The Performative Aspect of Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines’ War on Drugs

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by guest blogger Katrina Pineda, a junior undergraduate student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) pursuing a degree in Science, Technology, and Society. She is the co-president of the Philippine American League, RPI’s cultural Filipino club. This post was submitted at the end of Filipino American History Month (October) and in time for Araw ng mga Patay—Day of the Dead in the Philippines—in remembrance of those who have died in President Duterte’s war on drugs.

"La Pieta" photo by Raffy Lerma
“La Pieta” photograph by Raffy Lerma: Jennilyn Olayres holds her partner Michael Siaron, 30, a pedicab driver who was shot and killed by unidentified anti-drug motorcycle riding vigilantes along Pasay Rotonda, EDSA on July 23, 2016. According to Olayres, Siaron was not a drug pusher.

Pusher ako. Wag tularan.

“I am a [drug] pusher.  Don’t do what I did.”

The crudely drawn message on a cardboard sign beside a man just killed in the street is posed as a warning to the living. The sign appeared next to the body of Michael Siaron, a 30-year-old pedicab driver killed by a vigilante group in 2016. A famous photo of his bereaved partner cradling his body echoes “The Pieta,” also known as “The Lamentation of Christ.”

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Remembering Civil Rights Lawyer Samuel Carter McMorris and his Fight Against Unjust Drug Laws & Police Brutality

Editor’s Note: Today’s post in honor of Black History Month comes from contributing editor Sarah Brady Siff, a visiting assistant professor at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University, in affiliation with the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC).

Samuel Carter McMorris in the Makio, Ohio State University’s yearbook, in 1944.

In 1962, the United States Supreme Court struck down California’s “narcotics addict” law in the case Robinson v. California. Samuel Carter McMorris, the lawyer who argued and won the case, was a fierce criminal defense lawyer for the Black community in Los Angeles during a tumultuous era. Robinson was the second of two criminal cases McMorris successfully appealed to the Supreme Court, both of them at his own expense on behalf of indigent clients. Yet McMorris has been lost to history, left without so much as a Wikipedia page.

As McMorris knew, abuse was inherent in California’s narcotics addict law. A quarter of drug arrests in Los Angeles during the 1950s and early 1960s were solely for the crime of addiction, a charge that did not even require the physical presence of drugs themselves. The testimony of an officer that he had observed injection marks on the arm of a suspect was ordinarily enough evidence for a conviction. Police freely and frequently demanded that citizens roll up their sleeves and expose the insides of their arms so officers could inspect for needle marks. This “evidence” was so conclusive in court that suspects in custody sometimes disfigured themselves by burning the area with lit cigarettes. McMorris’s legal activism helped overturn the criminalization of addiction and this type of invasive drug enforcement.

Early Life

McMorris was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1920. His father, Arthur, was a policeman, and his mother, Marie, was a homemaker; Samuel had four younger sisters. When he graduated from East High School in 1937, his class named him both “most industrious” and “most conscientious.” He worked as a traveling salesman, served in the Army, then attended Ohio State University, where he attained a law degree in 1950. 

Pictured in 1950 with the staff of the Ohio State Law Journal, Samuel Carter McMorris was the first Black student to serve in that role.

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Toxicology, Conspiracy, and History

After John Crawford, III, was shot dead in a suburban Ohio Wal-Mart by police who mistook a toy gun he was holding for a real one, the Montgomery County coroner’s office received his body for post-mortem examination. The coroner also received the body of Angela Williams, a 37-year-old white woman who had been shopping at Wal-Mart at the time of the shooting, and who suffered a heart attack while fleeing the scene and died hours later. Autopsies performed on these two victims of accidental homicide included routine toxicological tests we might logically expect to be identical. Yet, according to the reports, “B Service” testing for alcohol and illicit drugs was requested for Crawford, while “A Service” was requested for Williams.

At the Montgomery County coroner’s office, both A and B Services include a simple test for the presence of alcohol and a type of screening, known by its acronym ELISA, for drugs of abuse. (This method is unsophisticated enough to be available in an affordable home drug-testing kit.) However, the B Service package requested for Crawford also included the more sensitive and pricey test for “basic drugs” by GC/MS, a technique known as the gold standard in toxicology. GC/MS is commonly employed to confirm the presence of cannabinoids after a positive ELISA result, and to quantify estimated levels in the blood. Crawford tested positive for THC, which was confirmed by GC/MS to be at levels consistent with recent use of marijuana in a living person. For good measure, the county also confirmed this positive finding with a urine test.

Even though B Service is a more time-consuming set of tests, and in spite of the fact that Crawford and Williams were killed on the same day, Crawford’s report was completed and signed by the deputy coroner more than two weeks before Williams’. Crawford’s report was almost certainly considered during the secret proceedings of the grand jury that declined to indict Crawford’s shooter, Beavercreek Police Officer Sean Williams. When Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine released Crawford’s toxicology report to the public the day after this decision, the Dayton Daily News led its article with the finding that Crawford had marijuana in his system at the time of the shooting. Montgomery County Coroner Kent Harshbarger told the News that Crawford had used marijuana in the past several hours before his death, calling it “acute use, that is recent, (within) hours.”

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John Crawford, III

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