Rise of Mass Incarceration

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“ It would be a mistake to say, as many people do in the current context, that “oh, if you’re against the police, then you’re against law and order. These are hard working civil servants putting their lives on the line for you every day. And, you know, that’s true. People who join the police do so to do these sorts of things. But, if you dismiss black complaints of mistreatment by police as being completely rooted in our modern context, then you’re missing the point completely. There has never been a period in our history where the law and order branch of the state has not operated against the freedoms, the liberties, the options, the choices that have been available for the black community, generally speaking. And to ignore that racial heritage, to ignore that historical context means that you can’t have an informed debate about the current state of blacks and police relationships today. ‘Cause this didn’t just appear out of nothing. This is the product of a centuries long historical process. And to not reckon with that is to shut off solutions.” Kevin Gannon, 13th


Modern Racial Disparities in the Justice System
Institutional Racism in US Criminally Justice System
The New Jim Crow
The Myth of Black Criminality
Victim Blaming Narratives of US Criminal Justice System
Historic Racism in US Criminally Justice System
Law and Order Dog Whistle
Modern “Race Neutral” Racist Criminal Laws
War on Drugs
Racial History of US Police
Modern Policing Issues
Anti-Police Brutality = Anti-Police Myth – Criminalization, Police Brutality, and Over-policing of Communities of Color – Aggressive Dispersion Tactics Against Civil Rights Activists Institutional Culture of Police Departments – Internal Investigations and Lack of Community Accountability -Internal Investigations and Lack of Community Accountability – Police Unions – Gypsy Cops and Lack of Records – Stop and Frisk and Racial Profiling – Testilying (Police Perjury) – Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuse – The Militarization of the Police – White Supremacist Police Officers – Victim Blaming/Character Assassination – The – Race Gap in America’s Police Departments
The Criminalization of Civil Rights Activists
COINTELPRO


Modern Racial Disparities in the Justice System

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image3.pngSource: Brennan Center for Justice

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Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Enduring Myth of Black Criminality

Police Interactions

  • Black people are less than 13% of U.S. population and:
    • 31% of all fatal police shooting victims
    • 39% of those killed by police were nonviolent
    • Black males ages 15-19
      • 21x more likely to be killed by police than whites
  • Blacks and Latinos people are
    • 3x as likely to be stopped as whites
    • 2x as likely to be arrested
    • 4x as likely experience use of force during police interactions

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Source: The New Progressive: The Ultimate White Privilege Statistics & Data Post

Slate: New Data Shows Police Use More Force Against Black Citizens Even Though Whites Resist More

A new cache of data released by the Chicago Police Department, however, shows that the claim that black people are more likely to face police violence because of noncompliance is itself a dreadful myth. According to the new numbers, Chicago police officers used more force against black citizens, on average, than any other race—even though black citizens tended to exercise less resistance than whites. Under the same circumstances and faced with the same level of danger, cops tended to resolve the situation without firing their weapons much more often for white citizens than black citizens. This analysis was based on Chicago PD’s own descriptions of the incidents in question.

Vera: An Unjust Burden: The Disparate Treatment of Black Americans in the Criminal Justice System

  • Studies have found police are more likely to stop, search, and arrest black people Because police are the gateway to the court and prison systems, understanding how bias affects policing practices is critical to understanding larger racial disparities in American criminal justice. Studies have shown that police officers can hold implicit biases that affect their decisions toward black individuals For example, a 2004 study found that when police officers were asked “who looks criminal?” and shown a series of pictures, they more often chose black faces than white ones. Likewise, in another 2004 study, researchers primed police officers to think about crimes using words like “violent,” “stop,” and “arrest,” then showed them a series of photographs. The study found that once primed, the officers focused more quickly on black male faces and remembered those faces to have features that have been considered to be stereotypically black—such as a broad nose, thick lips, and dark skin.
  • The best available evidence suggests that police bias toward black Americans, coupled with strategic decisions to deploy certain law enforcement practices—like hot spots policing more heavily in black communities, increases the likelihood of encounters with police and negative outcomes like stops, searches, use of force, and arrest.
    • Studies on police use of force reveal that black people are more likely than white people to experience use of force by police. A study of police use of non-fatal force from 2002 to 2011 found that in street stops, 14 percent of black people experienced non-fatal force compared to 6.9 percent of white people stopped by the police.
    • Studies have found that police are more likely to pull over and search black drivers despite lower contraband hit rates.In a study of investigatory traffic stops in Kansas City among drivers under 25 years old, 28 percent of black men and 17 percent of black women were pulled over in 2011 for an investigatory stop, compared to 13 percent of white men and 7 percent of white women. In 2016, a Police Accountability Task Force in Chicago found that police searched black and Latino drivers four times as often as white drivers. However, police found contra-band on white drivers twice as often as black and Latino drivers. In a similar study in 2017 at Stanford University, researchers developed a “threshold test” to quantify how officers initiate searches. The study found that police in North Carolina employ a lower search threshold to black and Latino people than they do to white people and Asian people, searching 5.4 percent of black people pulled over compared to 3.1 percent of white people.
    • Studies have shown similar disparities in police pedestrian stops. A study of 125,000 pedestrian stops by police in New York City found black people were stopped more than 23 percent more often than white people—even when controlling for “race-specific estimates of crime”—representing over half of the stops and only 26 percent of the city’s population.Moreover, stops of black people were also less likely to lead to an arrest.
    • Studies have also shown that police are more likely to arrest black people. A meta-analysis of 23 research studies that focused on the relationship between race and the likelihood of an arrest between 1977 and 2004 found that black people were more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts, even when controlling for factors like the seriousness of the offense and the suspect’s prior record. Similarly, a study of the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth data found that after controlling for differences in drug offending, non-drug offending, and neighborhood context, racial disparities in drug-related arrests still persist. This finding suggests that just being black significantly raises one’s chances of arrest. Moreover, a 2010 ACLU study found that black people were 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, even though both groups use the drug at similar rates.

WXYZ: UM study: Police use of force is a (6th) leading cause of death for young black men

Click on the Police Accountability Tool to learn the police violence statistics in your state

Court Systems

  • Black people compared to white people are:
    • 21% more likely to receive mandatory min sentences
    • 20% more likely to be sentenced to prison
    • Once convicted
      • black offenders receive 10% longer sentences
        • than white offenders for same crimes

“A black person and a white person each commit a crime, the black person has a better chance of being arrested. Once arrested, black people are convicted more often than white people. And for many years, laws assigned much harsher sentences for using or possessing crack, for example, compared to cocaine. Finally, when black people are convicted, they are more likely to be sent to jail. And their sentences tend to be both harsher and longer than those for whites who were convicted of similar crimes. And as we know, a felony conviction means, in many states, that you lose your right to vote. Right now in America, as many as 13% of black men are not allowed to vote.” 7 Ways We Know Systemic Racism Is Real

Vera: An Unjust Burden: The Disparate Treatment of Black Americans in the Criminal Justice System

  • Biased decision making by prosecutors also negatively impacts people of color. Prosecutors hold a particularly outsized role in the criminal justice process, with discretionary decision-making power over charging and plea bargains. Their recommendations also can anchor courtroom discussions about pretrial detention, bail amounts, and sentencing. Research shows that bias can affect how prosecutors exercise their discretion in the cases of black people
    • A 2012 review by the Vera Institute of Justice of 34 studies looked at the effect of prosecutorial decision making on racial disparities in sentencing and at five other discretion points. A greater number of studies found that people of color are more likely to be prosecuted, held in pretrial detention, and to receive other harsh treatment
    • A 2013 study found that federal prosecutors are more likely to charge black people than similarly situated white people with offenses that carry higher mandatory minimum sentences. A 2006 study found that state prosecutors are more likely to charge black people under habitual offender statutes than similarly-situated white people.
    • Implicit bias can also impact the plea bargaining phase, by which the vast majority of criminal cases are resolved. A 2017 study of more than 48,000 misdemeanor and felony cases in Wisconsin between 2000 and 2006 found that white people were 25 percent more likely to have their top charge dropped or reduced by prosecutors than black people. Disparities were especially glaring when misdemeanor cases only were considered: white people were nearly 75 percent more likely than black people to see all misdemeanor charges carrying a potential sentence of incarceration dropped, dismissed, or amended to lesser charges. The result of these disparities is that black people originally charged with misdemeanors are not only more likely to be convicted, they are more likely to be sentenced to incarceration than white people
  • Judicial bias can lead to worse criminal justice outcomes for black people. Judges too have been found to hold implicit biases that can impact their treatment of the black people whose cases are before them. For example, a 2009 study of judges’ implicit biases found that white judges were more motivated to be fair when they were told that the accused was black. When not explicitly told the race of the defendant, but primed with cues that implied the defendant was black, judges imposed moderately harsher sentences.Because judges oversee every stage of the court process, their biases can lead to harsher outcomes at multiple discretion points in a case, from pretrial detention through sentencing.
    • A 2009 study of drug offense convictions in three U.S. district courts found that black people had higher odds of pretrial detention than white people. Moreover, those charged for offenses related to crack cocaine—a charge more common among black people than white people—were more likely to be held pretrial than those charged for offenses involving powder cocaine. Whether a defendant is held pretrial has downstream effects on sentencing: this study found that men who were in custody during their sentencing hearings received sentences about eight months longer on average than those who were released before their hearings.
    • A 2013 review of 50 years of studies on racial disparities in bail practices found that black people are subject to pretrial detention more frequently, and have bail set at higher amounts, than white people who have similar criminal histories and are facing similar charges. Studies documented this disparity in state and federal cases as well as juvenile justice proceedings, and in all regions of the country.
    • In a review of 40 studies into the linkage between race and ethnicity and sentencing severity, researchers found that at both the state and federal levels, black people were more likely to receive more severe sentences than their white counterparts. This finding holds true even when
      controlling for differences in criminal histories and the effects of policies that have a disparate impact on people of color, like the drug laws and hot spots policing practices discussed above. Moreover, a 2005 analysis of 40 studies on racial disparities in sentencing at the state and federal levels found that 43 percent of studies at the state level and 68 percent at the federal level reported direct racially discriminatory sentencing outcomes, impacting both the initial decision to incarcerate and the length of any ultimate sentence to incarceration.
    • A study of capital cases in Philadelphia found that when the victim was white and the accused black, defendants who were perceived to have a more “stereotypically Black appearance” were more than twice as likely to receive a death sentence as black people on trial who were perceived as less so. The accused person’s appearance made a difference, however, when both the victim and the accused were black.
    • Multiple studies demonstrate the impact of skin color on sentencing, with lighter-skinned black people often receiving more lenient treatment and darker-skinned black people receiving more punitive sentences. For instance, when controlling for the type of offense, socioeconomic status, and demographic indicators among a subset of incarcerated men in Georgia from 1995 to 2002, dark-skinned black men received prison sentences a year-and-a-half longer—and the lightest-skinned black men about three-and-a-half months longer—than their white counterparts. A 2015 study of men facing first-time felony charges found that darker-skinned black men received sentences that were, on average, 400 days longer than their white counterparts, while medium-skinned black men received sentences about 200 days longer than their white counterparts. On average, black men received a sentence 270 days longer than white men.
    • A study of cases in which men were charged with felony crimes in urban U.S. counties in 2000 found that black defendants were more likely to be detained pretrial; that pretrial detention impacted the likelihood of a guilty plea for black, white, and Latino defendants; and that both detention and guilty pleas affected sentence outcomes. Taken together, the effects of cumulative bias increased the probability that the average black person charged with a felony would go to prison by 26 percent.
  • Studies have found evidence of racial bias against black people in jury verdicts and sentencing. The potential racial bias of jurors in criminal cases has been examined in studies using archival analysis of case verdicts, post-trial juror interviews, and mock jury experiments in which researchers can randomly assign subjects to “juries” and control for and isolate variables of interest. Such studies have examined both the impact of the racial composition of juries on sentences, as well as the effect of the defendant’s race on jurors’ decision making. The results are complex and the scholarship is incomplete, and while some research attributes racial discrimination by jurors to a bias against defendants who belong to a race different than their own, studies do show evidence that implicit bias may influence white jurors in some cases where the accused is black.
    • In a 2003 review of empirical research on race and juries, the authors found complex relationships between implicit juror bias and a defendant’s race depending on the type of case at issue. In studies that used summaries of trials that were more “racially charged,” like a summary of the O.J. Simpson case, white mock jurors appeared less likely to exhibit bias. When studies used trials that were not racially charged, racial biases were found, suggesting that the white mock jurors were motivated to appear less racist the more racially salient the case before them.
    • A 2005 meta-analysis of 34 studies on mock jury verdict decisions and 16 studies on mock juror sentencing decisions found a notable effect of racial bias on mock jurors’ decision making. The study shows that mock jurors are more likely to render both guilty verdicts and longer sentences to defendants whose race differsd from their own, suggesting that jurors are more lenient toward members of their own racial groups.
    • A 2010 study found that mock jurors showed racial bias toward darker-skinned individuals, evaluating ambiguous evidence as a greater indication of guilt than they did for lighter-skinned people. Moreover, when asked to rate the defendant’s level of guilt on a scale of 1 to 100, mock jurors perceived the darker-skinned individuals to be more guilty than lighter-skinned individuals. Perhaps most notably, the study found that many mock jurors could not recall whether the defendant was a lighter- or darker-skinned individual, implying that the defendant’s skin tone was not consciously, but rather implicitly, considered in their evaluation of guilt. These findings held true regardless of the race of the mock juror (though none of the jurors were black).

Read more at The Responsible Consumer “Racial Sentencing Disparity” page

Prison (Mass Incarceration)

  • Minorities are less than 28% of the US pop.
    • But nearly 60% of the prison population
  • Black people less than 13% of the US pop.
    • 38% of the American prison pop.
    • 5x the rate of whites
      • Black men incarcerated 6x rate of white males
      • Black women incarcerated 2x rate of white women
    • Incarceration rates:
      • 1 in every 15 black men
      • 1 in every 36 Latino men
      • 1 in every 106 white men

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School-to-Prison Pipeline

  • Compared to white boys:
    • Black boys 5x as likely to go to jail
    • Latino boys 3x as likely to go to jail
  • Black girls represent 17% of female students
    • 31% of girls referred to law enforcement
    • 43% of girls arrested on school grounds

Source: The New Progressive: The Ultimate White Privilege Statistics & Data Post, NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet

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War on Drugs

  • In US federal prisons today
    • 46% are incarcerated because of drug offenses
  • Blacks people are less than 13% of the U.S. population but make up
    • 14% of regular drug users
    • 37% of those arrested for drug offenses
    • 56% of those in state prisons for drug offenses
  • Black kids 10x more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than white kids
    • Even though white kids are more likely to abuse drugs

“What the War on Drugs has done is trap millions of people, especially black men, in poverty, and push them toward a life of crime. With black boys arrested 10 times more frequently than white boys, for a non-violent crime that they commit less frequently than white boys, black men are funneled into the criminal justice system from a young age. With felonies on their records, it is incredibly difficult for black men to get work. As a result, they are trapped in low-paying jobs, or worse, turning to crime. Finally, once they have a felony on their record, most states prohibit them from voting.” J.B.W. Tucker – New Progressive

Sources: The New Progressive: The Ultimate White Privilege Statistics & Data Post, Everyday Feminism: Here’s Your Proof That White Americans Don’t Face Systemic Racism

Bruce Western on Mass Incarceration

Felon Disfranchisement

  • In many states felons lose your right to vote.
    • 13% of black men are not allowed to vote in the US
    • Because of racial disparities in incarceration
      • these laws disproportionately disenfranchise people of color

Sources: The New Progressive: The Ultimate White Privilege Statistics & Data Post, 7 Ways We Know Systemic Racism Is Real

  • Felon Disenfranchisement
    • More than 6 million American citizens are unable to vote because of a past criminal conviction
    • These laws, rooted in our racial history, have a disproportionate impact on minorities
      • Designed after Civil War in a deliberate attempt to dilute the voting power of freed slaves
    • 1 in every 13 voting-age black American have lost right to vote
      • 4x the rate for all other Americans
    • State approaches to felon disenfranchisement vary tremendously
      • In Maine, Vermont, California felons never lose their right to vote, even while they are incarcerated
      • 38 states including DC most ex-felons automatically gain the right to vote upon the completion of their sentence
      • In Florida, Iowa and Virginia, felons and ex-felons permanently lose their right to vote
        • In Florida roughly 1.5 million Florida residents (2.5% of state’s population) disenfranchised
          • In 2016 one in four of Florida’s black residents could not cast a ballot.
          • Clinton lost Florida by just 119,770 votes

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Barred from the Ballot Box: Felon Disenfranchisement in America

Huff Post: 18 Examples Of Racism In The Criminal Legal System

“Racism may well be the biggest crime in the criminal legal system. If present trends continue, 1 of every 4 African American males born this decade can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, despite the fact that the Census Bureau reports that the U.S. is 13 percent Black, 61 percent white and 17 percent Latino.

When Brown v Board of Education was decided in 1954, about 100,000 African Americans were in prison. Now there are about 800,000 African Americans in jails and prisons: 538,000 in prisons, and over 263,000 in local jails. Black men are nearly 6 times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Hispanic men are 2.3 times as likely, according to the Sentencing Project.

Why? Because our country has dramatically expanded our jails and prisons and there is deep racism built into every step of the criminal legal system. Some think the criminal legal system has big problems that need to be reformed. Others think the racism in the criminal legal system is helping it operate exactly as it has been designed to incarcerate as many black and brown people as possible.

Here are 18 examples of racism in parts of different stages of the system. Taken together, the racism in each of these steps accelerates the process of incarceration of African American and Latino males. Together, they demonstrate that racism may well be the biggest crime in the criminal legal system.

1. Police Stops

Who is stopped by the police, either in cars or on foot, continues to be highly racialized as proof of racial profiling continues to accumulate. University of Kansas professors found the police conducted investigatory stops of African American males at twice the rate of whites. A black man in Kansas City, 25 or younger, has a 28 percent chance of being stopped, while a similar white male has only a 12 percent chance.

In New York City, police continue to stop Black and Hispanics at rates far higher than whites even though they are stopping many less people due to a successful civil rights federal court challenge by the Center for Constitutional Rights. One of the most illuminating studies is in Connecticut which showed racial disparities in traffic stops during the daytime, when the race of the driver can be seen, but not at night.

2. Police Searches

Once stopped, during traffic stops, 3 times as many Black and Hispanic drivers were searched as white drivers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. According to the same U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, white drivers were also given tickets at a slightly lower rate than Black and Hispanic drivers.

3. Police Use of Force During Arrest

A recent report by Center for Policing Equity found that police are more likely to use force like Tasers, dogs, pepper spray and physical force against Black people than White people in making arrests.

4. Juvenile Arrests

Black youth are twice as likely to be arrested for crimes in school as white kids, over 2.5 times as likely to be arrested for curfew violations as white kids, twice as likely as white kids to be arrested for all crimes, and much more likely to be held in detention than white kids, according to the Sentencing Project.

5. Arrests in the Transgender Community

Hundreds of thousands of gay and transgender youth are arrested or detained every year and more than 60 percent are Black or Latino, according to the Center for American Progress.

6. Arrests for Drugs

Start with the fact that whites and blacks use and abuse drugs at about the same rates. This is proven by the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This study found drug and alcohol abuse among whites and blacks nearly the same with blacks reporting one percent higher on drug use than whites while whites have three percent higher rates of binge alcohol and one percent higher rates of substance abuse or dependence.

But when it comes to drug arrests, Blacks are arrested at a rate more than twice their percentage in the population. Twenty nine percent of drug arrests, according to FBI statistics, are of African American people.

7. Police Arrests for Marijuana

While marijuana use is similar in black and white communities, blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana as whites.

8. Pre-Trial Release

The National Academy of Sciences found that blacks are more likely than whites to be incarcerated while awaiting trial.

9. Prosecution Charges

Federal prosecutors are almost twice as likely to file charges carrying mandatory minimum sentences for African Americans than whites accused of the same crimes, according to a study published by the University of Michigan Law School.

10. Prison vs. Community Service

The National Academy of Sciences stated that blacks are more likely than whites to received prison terms rather than community service. Black people are imprisoned at twice the rate of white people in the U.S., according to the US Department of Justice.

11. Length of Incarceration

The National Academy of Sciences stated that, after conviction, blacks are more likely than whites to receive longer sentences.

12. State Drug Incarceration

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports 208,000 people are in state prisons for drug offenses. Of this number, 32 percent are white and 68 percent are African American or Hispanic.

13. Federal Drug Convictions

More than half of all federal prisoners are there for drug offenses. The U.S. Sentencing Commission reported 25 percent of all federal drug convictions in 2014 were of African Americans and 47 percent were Hispanics versus 24 percent of whites. In federal prisons, 22 percent are white and 76 percent are African American or Hispanic.

14. Federal Court Sentencing

African American men were sentenced to 19 percent longer time periods in federal courts across the U.S. than white men convicted of similar crimes in a 4-year study conducted by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

15. Incarceration of Women

Black women are incarcerated at a rate nearly 3 times higher than white women.

16. Sentencing to Life Without Parole

Over 65 percent of prisoners serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses are black.

17. Hiring People With Criminal Records

Having a criminal record hurts a person’s ability to get a job ― but it hurts black men worse. In fact, white men with a criminal record have a better chance of getting a positive response in a job search than black men without a criminal record. This has been confirmed by a study of 6,000 applications in Arizona and an earlier study in Milwaukee and New York City.

18. Eliminating the Right to Vote

The impact of this is devastating. For example, 1 out of every 13 African Americans has lost their right to vote due to felony disenfranchisement versus 1 in every 56 non-black voters.

Taken together, these facts demonstrate the deep racism embedded in the criminal legal system. None dare call this justice.

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Institutional Racism in US Criminally Justice System

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Bagley Cartoon: Alt-slavery

“Though it was the most insidious engine of the subordination of black people throughout the era of racial terror and its aftermath, the criminal justice system remains the institution in American life least affected by the civil rights movement.” Bryan Stevenson – Equal Justice Initiative

Nina Turner Challenges Institutional Racism in Policing

Reality of US Criminal Justice System

“Those who have been swept within the criminal justice system know that the way the system actually works bears little resemblance to what happens on television or in movies. Full-blown trials of guilt or innocence rarely occur; many people never even meet with an attorney; witnesses are routinely paid and coerced by the government; police regularly stop and search people for no reason whatsoever; penalties for many crimes are so severe that innocent people plead guilty, accepting plea bargains to avoid harsh mandatory sentences; and children, even as young as fourteen, are sent to adult prisons. Rules of law and procedure, such as “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt” or “probable cause” or “reasonable suspicion,” can easily be found in court cases and law-school textbooks but are much harder to find in real life.” Michelle Alexander – The New Jim Crow

Vera Justice Institute Report: Unjust Burden: The Disparate Treatment of Black Americans in the Criminal Justice System

Main Report Take Aways of the US Criminal Justice System

  • Roots in historic injustice
    • Discriminatory criminal justice policies and practices have historically and unjustifiably targeted black people since the Reconstruction Era, including Black Codes, vagrancy laws, and convict leasing, all of which were used to continue post-slavery control over newly-freed people.
      • “The historical legacy of slavery and racist policymaking and norms in America has a significant and long-lasting effects on racial inequality. Research shows that well after slavery ended, de-industrialization, discriminatory housing practices known as red-lining, and white flight from neighborhoods as black families migrated north pushed large numbers of black people into poverty, perpetuating economic inequalities between white and black people. These neighborhoods are characterized by an extreme concentration of disadvantage where formal employment opportunities and access to quality education are limited, and neighborhood resources are scarce…racial disparities in the justice system are deeply rooted in historical racism that manifests today in structural inequalities—from the differences in the quality of education to unemployment rates to household wealth”
  • More overt discrimination
    • Discrimination continues today in often less overt ways, including through disparity in the enforcement of seemingly race-neutral laws. For example, while rates of drug use are similar across racial and ethnic groups, black people are arrested and sentenced on drug charges at much higher rates than white people.
  • Implicit Racial bias at every stage
    • Implicit bias by decision makers at all stages of the justice process disadvantages black people. Studies have found that they are more likely to be stopped by the police, detained pretrial, charged with more serious crimes, and sentenced more harshly than white people.
  • Direct correlation with poverty and structural racism
    • Living in poor communities exposes people to risk factors for both offending and arrest, and a history of structural racism and inequality of opportunity means that black people are more likely to be living in such conditions of concentrated poverty.
      • The structural realities of extreme poverty are also known drivers of criminal conduct, independent of race or ethnicity. Researchers have found higher levels of violent crime in poor urban neighborhoods, regardless of race. Studies demonstrate that when white men are living in an environment characterized by poverty, unemployment, and single-parent households, they are more likely to commit homicide and other violent crimes than black men confronting a similar set of structural impediments…But the realities of poverty disproportionately affect black people: 22% of black people lived in poverty in 2016, compared to approximately 9% of white people. Thus, higher rates of poverty and the cumulative effects of structural racism mean black people are exposed to the structural risk factors that make crime more likely at greater rates than their white counterparts. Compounded with justice system laws and practices that have disparate impacts and bias among justice system actors, black people are consequently arrested for certain crimes at higher rates.
  • Effects entire communities of color
    • The criminal justice system does not only punish those accused and convicted of crimes. With such large numbers of black Americans being arrested and incarcerated, it also impacts entire communities. The widening reach of the criminal justice system in low-income communities of color—including higher rates of arrest and incarceration—further depletes resources and social capital in these places, perpetuating poverty and criminal justice involvement.
      • The evidence for racial disparities in the criminal justice system is well documented. However, there is no evidence that these widely disproportionate rates of criminal justice contact and incarceration are making us safer. To the contrary, studies have shown that concentrated incarceration in poor communities erodes community resources and may actually increase crime. The disproportionate racial impact of certain laws and policies, as well as biased decision making by justice system actors, leads to higher rates of arrest and incarceration in low-income communities of color which, in turn, increases economic strain, further reduces income, and stifles wealth creation. Consequently, current approaches to criminal justice are extending levels of discrimination that are typically associated in the popular consciousness with a pre-civil rights era, but still exist today

The Vera Institute of Justice, founded in 1961, is an independent nonprofit national research and policy organization in the United States. Based primarily in New York City, Vera also has offices in Washington, D.C.. Vera describes its goal as “to tackle the most pressing injustices of our day: from the causes and consequences of mass incarceration, racial disparities, and the loss of public trust in law enforcement, to the unmet needs of the vulnerable, the marginalized, and those harmed by crime and violence.”

Vera Justice Institute Report: Unjust Burden

The historical legacy of slavery and racist policymaking and norms in America has had significant and long-lasting effects on racial inequality. Research shows that well after slavery ended, de-industrialization, discriminatory housing practices known as red-lining, and white flight from neighborhoods as black families migrated north pushed large numbers of black people into poverty, perpetuating economic inequalities between white and black people. These neighborhoods are characterized by an extreme concentration of disadvantage where formal employment opportunities and access to quality education are limited, and neighborhood resources are scarce.

While these factors describe the structural realities of extreme poverty, they are also known drivers of criminal conduct, independent of race or ethnicity. Researchers have found higher levels of violent crime in poor urban neighborhoods, regardless of race. Studies demonstrate that when white men are living in an environment characterized by poverty, unemployment, and single-parent households, they are more likely to commit homicide and other violent crimes than black men confronting a similar set of structural impediments.

But the realities of poverty disproportionately affect black people: 22% of black people lived in poverty in 2016, compared to approximately 9% of white people. Thus, higher rates of poverty and the cumulative effects of structural racism mean black people are exposed to the structural risk factors that make crime more likely at greater rates than their white counterparts. Compounded with justice system laws and practices that have disparate impacts and bias among justice system actors, discussed above, black people are consequently arrested for certain crimes at higher rates.

Put differently, racial disparities in the justice system are deeply rooted in historical racism that manifests today in structural inequalities—from the differences in the quality of education to unemployment rates to household wealth. The criminal justice system does not only punish those accused and convicted of crimes. With such large numbers of black Americans being arrested and incarcerated, it also impacts entire communities. The widening reach of the criminal justice system in low-income communities of color—including higher rates of arrest and incarceration—further depletes resources and social capital in these places, perpetuating poverty and criminal justice involvement. .

The evidence for racial disparities in the criminal justice system is well documented. However, there is no evidence that these widely disproportionate rates of criminal justice contact and incarceration are making us safer. To the contrary, studies have shown that concentrated incarceration in poor communities erodes community resources and may actually increase crime. The disproportionate racial impact of certain laws and policies, as well as biased decision making by justice system actors, leads to higher rates of arrest and incarceration in low-income communities of color which, in turn, increases economic strain, further reduces income, and stifles wealth creation. Consequently, current approaches to criminal justice are extending levels of discrimination that are typically associated in the popular consciousness with a pre-civil rights era, but still exist today.

Current Over-Representation of Black People in the Justice System

  • Racial Disparities in the US Justice System
    • Black men comprise about 13% of the male population
      • but about 35% of those incarcerated
    • 1 in 3 black men born today can expect to be incarcerated in his lifetime
      • compared to 1 in 6 Latino men and 1 in 17 white men
    • 1 in 18 black women born in 2001 is likely to be incarcerated sometime in her life
      • compared to 1 in 111 white women
  • Reasons for racial disparities:
    • Discriminatory criminal justice policies historically targeted black people since the Reconstruction Era
      • including Black Codes, vagrancy laws, convict leasing, (slavery by another name..)
      • Continues today in less overt ways, including through disparity in the enforcement of seemingly race-neutral laws
    • Racial bias by decision makers at all stages of the justice process disadvantages black people
      • Black people more likely to be stopped by the police, detained pretrial, sentenced more harshly
    • Due to history of systemic racism more black people disproportionately live in concentrated poverty
      • Living in poor communities exposes people to risk factors for both offending and arrest
  • Costs of maintaining racial disparities
    • Individual level
      • Criminal conviction hurts employability and access to housing, education and public services
      • Incarcerated children are high risk for criminal, behavioral, educational, and economic problems
    • Community level:
      • incarcerating people disproportionately from poor communities of color drives cycles of poverty and crime

Implicit Bias by Criminal Justice System Actors

“Beyond laws and policies that disparately impact black people, the bias of individual actors in the criminal justice system—police, prosecutors, judges, and juries—can further disproportionately involve black people, leading to more frequent stops, searches, and arrests, as well as higher rates of pretrial detention, harsher plea bargaining outcomes, and more severe sentences than similarly situated white people. Some of this bias may be the result of overt racism but, more often, it manifests as implicit bias.

Implicit bias is the “automatic positive or negative preference for a group, based on one’s subconscious thoughts,” which can produce discriminatory behavior even if individuals are unaware that such biases form the bases of their decisions.

Implicit bias affects everyone, but is of particular import when it results in unequal treatment by criminal justice actors. Such biases impact individual stages of the process, like policing, and also accumulate over multiple stages, through case processing, prosecution, and disposition. The cumulative effect of such individual biases contributes to disproportionately negative outcomes for black Americans.”

Vera Justice Institute Report: Unjust Burden

  • Studies have found
    • Police are more likely to stop, search, and arrest black people
    • Prosecutor bias can lead to harsher outcomes for black people
    • Judicial bias can lead to worse criminal justice outcomes for black people
    • Evidence of racial bias against black people in jury verdicts and sentencing

Vox: The racism of the US justice system in 10 charts

Slate: New Data Shows Police Use More Force Against Black Citizens Even Though Whites Resist More

A new cache of data released by the Chicago Police Department, however, shows that the claim that black people are more likely to face police violence because of noncompliance is itself a dreadful myth. According to the new numbers, Chicago police officers used more force against black citizens, on average, than any other race—even though black citizens tended to exercise less resistance than whites. Under the same circumstances and faced with the same level of danger, cops tended to resolve the situation without firing their weapons much more often for white citizens than black citizens. This analysis was based on Chicago PD’s own descriptions of the incidents in question.

Atlantic: Is the Criminal Justice System Broken?


The New Jim Crow

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Parallels with Jim Crow and Mass Incarceration

This section summarizes Michelle Alexander – The New Jim Crow  Chapter titled “The New Jim Crow” (p190-200) which maps out parallels between Jim Crow policies and Modern policies of Mass Incarceration

“The United States has almost always had a racial undercaste—a group defined wholly or largely by race that is permanently locked out of mainstream, white society by law, custom, and practice. The reasons and justifications change over time, as each new caste system reflects and adapts to changes in the social, political, and economic context.” Michelle Alexander – The New Jim Crow

Historical Origins

  • Both caste systems were born, in part, due to a desire among white elites to exploit the resentments, vulnerabilities, and racial biases of poor and working-class whites for political or economic gain
    • Segregation laws were proposed as part of a deliberate and strategic effort to deflect anger and hostility brewing against the white elite away and toward African Americans
    • Conservatives in the 1970-80s sought to appeal to racial biases and economic vulnerabilities of poor and working-class whites through racially coded rhetoric on crime and welfare
  • In both cases, racial opportunists offered few, if any, economic reforms to address the legitimate economic anxieties of poor and working-class whites
    • Proposing instead a crackdown on the racially-defined “others”
      • In the early years of Jim Crow, conservative white elites competed with each other by passing ever more stringent and oppressive Jim Crow legislation
      • A century later, politicians in the early years of the drug war competed with each other to prove who could be tougher on crime by passing ever harsher drug laws
        • Poor and working-class whites who, once again, proved they were willing to forego economic and structural reform in exchange for an apparent effort to put blacks back “in their place”

Legalized Discrimination

  • During Black History Month
    • Americans congratulate themselves for having put an end to discrimination against African Americans in employment, housing, public benefits, and public accommodations
      • Rarely are they told that it is still legal
  • Many Jim Crow discriminations continue to apply to huge segments of the black population today—provided they are labeled felons
    • If they are branded felons by the time they reach the age of 21(as many of them are), they are subject to legalized discrimination for entire adult lives
    • Large majorities of black men in cities across the United States are once again subject to legalized discrimination effectively barring them from full integration into mainstream, white society
  • Mass incarceration nullified many gains of Civil Rights Movement
    • Putting millions of black men back in a position reminiscent of Jim Crow

Political Disenfranchisement

  • During the Jim Crow era, African Americans were denied the right to vote
    • Through such poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, felon disenfranchisement laws, etc.
    • Formally race-neutral devices were adopted to achieve the goal of an all-white electorate
      • Without violating the terms of the Fifteenth Amendment.
    • Because blacks were disproportionately charged with felonies
      • Felony disenfranchisement laws effectively suppressed the black vote as well
      • Some crimes were specifically defined as felonies with the goal of eliminating blacks from the electorate
  • Following the collapse of Jim Crow,
    • All race-neutral devices for excluding blacks from electorate were eliminated through litigation/legislation
      • Except felon disenfranchisement laws
    • Felon disenfranchisement laws have been more effective in eliminating black voters in the age of mass incarceration than they were during Jim Crow
  • Usual-residence rule
    • Census Bureau counts imprisoned individuals as residents of jurisdiction they are incarcerated in
      • Most new prison construction occurs in predominately white, rural communities
        • Which inflates population totals, while decreasing urban minority communities from which many prisoners come
      • White rural communities that house prisons wind up with more people in state legislatures representing them
        • while poor communities of color lose representatives because it appears their population has declined
      • This policy is disturbingly reminiscent of the three-fifths clause in the original Constitution
        • Which enhanced the political clout of slaveholding states by including 60% of slaves in the population base for calculating Congressional seats and electoral votes
          • Even though they could not vote.

“Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination, employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps, and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service, are suddenly legal. .. We have not ended the racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. “Michelle Alexander – The New Jim Crow

Exclusion from Juries

  • One hallmark of Jim Crow era was all-white juries trying black defendants in the South
    • Exclusion of jurors on basis of race has been illegal since 1880
      • But removal of prospective black jurors through race-based peremptory strikes was sanctioned by the Supreme Court until 1985
        • When ruled in Batson v. Kentucky that racially biased strikes violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment
  • Today 30% of black men automatically excluded from jury service because they have been labeled felons
    • Felon exclusion from juries puts black defendants in familiar place
      • In a courtroom in shackles, facing an all-white jury

Closing the Courthouse Doors

  • Over the years, the Supreme Court has followed a fairly consistent pattern in responding to racial caste systems
    • First protecting them and then, after dramatic shifts in the political and social climate, dismantling these systems of control and some of their vestiges.
      • Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857), the Supreme Court immunized the institution of slavery from legal challenge on the grounds that African Americans were not citizens
      • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the Court established the doctrine of “separate but equal”—a legal fiction that protected the Jim Crow system from judicial scrutiny for racial bias.
      • McCleskey v. Kemp (1987) SCOTUS considered evidence of racial bias in capital punishment system and held that significant risk of racial discrimination did not violate Constitution
        • The Supreme Court demonstrated once again firmly committed to the prevailing system of control
  • US Courts closed doors to claims of racial bias in criminal justice system
    • From stops and searches to plea bargaining to sentencing
    • Mass incarceration is now off-limits to challenges on the grounds of racial bias, much as its predecessors were in their time
  • The new racial caste system operates unimpeded
    • By the Fourteenth Amendment and federal civil rights legislation

“By 1979, the Court had embraced the “racism as hate” model we continue to struggle under today, demanding proof of malice on the part of a culpable actor. This bar is almost insurmountable. Absent a recorded use of a racial epithet or an in-court confession, malice is virtually impossible to prove.   For instance, in a 1987 death penalty case the Court weighed a Georgia system that was 22 times more likely to impose capital punishment on an African American convicted of murdering a white versus a black victim. The Court deemed this stark racial disparity irrelevant. It also dismissed as immaterial that this statistical pattern strongly correlated with social practices of white-over-black hierarchy stretching back to slavery. Refusing to even engage this evidence, the conservatives on the Court stubbornly maintained that the sole measure of racism was proof of malice, and then they upheld Georgia’s death penalty machinery. Under the Curt’s approach to discrimination against nonwhites, only a bullheaded bigot who publically vows to harm minorities should worry. Since the Supreme Court adopted the malice test in 1979, it has never found discrimination against nonwhites under that approach, not even once. As far as the Court is concerned, racism against nonwhites must involve proclaimed animus, and that has all but disappeared. “Ian Haney Lopez – Dog Whistle Politics

Racial Segregation

  • Jim Crow laws mandated residential segregation, and blacks were relegated to the worst parts of town
    • Racial segregation rendered black experience largely invisible to whites
      • Especially the extreme poverty plaguing blacks from their legally inferior status
        • Making it easier for whites to maintain racial stereotypes
  • Mass incarceration acts similarly by over policing communities of color
    • Segregating prisoners, disproportionately people of color, from society
      • Eventually releasing back to same segregated poor communities
        • Making it even harder to escape their concentrated and racially segregated poverty
  • Poor whites do not suffer racial segregation
    • In New York City, one study found
      • 70% of the city’s poor black and Latino residents live in high-poverty neighborhoods
      • 70% of the city’s poor whites live in non-poverty neighborhoods
        • Communities that have significant resources, including jobs, schools, banks, grocery stores
      • Nationwide, 7 of 8 people living in high-poverty urban areas are people of color
  • Mass incarceration perpetuates/deepens pre-existing racial segregation

Symbolic Production of Race

  • A primary function of any racial caste system is to define the meaning of race in its time
    • Slavery defined what it meant to be black (a slave)
    • Jim Crow defined what it meant to be black (a second-class citizen)
    • Today mass incarceration defines the meaning of blackness in America (criminalized)
  • The temptation is to insist that black men “choose” to be criminals;
    • Instead of the system making them
      • At least not in the way that
        • Slavery made blacks slaves
        • Jim Crow made blacks second-class citizens
      • African Americans are not significantly more likely to use or sell prohibited drugs than whites
        • But they are made criminals at drastically higher rates for precisely the same conduct
        • Black people have been made criminals by the War on Drugs to a degree that dwarfs its effect on other racial and ethnic groups, especially whites
  • In the era of mass incarceration, what it means to be a criminal in our collective consciousness
    • Has become conflated with what it means to be black
    • In many studies when survey respondents were asked to picture a drug criminal, nearly everyone pictured someone who was black
      • Explains why white ex-offenders have an easier time gaining employment than African Americans without a criminal record
  • The conflation of blackness with crime did not happen organically
    • It was constructed by political and media elites as part of the broad project known as the War on Drugs
      • To provide a legitimate outlet to the expression of anti-black resentment, now that explicit forms of racial bias are strictly condemned
    • In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer permissible to hate blacks, but we can hate criminals
      • As writer John Edgar Wideman points out, “It’s respectable to tar and feather criminals, to advocate locking them up and throwing away the key. It’s not racist to be against crime, even though the archetypal criminal in the media and the public imagination almost always wears Willie Horton’s face.”
  • Throughout the criminal justice system, as well as in our schools and public spaces
    • Young + black + male is equated with reasonable suspicion, justifying the arrest, interrogation, search, and detention of thousands of African Americans every year, as well as their exclusion from employment and housing and the denial of educational opportunity.
    • Just as African Americans in the North were stigmatized by the Jim Crow system even if they were not subject to its formal control, black men today are stigmatized by mass incarceration—and the social construction of the “criminal black man”
      • Whether they have ever been to prison or not
  • Mass incarceration, like Jim Crow, is a “race-making institution.” to define the meaning and significance of race in America


The Myth of Black Criminality

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scaletowidthSource: society6.com/jonathanedwards

“When Black criminality ceased, lynching would cease” President Roosevelt

Brennan Center for Justice: Racism & Felony Disenfranchisement: An Intertwined History

The End of the Civil War: An Increasingly Racist Criminal Justice System

By the end of the Civil War, states were already incarcerating African Americans at a higher rate than whites. This disparity significantly worsened in the ensuing years, a fact well-documented in the South.

Although outlawing slavery itself, the Thirteenth Amendment carved out an exception allowing states to impose involuntary servitude on those who were convicted of crimes. Seeing an opportunity to sustain their crumbling economy, numerous Southern politicians quickly implemented new criminal laws that were “essentially intended to criminalize black life,” wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning author Douglas Blackmon.  These ostensibly race-neutral laws were selectively enforced by a nearly all-white criminal justice system.  While white people accused of crimes often escaped punishment, black people were arrested and convicted “almost always under the thinnest chimera of probable cause or judicial process,” as Blackmon put it.

Identifying these new criminal laws as “Black Codes,” historian Eric Foner describes how they bolstered the South’s faltering economy by providing employers “with a supply of cheap labor” through convict leasing. This system was reserved nearly entirely for black prisoners — at least 90 percent of those forced into convict leasingarrangements were black.  Because convict leasing generated significant profits for states, law enforcement officials, and companies alike, the practice incentivized baseless arrests and convictions of black citizens.

These factors and others spurred widening disparities in incarceration rates. In Alabama, for example, the percentage of nonwhite prisoners jumped from 2 percent in 1850, to 74 percent by 1870.

Know Your Rights Camp: A Brief History Of The Idea Of The Black Male Criminal

Why are Black men, for instance, often thought to be dangerous criminals by mainstream white America despite evidence to the contrary?

To begin, Black men are not “naturally” more or less dangerous than non-Black men. The fact that Black men are criminalized at higher rates than non-Black men does not reflect differences in “innate criminality” but rather slanted applications of justice. The U.S. Department of Justice proves this claim when it finds that whereas Black drivers are three times more likely than white drivers to have their cars searched, white drivers are considerably more likely in the same scenario to turn up with guns or drugs. Often, the reflex to criminalize certain bodies over others hinges on perceived—not actual— danger. And perceptions of danger are inherited through historical narratives aimed at producing and sustaining a white-dominant racial order.

So where and how did the manufactured linkage of Blackness, maleness, and criminality emerge? And further, how is it sustained?

Black people—and especially Black men— have been cast as the preeminent outlaws of the American imagination. Even before the U.S. Constitution’s Fugitive Slave Clause was ratified in 1788 (Article IV, Section II, Clause III), Virginia already had 73 laws on the books that would result in the death penalty for enslaved Black men, women, and children —and only one for white people. In fact, in 1657—fifty years after Africans were enslaved and transported to the territory that would become the United States—Virginia became the first colony to pass a fugitive slave law, a statute which effectively criminalized runaway slaves in pursuit of freedom from bondage.

Two decades after the enactment of the U.S. Constitution, Samuel Cartwright, a New Orleans physician and Confederate loyalist, argued that high rates of physical and mental illnesses afflicting enslaved Black persons were the products of the alleged cognitive inferiority of the “Black race.” In his 1815 “Report on the Disease and the Physical Peculiarities of the Negro Race,” Cartwright introduced what he called “Drapetomania,” known as the “Disease Causing Slaves to Run Away.” Unconvinced that enslaved Blackchildren, women, and men might naturally seek freedom, Cartwright instead claimed that Drapetomania could be cured by “kindness.” Cartwright’s new diagnostic category, in effect, pathologized the pursuit of Black emancipation.

In the immediate aftermath of slavery, mainstream white America strategically began to link ideas of violence and danger with Black maleness. As slaves, Black men were narrated as docile and generally subservient. As free people, however, the ideology of docility was replaced with the mystique of danger. During Reconstruction, white mainstream voices argued that Black men, whose predatory proclivities had allegedly been benevolently suppressed under slavery, would revert to their natural state of violence and criminality. Thus, the ideology of the Black brute was birthed.

From the 1890s-1940s, writes Khalil Gibran Muhammad in The Condemnation of Blackness, “black criminality would become one of the most commonly cited and longest-lasting justifications for black inequality and mortality in the modern urban world.” Moreover, according to one physician cited in the New York Medical Journal in 1886, Black people were “naturally intemperate” and prone to indulging “every appetite too freely, whether for food, drink, tobacco, or sensual pleasures, and sometimes to such an extent as to appear more of a brute than human.”

In conjunction with the ubiquity of scientific racism, the Black brute was depicted in popular culture and in politics as a congenital rapist of white women bent on undermining white racial purity through Black contamination. This interpretation quickly ascended as the prominent public rationalization for lynching Black men. At the turn of the 20th century popular Mississippi Representative Percy Quin claimed that there is “an element of barbarism in the black man.” In conjunction, Representative Thomas Sisson, also of Mississippi, argued that he and his white compatriots must “protect our girls and womenfolk from these black brutes. When these black fiends keep their hands off the throats of women of the South then the lynching will stop.” White politicians of the era constructed the image of the Black brute as an inherently violent super predator with an insatiable lust for white women and a conjoint wish to kill white men. The brute served as a two-pronged receptacle of white fear.

Despite these claims, however, there is no evidence to suggest that Black men in the postbellum south systematically enacted sexual violence upon white women or tried to murder white men en masse. In fact, such narrations say less about Black men and more about white men who created them. It was white men, not Black men, who engaged in the widespread rape of Black women during the eras of slavery and Reconstruction.

Historical efforts to make this history plain and to decenter the myth of the Black brute have themselves been met with visceral instances of violence and brutality. When Blackanti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett argued in the 1890s that most associations between white women and Black men were, in fact, consensual, a white mob destroyed the offices where her newspaper company was located.

The myth of the Black brute gained even further popularity in 1915 with the release of the (first) Hollywood Blockbuster, The Birth of a Nation. The three-hour film centers on the Ku Klux Klan’s Reconstruction-era “protection” of white women from the uncontrolled sexual aggressions of free Black men through the preferred intervention of the lynch mob. After the movie was screened at the White House President Woodrow Wilson reportedly said the film was “like writing history with lightning” and that his only regret was that its depictions were “all so terribly true.” The historical record, however, has long since shown its plot to be both unapologetically white supremacist and grossly unrepresentative of Reconstruction.

The myth of the Black brute is alive still today. According to the Justice Department, a whopping 45 percent of rape exoneration cases involve the misidentification of Black men by white women despite the fact that less than 10 percent of reported rapes of white women are committed by black men.  In fact, according to a 2004 meta-analysis in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology the concepts of “black” and “crime” were generally interchangeable with one another in terms of how subjects in the study visually perceived black people.

Mainstream white America continues to embrace the manufactured linkage of Blackness, maleness, and brutality. Many of these ideas have been taken up and repackaged in the more recent past under the policies of the so-called “War on Drugs,” “Stop and Frisk,” and the conservative dog-whistle politics of “law and order.”

NCBI: From “brute” to “thug:” the demonization and criminalization of unarmed Black male victims in America

During the institution of slavery, the image of Black people, specifically Black males, was of a docile character. The images of buffoonery, blissful ignorance, and juvenile angst were seen as the primary traits of enslaved Blacks. This is characterized in several portrayals of Black males of this time. The use of Blackface – a type of performance that generally used White actors wearing black make-up to portray Black people in stereotypes – became popular in the 19th century. White actors popularized minstrel shows, depicting stereotypes of Black life as foolish, messy, and overall comedic at the expense of Black culture (; ). In addition, other popular literature and media characterized antebellum enslaved Blacks as content with their place in society. In literature, the character of Uncle Tom in Uncle Tom’s Cabin is portrayed as an older Black slave who is faithful and dutiful to his White master. The film Gone with the Wind depicts content slaves, specifically the role of Mammy who even fends off freedmen. Finally, the Disney film Song of the South depicts Uncle Remus as an elderly Black freedman who was satisfied with his place in society, singing the famous happy song, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”

These depictions of Blackness as docile and manageable reflected the ability to control the Black body and mind, creating the idea that slavery was the best position for Black people. This status of inferiority is echoed in W.E.B. DuBois’ writing of how Whites viewed freedom as a way to “spoil” and “ruin” Black people (). Additionally, according to David Pilgrim:

These portrayals were pragmatic and instrumental. Proponents of slavery created and promoted images of blacks that justified slavery and soothed white consciences. If slaves were childlike, for example, then a paternalistic institution where masters acted as quasi-parents to their slaves was [sic] humane, even morally right. More importantly, slaves were rarely depicted as brutes because that portrayal might have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. (2012)

However, this image of Blackness ended after the American Civil War. During the period of Reconstruction (1865-1877), newly freed Blacks began to obtain social, economic, and political rights with the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. This growth was seen in the building of Black communities such as Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which was referred to as “Black Wall Street” (), the building of schools now known as Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs), and the election of the first two Black U.S. Senators in Hiram Revels and Blanche Bruce.

This growth in power challenged White supremacy and created White fear of Black mobility. Particularly, wealthy Whites were fearful of political power newly freed Black people could acquire via voting, whereas poor Whites saw Blacks as competition in the labor force. Thus the rise of the Jim Crow era began, which was solidified by the Supreme Court ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson which stated, “separate but equal is constitutional.” This fear was met with a shift from Black people being viewed as compliant and submissive servants to savages and brute monsters.

Media portrayals of this mythical Black brute began to grow using the same initial science Jefferson and other Enlightenment-era theorists proclaimed, which was based on inaccurate anthropological and biological factors. This time, the argument was that Blacks were naturally more prone to violence and other aggressive behaviors. Charles H. Smith wrote in 1893, “A bad Negro is the most horrible creature upon the earth, the most brutal and merciless” (p. 181). This myth of cruelty and vicious disposition was directed towards White women. As the myth grew and stories spread about the savage Black brute, so did the occurrences of lynching. Lynching – the extrajudicial punishment – was ritualistic and struck fear into Black residents throughout the United States (). The most prevalent accusation was the rape or sexual assault of a White woman by a Black male. This allegation would have reverberating effects throughout entire communities. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a young White woman accused a Black male of sexual assault and roughly 300 Black people were killed and more than 9,000 people were left homeless after White mobs destroyed the Greenwood community (). Regardless of producing evidence or facts, White mobs would seize Black defendants or attack Black neighborhoods to seek out revenge for this crime.

The case of Sam Hose is an example of how different and various versions of the truth were reported. Hose killed his employer in self-defense after being threatened with a pistol. However newspapers wrote “a monster in human form” emerged, which detailed Hose as cold-blooded, killing his employer, and savagely raping his employer’s wife. The report drove White fear to lynch Hose (). In reality, these charges were mere excuses to exercise exorbitant amounts of violence on Black people. The lynching of a Black body became a form of ritualistic violence where limbs and other body parts were taken as souvenirs. Litwack wrote:

After stripping Hose of his clothes and chaining him to a tree, the self-appointed executioners stacked kerosene-soaked wood high around him…they cut off his ears, fingers, and genitals, and skinned his face…the contortions of Sam Hose’s body as the flames rose, distorting his features, causing his eyes to bulge out their sockets…Before Hose’s body had even cooled, his heart and liver were removed and cut into several pieces and his bones were crushed into small particles. The crowd fought over these souvenirs. (p. 123, 2004)

This overkill of the Black body became part of the racist ideology that was used to justify these acts of violence. This mythical act of Black savagery was situated in this idea of Black brutality and criminality that had no other recourse but death. A prominent Georgia woman wrote about the Sam Hose lynching, “The premeditated outrage on Mrs. Cranford was infinitely more intolerable than the murder of her husband” (). Hence, uncontrollable desires of Black males were illegal, criminal, and needed to be stopped through the use of physical force. Therefore, this justified vigilante justice in the name of keeping White womanhood pure.

The brute image of Black men became significant moving into the early 20th century, when fear was reinforced with depictions of Black men as harmful. The film Birth of a Nation, made in 1915, shows Black men as savages trying to attack White women. Their brutality is met with propaganda depicting the Ku Klux Klan as heroic and honorable. The result was Blackness becoming closely associated with criminalization. The criminalization of Blackness (; ; ) allowed for White supremacy to use Black bodies as their scapegoat for all problems, real or fictional. The driving forces behind Black criminality as savage and unmanageable were structurally reinforced by passage of stricter sentencing guidelines in prison and the expansion of the War on Drugs in the second half of the 20th century (). These programs and stricter prison guidelines exponentially grew the American prison system by 700% (). During this time campaigns for “tough on crime” policy emerged as the soundboard for elected officials. For example, George H.W. Bush’s presidential run used a smear campaign tactic, famously known as the “Willie Horton” ad, where a Black prisoner’s face was used to talk about his heinous crimes and Bush’s opponents’ soft-on-crime policy. While the ad overtly discusses a single Black man, the subliminal and larger take away is Willie Horton’s face became synonymous with all Blackness. In short, the mythical brute became the realistic thug via the process of criminalization.

The image of Black men as brutes in society has a long legacy that begins with the social construction of race and brings us to the current period of mass incarceration. In the United States, Black men are six times as likely to go to jail or prison as White men (Gao, 2013). This disproportionate and unequal number indicates the skewed representation of Black men in U.S. prisons. However, the argument is shifted to no longer being about race but about crime and community safety. This negation of understanding the historical link between “brute” and “thug” marginalizes the significant role race plays.

Lastly, a prime example of how the brute image still thrives in society is the April 2008 Vogue magazine cover of professional basketball player LeBron James holding super model Gisele Bündchen. The image of LeBron giving a menacing look while Gisele is in his arms shares a strikingly eerily similarity to a World War I poster that depicts a gorilla holding a White woman with the title “Destroy this Mad Brute” (). These types of images that draw on past racial stereotypes and myths reinforce this criminalization, and are now coded with terms such as “thug” today. While historically in America overt racist language was socially acceptable, there has been a cultural shift of social intolerance to this blatant racist behavior. This does not mean that racism or discriminatory actions have been eradicated but rather driven beneath the surface and reemerged as coded language, gestures, signs, and symbols to indicate difference. Terms such as “thug,” “ghetto,” “hood,” “sketchy,” and “shady” are all examples of coded language that are used to refer to or speak of Blackness without overtly sounding racially prejudiced. Fraternities on college campuses throw “Pimps and Hos” parties where stereotypes of Black people as pimps or prostitutes, exemplifying characters from the film Superfly (1972), also lack the language of race but show in physical gesture and imagery the racism encoded in the details.

Over the last several years with the proliferation of social media, many more events are documented and shared via social networking sites (; ). Some of these events captured on video are cases involving unarmed Black males being killed by law enforcement agents. While some videos show the disturbing death, such as Eric Garner, others show the aftermath like that of Michael Brown’s body in the street. These deaths and others have sparked outrage across communities looking for justice and accountability of law enforcement’s excessive force when dealing with Black people.

Wikipedia: Criminal stereotype of African Americans

According to some scholars, the stereotype of African Americans males as criminals was first constructed as a tool to “discipline” and control slaves during the time of slavery in the United States. For instance, Amii Barnard alleges that out of fear of the fugitive slaves staging a rebellion, slaveholders sought to spread the stereotype that African American males were dangerous criminals who would rape the “innocent” and “pure” white women if they had the opportunity to.[13][14] A law introduced in Pennsylvania in 1700 illustrates the fear of a dangerous African American man within the slaveholding society- it mandated that should a black man attempt to rape a White woman, the perpetrator will be castrated or punished to death.[15]

Carter et al. argues that this criminal stereotype contributed to lynching in the United States that mostly targeted African American males in the south.[16] Ida B. Wells, the well-known anti-lynching activist published the pamphlet entitled the “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases” from 1892-1920 reporting that contrary to the notion that lynchings occurred because African American males had sexually abused or attacked white women, fewer than 30% of reported lynchings even involved the charge of rape. She also followed up with an editorial that suggested that, most sexual liaisons between black men and white women were consensual and illicit.[17] The criminal stereotype of African Americans as potential rapists at that time is also illustrated in the controversial media portrayal of African American men in the 1915 American epic film, The Birth of a Nation.[18]

According to Marc Mauer however, although African Americans have been consistently stereotyped as “biologically flawed” individuals who have a general tendency towards crime, the depiction of African Americans as criminals became more threatening only in the 1970s and early 1980s- with the evolution of the stereotype of African American males as “petty thieves” to “ominous criminal predators”.[19] In the late 1990s, Melissa Hickman Barlow argued that the perception of African American males as criminals was so entrenched in society that she said “talking about crime is talking about race”.[20] Between 2005 and 2015, the gap in the incarceration rate between blacks and whites declined while still remaining high. The rate of incarceration for blacks declined -2.0% per year, for Hispanics it declined -2.3% per year while for whites it declined only -0.1% per year. Blacks today continue to be incarcerated at a rate over 2.1 times Hispanics and 5.6 times whites.[21] The disparity varies widely by state and region.

Birth of a Nation

  • 1915 D. W. Griffith silent film that portrayed:
    • Black reconstruction politicians as incompetent
    • Black men (played by black face white actors) as criminals and rapist after white women
    • KKK as the savior for white women
    • Glorifies lynching and black voter suppression
  • Reception
    • Credited as inspiring reformation of KKK in 1915
    • First movie screened at white house for Wilson
      • Supposedly he said, “It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true”
    • All 9 Supreme Court justices and many members of Congress attended additional showings

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Further Readings

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Victim Blaming Narratives of US Criminal Justice System

  • Black criminality stereotype
    • Black people are predisposition to be violent, criminals, sexual predators
      • Must be over-policed and incarcerated to protect white people
    • Ignores past/present systemic racism, white responsibility to dismantle it, and we’re all the same human
    • “The “dangerous black neighborhood” connection is based on racist ideas, not reality. There is such a thing as a dangerous “unemployed neighborhood,” however.” Ibram Kendi, Stamped From the Beginning
  • “Black on Black” crime myth
    • The false notion that black people commit violence against other black people at greater levels
      • Than any other racial and ethnic groups
    • DOJ report found most violence occurs between victims and offenders of same race, regardless of race
      • But no one ever says, “white on white” crimes because the real reason for “Black on Black” crime myth
        • Is to imply black criminality and ignore white responsibility
  • Black broken family/missing black father myth
    • Myth
      • Black fathers value their children less
      • You can fix the criminal justice system by fixing black families
        • While ignoring systemic racism and structural poverty
      • Reality
        • Although black fathers are slightly more likely to live separately from their children
          • Statistically speaking they are just as involved with and value their children’s lives as any other race
  • Character assassination
    • Victims of police brutality and corrupt justice systems
      • Must have done something wrong to deserve it
  • Personal responsibility
    • Colorblind myth believing 1960s civil rights bills fixed all racism and any talk of racism is an excuse now
    • Belief that personal responsibility is more important than fixing systemic racism and structural poverty
      • “It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Few Bad Apples Myth
    • Ignores racial bias, institutional oppression, and complicity of the “good cops”
    • “The phrase isn’t ‘it’s just a few bad apples – don’t worry about it. The phrase is ‘a few bad apples spoil the barrel.’ And we currently have a system which is set up to ignore bad apples, destroy bad apples’ records, persecute good apples for speaking up and shuffle dangerous, emotionally unstable apples around to the point that children have to attend fucking apple classes. You cannot look at our current situation and claim that anybody likes them apples.” John Oliver
    • By not seeing that racism is systemic (part of a system), people often personalize or individualize racist acts. For example, they will reduce racist police behavior to “a few bad apples” who need to be removed, rather than seeing it exists in police departments all over the country and is basic to the society. This mistake has real consequences: refusing to see police brutality as part of a system, and that the system needs to be changed, means that the brutality will continue.” Elizabeth Martinez
    • “So, when there is a new name hashtagged each week, when police create more black stars than Hollywood; how long do we keep pointing out the bad apples, ignoring the fact that the orchard was planted on a mass grave? …and that we planted it there?” Guante

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Bill Maher: Speaks Out About The Lack Of “Good Cops” Stopping “Bad Cops”

Victim Blaming/Character Assassination

  • Myth that victims caused their death
    • By “not getting out of a car”, “acting a certain way”, “looking a certain way”, “He would be alive if only he…”
    • “Dear world, black people do not want to exit our vehicles in cop-related incidents because we’ve seen that end in murder too many times.” Solange
  • In wake of a police shooting, there’s a need rationalize police violence usually by demonizing the victim
    • Through the leak of public records, unflattering personal details, routine run-ins with the law
    • “Police Departments have millions in PR budgets, while the victim’s families are almost always poor and unschooled in press manipulation. The state has records on the victim, and yet the family is barred in most states from even knowing their son or daughter’s killer. The deck, to put it mildly, is stacked in favor of the powerful — rendering appeals to objectivity hollow.” Adam Johnson – AlterNet
    • Examples:
      • Michael Brown – after being killed by a policeman media highlighted his previously run-ins with the law and claimed he was “no angel”
      • Eric Garner – after police used an illegal chokehold on camera to kill Eric who was not resisting
        • media smeared him as a “career criminal” who somehow caused his own death by resisting arrest
      • Sandra Bland – after illegal arrest, harassment, and outright neglect led to Sandra Bland’s death
        • media reported she had “marijuana in the system.”
      • Sam Dubose – His car propelled forward after being killed by a police officer. Media claimed he was resisting arrest
      • Charly “Africa” Keunang – homeless man killed by police in borad daylight with many witnesses and a recording
        • The police leaked his criminal record to the press to smear him.
      • Freddie Gray – Died from injuries including a spinal injury caused by police.
        • Police told lies that he caused his own death to criminalized cops and discredit protestors
      • Botham Jean – after a cop wrongly entered and killed Botham, police got search warrant to find things to use against him.
        • They found marijuana.
        • “in an effort to justify police killings under the guise of “balance” the media rushes to find anything — no matter how common or innocuous — to criminalize the victim. And, since roughly 1 in 9 Americans smokes cannabis regularly, an easy go-to is the “weed in the system” line.” Adam Johnson – Alternet

“In America, accused individuals are innocent until proven guilty. Too often, in police-involved shootings, not only are officers presumed innocent, their victims are presumed guilty.” Daily News Editorial Board

“smears again police victims are more about managing public outrage than they are about truth. They’re about playing to racist tropes and criminalizing victims so the power establishment — largely white and wealthy — will side with the killer, not the killed. They’re about justifying state violence either because of ideology or credulity. They’re, above all, about erasing black suffering from the national conversation and turning victims into criminals and criminal cops into heroes.” Adam Johnson – Alternet

STOP Blaming Victims for Police Brutality | Decoded | MTV News

Slate: New Data Shows Police Use More Force Against Black Citizens Even Though Whites Resist More

A new cache of data released by the Chicago Police Department, however, shows that the claim that black people are more likely to face police violence because of noncompliance is itself a dreadful myth. According to the new numbers, Chicago police officers used more force against black citizens, on average, than any other race—even though black citizens tended to exercise less resistance than whites. Under the same circumstances and faced with the same level of danger, cops tended to resolve the situation without firing their weapons much more often for white citizens than black citizens. This analysis was based on Chicago PD’s own descriptions of the incidents in question.

MTV Decoded: Black on Black Crime, Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, White Victims of Police

Rolling Stone: Watch John Oliver Argue Against ‘Bad Apples’ Police Defense

On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver proved why dangerous cops in America aren’t just “bad apples” misrepresenting the profession. The host argued that metaphor was too simplistic for the complex issue. Instead, he held America’s police and judicial systems responsible for disallowing positive change.

“The phrase isn’t ‘it’s just a few bad apples – don’t worry about it,’” Oliver said. “The phrase is ‘a few bad apples spoil the barrel.’ And we currently have a system which is set up to ignore bad apples, destroy bad apples’ records, persecute good apples for speaking up and shuffle dangerous, emotionally unstable apples around to the point that children have to attend fucking apple classes. You cannot look at our current situation and claim that anybody likes them apples.”

Seventy-seven officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter since 2005, and only 26 to date have been convicted, according to CNN. Oliver hypothesized why so few police officers are held accountable when they break the law: a lack of substantial data, internal police pressure and the automatic positive perception cops have in the courtroom. “Even when cases go to trial, officers have a major advantage, which is juries tend to have a natural predisposition to trust them,” Oliver said.

The comedian ended the segment by focusing on ways to weed out these so-called “bad apples,” such as implementing wider usage of body cameras, which “have increased trust and transparency in many places,” he said.

The Myth Of The Absent Black Father| AJ+

Root: How Is ‘Baltimore Rising’ after Freddie Gray?


Historic Racism in US Criminally Justice System

Racism in the US Justice Systems Up to Civil War

  • Slave Codes – (1639-1724)
    • Series of codes solidifying racial slavery in the colonies by:
      • Classifying black people as property
      • Legalizing segregation
      • Removing rights of free black people
      • Allowed whites to apprehend anyone suspected as a run away slave
      • Allowed slavery owners to torture, rape and kill their slaves without any consequences
    • Any black person, free or enslave, who violated these codes were now criminals
  • Slave patrols (1704 to 1865)
    • Organized groups of white men who policed black slaves in South
    • First publicly funded police agencies in the American South
  • Constitution of United States (1787)
    • Ensured white supremacy as the foundation of the US legal systems
      • Re-enforced “white only” voting
      • Article I: slaves are 3/5s a person which gave Slave holding South extra representation and Electoral College votes
    • Fugitive Slave Clause criminalized run away slaves and required states to return runaway slaves
  • Fugitive Slave Act of 1850
    • Criminalized runaway slaves and anyone who helped them
  • Dred Scott v. Sandford (1856)
    • Slave petitioned the Supreme Court for his freedom
      • Ruled against him stating the Bill of Rights didn’t apply to black people
  • The People v. Hall (1854)
    • Prohibited Chinese immigrants/citizens in California from testifying in court

Racism in the US Justice Systems Post Civil War

  • 13th Amendment (1865)
    • Outlaws slavery unless convicted of a crime causing freed black people to be targeted by a racist justice system
  • Black Codes (1865-66)
    • Southern laws to restrict new black freedom and force former slaves back in an exploitative labor systems
      • Despite their new legal status, black Americans in most Southern states could not vote, serve on juries, or testify in court
  • Vagrancy Laws (1865-present)
    • Any black person who could not prove he or she worked for a white employer could be arrested
      • These “vagrants” most often entered a system of incarceration administered by private industry
  • Convict Leasing (1865-1928)
    • This system allowed for the virtual enslavement of people who had been convicted of a crime
      • Even if those “crimes” were for things like “walking without a purpose” or “walking at night”
  • United States v. Cruikshank (1876)
    • Ruled fed courts couldn’t prosecute white terrorists attacking black suffrage
  • Vigilante Law/Lynching Era (1882-1968)
    • White backlash to black equality
      • Pushed black criminality to justify the need for vigilante groups/lynchings to control them
        • Majority of police, courts, politicians and white juries were complicit
  • All White Juries (1865-present)
    • 1880, Strauder v. WV Supreme Court ruled excluding blacks from juries violated Equal Protection Clause
      • Southern states easily set up other ways than explicit legal bans to exclude black Americans from jury service

“During the Convict Leasing and Jim Crow eras, the “condemnation of blackness” not only appeared in racial stereotypes, overt anti-black laws, and racial terror lynchings, but was embedded in the very fabric of social scientific discourse, in things like crime statistics. As former slaveholders sought to use the prison system to extract compensation for the loss of wealth in the form of enslaved humanity, city and town officials used jail detention to drain financial resources, curb black political power, and structure racial hierarchy across urban America. ” Vera Institute of Justice

White Terrorism and Justice System

“The machinery of gov gave mobs immunity. . . . Even when [law enforcement officers] did not actually ride with the Ku Klux Klan or march with the lynch mob themselves, they would not arrest racist killers. A white man charged with killing a black man could count on his grand jury refusing to indict him, the local district attorney refusing to prosecute him, or the jury refusing to convict him. The machinery of justice . . . endorsed mob violence” Black journalist T. Thomas Fortune (1880)

  • Between 1877-1950
    • More than 4,400 people were recorded as being lynched in 800 US counties
  • Law enforcement and white elected officials
    • Tolerated and sometimes encouraged racial violence and terrorist acts
    • Many law enforcement officials were members of White Citizens’ Councils or the Ku Klux Klan
  • All white juries
    • Although 1875 Civil Rights Act/ Supreme Court banned all white juries, local officials found ways to barred black people
      • Black people virtually disappeared from the Southern jury box by 1900
    • All-white juries consistently acquitted those charged with violence against black people
      • Very few white people were convicted of murder for lynching a black person in America during Jim Crow
        • Around 1% of lynchings were ever convicted of a criminal offense

“Lynching also directly fostered the racialization of criminality. Whites defended vigilante violence aimed at black people as a necessary tactic of self-preservation to protect property, families, and the Southern way of life from dangerous black criminals. The link between lynching and the image of African Americans as “criminal” and “dangerous” was sometimes explicit, such as when lynchings occurred in response to allegations of criminal behavior. In other cases, white mobs justified lynching as a preemptive strike against the threat of black violent crime. Decades of racial terror in the American South reflected and reinforced a view that African Americans were dangerous criminals who posed a threat to innocent white citizens…

…the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a signature legal achievement of the civil rights movement, contains provisions designed to eliminate discrimination in voting, education, and employment, but it does not address discrimination in criminal justice. Though the most insidious tool of racial subordination throughout the era of racial terror and its aftermath, the criminal justice system remains the institution in American life least impacted by the civil rights movement. Similarly, the system’s endorsement of racist myths of black criminality has never been meaningfully confronted. The unprecedented level of mass incarceration in America today is a contemporary manifestation of these past distortions and abuses that continues to limit the opportunities of our nation’s most vulnerable ” Equal Justice Initiative

Capital Punishment

“Perhaps the most important reason that lynching declined is that it was replaced by a more palatable form of violence…” Equal Justice Initiative

  • 1920s: lynchings were becoming less popular because of the “bad press” they garnered
    • Southern legislatures shifted to capital punishment as a racially bias legal way to satisfy vigilante violence
    • Being sentenced to death rather than lynched did little for the fairness of trial, conviction, or sentencing for black people
  • 1915: court-ordered executions outpaced lynchings in the former slave states for the first time
    • Blacks were only 22% of the South’s population between 1910 and 1950
      • Constituted 75% of those executed in the South during that period
    • 1850 Northern states abolished public executions by 1850, Southern states continued until 1938
    • Public hangings were often racialized displays intended to deter mob lynchings more than individual crimes

Today

  • Race remains a significant factor in capital sentencing
    • African Americans make up less than 13% of the nation’s population, but are:
      • 42% of those currently on death row
      • 34% of those executed since 1976
    • Modern death sentences are disproportionately given to African Americans accused of crimes against white victims
  • Capital trials today remain proceedings with:
    • Little racial diversity
      • The accused is often the only person of color in the courtroom
    • Illegal racial discrimination in jury selection is widespread, especially in the South and in capital cases

“capital punishment remains rooted in racial terror—“a direct descendant of lynching.” Equal Justice Initiative

In the 1940s and 1950s, the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund (LDF) began a multi-decade litigation strategy to challenge the American death penalty—which was most active in the South—as racially-biased and unconstitutional.

They won in Furman v. Georgia in 1972 when the United States Supreme Court struck down Georgia’s death penalty statute, holding that capital punishment too closely resembled “self-help, vigilante justice, and lynch law” and that “if any basis can be discerned for the selection of these few to be sentenced to die, it is the constitutionally impermissible basis of race.”

Southern opponents decried the decision and immediately proposed new death penalty statutes.In 1976, in Gregg v. Georgia, the Supreme Court upheld Georgia’s new death penalty statute and reinstated the American death penalty, capitulating to the claim that legal executions were needed to prevent vigilante violence.

The new death penalty statutes continued to result in racial imbalance, and constitutional challenges persisted.

In the 1987 case of McCleskey v. Kemp, the Supreme Court considered statistical evidence demonstrating that Georgia decisionmakers were more than four times as likely to impose death for the killing of a white person than a black person.

Accepting the data as accurate, the Court described racial bias in sentencing as “an inevitable part of our criminal justice system” and upheld Warren McCleskey’s death sentence because he had failed to identify a “constitutionally significant risk of racial bias” in his case.

All White Juries

  • Facing an all-white jury can stack the deck against black criminal defendants
    • Prosecutors frequently remove black jurors to improve chances of conviction
      • Especially when defendant is black and victim is white
    • This is unconstitutional, but it’s hard to prove that any one prosecutor acted because of race
    • 2012 Duke University study – All-white jury pools in Florida were 16% more likely to convict black defendants than white
  • Significant Events
    • Reconstruction ended (1877)
      • Southern states systematically barred black citizens from political life
        • Many states passed laws that only allowed white people to serve on juries
      • Strauder v. West Virginia (1880)
        • The Supreme Court struck down those statutes in 1880 in Strauder v. West Virginia, but states quickly adapted
          • Some tied jury service to the voter rolls, where black citizens were kept out through poll taxes and literacy tests
          • Others vested total discretion in jury selection officials, who only selected white jurors
        • Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
          • Legalized “separate but equal” segregation which allowed voter disenfranchisement and jury exclusion
            • Black people were denied access to the public, political, and judicial spheres.
    • Challenges
      • Norris v. Alabama (1935) – blacks may not be excluded systematically from jury service
      • Batson v. Kentucky (1986), called a Batson challenge, made it illegal to exclude jurors because of race
        • Since Batson, the evidence suggests that little has changed
      • Each time the high court has stepped in, states and prosecutors found new ways to exclude black jurors
    • Recent studies have found
      • NC prosecutors struck black jurors at 2x the rate of white jurors
      • Louisiana prosecutors struck black jurors at 3x the rate of white jurors
      • Philadelphia prosecutors struck black jurors at 2x the rate of white jurors
      • Another study documented same dynamics in Alabama and Georgia, with many capital trials going before all-white juries
      • State supreme courts similarly concluded that “racially motivated jury selection is still prevalent 20 years after Batson.”

Source: The New Republic: The Supreme Court Takes On the All-White Jury

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Vox: The big problem with how we pick juries

Scientific America: The all-white jury v the diverse: Evidence, for a change

In the long, messy experiment that is the trial by jury, one of the most volatile and closely attended variables in the United States is a jury’s racial make-up. Depending on context, the phrases “all-white jury” or “all-black jury” can raise a host of expectations — among them, as MIT social neuroscientist Rebecca Saxe notes below, the expectation that deliberations may be less than fair. The 1995 acquital of O.J. Simpson of murder charges by by a jury of nine blacks, one Hispanic, and one white, for instance, was widely seen as skewed by race, as was the 1992 acquital by a mostly white jury of the police officers who were videotaped beating Rodney King the year before. As Saxe explains below, the idea that diverse juries are more fair, however egalitarian in origin, enjoys little empirical support, because no one has done controlled studies comparing the verdicts and deliberations of both diverse and homogeneous juries on the same trial evidence. The study reviewed below, however (“On Racial Diversity and Group Decisions Making” — pdf download ) that did exactly that, creating a number of mock juries, some all-white and some of mixed racial make-up, to deliberate evidence from a racially charged sexual assault trial. The results illuminate not just whether but how racial diversity affects jury deliberations and discussions about race.

Many liberals share the vague intuition that a racially diverse (or representative) jury is “better” than a racially homogenous one. The arguments for this view tend to be murky, though. Who benefits, and how, from racial diversity in the jury box? In a recent paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology [pdf download ], Tufts University psychology professor Samuel Sommers argues that this is an empirical question, and he provides a surprisingly powerful answer: when making a complex, ambiguous decision, everyone in a diverse group benefits.

Why Diversity?

A priori, two basic arguments can be made in favor of racially representative juries. The first argument concerns the appearances and procedures of the jury trial. For instance, racially mixed juries may increase the legal system’s perceived legitimacy even if they do not influence the actual outcome of the trial. They may also satisfy constitutional questions about the nature of the “right” conferred by the sixth amendment: What kind of representation is guaranteed by an “impartial jury of the State and district”? Finally, jury duty can be considered an honor or social opportunity; if so, equal representation on juries would be a civil right of the prospective jurors themselves. Critically, all of these arguments apply even if diversity has no real impact on juries’ performance.

The second, bolder argument for racially mixed juries is that diversity actually influences jury decision-making — for the better, advocates say. Popular opinion seems to endorse this claim, as when the public blames a jury’s racial composition for unpopular or seemingly unlikely verdicts. There was popular uproar in 1992, for example, when the white police who had attacked Rodney King the year before were acquited by a jury of 10 whites and no blacks. The empirical evidence for this stronger claim about fairness, however, is slim. The first questions Sommers addresses is therefore: Does racial diversity of a jury lead to materially improved deliberations? His answer is, in a word, yes.

Mock Juries Weigh Real Evidence

In the study, Sommers asked 30 different mock juries, each composed of six adults, to watch a video summary, edited from Court TV coverage, of the trial proceedings of an actual sexual assault case in which a black male defendant allegedly assaulted, separately, two white females. Sommers went to extraordinary lengths to make these mock trials as much like a real trial as possible. The study was conducted in a courthouse. Participants were jury-eligible adults who were at the court for real jury duty. Their age ranged from 18 to 78. Only racial composition was varied systematically: half of the juries were white, and the other half were made up of four white and two black jurors.

The facts of the case were disputed and required jury deliberation. For example, one of the victims described a scar that matched a scar on the defendant’s torso, but neither victim recognized his face; semen and hair left on the victim provided evidence that was consistent with the defendant’s but not a definitive match. In the end, the majority (55 percent) of the mock juries voted unanimously to acquit, just as the real jury had. But both verdicts and deliberation quality and content varied significantly depending on the juries’ racial make-up.

Calling the Race Card

Mixed and all-white juries were equally likely to raise the subject of race when discussing the case — but differed sharply in how they reacted to the subject once it was raised. Every time racism was mentioned in an all-white jury, at least one juror objected that racism was not relevant (J5: “What about the fact that he was a Black man?” J6: “What does that have to do with it?”). That’s a 100 percent rate of objection to the idea that race was relevant. In the diverse juries, by contrast, only 22 percent of mentions of possible racism met with objections. Meanwhile, the diverse juries deliberated longer, cited more case-relevant facts during deliberation, made fewer factual mistakes, and were more likely to correct inaccurate statements than the all-white juries were. So who among the jurors is creating the difference in dynamics between the homogenous and heterogeneous juries? One possibility is that the black jurors alone improved jury performance. Black jurors may have different life experiences that lead them to contribute unique information and perspectives to the deliberations. By this hypothesis, it is the sole burden of the black jurors to provide the benefits of diversity. But Sommers’ data tell a very different story: He found that white jurors were actually responsible for a large proportion of the group differences, as they behaved differently in a racially mixed jury than in one all-white. White jurors in diverse groups mentioned more facts, made fewer factual errors, corrected more mistakes and raised the possibility of racism more often than did white jurors in homogeneous groups. Even before the deliberations began, white participants who expected to deliberate with black jurors privately espoused less harsh views of the (black) defendant than did white participants who expected to deliberate in an all-white group. Both the anticipation and the experience of serving on a diverse jury seemed to sharpen the white jurors’ sensitivity not just to race but to accuracy and due process. One explanation for this pattern is that white jurors felt more motivation to avoid prejudice in the presence of black jurors. The motivation to avoid prejudice could lead not only to more careful consideration of racism itself, but also to more systematic and thorough information processing of all relevant facts about the defendant.

A Win-Win for Juries and Justice In all, Sommers’ data show that diverse juries reason better, not just as groups but as individuals; everyone on the jury benefits, and justice, it appears, is better served. As Sommers concludes, these results make the benefits of diverse juries not just more concrete but readily attained. Minority jurors need feel no burden or need to “educate” white jurors or convey a unique minority perspective; diversity seems to do its own work. The results suggest that representative juries do not merely honor a civil right or a constitutional ideal but provide an effective tool for achieving more thorough and competent jury deliberations.

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Cross-racial Identification

  • Difficulty identifying someone of different race than their own
    • One analysis of 39 studies found that participants were
      • 5x more likely to falsely identify the face of a stranger of a different race
      • Most jurors are unaware of this as witnesses identify people of a different race
  • According to the Innocence Project
    • Over 70% of the 353 convictions it has overturned on DNA evidence
      • Involved misidentification
    • Nearly half involve a defendant and a witness of different races
    • Black men were the defendants in more than 200 of the exonerations

“the risk of wrongful convictions involving cross-racial identification demands a new approach.” Judge Eugene M. Fahey

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Further Reading

WP: The Supreme Court tossed Curtis Flowers’s death-row conviction, ruling it was racially biased (all white jury)

Racism in the US Justice Systems 20th Century

  • Great Migration/Northern Backlash
    • As millions of black people fled southern violence
      • Northern states used criminal justice system to exert social control
    • “Policymakers in the North did not legally target black Americans as explicitly as did their southern counterparts, but disparate enforcement of various laws against “suspicious characters,” disorderly conduct, keeping and visiting disorderly houses, drunkenness, and violations of city ordinances made possible new forms of everyday surveillance and punishment in the lives of black people in the Northeast, Midwest, and West.” Vera Institute of Justice
  • The Black Criminal Myth
    • Same racist criminal justice polices that targeted black people were also used to link black people to crime
      • Higher rates of imprisonment of black people in both the North and South support racist myths
      • 1890 census recorded prison statistics which supported myths of black Americans as a dangerous population
        • the first black generation removed from slavery represented 12% of the nation’s population, but 30% of those incarcerated
      • These distorted notions of criminality shape discourse and policy decisions throughout the 20th century
  • War on Crime
    • 1965 – President Johnson began “War on Crime” and expanded and modernized law enforcement
    • Johnson made his declaration despite stable or decreasing crime levels
    • The 1968 Kerner Report blamed racial police brutality and systemic inequality on mass urban unrests in the 1960s
      • Johnson ignored the report’s recommendations for police reform and doubled down on “Law and Order”
  • War on Drugs (Nixon-present)
    • Significantly expanded policing and prisons while reducing federal social services
    • Policies such as
      • mandatory sentencing, no-knock warrants, 3 strike rules, zero tolerance school policies, 100:1 crack vs cocaine sentencing disparity
    • Ushered in the era of mass incarceration
      • That locked up millions for nonviolent offenses such as drug possession and devastated communities of color
  • McCleskey v Kemp (1987)
    • SCOTUS considered evidence of racial bias in the capital punishment system
      • Georgia system 22x more likely to impose capital punishment on black people convicted of murdering a white
    • SCOTUS held significant risk of racial discrimination did not violate the Constitution
      • Closed doors to claims of racial bias in criminal justice system
      • “Turned out to be the Dred Scott decision of our time” Anthony G Amsterdam– NY University lawyer

The Root: History of the Juvenile Justice System

Further Reading

Vox: The ugly history of racist policing in America

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Law and Order Dog Whistle

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Rise of “Law and Order” Dog Whistles

“In the 1968 presidential election, both Richard Nixon and former Alabama Governor George Wallace made “law and order” a central theme of their campaigns; combined, they won 57 percent of the vote. Nixon ran one ad that “explicitly called on voters to reject the lawlessness of civil rights activists and embrace ‘order’ in the United States.” It was a popular message. By 1968, 81 percent of Americans agreed that “law and order has broken down in this country” and the majority blamed “Negroes who start riots” and “Communists.” Equal Justice Initiative

“For more than a decade — from the mid-1950s until the late 1960s, officials who opposed civil rights systematically and strategically framed their rhetoric as calls for law and order, arguing that Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of civil disobedience was a leading cause of crime.” Michelle Alexander

  • Southern strategy (1950-60s)
    • GOP strategy to win white voters by appealing to the racism and resentment against black progress
      • Often using socially acceptable “coded” racism, like Dog Whistle Politics
        • Still used today, often by both political parties (New Democrats)
  • Dog whistles
    • Coding racist language/policies with socially acceptable Ideas
      • “Law and Order”, “Illegals”, “State’s rights”, “War on Drugs”, “Welfare Queen”, etc.
    • Explicit racism in the 1960s was becoming less socially acceptable after
      • Capturing the brutality of TV
      • Outlawing racism with the 1960s civil rights bill
    • Dog whistle politics was created continue policies marginalizing blacks/capturing white resentment voters
      • “Racial dog whistles are often sneakily used when politicians want to speak about race specifically to their target audience. The coded messages are used to reinforce racist ideas that the country’s societal and economic problems are because of undeserving, lazy, and violent people of color” Haney-López – Washington Post
  • “Law and Order” Dog Whistle (Also “Tough on Crime” and “War on Drug”)
    • “Law and Order” dog whistle was particularly effective:
      • Since Reconstruction US criminal justice system used to continue enslavement of freed blacks
      • Disproportionately effects black people more than any other race
  • White support for “Law and Order”
    • “Beginning in the 1970s, researchers found that racial attitudes, not crime rates or likelihood of victimization, are an important determinant of white support for “get tough on crime” and anti-welfare measures” Michelle Alexander – The New Jim Crow
      • White voters expressing highest concern about crime
        • Tend to oppose racial reforms like civil right protections, de-segregation, Affirmative Action, etc.
      • Whites, on average, are more punitive about crime than blacks
        • Despite the fact that blacks are far more likely to be victims of crime
  • War on Drugs
    • Proved popular w/ white voters who remained resentful of black progress
      • 22% of Democrats voted for Reagan
        • When he was campaigning on anti-crime, anti-welfare, anti-affirmative action, pro-state’s rights, etc.
      • Reagan actually declared his “War on Drugs” in 1982, 3 years before crack became an epidemic (1985)
        • Despite using the Crack epidemic as an excuse for needing the “War on Drugs”
      • Reagan drastically increased anti-drug enforcement funding
        • While slashing drug prevention and treatment funding

“The War on Drugs, cloaked in race-neutral language, offered white opposed to racial reform a unique opportunity to express their hostility towards blacks and black progress, without being exposed to the charge of racism. “Michelle Alexander – The New Jim Crow

“If we blame crime on crack, our politicians are off the hook.  Forgotten are the failed schools, the malign welfare programs, the desolate neighborhoods, the wasted years.  Only crack is to blame.  One is tempted to think that if crack did not exist, someone somewhere would have received a federal grant to develop it.” Doris Marie Provine, Unequal Under Law: Race in the War on Drugs

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Modern “Race Neutral” Racist Criminal Laws

“Legislators in the US no longer explicitly write laws in the racially discriminatory manner that marked the Reconstruction Era. But even laws that are neutral on their face can disparately impact black people.” Vera Institute for Justice

Examples

  • Drug-free zone laws
    • Enhanced punishments for use/sale of drugs at schools, playgrounds, parks, and public housing projects
    • Because of residential segregation
      • Pushes low-income black people are pushed into high density urban areas always close to Drug-free zones
      • White people choose less dense suburbs farther away from Drug-free zones
      • People of color are disproportionately impacted by these laws
      • In Mass, 2004 review of sentencing data showed“black and Latino” people were 80% drug-free zone convictions
        • Even though 45% of those arrested statewide for drug offenses were “white” people
  • Habitual offender and “three strikes” laws
    • Penalize individuals with repeat offenses more harshly such as longer sentences
      • Individuals charged with minor crimes can incur significantly enhanced sentences
    • Because black communities suffer from over policing and criminal justice system bias
      • They suffer disproportionately from “three strikes” laws
  • Hot Spots Policing
    • Increase police patrols in “micro-geographic locations” determined by high concentrations of crime
      • Often combined with “zero tolerance” and the “broken windows” model to enforce “over policing”
    • Disparately targets and impacts communities of color
    • “A general rule applied that still applies today: wherever there are more police, there are more arrests, and wherever there are more arrest, people perceive there is more crime, which then justifies more police, and more arrests and supposedly more crime” Ibram Kendi, Stamped From the Beginning

Rockefeller Drug Laws & Mandatory Minimum

  • 1973, NY State enacted “Rockefeller drug laws,”
    • Established mandatory minimum prison sentences for felony drug convictions
      • Selling 2 ounces/ possessing 4 r ounces, of heroin, morphine, opium, cocaine, marijuana
        • Faced a minimum of 15 years
  • Research on the impacts of the Rockefeller drug laws found the following:
    • The number of people incarcerated for drug offenses in NY State grew from
      • 1,488 to 22,266 between 1973 and 1999—a nearly 15x increase—due in part to these laws.
    • That impact did not fall equally on people of all races.
      • 2001 every 1 white male incarcerated by Rockefeller Laws, 40 black males were for same offense
  • A study of 2009 reforms to the Rockefeller drug laws found that:
    • Removing mandatory minimum sentences and increasing access to treatment
      • Reduced racial disparities in prison sentences and decreased rates of re-arrest
    • Black people arrested on felony drug charges were still
      • Nearly 2x as likely to receive a prison sentence compared to similarly situated white people
  • New York’s laws were the first in a wave of similar policies across the country
    • The fed gov and many states enacted mandatory minimums that called for
      • Longer sentences for crack cocaine offenses over powder cocaine
    • These drug laws contributed to substantially to mass incarceration of black people
      • And extreme racial disparities in jails and prisons across the US today

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Vox: How mandatory minimums helped drive mass incarceration

Mandatory Minimums: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

 

 

AJ+ Is it time to end mandatory minimum sentences? Plenty of lawmakers think so.

Mandatory minimums — or predetermined prison sentences based on a type of crime — have led to an enormous prison population in American.

A large portion of people behind bars are serving these type of sentences, often for non-violent crimes associated with drug dealing.

These sentencing laws mean judges can’t determine how long somebody should be in prison based on the specific circumstances of the case. If a person commits a specific crime associated with drugs, firearms or immigration, it immediately triggers a minimum sentence.

Here’s an example of how mandatory minimums laws can stack up and lead to lengthy prison terms:

The price tag of incarceration in America, new research showing long prison terms don’t deter people from committing crimes and increased attention on alternatives is leading lawmakers to want to reform sentencing. The Smarter Sentencing Act, a bill sponsored by 25 Senators on both sides of the aisle, is working it’s way through Congress now. It would reduce mandatory minimums for drug crimes and is supposed to focus resources on only the most violent offenders.

Congress can just look to the states to see what happens when sentencing laws change.

Michigan eliminated mandatory minimums in 2002. The results are substantial:

If the federal government can reduce these minimum sentences, they’re looking at huge cost savings. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the Smarter Sentencing Act would save the Justice Department $4 billion by 2024.

Stand Your Ground Laws

  • Allows defendants to “stand their ground” with deadly force
    • Instead of retreating when possible, to protect and defend themselves or others against threats or perceived threats
    • For a person to be justified in using deadly force, the person must not be ‘engaged in unlawful activity”.
    • Based on the “castle doctrine,” which does not require a person with a gun to retreat in the face of danger
    • Florida passed the nation’s first “stand your ground” law in 2005
      • Florida’s law protected George Zimmerman the murderer of Trayvon Martin in 2012
      • With the help of ALEC, similar measures have passed in 21 other states,

Racial Bias

  • Whites who kill blacks in Stand Your Ground states far more likely to be found “justified” in their killings
    • In “non-Stand Your Ground” states, whites are 250% more likely to be found justified in killing a black person
      • than a white person who kills another white person
    • In Stand Your Ground states, that number jumps to 354%
  • White-on-black homicide is ruled justified 11x more than black-on-white shooting
    • When the shooter is black, the homicide is justified in about 1% of cases in “Stand your ground” states
    • When a white person kills a black person in a “Stand your ground” state, the murder is justified 17% of the time
      • Versus 11% in states without such laws
  • 2005-13, Florida juries 2x more likely to convict if crime against white person than against a person of color
    • These results are similar to pre-civil rights era statistics
      • Strict enforcement for crimes when the victim was white
      • Less-rigorous enforcement with the victim is non-white
  • Gender bias – low conviction rates for men in domestic violence cases
    • Marissa Alexander, black woman, fired a warning shot to defend herself from her estranged husband
      • She was charged with assault with a deadly weapon.
    • Callie Adams, black mother, shot and killed her husband while defending herself from assault
      • She was charged with second-degree murder.

Source: Race, law, and health: Examination of ‘Stand Your Ground’ and defendant convictions in Florida, 2012 John Roman of the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center conducted a study of “Stand your ground” data

Jamelle Bouie: Ground Rules

“But we do know something about the logic of the “carceral state,” the term historians and social scientists use for the formal institutions of the criminal justice system—the courts, the prisons, and the police precincts; the judges, wardens, and beat officers; the web of people, places, policies, and procedures that govern citizens’ relationship to the law.

Embedded in these institutions are racist stigmas and ideas that reflect the origins of American criminal justice in the legacy of slavery, its relationship to efforts to preserve racial hierarchy, and its reliance on flawed but popular notions of black pathology and black criminality. “The United States did not face a crime problem that was racialized; it faced a race problem that was criminalized,” observes historian Naomi Murakawa in her study of federal crime politics in the 20th century. And despite the massive size of the American penal system, notes legal scholar Michelle Alexander, “the primary targets of its control can be defined largely by race.”

In the American racial imagination, “black” is a property of crime, and crime is a property of blackness. We see this in social science, and we see it in public discourse, where euphemism (“urban” and “Chicago”) hardly obscures the intended message. What this means for policy is that any expansion of the carceral state—or any application of the logic of state punishment—falls hardest on black Americans, regardless of actual rates of offense. Putting police officers in schools means black children in handcuffs, stop-and-frisk policies mean black neighborhoods under virtual occupation, and criminal punishments for drug use means black addicts in prison

Here’s where “stand your ground” comes in. Legally an expansion of the “castle doctrine,” it can be understood as an extension of police prerogative—the right to use deadly force against any perceived threat. These laws deputize ordinary citizens as agents of state violence, and as with all such violence, the distribution is racial. Those ordinary citizens could be anyone. Proponents of “stand your ground” laws don’t make racial or gender distinctions about beneficiaries. But disparities in how those laws are applied reveal embedded ideas and racist assumptions around who has a “castle,” who can claim the right of violence to defend it, and who can expect impunity. For most of American history, the idealized citizen was a white man, secure in his person and property, prepared to defend both from intruders and interlopers.

North and South, white men were called to demonstrate their commitment to this ideal, serving in militias and slave patrols. During Reconstruction, white men in the South reaffirmed their manhood through acts of violence against newly free black Americans, and later, would do so with rituals of communal violence, ostensibly in defense of white womanhood. Our pop culture, of course, is littered with examples of idealized white manhood: John Wayne and Clint Eastwood built careers as self-sufficient white men prepared to bring gun violence to bear on threats to the order of things, from Native Americans in John Ford’s Stagecoach to criminals and liberal decadence in Dirty Harry. “ Jamelle Bouie – Slate

Who Gets Right to Self-Protection

“On the other side was hostility to black gun ownership, informed by ideas around citizenship, manhood, and who rightfully holds the prerogatives of both. Post–Civil War “Black Codes,” for example, restricted freed people’s ability to own and carry weapons. Indeed, the 2016 shooting of Philando Castile, a legal gun owner killed after announcing his handgun to a police officer, illustrates the continuing ambivalence around black gun ownership. Despite widespread outrage, the National Rifle Association was silent on this infringement of gun rights.

“Stand your ground” taps into this history, as well as a conservative discourse around crime, safety, and gun rights that took root toward the end of the 20th century. In her study of American traditions of self-defense historian Caroline Light notes how print advertisements for the NRA “highlighted dangerous streets and armed criminals breaking into middle-class households at night.” Even in the face of decreasing crime rates, she notes, “the NRA portrayed the law-abiding, white citizen at risk for violent crime, and armed self-defense as an urgent need.”

…our nation’s embrace of lethal self-defense has “always been selective and partial upholding a selective right to kill for some, while posing others as legitimate targets.” Jamelle Bouie – Slate

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War on Drugs

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War on Drugs Statistics

  • In US federal prisons
    • 46% are incarcerated because of drug offenses
  • Blacks are less than 13% of the U.S. population but make up
    • 14% of regular drug users
    • 37% of those arrested for drug offenses
    • 56% of those in state prisons for drug offenses
  • Black kids are 10x more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than white kids
    • even though white kids are more likely to abuse drugs

“What the War on Drugs has done is trap millions of people, especially black men, in poverty, and push them toward a life of crime. With black boys arrested 10 times more frequently than white boys, for a non-violent crime that they commit less frequently than white boys, black men are funneled into the criminal justice system from a young age. With felonies on their records, it is incredibly difficult for black men to get work. As a result, they are trapped in low-paying jobs, or worse, turning to crime. Finally, once they have a felony on their record, most states prohibit them from voting.” J.B.W. Tucker – New Progressive

Sources: The New Progressive: The Ultimate White Privilege Statistics & Data Post, Everyday Feminism: Here’s Your Proof That White Americans Don’t Face Systemic Racism

History of War on Drugs

Jay Z: War on Drugs

War on Drugs: Nixon and Reagan

“Drug arrests now account for a quarter of the people locked up in America, but drug use rates have remained steady. Over the last 40 years, we have spent trillions of dollars on the failed and ineffective War on Drugs. Drug use has not declined, while millions of people—disproportionately poor people and people of color—have been caged and then branded with criminal records that pose barriers to employment, housing, and stability.” ACLU

  • June 1971, President Nixon declared a “war on drugs”
    • Increased the size and presence of federal drug control agencies
    • Pushed through measures such as mandatory sentencing and no-knock warrants.
    • A top Nixon aide, John Ehrlichman, later admitted:
      • “You want to know what this was really all about. The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
  • 1973 Nelson Rockefeller anti-drug laws
    • Mandatory prison sentences of 15 years to life for possession of 4 ounces of any illegal drug
    • Influenced many federal and states laws enacting mandatory minimum
  • Ronald Reagan expanded the War on Drugs with skyrocketing rates of incarceration
    • Passed the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986
      • Significantly increased number of drug offenses with mandatory minimum sentences
      • Mandated a minimum sentence of 5 years without parole for possession of 5 grams of crack
        • Mandated the same for possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine (100:1 disparity)
          • Until 1988 one year of prison was maximum for any drug conviction
        • The number of people behind bars for nonviolent drug law offenses increased from
          • 50,000 in 1980 to over 400,000 by 1997
        • Set the stage for the zero tolerance school policies implemented in the mid-to-late 1980s
        • Blocked expansion of syringe access programs and other harm reduction policies to reduce the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS
        • Transferred the majority of DOJ specialists investigating “white collar” crime to investigate drug crime

Decline of Inner Cities

“Joblessness and crack swept inner cities precisely at the moment that a fierce backlash against the Civil Rights Movement was manifesting itself through the War on Drugs” Michelle Alexander – The New Jim Crow

  • Globalization and deindustrialization of inner cities during the 1980s
    • Inner cities were suffering from economic collapse
    • Blue collar factory jobs that had been plentiful in 50-60s were disappearing
      • Globalization moved many factories to countries with low labor laws
      • Technology and automation made many blue collar unskilled factory jobs obsolete
      • New factories were opening up in white suburbs that were unreachable to blacks
        • Either too expensive to move in communities nearby
        • Or lacked transportation – no public services , didn’t own cars
          • Only around 20% of urban black people had a car at that time
        • Due to centuries of systemic racism and unequal education urban black people had lower levels of education
          • Making it harder to adapt to changing economy
  • 1990 American Academy of Political and Social Science study found:
    • 1970, more than 70% of all black people working in metropolitan areas held blue collar jobs
    • 1987, down to 28% (when War on Drugs hit)
      • For many urban black people the only option for income was selling drugs
  • Crack became an epidemic the same time
    • Inner city life was collapsing
    • New conservative backlash movement against civil rights, affirmative action, welfare, etc.
    • Rise of Neoliberal economics and disinvestment in inner city, housing, public health and social safety nets
      • Launched epidemic of homelessness, public health crisis and significantly increased income inequality
    • War on Drugs
      • Tied drug convictions to banning access to public housing, student loans, welfare, and other public services
  • War on Drugs changed budgets from Prevention and treatment to enforcement and incarceration
    • Between 1981-1991 following budgets increased
      • DOD Antidrug funding – $33 million to $1042 million
      • DEA Antidrug funding – $86 million to $1026 million
      • FBI Antidrug funding – $38 million to $181 million
    • Following budgets decreased
      • National Institute on Drug Abuse funding – $274 million to $57milliion
      • of Education antidrug funding were cut $14 million to $3milion

“If we blame crime on crack, our politicians are off the hook.  Forgotten are the failed schools, the malign welfare programs, the desolate neighborhoods, the wasted years.  Only crack is to blame.  One is tempted to think that if crack did not exist, someone somewhere would have received a federal grant to develop it.” Doris Marie Provine, Unequal Under Law: Race in the War on Drugs

War on Drugs: The Bushs

  • Bush Senior
    • Willie Horton ad uses black criminalization and “Law and Order” to win election
      • Bush’s campaign message was opposing affirmative action and civil rights reform while supporting War on Drugs and tough on crime
    • More than doubled the overall federal drug control budget to $12 Billion
    • Started 1033 program that equipped local and state police with military-grade equipment for anti-drug operations
    • Took War on Drugs internationally
      • Financing military/police/covert actions in Colombia, Bolivia Peru, and invading Panama
  • George W. Bush Clinton and the New Democrats
    • Huge increases in federal spending on the the War on Drugs
    • Drug czar John Walters
      • Focused on marijuana and launched a campaign for student drug testing
    • While rates of illicit drug use remained constant
      • Overdose fatalities rose rapidly
    • Rapid escalation of the militarization of domestic drug law enforcement.
      • Increased to 40,000 paramilitary-style SWAT raids on Americans every year
        • Mostly for nonviolent drug law offenses, often misdemeanors.

Clinton and the New Democrats

  • President Clinton and the “New Democrats”
    • ”New” Democrats for harsher drug laws & conservative/neoliberal policies to win white swing voters
      • Clinton policies on crime resulted in the largest increases in federal and state prison inmates ever
  • 1994, Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act
    • Largest crime bills in history
      • Allocated $10 billion for prison construction
      • Federal “Three-Strikes” mandate
      • Eliminated federal funding for inmate education
      • Locked up millions for nonviolent offenses such as drug possession
    • Ushered in the era of mass incarceration that devastated communities of color
      • For which Clinton himself has recently apologized
    • Rejected US Sentencing Commission rec to eliminate crack and cocaine disparity sentences
      • Also rejected to end the federal ban on funding for syringe access programs
  • Move War on Drugs to housing and food stamps
    • Lifetime bans on food stamps and welfare for anyone convicted of felony drug charge
    • “One strike, you’re out” public housing policy
      • Mandating eviction of public housing tenants whose housing units are the scene of criminal actions
    • “Clinton’s simultaneous expansion of federal law enforcement and shrinking of the federal workforce to its lowest level in thirty years reallocated taxpayer dollars from employing people in social service jobs to putting more cops on the streets” Premilla Nadasen – Jacobin
  • Starting in 1994 states start to adapt “Three-Strikes Laws”
    • Meant to only punish violent crimes with longer sentences
      • But many states like California allowed drug offenses to qualify as at least one of the strikes

“Despite claims that these radical policy changes were driven by fiscal conservatism, ie.,the desire to end big government and slash budget deficits, the reality is that government was not reducing the amount of money devoted to the management of the urban poor. It was radically altering what the funds would be used for. The dramatic shift toward punitiveness resulted in a massive reallocation of public resources. By 1996, the penal budget double the amount that been allocated to AFDC or food stamps. Similarly, funding that had once been used for public housing was being redirected to prison construction. During Clinton’s tenure, Washing slashed funding for public housing by 17 billion (61% reduction) and boosted corrections by $19 billion (an increase of 171%), effectively making the construction of prisons the nation’s main housing program for the poor.” Michelle Alexander – The New Jim Crow

13th (Movie) Mandatory Minimums

War on Drugs: Obama and Trump

  • Public opinion has shifted dramatically in favor of sensible reforms
    • Expand health-based approaches while reducing the role of criminalization
  • Yet the War on Drugs continues today with
    • 700,000 people still arrested for marijuana offenses each year
    • almost 500,000 people still behind bars for nothing more than a drug law violation
  • Obama supported policy changes such as:
    • Reducing the crack/powder sentencing disparity
    • Ending the ban on federal funding for syringe access programs
    • Ending federal interference with state medical marijuana laws
    • DOJ guidelines to reduce harsh sentencing for low level non violent drug crimes
    • Policy to phase out federal private prisons
    • But did not shift the majority of drug policy funding to a health-based approach
  • Trump is reversing Obama’s policy changes and increasing the war of drugs by:
    • Calling for a wall to keep drugs out of the country
    • Returning DOJ guidelines for harsh sentencing for low level non violent drug crimes
    • An Attorney General who wants to go after marijuana users
    • Reversed Obama polices to end federal private prisons

Now This: NY State Rep Diana Richardson on How Treatment For Opioid Crisis Vs Crack Epidemic Shows Racism

Inkredibly: But When The Addicts Were Black, Nobody Cared

“I will say that I’m glad that we’re finally able to have a conversation. When I watch the Republican Party hugging heroin addicted folks opiate addicted folks it makes me very happy, but it also makes me very mad because those same Republicans and Democrats, when the problem was crack, show no mercy no compassion no understanding at all and locked up a bunch of people. I do think that now it’s hitting everybody hopefully we can come up with a more compassionate response.”

~ Van Jones

Intro
Since 2014, New York state has reported more deaths by heroin overdose than from homicide. The number of heroin overdoses doubled from 2010 to 2012, affecting everyone from the poor, to middle class college aged students. Needless to say heroin addiction has re-emerged as a serious mainstream problem facing Americans nationwide. Every day 120 people overdose on opioid based narcotics, much of which are associated with complications from painkillers and heroin abuse. The heroin epidemic affects Americans of all demographics, from rural areas to urban areas and among both rich and poor. Yet many people are not conscious to how severe its impact is.
Ultimately, heroin addiction has become such a serious issue in the States that many legislators are considering unconventionally sympathetic methods of combatting the issues, moving towards providing treatment and supervision as opposed to locking up the diseased. Ironically, the change in attitudes concerned with substance abuse have changed as the demographic of victims has shifted from those coming from poor, urban, minority neighborhoods to more affluent, white, suburban communities. Many marginalized communities face continued impact by the merciless drug wars levied against them, beginning in the 1980s. The pronounced differences between the the ways in which issues of drug abuse are confronted depending on race and socioeconomic status is impossible to ignore.

Why The Resurgence?
Over 3.5 million people over the age of 12 reported experimenting with heroin. The number of reported heroin abusers has almost doubled from 370,000 in 2007 to 680,000 in 2013, making it a more popular choice of recreational drug use than crack cocaine. Even more concerning are the 120 opioid related drug overdoses that occur on a daily basis nationwide, much of which are due to complications associated with heroin use.

The resurgence of heroin after its considerable decline as a drug of choice can be partly attributed to the over prescription of opiate based painkillers. Many addicts turn to heroin once their opiate prescriptions reduced. Others opt to take advantage of the accessibility and low cost of cheap heroin as a substitute for prescription drugs they can no longer afford.

Traditional American Victims (For lack of a better word)

The face of heroin abuse in the United States has changed drastically. Fifty years ago, the demographic of heroin users was overwhelmingly male, disproportionately black, and predominantly poor. Today however, most heroin users in the United States are women, from suburban middle class communities and 90 percent of those victimized by the illicit narcotics are white, facilitating a more intimate relationship between affluent legislators and suburban addicts.

Road to Legalization?

Despite heroin still being categorized as as schedule I illegal narcotic, many American politicians are considering nontraditional methods of combatting deaths from overdose and heroin addiction. Cities such as Seattle, WA and Ithaca, NY are shedding light on the idea of setting up safe houses, in an effort to provide addicts with a safe, hygienic facility to consume heroin, providing clean needles, supervision and intervention in the face of potentially fatal overdoses. Proponents argue that not only would the existence of safe houses reduce the number of deaths from overdoses, but would also encourage a path for treatment and eventual sobriety.

Cities such as Vancouver, which operates the only supervised injection center in North America, provide proponents of such a radical idea with encouraging data. The Vancouver safe house “Insite”, which opened in 2003 reported having saved lives on a daily basis, while also saving millions on health care and public safety costs, and reducing transmission of diseases from dirty needles. Such data has enabled legislators and social movements to gain traction on the idea of setting up supervised injection centers for the purpose of saving lives and promoting addiction treatment. Doing so would be an unfamiliar means of combatting the American drug problem with empathy, says the poor black community….sarcastically.

But When the Addicts Were Black Nobody Cared….

During the 1960s and 1980s, Americans were subject to another drug scourge of epidemic proportions associated with heroin and crack cocaine abuse. Rather than combat the rise in drug use and increased crime rates with treatment, the United States government levied an assault on inner city communities of color known as the War on Drugs. Yes, “war”. Like “War on Terror”…Ok.

Data and past attitudes suggest a clear racial bias in the ways these different epidemics were approached. When people of color were victimized by drug addiction they were criminalized. In contrast, when a particular addiction disproportionately victimizes white Americans it is treated as a public health crisis. Although one could argue the influential impact of time’s contributions to a change in modern approach, can we agree that other contributing factors might include race and socioeconomic status? Just might?

When considering the medieval mandatory sentencing laws that were passed through congress almost immediately in the 1980s? Still? Even when considering the 100:1 disparity of mandatory minimums prompted by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 between crack, a drug with an 85 percent black usage rate, and powdered cocaine, the more affluent version of the drug? Despite this number now being closer to 18:1, Still? Even when considering the demonization and criminalization of marijuana, when the drug was associated with Mexican immigrants in the 30s, enabling law enforcement to incarcerate and deport them after the Mexican Revolution. This despite cannabis being prevalent in American medications for decades prior. Compared to the attitudes of marijuana use in the 60s when white college aged hippies were experimenting with the drug, still?

Conclusions

Ultimately, the idea of treating drug addiction as a public health issue combatted by medical professionals, as opposed to treating it with police, judges and prosecutors, will almost inevitably lead to a reduction in overdose deaths and the eventual reduction of heroin use in general. There are currently about 100 supervised injection centers worldwide, many reporting trends of overdose reduction and increases in treatment entry. Still, cynics can only wish that such measures were employed against the fight of hard drugs when narcotics are destroying people of color.

War on Drugs Myths by Michelle Alexander

Myth 1

  • War on Drugs aimed at drug “kingpins” or big-time dealers
    • Reality:
      • Vast majority of arrested are not charged with serious offenses
      • In 2005, 4 out of 5 drug arrests were for possession
      • Most people in states prison for dug offenses have no history of violence or significant selling activity

Myth 2

  • War on Drugs is principally concerned with dangerous drugs
    • Reality:
      • Marijuana arrests nearly 80% of the growth of drug arrests in 1990s
      • 52% of drug arrests in 2010 was marijuana possession

“If we blame crime on crack, our politicians are off the hook.  Forgotten are the failed schools, the malign welfare programs, the desolate neighborhoods, the wasted years.  Only crack is to blame.  One is tempted to think that if crack did not exist, someone somewhere would have received a federal grant to develop it.” Doris Marie Provine, Unequal Under Law: Race in the War on Drugs

Real Reason for War on Drugs

“Since heavily policed inner-city blacks were much more likely than whites to be arrested and imprisoned in the 1990s, since more homicides occurred in their neighborhoods, racists assumed that black people were actually using more drugs, dealing more in drugs, and committing more crimes of all types than white people. These false assumptions fixed the image in people’s minds of the dangerous black inner-city neighborhood as well as the contrasting image of the safe white suburban neighborhood, a racist notion that affected so many decisions of so many Americans, from housing choices to drug policing to politics, that they cannot be quantified.

The “dangerous black neighborhood” connection is based on racist ideas, not reality. There is such a thing as a dangerous “unemployed neighborhood,” however. One study, for example, based on the National Longitudinal Youth Survey data collected from 1976 to 1986, found that young black males were far more likely than young white males to engage in serious violent crime. But when the researchers compared only employed young males, the racial differences in violent behavior disappeared. Certain violent crime rates were higher in black neighborhoods simply because unemployed people were concentrated in black neighborhoods.

But Regan’s tough-on-crime Republicans had no intention of committing political suicide among their donors and redirecting the blame for violent crime from the lawbreaker onto Reaganomics. Nor were they willing to lose their seats by trying to create millions of new jobs in a War on Unemployment, which would certainly have reduced violent crime. Instead, turning the campaign for law and order into a War on Drugs enriched many political lives over the next two decades. It hauled millions of impoverished non-white, non violent drug users and dealers into prisons where they could not vote, and later paroled them without their voting rights. A significant number of close elections would have come out differently if felons had not been disenfranchised, including at least seven senatorial races between 1980 and 2000, as ell as the presidential election of 2000. “Ibram Kendi, Stamped From the Beginning

“The “dangerous black neighborhood” connection is based on racist ideas, not reality. There is such a thing as a dangerous “unemployed neighborhood,” however.” Ibram Kendi, Stamped From the Beginning

Drug Policy: A Brief History of the Drug War

Nixon and the Generation Gap

In the 1960s, as drugs became symbols of youthful rebellion, social upheaval, and political dissent, the government halted scientific research to evaluate their medical safety and efficacy. In June 1971, President Nixon declared a “war on drugs.” He dramatically increased the size and presence of federal drug control agencies, and pushed through measures such as mandatory sentencing and no-knock warrants.

A top Nixon aide, John Ehrlichman, later admitted: “You want to know what this was really all about. The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”Nixon temporarily placed marijuana in Schedule One, the most restrictive category of drugs, pending review by a commission he appointed led by Republican Pennsylvania Governor Raymond Shafer.

In 1972, the commission unanimously recommended decriminalizing the possession and distribution of marijuana for personal use. Nixon ignored the report and rejected its recommendations. Between 1973 and 1977, however, eleven states decriminalized marijuana possession. In January 1977, President Jimmy Carter was inaugurated on a campaign platform that included marijuana decriminalization. In October 1977, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to decriminalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use.

Within just a few years, though, the tide had shifted. Proposals to decriminalize marijuana were abandoned as parents became increasingly concerned about high rates of teen marijuana use. Marijuana was ultimately caught up in a broader cultural backlash against the perceived permissiveness of the 1970s.

The 1980s and 90s: Drug Hysteria and Skyrocketing Incarceration Rates

The presidency of Ronald Reagan marked the start of a long period of skyrocketing rates of incarceration, largely thanks to his unprecedented expansion of the drug war. The number of people behind bars for nonviolent drug law offenses increased from 50,000 in 1980 to over 400,000 by 1997.

Public concern about illicit drug use built throughout the 1980s, largely due to media portrayals of people addicted to the smokeable form of cocaine dubbed “crack.” Soon after Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, his wife, Nancy Reagan, began a highly-publicized anti-drug campaign, coining the slogan “Just Say No.”

This set the stage for the zero tolerance policies implemented in the mid-to-late 1980s. Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates, who believed that “casual drug users should be taken out and shot,” founded the DARE drug education program, which was quickly adopted nationwide despite the lack of evidence of its effectiveness. The increasingly harsh drug policies also blocked the expansion of syringe access programs and other harm reduction policies to reduce the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS.

In the late 1980s, a political hysteria about drugs led to the passage of draconian penalties in Congress and state legislatures that rapidly increased the prison population. In 1985, the proportion of Americans polled who saw drug abuse as the nation’s “number one problem” was just 2-6 percent. The figure grew through the remainder of the 1980s until, in September 1989, it reached a remarkable 64 percent – one of the most intense fixations by the American public on any issue in polling history. Within less than a year, however, the figure plummeted to less than 10 percent, as the media lost interest. The draconian policies enacted during the hysteria remained, however, and continued to result in escalating levels of arrests and incarceration.

Although Bill Clinton advocated for treatment instead of incarceration during his 1992 presidential campaign, after his first few months in the White House he reverted to the drug war strategies of his Republican predecessors by continuing to escalate the drug war. Notoriously, Clinton rejected a U.S. Sentencing Commission recommendation to eliminate the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences.

He also rejected, with the encouragement of drug czar General Barry McCaffrey, Health Secretary Donna Shalala’s advice to end the federal ban on funding for syringe access programs. Yet, a month before leaving office, Clinton asserted in a Rolling Stone interview that “we really need a re-examination of our entire policy on imprisonment” of people who use drugs, and said that marijuana use “should be decriminalized.”

At the height of the drug war hysteria in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a movement emerged seeking a new approach to drug policy. In 1987, Arnold Trebach and Kevin Zeese founded the Drug Policy Foundation – describing it as the “loyal opposition to the war on drugs.” Prominent conservatives such as William Buckley and Milton Friedman had long advocated for ending drug prohibition, as had civil libertarians such as longtime ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser. In the late 1980s they were joined by Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, Federal Judge Robert Sweet, Princeton professor Ethan Nadelmann, and other activists, scholars and policymakers.

In 1994, Nadelmann founded The Lindesmith Center as the first U.S. project of George Soros’ Open Society Institute. In 2000, the growing Center merged with the Drug Policy Foundation to create the Drug Policy Alliance.

The New Millennium: The Pendulum Shifts – Slowly – Toward Sensible Drug Policy

George W. Bush arrived in the White House as the drug war was running out of steam – yet he allocated more money than ever to it. His drug czar, John Walters, zealously focused on marijuana and launched a major campaign to promote student drug testing. While rates of illicit drug use remained constant, overdose fatalities rose rapidly.

The era of George W. Bush also witnessed the rapid escalation of the militarization of domestic drug law enforcement. By the end of Bush’s term, there were about 40,000 paramilitary-style SWAT raids on Americans every year – mostly for nonviolent drug law offenses, often misdemeanors. While federal reform mostly stalled under Bush, state-level reforms finally began to slow the growth of the drug war.

Politicians now routinely admit to having used marijuana, and even cocaine, when they were younger. When Michael Bloomberg was questioned during his 2001 mayoral campaign about whether he had ever used marijuana, he said, “You bet I did – and I enjoyed it.” Barack Obama also candidly discussed his prior cocaine and marijuana use: “When I was a kid, I inhaled frequently – that was the point.”

Public opinion has shifted dramatically in favor of sensible reforms that expand health-based approaches while reducing the role of criminalization in drug policy.

Marijuana reform has gained unprecedented momentum throughout the Americas. Alaska, California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts, Washington State, and Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana for adults. In December 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legally regulate marijuana. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans legalize marijuana for adults by 2018.

In response to a worsening overdose epidemic, dozens of U.S. states passed laws to increase access to the overdose antidote, naloxone, as well as “911 Good Samaritan” laws to encourage people to seek medical help in the event of an overdose.

Yet the assault on American citizens and others continues, with 700,000 people still arrested for marijuana offenses each year and almost 500,000 people still behind bars for nothing more than a drug law violation.

President Obama, despite supporting several successful policy changes – such as reducing the crack/powder sentencing disparity, ending the ban on federal funding for syringe access programs, and ending federal interference with state medical marijuana laws – did not shift the majority of drug policy funding to a health-based approach.

Now, the new administration is threatening to take us backward toward a 1980s style drug war. President Trump is calling for a wall to keep drugs out of the country, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made it clear that he does not support the sovereignty of states to legalize marijuana, and believes “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

Progress is inevitably slow, and even with an administration hostile to reform there is still unprecedented momentum behind drug policy reform in states and localities across the country. The Drug Policy Alliance and its allies will continue to advocate for health-based reforms such as marijuana legalization, drug decriminalization, safe consumption sites, naloxone access, bail reform, and more.”

Jezebel: Nixon Policy Advisor Admits He Invented War On Drugs to Suppress ‘Anti-War Left and Black People’

“Dan Baum, writing in support of drug legalization at Harper’s, has unleashed a frank 1994 quote from former Nixon policy advisor John Ehrlichman, and as inadvertently salient an argument for legalizing drugs as any I’ve ever seen:

At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition. I started to ask Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away. “You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

I must have looked shocked. Ehrlichman just shrugged. Then he looked at his watch, handed me a signed copy of his steamy spy novel, The Company, and led me to the door.

Bold mine.

That drugs have been used as a tactic to marginalize and imprison peoples who are inconvenient, so to speak, for conservatives and neo-cons doesn’t really come as a surprise—and not just because Nixon was a noted racist. The War on Drugs was a Nixon invention but, as Baum explains, it’s been useful for every president thereafter, and its function as a suppressive tool didn’t exactly wane—recall the way it defined Reagan’s crack era, which was funneled into black neighborhoods by the CIA and then used to decimate an entire generation. Or the way relatively minor drug offenses are the main contributor to the current mass incarceration crisis, which disproportionately affects young black and brown men.

Adjacent to this, Baum lays out a clear and logical argument for the way legalization could work, using Portugal and the Netherlands as precedents, and advocating for it to remain in the control of the state—a “state-run monopoly”—rather than free markets, lest addiction become a market incentive the way it has with alcohol and cigarettes. (Of course, the deeper problem of racial prejudice remains strong in this scenario too—the legal weed market has already locked out people of color to a dramatic and unfair degree, and black people are much more likely to be arrested for pot-related offenses even in states where it’s legal.) Baum cites the way marijuana is regulated in his home state of Colorado (of course this dude is from Boulder), but also makes the case that weed is the path to killing the drug war, in its capacity as an admitted racist and antiliberal Nixonian tool:

The citizens of the U.S. jurisdictions that legalized marijuana may have set in motion more machinery than most of them had imagined. “Without marijuana prohibition, the government can’t sustain the drug war,” Ira Glasser, who ran the American Civil Liberties Union from 1978 to 2001, told me. “Without marijuana, the use of drugs is negligible, and you can’t justify the law-enforcement and prison spending on the other drugs. Their use is vanishingly small. I always thought that if you could cut the marijuana head off the beast, the drug war couldn’t be sustained.”

Whitewashing the Green Rush

  • About 1%
    • Of over 3000 marijuana dispensaries in the US are black owned by black people
  • Blacks disproportionately targeted in “War on Drugs”
    • Now state laws and regulatory costs have marginalized them out of America’s profitable legalized marijuana boom
    • Anyone w/ prior marijuana charges can’t work in industry
      • Despite drug use being about equal among races
        • Black people are disproportionately charged with possession charges
      • Requires ¼ million dollars to start legal marijuana business
        • After centuries of systemic discrimination in housing, employment, education
          • Black people far less likely to have/able to raise that kind of money.
        • Small business loans are out of the question
          • Because banks are insured by federal agencies
            • Federal government still considers cannabis illegal.
  • No existing marijuana law
    • Tries to account for or acknowledge the harm prohibition has done to communities of color

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Huff Post: California Passes Bill To Expunge Old Marijuana Convictions

It’s estimated that more than 218,000 cases could be eligible if Gov. Jerry Brown signs it into law.

“California lawmakers passed a bill Wednesday that provides a legal framework to wipe out previous marijuana convictions.

The state’s Senate passed AB 1793, a bill that would force California’s Department of Justice to review the records of cannabis convictions that are eligible for “recall or dismissal of sentence, dismissal and sealing, or re-designation” under current marijuana laws.

Advocates across the country have pushed to wipe away cannabis convictions as more states begin to legalize or decriminalize the drug.

Despite the state’s relatively permissive laws, a Drug Policy Alliance study found that nearly 500,000 Californians were arrested on marijuana charges between 2006 and 2015. California first legalized medicinal marijuana in 1996 and passed a proposition legalizing recreational use in 2016.

There are more than 218,000 convictions that could be potentially wiped out or downgraded under the new law, according to CNN.

If Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signs the bill into law, state officials will have until July 1, 2019, to complete a list of eligible cases for recall. Prosecutors will have a year from that date to decide which cases they will challenge.”

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Racial History of US Police

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1859 Runaway Slave Patrol Badge from North Carolina

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Bloody Sunday” Alabama State Troopers attack a civil rights march in Selma (1965)

History of US Police (Pre-Civil War)

  • Sheriffs/Constables (1634)
    • The Sheriff system was brought to Colonial American by the British in 1634
    • Elected positions responsible for keeping peace, enforcing law, managing county jails, collecting taxes,
      • and sometimes administering punishments
    • Most are only accountability by elections (pseudo politician) ie. Sheriff Joe Arpaio
  • Night Watches (1636)
    • Outside of privately funded security
    • Part-time volunteer policing groups
      • Boston started one in 1636, New York followed in 1658 and Philadelphia created one in 1700
    • Often not very effective
  • Slave Patrols (1704) – “paddyrollers”
    • Designed to control slaves and protect institutions of slavery, through fear and violence
      • In 1704, the colony of Carolina developed the nation’s first slave patrol
        • First publicly funded police agencies in the American South
      • Assisted the wealthy landowners in recovering and punishing slaves (property)
      • “the literature clearly establishes that a legally sanctioned law enforcement system existed in America before the Civil War for the express purpose of controlling the slave population and protecting the interests of slave owners.” Turner, Giacopassi and Vandiver
  • Publically Funded Police (1838)
    • As cities grew bigger and more urban the night-watch system became less effective
    • The first organized police force with “full-time officers” was created in Boston in 1838
      • New York City (1845) St. Louis (1846) Chicago (1854) Los Angeles (1869)

History of US Police (Post-Civil War)

  • White Vigilante Groups (reconstruction, post reconstruction)
    • Groups like KKK took over the “fear & control” role of slave patrols
  • Southern Sheriffs (reconstruction, post reconstruction)
    • Sheriffs often focused on enforcing segregation and disenfranchisement of freed slaves
    • “Historically, ‘law and order’ sheriffs reigned in the South on the implied promise to their electorate that they’d use law enforcement as a means of racial control…the Ku Klux Klan also wanted more power to rest with county sheriffs so that they would be the ‘people’s protector,’ with less interference from the U.S. federal government and the ‘politics’ of civil rights oversight. ” Gilbert King
  • Public Police forces expand to Major Cities (late 19th Century)
    • South – many slave patrols were converted to publicly funded police agencies
      • Black Codes, Vagrancy laws, Convict Leasing allowed police to continue slavery
    • North – public police forces created often to oppress labor-union organizers & new waves of immigrants
      • Later police turned their brutality against black people fleeing Southern violence (Great Migration)
      • Extreme corruption from political parties and organized crime
  • Series of police reforms from commissions, SCOTUS, legislation (20th century)
    • Hoover’s Wickersham Commission (1929), Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice (1960s), Mapp v. Ohio (1961) and Miranda v. Arizona (1966), NYC Knapp Commission (1970s), Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (1994)
    • Most efforts lacked any racial justice reforms

Sub Media: Slave Patrols: Birth of the Modern Police

Significant Events in 20th Century Police Brutality

“the unwarranted or excessive and often illegal use of force against civilians by U.S. police officers. Forms of police brutality have ranged from assault and battery (e.g., beatings) to mayhem, torture, and murder. Some broader definitions of police brutality also encompass harassment (including false arrest), intimidation, and verbal abuse, among other forms of mistreatment.” Britannica

Significant Historic Events in Police Brutality

  • Lynching Era, Great Migration and Federal Desegregation Efforts (1877–1960s)
    • White backlash and resentment re-enforced police brutality everywhere in the US
    • Allowed or refused to prosecute over 4000 lynching deaths
  • Illinois Crime Survey (1929)
    • Conducted between 1927-28 to analyze causes of high crime rates:
      • African-Americans made up just 5%of the area’s population
        • They constituted 30% of police killings
      • Today African-Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population
        • Account for 24% of police killings
  • Rally Against Police Brutality (1941)
    • Following many years organizing against DC police brutality, often led by National Negro Congress (NNC)
      • Thousands march against police brutality and stage the 1937 “Public Trial”
  • Civil Rights Movement (1950-60s)
    • Police used dogs, fire hoses, clubs, mass arrests, to brutally suppress civil rights protests
      • Including Birmingham Children’s Crusade of 1963

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Protest poster during the 1963 March on Washington

Significant Events in 20th Century Police Brutality

  • Urban Rebellions Occurred in over 150 cities (1967)
    • Fueled by pent-up resentments from black communities
      • over police brutality and racial injustice
    • President Johnson organized a commission to study cause
      • Published the “Kerner Report” in 1968 that stated:
        • Blame riots on racial inequality and police brutality towards black people
        • Recommended invest in social programs and police reform
  • Johnson’s Response (1968)
    • Fearing the loss of white voters, the Johnson choose “law-and-order”
      • Shifted from the “War on Poverty” to the “War on Crime
      • Signed the Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1968, 6 months after Kerner report
        • Authorized $400 million in grants to states to strengthen not reform police efforts
        • “Johnson’s Great Society programs coupled with his increasing focus on preventing violent uprisings in the black community, laid the groundwork for contemporary mass incarceration. What started as anti-poverty programs had morphed into programs to control violent crime.“ Harvard historian Elizabeth Hinton
  • War on Drugs (1970s-present)
    • Started in the 70s by Nixon but continues today
    • Significant federal push to criminalize black people, increase (not reform) policing, and expand prisons to accommodate the mass incarceration of people of color
  • LA Riots (1992)
    • 6 day riot in LA
    • Occurred after an almost all white jury acquitted 4 LA police officers who were recorded on video hitting a black man over 50 times
      • Proved police brutality against black people still had no accountability
  • White Supremacy Reports (2006-2015)
    • No centralized recruitment process/standards for 18,000 US law enforcement agencies
    • Many of which have deep historical connections to racist ideologies
      • 2006 FBI internal intelligence assessment
        • Warned against the threat of white nationalists and skinheads infiltrating police in order to disrupt investigations against fellow members and recruit other supremacists
      • 2009 Department of Homeland Security intelligence study
        • Right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat.
        • Due to pressure from the Political Right, DHS disavowed the document, apologized to veterans, dismantled the unit investigating right-wing extremism and stopped investigating right-wing extremism entirely
      • 2015 Classified FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide
        • States white supremacists and other domestic extremists maintain an active presence in U.S. police departments and other law enforcement agencies.

EKU: A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing

“The birth and development of the American police can be traced to a multitude of historical, legal and political-economic conditions. The institution of slavery and the control of minorities, however, were two of the more formidable historic features of American society shaping early policing. Slave patrols and Night Watches, which later became modern police departments, were both designed to control the behaviors of minorities. For example, New England settlers appointed Indian Constables to police Native Americans (National Constable Association, 1995), the St. Louis police were founded to protect residents from Native Americans in that frontier city, and many southern police departments began as slave patrols. In 1704, the colony of Carolina developed the nation’s first slave patrol. Slave patrols helped to maintain the economic order and to assist the wealthy landowners in recovering and punishing slaves who essentially were considered property.

Policing was not the only social institution enmeshed in slavery. Slavery was fully institutionalized in the American economic and legal order with laws being enacted at both the state and national divisions of government. Virginia, for example, enacted more than 130 slave statutes between 1689 and 1865. Slavery and the abuse of people of color, however, was not merely a southern affair as many have been taught to believe. Connecticut, New York and other colonies enacted laws to criminalize and control slaves. Congress also passed fugitive Slave Laws, laws allowing the detention and return of escaped slaves, in 1793 and 1850. As Turner, Giacopassi and Vandiver (2006:186) remark, “the literature clearly establishes that a legally sanctioned law enforcement system existed in America before the Civil War for the express purpose of controlling the slave population and protecting the interests of slave owners. The similarities between the slave patrols and modern American policing are too salient to dismiss or ignore. Hence, the slave patrol should be considered a forerunner of modern American law enforcement.”

The legacy of slavery and racism did not end after the Civil War. In fact it can be argued that extreme violence against people of color became even worse with the rise of vigilante groups who resisted Reconstruction. Because vigilantes, by definition, have no external restraints, lynch mobs had a justified reputation for hanging minorities first and asking questions later. Because of its tradition of slavery, which rested on the racist rationalization that Blacks were sub-human, America had a long and shameful history of mistreating people of color, long after the end of the Civil War. Perhaps the most infamous American vigilante group, the Ku Klux Klan started in the 1860s, was notorious for assaulting and lynching Black men for transgressions that would not be considered crimes at all, had a White man committed them. Lynching occurred across the entire county not just in the South. Finally, in 1871 Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan Act, which prohibited state actors from violating the Civil Rights of all citizens in part because of law enforcements’ involvement with the infamous group. This legislation, however, did not stem the tide of racial or ethnic abuse that persisted well into the 1960s.

Though having white skin did not prevent discrimination in America, being White undoubtedly made it easier for ethnic minorities to assimilate into the mainstream of America. The additional burden of racism has made that transition much more difficult for those whose skin is black, brown, red, or yellow. In no small part because of the tradition of slavery, Blacks have long been targets of abuse. The use of patrols to capture runaway slaves was one of the precursors of formal police forces, especially in the South. This disastrous legacy persisted as an element of the police role even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In some cases, police harassment simply meant people of African descent were more likely to be stopped and questioned by the police, while at the other extreme, they have suffered beatings, and even murder, at the hands of White police. Questions still arise today about the disproportionately high numbers of people of African descent killed, beaten, and arrested by police in major urban cities of America.”

Time: How the U.S. Got Its Police Force

“Policing in Colonial America had been very informal, based on a for-profit, privately funded system that employed people part-time. Towns also commonly relied on a “night watch” in which volunteers signed up for a certain day and time, mostly to look out for fellow colonists engaging in prostitution or gambling. (Boston started one in 1636, New York followed in 1658 and Philadelphia created one in 1700.) But that system wasn’t very efficient because the watchmen often slept and drank while on duty, and there were people who were put on watch duty as a form of punishment.

Night-watch officers were supervised by constables, but that wasn’t exactly a highly sought-after job, either. Early policemen “didn’t want to wear badges because these guys had bad reputations to begin with, and they didn’t want to be identified as people that other people didn’t like,” says Potter. When localities tried compulsory service, “if you were rich enough, you paid someone to do it for you — ironically, a criminal or a community thug.”

As the nation grew, however, different regions made use of different policing systems.

In cities, increasing urbanization rendered the night-watch system completely useless as communities got too big. The first publicly funded, organized police force with officers on duty full-time was created in Boston in 1838. Boston was a large shipping commercial center, and businesses had been hiring people to protect their property and safeguard the transport of goods from the port of Boston to other places, says Potter. These merchants came up with a way to save money by transferring to the cost of maintaining a police force to citizens by arguing that it was for the “collective good.”

In the South, however, the economics that drove the creation of police forces were centered not on the protection of shipping interests but on the preservation of the slavery system. Some of the primary policing institutions there were the slave patrols tasked with chasing down runaways and preventing slave revolts, Potter says; the first formal slave patrol had been created in the Carolina colonies in 1704. During the Civil War, the military became the primary form of law enforcement in the South, but during Reconstruction, many local sheriffs functioned in a way analogous to the earlier slave patrols, enforcing segregation and the disenfranchisement of freed slaves.

In general, throughout the 19th century and beyond, the definition of public order — that which the police officer was charged with maintaining — depended whom was asked.

For example, businessmen in the late 19th century had both connections to politicians and an image of the kinds of people most likely to go on strike and disrupt their workforce. So it’s no coincidence that by the late 1880s, all major U.S. cities had police forces. Fears of labor-union organizers and of large waves of Catholic, Irish, Italian, German, and Eastern European immigrants, who looked and acted differently from the people who had dominated cities before, drove the call for the preservation of law and order, or at least the version of it promoted by dominant interests. For example, people who drank at taverns rather than at home were seen as “dangerous” people by others, but they might have pointed out other factors such as how living in a smaller home makes drinking in a tavern more appealing. (The irony of this logic, Potter points out, is that the businessmen who maintained this belief were often the ones who profited off of the commercial sale of alcohol in public places.)

At the same time, the late 19th century was the era of political machines, so police captains and sergeants for each precinct were often picked by the local political party ward leader, who often owned taverns or ran street gangs that intimidated voters. They then were able to use police to harass opponents of that particular political party, or provide payoffs for officers to turn a blind eye to allow illegal drinking, gambling and prostitution.

This situation was exacerbated during Prohibition, leading President Hoover to appoint the Wickersham Commission in 1929 to investigate the ineffectiveness of law enforcement nationwide. To make police independent from political party ward leaders, the map of police precincts was changed so that they would not correspond with political wards.

The drive to professionalize the police followed, which means that the concept of a career cop as we’d recognize it today is less than a century old.

Further campaigns for police professionalism were promoted as the 20th century progressed, but crime historian Samuel Walker’s The Police in America: An Introduction argues that the move toward professionalism wasn’t all good: that movement, he argues, promoted the creation of police departments that were “inward-looking” and “isolated from the public,” and crime-control tactics that ended up exacerbating tensions between police and the communities they watch over. And so, more than a half-century after Kennedy’s 1963 proclamation, the improvement and modernization of America’s surprisingly young police force continues to this day.”

Snopes: The Origins of Policing in the United States

“Law enforcement has always existed in one form or another.  The first constables (from the Roman comes stabuli, or “head of the stables”) with duties very similar to today’s sheriffs, were around at least since the 9th century, and traveled to the Americas from Europe to supplant the systems that existed there at the time in the 1600s. The Encyclopedia of Police Science delves into the history of constables in the colonies:

In the American colonies the constable was the first law enforcement officer. His duties varied from place to place according to the needs of the people he served. Usually, the constable sealed weights and measures, surveyed land, announced marriages, and executed all warrants.  Additionally, he meted out physical punishments and kept the peace.

The informal and communal system known as “the Watch” worked (more or less efficiently) on a volunteer basis in the early colonies; there were also private policing systems for hire that functioned on a for-profit basis.  As populations grew, so did demands for more functional system of policing towns and cities. Volunteers would often show up to their posts drunk or not at all, and the systems were disorganized or hopelessly corrupt.

According to Gary Potter, a crime historian at Eastern Kentucky University, a centralized, bureaucratic police system did not emerge until well into the 1800s, but was quickly adopted by cities around the country:

It was not until the 1830s that the idea of a centralized municipal police department first emerged in the United States. In 1838, the city of Boston established the first American police force, followed by New York City in 1845, Albany, NY and Chicago in 1851, New Orleans and Cincinnati in 1853, Philadelphia in 1855, and Newark, NJ and Baltimore in 1857 (Harring 1983, Lundman 1980; Lynch 1984). By the 1880s all major U.S. cities had municipal police forces in place.

These “modern police” organizations shared similar characteristics: (1) they were publicly supported and bureaucratic in form; (2) police officers were full-time employees, not community volunteers or case-by-case fee retainers; (3) departments had permanent and fixed rules and procedures, and employment as a police officers was continuous; (4) police departments were accountable to a central governmental authority (Lundman 1980).

More than a hundred years earlier, in 1704, the colony of Carolina developed the fledgling United States’ first slave patrol.  The patrol consisted of roving bands of armed white citizens who would stop, question, and punish slaves caught without a permit to travel.  They were civil organizations, controlled and maintained by county courts.  The way the patrols were organized and maintained provided a later framework for preventive (rather than reactive) community policing, particularly in the South:

Policing had always been a reactive enterprise, occurring only in response to a specific criminal act. Centralized and bureaucratic police departments, focusing on the alleged crime-producing qualities of the “dangerous classes” began to emphasize preventative crime control. The presence of police, authorized to use force, could stop crime before it started by subjecting everyone to surveillance and observation. The concept of the police patrol as a preventative control mechanism routinized the insertion of police into the normal daily events of everyone’s life, a previously unknown and highly feared concept in both England and the United States (Parks 1976).

Patrols in the northern U.S. also became useful for breaking up labor strikes before they became too destructive (Marxist political historian Eric Hobsbawm referred to the mechanisms of violence and destruction of property to agitate for better working conditions as “collective bargaining by riot”) and these services became increasingly utilized as the country became more populated and conditions simultaneously grew more difficult for the United States’ restive economic underclasses.

In fact, police duties since the 1800s can be easily traced along the ebb and flow of political pressures as well as social issues:

In 1822, for example, Charleston, South Carolina, experienced a slave insurrection panic, caused by a supposed plot of slaves and free blacks to seize the city. In response, the State legislature passed the Negro Seamen’s Act, requiring free black seamen to remain on board their vessels while in Carolina harbors. If they dared to leave their ships, the police were instructed to arrest them and sell them into slavery unless they were redeemed by the ship’s master.

Similarly, patrols such as the Mounted Guards (forerunners to what eventually became the Border Patrol) were put in place to maintain minority quotas, among other things:

Mounted watchmen of the U.S. Immigration Service patrolled the border in an effort to prevent illegal crossings as early as 1904, but their efforts were irregular and undertaken only when resources permitted. The inspectors, usually called Mounted Guards, operated out of El Paso, Texas. Though they never totaled more than seventy-five, they patrolled as far west as California trying to restrict the flow of illegal Chinese immigration.

In March 1915, Congress authorized a separate group of Mounted Guards, often referred to as Mounted Inspectors. Most rode on horseback, but a few operated cars and even boats. Although these inspectors had broader arrest authority, they still largely pursued Chinese immigrants trying to avoid the Chinese exclusion laws.

Modern law enforcement evolved out of complex brew of a larger population, shifting sociopolitical class boundaries, and other external issues (such as the labor pressures that created an unhappy underclass) and a shift in the way policing was regarded by business owners and the population at large: proactive rather than reactive.

However, it is important to note that “the police” do not consist of a homogenous block of the American population, and while the early days of modern-day police forces are undeniable and under-covered facets of its history, the focus and perspective of policing is a complicated and fraught subject.  It would be a mistake to assume that police in 2016 are the same as police in the 1870s, and to conclude that the profile of law enforcement in the United States — and around the world — has not changed throughout its existence.  It would also be a mistake to assume that law enforcement cannot or will not be changed again in response to popular pressure, given that its focus has varied dramatically since its inception.”

Smithsonian: The Long, Painful History of Police Brutality in the U.S.

“Last month, hours after a jury acquitted former police officer Jeronimo Yanez of manslaughter in the shooting death of 32-year-old Philando Castile, protesters in St. Paul, Minnesota, shutdown Interstate 94. With signs that read: “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace,” the chant of “Philando, Philando” rang out as they marched down the highway in the dark of night.

The scene was familiar. A year earlier, massive protests had erupted when Yanez killed Castile, after pulling him over for a broken taillight. Dashcam footage shows Yanez firing through the open window of Castile’s car, seconds after Castile disclosed that he owned and was licensed to carry a concealed weapon.

A respected school nutritionist, Castile was one of 233 African-Americans shot and killed by police in 2016, a startling number when demographics are considered. African-Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population but account for 24 percent of people fatally shot by police. According to the Washington Post, blacks are “2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers.”

Today’s stories are anything but a recent phenomenon. A cardboard placard in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and on view in the new exhibition “More Than a Picture,” underscores that reality.

We Demand

“The message after 50 years is still unresolved,” remarks Samuel Egerton, who donated the poster to the Smithsonian after carrying it in protest during the 1963 March on Washington. (Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, gift of Samuel Y. Edgerton)

The yellowing sign is a reminder of the continuous oppression and violence that has disproportionately shaken black communities for generations—“We Demand an End to Police Brutality Now!” is painted in red and white letters.

“The message after 50 years is still unresolved,” remarks Samuel Egerton, a college professor, who donated the poster to the museum. He carried it in protest during the 1963 March on Washington. Five decades later, the poster’s message rings alarmingly timely. Were it not for the yellowed edges, the placard could almost be mistaken for a sign from any of the Black Lives Matter marches of the past three years.

“There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ’When will you be satisfied?” said Martin Luther King, Jr. in his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 march. His words continue to resonate today after a long history of violent confrontations between African-American citizens and the police. “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”

“This idea of police brutality was very much on people’s minds in 1963, following on the years, decades really, of police abuse of power and then centuries of oppression of African-Americans,” says William Pretzer, senior history curator at the museum.

Stop Murder by Police

A poster, collected in Baltimore, Maryland, by curators at the National Museum of African American History, following the death of Freddie Gray. (Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture)

Modern policing did not evolve into an organized institution until the 1830s and ’40s when northern cities decided they needed better control over quickly growing populations. The first American police department was established in Boston in 1838. The communities most targeted by harsh tactics were recent European immigrants. But, as African-Americans fled the horrors of the Jim Crow south, they too became the victims of brutal and punitive policing in the northern cities where they sought refuge.

In 1929, the Illinois Association for Criminal Justice published the Illinois Crime Survey. Conducted between 1927 and 1928, the survey sought to analyze causes of high crime rates in Chicago and Cook County, especially among criminals associated with Al Capone. But also the survey provided data on police activity—although African-Americans made up just five percent of the area’s population, they constituted 30 percent of the victims of police killings, the survey revealed.

“There was a lot of one-on-one conflict between police and citizens and a lot of it was initiated by the police,” says Malcolm D. Holmes, a sociology professor at the University of Wyoming, who has researched and written about the topic of police brutality extensively.

That same year, President Herbert Hoover established the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement to investigate crime related to prohibition in addition to policing tactics. Between 1931 and 1932, the commission published the findings of its investigation in 14 volumes, one of which was titled “Report on Lawlessness in Law Enforcement.” The realities of police brutality came to light, even though the commission did not address racial disparities outright.

During the Civil Rights Era, though many of the movement’s leaders advocated for peaceful protests, the 1960s were fraught with violent and destructive riots.

Police Disperse Marchers with Tear Gas

Police Disperse Marchers with Tear Gas by unidentified photographer, 1966 (Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Howard Greenberg Gallery)

Aggressive dispersion tactics, such as police dogs and fire hoses, against individuals in peaceful protests and sit-ins were the most widely publicized examples of police brutality in that era. But it was the pervasive violent policing in communities of color that built distrust at a local, everyday level.

One of the deadliest riots occurred in Newark in 1967 after police officers severely beat black cab driver John Smith during a traffic stop. Twenty-six people died and many others were injured during the four days of unrest. In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson organized the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders to investigate the causes of these major riots.

The origins of the unrest in Newark weren’t unique in a police versus citizen incident. The commission concluded “police actions were ‘final’ incidents before the outbreak of violence in 12 of the 24 surveyed disorders.”

The commission identified segregation and poverty as indicators and published recommendations for reducing social inequalities, recommending an “expansion and reorientation of the urban renewal program to give priority to projects directly assisting low-income households to obtain adequate housing.” Johnson, however, rejected the commission’s recommendations.

Black newspapers reported incidents of police brutality throughout the early and mid-20th century and the popularization of radio storytelling spread those stories even further. In 1991, following the beating of cab driver Rodney King, video footage vividly told the story of police brutality on television to a much wider audience. The police officers, who were acquitted of the crime, had hit King more than 50 times with their batons.

Today, live streaming, tweets and Facebook posts have blasted the incidents of police brutality, beyond the black community and into the mainstream media. Philando Castile’s fiancée, Diamond Reynolds, who was in the car with her daughter when he was shot, streamed the immediate aftermath of the shooting on her phone using Facebook live.

“Modern technology allows, indeed insists, that the white community take notice of these kinds of situations and incidents,” says Pretzer.

And as technology has evolved, so has the equipment of law enforcement. Police departments with military-grade equipment have become the norm in American cities. Images of police officers in helmets and body armor riding through neighborhoods in tanks accompany stories of protests whenever one of these incidents occurs.

“What we see is a continuation of an unequal relationship that has been exacerbated, made worse if you will, by the militarization and the increase in fire power of police forces around the country,” says Pretzer.

The resolution to the problem, according to Pretzer, lies not only in improving these unbalanced police-community relationships, but, more importantly, in eradicating the social inequalities that perpetuate these relationships that sustain distrust and frustration on both sides.

’There’s a tendency to stereotype people as being more or less dangerous. There’s a reliance upon force that goes beyond what is necessary to accomplish police duty,” says Holmes. “There’s a lot of this embedded in the police departments that helps foster this problem.”

Vox: The ugly history of racist policing in America

“…Nationally, it suggests that we haven’t learned nearly enough from our history. Not just 1917, and all the riots that happened in 1919, and 1921 — but, much more specifically, from the ‘60s. Because of course, this is exactly the same issue that generated most of the rebellions of the 1960s. In 1964, exactly 50 years ago, [unrest in] Philadelphia, Rochester, and Harlem were all touched off by the killing of young African Americans. That’s what touches off Harlem. It’s the beating of a young black man that touches off Rochester in ’64. It’s the rumor that a pregnant woman has been killed by the police in Philadelphia in ’64. So in some sense, my reaction to this is: of course. Because until you fundamentally deal with this issue of police accountability in the black community and fair policing in the black community, this is always a possibility.

DL: This continuity from the white attacks on black citizens after World War I, to the rioting of disenfranchised African Americans in the 1960s, is interesting. Is there a relationship between those two and between the violence of private white citizens and violence of police?

HT: On the surface they seem unrelated: you’ve got racist white citizens who are attacking blacks in the streets, and then years or decades later, you have the police acting violently in the black community.

“it’s the police that are called out when blacks try to integrate white neighborhoods”

In response to all those riots in the 1910s and 1920s, civil rights commissions were set up in cities, and there was pressure on both local and federal governments to address white vigilantism and white rioting against blacks. And while it was not particularly effective, it certainly had this censuring quality to it. And then what historians would agree happened is that, in so many cities, the police became the proxy for what the white community wants.

So one of the answers is that police became the front line of the white community — or, at least, the most racially conservative white community. It’s the police that are called out, for example, when blacks try to integrate white neighborhoods. It’s the police that become that body that defends whites in their homes.

cop bobby stick watts riots

Fifty years ago this summer, protests in Rochester brought out aggressive police response. (William Lovelace/Hulton)

DL: How did this play out after the unrest that you mentioned?

HT: We start the war on crime in 1965, which, of course, is very much in response to these urban rebellions. Because politicians decide that protests against things like police brutality are exactly the same thing as crime — that this is disorderly. This is criminal.

And so, police are specifically charged with keeping order and with stopping crime, which has now become synonymous with black behavior in the streets. The police, again, become that entity that polices black boundaries. And I will tell you that one of the most striking things about the media coverage of Ferguson is that they are absolutely doing what they did in the 1960s in terms of the reporting: “This is all about the looters, this is all about black violence.”

DL: It certainly seems that even before any looting actually happened in Ferguson, police were anticipating that kind of thing.

HT: Any time that there is urban rebellion, the way that it is spun has everything to do with whether it’s granted legitimacy. Notably, when there was rioting in the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, and you saw the police with fire hoses and police dogs, it was very easy for white Northerners, particularly the press, to report that for exactly what it was — which was police violence on black citizens who were protesting. Everyone’s very clear about that. Sheriff Bull Connor is a racist, the police are racist, and that is why it is violent.

But the minute that these protests moved northward, the racial narrative was much more uncomfortable. “Why in the world would blacks be protesting against us good-hearted white folks in the North? And how dare they?” And what it means is that they were demanding too much, and that they were in fact just looking for trouble. So that narrative of who gets to be a legitimate protester shifts dramatically once protests move northward. It’s all about violence, troublemaking, looting, and so forth.

rochester riot army

Northerners sympathized with protesters in Birmingham, but in Rochester they sent in the army. (William Lovelace/Hulton Archive)

DL: What’s the response to a narrative like that?

HT: Even in the 1960s, you’ve got the white and black liberals who are saying, “Calm down, calm down, go home, stop this. Be peaceful.” And the white community, white politicians are desperate for these black politicians to have that kind of legitimacy: “Please go out and entice people to calm down!”

“they don’t have rubber bullets. it’s never a fair fight.”

Until black life is valued to the same extent white life is by members of law enforcement and by the criminal-justice community, there will be this question of legitimacy of the police and their actions, particularly among black folks who are routinely stopped. And then, people get angry. And then, people do start throwing rocks and bottles. But make no mistake about it: they don’t have rubber bullets. It’s never a fair fight.

Britannica: Police brutality in the United States

“Police brutality in the United States, the unwarranted or excessive and often illegal use of force against civilians by U.S. police officers. Forms of police brutality have ranged from assault and battery (e.g., beatings) to mayhem, torture, and murder. Some broader definitions of police brutality also encompass harassment (including false arrest), intimidation, and verbal abuse, among other forms of mistreatment.

African Americans and police brutality

Americans of all races, ethnicities, ages, classes, and genders have been subjected to police brutality. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, for example, poor and working-class whites expressed frustration over discriminatory policing in northern cities. At about the same time, Jewish and other immigrants from southern and eastern Europe also complained of police brutality against their communities. In the 1920s many urban police departments, especially in large cities such as New York and Chicago, used extralegal tactics against members of Italian-immigrant communities in efforts to crack down on organized crime. In 1943 officers of the Los Angeles Police Department were complicit in attacks on Mexican Americans by U.S. servicemen during the so-called Zoot Suit Riots, reflecting the department’s history of hostility toward Hispanics (Latinos). Regular harassment of homosexuals and transgender persons by police in New York City culminated in 1969 in the Stonewall riots, which were triggered by a police raid on a gay bar; the protests marked the beginning of a new era of militancy in the international gay rights movement. And in the aftermath of the 2001 September 11 attacks, Muslim Americans began to voice complaints about police brutality, including harassment and racial profiling. Many local law-enforcement agencies launched covert operations of questionable legality designed to surveil and infiltrate mosques and other Muslim American organizations in an effort to uncover presumed terrorists, a practice that went unchecked for at least a decade.

Notwithstanding the variety among groups that have been subjected to police brutality in the United States, the great majority of victims have been African American. In the estimation of most experts, a key factor explaining the predominance of African Americans among victims of police brutality is antiblack racism among members of mostly white police departments. Similar prejudices are thought to have played a role in police brutality committed against other historically oppressed or marginalized groups.

Whereas racism is thought to be a major cause of police brutality directed at African Americans and other ethnic groups, it is far from the only one. Other factors concern the unique institutional culture of urban police departments, which stresses group solidarity, loyalty, and a “show of force” approach to any perceived challenge to an officer’s authority. For rookie officers, acceptance, success, and promotion within the department depend upon adopting the attitudes, values, and practices of the group, which historically have been infused with antiblack racism.

Because African Americans have been the primary—though certainly not the only—target of police brutality in the United States, the remainder of this article will deal mainly with their experiences, both historically and in the present day.

The Great Migration

Interactions between African Americans and urban police departments were initially shaped by the Great Migration (1916–70) of African Americans from the rural South into urban areas of the North and West, especially following World War II. Most white communities, including white police departments, were unaccustomed to the presence of African Americans and reacted to their increasing numbers with fear and hostility, attitudes that were exacerbated by deeply ingrained racist stereotypes. Reflecting the beliefs of many whites, northern police departments acted upon the presumption that African Americans, and especially African American men, possessed an inherent tendency toward criminal behaviour, one that required constant surveillance of African Americans and restrictions on their movements (segregation) in the interests of white safety. Accordingly, by the mid-1950s many urban police departments had implicitly reconceived their missions as essentially that of policing African Americans—i.e., protecting whites against blacks.

The forms of police brutality to which this situation gave rise were variable and generally not limited to physical assault (e.g., beatings) and excessive use of force. They also included unlawful arrests, verbal abuse (e.g., racial slurs) and threats, sexual assaults against African American women, and police homicides (murders of civilians by police). Police were also sometimes complicit in drug dealing, prostitution, burglaries, protection schemes, and gun-smuggling within African American neighbourhoods.

Although police brutality against African Americans had become a serious problem in many urban areas by the mid-20th century, most whites remained unaware of it until about the mid-1960s, in large part because most large-city newspapers (whose readerships were primarily white) did not consider it newsworthy. In contrast, incidences of police brutality were regularly covered in the black press from the early 20th century, frequently in front-page articles. Likewise, local and national civil rights organizations collected thousands of affidavits and letters from African Americans documenting their direct experiences of police brutality.

Police brutality after World War II

For a variety of reasons, incidences of police brutality against African Americans became more frequent and more intense throughout the country in the decades following World War II. First, the victory of the forces of democracy in the war overseas created among African Americans expectations of greater freedom and democracy at home, especially as many of them had served in combat in the U.S. armed forces (albeit in racially segregated units). As black Americans began to assert their formal rights and liberties, demanding that they be respected by local governments, judiciaries, and law-enforcement agencies, their demands had the effect of reinforcing the tendency of white police officers to view themselves as protectors of white communities.

Second, the migration of rural whites to nearby cities in search of better economic opportunities encouraged police to view their own violence against African Americans as a more acceptable means of control than the mob hysteria that rural whites had been accustomed to and that urban spaces simply did not allow. In effect, police brutality replaced lynchings as a means of oppressing blacks. During this period, white supremacist and terrorist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens’ Council operated openly in Southern cities, where police brutality against African Americans was abetted by government and political leaders, district attorneys, and judges, among others.

Third, in other cities, especially in the North, the flight of whites to the suburbs and the natural growth of the African American population made African Americans more visible and allowed them to be more mobile within formerly white areas. Such demographic changes made African Americans as a group appear more threatening to white police officers and allowed the latter to more easily justify extralegal tactics as a means of controlling African Americans’ mobility and limiting their use of public spaces.

Fourth, beginning in the 1970s, African Americans who had joined local police forces in large numbers as a result of aggressive recruitment and affirmative action programs themselves committed serious acts of brutality against African American civilians, in part because they wished to be seen as “good cops” and to be otherwise accepted within their departments.

Finally, the escalation of urban crime rates in the 1970s and ’80s, including in predominantly African American and other minority neighbourhoods, strengthened the perception among white police officers and whites generally of African Americans as inherently criminal, a trend also reflected in a newly racially charged political and policy discourse, referred to by critics as the criminalization of the black poor and working class.

Police brutality and race riots

From the 1960s, police brutality was a catalyst for many of the race riots that took place in urban America, including the Watts Riots of 1965 and the Detroit Riot of 1967. In 1980 the Liberty City section of Miami erupted over the police killing of an unarmed African American man. During a period of three days, 18 people were killed and some 1,000 arrested, and more than $100 million in property damage was committed. Twelve years later the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers and their subsequent acquittal on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and excessive use of force triggered the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, still considered the worst race riots in American history. During a period of six days, more than 50 people were killed and more than 2,300 were injured, and property damage was estimated at about $1 billion.

HG: The History of Police Brutality, and What it Means for You

“The United States has a sordid history involving racial relations. Some of this history has been manifested in notable cases regarding police brutality. Given the dire historical context, police brutality may impact a defendant.

Police Brutality Defined

Police brutality is defined as the use of excessive physical assault or verbal assault during police procedures, such as apprehending or interrogating a suspect. Deadly force is not always excessive force. However, when deadly force exceeds the force that is necessary to create a safe environment, it is considered police brutality.

Media Attention

Media has played a pivotal role in informing communities of suspected instances of police brutality. Media attention often focuses on the disparate treatment by police based on the race of the suspect. For example, while white people may have represented more numeric deaths in police killings, blacks make up a disproportionate share of these deaths. While Caucasians represent about 63 percent of the United States population, blacks make up about 14 percent of the United States population. Nonetheless, in some years, blacks have accounted for more than a quarter of victims of police shootings despite the lower percentage of the total population they represent.

One notable case that received vast media attention was the Rodney King attack. The case which displayed video footage of police officers beating a black man in Los Angeles in 1991 became a continued topic of conversation and media attention for years.

Racial Stereotypes

Police brutality is sometimes motivated by racial stereotypes. Law enforcement officers may believe that blacks are more violent than others, and this image is often replicated in media. Law enforcement officers who are already concerned about their safety on the job may be even more anxious when confronting individuals who they prematurely perceive as violent or criminal. These stereotypes are rooted in the sordid history of enslavement, genocide and segregation.

Racial stereotypes are only part of the problem that leads to police brutality. Other factors include rampant discrimination and disparate treatment of certain minorities in the judicial system also lead to the misinformed belief that certain minorities are more likely to engage in criminal activity than others.

Historical theories have been made across centuries, beginning with theories regarding dominance based on color. This theory states that the dominant racial group minimizes police brutality because marginalized groups are more likely to experience this treatment rather than the dominant group. The dominant group may justify such behavior by believing that other groups deserved such treatment.


Historical Context

Police brutality has historically been perpetrated against individuals in lower socioeconomic levels and the social marginalized, commencing with worker strikes in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Police brutality was permitted against citizens who challenged big industries. Police brutality was used to oppress labor strikes. Also, police would brutalize working-class people and arrest them without cause. Police brutality was also a common occurrence during the civil rights era when activists would be sprayed down with water hoses and attacked by police dogs.

Lack of Consequences

While police officers who demonstrate excessive force may receive a negative review or face some consequences on the job, many fatal police altercations are ultimately ruled in favor of the law enforcement officer, allowing him or her to keep a job even if he or she killed an unarmed suspect or community member. Even in the Rodney King case, the officers were originally acquitted by an all-white jury. In repeated instances and even in the rare circumstance that a law enforcement officer is charged with criminal activity pertaining to police brutality, law enforcement officers continue to be acquitted or the jury deadlocks. The lack of consequences may contribute to undeterred instances of police brutality.

Avoiding Police Brutality

Individuals who are confronted by law enforcement may wish to be particularly careful, especially if they are a person in a group that has been historically marginalized. He or she may keep his or her hands on the wheel during a traffic stop and be polite. He or she may avoid sudden movements that may be perceived as threatening to a law enforcement officer, especially at night during a traffic stop. They may comply with requests without giving up their rights. They may also choose to listen to police instructions to prevent becoming a victim of police brutality.”

The Marshall Project: The Kerner Omission  

“During the summer of 1967, more than 150 cities erupted into violence, fueled by pent-up resentments in the cities’ black communities over police brutality and other forms of racial injustice. News networks broadcast the unrest around the country, and as the cities burned, many Americans watched in shock and horror.

President Lyndon B. Johnson responded by organizing a commission, comprised of lawmakers and law enforcement officials from around the country, to understand what caused the violence that left scores of people dead and caused millions of dollars in damages. The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders — more commonly known as the Kerner commission after its chairman, Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner, Jr. — released its recommendations on Feb. 29, 1968. Today, 50 years later, the commission’s findings, that “the nation is moving toward two societies, one black and one white — separate and unequal,” still ring true.

From left, Roy Wilkins, Gov. Otto Kerner of Illinois, and President Lyndon B. Johnson in July, 1967.

But just as the report laid bare the inequality experienced by black Americans in urban areas and attempted to paint police brutality as a main cause of the uprisings, the Johnson administration doubled down on a law-and-order agenda. The president, still expected to run for re-election later that year, was driven by the fear that white voters would not sympathize with the commission’s findings. Crime was rising in many cities, but the commission urged the federal government to invest heavily in programs aimed at improving the lives of the cities’ black populations.

What’s more, the violence provided the support lawmakers needed to shift from the War on Poverty to the War on Crime, which funneled millions of dollars of federal resources to local police departments and undermined local efforts to address the racialized policing practices that had set entire cities on fire. In the wake of the violence, two seperate and opposing movements formed. While the black community pushed for police reform alongside socioeconomic improvement, the federal government responded by equipping police with new tools to control violent expressions of civil unrest.

Some historians see the commission as a missed opportunity to broach a national conversation on the role of police in black communities. Still others point out an important insight into the nature of police brutality — that poverty and segregation can foster police violence. A closer look at both the Kerner commission’s findings and the ensuing fallout uncovers the tangled roots of protests in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, St. Paul, Minn., Baton Rouge, La., and Chicago in recent years.

On July 12, 1967, police officers in Newark, N.J., arrested a black cab driver named Sam Smith for tailgating and allegedly driving the wrong way down a one-way street. A bystander who witnessed the arrest told several civil rights leaders in the city that Smith had been assaulted by the police while being taken into custody. The community leaders visited Smith in jail, noted his injuries, and demanded he be transferred to a hospital.

The police granted the request, but word had already begun to spread through the black community that officers had brutalized Smith. Residents slowly gathered around the police station where Smith had been held. What began as a nonviolent gathering soon erupted into a riot.

Residents threw rocks, smashing the station’s windows. Officers unsuccessfully tried to disperse the swelling crowd. As the riot grew, some protestors lobbed Molotov cocktails, setting a car on fire, while others looted stores.

The violence enveloped the city, and local police were ineffective at quelling the rising chaos. Mayor Hugh Addonizio asked the governor to call in the National Guard.

By the afternoon, 3,000 National Guardsmen descended on the city, but the protests continued for several days.

When the uprising finally ended five days after Smith’s arrest, 26 people were dead, 750 were injured, and more than 1,000 had been thrown in jail.

A few days later, Detroit residents clashed with the city’s police during a raid of an after-hours club.

It began in the wee hours of July 23, 1967. It was a hot and humid night, and residents flocked to a party at the Blind Pig, an illegally-operated club on the corner of Clairmount Avenue and 12th Street in Detroit. The city’s vice squad raided the club, shutting it down, but patrons would not leave. Outside, residents gathered to watch the commotion. The police began slowly hauling clubgoers away, and by the time they placed the last one in the back of a squad car, a small crowd had gathered on the corner.

The crowd began throwing bottles, sending one crashing through the window of a police car. The commotion drew thousands out of their homes and into the streets, and by dawn a full-blown riot was underway. People set buildings on fire, fought with the police and firemen who responded to calls for backup, and looted storefronts. The riot swelled and spread until the city was enveloped in flames.

The rioting raged for five days, prompting Mayor Jerome P. Cavanaugh to call in the National Guard. When the ashes settled, 43 people were dead, thousands more were injured, and nearly 7,000 people were arrested. The 12th Street riot was one of the worst in U.S. history.

The riots in Newark and Detroit were not isolated incidents. Three years earlier, during the summer of 1964, black residents in Harlem, Chicago, Philadelphia and Jersey City, N.J., had taken to the streets to protest police brutality.

That same year, Lyndon B. Johnson ran a successful campaign for the presidency, declaring open war on poverty. But the riots threatened his vision for a Great Society defined by equal rights and opportunity. By 1965, Johnson had reworked his agenda, adding programs aimed at combating rising crime. One of the most notable shifts came in the form of the Law Enforcement Assistance Act, which Johnson signed into law in the fall of 1965.

“The Great Society we are striving to build cannot become a reality unless we strike at the roots of crime, and strike again until we have brought it under our control,” read Johnson’s statement following the signing of the bill.

The bill was signed against the backdrop of rising crime rates and increasing segregation in America’s cities. The riots accelerated the flight of white residents to the suburbs, just as the second Great Migration pushed more and more African-Americans into urban areas. The predominately white police forces in increasingly black cities further exacerbated racial tensions. By 1968, a public opinion poll found that 81 percent of the respondents believed law and order had broken down in America.

By the time the Kerner commission report landed on Johnson’s desk, the foundation for a renewed focus on suppressing violence had already been laid, and the Law Enforcement Assistance Act had given the federal government new influence over local police activities.

The Act established the Office of Law Enforcement Assistance, which later led to the Office of Justice Programs in the Department of Justice, and tasked it with funding the development of new crime control methods. For the first time, the federal government was directly involved in improving the quality of state and local law enforcement programs.

The first draft of the commission’s report was penned by a group of social scientists hired to synthesize weeks of hearings and scores of interviews with witnesses of the violence. But the commission balked at the scientists’ first draft, entitled, “The Harvest of American Racism.” It offered a searing indictment of white racism toward black Americans, implicating the police as both a symbol and enforcer of white power. The scientists asserted that racism was a direct cause of the violent rebellions and urged the federal government to take action to prevent more unrest.

The initial draft asserted that black Americans would no longer tolerate living as second-class citizens, declaring that, “a truly revolutionary spirit has begun to take hold,” that black Americans were unwilling “to compromise or wait any longer” and would rather “risk death than have their people continue in a subordinate status.”

But the bipartisan commission balked at the draft and compelled the scientists to tone down their findings before submitting a report to the president. They ordered the initial draft destroyed, and the second version put segregation and economic inequality at the center, shying away from the previous criticisms of the police. Today, the original draft rests in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., the word “DESTROY,” emblazoned across the front page.

“For all the criticisms of the police and the recommendations for change outlined in the report, they pale in comparison to the evidence that was actually produced,” said University of Oklahoma historian and author Steven M. Gillon. “The final document is a watered-down version of the evidence that had been collected in the field about the role the police played in creating the riots and responding in a way that made the situation worse.”

Gillon is the author of the forthcoming book, “Separate and Unequal: The Kerner Commission and the Unraveling of American Liberalism,” which explores the history of the commission. Gillon says the leaders Johnson appointed took issue with the scientists’ declaration that the police were poorly trained and that many in the black community no longer respected law enforcement.

Still, former Oklahoma Sen. Fred Harris, a Democrat and the last surviving member of the commission, said the members had a clear vision for addressing the fractured relationship between the police and the black community.

“We thought the police ought to look like the people they are dealing with,” he told The Marshall Project on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the report. “We were against the militarization of the police. We thought that tanks and automatic weapons had no place in urban areas. We thought the police ought to enforce the law on behalf of the community.”

“The police are not merely a spark factor. To some Negroes police have come to symbolize white power, white racism, and white repression. And the fact is that many police do reflect and express these white attitudes. The atmosphere of hostility and cynicism is reinforced by a widespread belief among Negroes in the existence of police brutality and the double standard of justice and protection — one for Negroes and one for whites.”

Report of The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders

But Johnson had another focus.

“Racialized policing was not on the agenda and not on the program,” said Heather Ann Thompson, a Pulitzer Prize winning historian and author, “Economic development, that was Lyndon Johnson’s hobby horse, so the commission becomes a game of political football around economic injustice.”

Thompson, who wrote a book detailing Detroit’s upheaval in the 1960’s and 70’s entitled, “Whose Detroit,” notes that the commission’s directives to invest in the black community were subsumed by Johnson’s focus on eliminating poverty and controlling crime. At the same time, in response to the violence, local leaders intensified their calls for police reform.

“The community was asking for community policing and other reforms, but simultaneously the federal government is advocating for more aggressive policing,” Thompson said.

Mayoral races in cities like Detroit, Philadelphia, Newark, and Cleveland, where the black population had grown weary of living in substandard conditions with ineffective policing, exemplified the push for reform. In the years following the riots, several black candidates made their way onto the ballots, thanks to the support of the cities’ black populations.

Many of the black mayoral candidates were calling for the integration of the police forces and civilian review boards to address complaints against the police. But success was mixed at best.

While Stokes’ suggestions were based largely on witnessing the injustices carried out by the police, his agenda gained credence from the 1966 Little Hoover Commission report. The commission, under the direction of Stokes’ predecessor, conducted an in-depth study of the city’s administration and recommended major changes to the police department. Ultimately, Stokes’ vision was undermined by internal scandals and the Glenville riot in 1968, which left three Cleveland policemen dead.

In Detroit and Philadelphia, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction, away from reform. Residents elected former law enforcement agents to govern the cities, a decision widely understood as a reaction to the summer of violent protest. Instead of reform, residents pushed for greater law and order. In Philadelphia, former police commissioner Frank Rizzo became mayor. And in Detroit, former Wayne County Sheriff Roman S. Gribbs beat the city’s first black candidate, Richard H. Austin.

Under Gribbs, the police department launched a controversial anti-crime unit called STRESS, short for Stop the Robberies – Enjoy Safe Streets, to quell the robberies and petty violence that had taken over many of Detroit’s black neighborhoods. The city’s black residents protested the new unit’s tactics, saying they were too aggressive. By the time Detroit’s first black Mayor, Coleman Young ended the STRESS program in 1974, officers had killed 20 civilians, the majority of whom were black.

Change progressed in fits and starts at the local level. While cities were divided over how best to respond to the riots and reform police departments, the biggest blow to meaningful improvement came from the federal government.

The Kerner commission had called for investment into urban areas to create new jobs, improve education, hasten integration, and improve housing conditions. Even though their suggestions aligned with the Great Society’s mission, Johnson was threatened by the findings, fearing that he would lose public support, especially from the white community who were reluctant to accept the role of racism in the riots. As crime rose, many saw stronger policing as the only way to address the violence. Johnson abruptly disbanded the commission and never publicly thanked its members for their work.

Johnson’s abandonment of the commission’s vision is perhaps most apparent in his signing of the Omnibus Crime Control Act of 1968, nearly six months after the Kerner commission submitted its report. The new law authorized $400 million in grants to states to provide new equipment and technical assistance to local police forces. It also built on the 1965 Law Enforcement Assistance Act, which had paved the way for increased federal involvement in local policing. The new law made the Office of Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, which was initially established under the 1965 act, permanent.

The federal government was now in the business of providing direct support to local police departments in the form of research, better weapons, and surveillance. Much of their work focused on understanding the social aspects of crime and preventing further riots.

“Under the new legislation, the federal government financially encouraged states to acquire surplus M-1 military carbines, army tanks, bulletproof vests, and walkie-talkies for local police by covering up to 90 percent of the costs of the riot prevention programs,” wrote Harvard historian Elizabeth Hinton in an journal article entitled “A War within our Own Boundaries.”

Hinton argues that Johnson’s Great Society programs coupled with his increasing focus on preventing violent uprisings in the black community, “laid the groundwork for contemporary mass incarceration.” What started as anti-poverty programs had morphed into programs to control violent crime.

The Kerner commission’s findings are widely hailed as one of the most insightful and enduring analyses of racial and economic inequality in America. But the commission’s recommendations were largely ignored. In their place, Johnson and his successor, Richard Nixon, emphasized tough-on-crime law enforcement policies that would sweep up millions of black Americans into the criminal justice system, further fracturing the relationship between the police and the people they are sworn to protect.

When residents of Ferguson took to the streets in 2014 after a police officer killed teenager Michael Brown, national media pointed back to the Kerner commission’s findings, noting that little had changed since 1968 with respect to economic inequality and police-community relations.

On the surface, the cause of the protests seemed clear. In many instances, protesters were responding to an incident of fatal police force, while the officers involved were either acquitted, not indicted or not charged. In contrast to the Kerner commission, investigations into the causes of the riots have tended to focus directly on the role of the police. In Ferguson, the Department of Justice concluded that years of racially biased police practices had created an atmosphere of tension and resentment between Ferguson’s black residents and the police force, which turned to rage and protest after Brown was killed. The department’s report on Ferguson’s police lays out a set of guidelines aimed at creating “meaningful and sustainable reform” within the department.

In response to the civil unrest, President Barack Obama convened the Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Just as Johnson had gathered the Kerner commission to find out the causes of the riots, Obama empowered his task force to gather community input on how to improve policing and mend the broken relationship between the police and the black community.

But unlike Kerner, Obama’s task force came back with a report that centers on reforms to police departments. There is little mention of the role of poverty and enduring economic inequality in creating crime and violence. For Malcolm Holmes, a sociologist at the University of Wyoming, whose work focuses on police brutality, the task force’s findings are understandable, but misguided.

“We talk about changes in policing — they are important, but I don’t think anything is going to change until we deal with these underlying issues of social inequality,” Holmes said.

Holmes argues that the Kerner commission’s findings actually provide a framework for ending police violence. His research shows that black people living in disadvantaged neighborhoods with high segregation are at the highest risk of police violence, and that it is the environment that puts residents at risk. In neighborhoods with high segregation and poverty, the police are more likely to use excessive force, which he interprets as a reaction to fear, prejudice against the black community, and past experiences with community violence. Holmes says it’s one of the reasons reforms focused on sensitivity and diversity haven’t been effective.

“You can’t put the police officers in a training seminar for a day and expect them to change their worldview,” he said. “It flies in the face of what they see on the job.”

Holmes’s theory helps to explain why the Justice Department found that police still unnecessarily used excessive force in Detroit in 2003 and in Newark in 2014 despite the fact that the departments had become increasingly diverse.

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In 2015, the Department of Justice released a resource guide for local law enforcement designed to help police departments across the country implement the recommendations outlined by Obama’s task force. The guidelines focus on steps departments can take to build trust and support, strengthen police oversight, promote officer safety, and make use of new crime-fighting technologies. But the the Justice Department under the Trump administration has backed away from the Obama-era reforms, and has routinely promoted its commitment to tough-on-crime policies.

For Harris, the author of a new book entitled, “Healing Our Divided Society: Investing in America 50 Years After the Kerner Report.” the original message of the commission is still just as important today as it was in 1968. It is racial and economic inequality, he insists, that drive both police violence and the subsequent community response.

“There is no way you can solve those problems with the police unless you get at these intertwined issues of race and poverty.”

Further Reading

Sage Pub: The History of the Police

Zinn Project Education: Sept. 14, 1941: Rally Against Police Brutality

Washington Area Spark: Shootings by DC Police Spark Fight Against Brutality 1936-41

The Hampton Institute: Coming Home to Roost: American Militarism, War Culture, and Police Brutality


Modern Policing Issues

Modern Policing Issues

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Militarized Police in Ferguson, Missouri after the Killing of Michael Brown

Table of Contents

Anti-Police Brutality = Anti-Police Myth
Criminalization, Police Brutality, and Over-policing of Communities of Color
Aggressive Dispersion Tactics Against Civil Rights Activists
Institutional Culture of Police Departments
Internal Investigations and Lack of Community Accountability
Police Unions
Gypsy Cops and Lack of Records
Stop and Frisk and Racial Profiling
Testilying (Police Perjury)
Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuse
The Militarization of the Police
White Supremacist Police Officers
Victim Blaming/Character Assassination
The Race Gap in America’s Police Departments

Anti-Police Brutality = Anti-Police Myth

“ It would be a mistake to say, as many people do in the current context, that “oh, if you’re against the police, then you’re against law and order. These are hard working civil servants putting their lives on the line for you every day. And, you know, that’s true. People who join the police do so to do these sorts of things. But, if you dismiss black complaints of mistreatment by police as being completely rooted in our modern context, then you’re missing the point completely. There has never been a period in our history where the law and order branch of the state has not operated against the freedoms, the liberties, the options, the choices that have been available for the black community, generally speaking. And to ignore that racial heritage, to ignore that historical context means that you can’t have an informed debate about the current state of blacks and police relationships today. ‘Cause this didn’t just appear out of nothing. This is the product of a centuries long historical process. And to not reckon with that is to shut off solutions.” Kevin Gannon, 13th

  • Multiple police orgs condemned Nike for featuring Colin Kaepernick
    • National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) calling for a boycott
      • While stating Kaepernick is a
        • “Shallow dilettante seeking to gain notoriety by disrespecting the flag for which so many Americans have fought and died”
  • National Black Police Association (NBPA) defended Kaepernick by saying,
    • “NAPO believes that Mr. Kaepernick’s choice to openly protest issues surrounding police brutality, racism and social injustices in this country makes him anti-police. On the contrary, the NBPA believes that Mr. Kaepernick’s stance is in direct alignment with what law enforcement stands for-the protection of a people, their human rights, their dignity, their safety, and their rights as American citizens. NAPO has shown an adeptness at maintaining the police status quo and the tone in their letter further validates Mr. Kaepernick’s concerns, as it undermines the trust that is needed by law enforcement in order for the profession to maintain its legitimacy. That NAPO has chosen this matter to take a stance, only perpetuates the narrative that police are racist, with no regard, acknowledgement, respect, or understanding of the issues and concerns of the African- American community.”

Ebony: Mr. Kaepernick

“Multiple police organizations have condemned Nike for featuring former San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick in its latest ad campaign. The National Fraternal Order of Police and the National Association of Police Organizations have both criticized the move, implying it was an insult to law enforcement officers.

The National Association of Police Organizations took it one step further, calling for a boycott of the brand while deeming Kaepernick a “shallow dilettante seeking to gain notoriety by disrespecting the flag for which so many Americans have fought and died,” in a letter written to Nike President and CEO, Mark Parker, which can be read in full here.

The National Black Police Association has now come to the athlete’s defense, saying he has a 1st amendment right to peacefully protest on the football field. They also reject the idea that Kaepernick is anti-police.

“Your inclusion of Mr. Kaepernick in your ads seems appropriate to us. We live in a country where the 1St Amendment is a right of the people. Mr. Kaepernick chose to exercise his right where his passion was on the football field,” NBPA Chairperson Sonia Y.W. Pruitt wrote in a letter to Parker. “NAPO believes that Mr. Kaepernick’s choice to openly protest issues surrounding police brutality, racism and social injustices in this country makes him anti-police. On the contrary, the NBPA believes that Mr. Kaepernick’s stance is in direct alignment with what law enforcement stands for-the protection of a people, their human rights, their dignity, their safety, and their rights as American citizens.”

Read the entirety of the NBPA’s letter below:

Mr. Parker:

It is with great dismay that we were made aware of a letter that you received from the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) regarding your use of Colin Kaepernick in your new “Just Do It” advertising campaign. The National Black Police Association (NBPA) is not in agreement with NAPO on this matter, and we strongly condemn their call for police officers and their families to boycott Nike and its products.

Your inclusion of Mr. Kaepernick in your ads seems appropriate to us. We live in a country where the 1St Amendment is a right of the people. Mr. Kaepernick chose to exercise his right where his passion was on the football field. NAPO believes that Mr. Kaepernick’s choice to openly protest issues surrounding police brutality, racism and social injustices in this country makes him anti-police. On the contrary, the NBPA believes that Mr. Kaepernick’s stance is in direct alignment with what law enforcement stands for-the protection of a people, their human rights, their dignity, their safety, and their rights as American citizens. NAPO has shown an adeptness at maintaining the police status quo and the tone in their letter further validates Mr. Kaepernick’s concerns, as it undermines the trust that is needed by law enforcement in order for the profession to maintain its legitimacy. That NAPO has chosen this matter to take a stance, only perpetuates the narrative that police are racist, with no regard, acknowledgement, respect, or understanding of the issues and concerns of the African- American community.

Your quote “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” is also appropriate as it relates to Mr. Kaepernick. For NAPO to presuppose that Mr. Kaepernick has not made sacrifices because he did not die on a battlefield, shows you just how out of touch NAPO is with the African-American community. We would like for them to stop their false narrative that you are not worthy of respect unless you were in the military or worked in law enforcement. The beauty of this country are the countless sacrifices that all people make in their everyday lives. The African?American community makes a sacrifice each time a life is unjustly lost at the hands of the very people who should protect them. A sacrifice is made each time the criminal justice system treats people of color as less than. A sacrifice is made each time a letter is sent asking officers to boycott a corporation, without asking those very African-American officers who are most affected, what their opinion is.

If they had asked the NBPA, we would have told them that they are out of line, and that the NBPA supports any person or group who exercises their right to peacefully protest against any form of social injustice, including police brutality and racism.

The NBPA proudly supports Nike and your use of Mr. Kaepernick in your new “Just Do It” advertising campaign. Truth and upholding the Constitutional rights of citizens, are cornerstones of leadership in policing. Our mission includes striving constantly to bridge the gap between law enforcement and our communities we are committed to ensuring equity for the community, as we work to enhance trust, legitimacy, transparency, and accountability in policing.

We will likely be buying and wearing lots of Nike products in the near future.

Best wishes,

Sonia Y.W. Pruitt

National Chairperson

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Further Readings

Hill: Buttigieg: ‘It is not anti-police to be pro-racial justice’

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Criminalization, Police Brutality, and Over-policing of Communities of Color

“A decades-long focus on policing minor crimes and activities – a practice called Broken Windows policing – has led to the criminalization and over-policing of communities of color and excessive force in otherwise harmless situations. In 2014, police killed at least 287 people who were involved in minor offenses and harmless activities like sleeping in parks, possessing drugs, looking “suspicious” or having a mental health crisis. These activities are often symptoms of underlying issues of drug addiction, homelessness, and mental illness which should be treated by healthcare professionals and social workers rather than the police.” Campaign Zero

  • Criminalization of black people
    • Legacy of colonialism, slavery, racism, white supremacy, Reconstruction, lynching era, Vagrancy laws, Jim Crow, etc
    • Perpetuated by media, education, dog whistle politics, implicit bias, systemic racism, white supremacy
      • Lack of accountability for police brutality
  • Broken Windows Policing
    • Over policing minor crimes and activities
      • Based on theory that visible signs of crime, anti-social behavior, civil disorder
        • create an urban environment that encourages serious crime and disorder
      • Leads to criminalization and excessive force in otherwise harmless situations
    • 2014, police killed 287 people involved in minor offenses/harmless activities
    • Often symptoms of drug addiction, homelessness, mental illness
      • Should be treated by healthcare professionals & social workers, not police
    • Following activities don’t threaten public safety but used to police black bodies
      • Consumption of Alcohol on Streets, Marijuana Possession, Disorderly Conduct, Trespassing, Loitering, Disturbing the Peace (including Loud Music), Spitting, Jaywalking, Bicycling on the Sidewalk

PBS: The Problem with “Broken Windows” Policing

For years, police in Newark, N.J. regularly handed out citations to residents for minor offenses.

Known as “blue summonses,” the citations were intended to curb crime in a city rife with violence. Officers who racked up high tallies were rewarded with better assignments and overtime, according to police and federal officials.

Ultimately, police and residents said, the practice damaged the Newark PD’s relationship with the minority community and did little to reduce crime. It also helped lead to federal intervention in the police department last year.

Newark’s blue summonses were rooted in the 1980s-era theory known as “Broken Windows,” which argues that maintaining order by policing low-level offenses can prevent more serious crimes.

But in cities where Broken Windows has taken root, there’s little evidence that it’s worked as intended. The theory has instead resulted in what critics say is aggressive over-policing of minority communities, which often creates more problems than it solves. Such practices can strain criminal justice systems, burden impoverished people with fines for minor offenses, and fracture the relationship between police and minorities. It can also lead to tragedy: In New York in 2014, Eric Garner died from a police chokehold after officers approached him for selling loose cigarettes on a street corner.

Today, Newark and other cities have been compelled to re-think their approach to policing. But there are few easy solutions, and no quick way to repair years of distrust between police and the communities they serve.

How Broken Windows Began

Although it was first practiced in New York City, the idea of Broken Windows originated across the river in Newark, during a study by criminologist George Kelling. He found that introducing foot patrols in the city improved the relationship between police and black residents, and reduced their fear of crime. Together with colleague James Wilson, he wrote an influential 1982 article in The Atlantic, where the pair used the analogy that a broken window, left unattended, would signal that no one cared and ultimately lead to more disorder and even crime.

Kelling has since said that the theory has often been misapplied. He said that he envisioned Broken Windows as a tactic in a broader effort in community policing. Officers should use their discretion to enforce public order laws much as police do during traffic stops, he said. So an officer might issue a warning to someone drinking in public, or talk to kids skateboarding in a park about finding another place to play. Summons and arrests are only one tool, he said.

Kelling told FRONTLINE that over the years, as he began to hear about chiefs around the country adopting Broken Windows as a broad policy, he thought two words: “Oh s–t.”

“You’re just asking for a whole lot of trouble,” Kelling said. “You don’t just say one day, ‘Go out and restore order.’ You train officers, you develop guidelines. Any officer who really wants to do order maintenance has to be able to answer satisfactorily the question, ‘Why do you decide to arrest one person who’s urinating in public and not arrest [another]?’ … And if you can’t answer that question, if you just say ‘Well, it’s common sense,’ you get very, very worried.”

“So yeah,” he said. “There’s been a lot of things done in the name of Broken Windows that I regret.”

The Crime Debate

In practice, Broken Windows has come to be synonymous with misdemeanor arrests and summonses. In New York, the largest city to implement the practice, between 2010 and 2015, police issued 1.8 million quality of life summonses for offenses like disorderly conduct, public urination, and drinking or possessing small amounts of marijuana. Felony crime rates, meanwhile, declined.

But a report released last week by the New York Police Department’s inspector general’s office found “no evidence” that the drop in felony crime during those six years was linked to the quality of life summonses or misdemeanor arrests, which also declined during that time.

“That’s basically what we’ve been finding for years — a lack of any evidence of an effect,” said Bernard Harcourt, a Columbia Law School professor who has conducted two major studies on the impact of Broken Windows in New York and other cities.

The NYPD, led by Police Commissioner William Bratton, an early supporter of Broken Windows, said in a statement that the inspector general’s study was “deeply flawed” because it only examined arrests and summonses, not the agency’s broader quality-of-life efforts. Kelling, who has used misdemeanor arrests to evaluate the theory, wouldn’t comment on the study, saying he’s still a consultant to the department.

Defining Disorder

Some policing experts say that Broken Windows is a flawed theory, in part because of the focus on disorder. Kelling argues that in order to determine how to police a community, residents should identify their top concerns, and police should — assuming those issues are legitimate — patrol accordingly.

But disorder doesn’t look the same to everyone, Harcourt said. “Definitions about what is orderly or disorderly or needs to be ticketed, etc., are often loaded — racially loaded, culturally loaded, politically loaded,” he said. He cited New York’s recent decision to crack down on subway performers, who are often young black men, as an example.

Giving police discretion to enforce public order laws, he added, “becomes extraordinarily problematic because of racial, ethnic and class-based biases, and including implicit biases” that can come into play.

Linking disorder and crime can also change the way officers perceive residents, by creating the assumption that those committing minor offenses may do something worse if they’re not sanctioned, said David Thacher, a criminologist and professor at the University of Michigan.

“Broken Windows frames trivial misbehavior as the beginning of something much more serious,” Thacher said. “And I worry that that encourages the police to see a broader and broader swath of the people they’re policing as bad guys.”

It can also lead police to use minor offenses inappropriately as a pretext to search for more serious contraband, like guns or drugs, he said.

Newark’s Blue Summonses

In Newark, police saw the effect of blue summonses on their community first-hand. James Stewart, president of Newark’s Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police union, told FRONTLINE that the frequent stops and citations made people mistrust the police, and much less likely to cooperate when officers were investigating serious crimes.

But, he added, because officers who racked up summonses were chosen for plum assignments, many felt they didn’t have much of a choice.

To boost their summonses numbers, residents said, officers often chose “convenient targets,” including the elderly, or those with mental illnesses or disabilities, according to a civil rights investigation by the Justice Department. Those cited also appeared to be disproportionately black or Latino.

“[I]f you were to look at the blue summonses… the vast majority of them are issued to people in their 50s or 60s or maybe even older,” Stewart said. “Are they really the group of people that are committing the violent crimes here in Newark? You know, I would think not. But in order to get more numbers, the cops go after these people.”

Ryan Haygood, an attorney and longtime Newark resident, argued that officers shouldn’t have to overstep the law to maintain order.

“I don’t see an inconsistency with respecting people’s constitutional rights and protecting public safety,” he told FRONTLINE. “In our area we do have neighbors who have been victimized in violent ways by crime. But it doesn’t mean that police officers can, in three out of four of the stops, violate people’s constitutional rights.”

Meanwhile, he added, the department’s efforts have done little to make the community safer. In its investigation, the Justice Department also questioned the practice’s impact on crime reduction.

What Comes Next

Is there a way to conduct order-focused policing in black and Latino communities — asking officers to deal with the kid skateboarding recklessly in the park, the guys loitering on the corner — without criminalizing the people who live there?

Activists with the Black Lives Matter movement say no. They’ve called for an end to enforcing — or at least criminalizing — minor offenses.

Policing experts don’t go that far. But most today, as well as the Justice Department and President Barack Obama’s task force on policing, recommend that police embrace a broader notion of community policing, which requires officers to get to know the people they serve and respond more directly to their needs. While it didn’t specifically address Broken Windows policing, the task force noted that police should adopt policies that emphasize community engagement and trust.

That’s already happening in a few places.

In New York this month, the city council passed a bill requiring police to establish written guidance on how officers should use their discretion to enforce certain quality-of-life offenses, such as littering and unreasonable noise. It also allows officers to issue civil summonses to avoid routing people through the criminal justice system for minor offenses.

Cities like Milwaukee, Philadelphia and New Haven, Conn. have introduced foot patrols, which can allow officers to engage more closely with residents.

Portland, Ore. and Seattle — both cities under a reform agreement with the Justice Department — have placed a renewed emphasis on community policing, including encouraging officers to conduct foot patrols. In Seattle, overall approval ratings for the police have risen, although they remain stagnant with African-Americans. Last year, an independent assessment in Portland found that overall, 70 percent of residents said they would be treated fairly by police, but that African-Americans in particular remained concerned about discrimination and excessive force.

In Newark, Mayor Ras Baraka told FRONTLINE that the police department will return to what he called “neighborhood policing.” As part of the mandated reform process, officers are being re-trained, and given more accountability.

The goal is to have officers “who know people’s grandmothers, who know the institutions of the community, who look at people as human beings, right?” Baraka said. “And so that’s the beginning of it. If you don’t look at the people you are policing as human, then you begin to treat them inhumanely.”

Further Reading

The New Yorker: The Other Side of “Broken Windows”

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Aggressive Dispersion Tactics Against Civil Rights Activists

  • Police attack non violent protestors with
    • Police dogs, fire hoses, clubs, mass arrests, pepper spray, tear gas
      • Tear gas is banned from warfare but commonly used against protestors

Standing Rock and occupy UC Davis protestors attacked by police

Standing Rock Sioux Pipeline Protestors

Since August of 2016, thousands of Native Americans and allies from across the country have converged to camp in and around the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota to oppose the construction of the multibillion-dollar Dakota Access oil pipeline. The pipeline, which would transfer crude oil to existing pipelines in Illinois, would come within a half-mile of the reservation and cross culturally significant ancestral sites. It would also run under the Missouri River, an important water source for the Standing Rock Sioux, which could be damaged if the pipeline were to erupt.  Since the protests have started, pipeline security personnel have attacked peaceful protesters with clubs, dogs, tasers, pepper spray, rubber bullets, pepper spray, and a water truck spraying protestors in below freezing temperatures giving 167 people hypothermia.

Dog Attacks Against Standing Rock Protestors

UC Davis Protestors Peppered Sprayed

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Institutional Culture of Police Departments

  • Group solidarity, loyalty, complicity
    • Blue Shield, blue wall of silence, blue code
      • Informal rule among police officers not to report on a colleague’s errors, misconducts, or crimes, including police brutality
      • Tied to acceptance, promotion, harassment, backup, etc
      • Makes it incredibly hard to investigate police brutality
    • “Show of force” to any challenge to officer authority
    • Us vs them
  • Many officers don’t participate in police brutality
    • But are complicit with it

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Abuse of Power: The Brotherhood

Becoming an Officer

Some experts say that people become police officers and firefighters because they seek the power and status of the job. Others say that recruits join because they have a desire to help people, but over time they become cynical and corrupted. Both the police and firefighting cultures instill a sense of entitlement to power and authority over the rest of society.

Police training especially is designed to strip the individual’s previous identity and “make” a police officer. The police uniform, badge and gun are universal symbols of power and authority. When the individual puts on the uniform, he assumes the authority that goes with it. He expects and commands obedience and respect from the public. Donning the uniform and wielding the power of the job contribute to what is known as the “police personality.” Some officers leave the police personality on the job, while others carry it everywhere, all the time.

Good vs Bad Guys

The police personality serves to insulate officers from the rest of society. It fosters an “us versus them” mentality. The cops are the good guys and everyone else is a potential bad guy. There is a constant power struggle between the good and bad guys. Police believe that societal order depends on the good guys winning — at any cost. When anyone challenges the police, the police defend their right to enforce control and authority. Officers must trust each other to provide assistance and back-up in their struggle to maintain control. They develop strong bonds of loyalty that ensure they will be there for each other.

The Brotherhood must be reliable in life and death situations. Cops — and firefighters — stick together.

Code of Silence

When an officer is in trouble on the job or in trouble with his wife or girlfriend at home, he counts on his buddies to cover for him. He gives them a story that explains why he “had to do” whatever he did. Whether or not they personally condone his behavior, they may rationalize his behavior, saying he was stressed out, under a lot of pressure, or quite simply, that he’s only human. They repeat his version of the story and they stick to that version. They put themselves on the line with their fellow officer. Whether testifying in court or smoothing things out at home, the rules are simple for them:

  • Say as little as possible.
  • Answer only the question asked.
  • Don’t give details.
  • Deny all accusations.
  • Say “I don’t remember, I didn’t see that, or I don’t know.”

Dangers of Whistle Blowing

  • New York City Police Officer Frank Serpico (1970)
    • Reported corruption within his department
    • Shot in the face by a suspect when he didn’t receive backup during a drug raid
  • Baltimore Cop Joseph Crystal (2001)
    • Witnessed an off-duty cop brutally beat a handcuffed suspect, a detective cover it up with a police report full of lies, and watched his sergeant approve the whole thing
    • Became of whistle blower
      • Labeled rat
      • Didn’t get back up in dangerous situations
      • Given the worst shifts
      • Left dead rat on windshield
      • Resigned due to harassment
      • Couldn’t find another police job anywhere
  • NYC Officer Adrian Schoolcraft (2008)
    • Recorded illegal expectation to meet quotas for stop-and-frisks and arrests or face punishment
    • Commanding officers instructed beat cops to neglect some robbery reports to manipulate crime statistics
      • Even intimidated crime victims who filed complaints.
    • Schoolcraft was forcibly held at the psych ward for six days.
      • He returned home to find that officers had removed paperwork detailing his grievances against the NYPD’s actions.
    • Only four cops from his precinct received internal disciplinary charges – none were fired or arrested.
  • Chicago Officers Shannon Spalding and Daniel Echeverria  (2012)
    • Went undercover to arrest fellow coprs shaking down drug dealers and pocketing the cash.
    • Harassed daily
    • Given dead-end assignments and supervisors instructed other officers in their unit to ignore their calls for backup
  • Officer Roberta Tasca (2015)
    • Stop a fellow cop who was assaulting an unarmed and non resistant teen
    • Rather than start an investigation into the excessive violence, which was caught on dash cam and in photos taken by the boy’s mother, the Bogota Police Department suspended Tasca and later fired her.

Dailynews: ‘If you snitch, your career is done’: Former Baltimore cop says he was harassed, labeled a ‘rat’ after attempt to root out police brutality

Before he became public enemy No. 1 inside the Baltimore Police Department, Det. Joseph Crystal was considered one of its rising stars.

The son of two NYPD cops, Crystal was put in charge of his police academy cadet class on day one.

He was promoted to detective before he reached his second year on the force.

And he went on to lead his violent crime unit in gun arrests, racking up high-profile collars that made the evening news.

For Crystal, rooting out crime in one of the most violent cities in the nation didn’t even feel like work.

“Being a cop was all I ever wanted to do,” he says. “A dream come true.”

But that dream turned into a nightmare four years ago when his brothers in blue turned on him – bombarding him with taunts and threats, refusing to come to his aid during drug busts and even leaving a dead rat on his windshield.

His crime? He reported a case of police brutality.

Crystal drew the ire of his department after coming forward to report the 2011 beating of a drug suspect by a fellow officer. Crystal’s subsequent trial testimony helped secure convictions against the cop who carried out the beating and the sergeant who helped facilitate it.

Crystal says the pattern of abuse that followed led him to resign from the job he loved.

“I never imagined that doing the right thing as a cop could cost me so much,” Crystal, 31, told the Daily News this week in his most extensive interview to date.

Crystal filed a federal lawsuit against the Baltimore Police Department three weeks ago, claiming it failed to protect him from retaliation after he blew the whistle on his fellow officers.

A department spokesman declined to address any aspect of Crystal’s case. “We don’t comment on pending litigation,” said Det. Ruganzu Howard. Crystal felt like he was on top of the world when he started working for the department in 2008. The New Jersey native had spent the last six years working for the Coast Guard. He graduated boot camp three days before the 9/11 attacks and then spent more than a week guarding the smoldering site.

The Coast Guard job fulfilled his sense of duty. But it wasn’t until he started working as a cop that Crystal felt like he had found his calling. He stood out from the start. Crystal was honored with the prestigious Police Commissioner’s Award upon graduating from the academy and was the first member of his class to make detective. “I was just so motivated,” Crystal said. “All I could think about was this was my shot. I’m going to do it right.”

That conviction would be tested on the night of Oct. 27, 2011. It was about 8 p.m. when Crystal, along with other members of his Violent Crime Impact Section, witnessed a suspected drug transaction on Baltimore’s east side. Upon seeing the cops, one of the men, identified as Antoine Green, threw his drugs to the ground and sprinted away. The officers gave chase but Green got away. Minutes later, a 911 call came in from a woman who reported a man kicked in the back door of her house.

Cops swooped in on the home and arrested Green. After arriving at the scene, Crystal learned that the home belonged to the girlfriend of a city cop named Anthony Williams, who he had never met. The off-duty Williams showed up after the suspect had already been cuffed and driven away in a police van. Crystal says he saw Williams have a quick conversation with Sgt. Marinos Gialamas. “I’ll take care of it,” Gialamas told Williams, according to Green.

Moments later, the police van returned and Green was led back into the home.

“I was thinking to myself, ‘What the hell?'” Crystal said. “I was baffled.”

Crystal testified that Williams dragged Green into the back of the house where he began beating the handcuffed suspect. “I can hear the assault,” Crystal said. “I hear the banging. I hear the guy hit the floor. “A couple minutes later, they bring the guy out,” Crystal added. “His shirt’s ripped. He’s having trouble standing. Later on, I found out his ankle was broken. It was obvious not just to any cop but to any person that saw it what had just transpired.”

The battered Green was led back into the police van and driven away.

“It was wrong what happened,” Crystal said. “I felt sick about it.”

That night, Crystal called his parents and told them what happened. The two former cops didn’t mince words. “You know what you’re going to have to do,” his mother, Madeline, told him. “Once you lose your integrity,” said his father, Robert, “it’s gone.”

Crystal didn’t hesitate. He called his sergeant and explained what happened.

Crystal said his superior took the opposite stance from his parents. “If you snitch, your career is done,” Crystal recalled him saying. “Nobody’s going to work with you.”

The young detective couldn’t believe what he was hearing. But it didn’t stop him from reporting the beatdown to prosecutors.

Somehow, word got out immediately. Days after his meeting with prosecutors, Crystal said, a sergeant called him “a snitch” and left a hand-drawn picture of a rat and cheese on his desk. “I’m not a sensitive guy,” Crystal said. “It didn’t necessarily bother me right away. I said to myself, ‘If this is the worst that happens, I can live with it.’ But from there, it snowballed.” The guys in his unit refused to ride with him. To his face and behind his back, officers called him a rat and a snitch.

“People don’t like you, and you need to watch your back,” one officer told Crystal, according to his lawsuit. The harassment escalated after Gialamas and Williams were criminally charged in the assault in Oct. 2012, according to Crystal’s lawsuit.

Out of the blue, a sergeant called him and said: “You better pray to God that you’re not the star witness,” Crystal recalled. Now officers were no longer backing him up on the streets. On two separate occasions, Crystal said, he called for backup while pursuing drug suspects but nobody showed up.

The second time it happened, Crystal was in the process of arresting a suspected drug dealer and buyer. Suddenly, his supervisor called his cell phone and “gave him a direct order to return to the district and that he would not be given backup,” the lawsuit says.

Crystal had no choice but to let the suspects go. “Nobody wants to ride with you,” a detective later told him, according to the suit. Around the same time, Crystal was told he was being demoted back to patrol. And his security clearance was inexplicably revoked, forcing him to stop working on an assignment with the FBI.

Instead of going after drug kingpins and gun traffickers, he was put on a midnight-shift burglary detail. “It was like being kicked in the gut,” Crystal said. “I was shooting through this place with a rocket strapped to my back. Now, because of doing the right thing, doors are slamming.” Still, nothing could have prepared Crystal for what happened the day after Thanksgiving 2012. He and his wife returned home to find a dead rat on the windshield of his car. As sickening a sight as it was, Crystal was more bothered by the message behind it: We know where you live.

“I was trying to be strong for my wife because she was hysterical,” Crystal said.

Crystal said he sought help from his union, but an official told him his best option was to find a different department. By that time, Crystal and his wife had moved in with her parents out of fear of retaliation. “It was like I was a cop going into the witness protection program,” Crystal said. The trial over Green’s assault got underway in Feb. 2014. Crystal testified against both Williams and Gialamas. By that point, he had nothing to lose.

A Baltimore jury found Williams guilty of assault and obstruction of justice and Gialamas guilty of misconduct. Williams was sentenced to 45 days behind bars. Gialamas received probation. Both men are no longer working for the department, a spokesman said.

“This case was very troubling to this court,” a Baltimore judge M. Brooke Murdock said before handing down the sentence to Williams. “The community has a right to expect the police will respect the law.”

Crystal had hoped the end of the trial would mark the end of the abuse. He was wrong.

Somebody made a fake Twitter account in his name and started tweeting reporters that he was cheating on his wife. He was bounced around to different patrols and made to feel like a “leper.” And an internal investigation that Baltimore Police Chief Anthony Batts promised would “get to the bottom of what happened to him” went nowhere, Crystal said.

Beaten down by the abuse, he resigned from the force in August. The suit Crystal filed on Dec. 22 seeks at least $2.5 million and names the department, Chief Batts and his former supervisor Sgt. Robert Amador. “It seems to me that the Baltimore Police Department and any police department across the country needs individuals like Joe Crystal,” said his lawyer, Don Discepolo. “He did stand up for what he thought was right and he was persecuted for it.” Crystal and his wife now live in Florida where he’s working as an officer with the Walton County Sheriff’s Office.

Crystal understands that some might draw parallels between his case and the coordinated displays of disrespect shown to Mayor de Blasio by NYPD officers at the funerals of slain cops Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. But Crystal doesn’t see a connection. “I see people here as they’re hurting and upset right now at the loss of two of their own,” Crystal said. “I saw what happened to me as somewhere along the line we lost our way. “What I saw was criminal. What I see here is an emotion,” Crystal added. “And those are two very different things.” He tried for months to get a law enforcement job near Maryland but found no takers. “Looking back, I still can’t fathom what happened,” Crystal said. “How do you honestly expect people to have faith, to trust the cops, when they let this happen?”

Further Readings

Ranker: Real Cops Who Stood Up To Corruption In Their Departments (And What Happened To Them)

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Internal Investigations and Lack of Community Accountability

  • Difficulties with prosecution
    • Local prosecutors have to work with cops all the time
      • Makes it extremely difficult for them to prosecute cops
      • Local prosecutors rely on local police departments to gather the evidence and testimony they need to successfully prosecute criminals.
        • Cops most often don’t cooperative
    • Police officers get a presumption of innocence
      • Juries are bias, Judges throw out cases, grand juries throw out cases
    • No public transparency
      • On how to file a complaint
      • Internal investigations
    • Intimidation
      • Cops often intimidate and obstruct anyone trying to make a complaint

Campaign Zero Policy Changes to End Police Violence

2.  Community Oversight

Police usually investigate and decide what, if any, consequences their fellow officers should face in cases of police misconduct. Under this system, fewer than 1 in every 12 complaints of police misconduct nationwide results in some kind of disciplinary action against the officer(s) responsible. Communities need an urgent way to ensure police officers are held accountable for police violence.

Policy Solutions

Establish effective civilian oversight structures

Establish an all-civilian oversight structure with discipline power that includes a Police Commission and Civilian Complaints Office with the following powers:

The Police Commission should:

  • determine policy for the police department based on community input and expertise
  • share policy and policy changes in publicly accessible formats
  • discipline and dismiss police officers
  • hold public disciplinary hearings
  • select the candidates for Police Chief, to be hired by the Mayor
  • evaluate and fire the Police Chief, if needed
  • receive full-time, competitive salaries for all members
  • receive regular training on policing and civil rights
  • not have current, former or family of police officers as members
  • select its members from candidates offered by community organizations

The Civilian Complaints Office should:

  • receive, investigate and resolve all civilian complaints against police in 120 days
  • establish multiple in-person and online ways to submit, view and discuss complaints
  • be immediately notified and required to send an investigator to the scene of a police shooting or in-custody death
  • be allowed to interrogate officers less than 48 hours after an incident where deadly force is used
  • access crime scenes, subpoena witnesses and files with penalties for non-compliance
  • make disciplinary and policy recommendations to the Police Chief
  • compel the Police Chief to explain why he/she has not followed a recommendation
  • have the Police Commission decide cases where the Police Chief does not follow recommendations
  • issue public quarterly reports analyzing complaints, demographics of complainants, status and findings of investigations and actions taken as a result
  • be housed in a separate location from the police department
  • be funded at an amount no less than 5% of the total police department budget
  • have at least 1 investigator for every 70 police officers or 4 investigators at all times,whichever is greater
  • have its Director selected from candidates offered by community organizations
  • not have current, former or family of police officers on staff, including the Director

(Ex: San Francisco Charter Policies on Police Commission and Office of Citizen Complaints)

Remove barriers to reporting police misconduct

For all stops by a police officer, require officers to give civilians their name, badge number, reason for the stop and a card with instructions for filing a complaint to the civilian oversight structure.

Police Accountability: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

HuffPost: Here’s What Happens When You Complain To Cops About Cops

The internal affairs division usually decides the officer did nothing wrong.

When I set foot inside a McDonald’s in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson on Aug. 13, 2014, I had never been arrested and I’d never had a real complaint about police behavior. So when a St. Louis County officer forcefully arrested me, slammed my head against a door as he escorted me out of the restaurant (and sarcastically apologized for it), and ignored my repeated requests for his name or badge number, I honestly expected that he’d be held accountable for his actions.

My arrest, and that of The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery at the same time, dramatically increased attention on the flawed and unconstitutional tactics used by police in Ferguson following the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Then-Attorney General Eric Holder said journalists shouldn’t be “harassed“ while covering a story, and President Barack Obama said police “should not be bullying or arresting journalists.”

I wasn’t naive. I knew police officers are rarely punished. And what happened to me hardly compared to the abuses I witnessed inflicted upon people who didn’t have the benefit of a national media platform. But surely, I thought, the St. Louis County Police Department would take such high-profile misconduct seriously.

With that in mind, and at the suggestion of a St. Louis County Police Department spokesman, I filed a complaint with the department’s internal affairs office about a week after my arrest.

Going to internal affairs, otherwise known as the Bureau of Professional Standards, seemed like the logical step. I was most interested in the name of the officer who arrested me and an apology, both of which I anticipated receiving within 90 days, the time frame in which St. Louis County aims to process citizen complaints.

Today, more than a year later, Wesley and I are facing charges. Like other Americans who file complaints with internal affairs departments, I found there is little transparency about what happens when a citizen files a complaint and lots of uncertainty about the outcome. There are no national or state standards governing the internal affairs process. Complaint procedures can seem — and often explicitly are — designed to protect cops rather than fairly adjudicate citizen complaints. Most people who go through the process don’t get an apology, let alone accountability. And in some places — including St. Louis County, where I was arrested — citizens’ faith in police is so damaged that many don’t bother filing complaints in the first place.

The roughly 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies operating across the United States employ more than 1.1 million people, the vast majority of whom are sworn officers. Most of those agencies have some process allowing citizens to file complaints against those officers.

But “there’s really no good research on internal affairs units, which is amazing,” said Samuel Walker, a nationally recognized expert on policing who has worked with departments across the country. “Do they report directly to the chief? How are they selected? How many investigators do they have, given the size of the department? There’s a really critical void in our understanding of what they do, what kinds of training they get.”

The country is in a “total fog of ignorance” when it comes to how internal affairs divisions work, Walker said, and that adds to the “deep distrust” that some people have in the police. “They see officers they know have engaged in excessive force and so on, and they see them still on the force and not disciplined,” Walker said.

There’s a lot of variation in how departments around the U.S. handle complaints. “From the agencies I’ve worked with, I’ve never seen any two that look very much alike,” said George Fachner, a research scientist at the CNA Corporation who has studied police policies on use of force and misconduct. “There’s really no general practice, other than the fact that agencies tend to have an internal affairs unit and they tend to investigate officers for misconduct. Once you get past that, you’re going in a lot of different directions.”

The country is in a “total fog of ignorance” when it comes to how internal affairs departments work.

In New York City, which has some 34,500 uniformed officers, the independent Civilian Complaint Review Board issues monthly reports on how many complaints it receives, how long the investigations take, and what percentage are found credible. In small police departments with only a handful of officers, police chiefs investigate and decide whether punishment is appropriate.

Some police departments have internal affairs divisions that work alongside civilian review boards, others have civilian review boards that serve as a check on the activity of the internal affairs division, and still others have oversight groups that operate independently of the police. Some civilian review systems use civilian volunteers; others have full-time professionals.

Even basic statistics on the number of complaints against police are hard to come by. A federal survey found that just 8 percent of the use-of-force complaints received by large state and local law enforcement agencies in 2002 were deemed credible — they were “sustained,” in cop lingo. Most experts who have studied internal affairs think that rate is much lower than it would be if the process weren’t in many ways designed to protect officers.

“It’s a horrible, horrible situation we’ve got ourselves in, where it’s always the police officer who is telling the truth — because we know that isn’t true,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a University of South Carolina professor who co-wrote a book on police accountability systems with Jeff Noble, a former deputy police chief. “So many of these things we’ve seen on video lately … you read the report and that’s not what the video shows.”

“It’s a horrible, horrible situation we’ve got ourselves in, where it’s always the police officer who is telling the truth — because we know that isn’t true.” Geoffrey Alpert

Even basic assumptions about police disciplinary systems — that citizen oversight results in more accountability, for example — arise more out of anecdotal evidence and conventional wisdom than any type of formal study. Federal investigations into police departments suggest that when a law enforcement agency has problems, failures in the internal affairs process usually play a role.

The Ferguson Police Department, for example, lacked “any meaningful system for holding officers accountable when they violate law or policy,” actively discouraged citizens from filing complaints, and assumed officers were telling the truth and complainants were not “even where objective evidence indicates that the reverse is true,” according to a U.S. Department of Justice investigation. In Cleveland, where just 51 officers from a force of 1,500 were disciplined “in any fashion in connection with a use of force incident” over 3.5 years, those investigating the use of force admitted to DOJ that they conducted their inquiries with the “goal of casting the accused officer in the most positive light possible.” The Albuquerque Police Department failed to “implement an objective and rigorous internal accountability system,” according to a DOJ report. In New Orleans, just 5.5 percent of civilian complaints were sustained by a team that had no special training in internal affairs, another federal investigation found. In Newark, New Jersey, barely 5 percent of civilian complaints were sustained between 2010 and 2012, according to a DOJ report. Investigators in Newark “routinely failed to probe officers’ accounts or assess officer credibility.” They gave weight to the criminal history of complainants but discounted the disciplinary history of officers, including one officer with 40 use-of-force incidents over six years, the federal investigators found.

 The federal study of citizen complaints pointed to the influence of police unions as one factor: Complaints were sustained 15 percent of the time at law enforcement agencies that had to collectively bargain with employees, more than twice the 7 percent rate at agencies that didn’t collectively bargain.

Ultimately, the strength of an internal affairs process depends on the person in charge, experts say.

“It really comes down to whether a police chief wants to do the right thing. In some jurisdictions, not so much. In other jurisdictions, people are real standouts,” said Jeff Noble, the former deputy chief of the Irvine Police Department in California who has written extensively on police misconduct, including the book with Alpert.

“It really comes down to whether a police chief wants to do the right thing.” Jeff Noble

One major hurdle for police accountability is that citizens often don’t bother to file complaints because they don’t think their concerns would be taken seriously. There is little motivation for police departments to encourage civilians to complain, experts say, and many internal affairs officers either implicitly or explicitly make it difficult for citizens to air their grievances.

In 2013, the year before the unrest in Ferguson, the St. Louis County Police Bureau of Professional Standards received 69 citizen complaints, about the same number it had received in prior years. Officials reported that number as an accomplishment, citing the gap between the number of complaints and the numbers of arrests (more than 26,000) and citizen contacts (more than 1.6 million) as proof that police personnel “continue serving the community in a very professional manner” and the agency “has continued to take positive measures to reduce and eliminate citizen complaints.”

By that logic, 2014 — the year that St. Louis County Police led the initial law enforcement response to the unrest in Ferguson — was a fantastic success for the agency: Only 26 citizens filed complaints, a stunning 62 percent drop from the previous year. Given the extraordinarily controversial — and unconstitutional — tactics deployed by police officers during the Ferguson protests, it’s unlikely those figures mean anything at all.

St. Louis County Police reported receiving just a single formal complaint about officer behavior during the protests of August 2014. An after-action report pointed to two factors for that: It was “difficult or impossible to lodge complaints,” and there was “a lack of confidence” in the complaint process. But even the low number of citizen complaints received in the years before the Ferguson protests — 64 in 2012 and 69 in 2013 — is nothing to brag about, experts say.

“I would be suspicious of those numbers,” Noble said. “That’s just too many officers, 800 officers — you’re only getting 60 complaints? The first thing I would want to look at is their complaint policy. What are they required to accept as a complaint? Who is required to accept it?”

Noble said he once worked with a city police department that had close to 2,000 officers. That agency claimed it received only 30 complaints over the course of a year, less than half the number of complaints typically received in a year by his former department in Irvine, which had a force of just 200.

“I mean, that’s just laughable. It’s absurd. What it tells me is that they’re not classifying everything as a complaint, they’re not accepting, they’re discouraging,” Noble said.

One federal survey found that among individuals who reported having force used against them or being threatened with force in 2008, 84 percent felt that police had acted improperly, but only 14 percent of that group actually filed a complaint.

“If you don’t get many complaints at a department, that might mean that, yes, the department is very good, officers are performing well,” said Walker, the policing expert. “But it could also mean that trust in the complaint process is so deep that nobody bothers to complain.”

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar wrote that the department lacked “conclusive facts” to take action in this reporter’s case.

The first sign that my complaint to the St. Louis County Police Department might not be taken seriously came just after I’d finished filling out the complaint form. I told the official who accepted my complaint at the Office of Professional Standards that while the officer in question had refused to identify himself, I had photos of him on my iPhone. I had already tweeted the photos, but I assumed they would want to pull the images from my device or have me send the original files via email. But the office wasn’t going to make it easy. Instead, I was told I’d have to turn in printed copies. So I pulled out my phone, mapped the route to the nearest copy center, walked there to print out the photos and then walked back to drop them off.

An initial letter acknowledging my complaint was followed by months of silence. The department failed to meet its goal of responding within 90 days. Six months passed, then eight, then 10. In the meantime, several public records requests failed to unearth the name of the officer who arrested me.

A few months ago, I confirmed his name — Michael McCann — after it came up in a lawsuit filed against the police by other people he’d arrested. With a bit of digging, I learned that McCann had previously been suspended without pay by the St. Louis County Police after he allegedly crashed his patrol car through a fence in a residential neighborhood and fled the scene.

In June, more than 10 months after my arrest, I received a letter from St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar. In the letter, which was carefully vetted by St. Louis County lawyers, Belmar wrote that a “very thorough investigation” had produced “conflicting versions of what occurred.”

McCann had denied slamming my head against the door, and Belmar’s internal affairs team claimed that the McDonald’s security footage did not definitively show what had happened. So Belmar — “based on the absence of conclusive facts” — had ordered the investigation closed.

“I would, however, like to thank you for bringing this matter to my attention,” he wrote. A recent independent assessment of Belmar’s department found a “pattern of light discipline in investigations involving ethical failings and untruthfulness.”

In August, a few weeks after I was charged, the St. Louis County Police Department promoted Michael McCann to sergeant.

What Happens When You Try to File a Complaint Against a Police Officer

Baltimore Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby Closing Remarks on the Freddie Grey Murder Case

“25-year-old Freddie Gray died from a spinal cord injury he suffered in police custody. Police Commissioner Anthony Batts suspended six officers involved in Gray’s arrest and transport. Two officers had arrested Gray in West Baltimore without probable cause, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby later concluded. Cell phone video footage captured the officers dragging Gray into a police van. The department admitted that officers did not put a seatbelt on him, and the medical examiner said that Gray got hurt badly during the ride in the wagon. Beyond that, the specific facts surrounding Gray’s death remained a mystery. There were many questions, but, as happens so often in cases of possible police misconduct, no officer was talking.” Buzzfeed

Marilyn Mosby Full Statement

Vox: Why even Jon Stewart couldn’t joke about the Eric Garner case

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Police Unions

Campaign Zero Policy Changes to End Police Violence

10. Fair Police Union Contracts

Police unions have used their influence to establish unfair protections for police officers in their contracts with local, state and federal government and in statewide Law Enforcement Officers’ Bills of Rights. These provisions create one set of rules for police and another for civilians, and make it difficult for Police Chiefs or civilian oversight structures to punish police officers who are unfit to serve. Learn more about how police union contracts help officers avoid accountability here.

Policy Solutions

Remove barriers to effective misconduct investigations and civilian oversight

Remove contract provisions, local policies, and provisions in state Law Enforcement Officers’ Bills of Rights laws that:

  • allow officers to wait 48 hours or more before being interrogated after an incident
  • prevent investigators from pursuing other cases of misconduct revealed during an investigation
  • prevent an officer’s name or picture from being released to the public
  • prohibit civilians from having the power to discipline, subpoena or interrogate police officers
  • state that the Police Chief has the sole authority to discipline police officers
  • enable officers to appeal a disciplinary decision to a hearing board of other police officers
  • enable officers to use the contract grievance process to have an outside arbitrator reverse disciplinary decisions and reinstate officers who have committed misconduct
  • prevent an officer from being investigated for an incident that happened 100 or more days prior
  • allow an officer to choose not to take a lie detector test without being punished, require the civilian who is accusing that officer of misconduct to pass a lie detector first, or prevent the officer’s test results from being considered as evidence of misconduct

Keep officers’ disciplinary history accessible to police departments and the public

Remove contract provisions, local and state policies, and provisions in state Law Enforcement Officers’ Bills of Rights laws that allow police officers to:

  • expunge or destroy records of past misconduct (both sustained and unsustained) from their disciplinary file
  • prevent their disciplinary records from being released to the public via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request

Ensure financial accountability for officers and police departments that kill or seriously injure civilians

Remove contract provisions, local policies, and provisions in state Law Enforcement Officers’ Bills of Rights laws that:

  • require officers to be given paid administrative leave or paid desk-duty during an investigation following a police shooting or other use of deadly force
  • prevent officers from receiving unpaid suspensions as discipline for misconduct or allow officers to use vacation or discretionary time to pay themselves while on suspension
  • allow officers to receive paid leave or paid desk-duty after being charged with a felony offense

Campaign Zero reviewed the police union contracts in 81 of the largest U.S. cities. 72 of the 81 cities’ contracts imposed at least one barrier to holding police accountable. Learn more at CheckthePolice.org.

                                                                                                      Visit CheckthePolice.org to Learn More

“In big cities, where police unions have political clout, rigid union contracts restricted the ability of police chiefs and civilian oversight bodies to tackle misconduct. As a result, an officer involved in a shooting often cannot be interviewed at the scene; internal affairs investigators have to wait days to get a statement.”

— Jonathan Smith, former senior litigator, DOJ Civil Rights Division

HOW POLICE UNION CONTRACTS BLOCK ACCOUNTABILITY

  1. Disqualifying misconduct complaints that are submitted too many days after an incident occurs or if an investigation takes too long to complete
  2. Preventing police officers from being interrogated immediately after being involved in an incident or otherwise restricting how, when, or where they can be interrogated
  3. Giving officers access to information that civilians do not get prior to being interrogated
  4. Requiring cities to pay costs related to police misconduct including by giving officers paid leave while under investigation, paying legal fees, and/or the cost of settlements
  5. Preventing information on past misconduct investigations from being recorded or retained in an officer’s personnel file
  6. Limiting disciplinary consequences for officers or limiting the capacity of civilian oversight structures and/or the media to hold police accountable.

 Visit CheckthePolice.org to Learn More

Learn More About This Issue

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Gypsy Cops and Lack of Records

John Oliver: Police Accountability

  • Lack of records
    • US highly decentralized and fragmented system of law enforcement
      • With around 17,000 law enforcement agencies
      • Regulated separately in the 50 states,
      • There is no national database of dismissed officers
    • Many departments purge police discipline records every few years or less
    • No national registry for police shootings
  • Gypsy cop
    • Police officer who frequently transfers between police departments, often because of or regardless of misconduct or poor or unsuitable job performance
    • Many officers will resign before any investigation
      • Which often stops the investigations
      • And allows the officer to get another job at another department
    • Gypsy cop killed Tamir Rice

Wikipedia: Gypsy Cops

In law enforcement in the United States, the phrase gypsy cop is slang for a police officer who frequently transfers between police departments, often because of or regardless of misconduct or poor or unsuitable job performance.[1][2][3][4][5][6]

History of the term

The phrase entered public parlance after the infamous Tulia drug stings, where itinerant lawman Tom Coleman allegedly set up innocent people, most of them black, as part of a long-term undercover operation. Several other high-profile cases in states including those in Texas and Alaska involved officers who served with adversity in close to 20 agencies in 15 years or less, yet they continued to evade administrative action as they went from agency to agency, sometimes serving as little as 30 days at one department, despite blatant misconduct and compelling signs of unsuitability to serve as peace officers. Police chiefs, sheriffs and other law enforcement agency heads often privately jokingly refer to the practice of giving a bad or problem officer a good recommendation to get rid of him or her quietly and with no litigation, as “pass the trash”.

The term comes from the Romani people (popularly known as “Gypsies“), who are stereotypically said to always be travelling and thus never get to settle down in a local community, just like how a gypsy cop never gets to stay at any given police department for long. Some dictionaries recommend against using the word gypsy as a modifier with negative connotations, because such use could be considered a slur against the Romani people.[7][8][9][10][11][12]

Hiring process

Some smaller agencies often have an easier and rapid hiring process, involving only a brief interview with the mayor or chief and then a limited background investigation (fingerprint and criminal record checks), drug screen test, and physical exam. Some sheriff’s offices, rural and even larger, may bypass some of those steps, as deputies are political appointees, who serve “at the will and pleasure of the elected Sheriff.” The hiring process can vary greatly between jurisdictions, due to a variety of factors including budgetary constraints, the availability of existing staff, the experience of existing staff with interviewing techniques, and the number of candidates who respond to advertised positions.

On the other hand, major municipal, state and federal law enforcement agencies may have a competitive waiting list for applicants, in a lengthy and arduous hiring process that requires a written aptitude examination with a minimum score to be obtained, in order to proceed with the hiring steps. The test may only be given only a few times a year. These types of a hiring process can take 6–12 months, and can disqualify a candidate at any step in the process for cause. This may include a credit history check, an exhaustive criminal and personal background check going back to age 16, psychological screening testing, polygraph exam, physical strength and agility testing and a comprehensive interview panel.

In some cases, even already certified peace officers are required to redo basic law-enforcement recruit academy training, either partly or in full, followed by a 3-6 month field-training program, with a certified, veteran field training officer and a 12-month at-will probationary employment period, which can result in termination for any or no reason. Officers with a history of moving from agency to agency, especially in short or frequent intervals, are closely scrutinized and often rejected as applicants in larger agencies for the very reason of moving around too much, which can be an indicator of a lack of stable work history. Inversely, some smaller agencies in affluent communities may be more difficult to obtain employment with and may experience very little turnover.

Causes

Fragmentation

The United States has a highly decentralized and fragmented system of law enforcement, with around 17,000 law enforcement agencies, and is regulated separately in the 50 states, plus US territories, the federal and local level as well. Hiring and disciplinary standards vary greatly between police departments, the majority of which are small in size. There is no national database of dismissed officers, who may or may not be de-certified to practice law enforcement by their jurisdictional regulatory agency, often called POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) agencies, or by a similar agency. Some states have established a state-level database or taken other administrative measures to try to prevent dismissed officers from being rehired, but these databases are not centralized, nor do they have uniform prerequisites. The large population and land area of the country makes it further harder to notice these cases; an officer may have moved hundreds of miles away to join another agency and the new agency would be unlikely to have learned of the case in the media.

Incentives for hiring unsuitable staff

Gypsy cops usually move from agency to agency as lateral transfers, or law enforcement officers that have already been trained and certified. Lateral transfers are often preferred over new recruits as the hiring process is simplified. Some smaller agencies knowingly hire gypsy cops because they have difficulty in recruiting suitable officers. This may be due to having a smaller population to recruit from, lower pay, limited training and growth potential, less exciting police activity and even less prestige. The vacancy of even one officer in a small agency of 5-10 officers or less can create substantial hardships on an agency that must provide 24-hour coverage to the community it serves. These agencies have a great incentive to fill the vacancy quickly, even if it means hiring someone unsuitable.[13]

Incentives for concealing a misconduct dismissal

Problem officers are often allowed to resign in seemingly good standing and then go to another unsuspecting agency with a good recommendation from a previous chief or sheriff, who is eager to get rid of the problem officer. In other cases, small agencies with limited budgets may fear a costly lawsuit if they dismiss officer through a formal disciplinary process. An officer who is facing a misconduct dismissal will often threaten the agency and its governmental entity with costly, lengthy and unflattering litigation for wrongful discipline or wrongful unfit or adverse termination, and make such claims public. When such officer finally reaches critical mass, he-she often can negotiate a positive departure from an agency once they realize they can no longer continue to work there. They can leave with an apparent clean and positive record and the agency is simply relieved to be rid of the officer, who goes to another unsuspecting agency. Attempts to report problem officers by agencies can be overruled and overturned by administrative law hearings and actions. Such a ruling can be interpreted as a rebuke of the agency and can be a basis for the officer to litigate against the reporting agency. Fear of this potential outcome is also a factor in many agency heads simply taking the path of least resistance and giving a separating officer a positive report of separation.

Most states have a consolidated retirement system for state, county and municipal peace officers, which is unaffected by transfers between agencies so long as continued employment occurs and can thus further provide incentive for both good and bad officers to move frequently between agencies.

As a police officer in a small Oregon town in 2004, Sean Sullivan was caught kissing a 10-year-old girl on the mouth.

Mr. Sullivan’s sentence barred him from taking another job as a police officer.

But three months later, in August 2005, Mr. Sullivan was hired, after a cursory check, not just as a police officer on another force but as the police chief. As the head of the department in Cedar Vale, Kan., according to court records and law enforcement officials, he was again investigated for a suspected sexual relationship with a girl and eventually convicted on charges that included burglary and criminal conspiracy.

“It was very irritating because he should never have been a police officer,” said Larry Markle, the prosecutor for Montgomery and Chautauqua counties in Kansas.

Mr. Sullivan, 44, is now in prison in Washington State on other charges, including identity theft and possession of methamphetamine. It is unclear how far-reaching such problems may be, but some experts say thousands of law enforcement officers may have drifted from police department to police department even after having been fired, forced to resign or convicted of a crime.

Yet there is no comprehensive, national system for weeding out problem officers. If there were, such hires would not happen, criminologists and law enforcement officials say.

Officers, sometimes hired with only the most perfunctory of background examinations — as Kansas officials said was the case with Mr. Sullivan — and frequently without even having their fingerprints checked, often end up in new trouble, according to a review of court documents, personnel records and interviews with former colleagues and other law enforcement officials.

As fatal police shootings of unarmed African-American men and sometimes violent protests have roiled the nation, the question of how best to remove the worst police officers has been at the core of reform attempts.

But a lack of coordination among law enforcement agencies, opposition from police executives and unions, and an absence of federal guidance have meant that in many cases police departments do not know the background of prospective officers if they fail to disclose a troubled work history.

Among the officers, sometimes called “gypsy cops,” who have found jobs even after exhibiting signs that they might be ill suited for police work is Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland officer who fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014.

Before he was hired in Cleveland, Officer Loehmann had resigned from a suburban police force not long after a supervisor recommended that he be fired for, among other things, an inability to follow instructions. But Cleveland officials never checked his personnel file.

Officer Loehmann, who was not indicted, remains on the Cleveland force. He is on desk duty pending the result of an administrative review, Sgt. Jennifer Ciaccia, a police spokeswoman, said.

While serving as a St. Louis officer, Eddie Boyd III pistol-whipped a 12-year-old girl in the face in 2006, and in 2007 struck a child in the face with his gun or handcuffs before falsifying a police report, according to Missouri Department of Public Safety records.

Though Officer Boyd subsequently resigned, he was soon hired by the police department in nearby St. Ann, Mo., before he found a job with the troubled force in Ferguson, Mo., where Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American, was fatally shot by a white officer in 2014.

Officer Boyd is being sued by a woman in Ferguson who said he arrested her after she asked for his name at the scene of a traffic accident. He declined an interview request.

The Ferguson police declined to comment about him, but said in a statement that their applicants “undergo extensive investigation before final hiring decisions are made, which includes, but is not limited to, a psychological examination, investigation of an applicant’s prior work history, consultation with applicant’s previous employers and a criminal background check.”

Across the state, the Kansas City police fired Kevin Schnell in 2008 for failing to get medical aid for a pregnant woman after arresting her during a traffic stop. The baby was delivered, but died a few hours later.

Officer Schnell has since been hired by two other Missouri police departments, including his current employer in Independence. Officer Schnell and the Independence police declined to comment.

Criminologists and police officials said smaller departments and those that lack sufficient funding or are understaffed are most likely to hire applicants with problematic pasts if they have completed state-mandated training, which allows departments to avoid the cost of sending them to the police academy. Such officers can start work almost immediately, usually at a modest salary.

But police officials say most departments perform reasonably well in discovering when officers have histories of misconduct.

In addition to checking applicants’ work and criminal histories, and having a psychologist interview them, departments like those in Seattle and Austin, Tex., check credit histories. The Houston and Phoenix police departments are among those that administer polygraph tests.

Roger Goldman, an emeritus law professor at St. Louis University and an authority on police licensing laws, said that using the National Practitioner Data Bank for physicians as a model, the government must establish a database of officers who have criminal convictions, have been fired or forced to resign, have had their law enforcement licenses revoked, or have been named in a judgment or settlement involving misconduct.

“After Ferguson and the other stuff that’s happened, if we can’t get this done now, when are we going to get it done?” he said.

Last year, in a report by President Obama’s task force on 21st-century policing, law enforcement officials and others recommended that the Justice Department establish a database in partnership with the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training, which manages a database of officers who have been stripped of their police powers. There are some 21,000 names on the list, but Mike Becar, the group’s executive director, said his organization lacked the resources to do a thorough job.

“It’s all we can do to keep the database up,” he said.

The Justice Department, which gave the association about $200,000 to start the database in 2009, no longer funds it. The department declined to explain why it had dropped its support, but a spokesman said the goal was “ensuring that our nation’s law enforcement agencies have the necessary resources to identify the best qualified candidates to protect and serve communities.”

Law enforcement groups advocating reforms say an effective database would go a long way toward ensuring that unfit officers are not given multiple chances.

“Every chief wants as much information as possible about potential hires before making a hiring decision, and hiring one wrong person can undo a lot of an agency’s prior good work,” said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a policy group.

He said that while his group was investigating hiring practices in St. Louis County, Mo., after Mr. Brown’s death, it found that officers facing severe discipline and possible termination in many agencies were routinely allowed to resign to avoid a record of having been fired.

“They could then join another area department,” Mr. Wexler said.

Mr. Sullivan, who became the police chief in Cedar Vale, Kan., after being convicted on a harassment charge for kissing a 10-year-old girl, had been the second-highest-ranking officer in Coquille, Ore., before he was forced to resign in November 2004.

While prosecutors suggested that he had been “grooming” the girl for a sexual relationship, he avoided a jail sentence.

But in August 2005, not long after an Oregon judge barred Mr. Sullivan from working as a police officer, the Cedar Vale Police Department hired him. Mr. Sullivan had not told anyone about his past, local officials said. City officials involved in his hiring no longer work for Cedar Vale.

Prosecutors in Kansas investigated a relationship between Mr. Sullivan and a 13- or 14-year-old girl, but the girl refused to cooperate and the investigation was dropped, Mr. Markle, the Kansas prosecutor, said. Mr. Sullivan did not respond to a letter seeking comment.

Eventually, officials checked the police decertification database and found Mr. Sullivan’s Oregon conviction and the order barring him from police work.

Wayne Cline, Cedar Vale’s current police chief, never met Mr. Sullivan, but said he is still talked about around town.

“Everybody was surprised and would say, ‘He was such a nice guy,’ and I would think, ‘Yeah, he’s a con man. They’re like that.’”

Usa Today: We found 85,000 cops who’ve been investigated for misconduct. Now you can read their records.

At least 85,000 law enforcement officers across the USA have been investigated or disciplined for misconduct over the past decade, an investigation by USA TODAY Network found.

Officers have beaten members of the public, planted evidence and used their badges to harass women. They have lied, stolen, dealt drugs, driven drunk and abused their spouses.

Despite their role as public servants, the men and women who swear an oath to keep communities safe can generally avoid public scrutiny for their misdeeds.

The records of their misconduct are filed away, rarely seen by anyone outside their departments. Police unions and their political allies have worked to put special protections in place ensuring some records are shielded from public view, or even destroyed.

Reporters from USA TODAY, its 100-plus affiliated newsrooms and the nonprofit Invisible Institute in Chicago have spent more than a year creating the biggest collection of police misconduct records.

Obtained from thousands of state agencies, prosecutors, police departments and sheriffs, the records detail at least 200,000 incidents of alleged misconduct, much of it previously unreported. The records obtained include more than 110,000 internal affairs investigations by hundreds of individual departments and more than 30,000 officers who were decertified by 44 state oversight agencies.

USA TODAY Network has gathered discipline and accountability records on more than 85,000 law enforcement officers and has started releasing them to the public. The first collection published is a list of more than 30,000 officers who have been decertified, essentially banned from the profession, in 44 states. Search our exclusive database by officer, department or state.

Among the findings:

  • Most misconduct involves routine infractions, but the records reveal tens of thousands of cases of serious misconduct and abuse. They include 22,924 investigations of officers using excessive force, 3,145 allegations of rape, child molestation and other sexual misconduct and 2,307 cases of domestic violence by officers.
  • Dishonesty is a frequent problem. The records document at least 2,227 instances of perjury, tampering with evidence or witnesses or falsifying reports. There were 418 reports of officers obstructing investigations, most often when they or someone they knew were targets.
  • Less than 10% of officers in most police forces get investigated for misconduct. Yet some officers are consistently under investigation. Nearly 2,500 have been investigated on 10 or more charges. Twenty faced 100 or more allegations yet kept their badge for years.

The level of oversight varies widely from state to state. Georgia and Florida decertified thousands of police officers for everything from crimes to questions about their fitness to serve; other states banned almost none.

Search the database: Exclusive USA TODAY list of decertified officers and their records

Further Readings

Newsmaven: The Ohio Cop who Killed Tamir Rice is Back on the Force at another Department

Back to “Modern Police Issues” Section Top

Stop and Frisk and Racial Profiling

“Racial profiling is…when law enforcement and private security target people of color for humiliating and often frightening detentions, interrogations, and searches without evidence of criminal activity and based on perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion. Racial profiling is patently illegal, violating the U.S. Constitution’s core promises of equal protection under the law to all and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. Just as importantly, racial profiling is ineffective. It alienates communities from law enforcement, hinders community policing efforts, and causes law enforcement to lose credibility and trust among the people they are sworn to protect and serve.” ACLU

  • NYC Police Department Stop and Frisk policy
    • Temporarily detaining, questioning, searching civilians on street for weapons/ contraband
    • 2003-2013, over 100,000 stops made per year
      • 685,724 people stopped at height of program (2011)
      • 12,404 stops were made in 2016
  • Became a racial profiling controversy
    • 2017, 90% of those stopped were black or Latino
      • Most of whom were aged 14–24.
      • 2% of blacks and Hispanics stopped had weapons
        • while 4% of whites who are stopped have weapons
      • Majority of cases had no evidence of wrongdoing
  • Research show that stop-and-frisk
    • Had little to no effect on crime in NYC
  • Latinax Immigrant Racial Profiling
    • “Show me your papers” laws (Arizona SB 1070)

 

The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy

Wikipedia: Stop-and-frisk in New York City

The stop-question-and-frisk program, or stop-and-frisk, in New York City, is a New York City Police Department practice of temporarily detaining, questioning, and at times searching civilians on the street for weapons and other contraband. This is what is known in other places in the United States as the Terry stop. The rules for stop, question, and frisk are found in the state’s criminal procedure law section 140.50, and are based on the decision of the US Supreme Court in the case of Terry v. Ohio.

12,404 stops were made in 2016. The stop-and-frisk program has previously taken place on a much wider scale. Between 2003 and 2013, over 100,000 stops were made per year, with 685,724 people being stopped at the height of the program in 2011. The program became the subject of a racial profiling controversy. The vast majority, 90% in 2017, of those stopped were African-American or Latino, most of whom were aged 14–24. Furthermore, 70% of all those stopped were later found to be innocent. The racial disparity persists even after controlling for precinct variability and race-specific estimates of crime participation.

NY Times: Here’s what you need to know about stop and frisk — and why the courts shut it down

Shira Scheindlin, a U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of New York, has ruled that New York City’s “stop and frisk” policy violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise of equal protection, as black and Hispanic people are subject to stops and searches at a higher rate than whites. Mayor Michael Bloomberg responded by deriding Scheindlin for not acknowledging the policy’s benefits, noting that “nowhere in her 195 page decision does she mention the historic cuts in crime or the number of lives that have been saved.”

But what, exactly, does “stop and frisk” entail? Is it racially biased? Does it actually reduce crime? Here’s what you need to know.

What is stop and frisk?

“Stop, question and frisk” is an NYPD policy wherein police will detain and question pedestrians, and potentially search them, if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that the pedestrian in question “committed, is committing, or is about to commit a felony or a Penal Law misdemeanor.”

How many stops are conducted? Who gets stopped?

According to a report from the Public Advocate’s office, 532,911 stops were conducted in 2012, down from 685,724 in 2011. The vast majority of those stops were of black or Hispanic people:

And the pace is increasing, as this chart by Jeffrey Fagan at Columbia Law School shows:

According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, 97,296 stops were conducted in 2002. That’s less than a fifth of the number of stops conducted in 2012.

The racial breakdown in 2012 in keeping with patterns over the past decade, according to this chart from Adam Serwer and Jaeah Lee at Mother Jones:

Note that the number of stops does not capture how many individual people are stopped, as many individuals are stopped multiple times.

Where are people stopped?

The precincts doing the most stops tend to be in Brooklyn — particularly East New York, Starret City, Brownsville and Ocean Hill, but also Bed-Stuy, Bushwick and Flatbush — and the Bronx, with a few in Staten Island, Jamaica in Queens and Harlem thrown in for good measure. By contrast, the areas with the least stops tend to be ones with lots of white people: Midtown, Little Italy, Chelsea and Central Park in Manhattan, and Greenpoint in Brooklyn.

What accounts for why there are more stops in some areas than in others?


A man is stopped and frisked by NYPD in Brooklyn, New York. (Photo by Jeremy Sparig)

It depends whom you ask. The Bloomberg administration says that it’s focusing stops on areas with lots of crime. But Fagan found that even if you control for the crime rate, the racial makeup of a precinct is a good predictor of the number of stops.

“The percent Black population and the percent Hispanic population predict higher numbers of stops, controlling for the local crime rate and the social and economic characteristics of the precinct,” Fagan’s report explains. “The crime rate is significant as well, so the identification of the race effects suggests that racial composition has a marginal influence on stops, over and above the unique contributions of crime.” That finding holds up both in earlier years — such as 1998 and 1999, which Fagan analyzed with Andrew Gelman and Alex Kiss — as well the time period since Fagan’s initial report came out in 2010.

Tracey Meares, a Yale law professor, explains that if the NYPD were doing what it claims, then a scatterplot with the number of stops on the Y axis and the crime rate on the X axis would show a linear relationship — meaning that stops would straightforwardly increase along with the crime rate. That doesn’t happen. “What you see is that that relationship is curvilinear and it’s concave, so the police districts in the middle get a lot more stops than you’d think that they should be getting based on the crime rate,” Meares says. That suggests some racial bias in the implementation of stop and frisk.

How many stops result in arrests or tickets?

Not a whole lot. Serwer and Lee have another chart:

Wow, that looks super-biased on the part of the NYPD. But its’s not the only study.


An anti-stop and frisk protest. (Seth Wenig / AP)

The NYPD commissioned a study by the RAND Corp. — in particular Greg Ridgeway, acting director of the National Institute for Justice (the Department of Justice’s research arm) — which concluded that “black pedestrians were stopped at a rate that is 20 to 30 percent lower than their representation in crime-suspect descriptions. Hispanic pedestrians were stopped disproportionately more, by 5 to 10 percent, than their representation among crime-suspect descriptions would predict.” Ridgeway also found that the NYPD “frisked white suspects slightly less frequently than they did similarly situated nonwhites” and that “black suspects are slightly more likely to have been frisked than white suspects stopped in circumstances similar to the black suspects.”

However, Fagan has levied a fairly devastating set of objections to Ridgeway’s methodology. Among other issues, the RAND study tries to match up stops to compare how whites and blacks are treated but in doing so fails to account for basic things like which potential crime prompted the stop and how reasonable the cop’s suspicion was. The sample of officers the RAND study looks at isn’t representative, and the benchmark they use to determine the races of those stopped is derived from analysis of violent crimes, which make up a tiny fraction of stops. Fagan concludes that “the analyses in the report are unreliable and methodologically flawed to the extent that it is not reliable evidence that racial bias is absent in NYPD stop and frisk activity.”

Does it reduce crime?

“Anyone who says we know this is bringing the crime rate down is really making it up,” Fagan says. Others wouldn’t put it that harshly, but the evidence does seem to suggest that stop and frisk is, at best, ineffective, and, at worst, actively alienates communities with whom the police need to engage.

There have been three studies to date evaluating the effectiveness of stop and frisk. The first, an unpublished paper by NYU’s Dennis Smith and SUNY Albany’s Robert Purtell, found “statistically significant and negative effects of the lagged stop rates on rates of robbery, burglary, motor vehicle theft, and homicide and no significant effects on rates of assault, rape, or grand larceny,” according to a summary here. “They also found evidence of ‘declining returns to scale’ (i.e., diminishing effects over time) of the effects of police stops on most of the offenses they analyzed but increasing returns to scale for robbery.”

The second (free copy here), by University of Missouri-St Louis’s Richard Rosenfeld and Arizona State’s Robert Fornango, throws cold water on even Smith and Purtell’s modest positive findings on robbery and burglary. They find the stops “show few significant effects of several SQF [stop, question, and frisk] measures on precinct robbery and burglary rates.”

The third, by Hebrew University’s David Weisburd and George Mason’s Cody Telep and Brian Lawton, analyzes where stop and frisk incidents occur to determine whether the program counts as “hot spots” policing, a strategy with demonstrable effectiveness wherein police target resources in geographic areas with heavy crime. The researchers find that the pattern of stops is consistent with a hot spots approach. But this says nothing about the effectiveness of  this particular type of hot spots policing . “Given the possible negative impacts of SQF policing, both on citizens who live in such areas, and the primarily young and minority population that is the main subject of SQFs, we suspect especially in the long run that this approach will lead to unintended negative consequences,” the authors write.

That much is obvious: Stop and frisk is alienating the communities it targets. It’s done so since the late 1990s, when stop and frisk incidents ratcheted considerably and culminated in the death of Amadou Diallo, an innocent 22-year-old West African immigrant who was shot 41 times by NYPD officers as part of a stop. That spurred an investigation by the New York attorney general’s office, then headed by Eliot Spitzer, into that policing program. Such incidents have real costs. Fagan, Meares, and NYU’s Tom Tyler note that there’s a huge research literature showing that perceptions of police legitimacy matter for crime rates, and we know that invasions of privacy like stops and searches, particularly when conducted rudely, damage police legitimacy.

Are there other possible explanations for the crime drop?

This is the real kicker. As Kevin Drum says in Mother Jones, the thing driving the drop in crime in New York, as everywhere, might not have anything to do with policing. It’s likely the removal of lead from gasoline and house paint, he argues. Several studies have found that lead exposure can damage children’s brain development, affecting their behavior. Rick Nevin, and economist and a leading researcher on crime and lead questions, notes that there has been far more progress on removing lead in New York City than in other large cities like Chicago or Detroit:

New York’s lead removal efforts are commendable and are a more than adequate explanation of why it’s seen sharper crime drops than other cities. There’s no reason to credit alienating policies like stop and frisk here.

What now?

Judge Scheindlin has named Peter Zimroth, a former lawyer for the City of New York now at Arnold & Porter, to oversee the NYPD. She also mandated a number of other remedies, including a requirement that some police officers wear cameras, changes to training and disciplinary policies, and a process to devise broader reforms to stop and frisk that involves “representatives of religious, advocacy, and grassroots organizations; NYPD personnel andrepresentatives of police organizations; the District Attorneys’ offices…the Mayor’s office, the NYPD, and the lawyers in this case; and the non-parties that submitted briefs: the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ, Communities United for Police Reform, and the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus of the New York City Council.”

The city will almost certainly appeal, and a higher court could issue a stay on Scheindlin’s ruling, but for the time being it’s the binding policy on stop and frisk.

EJI: Crime Falls As New York Abandons Stop-and-Frisk

Last year, ProPublica reports, murders in New York City fell to 291, the lowest total since the 1950s, despite predictions that ending the police department’s stop-and-frisk tactic would lead to an increase in crime.

The New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk program directed officers to stop, question, and search civilians on the street for weapons and other contraband based on mere reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. The tactic was touted as an essential crime-fighting tool that prevented serious crimes by taking guns and low-level criminals off the street, and its proponents pointed to years of falling crime rates as evidence that it worked.

ProPublica found that stops in New York City rose from about 100,000 in 2002 to nearly 700,000 in 2011. About 83 percent of the stops between 2004 and 2012 involved black and Latino people, even though those two groups comprise slightly more than half of the city’s residents.

In 2013, observing that nearly 90 percent of those stopped were completely innocent, a federal judge found that stop-and-frisk was racially discriminatory and unconstitutional, and Bill de Blasio won the mayoral campaign after promising to end stop-and-frisk.

Many critics predicted widespread mayhem and violence would follow. As Kyle Smith wrote this month:

Like many conservatives, I had grave concerns about curtailing the New York City police department’s controversial tactic of stopping and frisking potential suspects for weapons. . . . Restricting the tactic, I thought, would cause an uptick, maybe even a spike, in crime rates.

Mr. Smith cited NYPD data showing that, as stops dropped to 12,000 in 2016 (a decline of about 98 percent from 2011 levels), and about 10,000 in 2017, crime rates continued to fall further.

Four of the five years with the lowest number of homicides in New York City since 1960 have been during de Blasio’s term.

And 2017 saw considerable reductions in almost every category of major crime, which last year reached the lowest rate since New York began keeping extensive crime records in the early 1960s. The total number of major crimes in 2017 was down by about 6 percent since 2016, itself a record-low year, Mr. Smith wrote.

Mr. Smith now acknowledges that Mr. de Blasio was “right to draw attention to the social cost” of the stop-and-frisk program, under which “hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers were unjustly subjected to embarrassment or even humiliation.”

Advocates point out that we lack the data to accurately identify or measure “the negative long-term psychological or social effects this practice had on a generation of young black and Latino men.”

There is reason to believe the consequences are significant, and they extend well beyond crime rates. Research suggests that police stops may increase stress and even provoke PTSD-like responses in young people; stops have been shown to discourage residents from using public services in order to avoid police contact and even to suppress voter turnout across entire neighborhoods.

Latinx Immigrant Racial Profiling

Arizona: The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (2010)

  • Broadest and strictest anti-illegal immigration measure passed in Arizona
  • Made it a state misdemeanor crime to be undocumented in Arizona without carrying the required documents
  • required that state law enforcement officers attempt to determine an individual’s immigration status during law enforcement stops (encouraged racial profiling)
  • The law barred state or local officials or agencies from restricting enforcement of federal immigration law (attack on sanctuary cities)
  • Imposed penalties on those sheltering, hiring and transporting unregistered aliens.[
  • 2012 Supreme court upheld provision requiring police to check the immigration status of people they detain and suspect to be in the country illegally but removed the following provisions:
    • Making it a misdemeanor for immigrants to not carry registration documents
    • criminalize the act of an illegal immigrant seeking employment
    • authorize state officers to arrest someone on the belief that the person has committed an offense that makes him deportable.

Wikipedia: Arizona SB 1070

“The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (introduced as Arizona Senate Bill 1070 and thus often referred to simply as Arizona SB 1070) is a 2010 legislative Act in the U.S. state of Arizona that at the time of passage in 2010 was the broadest and strictest anti-illegal immigration measure passed in Arizona.[2] It has received national and international attention and has spurred considerable controversy.[3][4]

U.S. federal law requires all aliens over the age of 14 who remain in the United States for longer than 30 days[5] to register with the U.S. government.[6] U.S. Federal law also requires aliens older than 18 to possess proper identification at all times; violation of this requirement is a federal misdemeanor crime.[7] The Arizona act additionally made it a state misdemeanor crime for an alien to be in Arizona without carrying the required documents,[8] required that state law enforcement officers attempt to determine an individual’s immigration status during a “lawful stop, detention or arrest”, when there is reasonable suspicion that the individual is an illegal immigrant.[9][10] The law barred state or local officials or agencies from restricting enforcement of federal immigration laws,[11] and imposed penalties on those sheltering, hiring and transporting unregistered aliens.[12] The paragraph on intent in the legislation says it embodies an “attrition through enforcement” doctrine.[13][14]

Critics of the legislation say it encourages racial profiling, while supporters say the law prohibits the use of race as the sole basis for investigating immigration status.[15] The law was modified by Arizona House Bill 2162 within a week of its signing with the goal of addressing some of these concerns. There have been protests in opposition to the law in over 70 U.S. cities,[16] including boycotts and calls for boycotts of Arizona.[17]

The Act was signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010.[2] It was scheduled to go into effect on July 29, 2010, ninety days after the end of the legislative session.[18][19] Legal challenges over its constitutionality and compliance with civil rights law were filed, including one by the United States Department of Justice, that also asked for an injunction against enforcement of the law.[20] The day before the law was to take effect, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that blocked the law’s most controversial provisions.[21] In June 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the case Arizona v. United States, upholding the provision requiring immigration status checks during law enforcement stops but striking down three other provisions as violations of the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution.[22]”

Further Reading

Probpublica: How Racial Profiling Goes Unchecked in Immigration Enforcement

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Testilying (Police Perjury)

  • Can’t Use evidence from illegal search and seizures
    • 1961 Mapp v. Ohio Supreme Court case, states judges must throw out evidence from illegal searches and seizures
  • Police start to create ways to use or plant evidence
    • “dropsy” testimony – police realized if they claim defendants dropped the evidence it could be used
    • 2018 NY Times investigation found over 25 cases since 2015 where key aspect of a NYC police officer’s testimony probably untrue
      • In these cases, officers have lied about:
        • The whereabouts of guns, putting them in suspects’ hands or waistbands when they were actually hidden out of sight
        • Barging into apartments to conduct unwarranted searches, only to testify otherwise later
        • Given firsthand accounts of crimes or arrests that they did not in fact witness.
        • Falsely claimed to have watched drug deals happen, only to later recant or be shown to have lied
      • 2018 Cases
        • Baltimore – trial revealed cops kept fake guns in their patrol cars to plant on innocent people in case they shoot an unarmed suspect
        • Miami – Police chief pleaded guilty to directing police officers to frame innocent men in unsolved cases to benefit department’s stats
      • “as someone who spent 35 years wearing a police uniform, I’ve come to believe that hundreds of thousands of law-enforcement officers commit felony perjury every year testifying about drug arrests.” Joseph D. McNamara San Jose Chief of Police (1996)
  • Thousands of people plead guilty every year because odds of a jury believing their word over a police officer’s are slim
    • “As a juror, whom are you likely to believe: the alleged criminal in an orange jumpsuit or two well-groomed police officers in uniforms who just swore to God they’re telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but?” Michelle Alexander – NY Times
    • Interacitive Exercise: LA Times: You’ve been arrested by a dishonest cop. Can you win in a system set up to protect officers?

“Policemen see [themselves] as fighting a two‑front war — against criminals in the street and against “liberal” rules of law in court. All’s fair in this war, including the use of perjury to subvert “liberal” rules of law that might free those who “ought” to be jailed. And even if his lies are exposed in the courtroom, the policeman is as likely to be indicted for perjury by his co‑worker, the prosecutor, as he is to be struck down by thunderbolts from an avenging heaven. It is a peculiarity of our legal, system that the police have unique opportunities (and unique temptations) to give false testimony.” former U.S. attorney and New York criminal judge Irving Younger

“THOUSANDS of people plead guilty to crimes every year in the United States because they know that the odds of a jury’s believing their word over a police officer’s are slim to none. As a juror, whom are you likely to believe: the alleged criminal in an orange jumpsuit or two well-groomed police officers in uniforms who just swore to God they’re telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but? As one of my colleagues recently put it, “Everyone knows you have to be crazy to accuse the police of lying.”

But are police officers necessarily more trustworthy than alleged criminals? I think not. Not just because the police have a special inclination toward confabulation, but because, disturbingly, they have an incentive to lie. In this era of mass incarceration, the police shouldn’t be trusted any more than any other witness, perhaps less so.

That may sound harsh, but numerous law enforcement officials have put the matter more bluntly.  Peter Keane, a former San Francisco Police commissioner, wrote an article in The San Francisco Chronicle decrying a police culture that treats lying as the norm: “Police officer perjury in court to justify illegal dope searches is commonplace. One of the dirty little not-so-secret secrets of the criminal justice system is undercover narcotics officers intentionally lying under oath. It is a perversion of the American justice system that strikes directly at the rule of law. Yet it is the routine way of doing business in courtrooms everywhere in America.”

The New York City Police Department is not exempt from this critique. In 2011, hundreds of drug cases were dismissed after several police officers were accused of mishandling evidence. That year, Justice Gustin L. Reichbach of the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn condemned a widespread culture of lying and corruption in the department’s drug enforcement units. “I thought I was not naïve,” he said when announcing a guilty verdict involving a police detective who had planted crack cocaine on a pair of suspects. “But even this court was shocked, not only by the seeming pervasive scope of misconduct but even more distressingly by the seeming casualness by which such conduct is employed.”

Remarkably, New York City officers have been found to engage in patterns of deceit in cases involving charges as minor as trespass. In September it was reported that the Bronx district attorney’s office was so alarmed by police lying that it decided to stop prosecuting people who were stopped and arrested for trespassing at public housing projects, unless prosecutors first interviewed the arresting officer to ensure the arrest was actually warranted. Jeannette Rucker, the chief of arraignments for the Bronx district attorney, explained in a letter that it had become apparent that the police were arresting people even when there was convincing evidence that they were innocent. To justify the arrests, Ms. Rucker claimed, police officers provided false written statements, and in depositions, the arresting officers gave false testimony.

Mr. Keane, in his Chronicle article, offered two major reasons the police lie so much. First, because they can. Police officers “know that in a swearing match between a drug defendant and a police officer, the judge always rules in favor of the officer.” At worst, the case will be dismissed, but the officer is free to continue business as usual. Second, criminal defendants are typically poor and uneducated, often belong to a racial minority, and often have a criminal record.  “Police know that no one cares about these people,” Mr. Keane explained.

All true, but there is more to the story than that.

Police departments have been rewarded in recent years for the sheer numbers of stops, searches and arrests. In the war on drugs, federal grant programs like the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program have encouraged state and local law enforcement agencies to boost drug arrests in order to compete for millions of dollars in funding. Agencies receive cash rewards for arresting high numbers of people for drug offenses, no matter how minor the offenses or how weak the evidence. Law enforcement has increasingly become a numbers game. And as it has, police officers’ tendency to regard procedural rules as optional and to lie and distort the facts has grown as well. Numerous scandals involving police officers lying or planting drugs — in Tulia, Tex. and Oakland, Calif., for example — have been linked to federally funded drug task forces eager to keep the cash rolling in.

THE pressure to boost arrest numbers is not limited to drug law enforcement. Even where no clear financial incentives exist, the “get tough” movement has warped police culture to such a degree that police chiefs and individual officers feel pressured to meet stop-and-frisk or arrest quotas in order to prove their “productivity.”

For the record, the New York City police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, denies that his department has arrest quotas. Such denials are mandatory, given that quotas are illegal under state law. But as the Urban Justice Center’s Police Reform Organizing Project has documented, numerous officers have contradicted Mr. Kelly. In 2010, a New York City police officer named Adil Polanco told a local ABC News reporter that “our primary job is not to help anybody, our primary job is not to assist anybody, our primary job is to get those numbers and come back with them.” He continued: “At the end of the night you have to come back with something.  You have to write somebody, you have to arrest somebody, even if the crime is not committed, the number’s there. So our choice is to come up with the number.”

Exposing police lying is difficult largely because it is rare for the police to admit their own lies or to acknowledge the lies of other officers. This reluctance derives partly from the code of silence that governs police practice and from the ways in which the system of mass incarceration is structured to reward dishonesty. But it’s also because police officers are human.

Research shows that ordinary human beings lie a lot — multiple times a day — even when there’s no clear benefit to lying. Generally, humans lie about relatively minor things like “I lost your phone number; that’s why I didn’t call” or “No, really, you don’t look fat.” But humans can also be persuaded to lie about far more important matters, especially if the lie will enhance or protect their reputation or standing in a group.

The natural tendency to lie makes quota systems and financial incentives that reward the police for the sheer numbers of people stopped, frisked or arrested especially dangerous. One lie can destroy a life, resulting in the loss of employment, a prison term and relegation to permanent second-class status. The fact that our legal system has become so tolerant of police lying indicates how corrupted our criminal justice system has become by declarations of war, “get tough” mantras, and a seemingly insatiable appetite for locking up and locking out the poorest and darkest among us.

And, no, I’m not crazy for thinking so.”

NY Times: ‘Testilying’ by Police: A Stubborn Problem

“…a problem so old and persistent that the criminal justice system sometimes responds with little more than a shrug: false testimony by the police.

“Behind closed doors, we call it testilying,” a New York City police officer, Pedro Serrano, said in a recent interview, echoing a word that officers coined at least 25 years ago. “You take the truth and stretch it out a little bit.”

An investigation by The New York Times has found that on more than 25 occasions since January 2015, judges or prosecutors determined that a key aspect of a New York City police officer’s testimony was probably untrue. The Times identified these cases — many of which are sealed — through interviews with lawyers, police officers and current and former judges.

In these cases, officers have lied about the whereabouts of guns, putting them in suspects’ hands or waistbands when they were actually hidden out of sight. They have barged into apartments and conducted searches, only to testify otherwise later. Under oath, they have given firsthand accounts of crimes or arrests that they did not in fact witness. They have falsely claimed to have watched drug deals happen, only to later recant or be shown to have lied.

No detail, seemingly, is too minor to embellish. “Clenched fists” is how one Brooklyn officer described the hands of a man he claimed had angrily approached him and started screaming and yelling — an encounter that prosecutors later determined never occurred. Another officer, during a Bronx trial, accused a driver of recklessly crossing the double-yellow line — on a stretch of road that had no double-yellow line.

In many instances, the motive for lying was readily apparent: to skirt constitutional restrictions against unreasonable searches and stops. In other cases, the falsehoods appear aimed at convicting people — who may or may not have committed a crime — with trumped-up evidence.

In still others, the motive is not easy to discern. In October 2016, for example, a plainclothes Brooklyn officer gave a grand jury a first-person account of a gun arrest. Putting herself in the center of the action, the officer, Dornezia Agard, testified that as she approached a man to confront him for littering, he suddenly crouched behind a van, pulled from his waistband a dark object — later identified as a gun — and threw it on the ground…

…Police lying raises the likelihood that the innocent end up in jail — and that as juries and judges come to regard the police as less credible, or as cases are dismissed when the lies are discovered, the guilty will go free. Police falsehoods also impede judges’ efforts to enforce constitutional limits on police searches and seizures…

…In two recent cases, The Times found, officers appear to have given false accounts about witness identifications. These cases are particularly troubling because erroneous identifications by witnesses have been a leading cause of wrongful convictions…

…But more often, The Times found, false statements by the police seem intended to hide illegal searches and seizures, such as questionable car stops or entries into apartments that result in officers finding guns or drugs. If the truth were to emerge that the case began with an illegal police search, the evidence would quite likely be thrown out and the case dismissed…

…As more police encounters are recorded — whether on the cellphones of bystanders or the body-worn cameras of officers — false police testimony is being exposed in cases where the officer’s word might once have carried the day. That is true for run-of-the-mill drug cases as well as for police shootings so notorious that they are seared into the national consciousness.

Yet interviews with officers suggest the prevalence of cameras alone won’t end police lying. That’s because even with cameras present, some officers still figure — with good reason — that a lie is unlikely to be exposed. Because plea deals are a typical outcome, it’s rare for a case to develop to the point where the defendant can question an officer’s version of events at a hearing…

…To be sure, there are other motives for lying, other than to cover up illegal searches. Some police officers have said they faced pressure from commanders to write more tickets or make more arrests. A decade ago, narcotics detectives were found to have falsely accused people of dealing drugs in order to meet arrest quotas”

Further Readings

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Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuse

“Civil forfeiture allows police to seize — and then keep or sell — any property they allege is involved in a crime. Owners need not ever be arrested or convicted of a crime for their cash, cars, or even real estate to be taken away permanently by the government.

Forfeiture was originally presented as a way to cripple large-scale criminal enterprises by diverting their resources. But today, aided by deeply flawed federal and state laws, many police departments use forfeiture to benefit their bottom lines, making seizures motivated by profit rather than crime-fighting. For people whose property has been seized through civil asset forfeiture, legally regaining such property is notoriously difficult and expensive, with costs sometimes exceeding the value of the property. With the total value of property seized increasing every year, calls for reform are growing louder, and CLRP is at the forefront of organizations seeking to rein in the practice.” ACLU

  • Police often use forfeiture to benefit their budget
    • More motivated by profit rather than crime-fighting
    • 61,998 cash seizures since 9/11 without search warrants or indictments totaling more than $2.5 billion

Civil Forfeiture: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Washington Post: Stop and Seize

  • There have been 61,998 cash seizures made on highways and elsewhere since 9/11 without search warrants or indictments through the Equitable Sharing Program, totaling more than $2.5 billion. State and local authorities kept more than $1.7 billion of that while Justice, Homeland Security and other federal agencies received $800 million. Half of the seizures were below $8,800.
  • Only a sixth of the seizures were legally challenged, in part because of the costs of legal action against the government. But in 41 percent of cases — 4,455 — where there was a challenge, the government agreed to return money. The appeals process took more than a year in 40 percent of those cases and often required owners of the cash to sign agreements not to sue police over the seizures.
  • Hundreds of state and local departments and drug task forces appear to rely on seized cash, despite a federal ban on the money to pay salaries or otherwise support budgets. The Post found that 298 departments and 210 task forces have seized the equivalent of 20 percent or more of their annual budgets since 2008.
  • Agencies with police known to be participating in the Black Asphalt intelligence network have seen a 32 percent jump in seizures beginning in 2005, three times the rate of other police departments. Desert Snow-trained officers reported more than $427 million in cash seizures during highway stops in just one five-year period, according to company officials. More than 25,000 police have belonged to Black Asphalt, company officials said.
  • State law enforcement officials in Iowa and Kansas prohibited the use of the Black Asphalt network because of concerns that it might not be a legal law enforcement tool. A federal prosecutor in Nebraska warned that Black Asphalt reports could violate laws governing civil liberties, the handling of sensitive law enforcement information and the disclosure of pretrial information to defendants. But officials at Justice and Homeland Security continued to use it.

Efforts to Reform

Civil forfeiture reform has bipartisan support throughout the country.  Over the past few years, a number of states have enacted different forfeiture reform bills either outlawing civil forfeiture (New Mexico, Nebrask, Maryland, Washington, D.C.), requiring the state to prove guilt “beyond a reasonal doubt” just like criminal cases (Florida, Minnesota, Montana,  Michigan, New Hampshire), or increasing transparency (Georgia, Virginia, Mississippi).

Further Readings

Wikipedia: History of Civil Forfeiture

Heritage: An Overview of Recent State-Level Forfeiture Reforms

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The Militarization of the Police

  • Since 1940s fed gov gives surplus military equipment to local police
    • Ramped up with “war on drugs” and 9/11
    • Transferred billions in military equipment
  • Obama banned this practice in 2015
    • Trump overturn the ban in 2017
  • As crime falls to lowest levels in decades
    • Police acquiring more hardware
      • And finding more reasons to use it
    • ACLU reports 79% of SWAT deployments from 2011-12 were for search warrants
      • Massive overreaction that can have disastrous consequences, including injury and death.
    • SWAT deployments are used disproportionately on black and Latino
      • The ACLU finds that 50% of those impacted by SWAT deployments were black and Latino

Militarized Ferguson Police

NY Times: What Happened in Ferguson?

Slate: The Militarization of the Police

“The most striking photographs from Ferguson, Missouri, aren’t of Saturday’s demonstrations or Sunday night’s riots; they’re of the police. Image after image shows officers clad in Kevlar vests, helmets, and camouflage, armed with pistols, shotguns, automatic rifles, and tear gas. In one photo, protesters stand toe-to-toe with baton-wielding riot police, in another, an unarmed man faces several cops, each with rifles at the ready.

What’s more, Ferguson police have used armored vehicles to show force and control crowds. In one photo, riot gear-clad officers are standing in front of a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle, barking commands and launching tear gas into groups of demonstrators and journalists.

This would be one thing if Ferguson were in a war zone, or if protesters were violent—although, it’s hard to imagine a situation in which American police would need a mine-resistant vehicle. But an episode of looting aside, Ferguson police aren’t dealing with any particular danger. Nonetheless, they’re treating demonstrators—and Ferguson residents writ large—as a population to occupy, not citizens to protect.

This is part of a broader problem. In his book The Rise of the Warrior Cop, journalist Radley Balko notes that since the 1960s, “law-enforcement agencies across the U.S., at every level of government, have been blurring the line between police officer and soldier. Driven by martial rhetoric and the availability of military-style equipment—from bayonets and M–16 rifles to armored personnel carriers—American police forces have often adopted a mind-set previously reserved for the battlefield.”

This process ramped up with the “war on drugs” in the 1980s and 1990s, as the federal government supplied local and state police forces with military-grade weaponry to clamp down on drug trafficking and other crime. And it accelerated again after the 9/11 attacks and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, when the federal government had—and sent—billions in surplus military equipment to state and local governments. Since 2006, according to an analysis by the New York Times, police departments have acquired 435 armored vehicles, 533 planes, 93,763 machine guns, and 432 mine-resistant armored trucks. Overall, since Congress established its program to transfer military hardware, local and state police departments have received $4.3 billion worth of equipment. Accordingly, the value of military equipment used by these police agencies has increased from $1 million in 1990 to $324 million in 1995 (shortly after the program was established), to nearly $450 million in 2013.

At the same time as crime has fallen to its lowest levels in decades, police departments are acquiring more hardware and finding more reasons to use SWAT teams and other heavy-handed tactics, regardless of the situation. According to an American Civil Liberties Union report released this summer, 79 percent of SWAT deployments from 2011 to 2012 were for search warrants, a massive overreaction that can have disastrous consequences, including injury and death. That was the case for Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who was killed during a SWAT raid by the Detroit police department. Serving a search warrant for an occupant of the house, Detroit police rushed in with flash bangs and ballistic shields. When one resident tried to grab an officer’s gun, it fired, striking Aiyana. She was 7.

If you know anything about the racial disparities in the criminal justice system, then it also shouldn’t shock you to learn that SWAT deployments are used disproportionately in black and Latino neighborhoods. The ACLU finds that 50 percent of those impacted by SWAT deployments were black and Latino. Of these deployments, 68 percent were for drug searches. And a substantial number of drug searches—60 percent—involved violent tactics to force entry, which lead predictably and avoidably to senseless injury and death.

That is how we get images like the ones in Ferguson, where police officers brandish heavy weapons and act as an occupying force. We should expect as much when we give police departments military weapons. Already—when it comes to predominantly black and brown communities—there’s a long-standing culture of aggressive, punitive policing. Add assault weapons and armored vehicles, and you have a recipe for the repressive, violent reactions that we see in Ferguson, and that are likely inevitable in countless other poor American neighborhoods.”

CNN: Trump to lift military gear ban for local police

“(August 28, 2017) The Trump administration will unveil a new plan Monday to roll back limits on a controversial program that provides local law enforcement agencies with surplus military gear, marking the end of a policy implemented during the Obama administration. President Barack Obama issued an executive order in 2015 prohibiting the transfer of a host of equipment, including armored vehicles, grenade launchers, high-caliber weapons and camouflage uniforms following controversy over the “militarization” of the police response to unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.

“We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them,” Obama said at the time. “It can alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message.”  Civil rights groups swiftly blasted the equipment policy shift Monday, saying the Obama-era guidelines were critical to rebuilding trust with communities of color.
“These guidelines were created after Ferguson to ensure that police departments had a guardian, not warrior, mentality,” said Vanita Gupta, former head of DOJ’s civil rights division under Obama and who now leads the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Our communities are not the same as armed combatants in a war zone.” But the National Fraternal Order of Police applauded the news and the group’s president, Chuck Canterbury, explained that the FOP has been working to roll back Obama’s restrictions since the day they were announced.”

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White Supremacist Police Officers

  • No centralized recruitment process or set of national standards exists
    • For 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the US
      • Many of which have deep historical connections to racist ideologies.
  • 2006 FBI internal intelligence assessment
    • Warned against the threat of white nationalists and skinheads infiltrating police
    • Report came after scandals involving local police and sheriff’s departments such as
      • 1991 Fed judge found members of a local sheriff’s department formed a neo-Nazi gang
        • habitually terrorized black and Latino residents
      • Jon Burge, Chicago police detective and rumored KKK member, was prosecuted in 2008
        • Over charges relating to the torture of at least 120 black men during his decades long career
      • Cleveland police officers scrawled “racist or Nazi graffiti” throughout locker rooms
      • 2 Texas police officers were fired when it was discovered they were Klansmen
  • 2009 Department of Homeland Security intelligence study
    • Warned right-wing extremists attempting to recruit and radicalize returning veterans
    • Due to pressure from veteran activist and conservative politicians
      • DHS disavowed report and dismantled the agency’s unit investigating right-wing extremism
        • Stopped investigating right-wing extremism entirely
  • 2015 Classified FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide
    • States white supremacists and other domestic extremists maintain an active presence in U.S. police departments and other law enforcement agencies

PBS: FBI warned of white supremacists in law enforcement 10 years ago. Has anything changed?

“In the 2006 bulletin, the FBI detailed the threat of white nationalists and skinheads infiltrating police in order to disrupt investigations against fellow members and recruit other supremacists. The bulletin was released during a period of scandal for many law enforcement agencies throughout the country, including a neo-Nazi gang formed by members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who harassed black and Latino communities. Similar investigations revealed officers and entire agencies with hate group ties in Illinois, Ohio and Texas

…The memo also warned of “ghost skins,” hate group members who don’t overtly display their beliefs in order to “blend into society and covertly advance white supremacist causes. “At least one white supremacist group has reportedly encouraged ghost skins to seek positions in law enforcement for the capability of alerting skinhead crews of pending investigative action against them,” the report read.

Problems with white supremacists in law enforcement have surfaced since that report. In 2014, two Florida officers — including a deputy police chief — were fired after an FBI informant outed them as members of the Ku Klux Klan. It marked the second time within five years that the agency uncovered an officer’s membership in the KKK. Several agencies nationwide have also launched investigations into personnel who may not be formal hate group members, but face allegations of race-based misconduct.

Social media has made it easier to expose white supremacists who serve in law enforcement. In September 2015, a North Carolina police officer was fired after a picture of him giving a Nazi salute surfaced on Facebook. And as recently as August, the Philadelphia Police Department launched an internal investigation after attendees of a Black Lives Matter rally outside the Democratic National Convention spotted an officer in charge of crowd control with a tattoo of the Nazi Party emblem on his forearm and posted the image on Instagram.

“Many people in these communities of color feel they have been the subject of police violence for decades,” said Samuel Jones, professor of law at the John Marshall School of Law in Chicago. “And when an officer engages in conduct that adds or enhances that divide, they are ultimately jeopardizing the integrity of their agencies and putting their fellow officers in danger.”

Policing in America has historically had racial implications. The earliest forms of organized law enforcement in the U.S. can be traced to slave patrols that tracked down escaped slaves, and overseers assigned to guard settler communities from Native Americans. In the centuries since, many law enforcement agencies directly participated in antagonizing communities of color, or provided a shield for others who did. But in the 10 years since the FBI’s initial warning, little has changed, Jones said.

Neither the FBI nor state and local law enforcement agencies have established systems for vetting personnel for potential supremacist links, he said. That task is left primarily to everyday citizens and nonprofit organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of few that tracks the growing number of hate groups in America…

…The First Amendment’s freedoms of association and expression mean it’s perfectly legal for anyone to join a hate group — as long as it’s for the purpose of legal activity — and still be a member of law enforcement. They can even serve in other positions of public office. But according to the FBI memo, the government can limit employment opportunities of members “when their memberships would interfere with their duties.” Jones says that’s problematic.”

The Intercept: The FBI Has Quietly Investigated White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement

“White supremacists and other domestic extremists maintain an active presence in U.S. police departments and other law enforcement agencies. A striking reference to that conclusion, notable for its confidence and the policy prescriptions that accompany it, appears in a classified FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide from April 2015, obtained by The Intercept. The guide, which details the process by which the FBI enters individuals on a terrorism watchlist, the Known or Suspected Terrorist File, notes that “domestic terrorism investigations focused on militia extremists, white supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists often have identified active links to law enforcement officers,” and explains in some detail how bureau policies have been crafted to take this infiltration into account…

…No centralized recruitment process or set of national standards exists for the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, many of which have deep historical connections to racist ideologies. As a result, state and local police as well as sheriff’s departments present ample opportunities for white supremacists and other right-wing extremists looking to expand their power base…

…That report (October 2006 FBI internal intelligence assessment) appeared after a series of scandals involving local police and sheriff’s departments. In Los Angeles, for example, a U.S. District Court judge found in 1991 that members of a local sheriff’s department had formed a neo-Nazi gang and habitually terrorized black and Latino residents. In Chicago, Jon Burge, a police detective and rumored KKK member, was fired, and eventually prosecuted in 2008, over charges relating to the torture of at least 120 black men during his decadeslong career. Burge notoriously referred to an electric shock device he used during interrogations as the “nigger box.” In Cleveland, officials found that a number of police officers had scrawled “racist or Nazi graffiti” throughout their department’s locker rooms. In Texas, two police officers were fired when it was discovered they were Klansmen. One of them said he had tried to boost the organization’s membership by giving an application to a fellow officer he thought shared his “white, Christian, heterosexual values.”…

…In 2009, shortly after the election of Barack Obama, a Department of Homeland Security intelligence study, written in coordination with the FBI, warned of the “resurgence” of right-wing extremism. “Right-wing extremists have capitalized on the election of the first African-American president, and are focusing their efforts to recruit new members, mobilize existing supporters, and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda,” the report noted, singling out “disgruntled military veterans” as likely targets of recruitment. “Right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat.” The report concluded that “lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent right-wing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States.

Faced with mounting criticism, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano disavowed the document and apologized to veterans. The agency’s unit investigating right-wing extremism was largely dismantled and the report’s lead investigator was pushed out. “They stopped doing intel on that, and that was that,” Heidi Beirich, who leads the Southern Poverty Law Center’s tracking of extremist groups, told The Intercept. “The FBI in theory investigates right-wing terrorism and right-wing extremism, but they have limited resources. The loss of that unit was a loss for a lot of people who did this kind of work.”

“Federal law enforcement agencies in general — the FBI, the Marshals, the ATF — are aware that extremists have infiltrated state and local law enforcement agencies and that there are people in law enforcement agencies that may be sympathetic to these groups,” said Daryl Johnson, who was the lead researcher on the DHS report. Johnson, who now runs DT Analytics, a consulting firm that analyzes domestic extremism, says the problem has since gotten “a lot more troublesome.”

Johnson singled out the Oath Keepers and the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association for their anti-government attitudes and efforts to recruit active as well as retired law enforcement officers. “That’s the biggest issue and it’s greater now than it’s ever been, in my opinion.” Johnson added that Homeland Security has given up tracking right-wing domestic extremists. “It’s only the FBI now,” he said, adding that local police departments don’t seem to be doing anything to address the problem. “There’s not even any training now to make state and local police aware of these groups and how they could infiltrate their ranks.”

In 2014, the Department of Justice re-established its Domestic Terrorism Task Force, a unit that was created following the Oklahoma City bombing. But for the most part, the government’s efforts to confront domestic terrorism threats over the last decade have focused on homegrown extremists radicalized by foreign groups. Last year, a group of progressive members of Congress called on President Obama and DHS to update the controversial 2009 report. “The United States allocates significant resources towards combating Islamic violent extremism while failing to devote adequate resources to right-wing extremism,” they wrote. “This lack of political will comes at a heavy price.”

Critics fear that the backlash following the 2009 DHS report hindered further action against the growing white supremacist threat, and that it was largely ignored because the issue was so politically controversial. “I believe that because that report was so denounced by conservatives, it sort of closed the door on whatever the FBI may have been considering doing with respect to combating infiltration of law enforcement by white supremacists,” said Samuel Jones, a professor of law at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago who has written about white power ideology in law enforcement. “Because after the 2006 FBI report, we simply cannot find anything by local law enforcement or the federal government that addresses this issue.”

Pete Simi, a sociologist at Chapman University who spent decades studying the proliferation of white supremacists in the U.S. military, agreed. “The report underscores the problem of even discussing this issue. It underscores how difficult this issue is to get any traction on, because a lot of people don’t want to discuss this, let alone actually do something about it.” Simi said that the extremist strategy to infiltrate the military and law enforcement has existed “for decades.” In a study he conducted of individuals indicted for far-right terrorism-related activities, he found that at least 31 percent had military experience.

After a series of investigations uncovered substantial numbers of extremists in the military, the Department of Defense moved to impose stricter screenings, including monitoring recruits’ tattoos for white supremacist symbols and discharging those found to espouse racist views.

“The military has completely reformed its process on this front,” said the SPLC’s Beirich, who lobbied the DOD to adopt those reforms. “I don’t know why it wouldn’t be the same for police officers; we can’t have people with guns having crazy ideas or ideas that threaten certain populations.”

Reforming police, as it turns out, is a lot harder than reforming the military, because of the decentralized way in which the thousands of police departments across the country operate, the historical affinity of certain police departments with the same racial ideologies espoused by extremists, and an even broader reluctance to do much about it.

“If you look at the history of law enforcement in the United States, it is a history of white supremacy, to put it bluntly,” said Simi, citing the origin of U.S. policing in the slave patrols of the 18th and 19th centuries. “More recently, just going back 50 years, law enforcement, particularly in the South, was filled with Klan members.”

Daily Mail: Mayor suspends four Alabama narcotics officers for making alleged ‘white power’ gesture in local newspaper photo shoot

 The narcotics officers made the sign while posing for a picture the mayor arranged to celebrate a recent drug bust 

 The narcotics officers made the sign while posing for a picture the mayor arranged to celebrate a recent drug bust 

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Victim Blaming/Character Assassination

  • Myth that victims caused their death
    • By “not getting out of a car”, “acting a certain way”, “looking a certain way”, “He would be alive if only he…”
    • “Dear world, black people do not want to exit our vehicles in cop-related incidents because we’ve seen that end in murder too many times.” Solange
  • In wake of a police shooting, there’s a need rationalize police violence usually by demonizing the victim
    • Through the leak of public records, unflattering personal details, routine run-ins with the law
    • “Police Departments have millions in PR budgets, while the victim’s families are almost always poor and unschooled in press manipulation. The state has records on the victim, and yet the family is barred in most states from even knowing their son or daughter’s killer. The deck, to put it mildly, is stacked in favor of the powerful — rendering appeals to objectivity hollow.” Adam Johnson – AlterNet
    • Examples:
      • Michael Brown – after being killed by a policeman media highlighted his previously run-ins with the law and claimed he was “no angel”
      • Eric Garner – after police used an illegal chokehold on camera to kill Eric who was not resisting
        • media smeared him as a “career criminal” who somehow caused his own death by resisting arrest
      • Sandra Bland – after illegal arrest, harassment, and outright neglect led to Sandra Bland’s death
        • media reported she had “marijuana in the system.”
      • Sam Dubose – His car propelled forward after being killed by a police officer. Media claimed he was resisting arrest
      • Charly “Africa” Keunang – homeless man killed by police in borad daylight with many witnesses and a recording
        • The police leaked his criminal record to the press to smear him.
      • Freddie Gray – Died from injuries including a spinal injury caused by police.
        • Police told lies that he caused his own death to criminalized cops and discredit protestors
      • Botham Jean – after a cop wrongly entered and killed Botham, police got search warrant to find things to use against him.
        • They found marijuana.
        • “in an effort to justify police killings under the guise of “balance” the media rushes to find anything — no matter how common or innocuous — to criminalize the victim. And, since roughly 1 in 9 Americans smokes cannabis regularly, an easy go-to is the “weed in the system” line.” Adam Johnson – Alternet

“In America, accused individuals are innocent until proven guilty. Too often, in police-involved shootings, not only are officers presumed innocent, their victims are presumed guilty.” Daily News Editorial Board

“smears again police victims are more about managing public outrage than they are about truth. They’re about playing to racist tropes and criminalizing victims so the power establishment — largely white and wealthy — will side with the killer, not the killed. They’re about justifying state violence either because of ideology or credulity. They’re, above all, about erasing black suffering from the national conversation and turning victims into criminals and criminal cops into heroes.” Adam Johnson – Alternet

STOP Blaming Victims for Police Brutality | Decoded | MTV News

Altnet: 5 Times the Media Has Smeared Black Victims of Police Killings Since Michael Brown

Mike Brown was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson exactly one year ago Sunday. His death not only sparked a nationwide movement against police violence generally known as #BlackLivesMatter, it also provided the script which all of the frequent subsequent police shootings of unarmed black men and women have played out in the media.

From the beginning, the media was quick to contextualize Brown’s shooting by finding unflattering personal details about his life including routine run-ins with the law. The most shameless case was the now infamous August 25th profile in the The New York Times  that insisted “Mike Brown was no angel” as if anyone had argued otherwise about him, or another human being on earth. It was a piece that feigned nuance, but was really a part of a weeks-long posthumous trial of the dead teenager. For Brown, and countless black victims like him, they were as much, if not more, on trial than the person who had done the actual killing. They were being tried posthumously and without PR counsel.

In the wake of a police shooting, the need to rationalize police violence — typically under the guise of “balance” — almost always means demonizing the victim through public records requests, government leaks, and selective interviews. When one adopts a “both sides” mentality for police shootings, based on the nature of murder, one person cannot speak for themselves, invariably leaving us with one perspective: that of the police.

Police Departments have millions in PR budgets, while the victim’s families are almost always poor and unschooled in press manipulation. The state has records on the victim, and yet the family is barred in most states from even knowing their son or daughter’s killer. The deck, to put it mildly, is stacked in favor of the powerful — rendering appeals to objectivity hollow. Howard Zinn famously said, “you can’t be neutral on a moving train.” This has never been more obvious that in the dozens of cases of African-Americans killed by police over the past year, almost all of whom found themselves being tried in absentia by a press which prioritizes “objectivity” over fairness and access over justice.

Here are the five worst examples of demonization of black victims of police violence since Mike Brown’s death at the hands of a police officer on August 9th 2014:

Blame only the man who tragically decided to resist

Eric Garner and Michael Brown had much in common, not the least of which was this: On the last day of their lives, they made bad decisions.

Epically bad decisions.

Each broke the law — petty offenses, to be sure, but sufficient to attract the attention of the police. And then — tragically, stupidly, fatally, inexplicably — each fought the law. The law won, of course, as it almost always does.

There it is. Because Mr. Garner was a “career criminal” who, for once, resisted arrest in the most benign way possible, he deserved to die. No account of whether such extreme force was needed. No account for the banned chokehold, no account for whether or not six white men jumping on top of one black man was, at all, racially charged. No, in authoritarian rightwing land, anything short of complete submission to the police is punishable by death. And, because to them black life is cheap, their deaths become a morality tale for other black people to follow — obey the police or suffer the same fate. In this sense, black deaths aren’t just ignored, they are used as a warning to others.

1. Eric Garner

Choked on camera in broad daylight for “resisting arrest” with his hands up, Eric Garner’s death was one of the few cop killings that was so egregious it resulted in relatively bipartisan outrage – including, strangely enough, from former President George W. Bush. who said the decision not to indict Eric Garner’s killer Daniel Pantaleo was “hard to understand.”

But it’s important to stress the word “relatively” because rightwing trolls wouldn’t have it. Outlets from Breitbart, to Fox News to The New York Post to NewsMax dedicated considerable time to smearing Eric Garner as a “career criminal” who somehow caused his own death by resisting arrest. Vulgar human Bob McManus would pen one of the more offensive mainstream Garner smears, the day after his killer was set free by a Staten Island Grand Jury:

2. Sandra Bland

A combination of a likely illegal arrest, harassment, and outright neglect led to Sandra Bland’s death last month. Whether or not that was by way of suicide is yet to be determined, but thus far it seems she took her own life. In many ways, as other commenters have noted, it doesn’t matter. And in many ways, the media treated it no differently. In the wake of Ms. Bland’s death, aside from the aforementioned and entirely predictable authority worship from Fox News, another common smear tactic was trotted out: “marijuana in the system.”

It’s a popular line and one the media and St. Louis County authorities echoed time and time again in the wake of Mr. Brown’s death. That somehow having cannabis in one’s system is either relevant or inculpatory. As Managing Director of the Drug Policy Alliance Sharda Sekaran noted in the Huffington Post:

At a news conference discussing the preliminary findings of an autopsy following Bland’s alleged suicide at the Waller County Jail in Texas last week, officials placed heavy emphasis on marijuana reported to be found in the young woman’s system.

Why this emphasis? What does this have to do with widespread demands for accountability around the circumstances of her death? Are we expected to believe the not so subtle insinuation that marijuana use played a part? How is this still happening? Take a sample of random people in any walk of life in this country at any given moment in time, and you are likely to find marijuana in the system of many of them.

The reason for the emphasis is clear: in an effort to justify police killings under the guise of “balance” the media rushes to find anything — no matter how common or innocuous — to criminalize the victim. And, since roughly 1 in 9 Americans smokes cannabis regularly, an easy go-to is the “weed in the system” line.

3. Sam Dubose

Even after Hamilton County’s right-wing prosecutor delivered what has to be one of the most clear condemnations of a killer cop ever, Fox News couldn’t help itself, trying to muddy the waters soon after by, once again, blaming the victim.

As Media Matters noted at the time, Eric Bolling of Fox News’s The Five would repeat the ol’ “Don’t resist arrest line” because, as we all know, the punishment for resisting arrest is summary execution:

But everyone is rushing this, prosecutor just said the cop is guilty of murder. He’s already indicted him. And I’m not defending this at all. But people have to realize you can’t resist arrest. This guy is taking off. I don’t think that cop was fearing for his life. So I think he’ll probably be found guilty or something, but stop resisting.

Another Fox News contributor and former NYPD detective,  Bo Dietl wouldn’t miss a beat, telling Sean Hannity later than night, “Listen to me. I said it doesn’t outweigh the shooting. But should he have just driven away from the cop? Eric, is that right for him to just drive away from the cop? That’s not right either.

Body camera footage from the incident seems to contradict the claim that Dubose fled from the officer. The footage seems to suggest that, in contrast to what the officer claimed, Dubose’s car propeled forward after he was shot.

The impulse for the media, especially the right-wing media, to blame black victims for their own deaths is so strong, that even in the face of official Republican condemnation the bottom feeders at Fox News will still apologize for the police’s actions. Even when video is released that shows, beyond any reasonable doubt, a white police officer wrongfully killed a black man, the impulse to blame the victim cannot be contained. It’s not just bias, it’s a pathology.

4. Charly “Africa” Keunang

One of the lesser known police killings is also one of the more egregious examples of the media taking it upon themselves to smear a black victim. A video showing an unarmed homeless man being shot in broad daylight quickly went viral on March 1st, resulting in the LAPD going on the defensive. Per usual, the entirely unrelated criminal record of Keunang, who friends called “Africa,” would be leaked to the press and shamelessly repeated even thougt they had no bearing on the case whatsoever.

One reporter, in particular, Kate Mather of the Los Angels Times would feel the need to time and time again bring up a bank robbery Mr. Africa had committed over fifteen years ago. As I wrote at the time for FAIR:

This arrangement would become even sleazier yesterday when city authorities–and thus the LA Times–went into full on character assassination mode, with back-to-back smear pieces about Africa’s totally irrelevant criminal past. This screencap of the LA Times‘ Kate Mather’s bio page sums it up nicely:

Her jolly face contrasted with the scary, entirely non sequitur mugshot of Africa raises the question: Why? What does whether he robbed a bank 15 years ago have to do with anything? How is it relevant? How can it do anything but serve to posthumously try and convict him on unrelated charges of being poor and mentally ill?

This case illustrates an important point as well: the smearing of black victims isn’t just a staple of the rightwing media, it’s a very routine practice in local and corporate media who are in desperate need of information and always willing to uncritically repeat whatever the local police departments hand them inexchange for it. Which brings us to the last and most well-known smear:

5. Freddie Gray

The death of Freddie Gray was ruled a homicide and the officers involved were eventually arrested and charged with a number of crimes, including murder and manslaughter. But not after a week of smear pieces coming from anonymous police sources that attempted to blame Mr. Gray for his own death. Indeed, much of what the Baltimore Police said during the week of unrest in late April turned out to be bogus, including a “gang conspiracy” to take out cops that was uncritically repeated by the media but later revealed to be false by the FBI.

In addition to telling lies to discredit protestors, the Baltimore Police Department was content telling lies that also discredited the source of their outrage: Freddie Gray. Two days before prosecutors would indict the cops who were responsible for Gray’s death, the Washinton Post would run a rather bizarre — and ultimately discredited — piece based on anonymous BPD leaks detailing how Freddie Gray was trying to injure himself the day of his arrest:

A prisoner sharing a police transport van with Freddie Gray told investigators that he could hear Gray “banging against the walls” of the vehicle and believed that he “was intentionally trying to injure himself,”according to a police document obtained by The Washington Post.

Eventually, follow up corrections to the piece as well as the DA’s indictment would go a long way to discrediting the idea that Gray was supposedly responsible for his own death but in many ways the damage was done.

Like smears against protestors that almost always turn out to be bogus, smears again police victims are more about managing public outrage than they are about truth. They’re about playing to racist tropes and criminalizing victims so the power establishment — largely white and wealthy — will side with the killer, not the killed. They’re about justifying state violence either because of ideology or credulity. They’re, above all, about erasing black suffering from the national conversation and turning victims into criminals and criminal cops into heroes.

The Daily Show: Media Bias on the Shooting of Michael Brown

Daily News: Damn, Dallas: The dastardly character assassination of the victim of a police shooting

In America, accused individuals are innocent until proven guilty. Too often, in police-involved shootings, not only are officers presumed innocent, their victims are presumed guilty.

On Sept. 6, after finishing her shift, Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger entered the apartment of Botham Jean one floor above her own. She claims this was a mistake. Upon entering — she first said the door was locked, then said it was ajar — Guyger, who is white, fatally shot Jean, a black man, claiming she mistook him for an intruder.

In the 10 days since, Guyger has benefited from an insidious stealth PR campaign that extends to smearing a dead man.

It took three days after the incident for Guyger to be arrested. During that time, there are hints she may have been coached to tell her story in a manner meant to align with manslaughter, not murder, charges — as evidenced by her claims, inconsistent with third-party witness reports, that she gave Jean “verbal commands” before she fired.

Then Thursday, someone leaked to the press that a search of Jean’s apartment revealed the presence of 10 grams of marijuana. It is an abomination that these results were unsealed while others — such as a reported drug and alcohol test of Guyger — remain under wraps.

Botham Jean was shot dead while peaceably residing in his own home. Justice must be served.”

Yes! Magazine: 10 Examples That Prove White Privilege Exists in Every Aspect Imaginable

6. I Have the Privilege of Soaking in Media Blatantly Biased Toward My Race

Everyday Feminism writer Maisha Z. Johnson deepened my understanding of this bias that rears its unwelcome, White-loving head, for example, in pictures that humanize White killers while simultaneously dehumanizing victims of Color:

Two sets of pictures, one with and one without mugshots—for the same crime, covered by the same reporter (on the same day)—further illustrate this bias:

And these biases are besides a media that, according to Vanity Fair, continue to be overwhelmingly whitewashed (not to mentioned malewashed, straightwashed, and youthwashed).

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Francis Maxwell: How The Media Covers White Terrorists vs BLACK Victims

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Further Readings

Everyday Feminism: 8 Ways the Media Upholds White Privilege and Demonizes People of Color

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The Race Gap in America’s Police Departments

  • In hundreds of police departments across the country
    • % of whites on force more than 30% points higher than communities they serve
    • % of minority officers almost doubled between 1987 and 2013
  • Unfortunately increased diversity doesn’t necessarily mean more justice
    • White officers were more likely to arrest suspects than black officers overall
    • Black officers were significantly more likely arrest when the suspect was black
  • Reality, black officers part of institution with clear expectations/ demands
    • Black officers respond to the demands in similar ways that white officers do

“The idea is that the diversity can be a good thing but it should not be looked at as a panacea. A combination of diversity and better training should lead to better results.”” Jones-Brown – Professor in the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College

Source: Newsweek: The New Racial Makeup of U.S. Police Departments

Vox: The ugly history of racist policing in America

DL: Some protesters in Ferguson are demanding that the police force should reflect the community’s demographics. How essential is it to make police forces more diverse?

HT: In Detroit, in Philadelphia, in Rochester, in Harlem, and all those places [in the 1960s], when you have an all-white police force policing an all-black community, not only is there evidence that policing does not happen justly, but you have the perception and the feeling that you have kind of an occupying army in your community. I think it’s kind of obvious why it’s problematic.

“the act of policing places the police in opposition to the community”

But people misunderstand what it takes to actually integrate a police department and what the impact of that is. It’s very difficult to integrate these departments. It took the rebellions of the ‘60s to put pressure on city officials to do that in most cities. In Detroit, however, even though there was a rebellion in ’67, the police force does not really start to get integrated until 1973, when there’s a black mayor. Indeed, he gets elected in large part because he is promising, finally, to rein in the vigilante forces in the police department and to finally integrate. It takes enormous effort to actually integrate a police department. And what seems to have happened is that that has really fallen by the wayside. Many affirmative-action clauses and statutes and pieces of city governance and university governance and certainly private business governance have made it very easy to not abide by integration rule now.

Even if police departments are integrated — certainly this has been proven in Detroit, and in other cities where you have many, many more black police officers — the problem is that police are charged with policing the community and particularly policing the poor black community. The act of policing places the police in opposition to this community. Even if the officers are black, that does not guarantee that there’s going to be smooth police-community relations. Fundamentally, the problem is that there is so much targeted policing in these neighborhoods.”

NY Times: The Race Gap in America’s Police Departments

“In hundreds of police departments across the country, the percentage of whites on the force is more than 30 percentage points higher than in the communities they serve, according to an analysis of a government survey of police departments. Minorities make up a quarter of police forces, according to the 2007 survey, the most recent comprehensive data available. Experts say that diversity in the police force increases a department’s credibility with its community. “Even if police officers of whatever race enforce the law in relatively the same way, there is a huge image problem with a department that is so out of sync with the racial composition of the local population,” said Ronald Weitzer, a sociologist at George Washington University. Listed below are local police departments from 17 metropolitan areas, sorted so that departments with the largest percentage-point differences of white officers to white residents are at the top.”

Newsweek: The New Racial Makeup of U.S. Police Departments

“First, the good news: The percentage of minority police officers in U.S. local law enforcement agencies almost doubled between 1987 and 2013, according to new U.S. government data.

The not-so-good news? Research unrelated to this study indicates that diverse departments don’t equate to improved relations between cops and communities of color, an issue that hit a breaking point in recent months due to a series of police killings of unarmed black men.

But back to the demographics: In 2013, racial or ethnic minorities comprised 27 percent of local police officers, the Bureau of Justice Statistics(BJS) reported Thursday morning. That’s up from 15 percent in 1987, the first year the periodic study was conducted, and 25 percent in 2007, the last year it was conducted. In terms of raw numbers, there were 130,000 minority local police officers in 2013. That’s an increase of 78,000 officers from 1987 and 13,000 from 2007.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics said in the report there are more than 12,000 local police departments in the U.S. These agencies employ some 605,000 full-time staffers, approximately 477,000 of which are sworn officers (“those with general arrest powers,” per the BJS). The non-sworn staffers comprise some 128,000 of these employees.

What groups account for the increase in minority police officers? Sixty percent of the increase between 2007 and 2013 stems from Hispanics and Latinos, and the estimated 12 percent of officers who were Hispanic or Latino in 2013 is more than twice the some 5 percent in 1987. Twelve percent of local police officers were black in 2013, up from 9 percent  in 1987. Asian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, American Indian or Alaska Native persons comprised 3 percent of local police officers in 2013 and 2007, but that’s “about four times higher than in 1987,” according to the BJS. As far as trends go, “in general, departments in larger jurisdictions were more diverse than those in smaller ones,” a summary of the study states.

There are also more females on the force across the U.S. In 2013, approximately 58,000 females worked as local police officers, whereas only 27,000 did so in 1987.

Several experts interviewed by Newsweek said the increased diversity doesn’t necessarily mean relations between police and communities of color are more amicable.

Alex S. Vitale, associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College, told Newsweek that black and white officers “aren’t really different” in terms of reports of excessive use of force and arrests. Some research even suggests “black officers are more likely to make arrests of black suspects than their white counterparts are in the same circumstances.”

“The overarching reality is that these officers are part of an institution that has very clear expectations and demands and they respond to the demands in the way that white officers do,” he says. “Black communities often express a desire to have police officers that match the demographics of the community, but when communities are surveyed about their satisfaction with the police, communities with more diverse police forces don’t report higher satisfaction.”

“This is, in my opinion, a total canard,” he adds. “It’s maybe important from an employment standpoint, but it’s not going to make any difference in terms of the profound problems of over-policing and excessive use of force.”

The Washington Post has written on several studies detailing the link between police diversity and community relations. Lydia DePillis noted that a 2004 analysis of data from St. Petersburg, Florida and Indianapolis, Indiana concluded “black officers are more likely to conduct coercive actions” than their white colleagues when resolving conflicts. DePillis also references a 2006 analysis of Cincinnati Police Department records; in her words, the study found “white officers were more likely to arrest suspects than black officers overall—but it also found that black officers were significantly more likely to make an arrest when the suspect was black.”

Moreover, she writes that a 2011 Washington Post poll found that black residents rated the police department at a “relatively low 60 percent” even though “the force is highly integrated.” She also notes: “The New York Police Department’s demographics are close to those of the rest of the city, but a Quinnipiac poll from 2014 found that only 54 percent of black residents approved of its performance. The Detroit police department is so dominated by African Americans that it’s been sued for discrimination against whites, and yet only 18 percent of black Wayne County residents approved of its work in 2009.”

Delores Jones-Brown, professor in the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, and founder of the school’s Center on Race, Crime and Justice, says the effects of more diversity on police rosters are unclear.

“The research is divided on the issue of whether or not diversifying police departments has any specific impacts,” she explains. “There’s one set of research that says that regardless of the identity of the police officer, they become part of a police culture and in that police culture there is an ‘us-versus-them’ personality.”

“The police put themselves and their own safety ahead of that of the general public and they believe they have a right to go home at the end of the shift,” regardless of what that means for other people, Jones-Brown says.

This doesn’t mean that diversifying police departments can’t improve relations with communities of color. Institutional culture–and officer education–could make diversity more meaningful in a policing context.

“The idea is that the diversity can be a good thing but it should not be looked at as a panacea,” Jones-Brown says. “A combination of diversity and better training should lead to better results.””

MTV Decoded: Black on Black Crime, Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, White Victims of Police

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The Criminalization of Civil Rights Activists

1965 Selma, Alabama March, 1963, Birmingham Demonstration, 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade

“For more than a decade — from the mid-1950s until the late 1960s, officials who opposed civil rights systematically and strategically framed their rhetoric as calls for law and order, arguing that Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of civil disobedience was a leading cause of crime.” Michelle Alexander

13th Movie: Attack on Civil Rights Leaders

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Civil Rights Movement (1954-68)

“In three difficult years, the southern struggle had grown from a modest group of black students demonstrating at one lunch-counter to the largest mass movement for racial reform and civil rights in the 20th century” Manning Marable, Malcolm X

  • Height of the Civil Rights Movement (1961-1963)
    • Over 20,000 people arrested protesting Jim Crow laws
    • 1963 alone
      • Over 15,000 arrested
      • Over 1000 desegregation protests in more than 100 cities
    • According to DOJ, the 10 weeks before King’s 1963 “I have a dream” speech
      • There were 758 demonstrations in 186 cities resulting in 14,733 arrests.
  • 1963 Birmingham Campaign
    • Considered one of the major turning points in the Civil Rights Movement
    • Sit-ins, marches, protests, boycotts, Children’s Crusade
    • Met with police brutality, dogs, fire hoses, bombings, arrests, etc.
    • Much of it was captured on TV and in news
      • Before Campaign, only 4% of Americans thought civil rights was a pressing issue
        • Afterwards it was 52%
      • “The events in Birmingham… have so increased the cries for equality that no city or state or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them.” President Kennedy
  • Civil Rights Victories
    • 1954 – Brown v. Board of Education ruled that segregation was unconstitutional.
    • 1956 – After Montgomery Bus Boycott – Supreme Court declared Alabama bus laws unconstitutional
    • 1960 – Boynton v. Virginia ruled segregated buses were unconstitutional – launched Freedom Riders
    • 1961 – JFK signed an Executive Order creating Affirmative Action
    • 1964 – Civil Rights Act – outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin
    • 1964 – LBJ’s Great Society domestic programs begin, to elimination of poverty and racial injustice
    • 1965 – Voting Rights Act outlawed the discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states
    • 1968 – Fair Housing Act prohibited discrimination in the sale and rental of housing

Angela Davis on Violence During her Prison Interview (1972)

Barry Callaghan Interviews Angela Davis in California Prison, 1970

Criminalization of Civil Rights Activists

  • Changing stereotypes of black people
    • During slavery – docile, uncivilized, needed to be enslaved by white supremacy
    • Post slavery/Lynching era – criminals, rapists, needed to be lynched by white supremacy
    • Civil Rights Era – criminals, communists inciting violence, needed to be suppressed by “Law and Order”

“The law protected white supremacy rather than racial equality, and persecuted those who opposed the racial status quo” Equal Justice Initiative

  • During civil rights and desegregation efforts, segregationist elected officials:
    • Denounced desegregation and blamed black people for the white violence that followed
    • Demonized peaceful civil rights protestors as “criminals” and “law breakers”
    • Used the legal system to harass, beat, arrest, and imprison activists.
      • bus boycott, police arrested black activists, carpool drivers and 89 leaders on phony charges
        • From start of the Montgomery bus boycott to 1968 assassination, MLK jr. was arrested more than 25 times

“For more than a decade — from the mid-1950s until the late 1960s, officials who opposed civil rights systematically and strategically framed their rhetoric as calls for law and order, arguing that Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of civil disobedience was a leading cause of crime.” Michelle Alexander – The New Jim Crow

  • COINTELPRO
    • Derived from COunter INTELligence PROgram
    • Program initiated by the FBI (Hoover) in 1956 to neutralize suspicious persons and organizations
      • Less than 1% of their programs focused on right wing groups like KKK
      • Less than 20% focused on organized crimes or to solved crimes committed
      • 79% focused on harassing, disrupting, discrediting, and killing civil rights leaders of color
    • John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon all supported Hoover’s efforts

“Some segregationists even claimed that integration caused crime, and found their rhetoric bolstered by suspect but highly publicized FBI reports of dramatic increases in the national crime rate. By criminalizing civil rights activists, opponents of civil rights shifted the public debate from segregation to crime.” Equal Justice Initiative

Criminalizing Civil Rights Efforts

  • Criminal law was used to maintain racial control since the end of Civil War
    • “The law protected white supremacy rather than racial equality, and persecuted those who opposed the racial status quo” Equal Justice Initiative
    • 1950-60s, segregationist officials denounced peaceful civil rights protestors and desegregation participants as:
      • “criminals” and “law breakers”
      • used the legal system to harass, beat, arrest, and imprison them
  • Civil Rights Leaders:
    • Parks, MLK, 89 Mont. bus boycott leaders arrested/charged organizing illegal boycott
      • Dozens black activists & carpool drivers arrested on phony traffic charges
    • King was arrested, jailed, and fined more than 25 times in his life
  • Desegregation participants:
    • 17-year-old Deborah Bracy integrated the high school in Wetumpka, Alabama
      • was arrested, charged with assault, and jailed overnight for poking a white classmate with a pencil
    • Clyde Kennard, a black veteran, applied to all-white Mississippi Southern College in 1955
      • He was targeted by the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission a
        • After failing to discredit him, officials charged him with minor theft and alcohol possession.
        • All-white jury convicted Mr. Kennard of stealing $25 worth of chicken feed
          • Sentenced 7 years in prison, where he died from colon cancer in 1963. He was 36 years old

“Some segregationists even claimed that integration caused crime, and found their rhetoric bolstered by suspect but highly publicized FBI reports of dramatic increases in the national crime rate. By criminalizing civil rights activists, opponents of civil rights shifted the public debate from segregation to crime.” Equal Justice Initiative

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EJI: Race and the Criminal Justice System

“After slavery was abolished in 1865, Southern states, where more than 90 percent of black Americans lived, embraced criminal justice as a means of racial control. Discriminatory “Black Codes” led to the imprisonment of unprecedented numbers of black men, women, and children, who were returned to slavery-like conditions through forced labor and convict leasing systems that lasted well into the 20th century.

Criminal laws also were used against Civil Rights protestors, who were denounced as “law breakers” and faced arrest, incarceration, and police brutality. These courageous campaigns earned many victories, but policies to combat racial inequality, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, have not targeted criminal justice, where outcomes are still impacted by the same racial bias and inequality that pervade American society. Mass incarceration today stands as a legacy of past abuses and continues to limit opportunities in our nation’s most vulnerable communities.

The United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate; 2.3 million Americans are in prison today. Fueled by the “war on drugs” and “tough on crime” mandatory sentencing policies, mass incarceration has a clear racial impact: 70 percent of American prisoners are non-white. The average American has a 1 in 20 chance of being imprisoned at some point in his life, but that rate is much higher for Latino men (1 in 6) and African American men (more than 1 in 3) than for white men (1 in 23). Strikingly, 1 in 9 black men under age 25 lives under some form of restrained liberty: in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole.”

EJI: Violence Against Civil Rights Workers

For a century following the Civil War, African Americans were the targets of a campaign of terror consisting of brutality and violence which served to maintain and bolster segregation in the South. This campaign of terror persisted during the Civil Rights Movement. Courageous activists were subjected to threats, mass arrests, beatings, church bombings, and murder. The criminal justice system turned a blind eye to the terrorism, often refusing to protect activists or prosecute perpetrators.

In 1955, Lamar Smith, a farmer and World War I veteran, was shot and murdered on a crowded courthouse lawn in Brookhaven, Mississippi, for urging blacks to vote. That same year, Reverend George Lee, a grocery store owner, was shot and murdered for organizing black voters in the Mississippi Delta.

On “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, several hundred civil rights marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, were met by an angry mob of state and local lawmen who brutally attacked the marchers. Months later, Jonathan Daniels, a white seminary student from Boston who traveled to Alabama to help with black voter registration in Lowndes County, was murdered by a deputy sheriff.

Though the intensity of racial violence decreased following the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it created a legacy that has deeply scarred many communities.

EJI: Segregation in America

  • Criminal law has been used to maintain racial control since the end of the Civil War.252 In the 1960s, nearly a century after Emancipation, elected officials denounced peaceful civil rights protestors as “criminals” and “law breakers” and used the legal system to harass, beat, arrest, and imprison activists.253 The law protected white supremacy rather than racial equality, and persecuted those who opposed the racial status quo. “The Community Relations Service (CRS) of the Justice Department, established under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, reported police brutality and other violence against black people that went unpunished throughout the 1970s,” wrote historian Mary Frances Berry, “while the FBI and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division spent their time in surveillance of black individuals and groups.”254

    A week after 17-year-old Deborah Bracy and several other black students integrated the high school in Wetumpka, Alabama, she was arrested, charged with assault, and jailed overnight for poking a white classmate with a pencil.255

    Clyde Kennard, a black veteran, was targeted by the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission after he applied to all-white Mississippi Southern College in Hattiesburg in 1955. When surveillance and investigations failed to discredit him, officials charged him with minor allegations of theft and alcohol possession. An all-white jury convicted Mr. Kennard of stealing $25 worth of chicken feed and he was sentenced to seven years in prison, where he died from undiagnosed colon cancer in 1963. He was 36 years old.256

    In response to the Montgomery bus boycott, police arrested scores of black activists and carpool drivers on phony traffic charges and tried to disbar the black lawyer who filed the lawsuit challenging bus segregation.257

    Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Reverend Ralph Abernathy, and boycott organizer Jo Ann Robinson were among 89 leaders arrested and charged with organizing an illegal boycott.258 The grand jury wrote: “In this state we are committed to segregation by custom and law. We intend to maintain it.”259

    As a movement leader, Dr. King was routinely targeted by Southern law enforcement. Between the start of the Montgomery bus boycott and his 1968 assassination, Dr. King was arrested, jailed, and fined more than 25 times, in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 and 1958; Atlanta in 1960; Albany, Georgia, in 1961 and 1962; Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 and 1967; St. Augustine, Florida, in 1964; and Selma, Alabama, in 1965. 260 He was not alone.

    After two Florida A&M students were arrested for sitting in the “white section” of a bus in Tallahassee, the black community launched a boycott modeled after the Montgomery effort. Boycott organizers and participants faced similar harassment. In October 1956, 21 carpool drivers and nine boycott leaders were arrested for allegedly not having proper car tags. After a three-day trial, they were convicted; some were sentenced to pay fines and some were sent to jail.261

    “For more than a decade — from the mid-1950s until the late 1960s,” wrote Michelle Alexander, officials who opposed civil rights systematically and strategically framed their rhetoric as “calls for law and order, arguing that Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of civil disobedience was a leading cause of crime.”294 Some segregationists even claimed that integration caused crime, and found their rhetoric bolstered by suspect but highly publicized FBI reports of dramatic increases in the national crime rate.295

    By criminalizing civil rights activists, opponents of civil rights shifted the public debate from segregation to crime.296

    In the 1968 presidential election, both Richard Nixon and former Alabama Governor George Wallace made “law and order” a central theme of their campaigns; combined, they won 57 percent of the vote.297 Nixon ran one ad that “explicitly called on voters to reject the lawlessness of civil rights activists and embrace ‘order’ in the United States.” 298

    It was a popular message. By 1968, 81 percent of Americans agreed that “law and order has broken down in this country” and the majority blamed “Negroes who start riots” and “Communists.” EJI

    “In 1961, an interracial group of civil rights activists set out on a Freedom Ride from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans, Louisiana, to test a recent Supreme Court decision that outlawed racial segregation in interstate bus travel.314


    In Anniston, Alabama, segregationists hurled a fire bomb into a Freedom Rider bus on May 14, 1961. (AP Photo)

    When the Freedom Riders’ bus arrived in Anniston, Alabama, on May 14, 1961, it was met by a mob of white men armed with pipes, chains, and bats, who smashed windows, slashed tires, and dented the sides of the bus. 315 Police arrived 20 minutes after the attack began and made no arrests. They escorted the crippled bus to the city limits and then abandoned it. 316 When flat tires forced the driver to stop at a service station shortly after, another armed white mob trapped the riders in the bus and threw a firebomb inside, then viciously beat the riders who escaped.317 Two days later in Birmingham, police chief Eugene “Bull” Connor allowed a white mob of several hundred people to attack the riders with baseball bats, hammers, and pipes, leaving several seriously injured.318

    The next day, a new group of riders continued on to Montgomery, where they were abandoned by police and attacked by a white mob of 200 people at the downtown Greyhound bus station. About 20 people were injured in the attack, including reporters and photographers covering the Freedom Rides for national media.319

    That evening, civil rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth organized an evening service at Montgomery’s First Baptist Church in support of the riders. While more than 1000 people sang and listened to sermons inside the church, white men surrounded the building, vandalized parked cars, and threatened to set the church on fire. When federal marshals tried to intervene, they were pelted with bricks and bottles by white rioters, who then overturned cars, fired bullets and firebombs at local black residents, and attacked black people in the street.320

    Alabama Governor John Patterson refused to condemn the white rioters, and instead blamed the Freedom Riders for the violence they suffered in Alabama. During his 1958 campaign, Patterson had warned that integration would cause “violence, disorder, and bloodshed” and had refused to repudiate an endorsement from the Ku Klux Klan.321

    “If the Federal Government really wants to help in this unfortunate situation,” Patterson told reporters in Montgomery, “they will encourage these outside agitators to go home. We have the means and the ability to keep the peace in Alabama without any outside help.”

Vox: The ugly history of racist policing in America

“…Nationally, it suggests that we haven’t learned nearly enough from our history. Not just 1917, and all the riots that happened in 1919, and 1921 — but, much more specifically, from the ‘60s. Because of course, this is exactly the same issue that generated most of the rebellions of the 1960s. In 1964, exactly 50 years ago, [unrest in] Philadelphia, Rochester, and Harlem were all touched off by the killing of young African Americans. That’s what touches off Harlem. It’s the beating of a young black man that touches off Rochester in ’64. It’s the rumor that a pregnant woman has been killed by the police in Philadelphia in ’64. So in some sense, my reaction to this is: of course. Because until you fundamentally deal with this issue of police accountability in the black community and fair policing in the black community, this is always a possibility.

DL: This continuity from the white attacks on black citizens after World War I, to the rioting of disenfranchised African Americans in the 1960s, is interesting. Is there a relationship between those two and between the violence of private white citizens and violence of police?

HT: On the surface they seem unrelated: you’ve got racist white citizens who are attacking blacks in the streets, and then years or decades later, you have the police acting violently in the black community.

“it’s the police that are called out when blacks try to integrate white neighborhoods”

In response to all those riots in the 1910s and 1920s, civil rights commissions were set up in cities, and there was pressure on both local and federal governments to address white vigilantism and white rioting against blacks. And while it was not particularly effective, it certainly had this censuring quality to it. And then what historians would agree happened is that, in so many cities, the police became the proxy for what the white community wants.

So one of the answers is that police became the front line of the white community — or, at least, the most racially conservative white community. It’s the police that are called out, for example, when blacks try to integrate white neighborhoods. It’s the police that become that body that defends whites in their homes.

cop bobby stick watts riots

Fifty years ago this summer, protests in Rochester brought out aggressive police response. (William Lovelace/Hulton)

DL: How did this play out after the unrest that you mentioned?

HT: We start the war on crime in 1965, which, of course, is very much in response to these urban rebellions. Because politicians decide that protests against things like police brutality are exactly the same thing as crime — that this is disorderly. This is criminal.

And so, police are specifically charged with keeping order and with stopping crime, which has now become synonymous with black behavior in the streets. The police, again, become that entity that polices black boundaries. And I will tell you that one of the most striking things about the media coverage of Ferguson is that they are absolutely doing what they did in the 1960s in terms of the reporting: “This is all about the looters, this is all about black violence.”

DL: It certainly seems that even before any looting actually happened in Ferguson, police were anticipating that kind of thing.

HT: Any time that there is urban rebellion, the way that it is spun has everything to do with whether it’s granted legitimacy. Notably, when there was rioting in the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, and you saw the police with fire hoses and police dogs, it was very easy for white Northerners, particularly the press, to report that for exactly what it was — which was police violence on black citizens who were protesting. Everyone’s very clear about that. Sheriff Bull Connor is a racist, the police are racist, and that is why it is violent.

But the minute that these protests moved northward, the racial narrative was much more uncomfortable. “Why in the world would blacks be protesting against us good-hearted white folks in the North? And how dare they?” And what it means is that they were demanding too much, and that they were in fact just looking for trouble. So that narrative of who gets to be a legitimate protester shifts dramatically once protests move northward. It’s all about violence, troublemaking, looting, and so forth.

rochester riot army

Northerners sympathized with protesters in Birmingham, but in Rochester they sent in the army. (William Lovelace/Hulton Archive)

DL: What’s the response to a narrative like that?

HT: Even in the 1960s, you’ve got the white and black liberals who are saying, “Calm down, calm down, go home, stop this. Be peaceful.” And the white community, white politicians are desperate for these black politicians to have that kind of legitimacy: “Please go out and entice people to calm down!”

“they don’t have rubber bullets. it’s never a fair fight.”

Until black life is valued to the same extent white life is by members of law enforcement and by the criminal-justice community, there will be this question of legitimacy of the police and their actions, particularly among black folks who are routinely stopped. And then, people get angry. And then, people do start throwing rocks and bottles. But make no mistake about it: they don’t have rubber bullets. It’s never a fair fight.

Black Power = Anti-White Power Myth

  • The Black Power Movement
    • 1960-70s political and social movement advocating racial pride, self-sufficiency, and equality for all black people
    • Founded black-owned bookstores, food cooperatives, farms, media, printing presses, schools, clinics, ambulance services
    • “The growth of the Black Panther Party and other Black Power organizations in 1967 reflected the fact that Black youngsters had realized that civil rights persuasion and lobbying tactics had failed to loosen the suffocating stranglehold of police brutalizers, tyrannical slumlords, neglectful school boards, and exploitive businessman.” Ibram Kendi, Stamped From the Beginning
  • Black Panther Party
    • Founded to monitor and prevent police brutality in Oakland but expanded to social programs such as:
    • Organize community medical services
    • Community education programs
    • Providing free youth breakfast programs
      • 1969-1970s, Panthers set up kitchens in cities across the US, feeding over 10,000 children every day before they went to school
        • Inspired the federal free breakfast programs in 1975 that feeds over 14.57 million children before school
      • “potentially the greatest threat to efforts by authorities to neutralize the BPP and destroy what it stands for” FBI Director Hoover
        • Organized propaganda and police raids against BPP youth breakfast programs
  • “Anti-White” Myth backlash
    • Immediately many news networks, periodicals, leaders, conservative to progressive criticized the movement as Anti-white
      • “No matter how endlessly they try to explain it, the term black power means anti-white power” Roy Wilkins, NAACP
      • “Yes, racism is racism, and there is no room in America for racism of any color” Hubert Humphrey
    • COINTELPRO: Massive FBI campaign surveillance, infiltration, perjury, police harassment and propaganada campaign

“There was nothing more democratic than saying that the majority, in this case the disempowered Black majority, should rule their own local communities, should have Black power. But just as sexists could only envision male or female supremacy, northern and southern racists could only envision White or Black supremacy.   And the twenty urban rebellions that ensued in the summer of 1966 only confirmed for many racists that Black Power meant Blacks violently establishing Black supremacy and slaughtering White folks. “Ibram Kendi, Stamped From the Beginning

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Modern Attack on the Right to Protest

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Post Trump Attack on the Right to Protest

“In April (2017), two U.N. human rights investigators issued a statement in response to a wave of bills introduced in over 19 states since Trump’s election, which can generously be deemed “anti-protest.” The experts noted an “alarming and undemocratic” trend.

In Indiana, for example, Republicans proposed legislation to allow police to use “any means necessary” to remove protesters from a roadway; in Virginia, lawmakers are considering a bill that would make “unlawful assembly” after the police have ordered a crowd to disperse punishable with a year’s jail time; in North Dakota, Republicans proposed legislation to legalize running over protesters if they are blocking roadways” Natasha Lennard – The New Inquiry

Republican Anti-Protest Bills Since Trump Election

  • Arizona
    • Expand racketeering laws to allow police to arrest anyone involved in a protest and seize their assets, like organized criminals (pending)
  • Louisiana
    • Increased penalties for protesting near a pipeline up to 5 years jail time and $10,000 (passed)
  • Oregon
    • Mandatory expulsion for college students convicted of rioting (failed)
  • North Dakota
    • Expanded penalties for riots, criminal trespass, and concealing your identity during protests (Passed)
    • Legalize running over protesters if they are blocking roadways (Failed)
  • Missouri
    • Prohibits public labor strikes and bans public employees from personally picketing or protesting (Passed)
    • Lawmakers want to make it illegal to wear a robe, mask or disguise to a protest (failed)
  • Minnesota
    • Punish highway protestors with heavy fines and prison time and liable for the policing costs of the protest (passed)
    • Reclassify as a felony civil disobedience protests that are deemed “economic terrorism” (failed)
  • North Carolina
    • Make it a crime to heckle lawmakers (failed)
    • Eliminating driver liability for hitting protesters (failed)
    • Criminalizing certain protests as “economic terrorism” (failed)
  • Tennessee
    • New penalties for protesters who block traffic (passed)
  • South Dakota
    • Governor and Sheriff can banned certain protest activities on public lands and highway traffic (passed)
  • Indiana
    • Allow police to use “any means necessary” to remove activists from a roadway (failed)
  • Colorado
    • Activists who tamper with oil/gas equipment could face felony charges and be punished up to 18 months and a fine of up to $100,000 (failed)
    • Barring teachers from protesting in support of a teachers’ strike (failed)
  • Virginia
    • Increase punishment for protestors who refuse to disperse up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine (failed)

ICNL US Protest Law Tracker: http://www.icnl.org/usprotestlawtracker/

Blue Lives Matter Laws

  • 2016 LA & KY pass Blue Lives Matter laws
    • Amended hate crime provisions to include police/firefighter
      • Even though its already a fed crime
    • Dozens of state bills have been proposed to follow
  • Many bills could charge someone with a hate crime
    • For something like resisting arrest
    • Often “resisting arrest” is charge to cover up police brutality
  • Blue lives don’t exist
    • Because officers can take their uniforms off

Washington Post: ‘Blue lives’ do matter — that’s the problem

How police identity trumps public interest

“In May 2016, Louisiana became the first state to propose a “Blue Lives Matter” law, which amended hate crime provisions to include targeting an individual “because of actual or perceived employment as a law enforcement officer or firefighter.” Since then, dozens of bills in states across the nation have been proposed to follow Louisiana’s lead.

The reaction to the new legislative agenda was immediate. The common refrain — “Blue lives don’t exist because officers can take their uniforms off” — was an understandable reaction to the constant racism and brutality black Americans experience every day in interactions with law enforcement.

But “blue lives” do exist. That’s the problem.

The “Blue Lives Matter” movement and its corresponding legislation are just the latest chapter in the evolving notion of what it means to be a police officer, one that dates back over 150 years. The subsequent history shows that, at least for white officers, this strong sense of identity and camaraderie — of police-hood — often supersedes an ability to empathize with civilians of color…

…Yet even as black officers adopt blue lives, their experiences show the tenuousness of the notion that police can adopt a uniform identity, regardless of their race. Without a uniform on, black police are often less able to live unthinkingly in their identities as police, the armed defenders of order and the status quo. “I get anxious in those situations, even more so because I’m legally carrying a gun,” Perry Tarrant of the Seattle Police Department told NBC News. “The potential for things to go sideways makes you well aware of who you are. And I don’t think my situation is unique.”

He’s right. In June of this year, for instance, a white officer shot a black off-duty member of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.  And yet as Alex Vitale and other sociologists of policing have argued, the “warrior mentality” of us vs. them sinks in after police training, with black officers often siding with white colleagues…

…The Lexow Committee that investigated NYPD corruption warned of this trend in 1895. The committee found that “it appears that the police form a separate and highly privileged class, armed with the authority and machinery for oppression and punishment, but practically free themselves from the operation of criminal law.” The ironies of lawless law enforcement, of specially protected protectors, have been with us for a long time.

Whether through recruitment procedures, community relations or the abolition of law enforcement as we know it, policing in the 21st century is in need of a drastic reframing and reforming. Not toward blue lives, but toward a broader sense of identity, one that understands the police as being the same as civilians, rather than a separate class looking out for its own.”

The Nation: The Case Against ‘Blue Lives Matter’ Bills

Hate-crimes laws make sense for groups that have been historically discriminated against. Police officers don’t qualify.

“Two weeks ago, the New York State Senate passed a so-called “Blue Lives Matter” bill—a law that makes offenses against police and first responders a hate crime. Forms of such legislation have been introduced in at least 14 states since the beginning of 2016. There is little chance that New York’s bill will pass through the state assembly, where Democrats hold a majority, but the sentiment behind the proposed legislation—that police officers need another layer of protection beyond that which they are already afforded—has raised concern among civil-rights advocates and in heavily policed communities.

So far, two Blue Lives Matter bills have been signed into law: The first was passed last May in Louisiana, and the second just two months ago in Kentucky. Hate crimes laws often increase the sentence imposed on the offender, but, more than that, they are symbolic. “Most hate crime statutes protect against groups that have historically been targets of bigotry; hate crime statutes across all states most commonly prohibit crimes based on race, religion, and ethnicity,” writes Jessica Henry, a justice-studies professor at Montclair State University. Is that the case for police officers?

…The 1968 Civil Rights act made it a crime to “willfully…injure, intimidate or interfere with—any person because of his race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.” Robinson says hate-crime legislation should and has historically been used for victims and communities who have not been properly protected by the law. For black Americans, he said, hate-crime laws have made sense, though conviction rates for hate crimes remain incredibly low. Between 2010 and 2015 a total of 270 hate crimes were referred to federal prosecutors across the country and 230 of them weren’t ever even prosecuted. During that five-year period, only 29 people were convicted of a hate crime. Meanwhile, every state in America has an increased penalty for those who attack law enforcement.

Killing a police officer can result in life imprisonment—just last month a New York man was sentenced to life for killing an NYPD officer. And killing a federal law-enforcement official can be punishable by death. “It’s counterproductive to add a hate crime statute,” said Michael Lieberman of the Washington Council for the Anti-Defamation League. With a hate crime, Lieberman explained, the intent of the offender must be proven in a court of law, a standard of proof that actually makes it more difficult to get a conviction. He suggested strengthening existing protections for police instead of adopting legislation that makes offenses against police a hate crime. Moore, who worked on the landmark case that ruled New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy unconstitutional, says that police “get so much the benefit of the doubt from juries and legal immunity,” he said. Officers, he said, can avoid liability even when the court finds that their conduct violated the constitution if they say they didn’t know what they were doing was wrong. “[Law enforcement] get two bites of the apple, we don’t generally even get one.”

Another troubling aspect of the Blue Lives Matter bills is that they’re incredibly vague. “There’s nothing in the language of New York’s bill that limits the type of offenses which may be perpetrated against the police officer that could be elevated to a hate crime,” said Moore. “It could include any felony or misdemeanor under the state of New York.” That means a person could be charged with a hate crime for something like resisting arrest.

In Louisiana, “resisting arrest” did come up as a potential offense covered under the hate-crime law. “Resisting an officer or battery of a police officer was just that charge, simply. But now, Governor Edwards, in the legislation, made it a hate crime now,” said Police Chief Calder Hebert of St. Martinville, Louisiana, to a local TV station

…If there are already far-reaching protections for police officers in all 50 states, why are states pursuing this legislation? The answer, of course, is politics. “If New York State wants to send a message that black lives don’t matter unless they’re cops, this is the best way to do it,” said Vince Warren, Executive Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, a legal advocacy organization. “At their core, ‘Blue Lives Matter’ bills like this one seek to turn Black Lives Matter protesters into enemies of the state.” Warren said that the proposed bill “gives the police added incentive to claim an assault when being lawfully confronted by protesters, which will deter legitimate protest even when those assaults don’t actually happen.” So, beyond these bills being redundant, they also have the potential to detract peaceful protesters from gathering. “You’re supposed to pass bills to address problems,” said Moore. In this case, he adds, “There’s no need for it.””

Daily News:  Louisiana police chief charging people with a felony hate crime, punishable by 10 years in prison, if they resist arrest

“Now that Louisiana’s Blue Lives Matter law is in full effect, the troubling consequences are already being felt across the state. According to St. Martinville Police Chief Calder Hebert, if a man is arrested for the misdemeanor of stealing a candy bar from a convenience store, but then resists arrest, he can and will be charged with a felony hate crime and sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for it. In fact, if someone is wrongly arrested, but then resists that wrongful arrest, instead of simply being charged with the misdemeanor of resisting arrest, they, too, can be charged with a felony hate crime against police. It doesn’t matter if they actually hate police or not, which would seem to be a necessary requirement of a hate crime, but resisting arrest is being made into a serious felony nonetheless.

In fact, Hebert told KATC News that he is already enforcing the law and charging people with felony hate crimes against police when they resist arrest. “Resisting an officer or battery of a police officer was just that charge, simply. But now, Gov. Edwards, in the legislation, made it a hate crime now,” said the chief.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why we have more people in prison than any other nation in the world. Making resisting an arrest into a felony hate crime is preposterous. First off, the charge of “resisting arrest” is already outrageously nebulous and regularly abused by police who can deem even the slightest movement or failure to immediately reply to a command as “resisting arrest.”

I knew a man who had a police dog biting him all over his body, including his genitals, who was then charged with “resisting arrest” because he did not remain calm and still. I knew a woman who was charged with resisting arrest because of her sluggish behaviors during a diabetic attack.

These laws, like most laws in America, will be used to criminalize blackness itself. White police officers will disproportionately enforce this new felony hate crime statute against people of color. Conservatives will then say more people of color are being charged with this ridiculous felony because people of color resist arrest more. It’s all so damn predictable. What I know is that when a young white kid who had too much to drink gets a little rowdy with the police, this law simply won’t be applied to him. That’d simply be too much. Instead, Louisiana’s already crowded jails and prisons will continue to be overstuffed with black and brown bodies who did not endure arrest in robotic silence — no matter how tight the cuffs or bogus the charge.”

 

Founders of Black Lives Matter Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors on the History of BLM

(insert video)

Second Civil Rights Movement

“Dear fellow white people, we are in the middle of a second Civil Rights Movement. Most of us white people idealize Martin Luther King, Jr. and we like to think that we would have been on his side of things during the Civil Rights era. But the fact is that the majority of the American public did not support the Civil Rights movement while it was happening and only came to see King as a hero after he was killed.

The Civil Rights movement was unpopular among most whites when it was happening. It was unpopular because it made white people deeply uncomfortable. Today, the Black Lives Matter movement makes us uncomfortable, too. In forty years we will look back on this second Civil Rights movement and have to ask ourselves whether we were on the right side of history. If we want to be on the right side of history this time, we have to make ourselves uncomfortable. There is no comfortable way to change. And the change can start with saying this simple but powerful phrase: Black Lives Matter.” John Halstead, HuffPost

All Lives Matter Myth

“Black people, on the other hand, don’t have the luxury of being “colorblind.” They live in a culture which constantly reminds them of their Black-ness, which tells them in a million large and small ways that they are not as important as white people, that their lives actually do not matter as much as white lives. Which is why saying “Black Lives Matter” is so important.

“All Lives Matter” is a problem because it refocuses the issue away from systemic racism and Black lives. It distracts and diminishes the message that Black lives matter or that they should matter more than they do. “All Lives Matter” is really code for “White Lives Matter,” because when white people think about “all lives,” we automatically think about “all white lives.”

We need to say “Black Lives Matter,” because we’re not living it. No one is questioning whether white lives matter or whether police lives matter. But the question of whether Black lives really matter is an open question in this country.” John Halstead

White Lives Matter

The major difference:

Black Lives Matter (Too)
White Lives Matter (More)

Remember that.

— X (@XLNB) August 22, 2016

Here’s the problem with “White Lives Matter”

Black Lives Matter = Fight for equality

White Lives Matter = Fight for superiority

— Ugene’s Politics (@UgenesPolitics) August 22, 2016

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Trump Weaponized Patriotism to Fight a Culture War

  • 2016 NFL QB Colin Kaepernick started to protest police brutality and racial injustice
    • By kneeling during the Anthem
    • Conservatives are the majority of NFL fans
    • Huge white backlash causing Kaepernick not to get signed by any team after becoming a free agent
      • Burning of jerseys, death threats, NFL boycott, etc
    • Many other players continue the protest
  • Trump changed the subject by claiming protesting NFL players:
    • Are attacking military
    • Unpatriotic
    • Stated:
      • Any player protesting was a “son of a bitch” that should immediately be removed from the field for disrespecting the flag, the anthem, and the military and, by extension, America
      • “The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!” Trump
    • According to the testimony of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, told him. “This is a very winning, strong issue for me,” Jones testified that Trump told him in a phone call. “Tell everybody, you can’t win this one. This one lifts me.”
  • 2018 Washington Post poll on the protest:
    • 58% white people disapprove
    • 86% of Republicans disapprove
    • 69% of black people approve
    • 66% of Democrats approve
  • 2016 Quinnipiac U. poll surveyed views on US police
    • 70% of white Americans believed police are doing their job
    • 67% of black Americans disagreed.

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Whose Streets?

Know Your Rights

  • Protect your Right to Protest
    • right-to-protest.org/protect-your-protest/
  • ACLU: Know Your Rights: Demonstrations and Protests
    • aclu.org/know-your-rights/demonstrations-and-protests

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COINTELPRO

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  • What is COINTELPRO
    • Derived from COunter INTELligence PROgram
    • Program initiated by the FBI in 1956 to neutralize suspicious persons and organizations
    • Initially to target Communist Party USA
      • Quickly expanded to include wide range of groups considered “subversive”
  • Subversives Targeted
    • Main “subversives” considered was civil rights leaders/groups in 50-60s including MLK Jr
      • “During 1967-1971, FBI headquarters approved 379 proposals for COINTELPRO actions against ‘black nationalists.’ These operations utilized dangerous and unsavory techniques which gave rise to the risk of death and often disregarded the personal rights and dignity of the victims….Black leaders committed to racial justice represented a threat to white supremacy and became targets of law enforcement harassment and attack even when they advocated nonviolence. Beginning in 1963, for example, MLK Jr. “was the target of an intensive campaign by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to ‘neutralize’ him as an effective civil rights leader” and destroy his image as a “potential messiah” to unify black activists. “ Equal Justice Initiative
      • In 1963 FBI Assistant Director William Sullivan, head of the Intelligence Division, reported to Hoover that effective exploitation of the information gathered on King “if handled properly, could take him off his pedestal… the Negroes will be left without a national leader of sufficiently compelling personality to steer them in the proper direction.”
      • Hoover said in reference to black nationalist Malcolm X and integrationist King, “we wouldn’t have any problem if we could get those two guys fighting, if we could get them to kill one another off…”
    • White supremacist groups like the KKK had files, but were outnumbered by files on civil rights groups.
      • There were only two files for right wing groups
      • For black nationalists, the Panthers represented 233 of 295, (79 percent) of all operations in that category
      • The Congressional hearings found that the FBI devoted less than 20 percent of its intelligence efforts to disrupt organized crime or to solve crimes related to bank robberies, murders, rapes and interstate theft.
        • By contrast, more than half of all FBI targets were political organizations.

COINTELPRO Tactics

  • COINTELPRO tactics
    • Were codified to “disrupt, misdirect, discredit, and neutralize” targeted orgs
      • Used informants, agent provocateurs, infiltrators, legal and illegal wiretaps, break-ins, false correspondence, and “bad-jacketing,” which was the act of making a legitimate member of a group appear to be a collaborator with the state.
      • Psychological warfare included calling the parents of young civil rights activists to inform them that their children had been murdered or kidnapped.
      • FBI agents worked with journalists to plant stories to discredit leadership and orgs.
      • Across the country, the Bureau collaborated with local police to repress targeted groups
        • The caused activists were arrested, fired from jobs, expelled from schools and lost business contracts
  • Black Panthers
    • Hoover called the Panthers “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.”
    • In internal memos, he encouraged “hard-hitting” ideas from agents to destroy the Party
      • The Bureau submitted anti-Panther ghost-written articles to the press, planted false correspondence between the Panthers and other organizations and used a classic “divide and conquer” tactic to foment hostility between the Panthers a black nationalist group, the US Organization, in Los Angeles.
        • This last effort culminated in actual shoot-outs, multiple beatings, at least one bombing, and four Panthers dead in Southern California by 1969.
      • Many organizations were destabilized with arrests, raids, break-ins, and killings
        • The most famous raid of the Panthers occurred in December 1969 in Chicago when a 14-man police raiding party killed two Panthers, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.

13th Movie: Attack on Civil Rights Leaders

CIA involvement in Contra Cocaine Trafficking

  • 1986, CIA acknowledged US backed Contra rebels in Nicaragua
    • Were smuggling cocaine into the US during Reagan’s “War on Drugs” to fund their war
    • Although the CIA was aware they were doing it
      • They stated the smuggling was not authorized by the US gov…
    • But the CIA was blocking US law enforcement from investigating these networks
  • 1986, Senate Foreign Relations Committee investigation found
    • Contra drug links included amongst other connections;
      • Payments to drug traffickers by the U.S. State Department of funds authorized by the Congress for humanitarian assistance to the Contras
        • In some cases after the traffickers had been indicted by federal law enforcement agencies on drug charges
        • In others while traffickers were under active investigation by these same agencies.”
  • Many claim this trafficking played huge role in crack epidemic

The Daily Beast: The FBI’s War on Civil Rights Leaders

“On March 8, 1971 an anti-war activist group, the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania where they discovered a cache of classified documents, many bearing the cryptic code “COINTELPRO.”

They leaked the documents to the press and on March 24, 1971, The Washington Post ran a cover story on the vast program initiated by the FBI in 1956 to neutralize suspicious persons and organizations. Although initially formed to target the Communist Party U.S.A., it was quickly expanded to include a wide range of groups considered “subversive.” No segment had been as central to COINTELPRO operations as civil rights activists. A wider scope of the FBI’s actions, however, was not known until Congressional hearings five years later. What came to light was exceptionally chilling—seeped in its own racism, without any checks or balances, the FBI devoted more resources to harming the Civil Rights movement than any other task in its purview.

Fourteen years before the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed, Dr. T.R.M. Howard founded the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL) in Mississippi. An advocate of civil rights, Howard provided resources and assistance for Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old kidnapped and murdered in that state in August 1955. Since Till’s family had received death threats, Howard secured them with a safe haven during the trial. When an all-white jury acquitted two white men, J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant in September, Howard denounced the verdict and widespread racial oppression and terror. Howard then traveled to other cities, including Montgomery, Alabama, where he spoke at the church of a 26-year-old new pastor, Dr. Martin L. King Jr. on Nov. 27, 1955. Like at other meetings, Howard detailed the great abuses, corruption and indignities regularly experienced by black people. And Howard openly criticized the FBI for doing nothing to protect black citizens in Mississippi. Local newspapers reported on these speeches and FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, incensed, wrote a rare open letter to Howard in 1956 denouncing him. Hoover also opened a file on Howard, putting him and the RCNL under COINTELPRO surveillance, along with communists groups (Howard was, however, virulently anti-communist). The FBI then recruited local black citizens to spy on Howard and others. One of these included Ernest C. Withers, a celebrated photographer of the black freedom movement who was granted access into intimate meetings and gatherings of civil rights leadership. He dutifully reported his observation back to the Bureau, where it developed schemes for disruption.

Hoover despised T.R.M. Howard, but the director’s contempt for the young minister whom Howard met in Montgomery would far surpass the contempt he held for almost any other public figure. Hoover’s special attention to King has been depicted in numerous movies, documentaries, books, and a wide array of articles—journalistic and scholarly. Hoover infamously claimed that the most prominent civil rights leader was the “most notorious liar in the country.” FBI agents were directed to spy on King’s personal life and professional life and disrupt both. Ultimately, the FBI, over the course of more than a decade, collected hundreds of pages of surveillance on King, hours of secret recordings, and a trove of his public work—writings, and speeches alike. It even attempted to tarnish his reputation months after he was assassinated. Under Hoover’s direction, in the months after the 1963 March on Washington and King’s most famous speech, FBI Assistant Director William Sullivan, head of the Intelligence Division, reported to Hoover that effective exploitation of the information gathered on King, “if handled properly, [could] take him off his pedestal… the Negroes will be left without a national leader of sufficiently compelling personality to steer them in the proper direction.”

King was not alone. Every major advocate for black people in the country had been targeted by the Bureau. In fact, there was little differentiation between ideological lines and black leadership. In a meeting with Lyndon B. Johnson, Hoover said in reference to black nationalist Malcolm X and integrationist King, “we wouldn’t have any problem if we could get those two guys fighting, if we could get them to kill one another off…”

The campaign against King is best understood as a continuum of government policies that pre-date King by decades. The FBI had been, like other American institutions, inextricably tied to the ideology of white supremacy. In the 1930s, everything from the military to restaurants officially discriminated nationwide. Challenges to that archaic and endemic belief were almost always considered subversive. The predecessor to the FBI, the Bureau of Investigation (BOI), targeted the Universal Negro Improvement Association and its leader Marcus Garvey. It also spied on Garvey’s ideological antagonist, W.E.B. Du Bois, as well as the NAACP.

Hoover’s behavior is often viewed as paranoid and even exceptional, but he operated with the full sanction of the wider state. During the civil rights movement, three U.S. presidents: John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon all supported Hoover’s efforts which were codified to “disrupt, misdirect, discredit, and neutralize” targeted organizations. This would be achieved through various and sundry tools, including illegal activities. COINTELPRO used informants, agent provocateurs, infiltrators, legal and illegal wiretaps, break-ins, false correspondence, and “bad-jacketing,” which was the act of making a legitimate member of a group appear to be a collaborator with the state. Psychological warfare included calling the parents of young civil rights activists to inform them that their children had been murdered or kidnapped.

FBI agents worked with journalists to plant stories in order to discredit leadership and organizations. Across the country, the Bureau collaborated with local police to repress targeted groups. Sharing resources and intelligence, activists were arrested, fired from jobs, expelled from schools and lost business contracts. COINTELPRO even used switchboard operators and postal workers to spy on citizens, with or without court order.

Though there was a special interest in civil rights groups, the FBI used its extensive resources to spy on and antagonize a wide range of communities. The Bureau established categories for various targets, which included everything from the anti-war and women’s liberation movements, to socialists, black nationalists, student groups, journalists, intellectuals, non-violent integrations and revolutionary nationalists. They were separated into the “Agitator Index,” the “Rabble Rouser Index,” and the “Security Index.”

After King’s assassination in April 1968, the Black Freedom Movement took a turn toward the more radical permutations of Black Power, and no organization evoked Hoover’s rage and interest more than the Black Panther Party. Five months after the King assassination, Hoover called the Panthers “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” In internal memos, he encouraged “hard-hitting” ideas from agents to destroy the Party. The Bureau submitted anti-Panther ghost-written articles to the press, planted false correspondence between the Panthers and other organizations and used a classic “divide and conquer” tactic to foment hostility between the Panthers a black nationalist group, the US Organization, in Los Angeles. This last effort culminated in actual shoot-outs, multiple beatings, at least one bombing, and four Panthers dead in Southern California by 1969. With excitement over the violence, the San Diego FBI office submitted in a report:

“Shootings, beatings, and a, high degree of unrest continues to prevail in the ghetto area of southeast San Diego. Although no specific counterintelligence action can be credited with contributing to this overall situation, it is felt that a substantial amount of the unrest is directly attributable to this program.”

Hundreds of Panthers were stopped, harassed and arrested by the police across the country. Hoover explained that the, “purpose of counterintelligence action is to disrupt the BPP and it is immaterial whether facts exist to substantiate the charge.”

The effectiveness of COINTELPRO was overwhelming. Many organizations were destabilized with arrests, raids, break-ins, and killings. The most famous raid of the Panthers occurred in December 1969 in Chicago when a 14-man police raiding party killed two Panthers, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. Several other Panthers were injured in the pre-dawn attack. Nationally, the Panthers insisted that the FBI and local police were involved in a conspiracy to destroy them. Hoover denied it. The magnitude of these coordinated activities, however, were not known until the 1976 congressional hearings.

Analysis of the COINTELPRO documents revealed that the overwhelming majority of targets were not tied to the Soviet Union or any foreign power. They included many non-violent black civil rights groups, but also organizations in other communities, including the Young Lords, the Brown Berets, the American Indian Movement, the National Lawyers Guild, and women’s liberation movement groups…

…The special attention to the Black Freedom movement is sobering. White supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan had files, but were significantly outnumbered by files on civil rights groups. There were only two files for right wing groups. For black nationalists, the Panthers represented 233 of 295, (79 percent) of all operations in that category. The Congressional hearings found that the FBI devoted less than 20 percent of its intelligence efforts to disrupt organized crime or to solve crimes related to bank robberies, murders, rapes and interstate theft. By contrast, more than half of all FBI targets were political organizations. The FBI was less concerned with actual criminal enterprises, like mob families, than with organizations and people who dared attempt to realize rights promised them legally.”

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Teen Vogue: Black Panther Fred Hampton Created a “Rainbow Coalition” to Support Poor Americans

EJI: THE GOVERNMENT ASSAULT ON BLACK POWER

“In the pre-dawn hours of December 4, 1969, Chicago police working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) raided the Black Panther Party’s local headquarters. 388 Fred Hampton’s personal bodyguard, William O’Neal, was an FBI informant and gave officers a floor plan before the raid. 389 When the smoke cleared, Hampton and Mark Clark were dead and four others had been seriously wounded. 390

During the civil rights era, law enforcement targeted black leaders for arrest, surveillance, propaganda, and violence. Leaders of bus boycotts in Montgomery, Alabama, and Tallahassee, Florida, in 1956, were harassed, arrested, and fined. 391 That year, the FBI launched COINTELPRO, a counterintelligence program focused on “domestic threats,” including civil rights activists. 392

Black leaders committed to racial justice represented a threat to white supremacy and became targets of law enforcement harassment and attack even when they advocated nonviolence. Beginning in 1963, for example, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “was the target of an intensive campaign by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to ‘neutralize’ him as an effective civil rights leader” and destroy his image as a “potential messiah” to unify black activists. 393

When a younger generation began to steer the movement in a different direction, law enforcement repression intensified. 394
Malcolm X, who believed “[i]t is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks,” 395 was constantly surveilled by police up until he was assassinated in 1965. 396

In July 1966, 25-year-old SNCC chairman Stokely Carmichael gave a speech invoking Malcolm X’s memory and advocating a self-determination policy of “Black Power.” 397

A few months later, two black men named Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in Oakland, California. 398 Spurning the tactics of marches, sit-ins, and boycotts, the Panthers founded youth centers and free breakfast programs and organized legally armed patrols to prevent police brutality. 399 President Lyndon B. Johnson publicly condemned the concept of “Black Power” that the Panthers symbolized. 400

The rise of militant black activism and its rejection by white stakeholders emboldened law enforcement officials to employ controversial — and sometimes deadly — tactics. In August 1967, the FBI officially directed COINTELPRO to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” black nationalist groups. 401 In July 1969, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover named the Black Panther Party “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” 402

Federal agents and local police engaged in harassment and raids that led to violent shootouts and the deadly ambush that killed 21-year-old Fred Hampton. An April 1970 poll, however, showed that 75 percent of Americans blamed the Panthers for this police violence. 403

“[M]any of the tactics employed by the FBI were indisputably degrading to a free society,” a Senate committee concluded in 1976, five years after COINTELPRO shut down. 404 The committee reported:

During 1967-1971, FBI headquarters approved 379 proposals for COINTELPRO actions against ‘black nationalists.’ These operations utilized dangerous and unsavory techniques which gave rise to the risk of death and often disregarded the personal rights and dignity of the victims. 405

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