Wandering Eye: Hogan and SRB team up on housing credits, revive coroner's inquests?, and more

Back in the 1950s—and the '60s and '70s—shootings by police often led to a coroner's inquest. That was a public airing of the evidence, with witness testimony and a "verdict" of justifiable, accidental, or murder. So says reporter Doug Smith of the Los Angeles Times, who asks if the inquest ought to be revived in the era of the Black Lives Matter movement. "At the urging of County Medical Examiner-Coroner Mark A. Fajardo, who reviewed all police shootings in his job as Riverside County coroner, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors has asked key agency heads to rethink the review process with an eye to increasing transparency." The "toothlessness" of inquests, with their nonbinding results, makes them useful as public ritual, Paul MacMahon, a researcher who wrote a paper on the history of inquests for the Yale Law & Policy Review, argues. MacMahon's paper draws on colonial Maryland for some of its inspiration. "But there is little chance the trial-like proceedings of past decades will ever be seen again," Smith reports. "The ideals of speed and transparency today face huge hurdles in the reality of complex forensics and the protections of police-officer privacy that have become deeply entrenched in state law." The story then recounts how inquests fell out of favor, beginning in the 1960s: "The 34 deaths during the Watts riots of 1965 set off a frenzy of inquests that ultimately brought the process itself into disrepute." There was the inevitable cop-killing-an-unarmed-black-man whitewash. And a flamboyant coroner lost the confidence of much of the public in the 1970s. Smith reviewed 600 inquests. Not one found a criminal act by a cop. In the end, the question is left open. "Could you build something that was better, more transparent and fair? Perhaps," attorney James M. Adler said. "I don't know exactly what it would look like." (Edward Ericson Jr.)

 

After going toe to toe for several rounds, Gov. Larry Hogan and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake are playing nice on the issue of getting homeowners back in Baltimore. They jointly pledged $3 million in grant money to prospective home buyers as part of a program called the "Maryland Grand Slam." The program features $7,500 down-payment assistance grants ($5,000 from the state, and $2,500 from the city). The state kicked in $2 million; the city $1 million. Rawlings-Blake seemed to acknowleged the perceived frostiness between the city and Annapolis during a City Hall press conference. "At a time when people say there is little collaboration between the city and the state, I beg to differ," she said. "We have opportunities for collaboration, and we have leadership at the city and at the state that are taking advantage of that opportunity." (Brandon Weigel)

 

Sociologist Edward T. Walker notices the new kind of pro-corporate activism in this New York Times op-ed. "The Uber-ization of Activism" calls out the literal Uber-organized efforts to overthrow taxi regulations in several states, but then dollies back to take in the bigger picture, with Lyft, Airbnb, and (presumably) other "sharing economy" companies leveraging their user base. "Many tech firms now recognize the organizing power of their user networks, and are weaponizing their apps to achieve political ends," Walker writes. "Social-media platforms were briefly perceived as democratizing tools, engendering transparency and empowerment in the digital age. But these new protest-on-demand movements blur the distinction between genuine citizen organizing and what often is called 'astroturf': participation that looks grass roots but actually isn't, because it's been orchestrated to benefit a well-heeled patron." Fair enough. But the observation that corporations have adopted the language and tools of street protest is hardly news. Thomas Frank skewered this trend two decades ago in his book, "The Conquest of Cool." Noting Coke's use of Ken Keysian imagery, a Nike commercial appropriating William S. Burroughs, the peace signs that (briefly, alas) appeared on the packaging of R.J. Reynolds products, and (of course) those Apple commercials promising revolutionary liberation, Frank summed things up deftly: "Regardless of the tastes of Republican leaders, rebel youth culture remains the cultural mode of the corporate moment," he wrote in 1998, "used to promote not only specific products but the general idea of life in the cyber-revolution." Your move, Anonymous. (Edward Ericson Jr.)

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