Law and Disorder Radio

Law and Disorder April 23, 2012



Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice

The FBI now spends more than 3 billion dollars a year on counter-terrorism, the bureau maintains a team of 15 thousand spies in a nationwide network of informants. Criminal informants or snitches are part of a criminal system most people know little about. Many of these informants are tasked with infiltrating Muslims communities in the United States. We’ve discussed in the past, the expanded FBI guidelines plus the broad over reaching powers and underhanded tactics the FBI use when targeting Mosques and Muslim Americans.

We talk today with Professor of Law and author Alexandra Natapoff, about her book Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice.  Her book catalogues the downside in the use of snitches on social structure and democracy and suggests ways to make the use of informants acceptable within the criminal justice system.

Professor Alexandra Natapoff:

  • Snitching is such a massive part of our criminal justice system even though the public rarely gets a good look at it.
  • It’s an under the radar aspect of the way our criminal justice system handles investigations, the way it handles cases, the way it shapes our case law.
  • It’s such a powerful deal, a deal that exerts a huge amount of influence and plea bargaining.
  • The reality is that this is a deeply under-regulated arena. The handler is the law enforcement official who creates and uses an informant.
  • It could be a police officer talking to a street corner addict cutting a deal right then and there.
  • It could be an FBI agent who has an established documented supervised relationship with a long term criminal informant.
  • Somebody may be suspected of a crime or even just of interest to the government. People who have mild brushes with the criminal system can end up through this mechanism of criminal informing entering into a world in which really anything can happen to them.
  • Argument: Either you let us use informants in an unaccountable, invisible, secretive, undocumented way or we can’t run the criminal system at all.
  • We permit the barter of crime under the radar, in a way that is unfair to other defendants and other suspects. We produce unreliable information through the use of informants without regulation.
  • My contention is that we shouldn’t ban this practice, but run it as any other public policy with transparency and accountability and some rules.
  • My favorite criminal informant of recent is Jack Abramoff.
  • Usually we don’t learn when informants have been mistreated because often they have very little power.
  • The courts have said, informants proceed at their own risk.
  • This is a deal that they can enter if they want to risk their life.
  • The law does not owe criminal informants much protection.  Our criminal system is built on the principle that the defendant should not have to face the government unaided by council.
  • That’s a principle that should be extended to criminal informants.
  • The state of Florida passed a ground breaking law, called Rachel’s Law.
  • What sort of deal should we permit the government to cut with informants?
  • The use of criminal informants is a massive source of error in capitol cases.
  • States across the country are starting to impose greater restrictions on the use of criminal informants, in particular jailhouse snitches as a way to improving reliability of the information.
  • Confidential Informant Accountability Act – Federal Legislative Proposal
  • One of the things the government doesn’t keep track of is how many crimes are committed by criminal informants in the pursuit of investigating new cases.

Guest – Alexandra Napatoff, professor of Law at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, and a member of the American Law Institute. I have also been a federal public defender, a community organizer, and the recipient of an Open Society Institute Community Fellowship.


It Started in Wisconsin: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Labor Protest

Remember the multi-day occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol by tens of thousands of people. Massive demonstrations erupted when the Republican controlled state government proposed to dismantle public employee bargaining rights as Wisconsin trade unions already conceded to wage and benefit cuts. These protests became the largest labor demonstrations in modern American history. Protesters from the Middle East sent pizzas and solidarity as thousands occupied Madison’s Capitol building.

We’re joined today by Paul Buhle, historian, and editor of the book It Started in Wisconsin: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Labor Protest. A powerful collecton of eyewitness reports and essays by striking teachers, students, and many others. This book exposes the corporate agenda that imposed anti-union legislation across the country and highlights the power of the people coming together in protest.

Paul Buhle:

  • Brecht Forum, Friday night – April 27,2012
  • The “it” is very large, perhaps vaporous and very promising.  We were thinking of occupy in the sense that Madisonians, labor supporters from as far away as California, occupied the State Capitol, the rotunda in February of last year and remained there for some weeks.
  • The “it” may mean occupy or the emergence of a new kind of movement.
  • We should have seen it coming but we were deluded or Walker, when running for election never mentioned these promises or threats at all and made some statements about getting along with unions when he was a county executive.
  • The response was just as stunning as the shock. A mass outpouring that really began with students in Stoten, an old Norwegian community about half an hour south of Madison – working up their own protests with facebook to support their teachers.
  • And then, the following weeks, a massive outpouring of people around the Capitol and then occupying the Capitol.
  • Things went on and on until there were crowds of 150 thousand in a town of Madison that has normally only 250 thousand residents.
  • Pacifica has been in the business from the late 1940s in the Bay area, in providing the documentation that other commercial radio stations rarely provide.
  • I would say these protests in Wisconsin are probably the most recorded mass movement of the Left in recent history.
  • Among the most important developments, relative to the stories in the history of labor, the unions of public workers are substantially, if not overwhelmingly women.
  • So, the shape of the movement, perhaps its cultural character, perhaps the infernal degree of politeness that outsiders frequently complained about, the chant – let us in, let us in please.
  • What it demonstrated was that women in the labor movement were ferociously militant.
  • My assessment was that the labor movement was in no way prepared to stage a general strike.
  • Nor that a massive walk out of public workers mean that the wheels of industry would stop what few wheels are left.
  • The sense that public workers wish to put pressure on the political system.
  • Contrary to our expectations of the Democratic Party in general, assorted leaders, were quite wonderful in their constituencies and the things that they did, and how they related to the movements.
  • As an editor and producer of radical comics, I’m always interested in new developments in the field, and its exciting there are young comic artists who are working in and around “occupy.”

Guest –  Paul Buhle, senior lecturer at Brown University, a historian of American radicalism., a former member of Students for a Democratic Society and author of many books including images of American Radicalism. Also, Che, A Graphic Biography, and Isodore Duncan, a graphic biography by Sabrina Jones.


May Day: Workers’ Rights and Immigrant Communities

In the past year, public employees around the country have rallied to hold on to their collective bargaining, workers rights and pensions. May Day protests this year will emphasize these issues and will be especially significant for immigrant rights in California that directly effect certain communities. On May Day in 2006, hundreds of thousands took to the streets of San Jose marking one of the largest demonstrations in California history.

Guest –  Celina Benitez, director of the Committee In Solidarity With the People of El Salvador, Celina is also with the Southern California Immigration Coalition and produces radio for Suplemento Comunitario on sister station KPFK in Los Angeles.


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