November 26, 2014

Blocking roads does not equal free speech

Filed under: culture & social issues,law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 11:16 pm

Ferguson, Day 4, Photo 32.png
Ferguson, Day 4, Photo 32” by LoavesofbreadOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In the midst of the protests about the Ferguson grand jury decision, came out with an article titled, “When it Comes to #Ferguson, Lots of People Think Their Commute Trumps Free Speech.” Protesters around the country decided, among other things, to block highways. Protesters in Boston, for example, led by the organization Black Lives Matter, blocked the Mass Ave. connector, and police decided to shut down access to the Mass Pike and I-93. Understandably, many people were upset about this. Contrary to what the article and its title suggest, I think these people have a point. The question is not whether commuting trumps free speech, but whether the right of people to use a road trumps the “right” of other people to physically block the road so that no one can use it. In my opinion, it does. Yes, everyone has the right to free speech, but blocking a road goes beyond speech and interferes with the rights of others. No matter what you think about the events in Ferguson and the grand jury’s decision, it’s not okay to express your opinion in a way that harms innocent people. It is not okay to destroy cars, buildings, or property as some protesters have done, nor is it okay to violate people’s right to travel on public roads.

Another thing that’s important to remember about the Ferguson case: contrary to what so many people seem to think, we shouldn’t make it about race. Everyone should agree that it’s wrong for cops to kill innocent people, regardless of the race of the people involved. Police brutality can happen with white cops and black victims, with black cops and white victims, or any combination of races. I don’t have enough information to know for sure whether Officer Darren Wilson’s shooting of Michael Brown was self-defense, murder, or something in between. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions about what happened based on the fact that the cop is white and the young man who died was black. Instead of “Black Lives Matter,” why not “All Lives Matter”? Why not hold protests and demonstrations about police brutality and civil rights in general? Instead of limiting outrage to one race, why not fight for freedom for everyone?

November 12, 2014

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev status conference summary

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 11:16 pm

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Today another status conference took place in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev case. The topics of discussion included ongoing discovery disputes, leaks to the media, whether the defense team should be required to disclose their list of potential witnesses, and the timeline and logistics for the trial.

Representing the defense team were Judy Clarke, William Fick, and Timothy Watkins. As usual, Tsarnaev himself was not present in court. Representing the prosecution team were Assistant U.S. Attorneys Nadine Pellegrini, William Weinreb, Aloke Chakravarty, and the newest addition to the team, Steven Mellin.

Before the hearing began (at 10:00 sharp), there was a lot of chatting and joking around between the prosecutors and law enforcement officials in the gallery. The court clerk had to remind everyone to take their seats and quiet down.

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October 31, 2014

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness month

Filed under: culture & social issues,law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 6:35 pm

Purple ribbon

Today is not just Halloween, but also the last day of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. One thing that far too many people are unaware of is the fact that domestic violence and sexual assault are crimes that can happen to people of either gender, and can be perpetrated by people of either gender. Portraying these crimes only as crimes that men commit against women is anti-feminist and reinforces the stereotype of women as victims and men as aggressors. To counter this stereotype and to do my part in raising awareness, below is a list of cases that I have seen in the news over the past year that involve domestic violence or sexual assault committed by women against men. They include a wide range of crimes, involving people of all different backgrounds. All suspects are, of course, presumed innocent unless and until convicted.

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October 20, 2014

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev case: the shortest status conference ever

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 9:38 pm

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Today another status conference took place in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev case. This was the shortest and probably the least eventful status conference so far, beginning at 10:00 and ending by 10:15.

The Tsarnaev defense team was represented by Judy Clarke, David Bruck, and William Fick, and the prosecution by William Weinreb, Nadine Pellegrini, and Aloke Chakravarty. The two sides shook hands and chatted a bit before Judge George O’Toole took the bench. In the gallery were the usual media and law enforcement officials. Somewhat surprisingly, outside the courthouse were a handful of protesters holding signs criticizing the government’s prosecution of Tsarnaev and the shooting death of Ibragim Todashev at the hands of FBI agents. According to news reports, one of the protesters was Todashev’s mother-in-law. There was a larger than usual security presence, leading some to speculate that Tsarnaev himself might make a surprise appearance (he didn’t).

The status conference provided a few new details about the trial schedule and jury selection process. Witness lists will be due by December 15, the Monday before the final December 18 status conference. Unsurprisingly, the first week of the trial, which will begin on January 5th, will be “consumed with jury selection,” according to Judge O’Toole. No one will have to worry about calling witnesses until the next week or later. Jury selection will be, in Judge O’Toole’s words, a “rolling admissions policy.” Groups of potential jurors will come in and fill out questionnaires, some will advance to individual voir dire, some of these will be disqualified for cause or through the exercise of peremptory challenges, and once enough have made it through this step, they’ll be seated on the jury and the process will be done. Judge O’Toole said that the court will need at least 1000 people to fill out questionnaires. He predicted that about 10% of these will make it through to the individual voir dire stage, leaving a pool of 100 to be whittled down further through challenges for cause and peremptory challenges. When asked by Attorney Weinreb, Judge O’Toole mentioned that there’s a chance that jury selection will be delayed one day, to January 6th, if there are other jury trials beginning on the same day.

Additionally, Judge O’Toole decided to deny without prejudice the defense motion to suppress the statements that Tsarnaev made while being questioned by investigators at Beth Israel Hospital. The government is not planning to use these statements as evidence in its case in chief.

Finally, at the end of the hearing, Attorney Fick mentioned the recent Newsweek article by Michele McPhee about Tsarnaev’s family and the women in his life. He cited this as another example of the “troubling leak issue” that the defense team has complained to the court about before, and mentioned that the article cited “high-level law enforcement sources,” despite repeated warnings from the judge and U.S. Attorney against speaking to the press. He said that he plans to make an official submission to the court about this article in the near future. Judge O’Toole said that he hadn’t seen the article but would look into it.

The next status conference is scheduled for November 12th at 10:00. The parties will likely discuss the defense team’s motion to compel the prosecution to turn over documents related to the 2011 triple murder in Waltham and Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s suspected involvement in it.

October 14, 2014

Robel Phillipos trial continues

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 10:45 pm

The trial of Robel Phillipos continued today in Boston’s federal court. This morning, FBI Special Agent James Scripture, who examined the defendant’s iphone, continued his testimony, and the court viewed text messages between Phillipos and his friends in the days after the Boston Marathon bombing.

The Boston Globe has a great chart of these texts. In them, Phillipos chats casually with alleged bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has brief exchanges with Azamat Tazhayakov and Dias Kadyrbayev, the two other friends who are charged with interfering in the bombing investigation, and tells other friends about being questioned by the FBI and recognizing Tsarnaev as the bombing suspect pictured in news reports.

After Agent Scripture, the next witness to take the stand was Quon Le Phan, who was Robel’s suite-mate at UMass Dartmouth during sophomore year (2012-2013). He described both Robel and Dzhokhar as friends and said that Azamat and Dias “occasionally” came to visit as well. “We’d play games and we’d smoke,” he replied when asked what the group did together. When asked what they smoked, he replied, “marijuana.”

During spring semester, Robel lived at home, but on April 18th, 2013, the Thursday after the bombing, he visited Quon in his room around noon. “He had a marijuana hearing,” Quon explained. “He was speaking to the administrator on campus.” When asked what the two did before this meeting, Quon testified, “We smoked.” When asked what they smoked, he replied, “marijuana.” This elicited some slight laughter from the gallery. When asked how often the two smoked together, Quon replied, “plenty of times.” He added that they smoked at various times of day, including before class.

At dinner, Quon saw the newly-released photos of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects on his phone. “I saw similarities in one suspect… to Dzhokhar,” he testified. After dinner, he met up with Robel, and “we talked about how the Boston Marathon suspect, one of them, looked like Dzhokhar.” They and another roommate watched coverage of the bombing investigation on TV. After 30 minutes, Robel left, saying that he was going to Pine Dale, the dorm where Dzhokhar lived. Quon continued to watch the news “for a majority of the night.”

The next morning, April 19th, Robel came to Quon’s room and woke him up at about 7:00 a.m. “He pointed out that the suspect was Dzhokhar,” Quon testified. Robel left a backpack containing marijuana in the room. Later that day, Robel was at Dias and Azamat’s off-campus apartment when he called Quon, sounding “rushed” and urgent” and asking to be picked up because “he didn’t want to be there.” Quon did so, then tried to return to campus, but was unable to because the campus was locked down. So he, Robel, and his roommate went to McDonald’s and then to Quon’s mother’s apartment in Worcester. The group continued to discuss the bombing investigation, manhunt, and lockdown. At 9:30 p.m., Quon drove Robel to a Price Chopper supermarket, where Robel was interviewed by the FBI. Finally, Quon returned to his dorm, where he watched news about Dzhokhar’s arrest.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Susan Church asked Quon whether he and Robel smoked marijuana from a joint or from a bong. He was then asked to describe what a bong is, and drew laughs when he said he didn’t know how to explain it.

The prosecution will wrap up their case tomorrow with testimony from one more FBI agent. It is unknown whether Phillipos will take the stand.


October 10, 2014

Robel Phillipos trial recap

Filed under: law & crime by Victoria Liberty @ 12:05 am

This week I was able to observe some bits and pieces of the Robel Phillipos trial. Phillipos is one of the friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev who is accused of helping to cover up Tsarnaev’s alleged role in the Boston Marathon bombing. He faces two charges of making false statements to federal investigators which carry up to 8 years in prison each.

Numerous friends and family of Phillipos have been present in the courtroom, filling the entire left-hand section of benches. The brother of Azamat Tazhayakov, a friend of Tsarnaev who was convicted of obstruction of justice back in June, has also been sitting in on the trial.

Because I was not there for all of the testimony, this blog post is absolutely not comprehensive, but I figured it may be of interest to those following the case.

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September 30, 2014

A tribute to Suffolk Downs

Filed under: sports by Victoria Liberty @ 9:47 pm

Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission announced that the historic racetrack Suffolk Downs will not be awarded the Boston-area casino license. (It will instead be awarded to a proposed Wynn casino in Everett.) As a result, the track’s owners and manager announced that it will be closing at the end of this season.

This news is nothing short of tragic. There truly is nowhere like Suffolk Downs, a fact that is apparent from the moment you pull into the parking lot and catch a glimpse of the track through the chain link fence. Once inside, you can take in the races from the glassed-in grandstand, the cavernous space beneath it (lined with betting windows on one side and silks of famous horses hanging from the ceiling), the more compact clubhouse, or the outdoor benches and picnic tables. There is something magical about being around horses, whether they are loading in the starting gate, racing down the track, exhaustedly coming to a stop afterwards, or whether they are just lead ponies casually trotting around. My first time at Suffolk Downs, I was surprised at how close-up visitors can get to the thoroughbreds. Anyone can go right up to the paddock fence to watch their favorites be saddled up and walked in circles by grooms pre-race. This is also the place where jockeys return to the locker room after races, chatting and joking with each other, congratulating each other after a good result, complaining or shrugging it off after a bad one. Some fans even yell out to their favorite jockeys, who acknowledge them with a smile and wave. Suffolk Downs is truly a blue-collar place, a type of place that is increasingly rare in this day and age but which the world desperately needs more of. I will miss the sight of gruff old racing fans poring over the Daily Racing Form, packing the benches in the clubhouse, swarming to the betting windows, and moving to the rail to urge on their favorite horses. I’ll miss hearing them yelling and swearing with Boston accents at the TVs showing simulcast races. I’ll miss the vaguely uneven cement floors covered in shreds of ripped-up losing tickets, and I’ll even miss the clouds of tobacco smoke in the air.

The New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association is attempting to possibly lease the track and keep it alive. I hope against hope that they will succeed. If they do not, the land may be become a mixed-use development or possibly a new stadium for the New England Revolution. No matter what happens, this land, to me, is meant to be a horse track. If Suffolk Downs closes, Massachusetts will forever be an emptier place.

I visited Suffolk Downs this past Saturday, which could be one of its last ever days of racing. Below are some of the photos I took. If you have not had the privilege of visiting Suffolk Downs in person, I hope that these pictures are able to capture a fraction of what it’s like to experience this unique place.

The view from the parking lot.

The view from the parking lot.

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