Shane Bauer

Shane Bauer

Senior Reporter

Shane Bauer is a senior reporter at Mother Jones, covering criminal justice and human rights. He has written for the Guardian, The Nation, Salon, Slate, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor and other publications. He is the co-author of A Sliver of Light, a memoir he wrote with his fellow hostages (one of whom is now his wife) about their two years as prisoners in Iran. Email him at sbauer (at) motherjones (dot) com.

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The NRA Comes Out in Support of Warrior Cops

| Tue Oct. 28, 2014 5:00 AM EDT

The current issue of the National Rifle Association's American Warrior magazine just hit, and in it, the gun lobby comes out squarely in favor of warrior cops. An article titled, "If You Were a Cop, What Would You Drive?" opens with a photo of an armored personnel carrier-style vehicle juxtaposed with a Volkswagen van. Rick Stewart, the host of the NRA's Life of Duty Patriot Profile series, wonders, "Why should SWAT teams be forced to deploy in a glorified bread-truck?" (It is unclear why a hippie bus is the other alternative.)

NRA American Warrior

The NRA has long walked a delicate line between glorifying law enforcement and fanning fears of big, tyrannical government. In 1995, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre infamously wrote of "jack-booted government thugs" and "federal agents wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms," and he still routinely warns of imminent crackdowns on gun owners. As Stewart coyly acknowledges, "For many there is a certain Orwellian level of mistrust in government and law enforcement."

Yet the NRA is also a trade lobby for firearms manufacturers, which may explain its soft stance on the militarization of American police. As I detail in the current issue of Mother Jones, a multibillion dollar industry has sprung up to provide ever-bigger weapons and military-style equipment to law enforcement. Since 2002, the Department of Homeland Security has given local police departments $41 billion to buy new gear.

This puts the NRA in a tricky position. Ever since the Ferguson protests, people from  all political persuasions have become wary of efforts like the Pentagon's 1033 program, which has transferred $5.1 billion worth of equipment to local law enforcement. Stewart's article makes the NRA's position on 1033 clear: "The program is not evil; it is responsible." He also defends the police's use of camouflaged battle dress "for tactical advantage," especially for those who "serve on the frontline of illegal activity along our southern border." It is "unconscionable," he maintains, to make cops wear their "everyday duty uniforms" in "extremely dangerous situations"—such as protests.

The American Warrior article depicts police as victims: "Nobody seems more 'targeted' these days than those who serve in law enforcement." Not the communities where SWAT teams are routinely deployed; not people of color, who are targeted in 71 percent of of SWAT raids even though whites are more likely to be active shooters or hostage takers. The fact is police work is safer than it's been in decades. Assaults on cops are down 45 percent since their peak in 1971. Violent crime has fallen by nearly half since 1991. 

The real problem, according to the article, is not police abuse or an over-hyped need for military-like equipment, but the words we use. Terms like "armor," automatic" and "assault vehicles" are improperly used to demonize law enforcement, writes Stewart. The other issue is some Americans' tendency to criticize police abuse: "In the long run, we don't need a 'knee-jerk' reaction to every use of force situation caught on camera."

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Would Joe Biden Put His Son In Prison For Doing Coke?

| Fri Oct. 17, 2014 5:19 PM EDT

So the son of our Vice President was booted from the military for doing coke. This must be an awkward situation for Joe Biden, given his role in cracking down on drug use over the last few decades. Joe Biden created the position of “drug czar,” a key step in the drug war. As the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986, he played a major role in passing mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. He was the main sponsor of the RAVE Act in 2003, meant to crack down on MDMA use, which would have held club owners liable for providing “paraphernalia” like glowsticks and water. He still vocally opposes marijuana legalization.

To be clear: Hunter Biden wasn’t caught with actual cocaine. He just failed a drug test. But what if he'd happened to be found with a little bag in his pocket? Would Joe Biden would find it fair for him to serve 87 months, which is the average federal sentence for drug possession?

Of course, were Hunter Biden to be caught with powder cocaine, he would likely fare better than someone caught with crack. To his credit, Joe Biden himself has pushed for reducing the longstanding sentencing disparity between crack and regular cocaine, but possession of 28 grams of crack still triggers a five-year minimum sentence. It takes 500 grams of regular cocaine to trigger the same sentence. That’s an 18-to-one difference. (African Americans make up 83 percent of people convicted for crack offenses, even though the number of white crack users is 40 percent greater than that of black users, according to a National Institute on Drug Abuse study).

America has more prisoners than any other country—a quarter of all people behind bars in the entire world are in US prisons or jails. Nearly half of all federal prisoners are serving sentences for drugs. Many of them won't have a chance to "regret" their mistakes and move on, as Hunter Biden has said he will.

Prison Guards Can't Pepper Spray Just Any Schizophrenic Inmates in Arizona Anymore

| Tue Oct. 14, 2014 1:52 PM EDT

Arizona prisons just got a little better. A class action lawsuit by the ACLU, the Prison Law Office, and others reached a settlement with the Arizona Department of Corrections today to improve health care and solitary confinement conditions in the state.

"This is one of the largest--if not the largest--prisoner settlements in recent years," said David Fathi, Director of the ACLU's National Prison Project.

The lawsuit, which has been going on for two years, won concessions that would seem to be common sense. Prison guards, for example, now can’t pepper spray severely mentally ill prisoners unless they are preventing serious injury or escape. And while these types of inmates were previously let out of their solitary cells for just six hours a week, the settlement requires Arizona to let them out for at least 19 hours a week. With some exceptions for the most dangerous, this time will now be shared with other prisoners, and will include mental health treatment and other programming.

People like this—the schizophrenic, the psychotic, the suicidal—are not a small portion of the 80,000 people we have in solitary confinement in the US today. According the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 45 percent of people in solitary have severe mental illnesses. The country's three largest mental health care providers are jails.

The Parsons v. Ryan settlement also requires the Arizona prison system to make more than 100 health care improvements. Prison staff now has to monitor people with hypertension or diabetes. Pregnant women have to get more care. Prisoners whose psych meds make them sensitive to heat now have to be kept in cells that are no hotter than 85 degrees. Those not on anti-psychotic meds though, can keep baking.