Compiled By: Erika McGinty
From BackStory with the American History Guys | Part of the BackStory with the American History Guys Weekly Episodes series | 54:00
For many Americans, the storyline that played out on August 9th in Ferguson, Mo. — when an unarmed black teenager was fatally shot by a white police officer — is not a new one. But the sustained protests that followed, in which Ferguson police used military equipment to suppress peaceful protests, have generated a new round of questioning about local police’s role in their communities.
On this episode, BackStory looks at the history of policing in America, and how the police forces we’re familiar with today begin to take shape - and we'll consider what happens when the police don’t protect those they serve.
For many Americans, the storyline that played out on August 9th in Ferguson, Mo. — when an unarmed black teenager was fatally shot by a white police officer — is not a new one. But the sustained protests that followed, in which Ferguson police used military equipment to suppress peaceful protests, have generated a new round of questioning about local police’s role in their communities. On this episode, BackStory looks at the history of policing in America, and how the police forces we’re familiar with today begin to take shape - and we'll consider what happens when the police don’t protect those they serve.
From jrudolph group | 59:45
An audio history of the New York Police Department
Archival recordings and recent interviews are woven together in this hour-long documentary that tells the story of the New York Police Department from the 1940s to the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. From Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia's famous, "sock 'em in the jaw," speech to new police officers in 1942, to first-hand accounts of a 1964 Harlem riot in which the police fired thousands of rounds of live ammunition, to the gripping story of police officers running for their lives after the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, this program opens a window into the NYPD's fascinating history and the complex relationship between the police and the citizens of New York . With a score that includes music from cop shows like "Car 54 Where Are You" and clips from films including "Shaft" and "Serpico,? this program is a compelling examination of the one of the world's leading leading law enforcement organizations before and after 9/11. Among the topics covered - corruption scandals, struggles by police officers to win union representation, and conflicts between the police and New York's African-American and immigrant communities. You'll hear the voices of cops over the decades - emotional, colorful and controversial - along with their critics, their supporters, and scholars who have studied the NYPD. "Stories from the NYPD" is the latest in a series of historical radio documentaries about New York City by award-winning independent producer John Rudolph. Earlier programs (produced with WNYC, New York Public Radio) focused on New York City's waterfront; the career of the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan; and the '60s civil rights movement in New York.
Radley Balko's new book “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces” explains how various factors and ill-advised policies have led to the US government arming and training local police forces to be more like a soldier, and less like the traditional concept of a cop.
Radley Balko is an award winning investigative journalist for The Huffington Post, former senior editor for Reason Magazine and IU Alumnus. His new book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces explains how various factors and ill-advised policies have led to the US government arming and training local police forces to be more like a soldier, and less like the traditional concept of a cop. He returned to IU on September 26th, at the request of student Libertarian group Young Americans for Liberty, to speak to a crowd about the militarization of domestic police and his new book. This talk was recorded live-on-location, at Woodburn Hall, for Standing Room Only on WFHB.
From Ben Markus | 05:09
The story of how beat cops cleaned up one of the most notorious housing projects in the nation
In response to rising crime rates, police departments nationwide are going back to basics, combining traditional patrol methods with an earlier "beat cop" approach. In Sacramento's Phoenix Park housing project the police faced quite a challenge. Even though the neighborhood was mired by gangs and drugs, they made an immediate, and lasting, impact on the shockingly violent project.
From Prairie Public | Part of the Why? Philosophical Discussions About Everyday Life series | 54:00
Host Jack Russell Weinstein visits with Samuel Walker, Emeritus Professor of Criminal Justice.
Samuel Walker has spent his career asking who polices the police. His books and paper titles read like a laundry list of horror stories – police abuse of teenage girls, the unsuccessful nature of police “sweeps” – but he also expresses an optimism about community influence and citizen involvement. On today’s episode, we dive headfirst into the controversial and complicated world of law enforcement
From Making Contact | 29:00
So-called ‘quality of life’ policing may temporarily decrease crime, but it has harsh consequences for innocent people caught up in the frenzy of arrests. If it’s illegal to be on a city’s sidewalks, parks and plazas, where else can people go?
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani made so-called ‘quality of life’ policing a worldwide trend. And while it may have temporarily decreased crime, there are harsh consequences for the thousands of innocent people caught up in the frenzy of arrests. On this edition, the criminalization of homelessness. If it’s illegal to be on a city’s sidewalks, parks and plazas, where else can people go?
Neil Smith, Center for Graduate Studies at the City University of New York Geography and Urbanism professor; Carlton Berkeley, Former NYPD Detective and author of ‘What to do if Stopped by the Police’; Genghis Kallid Muhammad, Gene Rice, Elise Lowe, Picture the Homeless members; Protestors opposing New York’s disorderly conduct law; Melvin Williams, Coalition for the Homeless volunteer; Rob Robinson, National Campaign to Restore housing Rights organizer; Barbara Daughtery, homeless New Yorker; Mark Schuylen, former urban planner; Samuel Warber, street musician; Andy Blue, ‘Sidewalks are for People” campaign organizer; George Gascon, San Francisco Police Chief; John Avalos, San Francisco Supervisor; Jen Vandergriff, San Francisco resident; Jason Lean, homeless San Franciscan; Paul Boden, Western Regional Advocacy Project organizer
Producer/Host: Andrew Stelzer
Producer: Kyung Jin Lee
Producer/Online Editor: Pauline Bartolone
Contributing Producer: Sam Lewis
Executive Director: Lisa Rudman
Associate Director: Khanh Pham
Community Engagement and Volunteer Coordinator: Karl Jagbandhansingh
Station Relations: Daphne Young
Life of the Law (Series)
Produced by Life of the Law
Most recent piece in this series:
You may know Carlos Mencia from the show Mind of Mencia on Comedy Central back in 2008. He’s pretty famous—and pretty infamous. He’s notorious in the comedy community for stealing jokes.
“If I’m doing a show and Carlos Mencia walks in…I have no reason to believe that he would ever steal a joke from me or an idea from me, but if I see him in the back of the room that’s going to be in my head the whole time I’m telling jokes,” says Rory Scovel, a stand-up comic based in LA who also currently appears in the TBS sitcom Ground Floor . “Because if he decided to steal the joke, he would probably just get to have the joke and do it on his next special, and he would make money off of a joke that I thought of.”
Scovel is not alone. There are many examples of this actually happening. Take, for example, this joke that Bill Cosby did on stage in 1983, about a boy and his dad playing football:
You grab the boy when he’s like this, see. And you say, “Come here boy!” Two years old—you say, “Get down, Dad’ll show you how to do it. Now, you come at me, run through me. There, see? Get back up, get back up—you didn’t do it right. Now, come at me!… Go, attack that tree, bite it! Come on back, bite it again!” You teach them all that… And he goes to the big college, playing for a big school, three million students and eight hundred thousand people in the stands—national TV—and he catches the ball and he doesn’t even bother to get out of the way, he just runs over everybody for a [touchdown], and he turns around and the camera’s on him and you’re looking and he says, “Hi mom!”
Mencia did a strikingly similar joke on stage in 2006:
He gives him a football and he shows him how to pass it. He shows him every day how to pass that football, how to three step, five step, seven step drop. He shows him how to throw the bomb, how to throw the out, how to throw the hook, how to throw the corner—he shows this little kid everything he needs to know about how to be a great quarterback. He even moves from one city to the other so that kid can be in a better high school. Then that kid goes to college and every single game that dad is right there. And he wins the Heisman Trophy, ends up in the NFL. Five years later he ends up in the Super Bowl. They win the Super Bowl. He gets the MVP of the Super Bowl. And when the cameras come up to him and say, “You got anything to say to the camera?” “I love you mom!” Arrrgh!
Hearing this, it may seem pretty obvious what’s going on—Mencia is stealing Cosby’s joke. But when comedian Marc Maron confronted Mencia in a 2010 interview, Mencia said he doesn’t steal—at least, not intentionally.
“I am a sponge, so to speak,” he said. “But I’m also aware of jokes that I do that I go…hmm, I don’t know anybody specifically so much as I know that this is out there.”
The legal question
If you’re a comedian, it’s part of your job to soak things in like a sponge. But where is the line between soaking something in like a sponge and straight-up stealing?
Christopher Sprigman, a professor at NYU School of Law who focuses on copyright law, says that comedians have their own informal set of rules when it comes to joke ownership. In the world of comedy, people don’t really use the law to prevent stealing. Instead, they self-police.
“These aren’t laws. They’re just norms of the community about who owns jokes—how you come to own a joke, and how you can sell a joke, and how close you can come to someone else’s jokes,” Sprigman says. “And they’re enforced through community action.”
That community is small. Comedians go to each other’s shows all the time. So if someone sees a comic doing someone else’s bit, they’ll say something. Word gets around. And usually that’s enough.
But what about the Carlos Mencias of the comedy world? What happens when talking it out isn’t an option, because the comic who’s stealing from you is much more well-known, or even just because he or she insists it isn’t happening? Turns out, the law really doesn’t have an answer. And to understand how we got here, we need to go back in time.
The old system of the corn exchange
When my grandfather was growing up in Louisiana in the 1940s, jokes were just kind of around. There were even staple characters in jokes—Boudreaux, for example, is one of his favorites. He doesn’t write the Boudreaux jokes he tells. He just knows them.
Sprigman says the first stand-up comedians were coming out of the same tradition as my grandfather. “If you think about stand-up comedy back in the 1940s and 1950s, it was based around the joke slinger—the stand-up comic who grew out of the vaudeville style of one-liners, joke after joke after joke.”
No one owned these one-liners, exactly. Comedians took each others’ jokes all the time. There was even a name for it: the corn exchange. The corn exchange wasn’t anything formal. It was a blanket term for all of it (including at least one instance of a comedian buying another’s joke file after he died).
Sprigman remembers going to the Smithsonian to research Phyllis Diller’s joke file. There, he found tens of thousands of index cards with jokes scrawled on them. Some were original—others, not so much.
“She loved a comic called the Lockhorns, which was a comic about this married couple that was always at war with one another,” he says. “For years, she obsessively followed this comic strip, and she cut out a lot of the panels out of the newspaper and pasted them onto index cards that ended up in the joke file.”
And then they also ended up on stage, when she talked about her fictional husband, Fang. (“Of course you know, my husband, Fang, he won’t come into the kitchen because he’s afraid of rats. But then he comes in at noon because he knows they eat out.”)
Comedy (and everything) changes
So in the 40s and 50s and early 60s, a lot of comedians are doing this. But in the late 60s, things start to change in comedy, in part because they’re changing everywhere in the US. Over the 19th and 20th centuries, copyright law has gradually expanded, adding more and more protections to creative works from music and movies to books and computer software. More people care about owning their work, and laws are following suit. But comedy gets left behind. And according to Sprigman, the reason why that happens comes down to something pretty simple: who can lobby.
In the film and music industries, a handful of studios dominate. But not in comedy.
“Comedy is not corporatized in the same way,” he says, “These are individual proprietors. There are several thousand of them traveling around the national comedy circuit. And they operate at a very small scale. So there’s no powerful corporate player who owns enough of this business to actually lobby for changes to policy.
By the ‘80s, the transition is complete. The corn exchange is history. Now, even without the law behind them, comedians care about protecting their work. One way to do this is to make your stuff more personal, harder to steal.
“So think of Sarah Silverman, right,” says Sprigman. “She has a very detailed comic persona. She’s this smart but very obtuse moral monster.” (Consider, for example, Silverman’s joke that starts, “Guess what, Martin Luther King? I had a fucking dream, too. I had a dream that I was in my living room. It wasn’t my living room but it was like playing my living room in the dream…”)
Sprigman says that if someone takes a Sarah Silverman joke, people would probably catch on, because her jokes fit so closely to her comic persona.
Today, you can find scores of lawsuits among artists in other genres—photographers, musicians, writers. But there are virtually no copyright lawsuits between rival comics. No one has even sued Carlos Mencia (although there is a South Park episode where Kanye West kills Mencia over a joke). This is because copyright protects original expression, but it doesn’t protect ideas. So often, if you wanted to avoid the copyright on a joke, you could just tell a joke a little bit differently, preserve the joke that animates the punch line, but just change the expression.
Sprigman says you can find some lawsuits by comedians against people who take their jokes and make t-shirts—but not against other comedians who take their jokes and make money. Ironically, money is a big reason for that—copyright is enforced through federal court litigation. That’s very expensive. “It’s typically not worth it for a comic to file suit over a stolen joke, even if it’s a good joke,” says Sprigman.
In this realm outside the law, the gray area is pretty significant.
“It’s something we call in comedy parallel thought,” says Rory Scovel. “Two comics can have the same joke not having stolen the premise or punchline at all. There are just some jokes that are a conclusion that you could easily come to.”
This gray area is one reason why even if comedians did want to organize and push to be covered under copyright law, it would require a lot more than just adding a simple clause like, “stealing jokes is now illegal.” You’d basically have to overhaul the whole thing.
“You’d have to trim back the distinction between ideas and expression,” says Sprigman. “You’d have to protect ideas much more than copyright law does now. You’d have to loosen up the rules about proving copying even further than they are now. You’d have to have some kind of copyright small claims court, a streamlined procedure not as expensive to access and that doesn’t require legal representation, or at least not very expensive legal representation. You’d have to basically remake copyright in the image of comedians.”
And he doesn’t think that would be a good idea.
“There is a danger that if we propertize ideas or styles or trends, what we do is we basically impoverish the culture. We don’t promote progress, which is what the Constitution says that copyright has to do. We retard progress, and we don’t want to do that. I think that remaking copyright law in the image of comedians would potentially do very little for comedians and potentially do a lot of harm.”
So for now? Comedians are on their own, making us all laugh, and keeping an eye on the back of the room.Mary Adkins is Senior Editor at Life of the Law. This podcast was edited by Casey Miner with Sound Design and Production by Life of the Law’s Senior Producer, Kaitlin Prest.
Who gets to decide when an officer has done something wrong—the police chief or the people? Cities across the country are creating civilian oversight agencies which try to make local police and sheriffs accountable to the people.
Who polices the police? Do you or your neighbors have any say in the way your town’s cops and sheriffs do business? For more than 35 years, cities around the country have been creating civilian oversight agencies - trying to make local police and sheriffs accountable to the communities they serve. On this edition, producer Andrew Stelzer takes a look at the ongoing battle between the people and the police - and the debate over who gets to decide when an officer has done something wrong.
Barbara Attard, civilian oversight consultant, former San Francisco Office of Citizen Complaints investigator and former Berkeley Police Review Commission Director; Marcel Diallo, artist and victim of police harassment; Rashidah Grinage, PUEBLO Executive Director; Jason Wechter, San Francisco Office of Citizen Complaints investigator; Reginald Lyles, BART consultant and former Berkeley Police Officer; Gary Gee, BART Police Chief; Jesse Sekhon, BART Police Officers Association President; Quintin Mecke, California State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s Communications Director; Greg Kaufory, attorney; Omar Osirus, Jan, and Bo, protestors; Daniel Buford, Allen Temple Baptist Church Reverend; Joyce Hicks, San Francisco Office of Citizen Complaints Director and former Oakland’s Citizens Police Review Board Director; Patrick Cacares, Oakland Citizens Police Review Board acting director; Paulette Hogan, tasered Oakland resident who filed complaint with Internal Affairs; Chris Shannon, Oakland Police Lieutenant; Cephus Johnson, Oscar Grant’s uncle; Mark Kroeker, Portland Police Chief.
Program #32-09 - Begin date: 08/12/09. End date: 02/12/09.
Please call us if you carry us - 510-251-1332 and we will list your station on our website. If you excerpt, please credit early and often.
We take a look at the Police killing of Oscar Grant in Oakland, and the debate over who gets to decide when an officer has done something wrong.
Who polices the police? Do you or your neighbors have any say in the way your town’s cops and sheriffs do business? For more than 35 years, cities around the country have been creating civilian oversight agencies - trying to make local police and sheriffs accountable to the communities they serve.
On this edition we take a look at the Police killing of Oscar Grant in Oakland, and the debate over who gets to decide when an officer has done something wrong.
Barbara Attard, civilian oversight consultant, former San Francisco Office of Citizen Complaints investigator and former Berkeley Police Review Commission Director; Marcel Diallo, artist and victim of police harassment; Rashidah Grinage, PUEBLO Executive Director; Jason Wechter, National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement Board Member; Reginald Lyles, BART consultant and former Berkeley Police Officer; Gary Gee, BART Police Chief; Jesse Sekhon, BART Police Officers Association President; Quintin Mecke, California State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s Communications Director; Greg Kaufory, attorney; Omar Osirus, Jan, and Bo, protestors; Daniel Buford, Allen Temple Baptist Church Reverend; Joyce Hicks, San Francisco Office of Citizen Complaints Director and former Oakland’s Citizens Police Review Board Director; Patrick Cacares, Oakland Citizens Police Review Board acting director; Paulette Hogan, tasered Oakland resident who filed complaint with Internal Affairs; Chris Shannon, Oakland Police Lieutenant; Cephus Johnson, Oscar Grant’s uncle; Mark Kroeker, Portland Police Chief;
From Dred-Scott Keyes | 01:00:13
The Cutting Edge looks at the causes and aftermath of the 1992 L.A. rebellion.