Obama must reform invasive NSA snooping in 2014


Dec 31, 2013, 2:29 pm

Dawud Walid: Obama must reform invasive NSA snooping in 2014

2013 was perhaps the bumpiest of President Barack Obama’s time in office. Hearings over the Benghazi tragedy, the Egyptian coup regime thumbing its nose at America, a failed attempt to pressure the al-Assad regime in Syria, the temporary federal government shutdown and glitches in rolling out the Affordable Care Act are highlights of why 2013 has been rocky for the president. Perhaps the most troublesome of all, though, was the revelations regarding the pervasive collection of information of law-abiding Americans by the NSA.

Starting in 2014, it would be in our country’s long term civil liberties’ interests for President Obama to scale back the amount of NSA surveillance instead having the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately decide.

A review group handpicked by Obama to study the NSA’s widespread snooping recently concluded that meta-data collected “was not essential to preventing [terrorism] attacks.” This jibes with the ACLU’s conclusion that there is “no evidence that the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records has provided intelligence of any value that could not have been gathered through less intrusive means.”

Former constitutional law professor Obama has continued George W. Bush-era policies that have not only trampled on the 4th Amendment’s protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. These policies are not making us any safer. In fact, due to the sheer amount of data being collected, which cannot be probably evaluated, mass spying may actually come at a harm to national security. Such leaves the doors open for credible threats to slip through the cracks, such as the Boston Marathon bombing.

Benjamin Franklin famously waxed that, “He who gives up freedom for safety deserves neither.” In order to save our democratic way of life and to regain our credibility in the world when discussing liberty, my 2014 wish is to see President Obama return the NSA back to only being as intrusive as it was after President Richard Nixon.

My wish, however, may not come true, leaving the NSA’s spying to be continued or scaled back eventually by the Supreme Court.

Connect with historical authentic culture, not Kwanzaa


Dec 26, 2013, 6:00 am

Dawud Walid: Connect with historical authentic culture, not Kwanzaa


As some Black Americans are preparing to recognize the days of Kwanzaa, which runs from Dec. 26-Jan. 1, I will not be celebrating it because I have never seen it as a legitimate observance within collective history of my predecessors.

Kwanzaa, being a newly-invented observance, is a hodgepodge of rituals that are not truly authentic to most Black Americans’ ancestors, who were West Africans. Lighting menorahs and using terms that are Swahili have nothing to do with my roots.

West Africans weren’t lighting menorahs 400 years ago, nor were they using Swahili terminology. Menorahs are used by some Jewish people for Hanukkah (which isn’t even a high holy season for them), and Swahili is an East African language.

This recently-created observance would have more of a tinge of authenticity if its rituals and terms came from the Hausa, Mandinka or other tribes, which we are certain that Black Americans descend.

Another issue that I have with Kwanzaa stems from its founder Maulana Karenga, who is documented as having been a FBI dupe during the COINTELPRO era.

It’s quite ironic that a holiday season, which was instituted to reconnect Black Americans with the dignity of our past, was founded by a man who was an FBI dupe during that infamous government program, which was designed to destabilize and disturb the movement for Black self-determination in America.

I understand why Black Americans yearn to feel connected with our African roots, which we were severed from during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and chattel slavery in the South. I simply prefer to connect with that which has historical merit and authenticity rather than a bogus holiday that has little to do with our roots nor is anything celebrated in Africa.

Homicides in Detroit decline


December 21, 2013 at 1:00 am

Homicides in Detroit decline

  • George Hunter and Holly Fournier
  • The Detroit News

Detroit— Amid major changes in the way Detroit Police operate, violent crime has dropped significantly so far in 2013, with the city on pace to record fewer than 350 homicides for only the fourth time in 30 years, according to department data released Friday.

Despite the lower numbers, police officials and residents say they’re still not satisfied with the rampant crime that makes Detroit one of the most dangerous cities in the country.

As of Friday, there were 315 homicides in Detroit — 60 fewer than the same period in 2012, a 16 percent drop. The total excludes justifiable homicides. Non-fatal shootings were down 7.6 percent during that time, with 88 fewer incidents than last year.

The city has recorded fewer than 350 criminal homicides only three other times since 1983: In 2008, 2010 and 2011, although the high totals in previous years came when the city’s population was far higher than the current 700,000.

The Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office, which also counts homicides, has not released its 2013 figures.

In terms of the homicide rate per 100,000 residents, last year saw a 20-year high of about 54.6, roughly the same as in 1974, when Detroit recorded 714 homicides and became known as the “Murder Capital.” This year’s homicide rate so far has dropped to 45 per 100,000 residents.

Flint led the nation last year with a homicide rate of 62 per 100,000 residents. Of cities over 200,000, New Orleans was a close second to Detroit last year with 53.2 murders per 100,000 residents.

When Police Chief James Craig assumed command of the police department on July 1, there were 14 fewer homicides than during the same period in 2012, while shootings were up by 22. Craig said he believes his data-driven approach to crime-fighting helped spur the turnaround, but insisted the numbers are still too high.

“I’m not satisfied,” he said. “We need to do better, but we’re trending in the right direction. We want to reduce crime, but we also want to reduce the fear of crime.”

Southwest Detroit resident Janet Nicoletti, a 60-year-old retired protective service worker, agreed more needs to be done.

“We’re seeing a few more police cars than we used to, but as far as lowering the crime, I haven’t seen any real change around here,” she said. “Not yet.”

During his first six months on the job, Craig has received high marks from union officials and rank-and-file officers for helping restore some measure of morale to a police force that’s been battered by pay and benefit cuts and the threat of having pensions slashed. His aggressive method of crime-fighting, meanwhile, has garnered both supporters and critics.

Data-driven approach

With the help of The Manhattan Institute and the Bratton Group, consultants hired to help shape policy, Craig revamped the department after taking over as chief. In addition to restructuring the command staff, he put a heavy emphasis on COMPSTAT, the data-driven approach that holds precinct captains accountable for crime in their areas of responsibility.

Detroit’s COMPSTAT computer system, set up by Wayne State University’s Center for Urban Studies, gives every officer access to details about crimes, including when and where they occurred, and the names, addresses, phone numbers and criminal histories of witnesses and suspects.

Each Wednesday, police brass gather for a COMPSTAT meeting, where precinct captains and detectives are grilled about crime trends.

“It’s a great tool for accountability, because everyone is expected to know what’s happening in their areas, and they have to show what they’re doing to address the problems,” said Capt. Aric Tosqui, who runs the COMPSTAT system.

Proactive or profiling?

As part of COMPSTAT, Craig has put an emphasis on proactive policing, which includes the stop-and-frisk model credited with significantly lowering New York’s crime rate.

The practice has been controversial. In August, U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin found that New York City’s stop-and-frisk tactics were unconstitutional because they led to racial profiling. The judge imposed remedies that included the appointment of a monitor. But in October, a federal appeals court blocked her ruling and said she hadn’t been impartial in her findings.

Dawud Walid, president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Michigan, expressed concern about the stop-and-frisk policy implemented in Detroit.

“Detroit has a serious crime problem, and I’m glad he’s reaching out to the community, but we still have concerns about the way he’s focusing on so-called ‘hot spots,’ and people who they say look suspicious,” Walid said. “That lends itself to people being profiled — and profiling people with a certain look or in a certain age demographic doesn’t build community trust, nor does it make our community any safer.”

Craig insists his officers don’t stop anyone without good reason.

“We practice constitutional policing,” he said.

One part of the proactive policing model is Operation Restore Order, in which officers hone in on felons with outstanding warrants. As part of that effort, police have conducted high-profile raids, dubbed “Super 6,” on some of the city’s highest-crime areas.

The Colony Arms Apartments, the target of a Nov. 15 raid, had more than 600 calls for police service in 2013; the Martin Luther King Apartments, targeted on Dec. 3, had been the home to several shootings, murders and open drug-dealing, and a 1.6-square-mile area near Quincy and Clairmont on the city’s west side, which was targeted Tuesday, had been the site of 27 shootings this year.

“This should be a message to the (criminals) who want to do business in the city of Detroit,” Craig said during the most recent raid. “We don’t want you here.”

Roland Lawrence, chairman of the Justice for Aiyana Jones Committee, said the raids are overly aggressive.

“Raids like these produced the May, 2011, police killing of 7-year old Aiyana Jones,” Lawrence said of the incident that made national headlines.

“These raids are nothing more than a display of egotism by the police.”

When asked if the publicized raids were stunts, Craig said: “A stunt? It’s no stunt. The data tells the story. Overall, the crime is down in the city. This reduction is going to be sustainable.

“The residents (are) tired of this. The only thing I don’t understand is why this wasn’t done a long time ago.”