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Long Story Short: Untamed frontiers


illustration by JP Thimot


Farewell, net neutrality. Now what?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted along party lines Thursday to deregulate businesses that connect consumers to the internet, despite opposition from consumer groups, tech companies, media experts, and Democrats. Rules that were put in place during the Obama administration regulated high-speed internet delivery in a similar manner to a public utility. Now those are gone. What does that mean to you?


The details:

Under the rules just lifted, internet providers—Spectrum, Verizon, Fios etc.—were prevented from blocking or slowing websites, or charging content providers more for faster speed. Putting it in simple terms, it’s no longer a level playing field on the internet. Website start-ups may find it difficult to compete, as the big guys pay to play.


Why did the FCC do this?

Proponents claim that the rollback will benefit consumers by giving businesses incentive to innovate and offer wider service options, eventually helping the economy. They claim that there has been a great deal of apocalyptic misinformation (read “fake news”) spread about this issue. Don’t worry; it’ll be fine, they say. There are five voting members of the FCC, two Democrats and three Republicans, so it’s not hard to guess how the vote split. New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman (among others), will file a lawsuit to overturn the ruling.


So what about my internet?

Cable companies haven’t said much because the Trump Administration has been doing all the heavy lifting, but presumably they are looking forward to being able to monetize their infrastructure in new ways. In the future, consumers might be offered packages and pricing that steers them toward certain content, or away from the internet providers’ competition. How do we know? Because they already tried it by squeezing Netflix for more cash. While they were doing that, your Netflix service was slower, and you never knew why. When Charter Spectrum (which has a cable service monopoly in Buffalo) was pitching its proposed merger with Time Warner to the FCC and Department of Justice, it promised to abide by net neutrality for three years. So, when 2019 rolls around, the FCC will have provided justification for Spectrum to claim that the times they are a-changin, and alter its business practices.


Spectrum observers will note that they now offer their own streaming service that competes with Netflix, Sling, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and others. You can now stream cable channels you subscribe to, and apps make programming portable. After 2019, Spectrum could “throttle” (increase the speed of) their own services, while slowing their competitors. Republicans call this competition.


The takeaway:

No one really knows what’s going to happen in the wake of the FCC decision. But one of the two Democratic commissioners, Mignon Clyburn, describes the move as the FCC extracting its own teeth.


No charges

Black people are more likely than white people to be killed by police; that’s a fact. In every measurable way, people of color stand a significantly greater chance than others of becoming victims of police violence. Because the burden of proof has been set so high in such cases, police are rarely held accountable for their actions. In light of this, many Americans have begun to assume that law enforcement is to blame, especially in incidents resulting in black deaths.


Logic would dictate, however, that not every death is the result of police misconduct. Sometimes, shit just happens. That’s what the Attorney General’s Office found in the case of officers Todd C. McAlister and Nicholas J. Parisi, in the death of Wardel Davis. The ten-month investigation cleared the officers, but declared “a real need for reform” in Buffalo.


Just the facts:

Last February 7, McAlister and Parisi were arresting Wardel Davis, when he died of an acute asthma attack exacerbated by a struggle with the officers. Two independent autopsies arrived at this conclusion. 


An executive order from Governor Cuomo requires the Attorney General’s office to assume responsibility for investigations into citizen deaths involving police in New York State. A sixty-one-page report on the Davis case by that office finds no evidence to charge the officers. In a vaguely defiant show of independence, the Buffalo Police Department announced that it is continuing its own internal investigation, while the officers remain on paid administrative leave.


A personal perspective

Though the immediate cause of Davis’s death was asthma, some people point to the fact that the fatal occurrence was induced by his confrontation with police, which they see as a case of racial profiling. This stop-and-frisk approach to policing, where no apparent crime is committed, is not uncommon. However, in the case of Wardel Davis, the story is more complex.


My son lives on Buffalo’s West Side with his wife and children, close to where Davis died. The neighborhood residents comprise a Sesame Street blend of ethnicities, including African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Native-American, and white. That’s one of its virtues.


People in the community are working to make it safer, but there is a persistent drug problem. Adjacent to my son’s backyard, in a community basketball court, someone was shot over a drug deal not long ago. There are several community block organizations that meet with police regularly. They want officers to question people who might be buying or selling drugs and chase them away. They are asking for vigilance.


McAlister (who is black) and Parisi were on a special detail to patrol crime spots and respond to quality-of-life complaints. Davis was coming out of a house that police had visited more than 250 times. Davis had several drug arrests, and he was due in court the next day on a drug charge. McAlister and Parisi knew Davis, having arrested him on minor drug possession charges three months earlier. From the perspective of the police, all this was reason to question the young man. From the perspective of neighbors, the police were demonstrating the vigilance they had asked for.


No one knows what tone the officers took with Davis. Harsh and authoritative? Familiar and informal? According to their report, they told Davis to take his hand out of his pocket. When he did, he took a swing at the police and ran. That’s never going to end well. Being chased down and handcuffed is not a gentle process, but it’s standard procedure. When the officers tried to stand Davis up after handcuffing him, they saw that he was in distress and administered CPR in a futile effort to revive him.


In its report, the Attorney General’s Office made three recommendations. 1, The Buffalo Police Department should become accredited by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services to improve evidence collection and documentation. 2, The Erie County medical examiner should adopt National Association of Medical Examiners guidelines. 3, The Buffalo Police Department should adopt body and dashboard cameras.


The takeaway:

Cities where police receive special instruction in conflict diffusion and de-escalation tactics have fewer of these sorts of incidents. Cities where police wear body cameras experience a decline in citizen complaints. Buffalo police are testing cameras now, and every officer will likely wear them one day. If McAlister and Parisi had been wearing cameras, they might have provided vital evidence.


A man is dead, and that’s a tragedy. Some people will never believe that McAlister and Parisi were not responsible for the death. That too is a tragedy.



Drunken follies, December edition

Here’s a good idea: after skidding your car through an intersection, hitting a stop sign, and getting stuck in a snowbank, call the police to push you out. That’s what one driver did Saturday morning at 4 a.m., after leaving a local tavern to head home. But, oh wait, to really seal the deal, make sure that when you call the police, you have a loaded pistol in your pocket. Also, a knife. And just to be sure you’ve covered all your bases, leave an open can of beer on your front seat. The Niagara Falls police who came to assist the snowbank assailant quickly sized up the situation, and arrested him, charging the man with driving while intoxicated and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon. No word on whether they helped push the car out of the snowbank.


Then there’s this:

Another drunken motorist was spotted driving into a snowbank late Tuesday by Buffalo Officer Patrick Morrow. Snowbanks seem to be a favorite winter target of drunks. After defeating the snowbank, the motorist went on to drive through two red lights. Then he called it a night and went home, driving onto his lawn in what must have seemed like perfect parking job.


Now it should be said here that making it home is not the same as in hide and seek; there’s no “olly olly oxen free.” When Officer Morrow tried to arrest the man, he seemed to think that by making it to his driveway, he was “safe.” Morrow suffered an injured hamstring when the driver “pushed backwards into him.” The driver was promptly pepper-sprayed and arrested, and both officer and assailant went off to the Erie County Medical Center.


One from the archives:

This actually happened last April, but it fits nicely with the others in this story. A Lockport man also made it home after a night of boozing. Well almost. He got to the entranceway of his house, then passed out, making one wonder what had powered him that far. The babysitter watching his three children found him there and called the police. The officers that arrived didn't need high-level investigative skills to piece together the chain of events. The man’s vehicle was in the driveway with the door open and the radio blaring. On the seat were five mini-bottles of vodka, three empty. The police still had to perform a field sobriety test to confirm the driver’s condition, but when they tried, the man declined, insisting, “No, I’m drunk.” Smooth.


The takeaway:

It’s the holiday season. Lots of parties. Make use of designated drivers,  taxi services, and good judgment.



Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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