Archive for Justice

Apr
06

Why cops shoot

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Photo by Kate Sheets via Creative Commons.

We’re the only country in the world that polices like this.
— Sheriff Mike Chitwood, Volusia County, FL

Ben Montgomery and a team from the Tampa Bay Times asked 400 law enforcement agencies across Florida for records of when an officer fired a gun and injured or killed someone between Jan. 1, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2014. The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri prompted questions about how often such shootings happen. The result of the inquiry is an extensive report titled “Why Cops Shoot.”

“It was very difficult to get agencies to cough up records,” Montgomery says in a video accompanying the story. Collecting the information took two years. Their mission was to answer a basic question: “Are there ways to do this where people don’t have to die?”

The Tampa Bay Times report arrives even as Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in a March 31 memo that his office would call a 90-day pause in its consideration of police reform efforts begun under the Obama administration. In Baltimore last night, U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar issued an order rejecting the attempt by Sessions and the Trump administration to delay public consideration today of the consent decree between the Department of Justice and the Baltimore police department. Bednar’s writes in the order, “To postpone the public hearing at the eleventh hour would be to unduly burden and inconvenience the Court, the other parties, and, most importantly, the public.” The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. EDT.

The Sessions memo recommends that the “misdeeds of individual bad actors” not “impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work” of law enforcement. Yet the Tampa Bay Times report uncovers yet again patterns of policing that result in unnecessary deaths of citizens — many unarmed
— and community mistrust of police services. Too many police shootings are “lawful, but awful” according to Chuck Wexler, Executive Director of the Police Executive Resarce Forum (PERF).

This is one such example from “Why Cops Shoot”:

In January 2010, Orange County sheriff’s deputies moved in on Torey Breedlove, a suspected car thief in an SUV. Breedlove tried to drive away but was surrounded by deputies with guns drawn. A witness said Breedlove raised his hands, but deputies said they heard an engine revving, so they fired 137 rounds, killing Breedlove. A grand jury cleared the deputies, but Breedlove’s sister sued on behalf of the man’s four children. Evidence presented in the civil case showed the revving engine was a deputy’s SUV, not Breedlove’s. His sister got $450,000.

“The conduct at issue here,” wrote U.S. District Judge Gregory A. Presnell, “is more akin to an execution than an attempt to arrest an unarmed suspect.”

Montgomery is circumspect. “There are not any incidents that we looked at in these 770 cases, in which 830 people were shot,” Montgomery says, “which clearly spell out that this officer intended to murder someone. That’s not the case at all as far as we could find. What is the case are, in some cases, lack of training, just the rush to judgment.”

And simply bad practice.

In 2014, for the first time ever, police took more from American citizens than burglars did, according to economist Martin Armstrong, who used statistics from the FBI and Institute for Justice. Police departments use the money, cars and homes seized through civil asset forfeiture to support their budgets.

[…]

“The answer to the riddle of why officers who are assigned to drug and gun and other contraband-oriented assignments, who are armed to the teeth, often in military fashion, take the time and trouble to make traffic stops for mundane offenses like ‘tag light out’ or ‘no seat-belt’ can be answered by the multi-million dollar forfeiture trade that supplements police incomes,” Cook said.

Mike Chitwood, now sheriff of Volusia County, was police chief in Daytona when Montgomery interviewed him. Chitwood believes the key to the use of force is proportionality. He has been engaged for years in Wexler’s group and brought training in deescalation and active listening to Daytona:

“We’re proficient in (shooting), but we’re not proficient in the No. 1 thing: dealing with people,” he said. “I think the No. 1 complaint in America against police officers is rudeness.”

He also began to try to keep crooked cops out of his department by hiring people with solid, deep background investigations. He established an alert system to try to identify rogue cops. He started randomly drug testing officers.

[…]

What’s particularly interesting about Chitwood is the stricture of his policies, especially when it comes to police chases and use of force. He’s blunt. Don’t shoot into a vehicle. If you do shoot, he said, you’d better have tire tracks on your chest.

“I think most shootings that we see are because we the police put ourselves in a position that we don’t need to be in,” he said. “Today, for some reason, we’ve switched out of the guardian mentality and we’ve become warriors. And that’s not what American policing was founded on.”

We’ve looked at the “warrior cop” here before.

One might not blame an incoming administration for stopping to review the policies of its predecessor. Then again, people are dying. “Why Cops Shoot” gives an indication of why and what might be done about it in addition to creating a national police violence database for studying it. Montgomery concludes we need one. The question this morning is whether Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration are more interested in American policing being tough or just. Wait, don’t answer that.

“We’re the only country in the world that polices like this,” Chitwood says.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Jul
12

Damned if you whatever

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r9vlzWLs_400x400Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about it: the systemic discrimination faced by black people in this country. Even white people like me know about “the talk” black parents have with their sons:

Every black male I’ve ever met has had this talk, and it’s likely that I’ll have to give it one day too. There are so many things I need to tell my future son, already, before I’ve birthed him; so many innocuous, trite thoughts that may not make a single difference. Don’t wear a hoodie. Don’t try to break up a fight. Don’t talk back to cops. Don’t ask for help. But they’re all variations of a single theme: Don’t give them an excuse to kill you.

For all the good it will do.

In the wake of the recent shootings of black males Alton Sterling and Philando Castile (as well as the shootings of policemen in Dallas) on top of all the others — Brown, Garner, Scott, Gray, Rice, McDonald, etc. — it seems there is no instruction one could give or follow to ensure a black male will survive an encounter with police.

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Jul
11

Baton Rouge … the year is 2016

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Remember when In the year 2016… would have introduced filmgoers to a dystopian future? Welcome to it.

Following the Alton Sterling shooting last week, some truly iconic images are coming out of the Baton Rouge protests you need to see.

The image below by photographer Jonathan Bachman is already being hailed as “legendary.” A protester blocking the highway in front of Baton Rouge Police Headquarters is arrested by State Police.


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Jul
07

Another day, another police killing

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In bleeding color:

A St. Paul man died Wednesday night after being shot by police in Falcon Heights, the aftermath of which was recorded in a video widely shared on Facebook in which the man’s girlfriend says the “police shot him for no apparent reason, no reason at all.”

Friends at the scene identified the man as Philando Castile, 32, cafeteria supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori School in St. Paul.

Castile had cooked “for 12 to 15 years” at a Montessori School. Let that sink in. Philando Castile is black.

The girlfriend started the live-stream video with the man in the driver’s seat slumped next to her, his white T-shirt soaked with blood on the left side. In the video, taken with her phone, she says they were pulled over at Larpenteur Avenue and Fry Street for a broken taillight.

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Jun
22

Not a “nefarious thing”?

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“Your honor, I hope that I can persuade you that it was not a nefarious thing,” replied Thomas A. Farr, an attorney for the state of North Carolina. He was arguing yesterday to uphold the state’s sweeping 2013 voting changes before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. One of the judges seemed skeptical:

Judge Henry F. Floyd questioned the timing of the changes — done after Republicans took control of state government for the first time in a century and after the U.S. Supreme Court undid key provisions of the Voting Rights Act — and whether they weren’t done to suppress minority votes for political gain.

“It looks pretty bad to me,” Floyd said.

Floyd was not the only judge on the panel who appeared skeptical. Talking Points Memo:

The U.S. Justice Department, state NAACP, League of Women Voters and others sued the state, saying the restrictions violated the remaining provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act and the Constitution. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals fast-tracked the review in an expected presidential battleground state, with competitive races for governor and U.S. Senate.

Voters must now show one of six qualifying IDs, although those with “reasonable impediments” can fill out a form and cast a provisional ballot. The voter ID mandate began with this year’s March primary.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Judge James A. Wynn Jr. asked pointed questions about why public assistance IDs, used disproportionally by minorities, were not acceptable in the final version of the law.

“Why did they take it out?” asked Wynn, a former North Carolina state appeals judge.

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Jun
06

Restoring full citizenship

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Restoring felons’ right to vote after parole is a hit or miss prospect among the several states. Maryland restored voting rights to ex-offenders in February. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently signed an executive order restoring paroled felons’ voting rights there, nullifying “a Civil War-era provision in the State Constitution that barred convicted felons from voting for life.” The New York Times set up the backstory to this morning’s news back in April:

Amid intensifying national attention over harsh sentencing policies that have disproportionately affected African-Americans, governors and legislatures around the nation have been debating — and often fighting over — moves to restore voting rights for convicted felons. Virginia imposes especially harsh restrictions, barring felons from voting for life.

In Kentucky, Gov. Matt Bevin, a newly elected Republican, recently overturned an order enacted by his Democratic predecessor that was similar to the one Mr. McAuliffe signed Friday. In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, vetoed a measure to restore voting rights to convicted felons, but Democrats in the state legislature overrode him in February and an estimated 44,000 former prisoners who are on probation can now register to vote.

5.8 million Americans are not allowed to vote because of past felonies, according to the Sentencing Project. More than one in five African Americans in Virginia.

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May
31

Leaked to you as a public service

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Just a week ago, we covered the Guardian’s report on the failure of the Pentagon’s whistleblower office to protect the identity of Pentagon whistleblower, Thomas Drake – and Drake’s subsequent prosecution. Edward Snowden told an interviewer in 2015, “It’s fair to say that if there hadn’t been a Thomas Drake, there wouldn’t have been an Edward Snowden.” Thus, Snowden undertook what the Government Accountability Project (GAP) dubbed “civil disobedience” whistleblowing.

That was last week. Now:

The former US attorney general Eric Holder has said the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden performed a “public service” by starting a debate over government surveillance techniques.

Speaking on a podcast hosted by David Axelrod, a former campaign strategist for Barack Obama, Holder emphasized, however, that Snowden must still be punished.

“We can certainly argue about the way in which Snowden did what he did, but I think that he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made,” Holder said, in an hourlong discussion on The Axe Files.

“Now, I would say that doing what he did – and the way he did it – was inappropriate and illegal.”

Snowden obviously saw the irony:

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Edward Snowden. Photo by Laura Poitras / Praxis Films CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

Edward Snowden. Photo by Laura Poitras / Praxis Films CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

The Guardian has a lengthy read about a Department of Defense figure involved in handling DoD whistleblowers. So far, John Crane has escaped the media spotlight surrounding the case of Edward Snowden. Crane worked in the Department of Defense’s inspector general office for handling internal whistleblowers when – ten years before Snowden – Thomas Drake came to report the same illegal activities Snowden revealed to the press. Mark Hertsgaard sets the stage:

Drake was a much higher-ranking NSA official than Snowden, and he obeyed US whistleblower laws, raising his concerns through official channels. And he got crushed.

Drake was fired, arrested at dawn by gun-wielding FBI agents, stripped of his security clearance, charged with crimes that could have sent him to prison for the rest of his life, and all but ruined financially and professionally. The only job he could find afterwards was working in an Apple store in suburban Washington, where he remains today. Adding insult to injury, his warnings about the dangers of the NSA’s surveillance programme were largely ignored.

According to the account Crane gave to Hertsgaard, DoD officials first illegally disclosed Crane’s identity to the Justice Department, then “withheld (and perhaps destroyed) evidence after Drake was indicted; finally, they lied about all this to a federal judge.”

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Apr
26

Back to the voting booth

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Well, that didn’t go as hoped. This morning’s headline in the Charlotte Observer online reads, “Federal judge who backed limits on early ballots upholds voter ID requirement.” Slate summarizes:

A federal judge on Monday upheld a 2013 North Carolina voter ID law that increased the requirements a voter must meet to cast a ballot, a move that critics say is an effort to discourage black and Hispanic voters from political participation. The suit was brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, as well as a group of North Carolina voters, and claimed the new measure, one of the strictest in the country, violated the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution. U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder, however, disagreed and in his 485-page opinion wrote “North Carolina has provided legitimate state interests for its voter ID requirement and electoral system.”

Critics condemned the ruling, which they will likely appeal to the 4th Circuit:

“This is just one step in a legal battle that is going to continue in the courts,” said Penda Hair, an attorney representing the NAACP. The law “targets the provisions that once made North Carolina among the states with the highest turnout in the nation. This progress was especially clear among African-American and Latino voters, who came to rely on measures like early voting, same-day registration and out-of-precinct provisional ballots to ensure their voices were heard.”

The New York Times explains what was on the table:

The opinion, by Judge Thomas D. Schroeder of Federal District Court in Winston-Salem, upheld the repeal of a provision that allowed people to register and vote on the same day. It also upheld a seven-day reduction in the early-voting period; the end of preregistration, which allowed some people to sign up before their 18th birthdays; and the repeal of a provision that allowed for the counting of ballots cast outside voters’ home precinct.

It also left intact North Carolina’s voter identification requirement, which legislators softened last year to permit residents to cast ballots, even if they lack the required documentation, if they submit affidavits.

Just weeks ahead of a hearing last July, Republicans in the legislature swapped out some of the barricades to voting for hoops.

Rick Hasen at Election Law Blog has additional analysis of the opinion, including these observations on the original impetus behind the bill:

5. On the need for the voter id law to prevent voter fraud, the court says first that it is hard to find impersonation fraud without an id requirement, but more importantly the Supreme Court in the Crawford case said there need not be evidence of impersonation fraud to justify the law. So while the plaintiffs have to present tons of evidence of burden, the state can get by with no evidence of a need. (This seems perverse to me.)

So plaintiffs provided insufficient proof of a burden and the state provided no justification for the law. Let’s call it even.

6. The court also finds that the state did not act with discriminatory intent, citing (without an appreciation for irony) at p. 387 the testimony of Hans von Spakovsky to the legislature on the need for this restrictive law. Whether or not his testimony was true, the court says, the legislature could have believed it true, thereby negating possibility of discriminatory intent.

Spakovsky, the Professor Harold Hill of voter fraud, testified that the “potential for abuse exists.” And windmills might be giants. Sufficient enough reason to pass a law restricting them.

It’s back to the voting booth, people, if voters expect to stop them from stopping voters.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Apr
08

Chuck Grassley’s coup

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President Obama took Senate Republicans to school yesterday in a speech at the University of Chicago Law School where he taught constitutional law for a dozen years. He spoke on the intransigence of Senate Republicans in refusing to give a hearing to his Supreme Court nominee, Illinois native Merrick Garland:

“If you start getting into a situation where the process of appointing judges is so broken, so partisan, that an eminently qualified jurist cannot even get a hearing, then we are going to see the kind of sharp partisan polarization that has come to characterize our electoral politics seeping entirely into the judicial system …”

“That erodes the institutional integrity of the judicial branch. At that point, people lose confidence in the ability of the courts to fairly adjudicate cases and controversies. And our democracy cannot afford that …”

Video here.

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