irish Need Apply” signs in windows were a shameful thing and that those people were ignorant and short-sighted? Why would you want to emulate them?

In answer to the claim that it their fault they’re not citizens, because there is a process, I say that the process is perhaps much more burdensome than you pretend. How many of we who have been blessed with birthright citizenship could deal with the hundreds of pages of bureaucratic nonsense and tens of thousands of dollars of expense required? Would you accept a reform of the law back, perhaps, to the standards and procedures used at Ellis Island, that worked so well in the past? How would that be different than a general amnesty?

In answer to the claim that you wouldn’t really mind if only they would follow the laws to enter the country, I say that among you are people for whom that clearly isn’t true. Have you heard of the term “anchor babies?” They are the manifestation of a legal solution to the problem of finding a way to enter the country. Families of anchor babies were using the laws on the books to accomplish their immigration, as requested, but the response wasn’t “There you go, thank you for entering legally” as one might expect, but is instead “They’ve found a loophole! Let us change not only our laws but the very constitution to prevent it!” One simply can’t, in good faith, argue that following the laws is all that is asked at the same time as increasing the burden of those laws.

In answer to the complaint that they bring drug violence over the border, I say that rather it is us exporting said violence. Without our misguided and self-destructive policies, and our demand that neighbors comply, the phenomenon simply would not exist. Such a claim could have just as easily been made against Canadians during alcohol prohibition. It’s not the people, but the counter-productive, nanny-state, “progressive” laws that make drug trade so profitable and forces disputes involving it out of the court system. Armed conflict, kidnapping, and gang warfare are a product of the drug laws and in no way connected to immigration.

In answer to the complaint that they are by definition illegal because they have already broken laws, and law breakers shouldn’t be permitted to enter our society, I say that some estimates indicate that the average adult citizen commits three felonies a day. Certainly almost everyone over the age of 18 could be convicted of some felony-level violation of the immense and perverse mountain of regulations with which we have been burdened by collectivist ideology. As a wise philosopher once said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Only saints who promptly turn themselves in each time they exceed a speed limit can pretend that they don’t recognize the difference between the importants and value of different laws. To declare that laws must be obeyed and can never be immoral or misguided, mustn’t one also condemn the likes of Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Harriet Tubman, and Patrick Henry, who openly opposed and violated unjust laws? Isn’t that view akin to a blessing the perfectly legal atrocities committed by legitimate governments throughout history? Where do you draw the line? I know where I draw the line, and moving from one location to another without written approval is not in the same class as murder, kidnapping, and theft. The fact is that the laws on the books are outrageous and shouldn’t be used by themselves as a justification for any deprivation of the rights claimed in the Declaration and described in the Constitution.

In answer to the complaint that the supply of labor needs to be kept in check to keep wages at a certain level, I argue that policies that artificially inflate wages above the market value are an unfair burden on all of the other residents who aren’t necessarily protected by such policies. Even if everyone were, it is a simple task to show that wages are factored into the cost of products, and by raising wages one increases costs, which must be paid by consumers. When the costs of consumer products rise, there is a demand for higher wages, and the cycle perpetuates itself. The virtue or lack of virtue in the idea of centrally planning the economy can be addressed elsewhere, but allowing monopolies and cartels to prevent their own competition is generally understood to be detrimental to those not included in the cartel. Limiting competition in certain types of labor is no different.

In answer to the complaint that the supply of low-wage labor helps keep the price of certain foods low, I say shame on you. I haven’t heard this one in a while, but the idea that we shouldn’t allow, for example, migrant workers to become citizens because their current jobs pay the low wages that make produce so inexpensive was all over the news media for a few years. Legally forcing certain workers to accept a lower wage than others is oppressive in the clearest sense of the word, and akin to sweatshops and prison labor, and only a small step away from serfdom and slavery.

In answer to the complaint that during times of economic distress immigration should be curtailed, I say that perhaps the relationship between immigration and economic health aren’t quite as simple. Clearly arguments can be made that in a recession or depression where consumer spending is below what is desired, perhaps an increase in consumers might be beneficial. In a market with a glut of available housing, perhaps new residents eager to rent and buy would be a benefit. Perhaps unemployment isn’t only a product of too many people wanting jobs. A doubling of the unemployment rate in the last few years wasn’t a result of a doubling of the working population. Certainly if we look at the greatest economic booms and bust in the last century, the booms follow a loosening of immigration restrictions and the busts follow an increase in restrictions. If the relationship is what these complainants pretend, wouldn’t one would expect the opposite?

In answer to the claim that it’s really a matter of respecting property rights, that entering the country illegally is akin to trespassing and burglary, I say that this is the by far the most pernicious of all assertions discussed. Setting aside the inherent necessity of seeing the land as the property of the state and not the individuals, the argument clearly doesn’t apply to immigrants. They aren’t invaders laying claim to the property of U.S. Citizens. They are workers and consumers who upon arrival will rent housing or purchase property. A landlord who can’t rent his property isn’t helped by limiting immigration. He’s hurt by it, and doubly hurt because taxes are extracted to fund the damage to his livelihood. If an employee or a landlord want to do business with any individual, and that individual wants to do business with them, what right have third, unharmed, parties to interfere, on any basis? If you have a problem with the ways that your tax money is being spent, isn’t your problem with the system that extracts them? If a mugger uses stolen money to buy a sandwich, how much blame should be laid on the restaurant?

Invariably three types of illegal immigrants are talked about. Many talk of the wanton criminals who take advantage of the confusing and ineffectual policies on the border to commit crimes, or who fail to follow other laws because as fugitives there’s no reason to get minimum mandatory insurance or to avoid DUIs. Many talk about MS-13 and other drug gangs that bring military-level conflict over the border into southern states. These are easy targets. Few are willing to directly complain about the dishwashers and hotel maids and landscapers and other peaceful people who make up the vast majority of illegal immigrants. How many of these latter examples should suffer to try to prevent the former, especially when the efforts being made facilitate the true criminals. That itinerant central-american rapist is aided by immigration policy. Uninsured and unlicensed motorists aren’t uninsured and unlicensed because they don’t want to be, but because they can’t be. They are shut out of the system. Drug gangs draw their profits from the prohibition. Without that profit there would be no funding for all of those weapons and vehicles, and there would certainly be no incentive for anyone to risk their life smuggling legal substances and immigrants over the border. All of the rules that fail to stop these people are successful at one thing: forcing the peaceful and otherwise law-abiding people who want to come here to participate in our society and economy to live in the shadows, constantly in fear of ICE, unable to legally do the things that opponents of immigration demand they do. Conflating the profiteers and the victims together into an imaginary group simply because they arrive from the same cardinal direction, or share a common language, is dishonest.

    I’ve given a hint to the types of people who are harmed by restricting immigration: consumers, homeowners, the immigrants themselves. Who, then, benefits?

  • Clearly, true criminals are aided by the policy. They can commit horrendous crimes, and face no more punishment than merely being deported back into Mexico, who returns them to the border hoping to be rid of them.
  • Exploitative corporations, unwilling to compete in good faith, take advantage of the illegal status of immigrants to pay them slave wages.
  • Racist organizations can take advantage of the consequences of forced poverty and legal disenfranchisement to show what they pretend is an entire race in a poor light. By preventing assimilation they can foment fear and paranoia that would otherwise be difficult to demonstrate.
  • Drug cartels, human smugglers, and other organized crime are of course dependent on these policies. Without restrictions on the trade in drugs and the limitation on the right to migrate, these industry simply wouldn’t exist.
  • Finally, the immigration industrial complex, a confluence of public and private sector interests that profit from the industry of enforcing immigration laws, like so many other public-private partnerships, rely upon the creation and fueling of an otherwise non-existent problem to provide a raison d’être. Other corporations whose only customer is the security state follow right behind. Without irrational fear and oppressive regulation, their industry wouldn’t exist, either.
  • Certainly there are others, but these benefit the most. I can understand that there is a chance that your wage might drop if the legal labor market expands. I disagree that this is a real problem, but even if you’re right, how much of your wage would you be willing to give up to help stop these evil people? Is what you’re being paid enough to buy your support for them?

The practical consequences of laws like Alabama’s is to establish a Gestapo police state in which everyone must constantly prove that they are innocent, rather than the society envisioned by our founders in which free men were to free from such harassment, and left do as they liked until proven guilty. If your ideal is some fascist or communist collective, then by all means demand that a person should be required to maintain and present papers at every interaction with government officials and upon the entry of any contract. Demand that people should be stopped at every opportunity to prove that they have the right to walk down the street, or drive a car, or enter into trade with other peaceful people. But demand those things only if what you really want is that police state, because that’s what you’re going to get. Maybe you’re placated by the idea that they will demand such proof only from those who inspire a “reasonable suspicion.” I’ll refuse to play the “racist card” here, and instead ask you to imagine the kind of “reasonable suspicion” that might be acceptable to a government that issues MIAC reports and Homeland Security Bulletins to be on the look out for Veterans and Ron Paul supporters and Tea Partiers and people with 2nd amendment bumper stickers, a security state that tells its stormtroopers to be on the lookout for anyone flying an American flag a little too prominently, or who talks a little too passionately in favor of the Constitution, or who might be a “religious extremist” in the eyes of the left. You may not look Mexican, and you may keep such patriotic displays out of plain sight, and you may keep quiet about your respect for the 10th amendment, or your opposition to the Federal Reserve, but when you support these kinds of laws you are granting license to the kinds of people that some day might ask you for papers and will cite one of the thousands of esoteric laws you might have broken, or might claim that they have reason to believe that you might be giving material support to right-wing terrorists and haul you off. They’ve done it before, they are currently doing it, and if we cheer as they do it to some group just because we’re fortunate enough to not be in that particular group because of some irrational fear, then there is no reason to expect that they won’t ever do it to us.

I would much rather take the risk that I might have to participate in an active, free market full of vibrant competition than secure a little temporary protection from boogeymen by selling off my liberty.

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Jonathan “Ryan” March Interview

Last week, Mitch and I sat down with Jonathan “Ryan” March whose home was raided by the Columbia, MO S.W.A.T. team in 2008. The S.W.A.T. team was at his home to look for marijuana. Ryan had no prior felonies and no history of violence. During the raid, Ryan’s two retreating dogs were shot and killed. In this video, Ryan March discusses what it is like to be a victim of the drug war.  

Interestingly, on the City of Columbia website we found a promotional video for the CPD S.W.A.T team in which CPD Officer John Warner, who was the officer wearing the helmet camera during the raid on Mr. March’s home, tells how he enjoys the adrenaline rush he gets from such raids. One would hope that S.W.A.T. officers would see these violent raids as a necessary evil instead of a source of entertainment. One wonders what the S.W.A.T. officers are doing for kicks now that Chief Burton has put the brakes on the service of narcotics search warrants via S.W.A.T. dynamic entry. Perhaps the department should invest in an Xbox. Here is the clip of Warner describing why he likes being on the S.W.A.T. team.

 

And just for fun, here is an excerpt from The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Enjoy.

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