FIRED/REHIRED: How Police Unions and Arbitrators Keep Unfit Cops on the Street

Photo credit: Getty Images; Background image: The Washington Post

Since 2006, the nation’s largest police departments have fired at least 1,881 officers for misconduct that betrayed the public’s trust, from cheating on overtime to unjustified shootings. But The Washington Post has found that departments have been forced to reinstate more than 450 officers after appeals required by union contracts.

Most of the officers regained their jobs when police chiefs were overruled by arbitrators, typically lawyers hired to review the process. In many cases, the underlying misconduct was undisputed, but arbitrators often concluded that the firings were unjustified because departments had been too harsh, missed deadlines, lacked sufficient evidence or failed to interview witnesses.

A San Antonio police officer caught on a dash cam challenging a handcuffed man to fight him for the chance to be released was reinstated in February. In the District, an officer convicted of sexually abusing a young woman in his patrol car was ordered returned to the force in 2015. And in Boston, an officer was returned to work in 2012 despite being accused of lying, drunkenness and driving a suspected gunman from the scene of a nightclub killing.

The chiefs say the appeals process leaves little margin for error. Yet police agencies sometimes sabotage their own attempts to shed troubled officers by making procedural mistakes. The result is that police chiefs have booted hundreds of officers they have deemed unfit to be in their ranks, only to be compelled to take them back and return them to the streets with guns and badges.

“It’s demoralizing, but not just to the chief,” said Charles H. Ramsey, former police commissioner in Philadelphia and chief in the District. Philadelphia and the District together have had to rehire 80 fired officers since 2006, three of them twice.

“It’s demoralizing to the rank and file who really don’t want to have those kinds of people in their ranks,” Ramsey said. “It causes a tremendous amount of anxiety in the public. Our credibility is shot whenever these things happen.”

The Post’s findings illustrate the obstacles local police agencies face in holding their own accountable at a critical moment for policing: the Trump’s administration has indicated that the federal government will curtail the strategy of federal intervention in departments confronted with allegations of systemic officer misconduct, even as controversial police shootings continue to undermine public confidence.

Nationwide, the reinstatement of fired officers has not been comprehensively studied or tracked. No national database logs terminations. Some firings receive local publicity, but many go unreported. Some states shield police personnel records — including firings — from public disclosure.

To investigate how often fired officers were returned to their jobs, The Post filed open records requests with the nation’s 55 largest municipal and county police forces. Thirty-seven departments complied with the request, disclosing that they had fired a combined 1,881 officers since 2006. Of those officers, 451 successfully appealed and won their jobs back.

Police departments disclosed the reasons why they reinstated officers in about one-half of the 451 cases.

Rehired, Reason Is…                          Fired, Not Rehired
219 Disclosed  | 232 Undisclosed                                                                     1,430

The officers’ names and details were available in about half of the reinstatement cases: 151 of the officers had been fired for conduct unbecoming, and 88 had been terminated for dishonesty, according to a review of internal police documents, appeals records, court files and news reports.

At least 33 of the officers had been charged with crimes. Of these, 17 had been convicted, most of misdemeanors.

Eight officers were fired and rehired by their departments more than once.

“To overturn a police chief’s decision, except in cases of fact errors, is a disservice to the good order of the department,” said San Antonio Police Chief William McManus, who in February was ordered to reinstate Officer Matthew Belver for a second time. “It also undermines a chief’s authority and ignores the chief’s understanding of what serves the best interest of the community and the department.”

In the District, arbitrators have ordered the city to rehire 39 officers since 2006, more than half of them because arbitrators concluded that the department missed deadlines to complete its internal investigations. One officer, convicted of assault after he was caught on video attacking a shoe store employee, was fired in 2015 and reinstated in 2016 after an arbitrator concluded that police had missed the deadline by seven days, arbitration records show.

D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said he disagreed with the arbitrators’ conclusions on when the clock started in those cases. “The public has to suffer because somebody violated an administrative rule,” Newsham said, adding that two-thirds of the officers reinstated because of missed investigative deadlines are no longer on the D.C. force.

Police unions argue that the right to appeal terminations through arbitration protects officers from arbitrary punishment or being second-guessed for their split-second decisions. Unions contend that police chiefs are prone to overreach, especially when there is public or political pressure to fire officers. In interviews, local and national union officials said some of the 451 reinstated officers should never have been fired in the first place.

“They’re held to a higher standard,” said James Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police. “Their work is constantly scrutinized to a far higher degree. You very seldom see any phone-cam indictments of trash collectors or utility workers.”

Local police departments have often been criticized in recent years as not holding their officers accountable in fatal shootings, or in cases of brutality and corruption. To address the outcry from the public, the Department of Justice has employed its authority to investigate police departments for civil rights violations and to force reforms. Under President Barack Obama, Justice launched dozens of these investigations. The tactic was used, for example, in the aftermath of the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

The Trump administration, however, has indicated that local officials should take the lead in policing their own departments. “I think there’s concern that good police officers and good departments can be sued by the Department of Justice when you just have individuals within a department who have done wrong,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said during his Senate confirmation hearing this year.

Justice Department officials recently told The Post that the department will be more judicious in launching civil rights investigations.

“The Attorney General has explicitly said that ‘police officers who abuse their sacred trust are made to answer for their misconduct’ and that ‘the Department of Justice will hold accountable any law enforcement officer who violates the civil rights of our citizens by using excessive force.’ Any assertion to the contrary is flat out wrong and incredibly irresponsible,” said Ian D. Prior, a Department of Justice spokesman, in a written statement.

“What the Attorney General does not believe, however, is that the unconstitutional actions of one police officer should result in onerous and ineffective agreements between the Department of Justice and local police departments that prevent law enforcement from reducing violent crime and protecting the public,’ ” Prior said in the statement.

But in a speech to law enforcement officers recently, President Trump made comments that were widely interpreted as condoning police violence against “thugs” who are taken into custody. He told officers: “[P]lease don’t be too nice.”

“When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head. … I said, you can take the hand away, okay?” Trump said.

The White House later said the president had been joking.

The 37 departments that complied with the The Post’s request for records employ nearly 91,000 officers. The nearly 1,900 firings and the 451 re-hirings show both how rare it is for departments to fire officers and how difficult it is to keep many of those from returning.

“It’s the frustrating part of my job,” said Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans, who has been compelled to rehire four officers. “Most of the people we terminate [it] is clearly for good reason.”

Read full series report at Fired/ Hired -By Kimbriell Kelly, Wesley Lowery and Steven Rich | Washington Post

The 9 piece series includes: Fired/HiredGetaway DriverSuspended Then FiredThe Eight Year FiringA Challenge to FightFatal ForceMissed DeadlineNo Due ProcessA Rush to Judgment

This article was produced in partnership with the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University. Students Teaganne Finn, Josephine Peterson, Matt Hanan, Taylor Hartz, Jordan Houston and Shaun Courtney contributed reporting to this article. Dalton Bennett and Alice Crites also contributed to this report.


Recommended…
Fired/Rehired: Documents Behind the Cases of Reinstated Police Officers
✻​ Alarming Number Of Cops Fired And Rehired Since 2016 | NewsOne hosted by Roland Martin (Video)

✻​ Cast-Out Police Officers Are Often Hired in Other Cities -By Timothy Wilson | The New York Times
✻​ How Police Unions and Arbitrators Keep Abusive Cops on the Street -By Conor Friedersdorf | The Atlantic

✻​ How Fired Police Officers Often End Up Back on the Job | CBS

Out of Time in Arkansas

It’s done. The state of Arkansas executed four death row inmates in the span of eight days. From April 20 – April 27, inmates Ledell Lee, Jack Jones, Marcel Williams and Kenneth Williams, all paid the price of their crimes by being put to death by lethal injection. Eight death row inmates were originally scheduled to die in Arkansas over that span, but half were spared. During that eight-day span, Arkansas also made history by performing the first double-execution the United States has seen in 17 years. Jack Jones and Ledell Lee were both killed Monday, April 24, just hours apart. The article below appeared in The New Yorker on May 8.
_______________

Arkansas wanted to execute all eight inmates featured above in April. Half were spared. The names of those not spared are in bold. The inmates, clockwise from top left, are Don Williamson Davis, Bruce Ward, Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee;  bottom left, are Jack Harold Jones, Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams and Jason McGehee (Photo: Arkansas Department of Correction).

By the opaque reasoning of capital punishment, the state of Arkansas grew some unknowable fraction safer on the evening of April 24, when Jack Jones, a fifty-two-year-old, overweight, hypertensive, diabetic amputee, was strapped to a gurney in the Cummins Unit prison and administered drugs to successively sedate him, impair his breathing, stop his heart, and kill him. According to the state’s timeline, the process was a model of efficiency, taking only fourteen minutes to complete—less time than one might spend registering a vehicle at the Little Rock D.M.V. This was significant, as the night’s work was just getting started. Arkansas was staging the first double execution in the United States since 2000. Three hours later, Marcel Williams, a forty-six-year-old man who also suffered from diabetes, obesity, and hypertension, was strapped to the same gurney, injected with the same cocktail of drugs, and declared dead within seventeen minutes.

Jones’s and Williams’s executions were the second and third in a four-day period; at the same facility, on the preceding Thursday, Ledell Lee, aged fifty-one, became the first prisoner to be put to death in Arkansas since 2005. A fourth man, Kenneth Williams, aged thirty-eight, who had been on death row since 2000, was executed at Cummins on Thursday, shortly before midnight, when his warrant was set to run out. These four were among eight men whom Arkansas sought to execute in eleven days. With the state’s supply of the sedative midazolam due to expire at the end of the month, the proposed schedule came to resemble a lethal clearance sale. To socioeconomics and race—the known and inescapably arbitrary factors in the application of the death penalty—we may now add a novel dynamic: the shelf life of benzodiazepine compounds. There is a banal horror in the bureaucratic diligence that noted the drug’s expiration date, calculated how many people might be killed before it passed, and generated the warrants that Asa Hutchinson, the state’s Republican governor, signed.

McKesson Medical-Surgical, Inc., which distributes vecuronium bromide—a drug that is commonly used during surgery but that can also be used to stop a person’s breathing—filed suit against Arkansas, claiming that it had been duped into providing an ingredient of the cocktail. Four of the executions were blocked by court order. The Eighth Amendment prohibition against “cruel and unusual” punishment served as a measure of the elastic morality that facilitates the death penalty: does it constitute cruelty to infuse the condemned with a sedative, rather than a stronger anesthetic, particularly if, as attorneys for Jones and Williams argued, the circulatory conditions of the men might impair its effectiveness?

The rush of executions is notable not only for its barbarism but also for its contrast to prevailing thinking about capital punishment. Support for the death penalty peaked in 1994, with eighty per cent of Americans in favor. Last year, a Pew study found that the number had fallen to forty-nine per cent—the first time since 1971 that less than half of the public supported it. The declining crime rate accounts for part of the drop: in the mid-nineties, murders were twice as common as they are now. At the same time, the idea that death serves as a deterrent to other criminals has been consistently unsupported by evidence. Data from the Death Penalty Information Center shows that, in the past forty years, there have been eleven hundred and eighty-four executions in the South, compared with four in the Northeast, yet homicide figures in 2015 were nearly seventy per cent higher in Southern states than in Northeastern ones. The death penalty is about retribution for past offenses, not prevention of future ones.

There is also a growing awareness that it is perhaps impossible to create a justice system that both executes criminals and avoids killing innocents. The sclerotic appeals process insures that years, if not decades, will pass before the condemned meet their state-authored fate. But streamlining the process only increases the likelihood that innocent people will die. Since 1973, a hundred and fifty-nine inmates on death row have been exonerated of the crimes for which they were sent there. A prisoner in Ohio named Ricky Jackson spent thirty-nine years on death row before a key witness admitted to lying in the testimony that led to his conviction. Jackson is alive solely because of the inefficiency of the system that sought to kill him.

That complexity has been reflected in the politics of death-penalty prosecutions. In January, Bob Ferguson, the Washington State attorney general, proposed a bill that would eliminate the death penalty in his state. The same month, Beth McCann, the Denver district attorney, announced that her city was done with it. In March, Aramis Ayala, the state attorney for the Ninth Circuit, in Florida, announced that her office would not pursue capital punishment in any cases. Her office was in the midst of prosecuting Markeith Loyd, who is accused of murdering his pregnant girlfriend and a policewoman. Ayala said, “I’ve been unable to find any credible evidence that the death penalty increases safety for law-enforcement officers.” She added that the expense of death-penalty appeals drains resources from other prosecutions. In response, Governor Rick Scott removed the Loyd case, along with twenty-two others, from Ayala’s jurisdiction—an action she is challenging in court.

Last year, the Presidential election was won by a man who had demanded the death penalty for five young black and Latino men who were convicted of a brutal rape in Central Park that they did not commit. He appointed an Attorney General who had successfully fought to vitiate federal prohibitions on the execution of the mentally ill. He chose a Supreme Court Justice who, in his first major vote on the Court, cast the decisive one, in a 5–4 decision, to allow an execution to proceed—that of Ledell Lee, who died minutes later.

These are the actions of powerful men in service of outmoded ideas. We in this country are unaccustomed to mass executions carried out under government auspices. We would prefer to believe that such things happen in less evolved locales. Yet that is precisely what the state of Arkansas set out to achieve. The condemned men perpetrated a litany of horrors, but the rationales for putting them to death—a decades-delayed catharsis for the victims’ families, a lottery-slim chance that some future violence will be deterred—are as close to their expiration as Arkansas’s supply of midazolam.

Source: The Banal Horror of Arkansas’s Executions -By Jelani Cobb | The New Yorker

Jelani Cobb has been a contributor to The New Yorker and newyorker.com since 2012, writing frequently about race, politics, history, and culture. He is the author of “The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress.”


Recommended…
✻​ Arkansas Wants to Execute Seven Inmates Before Their Drugs Expire -By Garrett Epps | The Atlantic
✻​ Four Arkansas Executions Are Tied to the Expiration of a Drug That Does Not Work in Lethal Injections -Jessica Wapner | Newsweek
✻​ Fourth Arkansas Execution in Eight Days Prompts Questions About Inmate’s Movements -By Mark Berman | Washington Post
✻​ After Arkansas Executions, Lawyer Criticizes Use Of Capital Punishment | NPR
✻​ A Century of Death: 196 Executions, 15 Governors, and Arkansas’ Deadliest Day | KATV
✻​ Bearing Witness to Executions: Last Breaths and Lasting Impressions -By Alan Blinder and Manny Fernandez | The New York Times

From Democracy to Autocracy: Turkish President Erdoğan Granted Broad Powers In Questionable Referendum Election

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Presidential Palace (Photo by ​Asin Bulbul/​ Reuters). Background image: A woman places a bandage other mouth as she protests Saturday’s explosions in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. Authorities in Istanbul banned a protest rally and march by the same trade union and civic society groups who lost 97 friends and colleagues in Turkey’s bloodiest terror attack. Some demonstrators were detained. (AP Photo/ Emrah Gurel)

A slim majority of Turkish voters agreed on Sunday to grant sweeping powers to their President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in a watershed moment that the country’s opposition fears may cement a system of authoritarian rule within one of the critical power brokers of the Middle East.

With nearly 99 percent of votes in a referendum counted on Sunday night, supporters of the proposal had 51.3 percent of votes cast, and opponents had 48.7 percent, the country’s electoral commission announced. The result will take days to confirm, and the main opposition party said it would demand a recount of about 37 percent of ballot boxes, containing around 2.5 million votes. But on Sunday night the result was already a political reality, as President Erdoğan hailed his victory in front of a crowd of supporters in Istanbul. “We are enacting the most important governmental reform of our history,” he said.

The constitutional change will allow the winner of the 2019 presidential election to assume full control of the government, ending the current parliamentary political system. The ramifications, however, are immediate. The “yes” vote in the referendum is a validation of the current leadership style of Mr. Erdoğan, who has been acting as a de facto head of government since his election in 2014 despite having no constitutional right to wield such power. The office of Turkey’s president was meant to be an impartial role without full executive authority.

The result tightens Mr. Erdoğan’s grip on the country, which is one of the leading external actors in the Syrian civil war, a major way station along the migration routes to Europe and a crucial Middle Eastern partner of the United States and Russia.

Since a failed coup last summer, Turkey has been under a state of emergency, a situation that allowed the government to fire or suspend about 130,000 people suspected of being connected to the failed putsch, and to arrest about 45,000.

The campaign itself was characterized by prolonged intimidation of opposition members, several of whom were shot at or beaten while on the stump by persons unknown. The opposition questioned the legitimacy of the referendum after the election board made a last-minute decision to increase the burden needed to prove accusations of ballot-box stuffing. At least three instances of alleged voter fraud appeared to be captured on camera. 

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) says that there were more than 2.5 million of these irregular ballots; other estimates range between 1 million and 4 million. Even the low end of this range would be enough to change the results of the referendum. The CHP has called on the Supreme Election Board to nullify the referendum results. After all, its official guidelines mandate the stamping of both ballot and sealed envelope.

Beyond simply arresting tens of thousands of opponents, it seems that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gamed the system in order to guarantee himself victory. An observer from inside Turkey explains (edited slightly for clarity and grammar):

Apparently, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) arranged illegally with the Supreme Election Board and with several voting districts around the country to give ballots out to AKP people the day before the voting. These were given to poor people and others wishing to earn money for a vote.

The ballots were marked “yes” in front, but they lacked the official stamp issued at the polling location on the back. This was done deliberately because those people were to use the pre-prepared ballot in the ballot box and then return the ballot with the official seal which they received at the polling station. They then received between 350-400 Turkish liras, about 100 dollars.

If it seemed that the “no” vote was ahead in initial tallying, then the Supreme Election Board would rule the referendum invalid due to a large number of unstamped ballots. But if it looked like “yes” could win, then those votes would be declared valid.

The new system will, among other changes:

■ Abolish the post of prime minister and transfer executive power to the president.

■ Allow the newly empowered president to issue decrees and appoint many judges and officials responsible for scrutinizing his decisions.

■ Limit the president to two five-year terms, but give the option of running for a third term if Parliament truncates the second one by calling for early elections.

■ Allow the president to order disciplinary inquiries into any of Turkey’s 3.5 million civil servants, according to an analysis by the head of the Turkish Bar Association.

Academics and members of the opposition are concerned that the new system will threaten the separation of powers on which liberal democracies have traditionally depended.

“It represents a remarkable aggrandizement of Erdoğan’s personal power and quite possibly a death blow to vital checks and balances in the country,” said Professor Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey expert at Project on Middle East Democracy and lecturer at St. Lawrence University: “Judicial independence was already shockingly weak before the referendum; the new system makes that worse.”

Mr. Erdoğan’s supporters deny that the new system will limit political and judicial oversight. If opposition parties win control of Parliament, they could override the president’s decrees with their own legislation, while also asserting greater control over judicial appointments, supporters of the new Constitution contend.

The victorious “yes” camp also argues that a strong, centralized government will make Turkey better able to tackle its many challenges, including a troubled economy, the world’s largest population of Syrian refugees, two terrorism campaigns, a civil war against Kurdish insurgents and the Syrian war across Turkey’s southern border.

The fearful environment in which the referendum campaign was held has led watchdogs to question its fairness. In addition to the vast purges of perceived opposition members, the authorities also often prevented “no” campaigners from holding rallies and events. And Mr. Erdoğan and his supporters often implied that their opponents were allied with terrorist groups or those suspected of plotting last year’s failed coup.

Analyses of television coverage showed that the “yes” campaign received disproportionately more airtime than its opponents: “It’s been a completely unfair campaign,” said Andrej Hunko, a German lawmaker assigned by the Council of Europe to observe the election. Hundreds of election observers were also barred from monitoring the vote, and thousands of Kurds displaced by fighting in southeastern Turkey may not have been able to vote because they have no address, according to the Independent Election Monitoring Network, a Turkish watchdog.

Despite this, Mr. Erdoğan’s victory fell far short of the 20-point majority that he and his supporters had expected. The result revealed a deeply divided country, nearly half of which now feels highly embittered.

Few could agree about how Mr. Erdoğan would respond, and he offered no conclusive clues in his victory speech. In one breath, he appeared to reach out to his opponents, calling the results the “victory of everyone who said yes and no.” But in the next, he promised to reinstate the death penalty — which would end any hopes that Turkey will join the European Union — and mocked his opponents’ intent to appeal the result.

Some believe Mr. Erdoğan may initially try to rebuild relations with the West, which were severely damaged during the referendum campaign as he sought to manufacture diplomatic crises to energize his base at home.  But Professor Eissenstat said it was unlikely Mr. Erdoğan would spend any time repairing relationships with the opposition.

“Some people have imagined that Erdoğan might reboot after a ‘yes’ victory and reach out to the opposition,” he said. “I don’t think that is likely. The purges will continue; Erdoğan’s instinct is to crush opposition, not co-opt it.  The question is whether further centralization of power and increased repression can bring stability and allow Erdoğan to reboot a troubled economy. The record of the past 10 years is that the opposite is true” added Professor Eissenstat.”

Erdogan may want to claim victory and put the referendum behind him. He has declared that the result ends all debate. It may not be so easy, however. Especially when the real results suggest the Turkish people did not support the system of government over which Erdogan now presides.

Sources: Erdoğan Claims Vast Powers in Turkey After Narrow Victory in Referendum -By Patrick Kingsley | The New York Times

How Erdoğan Rigged the Election That Makes Him a Dictator -By Michael Rubin | Newsweek


Recommended…
Turkey’s Referendum: How Democracies Decline -By Uri Friedman | The Atlantic
Turkey Votes to Make Erdoğan Effectively A Dictator -By Dexter Filkins | The New Yorker
Inside Turkey’s Purge -By Suzy Henson | The New York Times
Turkey’s Election Was Soaked in Suppression and Blood -By Fréderike Geerdink | Huffington Post

Inmates Beheaded & Burned, 60 Dead in Brazil Prison Riot

brazil-prison-riot-2017A relative of a prisoner holds a local newspaper, which shows a headline about a deadly prison riot, in front of Anisio Jobim prison in Manaus, Brazil, on January 3, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)

Brazil’s first days of 2017 were baptized by 17 hours of violence. Members of a drug ring called Familia do Norte (Family of the North) massacred members of the rival Primeiro Comando da Capital (First Command of the Capital), or P.C.C., one of the country’s largest gangs. The bloodletting occurred inside a privately administered prison in the northern city of Manaus. At least 60 people were slaughtered, many of them beheaded, dismembered and incinerated. Some 180 gang members escaped, 140 of whom are still at large. The state police were reluctant to intervene in the fight, fearing they might make the situation even worse.

The warning signs were written on the prison’s graffiti-lined walls. The penitentiary in Manaus has experienced bloody riots before. In the days leading up to the weekend massacre, prison guards suspected that firearms were being smuggled into cellblocks housing drug trafficking groups. A collection of revolvers was turned over to the police when the riot came to end.

Investigators unearthed a network of tunnels under the prison’s bloodstained floors, suggesting the attack was premeditated. Familia do Norte was sending a message: The P.C.C. is not welcome in the northern Brazilian state of Amazonas. A local judge was called in to negotiate the release of hostages, and he’s now facing death threats.

As shocking as the prison riot is, it is not unprecedented. The most lethal episode of prison violence in Brazil occurred in 1992 when 111 inmates were killed during a riot in the Carandiru prison in São Paulo. Other outbreaks occurred in Rondônia in 2002, Maranhão in 2010, Pernambuco in 2011, Rio de Janeiro in 2014 and Roraima last year. Prison violence has been registered in at least 24 of Brazil’s 26 states over the past decade.

Historically, violence followed demands for improved prison conditions. But the latest massacre in Manaus stems from a different cause. It signals the rupture of a longstanding truce between the São Paulo-based P.C.C. and Rio de Janeiro’s Comando Vermelho (Red Command), which is aligned with the Northern Family. These two gangs are fighting for control over the prison system and the cocaine trade.

Part of the reason prison violence is so common in Brazil is that conditions in most of the country’s penitentiaries are barbarous. There are an estimated 656,000 incarcerated people in state prisons, where there is officially space for less than 400,000. Yet roughly 3,000 new inmates are added to overcrowded penitentiaries each month. The prison population has increased by more than 160 percent since 2000. It’s for good reason that a former justice minister reportedly said he’d rather die than spend time in a Brazilian prison.

Brazil’s state prisons are overseen by drug gangs that act as judges, jurors and executioners. Most prisons are divvied up among competing gangs. The government is only nominally in control. Experts describe drug factions as a “parallel state.” Gangs have long recruited their rank and file from prisons and organize trafficking and racketeering businesses from within their walls. Research has found that 70 percent of inmates who leave prison find their way back.

Successive governments, the United Nations and human rights groups have described crumbling buildings where torture and sexual violence are rampant. Studies have found that incarcerated Brazilians are around 28-30 times more likely to contract tuberculosis and almost 20 times more likely to be infected with H.I.V. than the general population.

Most Brazilians tolerate this state of affairs, but this forbearance is shortsighted. Brazil’s prison wars routinely spill on to the street. In 2006, the P.C.C. unleashed a wave of attacks against law enforcement and penal personnel as a protest over prison conditions. Some 40 security agents were killed in riots in prisons and public spaces across São Paulo. The latest attacks in Manaus will surely inspire retribution inside and outside the prison gates.

Brazil’s penal system reflects wider inequalities. For one, it is fundamentally elitist. Felons who happen to have a university degree — business executives charged with corruption, for example — frequently enjoy better conditions and don’t have to share cells. Elsewhere, nonviolent first-time offenders are jammed together with extremely violent inmates. Most defendants cannot afford to hire a lawyer, and there is a chronic shortage of public defenders. Not surprisingly, those most likely to be killed while in custody are poor black males.

The leading cause of imprisonment is minor drug offenses, despite laws recommending that nonviolent crimes and possession not result in jail time. Judges and prosecutors favor heavy-handed prison sentences over rehabilitation or alternative sentencing arrangements. Brazilian politicians lack the political and moral resolve to do the right thing. Nor are they feeling any pressure from Brazilian citizens. A 2015 poll found that 87 percent of Brazilians favor lowering the criminal age of responsibility to 16 from 18. Public complacency ensures that prison violence continues unabated.

What is needed now is courageous leadership. Alexandre de Moraes, the minister of justice, has already announced some remedial measures in the wake of the Manaus massacre. He is planning to transfer gang leaders from state to federal prisons, which are better managed. But this is only an interim solution.

For Brazil to reform its prisons, it needs to reduce both the stock and flow of inmates. The first priority is to diminish the bloated caseload of pretrial detainees. Federal and state-level judges, prosecutors and public defenders should set up task forces to immediately resolve outstanding cases. Next, Brazil’s juvenile justice system is as rotten as the one for adults and needs to be fixed. Mayors must assume a much greater responsibility in rehabilitating first-time offenders. Support for at-risk adolescents can reduce their likelihood of becoming gang members in adulthood.

The government urgently needs to regain control of public security, and the prison system in particular. Rather than imposing more draconian laws and building new prisons, Brazil needs to enforce existing legislation — including ensuring that suspects are provided hearings within 24 hours of their arrest and expanding the network of public defenders.

This is not just about ensuring the humane treatment of inmates. Strategies to decriminalize drugs, ensure proportional sentencing and provide rehabilitation for offenders are vastly more cost-effective than putting nonviolent offenders in jail and throwing away the key.

President Michel Temer announced that the federal government would furnish states with 1.2 billion reais ($366 million), mostly to improve infrastructure and security in existing prisons and to build new ones.

Reprint: Brazil’s Deadly Prison System -By Robert Muggah and Ilona Szabó de Carvalho | New York Times


Recommended…
The Red Ink Behind Brazil’s Bloody Prison Massacre -By Mac Margolis | Bloomberg

Brazil Prison Riot, a ‘Butchery Foretold,’ Sparks Fear of More Killings | VOA

The Decline of Democracy and Rise of Fascism in Turkey

erdogan_reutersTurkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: Reuters/ Files).

One year has passed since 1,128 academics raised their voices for an end to the violence against the Kurdish population in Turkey, demanding an international, independent investigation of the occurrences during the 24-hour curfews declared in Kurdish towns and districts from August 2015 onward. The now well-known ‘peace petition’ had been a reaction to the violence, an outcry against the unbearable way in which the military had taken over towns and districts in the predominantly Kurdish south-eastern provinces of the Turkish state. Children and elderly people had been assassinated on the streets and in their homes, bodies left on the streets, the injured denied medical treatment. Despite the decisive and clear wording accusing the state of committing a massacre and refusing to be party to this crime, the petition was nevertheless a modest form of protest, because all other forms of democratic contestation had already been radically impeded since a suicide bomb attack on a previous attempt to demand peace with a large demonstration on October 10, 2015 in Ankara. A hundred demonstrators from various political factions were killed, hundreds injured and scarred.

Government’s Reaction
However, even this comparably simple form of critique was not tolerated by the government. The reaction was a concerted mass smear campaign triggered by the words of the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan leading to arrests, police investigations and ongoing dismissals of scholars. Denouncing the signatories as traitors, as ‘pseudo academics’ who were enemies of the nation, the pro-government media took up Erdogan’s discourse, picturing the signatories individually on their web and print outlets, making them perfect targets for goaded Erdogan-supporters. The homes of a number of signatories were raided in the early morning hours; some were taken into custody on campus and the wave of dismissals commenced, starting with those in the most precarious working conditions.

This harsh reaction, however, prompted a wave of solidarity both in Turkey and beyond. Defying the threat of persecution, over another thousand scholars added their names to the petition. Academic and non-academic associations from all over the world expressed their critique of the state’s course of action in open letters to the Turkish government and solidarity messages. However, continuing its politics of spreading fear, the state had four signatories exemplarily arrested on charges of terrorism propaganda. Professors Esra Mungan, Muzaffer Kaya, Kivanc Ersoy and Meral Camci remained detained for over a month, enduring solitary confinement and strip searches. (Meral Camci was in fact in France at the time of the detainment of the other three, but decided to return knowing she could also be imprisoned upon arrival. She was released with the others after the first court hearing, after 23 days in prison.

A year later, the trial is still ongoing. Police investigations have been commenced against all signatories, including those abroad. Nearly 500 signatories have faced disciplinary investigations within their institutions. The number of those dismissed is increasing every month, currently at 182. Others have been forced to resign or retire, have lost administrative positions, are sidelined and excluded from standard academic procedures such as participating in thesis committees, are disinvited from conferences and refused funding for research projects and conference attendance. Dozens have had to leave the country, while others cannot leave the country due to travel bans and the cancellation of their passports. The most worrying fact, however, is that this repression towards the academics is unfortunately part and parcel of the state’s authoritarian regime to silence all critical voices left.

In the months following the petition, the state further accelerated its war-strategy against the Kurdish population, a strategy which has radically turned its back on the previous more liberal discourses of the government emphasising the brotherhood between Kurds and Turks, and the initial peace talks between state officials and the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party which had lasted until February 2015.

The violence reached its preliminary climax when military special forces killed around 170 people who had sought shelter in the two or three basements in Cizre, a small border-town to Syria. For days, critical media had published video messages and telephone calls in which those trapped were calling for help. However, the military officials permitted neither ambulances to access the area nor the wounded to leave, finally burning the building to the ground. The shocking brutality of the state exceeded all expectations. Following this, hardly any people remained in those towns and districts under curfew. Over a million people were forced to leave their homes only to return to a heap of rubble. Whole districts have been razed to the ground; bulldozers carrying away the remains even before the owners were allowed to return, including all personal belongings. Having left for what they thought would be a week, these people now have nothing to return to.

A Concerted Effort Against the Kurdish Movement
This comprehensive strategy is definitely not a limited operation against an armed group. Instead, it aims at destroying the successful politics of the Kurdish movement and the trust and support the population has in it. Since the mid-2000s, the Kurdish movement had particularly focused on empowering civil society with help of the municipalities in the region which are run by the Kurdish party and formed a ‘coalition’ party HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) with other left and marginalised ethnic, faith and LGBT groups. This politics had been very successful receiving strong support for the municipalities and gaining a landslide 13.2% in the national elections of June 2015, which left the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) without a majority. Re-elections were held five months later and the AKP made a decisive shift to the right, becoming increasingly authoritarian by the minute.

The aftermath of the attempted coup six months ago has been a welcome excuse not only to rid the state institutions of anyone in contact with the Gülen Community, held responsible for the attempted coup, but also to imprison mayors of the Kurdish municipalities, council members and municipality employees, as well as currently 12 MPs of the Kurdish-leftwing party HDP. Since the declaration of emergency rule, the elected mayors of over 50 towns and districts have been ousted out of power and replaced by state-assigned ‘trustees’, as they are euphemistically called. The media has been severely intimidated, with around 200 journalists currently in prison and over 177 different newspapers, magazines and TV channels shut down. Self-censorship is at its peak. The parliament has been practically by-passed through emergency decrees, most of them listing pages and pages of individual names of those to be dismissed. Overall, more than 80,000 state employees have been sacked so far, among them military and police personnel, but the highest number interestingly in the field of education.

A constant pledge to national unity, loyalty and militarism is the dominant discourse today, turning all critical voices into traitors and internal and external threats to the nation. The legal system has become a farce; the number of prisons is being increased; torture and deprivation of imprisoned back on the agenda. And as I am writing these lines, the parliament is voting on the end of parliamentary democracy, the concentration of power in the hands of the president alone, lacking the simplest mechanisms of checks and balances; MPs demonstrating their loyalty to the president by overtly waving their voting tokens for everyone to see and the prime minister celebrates the proposed abolishment of his post as an act of heroism adding the words “relax and obey”.

Looking back at this past year in Turkey, we see an increasingly overt development towards a more and more authoritarian society and government. Rudimentarily masked by arguments of counter-terrorism, society has been put into a straitjacket. Critique in any form has become increasingly impossible to voice, let alone make it heard. The few acts of protest remain limited, often with only few participants or even individual. With a mixture of disbelief and fear, people hope for this to be a phase, which is soon to end. However, according to law expert and honorary president of the Turkish Supreme Court Sami Selcuk, if the amendment of the constitution is accepted in the proposed form, the president to come “can become nothing other a dictator”.

Source: Steady Progress Into Fascism? Turkey, a Year After the Peace Petition -By Ulrike Flader | The Wire

Ulrike Flader is research coordinator for social movement studies at DEMOS Research Centre for Peace, Democracy and Alternative Politics, Turkey.


Recommended…
Turkey: Alarming Deterioration of Rights | 2017 World Report | Human Rights Watch

“Dreadful Year” of Attacks in Turkey Capped by 39 Dead in Istanbul Nightclub Attack | Democracy Now!

The End of Democracy in Turkey -By Dexter Filkins | The New Yorker

Erdogan’s Turkey: The End of Democracy? -By Ruadhán Mac Cormaic | The Irish Times

It Is, By Far, The Worst Time to Be a Turkish Journalist -By Berivan Orucoglu | Foreign Policy

Turkey’s Free Press Withers as Erdogan Jails 120 Journalists -By Rod Nordland | New York Times

10 Human Rights Causes to Support in 2017

happy-new-year-2017

Happy New Year!

🎉🎈 🎤 🍰 🍸🍷🍾⌛️🌹

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.” ― Edith Lovejoy Pierce.

Today’s post continues a tradition I started three years ago, whereby I dedicate the first post of the new year to noteworthy organizations and individuals committed to the advancement of human rights or the protection of Mother Earth. While the criteria for my list hasn’t changed, you may notice that I selected more causes that focus on refugees . The reason is simple: We are currently witnessing highest level of displacement on record. According to the UNHCR, an unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. In a world where nearly 34,000 people are forcibly displaced every day as a result of conflict or persecution, the least I can do is acknowledge some of the many social entrepreneurs committed to assisting the stateless and traumatized.

There are three other things worth mentioning. (1) After toying with the idea for over three years, I have finally decided to limit the number of causes to 10 going forward. (2) There is a tie for one of the spots below. Because I don’t rank the entries, the word “tie” should be construed to mean two interconnected organizations, equally deserving of recognition, featured under the same number. (3) Feel free to leave me a comment or complete the contact form if you would like me to consider an organization, cause or person for my 2018 post! The deadline for submissions is November 20, 2017.

Now, and without further ado…

10 Human Rights Causes to Support 2017

o-u-r1. Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.) is a non-profit founded by Tim Ballard which assists governments around the world in the rescue of human trafficking and sex trafficking victims with a special focus on children. O.U.R. also aids with planning, prevention, capture and prosecution of offenders, and works with partner organizations for prevention, victim recovery, and strengthened awareness or fundraising efforts. The organization has been documented for their covert operations with jump teams consisting of former CIA agents, U.S. Special Operations Forces Members, and other support volunteers. Operation Underground Railroad’s ultimate goal is to eliminate Sex Trafficking world-wide. Operation Underground Railroad has rescued 200 victims and helped law enforcement capture 130 perpetrators this year. This brings the total number of rescued victims to 529, and 182 traffickers arrested.

 

tanzanian-childrens-fund2. The Tanzanian Children’s Fund works to ensure that all children and families in the Karatu region of northern Tanzania lead healthy and productive lives and have the opportunity to become positive agents of change for their country. In order to achieve our goals, TCF provides a loving and permanent home for 97 marginalized children at the Rift Valley Children’s Village (RVCV). The RVCV staff works with local village leaders to identify orphaned children in the surrounding community in need of the safe haven RVCV can provide. From the moment they step through the gates, these children become permanent members of the RVCV family.  TCF also recognizes that the best way to promote the well-being of all children is to provide access to high-quality education, free healthcare, and microfinance trainings and loans to the entire community. Our innovative, multi-pronged approach to addressing systemic poverty is what has enabled TCF/RVCV to have a deep impact and catalyze real and lasting change.

 

place3. place  (Property, Land, Access, Connections, and Empowerment) explores the complex social, economic and political effects of inadequate land rights – from environmental sustainability and food insecurity to the potential for conflict and war. However, place will not just show you what is going wrong in the world. It also want to tell you about the exciting and courageous projects unfolding worldwide to help solve this pressing issue. Its name explains its stories and its mission.Property features urban reportage – from shantytowns and slums to the pressures of development, forced eviction and mass displacement. Land focuses on rural areas, the countryside, on agriculture and the extraction of resources, from mining to logging. Access explores the battle to retain land, from squatting rights and individual tenure to freeholds and the larger community battles to secure or return to ancestral lands. Connections shed light on tenure rights, on public and private documentation and how communities – and individuals – campaign for or harness their rights. Empowerment brings you the good news, the success stories, the projects that are contributing to resolving this complex global issue. In sum, place believes property rights are human rights and wants to spark a global conversation to show that when land and property rights are denied, social stability, economic prosperity – and even peace – are at risk. 

 

4. Reshma Qureshi, Founder of Make Love Not Scars. Reshma Qureshi is an Indian model, vlogger, and anti-acid activist. In India, she is the face of Make Love Not Scars. Her foray into modeling in the United States came when she walked the catwalk for Archana Kochhar at the 2016 New York Fashion Week.

Qureshi was born the youngest daughter of a taxi driver from Eastern Mumbai, India. They lived in a two bedroom apartment that housed all ten members of the family. She studied commerce at school. On May 19, 2014, at the age of seventeen, Qureshi was attacked with sulfuric acid by her estranged brother-in-law and two other assailants when she was traveling to the city of Allahabad for an Alim exam. The attack was actually aimed at her sister Gulshan, but Qureshi was mistaken for her. While the two other assailants were never captured after the attack, her brother-in-law was arrested. After the attack, she felt suicidal for a short period of time as she was left scarred on her face and arms and lost one of her eyes completely. After healing, Qureshi became the face of the Make Love Not Scars campaign, which aims to give “a voice to those who have been assaulted” by acid attacks and campaigns for the end of the sale of acid in India. She also began making beauty tutorials online as a way to campaign against the sale of acid. Cosmopolitan has praised Quereshi’s videos as “ridiculously empowering“. Photo credit: Reshma Qureshi walks at New York Fashion Week (Mary Altaffer/AP).

 

standing-rock5. Standing Rock Indian Reservation & #NoDAPL Campaign – The Dakota Access Pipeline is a part of  a 1,172-mile-long (1,825 km), 30-inch diameter pipeline underground oil pipeline project in the United States. The pipeline is being planned by Dakota Access, LLC, a subsidiary of the Dallas, Texas corporation Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. It begins in the Bakken oil fields in Northwest North Dakota and is set to travel in a more or less straight line southeast, through South Dakota and Iowa, and end at the oil tank farm near Patoka, Illinois. The pipeline is designed transport as many as 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily. The nearly $4 billion project was first proposed in 2014 and anticipated for delivery on January 1, 2017.

Construction of the DAPL would engender a renewed fracking-frenzy in the Bakken shale region, as well as endanger a source of fresh water for the Standing Rock Sioux and 8 million people living downstream. DAPL would also impact many sites that are sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux and other indigenous nations. The DAPL is a massive project being organized by the world’s largest fossil-fuel companies and banks. They have offices in cities around the world. Supporting the Standing Rock #NoDAPL camps and putting direct, nonviolent pressure on the corporations building and funding this project is critical for supporting frontline resistance to DAPL and preserving the land for future generations.

 

coc36. Color Of Change is a 501(c)(4) progressive nonprofit civil rights advocacy organization that utilizes the Internet, specifically e-mail and social media, as its main conduit for communicating with its members, organizing campaigns, pushing out policies, and combating racial and social injustices. The organization has successfully inspired and motivated millions of Americans from all backgrounds to fight for (or against) a gambit of issues, including criminal justice reform, racists media bias, ALEC and its support of voter ID laws, gun violence, and net neutrality. Color Of Change was co-founded in 2005 by James Rucker and Van Jones to replicate the MoveOn.org email list model among African American in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Rucker had previously worked for the MoveOn.org Political Action and MoveOn.org Civic Action while Jones was the founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Rashad Robinson is the organization’s Executive Director, having joined the organization in May 2011. In 2015, Color of Change was ranked 6th on Fast Company’s list of the 50 Most Innovative Companies in the World.

 

white-helmets-27. White Helmets/Syrian Civil Defense rush in when bombs rain down in Syria. These volunteer rescue workers operate in the most dangerous place on earth. White Helmet volunteers are bakers, tailors, engineers, pharmacists, painters, carpenters, students, and many other who come from all walks of life. They work tirelessly to save people on all sides of the conflict – pledging commitment to the principles of “Humanity, Solidarity, Impartiality” as outlined by the International Civil Defence Organisation. This pledge guides every response, every action, every life saved – so that in a time of destruction, all Syrians have the hope of a lifeline. The White Helmets mostly deal with the aftermath of government air attacks, but they have risked sniper fire to rescue bodies of government soldiers to give them a proper burial.

The White Helmets have also trained 62 women in medical care and light search and rescue work. These heroic women respond to barrel bomb and missile strikes and dig for survivors using tools and their bare hands. In some cases, they are the only hope for other women or girls who are trapped under rubble. In Syria’s most conservative communities, people have refused to let male volunteers rescue women and girls – but the women have intervened to help those who wouldn’t have been helped otherwise. The White Helmet volunteers have saved 78,529 lives – and this number is growing daily. Many have paid the ultimate price for their compassion – 154 have been killed while saving others.

In addition to their life-saving missions, White Helmets deliver public services to nearly 7 million people, including reconnecting electrical cables, providing safety information to children and securing buildings. They are the largest civil society organization operating in areas outside of government control, and their actions provide hope for millions.

 

safari-doctors8. Safari Doctors is a nonprofit that provides free basic medical services to residents of remote parts of Kenya threatened by the terror group Al-Shabaab. The idea was conceived from several health initiatives around Lamu that have slowly come to a halt given the insecurities in the area and the loss of a substantial businesses that supported these projects. Safari Doctors was established in 2014 to continue with the much needed services. In collaboration with the Ministry of Health and other partners, the Safari Doctors crew sets sail once a month during high tide and embarks on to the rough roads to visit remote communities. On board is the crew, a full-time nurse, a clinical officer and a visiting specialist who provide basic curatives services. Depending on the availability of volunteering specialists, Safari Doctors plans to host trips that meet gaps of, dental, optometry, gynecology and other services. Current services include: immunizations, maternal healthcare, respiratory infections treatment, communicable diseases treatment, access to clean water, and hospital referral logistics. On August 26, Safari Doctors’ founder Umra Omar was selected as a CNN Hero in 2016. Support the programs by becoming a friend ~ Rafiki in Swahili ~ of Safari Doctors, which will ensure that Safari Doctors continue to deliver the required services and information to the neglected areas they serve.

 

redi-school9. ReDI School of Digital Integration and Refugees on RailsTie. The unprecedented influx of migrants to Europe, driven by the war in Syria, has created a massive backlog for authorities tasked with sorting out the new arrivals. As they figure out who’s who, where each person came from, whether they should be permitted to stay and where there is space to accommodate them, migrants have little else to do, but wait. This limbo can drag on for months, dampening the euphoria of finally making it to Europe, after so much hardship. Many Germans have been eager to help. As hundreds of thousands of people poured into the country over the last year— by rail, by foot, sometimes jammed into the back of trucks— volunteers have lined up to hand out food, and even invite them to rest at their homes. Others volunteers banded together to create separate, but interconnected, coding centers to train refugees.

The ReDI School of Digital Integration is a non-profit organization co-founded by Anne Kjær Riechert and Ferdi Van Heerden in December 2015 for tech-interested newcomers applying for asylum in Germany. The school, which has been featured on TEDx Innovations, aims to teach refugees tech skills and give them access to a future professional and social network, whilst waiting for their asylum application to be processed. The students in this course attend coding and mentoring sessions over a three to six months, with the Sunday sessions being hosted at German Tech Entrepreneurship Center in Berlin. The ReDI School of Digital Integration also host several local events where students, teachers, mentors, partners, sponsors and members of the community get together to share best practice. The school is currently accepting applications for students and volunteer as well as accepts donations for both specific and general projects.

refugee-on-railsRefugees on Rails is a nonprofit program co-founded by friends and tech entrepreneurs  Weston Hankins, Anne Riechert, and Ahmet Acar in 2015. It is designed to teach coding to refugees in Berlin and has now expanded to four other German cities. In many ways, the coding is almost incidental to Refugees on Rails’ real purpose: building community and friendships. Indeed, one of the founding ideas behind the start-up is the desire to counter the negative image of refugees in Europe as an economic burden to be dealt with, rather than a resource to be cultivated. Germany has welcomed over 600,000 refugees this year, many of whom are highly educated millennials with valuable work experience who simply lack the appropriate paperwork to begin contributing to their adopted society. The volunteer-run program provides refugees with a laptop and three months of coding instruction, two nights per week, for three hours each session. The classes are held in space donated by local tech companies, including the Berlin offices of Amazon.com. The course is open to refugees with rudimentary computing experience. Refugees on Rails is still in it’s early stages. Via their website, and in partnership with the Stanford Peace Innovation Lab, individuals can donate money or their old computers to help get the school and its students.

 

10. Fugees Family, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization devoted to working with child survivors of war. The organization empowers refugees integrate successfully into their new country by providing them the support and structure they need to realize their vast potential. In 2004, Coach Luma Mufleh started a Fugees team to provide refugee boys with free access to organized soccer. Since then, the organization’s programming has grown to include year-round soccer for 86 boys and girls aged 10-18, after-school tutoring, soccer for 50 elementary-aged students, an academic enrichment summer camp, and the Fugees Academy – the nation’s only school dedicated to refugee education. The school has received SAIS and SACS accreditation, blending creative teaching with academic fundamentals, interwoven with leadership and character building. The Fugees Family also offers consultation support to organizations looking to provide effective, culturally-appropriate, and impactful services to refugee and immigrant students and families. They offer expert guidance and support for planning, operating, and evaluating cultural, educational, social, and athletic programming. On August 26, Coach Muflesh was selected as a CNN Hero in 2016.


Previous Years:
2016
2015
2014

Jesse Williams’ Powerful BET Award Speech Addresses Police Brutality, Racism in America

Jessie Williams BET
Jesse Williams accepts the Humanitarian Award on stage during the 2016 BET Awards. (Photo: Kevin Winter/BET/Getty Images for BET)

Actor Jesse Williams is best known for his role on the TV show Grey’s Anatomy. But on the night of June 26, he earned a standing ovation at the BET Awards for the powerful speech he gave when accepting the 2016 BET Humanitarian Award. Williams paid homage to police shooting victims, including Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland and Tamir Rice, who would have turned 14 years old on Saturday (June 25th) had he not been gunned down by police in Cleveland. Below is a transcript of Williams’ speech in its entirety.

☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥

Before we get into it, I just want to say, you know, I brought my parents out tonight. I just want to thank them for being here, for teaching me to focus on comprehension over career, that they made sure I learned what the schools were afraid to teach us. And also I thank my amazing wife for changing my life.

Now, this award, this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country—the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students—that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. All right? It’s kind of basic mathematics. The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.

Now, this is also, in particular, for the black women, in particular, who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you.

Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data. And we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country, or we will restructure their function and ours.

Now, I got more, y’all. Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday. So I don’t want to hear anymore about how far we’ve come, when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a 12-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home to make a sandwich. Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better to live in 2012 than it is to live in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Darrien Hunt.

Now the thing is, though, all of us in here getting money, that alone isn’t going to stop this. All right? Now, dedicating our lives—dedicating our lives to get money, just to give it right back for someone’s brand on our body, when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies, and now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies?

There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done. There’s no tax they haven’t levied against us, and we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. “You’re free,” they keep telling us, “but she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so free.” Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter. But you know what, though? The hereafter is a hustle. We want it now.

And let’s get—let’s get a couple things straight. Just a little side note. The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job. All right? Stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest—if you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.

We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind, while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil—black gold—ghettoizing and demeaning our creations, then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is, though—the thing is that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.

Record Number of People Exonerated in 2015 for Crimes They Didn’t Commit

Darrell CannonDarrell Cannon says police tortured him in 1983 and forced him to confess to a murder he didn’t commit. He spent more than 20 years in prison, but after a hearing on his tortured confession, prosecutors dismissed his case in 2004. He was released three years later.

The Netfilx hit true-crime series “Making a Murderer” leaves many people wondering: Just how common is the story of a wrongful conviction in America’s criminal justice system? Too common, according a new report that tracks exonerations.

Researchers found that 149 people were cleared in 2015 for crimes they didn’t commit — more than any other year in history, according to a report published Wednesday by the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan Law School. By comparison, 139 people were exonerated in 2014. The number has risen most years since 2005, when 61 people were cleared of crimes they didn’t commit.

“Historically, this is a very large number for a type of event that we’d like to think almost never happens or just doesn’t happen,” Samuel Gross, a University of Michigan law professor who helped write the report, told The Huffington Post.

The men and women who were cleared last year had, on average, served 14.5 years in prison. Some had been on death row. Others were younger than 18 when they were convicted or had intellectual disabilities. All had been swept into a justice system that’s supposed to be based on the presumption of innocence, but failed.

The high number of exonerations shows widespread problems with the system and likely “points to a much larger number of false convictions” that haven’t been reversed, the report said.

“That there is an impetus at all to address the underlying problems that create false convictions is of course good news,” Gross said. “But the other side is equally important, probably more so: When you see this many exonerations, that means there is a steady underlying problem. We now know that this happens on a regular basis.”

Here are some patterns the organization found in 2015 exonerations:

Official Misconduct

About 40 percent of the 2015 exonerations involved official misconduct, a record. About 75 percent of the homicide exonerations involved misconduct.

The wrongful conviction of Debra Milke, detailed in the report, was among them. Authorities accused Milke of conspiring with two men who shot her son in the back of the head to keep him from her ex-husband and to cash in on an insurance policy. Milke’s conviction was built largely on the testimony of now-retired Phoenix police Detective Armando Saldate Jr., who said Milke offered him sex during questioning and confessed to the murder. The interrogation wasn’t recorded, and Milke’s defense argued Saldate had a long history of misconduct that the state had concealed. In multiple other cases, the defense lawyers said, judges had tossed out confessions or indictments because Saldate had lied or violated defendants’ rights.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Milke’s attorneys and overturned her conviction. Milke had always maintained her innocence. She spent 26 years in prison — 22 on death row — before she was exonerated.

Debra Milke 2
Debra Milke, who spent more than two decades on death row for the alleged killing of her 4-year old son(Reuters)

False Confessions

Almost 20 percent of exonerations in 2015 were for convictions based on false confessions — a record. Those cases overwhelmingly were homicides involving defendants who were under 18, intellectually disabled, or both.

Bobby Johnson, of New Haven, Connecticut, was 16 years old with an IQ of 69 — just below the threshold for intellectual disability — without a parent or guardian present when he confessed to two detectives that he murdered 70-year-old Herbert Fields.

Johnson received a 38-year sentence in 2007. But in 2015, a new defense attorney argued that Johnson’s confession was coerced by the detectives, who lied that they had evidence linking him to the murder that would subject him to the death penalty. The lawyer also argued police ignored evidence that the murder was linked to two other killings committed by others. Nine years after his conviction, Johnson was exonerated and set free.

In a separate analysis of hundreds of cases since 1989, false confessions were found to be a leading cause of wrongful convictions, according to the Innocence Project, a nonprofit dedicated to correcting wrongful convictions. Overall, about 31 percent of wrongful conviction cases included a false confession. For homicides, that number balloons to 63 percent.

Bobby JohnsonSurrounded by his family, Bobby Johnson addresses the media outside of Superior Court in New Haven, Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. Johnson spent nine years in prison for a 2006 killing his lawyer says he didn’t commit. Prosecutors filed a motion asking a judge to set aside Johnson’s conviction “in the interest of justice and fair play.” (Arnold Gold / New Haven Register via AP)

Guilty Pleas

An innocent person pleading guilty to a crime they didn’t commit may seem unfathomable. But the National Registry of Exonerations said the number of false guilty pleas has been increasing for seven years, and has risen sharply in the past two years.

More than 40 percent of people exonerated in 2015 were convicted based on guilty pleas made by an innocent defendant, a record. The majority of these cases involved drugs. Some were homicide cases.

“Many people, including judges, take comfort in knowing that an overwhelming number of criminal cases are resolved by guilty plea rather than trial,” Judge Alex Kozinski, of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote last year in a paper critiquing the criminal justice system. But Kozinski said this attitude fails to account for issues surrounding plea deals that include the trend of bringing multiple counts for a single crime, the “creativity” of prosecutors in “hatching up criminal cases where no crime exits” and the general “overcriminalization of virtually every aspect of American life.”

Plea bargains can be an efficient way to resolve cases without draining taxpayer resources. They aren’t always bad. But a 2013 Human Rights Watch study found the U.S. system often creates situations where a federal prosecutor will “strong-arm” a defendant into a plea deal. And the deep fear of a harsh sentence — one “so excessively severe, they take your breath away,” in the words of Judge John Gleeson of the Eastern District of New York — can lead a defendant to plead guilty in order to obtain a shorter prison term, even if they’re accused wrongfully.

One example of plea deal complexities is the case of Shawn Whirl, who pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of Chicago cab driver Billy Williams in 1991, according to the report.

Whirl’s defense argued he was being chased by an assailant the day he wound up in the back of Williams’ cab. The same assailant later killed Williams in retaliation for rescuing Whirl, the lawyers said. Whirl confessed to the crime, but said it was because he was tortured by a Chicago cop. When prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty, Whirl agreed to plead guilty to murder and armed robbery to save his life — even though he said in court on the day he received a 60-year sentence that he was innocent.

It wasn’t until 2012 that the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, formed to investigate claims of torture against Chicago police, found that Whirl had indeed been tortured by a subordinate of Jon Burge — an ex-Chicago cop who led a police torture ring that used electrical shock, burnings and beatings on more than 200 black men.

Whirl was cleared of all charges on Oct. 13 and freed.

In May 2015, the Chicago City Council approved a $5.5 million reparations fund for victims of police torture. More than 200 people, most of them African-American, were tortured under the reign of Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge from 1972 to 1991. Tactics included electric shocks and suffocation.

No Crime Was Actually Committed

In about half of the exonerations in 2015, no crime was actually ever committed by the people put behind bars — a record, according to the report. Most of these cases involved drugs. Some included homicide or arson.

The report details the 1981 conviction of Raymond Mora, William Vasquez and Amaury Villalobo on six counts of murder for starting a fire in a Brooklyn, New York, building that killed a mother and her five children. The convictions were based on the building owner’s account that she saw the men leaving shortly before the fire, and a fire marshal’s testimony that the blaze had multiple origin points and was started with accelerants — signs of arson.

Each of the men’s wives gave alibi testimony that the men weren’t near the building when the fire started. All three men were convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life.

Mora died in prison in 1989. Vasquez lost his eyesight due to untreated glaucoma, according to the report. In 2012, Vasquez and Villalobos were released on parole, and Villalobos sought the help of a legal clinic. Records from the case were reexamined and, using modern science, John Lentini, an arson expert, concluded that the original fire marshal’s interpretation of the evidence was mistaken, based on science that has since been disproven. This kind of expert testimony has likely resulted in “numerous” wrongful convictions, Lentini said.

Moreover, the building owner, just before she died, admitted lying about seeing the three men leaving the building at the time of the fire. She also hid an insurance settlement.

After this new evidence was presented, the convictions of all three men were vacated in December.

ellerin-bernhard-villalobosNew York Law School graduate Marissa Ellerin, left, and New York Law School professor Adele Bernhard with Amaury Villalobos, center, who was exonerated. (New York Law Journal)

Flawed Forensic Evidence

Many of last year’s exonerations involved flawed or invalid forensic evidence. According to the Innocence Project, improper forensic science is a leading cause of wrongful conviction.

Too often, the group says, forensic experts speculate when they testify, asserting conclusions that stretch the science. Further, some forensic techniques aren’t backed by research, but are nevertheless presented to juries as fact. And there are honest mistakes. The FBI has admitted that from 1972 to 1999, almost every examiner in the bureau’s elite forensics unit gave flawed testimony in nearly every trial in which they presented evidence.

Forensic fields like ballistics, bloodstain pattern identification and footprint and tire print analysis, have been “long accepted by the courts as largely infallible,” Kozinski said in his paper, arguing that the techniques should be viewed with skepticism.

Faulty Eyewitness Identification

False identifications of innocent people happened in several cases the exoneration registry report outlined.

The Innocence Project says eyewitness misidentification of a suspect plays a role in more than 70 percent of convictions that are later overturned through DNA evidence. Hundreds of studies have shown that eyewitness identification is frequently inaccurate and that human memories are not reliable, especially with traditional identification procedures. While simple reforms have been proposed, only about 14 U.S. states have implemented them, according to Innocence Project.

Kozinski called for states to adopt rigorous procedures for witness identification.

How Many More Wrongful Convictions?

Exonerations

There’s no clear data on how many innocent people have been wrongfully convicted. The Innocence Project, citing multiple studies, estimates from 2 percent to 5 percent of prisoners are actually innocent. The U.S., which leads the world in incarceration of its citizens, has approximately 2 million people behind bars. That means a wrongful conviction rate of 1 percent would translate to 20,000 people punished for crimes they didn’t commit. On death row, 1 in 25 are likely innocent, according to a recent study.

“Because these things happen regularly, we should be more open-minded about reconsidering the guilt of convicted defendants when substantial new evidence emerges after conviction,” Gross said. “The impulse to say: ‘It’s over, I don’t want to think about it anymore’ is very strong. However, there are cracks in that position.”

Reprint: A Record Number Of People Were Exonerated In 2015 For Crimes They Didn’t Commit -By Matt Ferner | Huffington Post

Washington Post: Thousands Dead, Few Prosecuted

On a rainy night five years ago, Officer Coleman “Duke” Brackney set off in pursuit of a suspected drunk driver, chasing his black Mazda Miata down rural Arkansas roads at speeds of nearly 100 miles per hour. When the sports car finally came to rest in a ditch, Brackney opened fire at the rear window and repeatedly struck the driver, 41-year-old James Ahern, in the back. The gunshots killed Ahern.

Prosecutors charged Brackney with felony manslaughter. But he eventually entered a plea to a lesser charge and could ultimately be left with no criminal record.

Now, he serves as the police chief in a small community 20 miles from the scene of the shooting.

Brackney is among 54 officers charged over the past decade for fatally shooting someone while on duty, according to an analysis by The Washington Post and researchers at Bowling Green State University. This analysis, based on a wide range of public records and interviews with law enforcement, judicial and other legal experts, sought to identify for the first time every officer who faced charges­ for such shootings since 2005. These represent a small fraction of the thousands of fatal police shootings that have occurred across the country in that time.

In an overwhelming majority of the cases where an officer was charged, the person killed was unarmed. But it usually took more than that.

When prosecutors pressed charges, The Post analysis found, there were typically other factors that made the case exceptional, including: a victim shot in the back, a video recording of the incident, incriminating testimony from other officers or allegations of a coverup.

WARNING: GRAPHIC – SOUTH CAROLINA SHOOTING 

This video contains graphic content. A police officer in North Charleston, S.C., has been charged with murder after shooting a man during a traffic stop. Authorities said the decision to charge officer Michael Slager was made after they viewed video footage of the incident that showed him shooting the other man in the back as he was fleeing the scene.

Forty-three cases involved at least one of these four factors. Nineteen cases involved at least two.

In the most recent incident, officials in North Charleston, S.C., filed a murder charge Tuesday against a white police officer, Michael T. Slager, for gunning down an apparently unarmed black man. A video recording showed Slager repeatedly shooting the man in the back as he was running away.

“To charge an officer in a fatal shooting, it takes something so egregious, so over the top that it cannot be explained in any rational way,” said Philip M. Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green who studies arrests of police. “It also has to be a case that prosecutors are willing to hang their reputation on.”

But even in these most extreme instances, the majority of the officers whose cases have been resolved have not been convicted, The Post analysis found.

And when they are convicted or plead guilty, they’ve tended to get little time behind bars, on average four years and sometimes only weeks. Jurors are very reluctant to punish police officers, tending to view them as guardians of order, according to prosecutors and defense lawyers.

The definition of “officers” used in the analysis extends beyond local police to all government law enforcement personnel who are armed, including sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers. The analysis included some shootings that officers described as accidental.

There is no accurate tally of all the cases­ of police shootings across the country, even deadly ones. The FBI maintains a national database of fatal shootings by officers but does not require police departments to keep it updated.

Over the past year, a series of controversial police killings of unarmed victims — including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Tamir Rice in Cleveland and Eric Garner on Staten Island — has raised questions over what it takes for officers to face criminal ­charges. Often, the public is divided over whether the police went too far. Only in rare cases­ do prosecutors and grand juries decide that the killing cannot be justified.

Such cases include a Michigan state trooper who shot and killed an unarmed homeless man in Detroit as he was shuffling toward him, the man’s pants down past his knees. The incident was captured on video, and the officer, who said he thought the man had a gun, was charged with second-degree murder. A jury accepted the officer’s account and found him not guilty. He remains on the job.

They also include a police officer in Darlington County, S.C., who was charged with murder after he chased an unarmed man wanted for stealing a gas grill and three U-Haul trailers into the woods, shooting him in the back four times. A jury, believing that he feared for his life, found him not guilty.

Two Atlanta plainclothes officers opened fire and killed a 92-year-old woman during a mistaken drug raid on her home. As they pried the bars off her front door, she fired a single warning shot with an old revolver. The police responded by smashing the door down and shooting at her 39 times. One of the officers tried to disguise their error by planting bags of marijuana in her basement. The two officers pleaded guilty and received unusually stiff sentences of six and 10 years in a federal prison.

A rap musician, Killer Mike, wrote a song to memorialize the death of this African American grandmother at the hands of white officers, comparing her killing to “the dream of King when the sniper took his life.”

After the death of Michael Brown last summer, concerns about racism in policing have exploded in public debate, in particular whether white officers use excessive force when dealing with minorities and whether the criminal justice system protects the victims’ rights.

Among the officers charged since 2005 for fatal shootings, more than three-quarters were white. Two-thirds of their victims were minorities, all but two of them black.

Nearly all other cases­ involved black officers who killed black victims. In one other instance, a Latino officer fatally shot a white person and in another an Asian officer killed a black person. There were a total of 49 victims.

Identifying the exact role of race in fatal shootings and prosecutions is difficult. Often, prosecutors pursued charges against a backdrop of protests accusing police of racism. Race was also a factor in court when federal prosecutors stepped in and filed charges­ against officers for allegedly violating the victims’ civil rights. Six officers, all white, faced federal civil rights charges for killing blacks.

In interviews with more than 20 prosecutors across the country, they said that race did not factor into their decisions to bring charges against officers. The prosecutors said they pursued cases­ based on the legal merits.

RACE MATTERS 

 

But defense lawyer Doug Friesen, who represented a white officer convicted in 2013 for fatally shooting an unarmed black man, said that “it would be naive” for prosecutors to say race isn’t a consideration.

“Anytime you have politicians that have to make charging decisions, realistically that is part of their decision-making process,” Friesen said. “They are asking themselves, ‘Is there going to be rioting out in the streets?’ ”

Both Officer Coleman “Duke” Brackney and his victim James Ahern, shot dead in his Miata, were white.

Brackney, 32, recalled in an interview that he believed Ahern was about to back his car up and run over him. The engine was racing and the backup lights flashed, Brackney said.

A video, captured by a camera mounted on his cruiser’s dashboard, indicated that the sports car was not moving when the officer opened fire. The existence of that video was the key reason why prosecutors decided to bring charges, they said.

Number killed“In my mind, it was the third time he tried to run me over,” Brackney said in an interview with The Post. “His right hand came up in this sweeping motion, and I thought he was going for a gun. I don’t know what a jury would have believed — and that’s the problem. There was this risk, so entering a plea, I viewed it as a business decision.”

After pleading to a reduced charge of negligent homicide, a misdemeanor, Brackney served 30 days in jail as part of a plea agreement. The judge deferred the conviction, and if Brackney fulfills the terms of his probation, the case will be dismissed.

“No one wants to take a life, but at the end of the day, I realize that I’m the one who got to go home,” he said, adding, “I wouldn’t change what I did.”

He was fired by the Bella Vista Police Department, where he worked at the time, but was given another chance by the city of Sulphur Springs, Ark. Two years ago, city officials hired him to run the police department, where he manages a force of four officers who spend much of their time patrolling quiet streets and arresting small-time drug dealers.

Excerpt, read more Thousands Dead, Few Prosecuted | Washington Post

❋ Story by Kimberly Kindy, Kimbriell Kelly
❋ Graphics by Vesko Cholakov, Kevin Schaul
❋ Videos by Whitney Leaming, Divya Verma, Natasha Rudnick


Related: South Carolina: Police Dashcam of Moments Before Shooting (FULL VIDEO)

RECOMMENDED READINGS

South Carolina Officer Is Charged With Murder of Walter Scott -By Michael S. Schmidt & Matt Apuzzo | NYT

The Total Rejection of Michael Slager -By Adam Chandler | The Atlantic

❋ Michael Slager Had History Of Violence Against Black People | The Young Turks (Video)

❋ Another Police Shooting Of An Unarmed Black Man | The Young Turks (Video)

Fairfax Jail Inmate [Natasha McKenna] in Taser Death was Shackled -By Tom Jackman & Justin Jouvenal | Washington Post

Reserve Deputy Who Killed Eric Harris Pleads Not Guilty, Is Allowed to Take Vacation in Bahamas -By Breanna Edward | The Root

Tamir Rice and the Value of Life -By Charles M. Blow | NYT

Police Killed More Than 100 People In March -By Carimah Townes | ThinkProgress

A New Estimate Of Killings By Police Is Way Higher — And Still Too Low -By Carl Bialik | FiveThirtyEight

Killed By Police (Data Collection)

Ferguson, Missouri: Where The Mere Act of Being Alive & Black Is a Crime

Police car light

In the city of Ferguson, nearly everyone is a wanted criminal.

That may seem like hyperbole, but it is a literal fact. In Ferguson — a city with a population of 21,000 — 16,000 people have outstanding arrest warrants, meaning that they are currently actively wanted by the police. That statistic should be truly shocking. Yet in the wake of the Department of Justice’s withering report on the city’s policing practices, it has gone almost entirely unmentioned. News reports and analysis have focused on the racism discovered in departmental emails, and the gangsterish financial “shakedown” methods deployed against African Americans. In doing so, they have missed the full picture of Ferguson’s operation, which reveals a totalizing police regime beyond any of Kafka’s ghastliest nightmares.

The Department of Justice’s 102-page report is a rich source of damning facts about the Ferguson criminal justice system. But tucked halfway in and passed over quickly is a truly revelatory set of figures: the arrest warrant data for the Ferguson Municipal Court.

It turns out that nearly everyone in the city is wanted for something. Even internal police department communications found the number of arrest warrants to be “staggering”. By December of 2014, “over 16,000 people had outstanding arrest warrants that had been issued by the court.” The report makes clear that this refers to individual people, rather than cases, so people with many cases are not being counted multiple times. (Though clearly some of these cannot be Ferguson residents, since the number represents more than the entire adult population and Ferguson policing applies to visitors as well.) However, if we do look at the number of cases, the portrait is even starker. In 2013, 32,975 offenses had associated warrants, so that there were 1.5 offenses for every city resident.

That means that the city of Ferguson quite literally has more crimes than people.

To give some context as to how truly extreme this is, a comparison may be useful. In 2014, the Boston Municipal Court System, for a city of 645,000 people, issued about 2,300 criminal warrants. The Ferguson Municipal Court issued 9,000, for a population 1/30th the size of Boston’s.

This complete penetration of policing into everyday life establishes a world of unceasing terror and violence. When everyone is a criminal by default, police are handed an extraordinary amount of discretionary power. “Discretion” may sound like an innocuous or even positive policy, but its effect is to make every single person’s freedom dependent on the mercy of individual officers. There are no more laws, there are only police. The “rule of law,” by which people are supposed to be treated equally according to a consistent set of principles, becomes the “rule of personal whim.”

And this is precisely what occurs in Ferguson. As others have noted, the Ferguson courts appear to work as an orchestrated racket to extract money from the poor. The thousands upon thousands of warrants that are issued, according to the DOJ, are “not to protect public safety but rather to facilitate fine collection.” Residents are routinely charged with minor administrative infractions. Most of the arrest warrants stem from traffic violations, but nearly every conceivable human behavior is criminalized. An offense can be found anywhere, including citations for “Manner of Walking in Roadway,” “High Grass and Weeds,” and 14 kinds of parking violation. The dystopian absurdity reaches its apotheosis in the deliciously Orwellian transgression “failure to obey.” (Obey what? Simply to obey.) In fact, even if one does obey to the letter, solutions can be found. After Henry Davis was brutally beaten by four Ferguson officers, he found himself charged with “destruction of official property” for bleeding on their uniforms.

None of this is even to mention the blinding levels of racism, which remain the central fact of police interactions in Ferguson and nationwide. The overwhelming force of this violent and exploitative policing system is directed at the African American population. In 2013, 92 percent of Ferguson’s arrest warrants were issued against African Americans, and black Fergusonians were 68 percent less likely than others to have their court cases dismissed. The racism is so blatant and comprehensive that the DOJ concluded that “Ferguson law enforcement practices are directly shaped and perpetuated by racial bias.” Considering the qualified and colorless language typically deployed in government documents, this is an astonishingly forceful statement.

Ferguson’s racism has been central to the media coverage of the release of the DOJ report. But in a certain way, by focusing entirely on disparate racial impacts without examining the sheer scale of the brutal state juggernaut, one misses crucial facts. MSNBC listed as the DOJ’s number one “most shocking” finding the fact that “at least one municipal employee thought electing a black president was laughable.” But the existence of racist views in the department is not the most shocking fact, not by a country mile. Rather, endemic racism in policing comes standard. However, that racism occurs in the wider context of an ever-enlarging interlocking system of administrative bureaucracy and police violence.

The other pitfall in analyzing the Ferguson report is to see it as being about Ferguson. There are 19,492 municipal governments in America, and the chances that Ferguson happens to be the worst are extremely slim. In fact, there is strong evidence that in the world of better funded, more militarized, more technologically advanced police departments, Ferguson is simply a high-profile case study. While the Ferguson nightmare may dwarf the problems in cities like Boston, American policing is so out-of-control that Ferguson-style practices can occur on at least some level in almost every department.

It’s hard to believe, but the Ferguson police department’s massive deliberate racism only represents one of its problems. The DOJ report shows not just a racist criminal justice system, but one in which the very act of being alive has been made a crime, and in which nearly everybody is wanted by the law at every moment of every day.

Reprint: The Shocking Finding From the DOJ’s Ferguson Report That Nobody Has Noticed -By Nathan Robinson | Huffington Puff


This post was co-authored by Oren Nimni, a civil rights attorney in Boston and member of the National Lawyers Guild’s executive board.