Category Archives: Civil Rights

Digital Jail: How Electronic Monitoring Drives Defendants Into Debt

Ankle bracelets are promoted as a humane alternative to jail. But private companies charge defendants hundreds of dollars a month to wear the surveillance devices. If people can’t pay, they may end up behind bars.

by Ava Kofman

On Oct. 12, 2018, Daehaun White walked free, or so he thought. A guard handed him shoelaces and the $19 that had been in his pocket at the time of his booking, along with a letter from his public defender. The lanky 19-year-old had been sitting for almost a month in St. Louis’ Medium Security Institution, a city jail known as the Workhouse, after being pulled over for driving some friends around in a stolen Chevy Cavalier. When the police charged him with tampering with a motor vehicle — driving a car without its owner’s consent — and held him overnight, he assumed he would be released by morning. He told the police that he hadn’t known that the Chevy, which a friend had lent him a few hours earlier, was stolen. He had no previous convictions. But the $1,500 he needed for the bond was far beyond what he or his family could afford. It wasn’t until his public defender, Erika Wurst, persuaded the judge to lower the amount to $500 cash, and a nonprofit fund, the Bail Project, paid it for him, that he was able to leave the notoriously grim jail. “Once they said I was getting released, I was so excited I stopped listening,” he told me recently. He would no longer have to drink water blackened with mold or share a cell with rats, mice and cockroaches. He did a round of victory pushups and gave away all of the snack cakes he had been saving from the cafeteria.

When he finally read Wurst’s letter, however, he realized there was a catch. Even though Wurst had argued against it, the judge, Nicole Colbert-Botchway, had ordered him to wear an ankle monitor that would track his location at every moment using GPS. For as long as he would wear it, he would be required to pay $10 a day to a private company, Eastern Missouri Alternative Sentencing Services, or EMASS. Just to get the monitor attached, he would have to report to EMASS and pay $300 up front — enough to cover the first 25 days, plus a $50 installation fee.

White didn’t know how to find that kind of money. Before his arrest, he was earning minimum wage as a temp, wrapping up boxes of shampoo. His father was largely absent, and his mother, Lakisha Thompson, had recently lost her job as the housekeeping manager at a Holiday Inn. Raising Daehaun and his four siblings, she had struggled to keep up with the bills. The family bounced between houses and apartments in northern St. Louis County, where, as a result of Jim Crow redlining, most of the area’s black population lives. In 2014, they were living on Canfield Drive in Ferguson when Michael Brown was shot and killed there by a police officer. During the ensuing turmoil, Thompson moved the family to Green Bay, Wisconsin. White felt out of place. He was looked down on for his sagging pants, called the N-word when riding his bike. After six months, he moved back to St. Louis County on his own to live with three of his siblings and stepsiblings in a gray house with vinyl siding.

When White got home on the night of his release, he was so overwhelmed to see his family again that he forgot about the letter. He spent the next few days hanging out with his siblings, his mother, who had returned to Missouri earlier that year, and his girlfriend, Demetria, who was seven months pregnant. He didn’t report to EMASS.

What he didn’t realize was that he had failed to meet a deadline. Typically, defendants assigned to monitors must pay EMASS in person and have the device installed within 24 hours of their release from jail. Otherwise, they have to return to court to explain why they’ve violated the judge’s orders. White, however, wasn’t called back for a hearing. Instead, a week after he left the Workhouse, Colbert-Botchway issued a warrant for his arrest.

Three days later, a large group of police officers knocked on Thompson’s door, looking for information about an unrelated case, a robbery. White and his brother had been making dinner with their mother, and the officers asked them for identification. White’s name matched the warrant issued by Colbert-Botchway. “They didn’t tell me what the warrant was for,” he said. “Just that it was for a violation of my release.” He was taken downtown and held for transfer back to the Workhouse. “I kept saying to myself, ’Why am I locked up?’” he recalled.

Daehaun White couldn’t afford to pay $10 a day to a private company for an ankle monitor after his release from jail.

The next morning, Thompson called the courthouse to find the answer. She learned that her son had been jailed over his failure to acquire and pay for his GPS monitor. To get him out, she needed to pay EMASS on his behalf.

This seemed absurd to her. When Daehaun was 13, she had worn an ankle monitor after violating probation for a minor theft, but the state hadn’t required her to cover the cost of her own supervision. “This is a 19-year-old coming out of the Workhouse,” she told me recently. “There’s no way he has $300 saved.” Thompson felt that the court was forcing her to choose between getting White out of jail and supporting the rest of her family.

Over the past half-century, the number of people behind bars in the United States jumped by more than 500%, to 2.2 million. This extraordinary rise, often attributed to decades of “tough on crime” policies and harsh sentencing laws, has ensured that even as crime rates have dropped since the 1990s, the number of people locked up and the average length of their stay have increased. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the cost of keeping people in jails and prisons soared to $87 billion in 2015 from $19 billion in 1980, in current dollars.

In recent years, politicians on both sides of the aisle have joined criminal-justice reformers in recognizing mass incarceration as both a moral outrage and a fiscal sinkhole. As ankle bracelets have become compact and cost-effective, legislators have embraced them as an enlightened alternative. More than 125,000 people in the criminal-justice system were supervised with monitors in 2015, compared with just 53,000 people in 2005, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. Although no current national tally is available, data from several cities — Austin, Texas; Indianapolis; Chicago; and San Francisco — show that this number continues to rise. Last December, the First Step Act, which includes provisions for home detention, was signed into law by President Donald Trump with support from the private prison giants GEO Group and CoreCivic. These corporations dominate the so-called community-corrections market — services such as day-reporting and electronic monitoring — that represents one of the fastest-growing revenue sectors of their industry.

By far the most decisive factor promoting the expansion of monitors is the financial one. The United States government pays for monitors for some of those in the federal criminal-justice system and for tens of thousands of immigrants supervised by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But states and cities, which incur around 90% of the expenditures for jails and prisons, are increasingly passing the financial burden of the devices onto those who wear them. It costs St. Louis roughly $90 a day to detain a person awaiting trial in the Workhouse, where in 2017 the average stay was 291 days. When individuals pay EMASS $10 a day for their own supervision, it costs the city nothing. A 2014 study by NPR and the Brennan Center found that, with the exception of Hawaii, every state required people to pay at least part of the costs associated with GPS monitoring. Some probation offices and sheriffs run their own monitoring programs — renting the equipment from manufacturers, hiring staff and collecting fees directly from participants. Others have outsourced the supervision of defendants, parolees and probationers to private companies.

“There are a lot of judges who reflexively put people on monitors, without making much of a pretense of seriously weighing it at all,” said Chris Albin-Lackey, a senior legal adviser with Human Rights Watch who has researched private-supervision companies. “The limiting factor is the cost it might impose on the public, but when that expense is sourced out, even that minimal brake on judicial discretion goes out the window.”

Nowhere is the pressure to adopt monitors more pronounced than in places like St. Louis: cash-strapped municipalities with large populations of people awaiting trial. Nationwide on any given day, half a million people sit in crowded and expensive jails because, like Daehaun White, they cannot purchase their freedom.

As the movement to overhaul cash bail has challenged the constitutionality of jailing these defendants, judges and sheriffs have turned to monitors as an appealing substitute. In San Francisco, the number of people released from jail onto electronic monitors tripled after a 2018 ruling forced courts to release more defendants without bail. In Marion County, Indiana, where jail overcrowding is routine, roughly 5,000 defendants were put on monitors last year. “You would be hard-pressed to find bail-reform legislation in any state that does not include the possibility of electronic monitoring,” said Robin Steinberg, the chief executive of the Bail Project.

Yet like the system of wealth-based detention they are meant to help reform, ankle monitors often place poor people in special jeopardy. Across the country, defendants who have not been convicted of a crime are put on “offender funded” payment plans for monitors that sometimes cost more than their bail. And unlike bail, they don’t get the payment back, even if they’re found innocent. Although a federal survey shows that nearly 40% of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to cover an emergency, companies and courts routinely threaten to lock up defendants if they fall behind on payment. In Greenville, South Carolina, pretrial defendants can be sent back to jail when they fall three weeks behind on fees. (An officer for the Greenville County Detention Center defended this practice on the grounds that participants agree to the costs in advance.) In Mohave County, Arizona, pretrial defendants charged with sex offenses have faced rearrest if they fail to pay for their monitors, even if they prove that they can’t afford them. “We risk replacing an unjust cash-bail system,” Steinberg said, “with one just as unfair, inhumane and unnecessary.”

Many local judges, including in St. Louis, do not conduct hearings on a defendant’s ability to pay for private supervision before assigning them to it; those who do often overestimate poor people’s financial means. Without judicial oversight, defendants are vulnerable to private-supervision companies that set their own rates and charge interest when someone can’t pay up front. Some companies even give their employees bonuses for hitting collection targets.

It’s not only debt that can send defendants back to jail. People who may not otherwise be candidates for incarceration can be punished for breaking the lifestyle rules that come with the devices. A survey in California found that juveniles awaiting trial or on probation face especially difficult rules; in one county, juveniles on monitors were asked to follow more than 50 restrictions, including not participating “in any social activity.” For this reason, many advocates describe electronic monitoring as a “net-widener": Far from serving as an alternative to incarceration, it ends up sweeping more people into the system.

Dressed in a baggy yellow City of St. Louis Corrections shirt, White was walking to the van that would take him back to the Workhouse after his rearrest, when a guard called his name and handed him a bus ticket home. A few hours earlier, his mom had persuaded her sister to lend her the $300 that White owed EMASS. Wurst, his public defender, brought the receipt to court.

The next afternoon, White hitched a ride downtown to the EMASS office, where one of the company’s bond-compliance officers, Nick Buss, clipped a black box around his left ankle. Based in the majority white city of St. Charles, west of St. Louis, EMASS has several field offices throughout eastern Missouri. A former probation and parole officer, Michael Smith, founded the company in 1991 after Missouri became one of the first states to allow private companies to supervise some probationers. (Smith and other EMASS officials declined to comment for this story.)

The St. Louis area has made national headlines for its “offender funded” model of policing and punishment. Stricken by postindustrial decline and the 2008 financial crisis, its municipalities turned to their police departments and courts to make up for shortfalls in revenue. In 2015, the Ferguson Report by the United States Department of Justice put hard numbers to what black residents had long suspected: The police were targeting them with disproportionate arrests, traffic tickets and excessive fines.

EMASS may have saved the city some money, but it also created an extraordinary and arbitrary-seeming new expense for poor defendants. When cities cover the cost of monitoring, they often pay private contractors $2 to $3 a day for the same equipment and services for which EMASS charges defendants $10 a day. To come up with the money, EMASS clients told me, they had to find second jobs, take their children out of day care and cut into disability checks. Others hurried to plead guilty for no better reason than that being on probation was cheaper than paying for a monitor.

At the downtown office, White signed a contract stating that he would charge his monitor for an hour and a half each day and “report” to EMASS with $70 each week. He could shower, but was not to bathe or swim (the monitor is water-resistant, not waterproof). Interfering with the monitor’s functioning was a felony.

The St. Louis office of EMASS, which charges defendants $300 up front to get the monitor attached.

White assumed that GPS supervision would prove a minor annoyance. Instead, it was a constant burden. The box was bulky and the size of a fist, so he couldn’t hide it under his jeans. Whenever he left the house, people stared. There were snide comments ("nice bracelet") and cutting jokes. His brothers teased him about having a babysitter. “I’m nobody to watch,” he insisted.

The biggest problem was finding work. Confident and outgoing, White had never struggled to land jobs; after dropping out of high school in his junior year, he flipped burgers at McDonald’s and Steak ’n Shake. To pay for the monitor, he applied to be a custodian at Julia Davis Library, a cashier at Home Depot, a clerk at Menards. The conversation at Home Depot had gone especially well, White thought, until the interviewer casually asked what was on his leg.

To help improve his chances, he enrolled in Mission: St. Louis, a job-training center for people reentering society. One afternoon in January, he and a classmate role-played how to talk to potential employers about criminal charges. White didn’t know how much detail to go into. Should he tell interviewers that he was bringing his pregnant girlfriend some snacks when he was pulled over? He still isn’t sure, because a police officer came looking for him midway through the class. The battery on his monitor had died. The officer sent him home, and White missed the rest of the lesson.

With all of the restrictions and rules, keeping a job on a monitor can be as difficult as finding one. The hours for weekly check-ins at the downtown EMASS office — 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. on Mondays — are inconvenient for those who work. In 2011, the National Institute of Justice surveyed 5,000 people on electronic monitors and found that 22% said they had been fired or asked to leave a job because of the device. Juawanna Caves, a young St. Louis native and mother of two, was placed on a monitor in December after being charged with unlawful use of a weapon. She said she stopped showing up to work as a housekeeper when her co-workers made her uncomfortable by asking questions and later lost a job at a nursing home because too many exceptions had to be made for her court dates and EMASS check-ins.

Perpetual surveillance also takes a mental toll. Nearly everyone I spoke to who wore a monitor described feeling trapped, as though they were serving a sentence before they had even gone to trial. White was never really sure about what he could or couldn’t do under supervision. In January, when his girlfriend had their daughter, Rylan, White left the hospital shortly after the birth, under the impression that he had a midnight curfew. Later that night, he let his monitor die so that he could sneak back before sunrise to see the baby again.

EMASS makes its money from defendants. But it gets its power over them from judges. It was in 2012 that the judges of the St. Louis court started to use the company’s services — which previously involved people on probation for misdemeanors — for defendants awaiting trial. Last year, the company supervised 239 defendants in the city of St. Louis on GPS monitors, according to numbers provided by EMASS to the court. The alliance with the courts gives the company not just a steady stream of business but a reliable means of recouping debts: Unlike, say, a credit-card company, which must file a civil suit to collect from overdue customers, EMASS can initiate criminal-court proceedings, threatening defendants with another stay in the Workhouse.

In early April, I visited Judge Rex Burlison in his chambers on the 10th floor of the St. Louis civil courts building. A few months earlier, Burlison, who has short gray hair and light blue eyes, had been elected by his peers as presiding judge, overseeing the city’s docket, budget and operations, including the contract with EMASS. It was one of the first warm days of the year, and from the office window I could see sunlight glimmering on the silver Gateway Arch.

I asked Burlison about the court’s philosophy for using pretrial GPS. He stressed that while each case was unique and subject to the judge’s discretion, monitoring was most commonly used for defendants who posed a flight risk, endangered public safety or had an alleged victim. Judges vary in how often they order defendants to wear monitors, and critics have attacked the inconsistency. Colbert-Botchway, the judge who put White on a monitor, regularly made pretrial GPS a condition of release, according to public defenders. (Colbert-Botchway declined to comment.) But another St. Louis city judge, David Roither, told me, “I really don’t use it very often because people here are too poor to pay for it.”

Whenever a defendant on a monitor violates a condition of release, whether related to payment or a curfew or something else, EMASS sends a letter to the court. Last year, Burlison said, the court received two to three letters a week from EMASS about violations. In response, the judge usually calls the defendant in for a hearing. As far as he knew, Burlison said, judges did not incarcerate people simply for failing to pay EMASS debts. “Why would you?” he asked me. When people were put back in jail, he said, there were always other factors at play, like the defendant’s missing a hearing, for instance. (Issuing a warrant for White’s arrest without a hearing, he acknowledged after looking at the docket, was not the court’s standard practice.)

The contract with EMASS allows the court to assign indigent defendants to the company to oversee “at no cost.” Yet neither Burlison nor any of the other current or former judges I spoke with recalled waiving fees when ordering someone to wear an ankle monitor. When I asked Burlison why he didn’t, he said that he was concerned that if he started to make exceptions on the basis of income, the company might stop providing ankle-monitoring services in St. Louis.

“People get arrested because of life choices,” Burlison said. “Whether they’re good for the charge or not, they’re still arrested and have to deal with it, and part of dealing with it is the finances.” To release defendants without monitors simply because they can’t afford the fee, he said, would be to disregard the safety of their victims or the community. “We can’t just release everybody because they’re poor,” he continued.

But many people in the Workhouse awaiting trial are poor. In January, civil rights groups filed suit against the city and the court, claiming that the St. Louis bail system violated the Constitution, in part by discriminating against those who can’t afford to post bail. That same month, the Missouri Supreme Court announced new rules that urged local courts to consider releasing defendants without monetary conditions and to waive fees for poor people placed on monitors. Shortly before the rules went into effect, on July 1, Burlison said that the city intends to shift the way ankle monitors are distributed and plans to establish a fund to help indigent defendants pay for their ankle bracelets. But he said he didn’t know how much money would be in the fund or whether it was temporary or permanent. The need for funding could grow quickly. The pending bail lawsuit has temporarily spurred the release of more defendants from custody, and as a result, public defenders say, the demand for monitors has increased.

Judges are anxious about what people released without posting bail might do once they get out. Several told me that monitors may ensure that the defendants return to court. Not unlike doctors who order a battery of tests for a mildly ill patient to avoid a potential malpractice suit, judges seem to view monitors as a precaution against their faces appearing on the front page of the newspaper. “Every judge’s fear is to let somebody out on recognizance and he commits murder, and then everyone asks, ’How in the hell was this person let out?’” said Robert Dierker, who served as a judge in St. Louis from 1986 to 2017 and now represents the city in the bail lawsuit. “But with GPS, you can say, ’Well, I have him on GPS, what else can I do?’”

Critics of monitors contend that their public-safety appeal is illusory: If defendants are intent on harming someone or skipping town, the bracelet, which can be easily removed with a pair of scissors, would not stop them. Studies showing that people tracked by GPS appear in court more reliably are scarce, and research about its effectiveness as a deterrent is inconclusive.

“The fundamental question is, What purpose is electronic monitoring serving?” said Blake Strode, the executive director of ArchCity Defenders, a nonprofit civil rights law firm in St. Louis that is one of several firms representing the plaintiffs in the bail lawsuit. “If the only purpose it’s serving is to make judges feel better because they don’t want to be on the hook if something goes wrong, then that’s not a sensible approach. We should not simply be monitoring for monitoring’s sake.”

Electronic monitoring was first conceived in the early 1960s by Ralph and Robert Gable, identical twins studying at Harvard under the psychologists Timothy Leary and B.F. Skinner, respectively. Influenced in part by Skinner’s theories of positive reinforcement, the Gables rigged up some surplus missile-tracking equipment to monitor teenagers on probation; those who showed up at the right places at the right times were rewarded with movie tickets, limo rides and other prizes.

Although this round-the-clock monitoring was intended as a tool for rehabilitation, observers and participants alike soon recognized its potential to enhance surveillance. All but two of the 16 volunteers in their initial study dropped out, finding the two bulky radio transmitters oppressive. “They felt like it was a prosthetic conscience, and who would want Mother all the time along with you?” Robert Gable told me. Psychology Today labeled the invention a “belt from Big Brother.”

The reality of electronic monitoring today is that Big Brother is watching some groups more than others. No national statistics are available on the racial breakdown of Americans wearing ankle monitors, but all indications suggest that mass supervision, like mass incarceration, disproportionately affects black people. In Cook County, Illinois, for instance, black people make up 24% of the population, and 67% of those on monitors. The sociologist Simone Browne has connected contemporary surveillance technologies like GPS monitors to America’s long history of controlling where black people live, move and work. In her 2015 book, “Dark Matters,” she traces the ways in which “surveillance is nothing new to black folks,” from the branding of enslaved people and the shackling of convict laborers to Jim Crow segregation and the home visits of welfare agencies. These historical inequities, Browne notes, influence where and on whom new tools like ankle monitors are imposed.

For some black families, including White’s, monitoring stretches across generations. Annette Taylor, the director of Ripple Effect, an advocacy group for prisoners and their families based in Champaign, Illinois, has seen her ex-husband, brother, son, nephew and sister’s husband wear ankle monitors over the years. She had to wear one herself, about a decade ago, she said, for driving with a suspended license. “You’re making people a prisoner of their home,” she told me. When her son was paroled and placed on house arrest, he couldn’t live with her, because he was forbidden to associate with people convicted of felonies, including his stepfather, who was also on house arrest.

Some people on monitors are further constrained by geographic restrictions — areas in the city or neighborhood that they can’t go without triggering an alarm. James Kilgore, a research scholar at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, has cautioned that these exclusionary zones could lead to “e-gentrification,” effectively keeping people out of more-prosperous neighborhoods. In 2016, after serving four years in prison for drug conspiracy, Bryan Otero wore a monitor as a condition of parole. He commuted from the Bronx to jobs at a restaurant and a department store in Manhattan, but he couldn’t visit his family or doctor because he was forbidden to enter a swath of Manhattan between 117th Street and 131st Street. “All my family and childhood friends live in that area,” he said. “I grew up there.”

Michelle Alexander, a legal scholar and columnist for The Times, has argued that monitoring engenders a new form of oppression under the guise of progress. In her 2010 book, “The New Jim Crow,” she wrote that the term “mass incarceration” should refer to the “system that locks people not only behind actual bars in actual prisons, but also behind virtual bars and virtual walls — walls that are invisible to the naked eye but function nearly as effectively as Jim Crow laws once did at locking people of color into a permanent second-class citizenship.”

As the cost of monitoring continues to fall, those who are required to submit to it may worry less about the expense and more about the intrusive surveillance. The devices, some of which are equipped with two-way microphones, can give corrections officials unprecedented access to the private lives not just of those monitored but also of their families and friends. GPS location data appeals to the police, who can use it to investigate crimes. Already the goal is both to track what individuals are doing and to anticipate what they might do next. BI Incorporated, an electronic-monitoring subsidiary of GEO Group, has the ability to assign risk scores to the behavioral patterns of those monitored, so that law enforcement can “address potential problems before they happen.” Judges leery of recidivism have begun to embrace risk-assessment tools. As a result, defendants who have yet to be convicted of an offense in court may be categorized by their future chances of reoffending.

The combination of GPS location data with other tracking technologies such as automatic license-plate readers represents an uncharted frontier for finer-grained surveillance. In some cities, police have concentrated these tools in neighborhoods of color. A CityLab investigation found that Baltimore police were more likely to deploy the Stingray — the controversial and secretive cellphone tracking technology — where African Americans lived. In the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death in 2015, the police spied on Black Lives Matter protesters with face recognition technology. Given this pattern, the term “electronic monitoring” may soon refer not just to a specific piece of equipment but to an all-encompassing strategy.

If the evolution of the criminal-justice system is any guide, it is very likely that the ankle bracelet will go out of fashion. Some GPS monitoring vendors have already started to offer smartphone applications that verify someone’s location through voice and face recognition. These apps, with names like Smart-LINK and Shadowtrack, promise to be cheaper and more convenient than a boxy bracelet. They’re also less visible, mitigating the stigma and normalizing surveillance. While reducing the number of people in physical prison, these seductive applications could, paradoxically, increase its reach. For the nearly 4.5 million Americans on probation or parole, it is not difficult to imagine a virtual prison system as ubiquitous — and invasive — as Instagram or Facebook.

On Jan. 24, exactly three months after White had his monitor installed, his public defender successfully argued in court for its removal. His phone service had been shut off because he had fallen behind on the bill, so his mother told him the good news over video chat.

When White showed up to EMASS a few days later to have the ankle bracelet removed, he said, one of the company’s employees told him that he couldn’t take off his monitor until he paid his debt. White offered him the $35 in his wallet — all the money he had. It wasn’t enough. The employee explained that he needed to pay at least half of the $700 he owed. Somewhere in the contract he had signed months earlier, White had agreed to pay his full balance “at the time of removal.” But as White saw it, the court that had ordered the monitor’s installation was now ordering its removal. Didn’t that count?

“That’s the only thing that’s killing me,” White told me a few weeks later, in early March. “Why are you all not taking it off?” We were in his brother’s room, which, unlike White’s down the hall, had space for a wobbly chair. White sat on the bed, his head resting against the frame, while his brother sat on the other end by the TV, mumbling commands into a headset for the fantasy video game Fortnite. By then, the prosecutor had offered White two to three years of probation in exchange for a plea. (White is waiting to hear if he has been accepted into the city’s diversion program for “youthful offenders,” which would allow him to avoid pleading and wipe the charges from his record in a year.)

White was wearing a loosefitting Nike track jacket and red sweats that bunched up over the top of his monitor. He had recently stopped charging it, and so far, the police hadn’t come knocking. “I don’t even have to have it on,” he said, looking down at his ankle. “But without a job, I can’t get it taken off.” In the last few weeks, he had sold his laptop, his phone and his TV. That cash went to rent, food and his daughter, and what was left barely made a dent in what he owed EMASS.

It was a Monday — a check-in day — but he hadn’t been reporting for the past couple of weeks. He didn’t see the point; he didn’t have the money to get the monitor removed and the office was an hour away by bus. I offered him a ride.

EMASS check-ins take place in a three-story brick building with a low-slung facade draped in ivy. The office doesn’t take cash payments, and a Western Union is conveniently located next door. The other men in the waiting room were also wearing monitors. When it was White’s turn to check-in, Buss, the bond-compliance officer, unclipped the band from his ankle and threw the device into a bin, White said. He wasn’t sure why EMASS had now softened its approach, but his debts nonetheless remained.

Buss calculated the money White owed going back to November: $755, plus 10% annual interest. Over the next nine months, EMASS expected him to make monthly payments that would add up to $850 — more than the court had required for his bond. White looked at the receipt and shook his head. “I get in trouble for living,” he said as he walked out of the office. “For being me.”


Republished with permission under license from ProPublica, an investigative news agency.

 

 

 

Police Report Deems Firing 55 Shots In 3.5 Seconds At A Sleeping Black Man “Reasonable”

Editorial note by Randall Hill

On February 9, 2019, six white police officers shot and killed, Willie McCoy, a black 20-year-old aspiring rapper who fell asleep in the drive-thru lane of a Taco Bell. Police body cam footage of the shooting is below.

These videos, unfortunately, are becoming so numerous, it's hard keeping up. Just days ago, Phoenix police threatened to kill a pregnant woman because her 4-year-old daughter walked out of a Family Dollar store with a 99 cent doll.  It's way past the point of misunderstandings and cops fearing for their lives. It's almost as a racist faction of police have declared warfare on the black community. I understand policing is a dangerous job, it ranks 18 out of the 25 most dangerous occupations in the U.S., however, having an encounter with police while being black is feeling pretty dangerous too!

Since today is Father's Day, I wasn't planning on posting anything, but then I learned about this situation which instantly reminded me of my youngest son. He is a twenty-year-old college student, aspiring singer/rapper and a former member of the group ProjecX, the first youth group to perform at Twilight Tuesdays. He released his first album earlier this year and will be releasing his first music video soon. 

I'm waiting to hear some sort of response from Taco Bell or Yum Brands which owns them. This young black man was killed while being a customer and if Taco Bell doesn't speak out against this senseless act, I'm done with them and possibly all the Yum brands. As we stated previously, only economic sanctions will change this. See: "Where Protest Fails, Violence Prevails" and "Protest Minus Disruption or Violence Equals Failure".

My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Willie McCoy. As President Obama said about Trayvon Martin, "Willie McCoy" could have been my son.

Article by Abby Zimet

The choice by six crazed racist cops to pump 55 shots into Willie McCoy, a 20-year-old Bay Area rapper, for the crime of falling asleep in his car at a Taco Bell was "reasonable," argues a newly released report by a paid "expert" and former cop who called the gruesome killing "in line with contemporary training and police practices” – which is the damn problem, say many Americans weary of dead black bodies in the streets. The Vallejo police officers turned up last February for – bitter irony alert – "a wellness check" after a worried Taco Bell employee called to say there was an unresponsive man in his car in the drive-through lane. Police found McCoy asleep at the steering wheel with a gun in his lap. Inexplicably for officers of the law supposedly trained to serve and protect and think on their feet, it evidently didn't occur to them to do a normal human thing like try and wake McCoy by honking or shining lights at him, perhaps from a safe distance in case he was startled. Instead, they took the gun narrative, and ran with it: They reported "a confrontation with an armed man," said they "gave loud verbal commands" McCoy didn't follow, and were forced to fire out of “fear for their own safety” after McCoy reached for his gun.

In fact, body-camera footage released following pressure from the family and the community showed McCoy sound asleep for several minutes as officers frantically pointed guns at his head; it also revealed police remarking McCoy's gun didn't have a magazine in it, one cop bragging, “I’m going to pull him out and snatch his ass," and McCoy simply, slightly stirring in his sleep to scratch his arm before the explosion of gunfire – 55 shots in 3.5 seconds. He was reportedly hit about 25 times; his family said he was unrecognizable, his face, chest, throat, arms, and body riddled with bullets in an “execution by firing squad.” The family's attorney John Burris used the same term, adding, "This young man was shot to pieces." Another attorney: Police wanted “to ensure that this human being does not survive.” “They killed him in his sleep,” charged his cousin David Harrison after seeing the footage. “He scratched his arm…and they murdered him." As a black man in a town with a long ugly history of police brutality, racism, and misconduct, this was not Harrison's first rodeo: McCoy was the 16th person to die at the hands of Vallejo cops since 2011 – the highest rate of police killings per capita in Northern California, resulting in the second highest rate of civil rights lawsuit settlements. Says Harrison, "We're being slaughtered in the streets."

McCoy's murder for sleeping while black sparked yet more outrage in the community. There have been angry protests, city council meetings, hashtags – #JusticeForWillieMcCoy –  calls for Attorney General Xavier Becerra to step in, lobbying by the ACLU and other advocacy groups for passage of #AB392 to legally limit the use of deadly force, and plans by city officials to have federal mediators meet with residents to create a "community engagement plan" for police accountability – a vague genteel idea that left the community unimpressed and the work undone. Fumed McCoy family attorney Melissa Nold, "We don't have a PR problem – we have a violence problem." Meanwhile, despite the fiery declaration at one rally that, "The usual way of doing business is over," abuses by Vallejo cops are ongoing. One of the officers who killed McCoy was sued  in 2013 by the family of a (black) teenager after he threatened to kill the boy and directed his police dog to repeatedly maul him; another officer is being sued for shooting seven times and killing an unarmed (black) man after stopping him for having no light on his bike. And all six officers who gunned down McCoy – those two and four more – returned to duty three weeks after the shooting.

The 51-page, $8,000 garbage report released this week will do little – actually, nothing – to quell the fury. It was compiled by David Blake, an “expert” and retired BART police officer known to advocates – “He gets paid to defend police when they shoot people" – who also investigated the 2018 killing of Stephon Clark, an unarmed 22-year-old killed in his backyard when cops mistook his cellphone for a gun; Blake found no police culpability. This time, he essentially found the police kinda screwed up but you gotta excuse them because of "acute stress" from having this guy asleep in his car and “chaos caused by the sounds of gunfire, debris, and weapons mounted lights reflecting off the shattered windshield” and naturally these poor cops "experienced a significant hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal response from proximal gunfire" and really they showed restraint by only firing 55 shots and not emptying their clips despite training to "fire until the threat has been neutralized,” which “indicates a level of self-control.” His conclusion: The killing was “in line with contemporary training and police practices associated with use of deadly force…I opine the 55 rounds fired by 6 officers in 3.5 seconds is reasonable based upon my training and experience as a range instructor as well as through applied human factors psychology.” “Each bullet has to be justified,” said attorney Melissa Nold, in order to buttress the belief that "officers should be able to act on their irrational fear and unlawfully kill people."


Republished with permission under license from Common Dreams.

Protecting your child, lessons from “When They See Us”

By Randall Hill

I recently finished, Ava DuVernay's "When They See Us" a four-part mini-series on Netflix that tells the story of the Central Park 5; five black and brown teenage boys who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman and spent between 6 to 14 years in prison. If you have not yet seen this movie, I highly recommend that you do. The trailer for "When They See Us" is below. 

The film drives homes what can happen when a person doesn't know their rights or how to exercise them. Ironically, the mother of Yusef Salaam understood her son's rights and took the right steps to protect him, however, lack of knowledge of the other parents resulted in Yusef going to jail with the others.

"When They See Us" provides lessons about our criminal justice system that all African-Americans need to be aware of. If you're a black parent, watch it with your kids or at least make sure they see the series as part of their education about the U.S. justice system. Ava DuVernay discussed the film and the criminal justice system with Trevor Noah in the video below:

Children in juvenile court proceedings do not enjoy the same constitutional rights as adults. Prior to the civil rights era in the 1960s, juveniles had few due process rights at all.

The U.S. Supreme Court held that there’s no jury-trial right in juvenile delinquency proceedings. (McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, 403 U.S. 528 (1971).) However, minors tried in adult systems are entitled to juries.

A child’s statements to police can be used against them in court proceedings, however, only when the statements are voluntary and given freely. The government may not coerce confessions, as provided by the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and the due-process prohibition against admitting involuntary confessions into court. However, forced confessions are not easy to prove. Parents need to teach their children not to say anything to police without a parent or attorney present.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police can use deception and are allowed to falsely claim that a friend or acquaintance has confessed or implicated someone when in fact he/she had not (Frazier v. Cupp, 1969). The police can claim to have found a suspect's fingerprints at a crime scene when there were none (Oregon v. Mathiason, 1977), determining such acts insufficient for rendering the defendant's confession inadmissible. State courts have permitted police to deceive suspects about a range of factual matters, including, for example, falsely stating that incriminating DNA evidence and satellite photography of the crime scene exist (State v. Nightingale, 2012).

Children need to be trained on how to respond when stopped or detained by police. Police officers must have probable cause to search and arrest a minor who is suspected of violating a criminal statute. Minors like adults have the right to remain silent and are not required to answer questions. There are exceptions 

  • In some states, you must provide your name to law enforcement officers if you are stopped and told to identify yourself. But even if you give your name, you are not required to answer other questions.
  • If you are driving and you are pulled over for a traffic violation, the officer can require you to show your license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance (but you do not have to answer questions).
  • Even if you have already answered some questions, you can refuse to answer other questions until you have a lawyer.
  • Keep in mind that lying to a government official is a crime but remaining silent until you consult with a lawyer is not.

Reverse Miranda

When my sons were minors, I required them to keep a reverse Miranda card in their wallets that stated the following:

To: Any agent, law enforcement officer, or representative of the government 

My Name is: X Hill – I am a minor child, following my parent’s instructions.

If you have been presented with this, then you have detained me against my will. I wish to be released at once. If you believe you have a legal reason for still holding me, then it must be for one of two reasons: 

1. You believe I have information relevant to a case or investigation and need my assistance. I am happy to comply and will in no way obstruct justice. Simply type up your questions and contact my parent/s (R or C Hill 314-xxx-xxxx). Upon review by them and any attorney they so choose, I will answer any and all that they and their attorney advise me to. Please do not argue about this, or it will delay the investigation, and neither of us wants that. 

2. You believe that I have committed a crime. I want to speak with my parent/s and/or the attorney they provide me and do not wish to answer any questions or make any statement until I do. You may contact my parents at 314-xxx-xxxx, alternate contact, grandmother 314-xxx-xxxx

While doing those things, please see to it that I am given food, drink, and bathroom breaks frequently, as I will not ask. Please do not ask that I fill out, sign, initial, check off, or in any way mark anything for any reason. I have been forbidden to do this by my parent/s until they and/or their attorney, can review any such documents. 

Finally, please do not interpret my silence as rudeness, guilt, retardation or anything else but what it is – obedience to my parent/s and their attorney. 

Prison Industrial Complex

Locking up prisoners is big business. The three largest private prison corporations CoreCivic, formerly the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Geo Group, and MTC take in $5 billion in revenue a year. If you bank with Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, BNP, and U.S. Bancorp, you may have helped finance private prisons.

In addition to private prisons, there are corporations that contract cheap prison labor, construction companies, surveillance technology vendors, companies that operate prison food services and medical facilities, prison guard unions, phone companies, private probation companies, lawyers, and lobby groups that represent them. "The Prison Industrial Complex: Mapping Private Sector Players” exposes over 3,900 companies profiting off mass incarceration.

Private prison inmates earn as little as 17 cents per hour. Companies including: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more have profited from prison labor.

It Begins Early

School districts thru zero tolerance policies often trap disadvantaged kids in the school to prison pipeline that can unfairly introduce them into the criminal justice system. Black students, in particular, are more likely to be arrested in school for minor behavior issues. 

When my youngest son was in grade school, the principal shared some startling information, the number of prisons built are based on third-grade reading scores. This is supposed to be an urban myth, however, test scores are used to make some predictions. During my son's freshman year in high school, I had to appeal an excessive penalty for horseplay.  

You owe it to yourself and your children to use Court.rchp.com and other resources to educate yourself about the law and our legal system. As "When They See Us" demonstrated, we're only as strong as our weakest link.

The racist roots of American policing: From slave patrols to traffic stops

By Connie Hassett-Walker, Kean University

Outrage over racial profiling and the killing of African Americans by police officers and vigilantes in recent years helped give rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.

But tensions between the police and black communities are nothing new.

A new slogan for an old problem. Photo/Lynne Sladky

There are many precedents to the Ferguson, Missouri protests that ushered in the Black Lives Matter movement. Those protests erupted in 2014 after a police officer shot unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown; the officer was subsequently not indicted.

The precedents include the Los Angeles riots that broke out after the 1992 acquittal of police officers for beating Rodney King. Those riots happened nearly three decades after the 1965 Watts riots, which began with Marquette Frye, an African American, being pulled over for suspected drunk driving and roughed up by the police for resisting arrest.

I’m a criminal justice researcher who often focuses on issues of race, class and crime. Through my research and from teaching a course on diversity in criminal justice, I have come to see how the roots of racism in American policing – first planted centuries ago – have not yet been fully purged.

Slave patrols

There are two historical narratives about the origins of American law enforcement.

Policing in southern slave-holding states had roots in slave patrols, squadrons made up of white volunteers empowered to use vigilante tactics to enforce laws related to slavery. They located and returned enslaved people who had escaped, crushed uprisings led by enslaved people and punished enslaved workers found or believed to have violated plantation rules.

The first slave patrols arose in South Carolina in the early 1700s. As University of Georgia social work professor Michael A. Robinson has written, by the time John Adams became the second U.S. president, every state that had not yet abolished slavery had them.

Members of slave patrols could forcefully enter anyone’s home, regardless of their race or ethnicity, based on suspicions that they were sheltering people who had escaped bondage.

The more commonly known precursors to modern law enforcement were centralized municipal police departments that began to form in the early 19th century, beginning in Boston and soon cropping up in New York City, Albany, Chicago, Philadelphia and elsewhere.

The first police forces were overwhelmingly white, male and more focused on responding to disorder than crime.

As Eastern Kentucky University criminologist Gary Potter explains, officers were expected to control a “dangerous underclass” that included African Americans, immigrants and the poor. Through the early 20th century, there were few standards for hiring or training officers.

Police corruption and violence – particularly against vulnerable people – were commonplace during the early 1900s. Additionally, the few African Americans who joined police forces were often assigned to black neighborhoods and faced discrimination on the job. In my opinion, these factors – controlling disorder, lack of adequate police training, lack of nonwhite officers and slave patrol origins – are among the forerunners of modern-day police brutality against African Americans.

Jim Crow laws

Slave patrols formally dissolved after the Civil War ended. But formerly enslaved people saw little relief from racist government policies as they promptly became subject to Black Codes.

For the next three years, these new laws specified how, when and where African Americans could work and how much they would be paid. They also restricted black voting rights, dictated how and where African Americans could travel and limited where they could live.

The ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868 quickly made the Black Codes illegal by giving formerly enslaved blacks equal protection of laws through the Constitution. But within two decades, Jim Crow laws aimed at subjugating African Americans and denying their civil rights were enacted across southern and some northern states, replacing the Black Codes.

For about 80 years, Jim Crow laws mandated separate public spaces for blacks and whites, such as schools, libraries, water fountains and restaurants – and enforcing them was part of the police’s job. Blacks who broke laws or violated social norms often endured police brutality.

Meanwhile, the authorities didn’t punish the perpetrators when African Americans were lynched. Nor did the judicial system hold the police accountable for failing to intervene when black people were being murdered by mobs.

Reverberating today

For the past five decades, the federal government has forbidden the use of racist regulations at the state and local level. Yet people of color are still more likely to be killed by the police than whites.

The Washington Post tracks the number of Americans killed by the police by race, gender and other characteristics. The newspaper’s database indicates that 229 out of 992 of those who died that way in 2018, 23% of the total, were black, even though only about 12% of the country is African American.

Policing’s institutional racism of decades and centuries ago still matters because policing culture has not changed as much as it could. For many African Americans, law enforcement represents a legacy of reinforced inequality in the justice system and resistance to advancement – even under pressure from the civil rights movement and its legacy.

In addition, the police disproportionately target black drivers.

When a Stanford University research team analyzed data collected between 2011 and 2017 from nearly 100 million traffic stops to look for evidence of systemic racial profiling, they found that black drivers were more likely to be pulled over and to have their cars searched than white drivers. They also found that the percentage of black drivers being stopped by police dropped after dark when a driver’s complexion is harder to see from outside the vehicle.

This persistent disparity in policing is disappointing because of progress in other regards.

There is greater understanding within the police that brutality, particularly lethal force, leads to public mistrust, and police forces are becoming more diverse.

What’s more, college students majoring in criminal justice who plan to become future law enforcement officers now frequently take “diversity in criminal justice” courses. This relatively new curriculum is designed to, among other things, make future police professionals more aware of their own biases and those of others. In my view, what these students learn in these classes will make them more attuned to the communities they serve once they enter the workforce.

In addition, law enforcement officers and leaders are being trained to recognize and minimize their own biases in New York City and other places where people of color are disproportionately stopped by the authorities and arrested.

But the persistence of racially biased policing means that unless American policing reckons with its racist roots, it is likely to keep repeating mistakes of the past. This will hinder police from fully protecting and serving the entire public.The Conversation


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

A Lawsuit Over Ferguson’s “Debtors Prison” Drags On

The federal class-action claims thousands of people in Missouri were jailed because they couldn’t pay off fines. Four years after the suit was filed, the plaintiffs are still waiting, and wondering if the deck is stacked against them.

By Topher Sanders

In January 2014, Tonya DeBerry was driving through an unincorporated area of St. Louis County, Missouri, when a police officer pulled her over for having expired license plates.

Allison Nelson in Jennings, Missouri. Her mother, Tonya DeBerry, was jailed over outstanding traffic tickets from three jurisdictions. After paying St. Louis County, she was handed over to Ferguson and Jennings, and in each, she was told she’d be released only after paying a portion of the fines.

After discovering that DeBerry, 51, had several outstanding traffic tickets from three jurisdictions, the officer handcuffed her and took her to jail.

To be released, she was told, she would have to pay hundreds of dollars in fines she owed the county, according to her account in a federal lawsuit. But after her family came up with the money, DeBerry wasn’t released from custody. Instead, she was handed over to the municipalities of Ferguson and Jennings, and in each city, she was told she would be released only after she paid a portion of the fines she owed them, according to the lawsuit.

It was as if she were being held for “ransom,” her lawyer would later say.

The Supreme Court ruled almost 50 years ago that a person can’t be jailed for not being able to pay a fine. But like so many people in Missouri, DeBerry had ended up cycling through a succession of jails for that very reason, caught up in what critics have called modern-day “debtors prisons,” used by towns to keep fines flowing into municipal coffers.

“It’s a cat-and-mouse game,” said her daughter, Allison Nelson, who has also spent time in jail for not being able to pay traffic fines.

If DeBerry and her family were exasperated by the heavy-handed collection efforts, they would learn how hard it would be to hold the authorities accountable, especially in Ferguson, even after the killing of Michael Brown later that year drew national attention to the city’s troubled criminal justice system.

The city slowly stopped jailing people for not being able to pay fines as the news media showed the victims were primarily black and the Justice Department made clear that what Ferguson had been doing was wrong. But four years after a federal class-action suit was filed against the city on behalf of thousands of people who claimed they were jailed for their inability to pay fines, the plaintiffs are still waiting for redress.

The city has sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, filing a succession of motions, arguing among other reasons that instead of suing the city, the plaintiffs should be suing the municipal division of the state court. All three of the motions have been denied by the judge, Audrey G. Fleissig, of the U.S. District Court in St. Louis, though one of the rulings was appealed and that took about a year to resolve.

Nelson flips through photocopies of traffic tickets and legal filings.

One issue has proved to be particularly frustrating to the plaintiffs: whether the city of Ferguson is even insured for a class action.

In March 2016, the lawyer representing Ferguson sent an email to a representative of the city’s insurer, saying that the scope of the lawsuit had expanded, and that concern about the case “grew” after a similar suit was settled for what was believed to be a “substantial amount of money.”

The five-sentence email concluded with the lawyer, Peter Dunne, of the St. Louis firm Pitzer Snodgrass, saying that legal action may be necessary to resolve the question of whether the city was covered for a class action.

“We believe a DJ [declaratory judgment] suit to determine coverage may be necessary,” Dunne wrote.

Three months later, the insurance trust filed a declaratory judgment suit against Ferguson in St. Louis County Circuit Court, asking a judge to find that the city did not have insurance coverage for class actions.

Dunne’s role was not publicly known until September when St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger reported Ferguson’s allegation that Dunne had violated his duty to the city. The email documenting Dunne’s discussion of a lawsuit with the insurer was first obtained by ProPublica. Dunne, one of the firm’s principals, did not respond to requests for comment. The other principals did not respond to emails or to a call to the firm’s office.

Suggesting legal action involving his own client was a breach of legal ethics, some experts said, and the revelation has only deepened the sense among the plaintiffs and their supporters that the deck is stacked.

“No matter where the citizens of Ferguson go in the legal system, justice is really hard for them to obtain,” said Vincent Southerland, executive director of New York University School of Law’s Center on Race, Inequality and the Law. “It’s another example that we have a legal system that was not built to protect and vindicate the rights of the most vulnerable among us.”

The killing of Brown by a police officer in August 2014 and the unrest that followed thrust Ferguson into the middle of a growing national debate over race and law enforcement. But for black people in Ferguson and the surrounding North County region, racial discrimination had long defined their relationship with the local police and courts.

Even as the rest of the country moved on from Ferguson, the people seeking a judgment against the city found themselves mired in the machinations of an insular legal system and an overburdened insurance carrier.

Ferguson, a city of about 21,000 people, was insured through a cooperative of 25 municipalities called the St. Louis Area Insurance Trust, commonly referred to as SLAIT.

The trust has operated largely out of the public eye. It took the persistence of Messenger, who won a Pulitzer Prize this year for his columns on “debtors prisons” in rural Missouri, to make the trust comply with open government laws.

Messenger said the rural courts ensnared whites, while in Ferguson and elsewhere in North County, it was blacks who were victimized. “But it’s the same concept,” he said. “It’s policing on the poor, it’s jurisdictions that don’t have a tax base anymore looking to the judicial system as a fundraising tool and judges allowing themselves to be tax collectors rather than purveyors of justice.”

Four years after a federal class-action suit was filed against Ferguson on behalf of thousands who claimed they were jailed for their inability to pay fines, the plaintiffs are still waiting for redress.

The trust hired Dunne to provide Ferguson’s defense of the class-action lawsuit. But his firm, Pitzer Snodgrass, was also providing the trust with legal advice on insurance coverage issues, according to a court filing by Ferguson. That set up what Ferguson said in the filing was a conflict that the city had not been made aware of.

Even if city officials wanted to settle the case, the trust claims in court filings there isn’t coverage and it won’t pay out. The insurance trust’s lawsuit will determine whether there is coverage.

Michael Downey, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert on legal ethics, said that unless Dunne had Ferguson’s permission, Dunne should not have talked to the insurer about the possibility of a lawsuit over coverage.

“A breach of the duty of confidentiality basically to encourage a party to take action against your client is a pretty serious violation of the rules,” Downey said.

Even if Dunne thought he was conveying something that the insurer already knew, the exchange was still concerning, Downey said.

The trust, through its lawyer, declined to comment.

Michael Frisch, Georgetown University Law Center’s ethics counsel, said that, were the bar to pursue an investigation, any punishment would not be severe. A reprimand — at most, he said.

“It’s the kind of a thing that would not draw that much of a response from the bar,” Frisch said. “Lawyers tend not to get suspended for things like this.”

New York University law professor Stephen Gillers, who specializes in legal ethics, said that regardless of any punishment, Dunn’s actions are significant.

“It’s a big deal, because clients are entitled to loyalty,” he said. “If you can’t be equally loyal to both clients, then you have a conflict and you have to withdraw entirely or from one or the other client.”

For lawyers hired by insurance companies to represent policyholders, the question of who is the client was for many years unsettled ethical terrain, experts say.

Lawyers can feel a sense of obligation to the insurance companies that hire them — and that can provide a steady stream of business — said William Barker, co-author of “Professional Responsibilities of Insurance Defense Counsel.”

Barker, a Chicago lawyer with the firm Dentons, said that until the 1970s, lawyers hired by insurance companies to represent a policyholder typically thought of the company as their chief client. But a series of court decisions since then established that the lawyer owes undivided loyalty to the policyholder, and that is why the lawyer’s actions in the Ferguson case appear to be troubling, Barker said. “That’s something that the defense lawyer ought not to be doing,” he said. “The lawyer who is handling the defense ought not to be involved, certainly in advising the insurance company on coverage issues.”

Michael-John Voss, a lawyer for the ArchCity Defenders, the civil rights group that brought the lawsuit against Ferguson, expects to case to drag into 2020.

“The relief and the remedy has been a long time coming, and there’s no clear end in sight,” he said. “And it reemphasized to me the way that these larger structures are put in place to avoid accountability and to perpetuate a system of social control.”

ProPublica asked the insurance trust if it had instructed Dunne to act as he did, but the trust’s lawyer said the organization would not answer any of ProPublica’s questions because of the ongoing lawsuits.

The insurance cooperative was created in the 1980s to help small St. Louis-area municipalities share the cost of liability insurance and health care. The arrangement worked for the occasional slip-and-fall claim and other routine municipal litigation. But it has not held up well in the face of payouts to cops injured on duty and for actions by the police and the courts.

Most notably, the trust paid $1.5 million to Brown’s family in 2017 to settle a wrongful death claim against Ferguson. But that was hardly the only big hit in recent years. In 2016, a jury awarded $3 million to the family of Jason Moore, an unarmed 31-year-old man, who died after a Ferguson police officer delivered several shots from a Taser.

A state audit released in February showed the organization’s fund balance dropped to $3.8 million in 2018 from $12.2 million in 2016. Like many insurers, the trust also has its own coverage, known as reinsurance, and it turned to those carriers to help with the Moore verdict. But the companies have told the trust that they won’t cover the judgment in the Moore case because the companies allege the trust improperly notified them of the claim. The trust is suing the companies.

Dunne and his firm are no longer working on the Ferguson case. The firm was disqualified by the judge after it hired a lawyer from the ArchCity Defenders who represented one of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs in court.

De’carlon Seewood, who stepped down in March after three and a half years as Ferguson’s city manager, said resolving the lawsuit will help the community move beyond the abuses and the notoriety that came with them.

“It is important to kind of move forward and show that new face, that better face,” Seewood said this year, before he left Ferguson to become the city manager in Fairburn, Georgia, just outside Atlanta. Jeffrey Blume, Ferguson’s interim city manager, directed questions to the city’s attorney, who declined to answer.

Seewood said the city had hoped the insurance trust would take care of the settlement the way the insurer for the city of Jennings had. But Jennings was in a very different position. Its insurer was Travelers, the country’s sixth-largest property and casualty insurer. By contrast, the insurance trust is a small cooperative with dwindling funds.

“The insurance [trust] looked at the enormity of what’s being asked and they said that’s it’s outside their [coverage] of the city, and so the city finds itself fighting with its insurance company about [coverage],” Seewood said.

According to a memo written by the trust’s claims administrator, the plaintiffs originally asked for $27.5 million but during mediation in April 2016 reduced the demand to $9.5 million. That amount is what the plaintiffs believe, based on the policies, is the total coverage limit of Ferguson’s insurance.

Alexandra Lahav, a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law and an expert in civil litigation, said a case like this typically would be resolved in about two years and said the insurance dispute was slowing the process.

“This really shouldn’t be a very complicated class action,” Lahav said.

Lisa Soronen, executive director for the State and Local Legal Center, a Washington organization that supports states and local governments in legal disputes that rise to the U.S. Supreme Court, said the dispute between the trust and Ferguson didn’t leave the city with many sound options other than fighting the case mightily.

“As a practical matter, Ferguson’s a really small city that has no money,” she said. “If there’s no insurance coverage and there’s a huge judgment, I don’t know how it would pay.”

John Rappaport, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School who has studied the impact insurance can have on police practices and policies, said insurance trusts have a reputation for being less likely than commercial insurers to settle cases involving police officers.

“The risk pools or the trusts, they see themselves as extensions of the cities themselves,” he said. “Their reluctance to settle litigation against the police would seem [to be] a kind of loyalty to their members — their cities.”

Rappaport said commercial insurers often see the issues as purely a matter of dollars and cents.

“Whereas if the city either is in a risk pool or the city represents itself, they see it as more of like a moral issue, like we have to stand up for our officers,” he said.

Even after the Ferguson suit is resolved, litigation in Missouri over “debtors prison” practices won’t be. ArchCity Defenders has lawsuits pending in six other cities, with more in the pipeline stretching beyond North County.

DeBerry, the Ferguson woman who was a named plaintiff in the Ferguson class action, was also a plaintiff in the lawsuit against neighboring Jennings, which settled for $4.8 million less than a year and a half after the suit was filed.

But the suit in Ferguson has dragged on longer than DeBerry could wait.

She died in April 2018.

“And now she will never even get a piece of this justice because she’s no longer here,” said Nelson, her daughter. “That’s sad, that’s really sad. It’s actually pathetic because it should have never come to that. It hurts.”

DeBerry died in April 2018. “And now she will never even get a piece of this justice because she’s no longer here,” Nelson said.

Republished with permission under license from ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.

Attempted Destruction of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Legacy

By Randall Hill

There appears to be a concerted effort to destroy the reputations and images of Black men. Not even the dead are immune. Fifty-one years after his death, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is the latest target; allegations of rape and participation in orgies have surfaced.  

FBI's History of Targeting Black Activism

From the 1910s to the 1970s, the FBI treated civil rights activists in general, and African American activists in particular, as either disloyal “subversives” or “dupes” of foreign agents. The FBI’s predecessor, the Bureau of Investigation, sought to “compel black loyalty” during World War I and investigate “negro radicalism” in the 1920s.

FBI records show between 1956 and 1971 a covert and at times illegal program, COINTELPRO, targeted black leaders and civil rights organizations with the stated purpose of surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting their activities. The FBI file on my uncle Dick Gregory contains over 3,700 pages.

Two days after Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington,  William Sullivan, the FBI’s director of intelligence, famously responded by writing, “We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro and national security.” In late August 1963, FBI leaders met to discuss ways of “neutralizing King". 

COINTELPRO tactics are still used to this day, and have been alleged to include discrediting targets through psychological warfare; smearing individuals and groups using forged documents and by planting false reports in the media; harassment; wrongful imprisonment; and illegal violence, including assassination.

The FBI sent a secret memo in August 2017 to alert 18,000 law enforcement agencies that people involved in the black lives matter and similar movements could be "black identity extremism” an inflammatory term for a group that doesn’t even exist to discredit and criminalize black people protesting against police brutality and killings by labeling them as terrorists.

Sexual Allegations 

In an 8,000-word article published in the British periodical Standpoint Magazine on May 30, David Garrow details the contents of FBI memos he discovered after spending weeks sifting through more than 54,000 documents located on the National Archive’s website. Initially sealed by court order until 2027, the documents ended up being made available in recent months through the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992

The memos claim that agents knew that King and a group including Baltimore Pastor Logan Kearse were going to be staying at the Willard Hotel in January 1964 days before he ever arrived. The most troubling memos describe King witnessing a rape in a hotel room. Instead of stopping it, handwritten notes in the file say he laughed and encouraged Kearse who died in 1991 to continue. The FBI allegedly listened in on King and at least 11 others who participated in what the FBI memos describe as “an orgy” on Jan. 6, 1964.

Many of these transcripts were based on audiotapes that are still sealed until 2027 under a court order. That’s when the FBI’s full audiotapes, photographs and film footage of King will be unsealed per a 1977 court order.

Questionable Motives

Some historians have questioned Garrow’s choice to publish the content of the memos and transcripts without listening to the recordings, and have pointed out that the FBI had spent years trying to undermine King. People will rightly debate the trustworthiness of FBI sources, and Garrow’s interpretation of them. No figure, no matter how revered, should be immune from scrutiny over their potential support for violence against women.

But those weighing the evidence and its legitimacy should not forget that the tapes being used to facilitate this discussion were created and preserved with the goal of destroying Martin Luther King’s reputation. The FBI’s intent was to demoralize and fragment the coalition of supporters King brought together in his life, the people who find common purpose by honoring his memory.

Media Propaganda

A large segment of the black community is too quick to buy into racist narratives created in the news media about black athletes, entertainers, politicians, and leaders.

As we've mentioned before 90 percent of mass media is controlled by a few white corporations. Negative perceptions of black people persist primarily because of racist propaganda. Most white television programming and movies depict even successful black people as former drug dealers, criminals or they have some major character flaw and can't be trusted. 

Bill Cosby's reputation was destroyed after a massive media propaganda campaign that accused him of sexually assaulting dozens of women. Cosby was eventually convicted of aggravated indecent assault and sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison. The Cosby Show and A Different World helped spread a more positive image of African-Americans all around the world. The Cosby Show made possible a larger variety of shows with a predominantly African-American cast, such as In Living Color, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and others.

The Cosby Show may not have been possible if Dr. King hadn't inspired millions of people through his actions and words. Although, there were others who were equally dedicated, such as Medgar Evers and Malcolm X who also gave their lives fighting for civil rights; none were more persuasive. Now Dr. King's legacy which inspired a national holiday is under assault.

The white media machine will viciously attack Dr. King's reputation and legacy. Hopefully, large segments of the black community will not be fooled into abandoning one of their most cherished champions. As a reminder of white media's power; in January of this year, the following black reputations were attacked:

  • Michael Jackson and R. Kelly were vilified in the documentaries "Leaving Neverland" and "Surviving R. Kelly". Both were previously found not guilty in prior sex abuse cases. New charges were bought against Kelly after Surviving R. Kelly aired.
  • Chris Brown was arrested on rape and drug charges in Paris, however, charges were later dropped but the investigation remains open.
  • Jussie Smollett after reporting being attacked became a suspect and was indicted on 16 felony counts and faced 64 years in prison. The police held an elaborate press conference which was essentially trial by public opinion. All charges were eventually dropped and the Black prosecutor was smeared. The Chicago police just recently released hundreds of pages of the Smollett case file

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and others are celebrated by white people despite them being slave owners and rapist. Many in the white community still believe black people should stand to honor a song adopted as the national anthem that celebrated the deaths and defeat of slaves who were fighting for their freedom. 

Mentioning slaves fighting for freedom reminded me of the 2016 media attack on Nate Parker, director and star of "Birth of a Nation", a wonderful film about the slave rebellion led by Nat Turner. Nate Parker and his roommate and wrestling teammate, Jean McGianni Celestin, were accused of raping a white female student at Penn State. Parker was acquitted on all four counts brought against him. Celestin was convicted but it was later overturned.  False rape allegations are an effective tool of white supremacists; countless numbers of black men have been lynched, jailed and ruined.  "Birth of a Nation" was expected to be a huge success and Oscar contender until the media campaign smeared Parker's reputation prior to the release of the film. 

Dr. King cannot defend himself against these outrageous allegations, so we must. He gave his life fighting for freedoms and privileges we now take for granted. Destruction of Dr. King's reputation is paramount to an assassination of his dream and legacy.  

Don’t Be Scared of White People

I'm tired of American Apartheid videos of black people being brutalized by police simply for participating in ordinary everyday activity. South African politician Julius Malema earlier this year stated: "don't be scared of white people"! He mentioned how everywhere in the world; "black people are treated like dogs and lifeless bodies". 

A few days ago, a 15-year-old boy was pepper sprayed, knocked to the ground, his head slammed against the asphalt pavement and punched in the face at a Florida Mc Donalds.

Earlier this month, Renardo Lewis, a black business owner was slammed against a glass pane, then to the ground and punched in the face knocking out some of his teeth while at a Georgia IHOP.

The actual IHOP video can be viewed near the bottom of the this page. IHOP seems to have systemic issues. Last year in Missouri 10 Black Washington University students were falsely accused of leaving a Clayton IHOP without paying and a Kansas City IHOP printed "NIGGA" on a Black customer's receipt.

Dining while black, barbecuing while black, selling lemonade while black, gardening while black, and just simply living while black are among the mundane activities that have recently garnered headlines as reasons why some white people have called 911 on black people.

These calls to police often result in violence against innocent black people, however, the people making these frivolous false police reports are never charged and the companies involved are not held accountable. Starbucks is the only company that took serious action and closed all its stores for diversity training to ensure no more "while black" incidents occurred at its locations.

Unless Mc Donalds and IHOP take decisive action and condemn the brutal police tactics that occur against their customers on their property, I won't be dining while black at those locations anytime soon.

Many Black organizations seem to be afraid to speak out in any meaningful way to hold Mc Donalds, IHOP or others accountable when their actions cause harm to the black community. I suspect that many black organizations are afraid to speak out because they are afraid of losing white corporate sponsorship and donations. 

Julius Malema the leader of South Africa's Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) party gave a powerful and moving speech about not being afraid of white people! He briefly appeared before the Newcastle magistrates court in northern KwaZulu-Natal and although he faced charges related to his comments to invade vacant land he still courageously renewed his call to action. 

Malema is charged with the contravention of the Riotous Assemblies Act for his utterances in 2014 and 2017, his case was continued to after the May 2019 elections. In June 2017‚ Malema told supporters in the northern KwaZulu-Natal town of Newcastle that white people could not claim ownership of land because it belongs to the country’s black African majority.

In 2014 he told the EFF’s elective conference in Bloemfontein: “We’re going to occupy the unoccupied land because we need land. For us to eat‚ we must have the land. For us to work‚ we must have the land. I come from Seshego – if there is unoccupied land‚ we will go and occupy the land with my branch. You must go and do the same in the branch where you come from.”

Institutionalized racism under Apartheid stripped South African blacks of their civil and political rights and instituted segregated education, health care, and all other public services, only providing inferior standards for blacks. Internal resistance was met with police brutality, administrative detention, torture, and limitations on freedom of expression.

During Apartheid, millions of blacks were forced off their land and resettled into slums on some of the worst lands. Ownership of land became firmly concentrated in the hands of the white minority.  In 2018 blacks made up 80% of the population but owned just 4% of individually held farmland and 30% of urban land. Whites comprise only 7.8% of the population but own 72% of farmland and 49% of urban land.

In 1994 South Africa transitioned from the system of Apartheid to one of majority rule and Nelson Mandela became president. By 1996 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), where perpetrators of violence, including torture, murder and other human rights atrocities provided testimony and requested amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution. Amnesty also allowed White perpetrators to retain their land. There was more consideration given to a few white oppressors then was given to millions of black victims.

American Apartheid is more subtle but the effect is the same. Pick any major indicator, education, housing, employment, credit, business ownership, skilled trade, technology, science, law, medicine or any other and blacks woefully lag behind whites. These situations did not randomly occur, they were designed and enforced through government legislation and policy. We gave more aid to our former enemies of war Japan and Germany than we provided to Black people here in the United States. 

The old methods of peaceful protest do not work. Oppressors do not care if the oppressed have a parade and march down the street. Their system of oppression must be disrupted and the most peaceful way to do that is to hold companies that cause harm or remain silent responsible and impose economic sanctions. It's not enough to fire an employee that causes a chain reaction of undeserved police brutality, those firms involved must denounce the resulting oppressive police action. Instead of marching, picket outside of the offending establishment and ask customers to take their business elsewhere.

Decades ago, my mother and father's car was damaged by a grocery cart in the parking lot of a St. Louis supermarket. Since there were signs posted stating the store was not responsible for damages, the store refused to pay for damages. My parents printed leaflets, made signs and picketed the store causing them to lose substantial amounts of business. The store eventually offered to pay for repairs, however, my parents declined their offer and continued the information picket to teach the store a lesson so they would treat customers differently in the future. 

About ten years ago, I responded to an online used car advertisement by a new car dealer. I phoned to make sure the car was still available, traveled there on my lunch break and agreed to purchase. I returned later that night with a cashiers check but was then told that the priced advertised online was wrong and that they would not honor that price. I completed a Missouri Attorney General complaint form.

The next morning I faxed a copy of the form along with a letter explaining if they did not respond by noon, I would file the complaint. I provide details of a planned information picket on the public right of way outside their dealership on Saturday morning.

By 10 am I received a phone call apologizing and that the original agreement would be honored. When the car was picked up that evening, the dealership president explained he was unaware of the situation until my fax arrived and that he had the vehicle checked out and that several repairs had been made and he even had a second key made. 

Imagine what might happen if the family and friends of Renardo Lewis picket outside the IHOP. According to a news report, an IHOP brand spokesperson responded to the video of the arrest, saying, “Our top priority is the safety of our guests and team members. After an individual at the Marietta IHOP became belligerent and made multiple threats to those in the restaurant, including the use of a weapon, the franchisee’s team quickly followed protocol and alerted authorities. We’re grateful to the police for their quick response and for keeping the guests and team members in the restaurant safe.” 

The video of the arrest is below.

Even when you face oppression, you are not powerless. If you don't take the time to exercise your power, you automatically concede it to your oppressors and enemies. 

Jessie Simmons: How a schoolteacher became an unsung hero of the civil rights movement

 By Valerie Hill-Jackson, Texas A&M University

Jessie Dean Gipson Simmons was full of optimism when she and her family moved from an apartment in a troubled area of Detroit to a new development in Inkster, Michigan in 1955.

With three children in tow, Jessie and her husband settled into a home on Colgate Street in a neighborhood known as “Brick City” – an idyllic enclave of single, working-class families with a shared community garden.

The plan was simple. Like many African Americans who left the South as part of the Great Migration, Jessie’s husband, Obadiah Sr., would find a stable factory job just outside of Detroit. Then Jessie would put to use the bachelor’s degree she had earned in upper elementary education from Grambling State University in the township of Taylor – just a few blocks from their new home.

File 20190301 110110 1gxxe8e.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Jessie Dean Gipson Simmons, shown top center about age 37, c. 1961. [Clockwise: daughter Angela, sons Obadiah Jerone, Jr. and Carl, and husband Obadiah Jerone, Sr.; daughters Carolyn and Quendelyn are not pictured] Simmons family archives, Author provided

But the plan went awry. Jessie first applied for a teaching position with the Taylor school district in April 1958, but was denied. The same thing happened in March 1959. And a third time in May 1959. The repeated denials may have set back Jessie’s plans, but they also set her up to fight an important battle for justice for black educators at a time when many were being pushed out of the teaching profession.

I interviewed Jessie’s family as part of my ongoing research into the history of black women teachers from the Reconstruction Era to the 21st century.

Fighting back

The battle began when Jessie filed a grievance with the Michigan Fair Employment Practices Commission, or MFEPC, on Sept. 1, 1959. Jessie’s grievance detailed her conversation with the superintendent Orville Jones in March 1958, in which he told her “there would be vacancies in 1959.”

In August 1958, the Taylor Township Board of Education – the body overseeing the school district where Jessie wanted to teach – took up the matter of employing Negro teachers at a board meeting. The reason the item was placed on the agenda? The Superintendent at the time, Orville Jones, “felt that any handicap” – he deemed race as a handicap – “be pointed out to the board.”

The chair of the school board, Mr. Randall, stated applications were “considered in the order of the dates they were received.” Since the Taylor school board was now on record regarding its hiring practices for teachers, Jessie used that statement in her grievance.

Jessie’s decision to file a grievance would be a costly one for her family. The couple had planned on two steady incomes. In 1959, now a mother of five children, Jessie took a job as a waitress and a cook in a cafe to make ends meet. Her job drew scorn from family members in Louisiana who knew she was severely underemployed. And though her children didn’t know it at the time, Jessie and her husband “gave up meals so the children could eat,” according to Jessie’s oldest son, Obidiah Jr.

In 1960 the MFEPC held a public hearing for the grievance filed by Jessie and Mary Ruth Ross – a second black teacher who was also denied employment by the Taylor board of education. According to the Detroit Courier, Jessie and Mary “were passed over for employment in favor of white applicants who lacked degrees.” Records uncovered by the MFEPC found that 42 non-degreed teachers hired between 1957 through 1960 were all white and “had a maximum of 60 hours of college credits.” Jessie and Mary, on the other hand, were both degreed teachers with some credits toward a graduate degree.

How the Brown decision hurt black teachers

While the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision is often celebrated and considered a legal victory, many scholars believe it had a harmful effect on black teachers. In 1951, scholars writing in the Journal of Negro Education rightly warned that Brown “might conceivably” impact “Negro teachers”. Nationwide, school district leaders pushed back against Brown in two ways.

First, school leaders slow-walked the implementation of Brown – for many school districts as late as the mid-1980s. Second, black teachers across the country lost their once-secure teaching jobs by the tens of thousands after Brown when black schools closed and black children integrated into white schools. In the South, for example, the number of black teachers had soared to around 90,000 pre-Brown. But by 1965 nearly half had lost their jobs. A 1965 report from the National Education Association, a leading labor union for teachers, concluded school districts had “no place for Negroes” in the wake of Brown. School officials railed against Brown and refused to hire black teachers like Jessie, turning them into what sociologist Oliver Cox described as “martyrs to integration.”

My own research confirms that the forced exodus of black women from the teaching profession was ignited by Brown. Discrimination by school leaders fueled the demographic decline of black teachers and remains one of the leading factors for their under-representation in the profession today.

First ruling of its kind

At the eight-day public hearing, Jones admitted that “the hiring of Negro teachers would be something new and different and something we had not done before.” He stated he felt that the Negro teachers were “not up to par.” The hearing eventually revealed that applications for “Negroes” were kept in distinct folders – separated from the submissions of the white applicants.

After more than a year, the MFEPC issued a ruling in Jessie’s case. The decision got a brief mention from Jet Magazine on Dec. 1, 1960:

In the first ruling of its kind, the MFEPC ordered the Taylor Township School Board to hire Mrs. Mary Ruth Ross and Mrs. Jessie Simmons, two Negro teachers, and pay them back wages for the school years of 1959-60 and 1960-61. FEPC Commissioner Allan A. Zaun said the teachers were refused employment on the basis of race.

The attorney for the Taylor board of education, Harry F. Vellmure, threatened to challenge the ruling in court – all the way “to the Supreme Court if necessary,” according to the Detroit Courier. The board stuck to its position that Jessie and Mary were given full and fair consideration for teaching jobs and simply lost out to better qualified teachers.

As a result of noncompliance with the MFEPC’s order, Carl Levin, future U.S. senator and general counsel for the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Taylor school district on Jessie’s and Mary’s behalf. Even though the matter did not reach higher courts, Vellmure filed several appeals that effectively slowed down the commission’s order for seven years.

As the lawsuit dragged on, Jessie became an elementary school teacher with the Sumpter School District in 1961. By 1965, she left Sumpter for the Romulus Community School District. According to Jessie’s children, they would continue in the Taylor school district and were known as the kids “whose mother filed the lawsuit against the school district.”

In 1967, after seven years of fighting the Taylor school district in local court, Jessie and Mary prevailed. They were awarded two years back pay and teaching positions. Saddled by hurt feelings after a long fight with the Taylor school district, Jessie declined the offer and continued teaching in Romulus.

The Simmons moved into a larger, newly constructed home on Lehigh Avenue. Jessie gave birth to her sixth child, Kimberly, one month before moving in. Although the new home was only two blocks south of their old home on Colgate Avenue, Jessie’s four surviving children recall that their lifestyle improved and their childhood was now defined by two eras: “before lawsuit life and after lawsuit life.” And by 1968, Jessie earned a master’s degree in education from Eastern Michigan University.

Unsung civil rights hero

At her retirement in 1986, Jessie’s former students recalled that she was an effective teacher of 30 years who was known as a disciplinarian with a profound sense of commitment to the children of Romulus.

Jessie’s story is a reminder that the civil rights movement did not push society to a better version of itself with a singular, vast wave toward freedom. Rather, it was fashioned by little ripples of courage with one person, one schoolteacher, at a time.The Conversation


The Loss of Black Women Teachers.

Valerie Hill-Jackson, Clinical Professor of Educator Preparation and Director, Educator Preparation and School Partnerships, Texas A&M University


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

“Get Out”: Black Families Harassed in Their Own Homes

Hate database shows that the terrorizing of people where they live is alive and well decades after the civil rights movement.

by Rahima Nasa and Rachel Glickhouse

In Delano, Minnesota, a black family’s home was broken into in March 2017 and a warning was spray-painted on the walls: “Get out.” The vandals left a note, too: “Next time it’s going to be fire.”

In Athens, Tennessee, the white mother of young biracial children alleged that she’d been harassed verbally by a neighbor for a year.

For close to two years, ProPublica has been compiling reports of hate crimes and bias incidents as part of their Documenting Hate project. The database now houses a vast compendium of ugliness in America. Killings, assaults, threats of terror — they are all there.

One of the more common entries involves people being harassed or threatened at their place of residence, often by neighbors, the people who live next door or down the hall or around the corner. Of course, this isn’t new. The integration of neighborhoods in the U.S. has been as fraught as the integration of the country’s schools.

Jeannine Bell, a lawyer and author of “Hate Thy Neighbor: Move-In Violence and the Persistence of Racial Segregation in American Housing,” said no corner of the country has any claim of immunity from the problem. She also noted that the total number of such incidents is not reliably captured in any formal data set, ours or those kept by federal and local authorities. That’s because, she said, many of these incidents go unreported.

“A lot of times, the people that are targeted don’t even know that this is a crime,” Bell said.

The Documenting Hate database has close to 6,000 entries — a mix of news reports, tips, personal stories of bigotry and records collected by law enforcement and some anti-discrimination groups. Among the most common things reported are anti-Muslim acts, which accounted for 359 entries, and swastikas showing up in public places, which were the subject of an additional 400 or so.

More than 300 entries were reports of harassment or menacing at people’s homes, targeting people of a variety of races and religions. The most frequent victims were African Americans. Indeed, African Americans are the most frequently victimized group nationally for hate crimes, according to data from the FBI.

That finding prompted us to send inquiries to the dozen or so police jurisdictions that had reported the highest number of anti-black hate crimes to the FBI’s hate-crime database from 2010 to 2016. Since we couldn’t get incident reports from every one of those jurisdictions, we also made requests to several police departments where we’d received data that included anti-black hate crimes.

In total, we were able to identify 639 incidents of anti-black violence or harassment from the police reports we received. More than a fifth of those reports, 138 in all, were incidents involving people being targeted by neighbors or in their homes.

In Columbus, Ohio, a man went to police because someone had been ringing his doorbell or banging on his garage 25 to 30 times a night, almost every night. When the man went outside, the suspect would call him racial slurs from the darkness. The man and his family are the only black residents of their cul-de-sac. No arrests were made and the case is currently listed as inactive.

In Toledo, at the north end of the state, a man was allegedly harassing three black neighbors in his neighborhood, using “unwarranted racist language,” according to the police report. One day, the suspect saw a car with black occupants throw trash on the street. Even though they had no relation to anyone on the block, the suspect came over and dumped trash on a black family’s lawn, the report said. “Since you all want to nigger up the neighborhood, I’ll burn you and your nigger family out,” he allegedly told the victim. Police went to the suspect’s home, but he didn’t answer the door. A call to the Toledo police to check on the case was not returned.

In Kansas City, Missouri, an African-American man went to police because his neighbor had harassed him for three years. The suspect allegedly stood in his driveway taking pictures of his home and waved a Confederate flag. The man who filed the complaint wound up moving, but he told police he was worried because he’d seen the man outside his new home.

In Oxford Township, Michigan, a couple — a white woman and a black man — went to police because they said they couldn’t leave the house without getting harassed by their neighbor, who called them racial slurs. When police gave the neighbor a citation for disorderly conduct, she ripped it up in front of the officer. She was subsequently arrested for disorderly conduct and her case was turned over to the local prosecutor’s office.

And in Spokane, Washington, we got records on two cases of possible neo-Nazis harassing their black neighbors. In one case, the neighbors reported that a man with a swastika on his hand called them racial slurs. He allegedly threw a brick at a woman, calling her a slur. In another case, a black man said his white supremacist neighbor and another man assaulted him in his garage while using racial slurs and threatened him with a gun. “Nigger, you don’t deserve to be breathing white men’s air,” they allegedly said. Later, the white supremacist allegedly returned with two other men and yelled “heil the KKK” and “white power” at the man, shortly before shooting a gun at his home from a car. The victim told The Spokesman-Review that one of the suspects had called him racial slurs for months leading up to the shooting.

According to the Spokane Police Department, both cases resulted in arrests and the suspects were charged with first-degree assault and malicious harassment. In the shooting case, suspect Donald Prichard’s criminal history record totals to 16 felony convictions, which included beating and sexually assaulting a woman. He’s awaiting trial on Jan. 22. The second suspect in that case, Jason Cooper, has 12 felony convictions, including unlawful possession of a weapon and burglary, and he is awaiting trial on Feb. 25.

Many accounts, both in our database and that resulted from our queries to police departments, include frustration at what can seem like a lack of police interest or action. In the case of the family targeted in Delano, no one was ever arrested, and the family wound up moving away. The mother in Athens said police told her there was little they could do about verbal harassment, that it was a civil matter. The authorities in Athens didn’t return a request for comment.

That said, we did find examples where the authorities ultimately took serious steps.

In Grapevine, Texas, Dante Petty was harassed by his white neighbor, Glenn Halfin, for over a year after he moved in. The harassment became so persistent that he installed surveillance cameras outside his home and a police officer was stationed outside for over a month. The breaking point occurred when his neighbor left black baby dolls with nooses around their necks hung outside his apartment. Ultimately, Halfin was charged with a hate crime and convicted of violating the family’s housing rights. He was sentenced to year in state prison, the maximum punishment based on his guilty plea to the misdemeanor charge.

“No one should be afraid to go home at night,” said U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox on the day of Halfin’s sentencing. Victims of such harassment at their residences, it turns out, have an option other than going to the local police. Harassing one’s neighbor also violates the federal Fair Housing Act, which makes it illegal for landlords and neighbors to interfere with someone’s right to housing based on who they are. And there is an office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development meant to handle such cases.

Victims can file a complaint with HUD within a year of the alleged violation. Owners, managers and condominium associations may be liable for neighbor-on-neighbor harassment if they fail to intervene when they have a duty to do so. Criminal penalties can include fines and prison.

According to HUD statistics, there were 8,348 complaints of such violations in 2015, 8,350 in 2016 and 8,186 in 2017. Half or more of those cases dealt with alleged violations involving people with disabilities. The HUD statistics show that, historically, very few of the complaints of any kind wound up with federal prosecutions.

The number of prosecutions has gotten appreciably smaller in recent years. In 2015, the Department of Justice closed 84 cases brought to it by HUD regarding the Fair Housing Act. In 2016, there were only 12. In 2017, there were just five.

Calls for comment from HUD were not returned because of the federal government shutdown.

Meanwhile, as the second year of Documenting Hate came to a close, reports kept coming in.

In June 2018, Hubert Roberts, of Clio, Michigan, complained to police that his truck had been targeted by racists. A Nazi symbol was spray painted on the truck, along with slurs and boasts of white pride. The Genesee County Sheriff’s Office would not comment on the case, other than to say no arrests have been made. When asked about the current status of the case, the FBI told ProPublica, “Adhering to DOJ policy, the FBI neither confirms nor denies investigations.”

Roberts said that this wasn’t the first time he was targeted in the community because of his race, either. He noted other instances of being called racist comments, where he was told to “go back to Africa,” while doing work on his yard.

“This could have been an opportunity for some dialogue in this predominantly white community,” Roberts said. “I just feel really disappointed with our justice system.”


Republished with permission under license from ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. 

 

 

Two Indiana Police Officers to be Charged After Video Shows Them Beating Handcuffed Man

“A little overboard,” is how the police chief had previously described the officers’ actions. The decision to charge them came only after ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network demanded to see the video.

Two Elkhart, Indiana, police officers who punched a handcuffed man in the face more than 10 times will face criminal charges — 11 months after the fact, and only after The South Bend Tribune requested video of the incident as part of an ongoing investigation with ProPublica.

The two officers, Cory Newland and Joshua Titus, will be charged with misdemeanor counts of battery, the police department announced Friday. Both have been placed on administrative leave pending the case’s outcome, department spokesman Sgt. Travis Snider said.

The department also released the video of the beating after 5 p.m. Friday — more than three weeks after The Tribune requested a copy.

Five months ago, the two officers were disciplined for this incident. But they received reprimands rather than suspensions or possible termination.

Speaking to the city’s civilian oversight commission in June, Police Chief Ed Windbigler said the officers used “a little more force than needed” with a suspect in custody, and “just went a little overboard when they took him to the ground.” But Windbigler offered no other details, saying nothing of the two officers punching the man in the face.

The video was recorded in the police station’s detention area after the Jan. 12 arrest of Mario Guerrero Ledesma, who was 28 at the time. The footage shows Ledesma, in handcuffs, sitting in a chair while Newland, Titus and two other officers stand nearby. At one point, Ledesma prepares to spit at Newland, and the officer warns him not to.

As Ledesma spits, Newland and Titus immediately tackle him, and the back of Ledesma’s head strikes the concrete floor. The two officers then jump on him and punch him in the face repeatedly while one calls him a “piece of shit.”

Two other officers walk up casually as the punches are being thrown. “Stop,” one can be heard saying, as the beating ends.

Ledesma pleaded guilty in July to charges of domestic battery and resisting law enforcement, and was sentenced to a year in jail, with 133 days suspended.

The Tribune and ProPublica have been investigating criminal justice in Elkhart County, looking at police accountability, among other issues.

A Tribune reporter requested the Ledesma video after noting a disparity between Windbigler’s public description to the Police Merit Commission — the city panel that exercises civilian oversight — and what the chief wrote in personnel records.

In a June 12 letter of reprimand to Newland, Windbigler wrote: “I completely understand defending yourself during an altercation. However, striking a handcuffed subject in the face is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. We cannot let our emotions direct our reactions or over-reactions to situations such as this.”

The personnel files provided by the police department did not include any response from Newland or Titus to the disciplinary allegations.

Windbigler ended his disciplinary letters to both officers on an upbeat note: “I consider this matter closed!”

At the June 25 meeting of the Police Merit Commission, chairman James Rieckhoff asked Windbigler if anyone had been injured in this incident.

“No,” Windbigler said.

Windbigler, explaining why he opted for only reprimands, told the commission that Titus “had no previous complaints.” He said of Newland: “Here, again, he had no other incidents in his file, so this is his first incident of any type of force.”

“Any questions on this one?” Rieckhoff asked the commission’s other members.

“Just a comment,” commissioner Thomas Barber said. “I like how you police your own.”

“Yes, sir,” Windbigler said.

On Friday, The Tribune requested an interview with the chief, but Snider, the police spokesman, said the department would have no further comment beyond its announcement of the pending charges.

Neither Newland nor Titus immediately returned messages left at their department phone lines. Efforts to reach them at other phone numbers were also unsuccessful.

History of Misconduct

For Newland, the reprimand was not his first disciplinary incident. It was his ninth, according to personnel records gathered by The Tribune and ProPublica.

After being hired in 2008, Newland was suspended six times and reprimanded twice in his first five years.

In 2009, Newland was “very rude and unprofessional,” using profanity toward a member of the public while responding to a call, personnel records say. The police chief at the time, Dale Pflibsen, suspended Newland for one day. “You have been employed for just over one year and this is not the first allegation of you verbally loosing (sic) control towards the public,” Pflibsen wrote to Newland.

“I want to emphasize we will not tolerate this behavior from you towards anyone,” Pflibsen added. “If you plan on continuing your career at the Elkhart Police Department I suggest you seek counseling for anger management.”

The next year, in 2010, Newland was suspended one day for causing a car crash.

In 2011, Newland received a three-day suspension for conduct unbecoming an officer. After arresting a woman for public nudity — she and her boyfriend were having sex in their car, in Elkhart’s McNaughton park — Newland sent her a friend request on Facebook and seven text messages, asking to “hang out.”

“Needless to say you attempting to establish a relationship with this female, a defendant in a criminal case, is unprofessional,” Pflibsen wrote to Newland. “This type of conduct will not be tolerated by you or anyone else.”

One year later, in February 2012, Newland was suspended again, this time for one day. Newland, while off duty, flipped off another driver — who, it turned out, was a jail officer in St. Joseph County, according to a disciplinary letter. Newland also drove recklessly, “brake checking” the other driver, according to disciplinary records.

“Should there be another sustained allegation of this type of misconduct on or off duty I will seriously consider your termination from the Elkhart Police Department,” Pflibsen wrote to Newland.

Exactly one week later, still in February, Newland received a three-day suspension for not turning on his video-audio recording equipment “while on numerous calls and traffic stops,” a disciplinary notice says.

Newland’s last suspension — and his longest, for 35 days — came in the summer of 2013. Newland failed to investigate a woman’s complaint of domestic violence, then lied about it to his superiors, according to disciplinary records.

When asked directly by supervisors if the woman had said her husband hit her, Newland “indicated that she had not made any such statement, and only that there was some pushing involved,” a disciplinary letter said. But “within minutes of the end of the interview,” Newland “returned and informed his supervisors that the victim had, in fact, reported being hit by her husband.”

An audio recording captured the woman telling Newland she had been hit, and that her husband did so in front of her children, a disciplinary letter says.

Newland’s failure to be truthful did more than violate department policy, Pflibsen wrote to the civilian oversight board. If a police officer testifies as a witness, authorities must disclose if the officer “has been dishonest in his or her official capacity,” Pflibsen wrote, adding: “This incident has been referred to the Prosecutor’s Office and may have a significant detrimental impact on their ability to prosecute this case.”


​Republished with permission under license from ProPublica a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.