The potential impact that having fewer prisoners to draw upon highlights the crucial role that incarcerated workers play in disaster response. While many people are aware that prisoners work to help contain wildfires in California and elsewhere, less well known is the role incarcerated workers play as a labor source across a variety of disasters throughout the country.
As a social scientist, I study the impact of disasters on incarcerated populations. I recently co-authored a study on the role of incarcerated workers in state emergency operations plans – the primary emergency planning documents for state governments. We found that 30 out of the 47 states analyzed, including California, Texas and Florida, had explicit instructions to use prisoners for emergencies and disasters. Furthermore, we identified at least 34 disaster-related tasks that states assign to incarcerated workers. Delaware, New Jersey and Tennessee were not included in our analysis as their plans were not publicly available.
These include work that requires minimal training such as making sandbags, clearing debris, handling supplies and caring for pets for evacuees. But it also includes roles that require specialized training like fighting fires, collecting and disposing contaminated animal carcasses and cleaning up hazardous materials.
Some of these tasks put incarcerated workers at risk of injury or ill health.
14 cents an hour
Prison systems have long championed the work of incarcerated persons in emergencies and disasters as a demonstration of the value of prisons to local communities and the state.
State prison systems often have internal policies that guide the use of incarcerated persons to assist with disaster operations. For example, the Alabama Department of Corrections’ administrative regulations dictate that in the event of a disaster, “the major support of the [department] will be manpower” including the use of “inmate labor.”
In addition, state laws across the U.S. often specifically state that incarcerated workers may be assigned to work in disaster conditions.
For example, Georgia allows for incarcerated workers to be required to work in conditions that may jeopardize their health if an emergency threatens the lives of others or of public property. Meanwhile Colorado passed legislation in 1998 that created the Inmate Disaster Relief Program under which the state can “form a labor pool” to “fight forest fires, help with flood relief, and assist in the prevention of or clean up after other natural or man-made disasters.”
As with wildfire programs, incarcerated workers are looked to in times of disaster primarily because they are a low-cost substitution for civilian workers. Incarcerated workers are paid very low wages averaging between US$0.14 and $0.63 an hour. And some states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Texas, don’t pay incarcerated workers at all.
The cost of inmate labor is offset through federal subsidies. FEMA’s public assistance program provides states with “funding for prisoner transportation to the worksite and extraordinary costs of security guards, food and lodging.” This provides a significant financial incentive to use incarcerated workers for disaster labor. After Hurricane Michael in 2018, FEMA awarded the Florida Department of Corrections $311,305 for debris removal.
Not all disaster work is voluntary for incarcerated persons. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows for incarcerated persons to be compelled to participate in labor without their consent as part of their punishment. That applies to disaster work too.
The Constitution’s Eighth Amendment “forbids knowingly compelling an inmate to perform labor that is beyond the inmate’s strength, dangerous to his or her life or health, or unduly painful.” However, in the context of disasters, it is challenging to know whether or not the situation or the environment is truly safe. And little is known about the training prisoners receive.
If incarcerated persons refuse to participate, they may face serious consequences, such as being sent to solitary confinement, the loss of earned time off their sentences or the loss of family visitation.
Ambrose reportedly expressed prior concerns about the hazardous work but was told he would be charged with “disrupting a work zone” and would be sent to solitary confinement if he did not participate. Later, the correctional officer in charge of Ambrose and those on the work crew was found responsible for his death in that he knew the downed power line was a safety threat. It was also later shown that the only training Ambrose had received was a short video on safely operating chainsaws.
Exploitation and harm
Some advocates for prisoners’ rights have begun drawing attention to the vulnerability of incarcerated workers in disasters. After Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice program published a guidebook called “In the Eye of the Storm” to help communities make disaster response and recovery processes more equitable. The guidebook includes suggestions for how to advocate specifically for worker protections for incarcerated persons. Community members are encouraged to ask about whether the incarcerated workers have received relevant training and adequate protective equipment and if their participation in the work is voluntary.
Incarcerated workers are deeply embedded throughout emergency management in the United States. Yet so much attention remains focused on the most visible and well-known programs, their role – and the potential for exploitation and harm – in many other disasters remains overlooked.
Now he’s on trial for his life, and prosecutors are planning to do what they’ve done to hundreds of other accused hip-hop artists: Use his own lyrics as evidence against him.
Because my research centers on African American literary and musical traditions – with a particular emphasis on hip-hop culture – I was asked by the defense to testify as an expert witness in Drakeo’s first trial.
This is work I’m called to do quite regularly. My best guess is that I’ve consulted on over 60 cases in which prosecutors have used rap lyrics or videos as evidence of guilt. In addition, my research with University of Georgia law professor Andrea Dennis has uncovered more than 500 instances in which prosecutors have used this strategy, a number we’re certain is just the tip of the iceberg.
As an expert witness, my job is to correct the prosecutors’ characterizations of rap music. They routinely ignore the fact that rap is a form of artistic expression – with stage names, an emphasis on figurative language and hyperbolic rhetoric – and instead present rap as autobiographical.
In effect, they ask jurors to suspend the distinction between author and narrator, reality and fiction, and to read rap lyrics as literal confessions of guilt.
No other art form is exploited like this in court. And yet it’s an effective strategy precisely because it taps into stereotypes about rap music and the young men of color who are its primary creators.
Lyrics on trial
To recap Drakeo’s legal drama: Last year, he was charged and tried in connection with a shooting at a party that resulted in the death of a 24-year-old man named Davion Gregory.
According to prosecutors, the shooting was botched. Drakeo, they claimed, had ordered the shooter to kill a different person – a musical rival who raps as RJ.
Their evidence was flimsy. RJ wasn’t even at the party, and there’s no evidence he and Drakeo ever had violent confrontations. In fact, RJ has repeatedly said that he doesn’t believe he was ever targeted by Drakeo. One of the district attorney’s own witnesses also said Drakeo didn’t know the shooting was going to happen.
So to bolster their case, prosecutors focused on Drakeo’s music. At one point, for example, they cited a line from his song “Flex Freestyle,” in which he raps, “I’m ridin’ round town with a Tommy gun and a Jag / And you can disregard the yelling, RJ tied up in the back.”
The line was fictional; nobody claims that RJ was ever tied up in the back of Drakeo’s car. Nevertheless, prosecutors wanted the jury to believe that the lyrics were actual reflections of Caldwell’s desire to harm an industry rival.
Despite the prosecution’s efforts to use Drakeo’s music against him, it didn’t work: In July 2019, the jury acquitted Drakeo of most counts, including the multiple counts of murder.
Nonetheless, prosecutors are taking the unusual step of retrying Drakeo on a charge on which the jury deadlocked the first time around: criminal gang conspiracy.
In 2014, for instance, San Diego prosecutors charged Brandon Duncan, who raps as Tiny Doo, with criminal gang conspiracy in connection with a series of shootings that took place in San Diego in 2013 and 2014. Nobody argued that Duncan participated in or even knew about the shootings. Nor was he in a gang.
But citing the same law now being used against Drakeo, prosecutors said his violent rap lyrics promoted gang violence – and that Duncan benefited from that violence in the form of enhanced “street cred.” So for crimes that everyone agrees Duncan didn’t commit or know about, prosecutors sought to put him away for 25 years to life. He sat in jail for more than seven months before a judge finally threw out the charges against him. Duncan later filed a lawsuit for wrongful arrest in the case, and just last month he settled with the city of San Diego for over US$700,000.
Duncan was far more fortunate than most young men who have their lyrics weaponized against them in court. The vast majority of the cases we’ve found end in conviction, often with lengthy sentences.
To highlight just a few of the recent cases I’ve testified in: There was Victor Hernandez, sentenced to life in prison for murder in Arizona; Christopher Bassett, sentenced to life plus 35 years for murder in Tennessee; and Ronnie Fuston, sentenced to death for murder in Oklahoma.
The question is not whether these young men committed the crimes they were convicted of. The question is whether they received a fair trial from an unbiased jury. When rap lyrics are introduced as evidence, that becomes highly dubious.
There’s a rhyme and a reason
Introducing rap lyrics can be highly effective for prosecutors because it allows them to draw on stereotypes about young black and Latino men as violent, hypersexual and dangerous. In front of a jury, that can foment prejudice.
Not only have I seen this firsthand, but there is also empirical evidence that reveals just how prejudicial rap lyrics can be. For example, in the late 1990s, psychologist Stuart Fischoff conducted a study to measure the effect of explicit rap lyrics on juries.
Participants were given basic biographical information about a hypothetical 18-year-old black male, but only some were shown a set of his violent, sexually explicit rap lyrics. Those who read the lyrics were significantly more likely to believe the man was capable of committing a murder than those who did not.
In a study conducted by social psychologist Carrie Fried, participants were given a set of violent lyrics without any indication of the artist or musical genre. In reality they were from the 1960 song “Bad Man’s Blunder” by the folk group Kingston Trio. Researchers told one group of participants that the lyrics were from a country song, and told the other group that they came from a rap song. In the end, participants who believed the lyrics came from a rap song were significantly more likely to view them as dangerous, offensive and in need of regulation. It’s worth noting that Fried’s study was replicated in 2016, with similar findings.
These studies – and others – highlight the enduring racial stereotypes that inform people’s perceptions of rap music. They also help explain an obvious double standard at work, one that the Supreme Court of New Jersey laid bare in a 2014 opinion that denounced the use of rap lyrics as evidence:
“One would not presume that Bob Marley, who wrote the well-known song ‘I Shot the Sheriff,’ actually shot a sheriff, or that Edgar Allan Poe buried a man beneath his floorboards, as depicted in his short story ‘The Tell–Tale Heart,’ simply because of their respective artistic endeavors on those subjects. Defendant’s lyrics should receive no different treatment.”
Unfortunately, however, they do receive different treatment, even as rap has emerged as one of the world’s most popular and influential genres.
It has also grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry, one that offers a chance at upward mobility, particularly in communities where such opportunities are desperately hard to come by.
Criminalizing it is cruel, unjust and silences some of the people most in need of a voice.
Alabama is the only state where people with multiple felony convictions are required to register with law enforcement and carry special ID cards, legal experts say. When felons are caught without them, they can be arrested and fined or jailed.
by Connor Sheets
When a sheriff’s deputy pulled Emmanuel Pullom over on a suburban street near Birmingham, Alabama, the night of Dec. 1, 2018, he suspected that Pullom had stolen the black Ford pickup he was driving.
The deputy handcuffed Pullom, searched the truck and then took him to the Jefferson County Jail in downtown Birmingham, according to the incident report.
But Pullom wasn’t charged with stealing the truck, which he says he had recently purchased from a friend. Instead, he was charged with failing to possess a piece of laminated paper that identified him as a felon.
“The cop said, ‘Where’s your felon card?’” Pullom recalled in an interview last month. “I said, ‘What kind of card?’ He said, ‘If you’ve got three felonies, you’ve got to get a felon card.’”
More than 300 people in Alabama have been charged since 2014 under a little-known, but long-standing state law requiring people with more than two felony convictions to register with their local sheriff’s offices and carry cards identifying them as repeat felons, according to arrest data analyzed by AL.com and ProPublica.
Violations carry the threat of jail time and fines. A man in north Alabama served a one-year sentence for failing to register as a felon and obtain a felon registration card.
While some other states have felon registration requirements, criminal law professors said they believe Alabama is the only one with a law requiring registration cards.
Legal experts say the law is likely unconstitutional and reminiscent of slavery-era restrictions that required black people in many parts of the South to present identification to white people on demand.
“The card is reminiscent of the cards Jews were forced to carry in the ghettos,” John H. Blume, a criminal law professor at Cornell Law School, said via email.
“It will also give police the ability to stop people they know are felons to see if they have their cards and … to avoid things like reasonable suspicion and probable cause.”
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, which arrested Pullom, did not respond to requests for comment.
Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran, the top law enforcement official in Alabama’s second-largest county, defended the requirement. He said the charge “gives you a good stepping stone” for jailing someone suspected of other crimes, when there otherwise isn’t enough evidence to make an arrest.
“This guy’s a five-time felon or something,” Cochran said in an interview. “And you say, ‘Hey, where’s your convicted felon thing?’ And he says, ‘Well, I don’t have one.’ You say, ‘Well, hey, bud, I [didn’t] have nothing to arrest you on, but now I do.’”
“‘So now I’m gonna arrest you, now I’m gonna inventory your car and tow it in. And if I found 5 pounds of pot in your car, then you’re gonna be arrested for trafficking marijuana.’”
Repeat felon Derrick Rhodes has a different take. In 2016, he was arrested in Henry County and charged with failing to possess a felon ID card. Rhodes, 41, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 days of suspended confinement and two years of probation and ordered to pay hundreds of dollars of fees, fines and court costs. He has since obtained a felon registration card that he carries everywhere he goes
“What’s the use of having a card on you when you’re a free man?” he said. “I’m not their prisoner no more.”
“It Shall Be the Duty”
Beginning in the 1930s, jurisdictions across the U.S. instituted so-called criminal registration laws in response to rising concerns about organized crime and other illegal activity.
In 1935, Birmingham became an early adopter of such restrictions when it passed a city ordinance requiring that felons register with law enforcement “upon their arrival in the city,” The New York Times reported at the time.
“Police officials hope that the law will give them an accurate check upon the criminal element. … It also is expected that it will result in an exodus of a great many known criminals.”
Many such laws and ordinances have since been invalidated or repealed, but the federal government and individual states have instituted a series of increasingly restrictive sex offender registry laws since the 1980s. And many states and localities across the U.S. have approved narrower registration laws that apply to people convicted of specific crimes, such as arson, serious drug crimes and gun violence.
Florida, Mississippi and Nevada have felon registration requirements, but they do not require felons to have or carry registration cards, sometimes referred to as “ex-felon cards.” In fact, Nevada law specifically bars such requirements: “The sheriff of a county or the chief of police of a city shall not require a convicted person to carry a registration card.”
In 1966, a special session of the Alabama Legislature approved the Alabama Felon Registration Act, which instituted the statewide felon registration requirements that remain in place today.
Lawmakers passed the legislation “to aid the law enforcement agencies in detecting and preventing and reducing recidivistic behavior,” according to an article about the law published in the 1966-67 edition of the Alabama Law Review.
The law requires that anyone who “resides” in Alabama and “has been convicted more than twice of a felony” anywhere in the U.S. must “register within 24 hours after his arrival in the county” and obtain a registration card from the sheriff’s office.
“It shall be the duty of such person to carry the card with him at all times while he is within the county and to exhibit the same to any officer of a municipality, a county or the state upon request.”
The maximum penalty for failing to obey the felon registration law is 30 days in jail and a $50 fine per day spent in violation, which can add up to lengthy and expensive sentences over time.
From 2014 to 2018, there have been 235 arrests in Alabama on state charges of not having a felon ID card and 53 arrests for the separate charge of failure to register with the local sheriff. Police also made nine arrests of felons who failed to notify the local sheriff of a change of address. Individual law enforcement agencies across the state have reported dozens more arrests on the charges in 2019 and this year.
Of those arrested on the charges between 2014 and 2018, about 61% were white and 38% were black, according to the state data. As of July 2019, the U.S. Census estimated that 69% of Alabama residents were white and 27% were black.
Such arrests are made in large urban counties like Jefferson, Montgomery and Baldwin, as well as in more rural counties like Franklin in Alabama’s northwest corner and Henry in the southeast.
Public records show that some local jurisdictions in Alabama have additional requirements. Arrest reports show that people have been charged in recent years in Alabama towns including Gadsden and Dothan with violating local ordinances requiring felon registration and identification.
A limited number of places outside Alabama, such as Zanesville, Ohio, and the Borough of Berlin, New Jersey, also have felon identification laws or ordinances on their books.
Sometimes people serve serious time for failing to carry their felon IDs.
Quincy Tisdale says that at the time of his arrest in August 2014, he was “the only black man living on Sand Mountain,” a low ridge in north Alabama. “So I stuck out like a sore thumb.” He was also dating a white woman, a fact that he says drew the ire of some white residents of the largely rural area, which has a long history of racial tension.
So the 38-year-old father of three says he was regularly pulled over and searched by Marshall County sheriff’s deputies and local police officers, but they never had cause to arrest him.
One morning a Marshall County sheriff’s deputy stopped Tisdale in his silver Kia sedan as he drove through the small town of Grant and informed him that he had found a reason to lock him up.
“When he pulled me over, he said, ‘Didn’t I tell you I was gonna get your black ass one day?’” Tisdale recalled during a January interview in the living room of the friend’s home in Scottsboro, where he is currently staying.
“He said: ‘I know you don’t got your felon ID card. Come on, get out of the car.’ … When they arrested me that day, that’s the first I heard I had to have a felony card or I’d go to jail.”
Tisdale, who had previous felony convictions for crimes including burglary, theft and assault, was arrested and booked into the Marshall County Jail and charged with failure to register with the sheriff’s office and failure to possess an ex-felon card. It is the only time Tisdale has been arrested in the county, according to state court records. His bond was set at $1,500, court records show.
Tisdale pleaded guilty to the charges in October 2014 and was sentenced to 365 days in the Marshall County Community Corrections work release program — a residential jail alternative in which inmates earn money to pay down fines, fees and restitution by working for contracted companies. Tisdale says that while he was at the work release, he worked long hours deboning and loading chickens at a poultry processing plant.
In February 2015, after breaking the rules of the community corrections facility and getting into an argument with an employee, Tisdale was moved to the Marshall County Jail, where he served out the remainder of his sentence, court records show. He says that the punishment upended his life.
“When you take me away from my family, and I’m supporting my family, you’re pushing them out onto the streets,” he said.
Marshall County Sheriff Phil Sims, who became sheriff in January 2019, said his office does not “actively” seek out people violating the state’s felon registration and identification law.
“It’s not one of those things where we’re going out banging on doors or I’ve got someone assigned to look for people who haven’t registered,” he said. “It would generally be a secondary charge where there’s some other type of law enforcement contact like a domestic violence call or something.”
But he said that the law serves a valuable purpose, “kind of like the sex offender registry,” and that he would enforce it if his office were notified that someone in Marshall County had failed to register as a felon or obtain a registration card. Neither Sims’ predecessor, J. Scott Walls, who was sheriff at the time of Tisdale’s arrest, nor Walls’ attorney responded to requests for comment.
Tisdale says it’s an indignity to be forced to carry a felon ID card for the rest of his life: “It reminds me I’m a criminal, day in and day out.”
Like each of the criminal law professors interviewed for this story, Pullom said he never knew that Alabama required people with more than two felony convictions to carry registration cards.
He said that he only found out about the requirement when he was arrested for violating it, and that he believes the charge was little more than a pretense to apprehend him.
“Did I have drugs on me? Did I do anything wrong? No,” said Pullom, who has been convicted of several felonies including shooting a gun into an occupied building, drug possession and theft. “They were just trying to come up with something to arrest me for.”
In fact, the arresting deputy wrote in the incident report that the felon ID card charge would allow the sheriff’s office to hold Pullom in jail and “follow up with a property crimes detective … on any other charges.” The felon ID charge was dismissed two months after his arrest and no additional charges were filed.
Lynneice Washington, district attorney for Jefferson County’s Bessemer Division, said that “you’re marking a person” by requiring them to carry a felon registration card. She added that she does not recall having ever heard of felon registration or ID charges being brought in her division, which is a subsection of the county that does not include Adamsville, where Pullom was arrested.
“Just to stop a person because you know them and know their history and to ask them if they have a felon identification card and that’s an automatic charge if they don’t have it, I don’t agree with that,” she said.
In the 1957 case Lambert v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the issue of felon registration. A woman named Virginia Lambert had been found guilty of violating a Los Angeles municipal law that made it “unlawful for ‘any convicted person’ to be or remain in Los Angeles for a period of more than five days without registering.” The conviction was upheld on appeal.
But the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the California ruling. The majority wrote that Lambert’s constitutional right to due process had been violated because she most likely had no “actual knowledge” that not registering as a felon was a crime.
“So the question would be whether Alabama has done a better job giving notice to someone that they need to register and/or get the ID card,” Rachel E. Barkow, a law professor and faculty director of the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at New York University School of Law, said via email.
The piecemeal enforcement of Alabama’s felon registration and identification law also raises concerns, according to Alvin Bragg, a visiting law professor at New York Law School and co-director of the school’s Racial Justice Project.
Two-thirds of the state’s 67 counties saw no such charges brought between 2014 and 2018.
“Ultimately every law has got to be rational and not arbitrary and that’s the standard of review,” Bragg said. “I think this comes perilously close to being irrational and excessively arbitrary.”
Michele Deitch, senior lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Law and Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, said it would be difficult to argue that a year in jail is not a disproportionately harsh punishment for failing to carry a felon ID card.
“It would be challenged as an 8th Amendment violation,” she said. “It’s disproportionate to the underlying offense. And cruel and unusual — is there another locality that would sentence you to a year for that? Probably not. So that’s pretty unusual.”
Sometimes simply failing to change an address can land a person behind bars.
That’s what happened to Michael Kelsay, who has been on law enforcement’s radar in Baldwin County for years. The father of three says that he sold his pickup this winter because he was tired of being pulled over nearly every time he left his trailer park.
A self-described former drug addict and petty criminal, he has a rap sheet spanning two decades, during which time he has been convicted of crimes including drug possession, negotiating a worthless instrument and receiving stolen property. The 39-year-old has also been arrested on two separate occasions for crimes related to felon registration.
The first arrest took place one morning in August 2014, when Baldwin County sheriff’s deputies banged on the door at Kelsay’s mother’s house looking for him. When he came to the door, he says they informed him they had heard he was the last person seen with a criminal suspect they were trying to find.
After searching the area and determining the suspect was not there, Kelsay says one of the deputies ran his name through an electronic system, saw he was a repeat felon and asked him for his felon identification card.
“I show it to him. I’m like, ‘Boom, got it.’ They’re just grasping at straws, I feel like. Like, I’m good now,” Kelsay said during an interview in his kitchen last month.
“And then he hit me with, ‘Well, you don’t live at this address anymore,’ because I told him I was staying at my mom’s. I didn’t see the trap coming.”
Kelsay was arrested and charged with failing “to register, within 24 hours, his/her change of address or place of residence with the sheriff of Baldwin County,” according to court records. He says he was temporarily living at his mother’s house, 3 miles down the same road in Bay Minette from the address listed on his felon ID card.
Kelsay posted $5,000 bond and was released from jail three days after the arrest.
He was arrested a second time a month later and charged with failing to possess a felon registration card — he said the sheriff’s office had seized his card at the time of the first arrest because the address was incorrect and he had not replaced it — and again failing to notify the sheriff’s office that he had changed addresses. He pleaded guilty to the three charges that resulted from the two arrests and was sentenced to concurrent sentences of 30 days in jail and ordered to pay three $50 fines.
Anthony Lowery, chief deputy of the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office, defended the arrests.
“He was knowingly, willingly violating the law,” he said. “Obviously anytime you have a known convicted felon — like in this case Mr. Kelsay has been convicted multiple times of different crimes — [felon registration] does help. It’s a tool to protect the public.”
Lowery added that the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office pursues people who break the state’s felon registration law:
“If you’re asking if we’re just going out searching for these people, on occasion yes. … We’re charged with enforcing the law and if you’re a felon and you’re required to register and you’re violating the law then we’re going to enforce that.”
What sticks with Kelsay to this day is the idea that he was arrested because the law forever puts him in a separate category.
“I was flabbergasted by it. I couldn’t believe they took me to jail for that,” he said. “That’s what really bothers me about it is I feel like they charged me with that because they wanted me to go to jail.”
Republished with permission under license from Propublica.
The measure, championed by Ben Baker, a Republican lawmaker, calls for establishing review boards who would determine whether materials in libraries contain or promote “nudity, sexuality, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse.” In addition, the boards, which would be comprised of parents, would root out materials lacking “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
Librarians who defy the review boards by buying and lending such materials would be subject to misdemeanor charges, fines upward of US$500, and a potential jail sentence up to one year.
The children’s book “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell and illustrated by Henry Cole, was challenged and banned from libraries around the country for many years after its publication in 2005. The picture book is based on a true story of two male penguins in New York City’s Central Park Zoo who adopt and care for an egg and then keep caring for their daughter, Tango, after she hatched.
Separately, opponents of the storytime program known as “Drag Queen Story Hour” at libraries and other community venues, have held protests to ban and condemn such events aimed at children. The objections voiced by protesters stem from their belief that drag performers are evil and amoral and that exposure to drag queens will, in their view, cause children to become gay.
The Missouri bill is not the first of its kind. State lawmakers in Colorado and Maine both tried to pass similar legislation in 2019. Both efforts failed.
Librarians are professionals. Librarians working in K-12 school libraries also earn certification as school library media specialists. Librarians have expertise in children’s literature, collection development, child development, psychology, readers’ advisory, reference services and other specialized skills needed to serve children and young adults in a variety of settings.
In short, librarians are more than capable of selecting and purchasing quality books and other materials for people of all ages.
To imply otherwise, as I believe the proposed Missouri measure would, is to insult these skilled educators. If it should be enacted, I would consider it a potential threat to information access, intellectual freedom and the freedom to read.
A study of bail judges in the Miami and Philadelphia areas suggests that both black and white judges show bias against black defendants.
The study, in The Quarterly Journal of Economics, finds that black defendants are 2.4 percentage points more likely than white defendants to be detained while they await their court hearings. The average bail for black defendants is $7,281 higher than for white defendants.
It appears that bail judges rely on racial stereotypes to predict which defendants will commit another crime if released, the researchers explain. In reality, some white defendants are much more likely than black defendants to get arrested again after their release, the team’s analysis suggests.
“We find suggestive evidence that this racial bias is driven by bail judges relying on inaccurate stereotypes that exaggerate the relative danger of releasing black defendants,” write the authors of the paper, David Arnold and Will Dobbie of Princeton University and Crystal S. Yang of Harvard Law School.
Generally speaking, after an arrest, defendants who seem less risky are released on their own recognizance, meaning they are free to go after promising to appear in court for upcoming proceedings, or they are released if they meet certain conditions such as paying a bail amount or posting a bail bond to guarantee their presence in court. Some defendants are not released because they cannot meet bail.
For the study, researchers examined 162,836 court cases representing 93,914 defendants in Philadelphia County from 2010 to 2014 as well as 93,417 cases from 65,944 defendants in Miami-Dade County between 2006 and 2014.
The findings are consistent with another study published in 2018 that uses machine learning techniques to show that bail judges make mistakes in predicting what a defendant would do if released. That study indicates judges make significant prediction errors for defendants of all races.
Some other key findings of this study include:
Racial bias is higher among bail judges in Miami-Dade than in Philadelphia.
Racial bias is higher among inexperienced judges and part-time bail judges. Experienced judges are better at predicting defendant behavior. The scholars find that judges in Miami who are considered to be experienced have 9.5 years of experience working in the bail system, on average. Miami judges considered to be inexperienced have an average of 2.5 years of experience.
“If racially biased prediction errors among inexperienced judges are an important driver of black-white disparities in pretrial detention, providing judges with increased opportunities for training or on-the-job feedback could play an important role in decreasing racial disparities in the criminal justice system,” the researchers write. “Our findings also suggest that providing judges with data-based risk assessments may also help decrease unwarranted racial disparities.”
"Your children ain't violent because they black" … "what are you putting in my malt liquor white boy? … "malt liquor is sold by white companies but only sold in black neighborhoods and you ain't checked it to see what's in it!" – Dick Gregory, 2008 State of the Black Union
The violence including murders happening in the City of St. Louis is a symptom of decades of intentional oppression, poverty, and exclusion. The violence in St. Louis is concentrated mostly in low income, black neighborhoods, 40% of black households in St. Louis are living in poverty. Those neighborhoods became low income because resources and opportunities were removed.
We need to stop trying to treat the symptom (violence) rather than finding a cure to the causes of the disease. As long as the disease festers in our community, the symptoms will keep multiplying and infecting other communities. Victims of poverty, children who are missing basic necessities and who struggle with poor healthcare or nutrition are more likely to encounter or engage in violence.
When you're black and poor in St. Louis, your opportunities to escape poverty are sabotaged. Schools in black neighborhoods are designed to make kids fail by providing substandard education, eliminating trade programs such as carpentry, defunding enrichment programs like art and music, non-existent honors program and criminalizing normal childhood behavior. Just last month, a court ruled that it was reasonable to handcuff a black 7-year-old hearing-impaired child for crying because he was being taunted by a group of boys.
Young black men are profiled and targeted as gun-toting drug dealers, although white people are more likely to deal drugs. Black people who do end up selling drugs, often do so because they become desperate and don't see any other option. Most people would never choose behaviors resulting in prison or death if they had other options. Harsh punishment breeds resentment which can lead to violence, we need to focus more on treatment and education.
Nearly four years ago, we published an article titled, "Crime Won't Decrease Until Oppression Decreases". That year, St. Louis had the highest murder rate in the country and not much has changed, except the increasing number of young children dying. Our communities are under attack and our primary response is to hold vigils and rallies. It's time to stop begging for change and start demanding change with direct action!
"Protest minus disruption or violence equal failure". We need to disrupt the systems that benefit from our oppression and destruction. The law is the primary means by which our community is oppressed but very few black people understand how to perform legal research and use that research to benefit them. Unscrupulous businesses, slum landlords, shady creditors, and even corrupt municipalities weaponize ignorance to enrich themselves.
Question everything, especially mass media and even things you've believed to be true your entire life. We've been fed a diet of half-truths and lies all our lives. During the 1980s and 1990s, people bought into the lies about crack and addicts were criminals that should be locked up. Now that white people are increasingly becoming addicted to drugs, its a national health crisis and suddenly the error of criminalizing addicts became clear.
City Government & Police
Now some are calling for more police and the criminalization of gun possession, the end result would be more black people criminally charged for behaviors considered a constitutional right for everyone else. Mayor Lyda Krewson stated St. Louis should be allowed to issue concealed weapons permits.
Where there are no guns, there are no gun deaths. Let me be clear, I am not pro-guns at any cost. If it was possible, I could even be in favor of an absolute gun ban for everyone. However, I believe it would be almost impossible to repeal the second amendment. With that said, I would never support restricting the rights of only a particular group of people.
In Missouri, it is your constitutional right to bear arms including a concealed weapon. Any attempt to deprive the citizens of St. Louis of that right is unconstitutional. The vast majority of people committing violent crimes in St. Louis are criminals using illegally obtained guns. Requiring gun permits in the city would create barriers to law-abiding poor (mostly black) residents from being able to afford the permit fees. As Tupac stated, people living in the most dangerous areas need weapons the most.
Recently, Mayor Krewson said she wants to relax the residency rule to hire police officers. The result of that policy would be more racist white officers policing a population they don't understand in a community they have no ties to. Racist cops and a previously racist prosecutor unfairly targeted and criminalized black men especially youth. Some were forced to accept plea deals rather than spend months in jail awaiting a trial. Atlanta’s population is about 54 percent African-American and 38 percent white. Its police force is 58 percent African-American and 38 percent white and Atlanta pays officers roughly the same as St. Louis City. Atlanta doesn't seem to have a problem recruiting and retaining black police officers, so why does St. Louis? Racism may not be the only reason, but it is among the reasons.
It's generally understood that police exist to keep order. What's not understood is that order is white supremacist patriarchy. – Zellieimani(Twitter 10-9-2014)
The year following Zellieimani's tweet, a leaked memo revealed that 12 white police officers on a specialized narcotics team in Dothan, Alabama, planted drugs and guns on over 1,000 innocent young Black men. All of the officers reportedly were members of a Neoconfederate organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center labels "racial extremists". Cobb County, GA police Lt. Greg Abbott, stated, "But you're not black. Remember? We only kill black people," to a white woman afraid to move her hands during a traffic stop.
St. Louis Police Department has a long reputation for being a racist organization. Most recently an investigation of racist Facebook posts resulted in 22 St. Louis City police officers being barred from bringing cases to the prosecutor. How many innocent young Black men did those 22 St. Louis police officers plant drugs and guns on?
Mayor Krewson if you want more black police officers, partner with St. Louis Public Schools and bring back the officer friendly program; encourage officers to go into predominately black schools to remove the fear of encounters and to spark interest in careers in law enforcement. How about creating a junior police academy program, similar to ROTC, to get high school students interested in law enforcement. Create an apprenticeship program where kids from high crime areas can apprentice in police offices during the summers before their junior and senior years. They could help in call centers, data entry, general office tasks, social media, and other functions where they become more familiar and comfortable with the idea of law enforcement as a career. Find out how other cities such as Atlanta recruit and retain black officers and at the same time develop methods to weed out racist and abusive officers.
The City has announced plans to implement Cure Violence, a program created by Gary Slutkin, a white doctor in Chicago. I'm not sure giving $8.5 million to a white savior is the best way to go, the staff members with decision-making power appear to be all white. Cure Violence began as the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention in 1995 and implemented its first program, known as CeaseFire, in 2000, but Chicago aka Chiraq does not have the best reputation in regards to violence.
We already have plenty of non-profit organizations in St. Louis, why not fund and utilize existing programs; Cure Violence doesn't seem much different from the efforts of Better Family Life. Another underfunded organization doing great work helping at youth risk is the Demetrius Johnson Foundation.
Opportunity is the best cure for violence that occurs in the City of St. Louis!
How about encouraging partnership between organizations. Instead of wasting millions of dollars with developers like Paul McKee, funnel funds to joint program between St. Louis YouthBuild and North Grand Neighborhood Services (NGNS). This would provide construction job training to at-risk youth while at the same time restoring St. Louis' housing stock and providing affordable housing.
Why not call a non-profit summit a sort of meet and greet where St. Louis Government and non-profits can get together and figure out how they can partner to solve issues. There are plenty of underfunded grassroots organizations already in target neighborhoods doing quality work and could do wonders with additional funding.
Solutions to the problems facing the black community will require individual and collective sacrifice. Solutions will require time, effort, creativity, and money.
Beware of Strangers Bearing Gifts
What seems like an act of goodwill may mask a hidden destructive or hostile agenda. In order to find effective solutions, we must first realize that what might look like a solution could actually be a trap. There are some who disguise themselves as friends but have declared war on black people and "all warfare is based on deception".
Margaret Sanger, the founder of what today is Planned Parenthood, was a racist eugenicist who wanted to exterminate the black population thru birth control. Under the pretense of better health and family planning, Sanger deceived and convinced some of the most prominent black doctors and well educated black clergy members into supporting her scheme. The black elites were so concerned with economic empowerment and garnering the respect of whites, that they jeopardized the very survival of Black people in America.
It seems to me from my experience … that while the colored Negroes have great respect for white doctors they can get closer to their own members and more or less lay their cards on the table which means their ignorance, superstitions and doubts.
We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities. The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal.
We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members. – Margaret Sanger: 1939 Letter to Dr. Clarence Gamble
The Civil Rights movement reached its peak with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The vicious racists who killed Emmett Till, bombed churches, sicked dogs and sprayed hoses didn't just suddenly disappear, they simply faded into the background. Ku Klux Klan members traded their sheets and hoods for police uniforms, judge robes, the suits of politicians and prosecutors. Since overt discrimination had been outlawed, they implemented a tactic of covert racism.
Racist politicians created policies that sabotaged President Johnson's Great Society legislation including the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, Food Stamp Act of 1964, Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Programs created during Johnson's administration were implemented in ways that wreaked destruction on the black community. Listen to Dr. Umar Johnson's discussion about how the black community has been under attack since 1970.
Between 1934 thru 1962, St. Louis' murder rate was usually between 6-13 per 100,000 people. After 1963 it begins to rise and then rises further during Nixon's "War on Black People", then again during Reagan's first term and then peaked during the crack epidemic. Chicago experienced a similar trend, 1974 was Chicago's deadliest year with 970 homicides, we checked because Cure Violence originated there.
More recently, three-strike laws, mandatory minimum sentencing, truth in sentencing laws, harsher punishment for certain drugs so-called solutions promoted to reduce crime resulted in mass incarceration and destroyed generations within the black and brown communities. Desperation to reduce gun violence appears to be setting the stage for gun possession to become the new mass incarceration tool.
Others Don't Care
Although oppressive discriminatory practices by others are directly and indirectly responsible for many of the issues plaguing the black community, most people outside our community don't care.
How often do you think about those 2.8 billion people on the planet who struggle to survive on less than $2 a day, and more than one billion people who lack reasonable access to safe drinking water?
Do you ever think about how many of those people's are forced to work in dangerous conditions so that you can purchase cheap products at Wal-Mart and DollarTree?
Probably not, because you're too busy concentrating on your problems. That's how other people feel about our problems, they don't care. Dave Chappelle expressed this sentiment during his NetFlix special, "Sticks and Stones" while talking about the opioid and heroin crisis.
Regardless who caused our problems, we better work at fixing them, because others don't care enough to fix them for us.
Support Our Champions
A person who truly fights or argues for a cause or on behalf of someone else is a champion. Champions are rare, so when you have one, it behooves you to vigorously support them. Kimberly Gardner has become an unexpectant champion. I've never met Kimberly Gardner, but I did vote for her.
In December 2016, prior to Ms. Gardner's swearing-in ceremony, I stated in a post, "if Ms. Gardner proves to be a fair prosecutor, there will certainly be those that will attempt to distort her statements, vilify her actions and generally discredit her. There is a private prison system that stands to lose millions of dollars under a non-oppressive system".
Kimberly. Gardner has exceeded my wildest expectations, shown tremendous courage, and has gained my utmost respect. She's actually trying to fight the disease. She's created a list of officers who she won't accept cases from including 22 officers for racist Facebook post. Ms. Gardner has removed or reduced amounts of cash bond for minor, nonviolent offenses. She is also expanding diversion and drug court programs and ending prosecutions of low-level marijuana possession cases.
Two white prosecutors who served under Gardner's predecessor, Jennifer Joyce, conspired with white police officers to cover up a police beating of a handcuffed suspect, recently lost their law licenses because of their crimes committed while prosecutors.
The white St. Louis Police Officers' Association, has called for Gardner's resignation. Jeffrey Roorda, the association's spokesperson was fired from the Arnold, MO police department for making false statements and filing false reports.
It's not surprising that a police association with a racist history would target the City's first black prosecutor, especially since she is holding police accountable for their unethical and illegal actions. The Ethical Society of Police, founded by African American Police Officers was created to address race-based discrimination within the community and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
As long as Ms. Gardner continues to champion our rights and act as a buffer between police abuses, we need to provide as much support as we can provide to her and others who similarly act on our behalf.
Withdraw Support from Betrayers
I felt betrayed after the democratic mayoral primary. Of the four major black candidates, I had previously voted for three. Antonio French was the only candidate I hadn't voted for because I did not live in his ward, but my parents did. As I mentioned in "Black Ego lost the St. Louis Mayoral Race", "How is it possible that three intelligent, seasoned politicians didn't understand they would split the black vote so severely that none of them would win?"
When I see all the obstacles Kimberly Gardner is facing, I often wonder how things might have been different if she had a black mayor to work with. Remember, much of her opposition is coming from the police who are under the mayor's chain of command. I also wonder if the violence might have been reduced and some of those children's lives spared if things had worked out differently.
I've lived in the city for nearly 40 years and moved shortly after the last election. However, if still a city resident, I would not vote for any of the candidates who couldn't work together to ensure a black power structure in St. Louis City.
We must respect different ideas. No one idea or solution will solve all our issues and problems. Just because your idea is different from mine doesn't make yours wrong. We need to work more closely together on the things were agree rather than fighting over what we disagree. Disagreement slows progress. "United we stand, divided we fall".
Washington vs Du Bois
Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) the most influential black leader of his time preached a philosophy of self-help, racial solidarity and accommodation. He urged blacks to accept discrimination for the time being and concentrate on elevating themselves through hard work and material prosperity thru education in the crafts, industrial and farming skills.
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963) a founding member of the NAACP, advocated political action and a civil rights agenda. He believed that developing a group of college-educated blacks, 10% of the black population “the Talented Tenth” would provide direction and leadership for the other 90% to change their social and economic status. Although Du Bois early on agreed with Washington’s strategy, later he decided it would serve only to perpetuate white oppression, which he expressed in his book, "The Souls of Black Folk".
The Washington/Du Bois dispute divided African-American leaders into two camps; Washington's accommodationist philosophy or Du Bois philosophy of agitation and protest for civil rights. Washington was born a slave, didn't know who his father was, was raised in the south and taught himself to read. Du Bois was born three years after the Civil War, was raised in Great Barrington, MA, a relatively tolerant and integrated community of 4,000 with only about 50 blacks. With encouragement from his teachers, Du Bois was the first black student to graduate from his high school.
Washington's and Du Bois' circumstances and upbringing were polar opposites, so naturally, because of their vastly different experience, their perspectives were different, so they had different ideas and solutions. We needed both Washington's practical approach for the masses of black people especially in the South and Du Bois approach of developing educated leadership. Those two giants might have achieved so much more working together instead of working against each other.
King vs Malcolm X
Half a century later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X would also split black leadership into two camps. Again, we have two men with vastly different backgrounds. King was the descendant of prominent ministers went to college earned a Ph.D. and became a minister himself. Malcolm X's father was murder and he became a foster child after his mother was hospitalized with mental issues, he later engaged in drug dealing, gambling, racketeering, robbery, and pimping and went to prison where he became enlightened by another inmate. Dr. King's non-violent integration movement and Malcolm X's any means necessary racial separatism philosophy were both valid strategies. Unfortunately, they both denounced the other's strategy.
There are roughly 44 million Black people in the United States and we all face some form of discrimination. Forty-six percent of us are in poverty, the working poor or the working class earning $35,000 or less; 40% are in the middle class earning between $35-100K, the upper 14% includes the upper middle class and wealthy. Poverty by itself does not necessarily result in violence, the majority of poor people are non-violent. Poverty coupled with discrimination, oppression and poverty being criminalized, people become desperate and or hopeless. Those at the bottom face the most number of barriers and experience the worst oppression.
"The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose." – James Baldwin
Countries have diplomats and soldiers working together employing both peaceful tactics and force when necessary. There's no reason a movement can't utilize different tactics at the same time to arrive at a common goal. Near the end of their lives, both Malcolm X and King slightly adjusted their philosophies. A year before his death, King stated, "My Dream Has Turned Into a Nightmare". Like Washington and Du Bois, King and Malcolm X might have achieved more working with one another.
Groups such as the National African American Gun Association (NAAGA) are increasingly aware of the need for self-defense and may one day be positioned as a deterrent against violence from outside groups. Organized armed groups of black men might even organize into neighborhood patrols.
Violence isn't always physical, sometime we must inflict economic violence to achieve our goals. Imagine what would happen if a large percentage of black people boycotted Christmas to protest a particular issue or form of oppression. Affected retailers and manufacturers might be motivated to speak out or intervene. If corporations can speak up for LGBT bathroom rights, the companies we spend our dollars with should speak up for us as well.
Even though the St. Louis area is home to SLU, Wash. U, Harris-Stowe, UMSL, Fontbonne, SLCC, Ranken and a number of other colleges and universities, the quality of education in the City of St. Louis has been horrible for decades and no one can seem to come up with solutions.
Washington University has a $7.5 billion endowment, St. Louis University's endowment is $1.3 billion. Wouldn't it be great if those and other institutions funded grants or scholarships to St. Louis Public School students who commit to teaching in the district for a minimum number of years. Those teachers would then be able to better relate and understand the challenges of their students because they were those students.
But it probably won't happen. There are many smart people at Wash. U. and SLU, if they wanted to help, they probably would have done something before now.
Wash. U. and SLU both have law schools. Certainly they've known for decades about abuses occurring in St. Louis area courts. After just a few visits to courtrooms, I saw the abuses instantly, that's why I created this self-help legal information site by myself. Those law schools could have easily provided meaningful online self-help legal information decades ago.
Maybe the city could partner with Ranken to offer technical education to students who commit to a revitalization program where their skill would be used to help repair the houses of elderly and disabled residents. Instead of burdening poor residents with housing violation fines and court fees, maybe they could be referred to the revitalization program for low-cost repairs and repayment arrangements.
Independently educate yourself and your children. Supplement your child's education with additional material, especially if they attend public schools; "how can you expect powerful people to give you the training, give you the education to take their power away from them".
What can you do individually to make things better?
Educate yourself thru self-study by using public libraries, the Internet and other resources to develop new skills so you can develop sources of income outside of your job. This is how businesses are created which leads to the employment of others.
Where you spend your money is where your create jobs. Patronize businesses in your own neighborhood which supports job creation.
Before you stop patronizing a business in your neighborhood, talk to or write the owner and express the reasons why you are dissatisfied with their product or service so they might improve.
Black business owners, understand decades of negative imagery and stereotypes put black businesses at a disadvantage, even among our own. Most of us are familiar with the saying "black people have to work twice as hard to get half as much". Your business has to price its products and service competitively, you must treat your customer with respect, you must invest profits back into your business and constantly improve.
Share your knowledge with others. Not everyone knows what you do. Sometimes the difference between someone failing and succeeding is the proper knowledge. Think about the knowledge and advice that was passed along to you and how helpful a particular piece of advice was. Give that gift of knowledge to someone else, it could quite literally save someone's life.
Volunteer or donate to an organization trying to make a difference in St. Louis.
Ask your church or any organization you donate money to explain exactly how they use your donated money.
Reach out and get to know your neighbors. Join or start a neighborhood watch or association.
Stand up for your individual rights no matter how small. Rights and privileges are seldom taken away swiftly; they are usually taken away slowly almost unnoticed until one day they are gone
Dr. Kwaw Imana, Class of 2000 at Morehouse College, delivered a powerful Valedictorian speech where he rejected a Rhodes Scholarship, the oldest and most prestigious scholarship in the world, because of Cecil Rhodes racist history. Imana compared it to a person of Jewish descent being offered a Hitler scholarship and challenged his fellow graduates to create businesses and institutions in black communities.
Churches and Organizations
Black churches, organizations and community members could partner together form a non-profit corporation to act as a central clearinghouse for resources. Black organizations and institutions compete against each other for government grant funding. Competing for that funding drains resources and once secured, yearly audits are required to show how funds were spent. Pooling the resources of multiple organization under the umbrella of a single entity would be more efficient and those resources could become much more effective.
"the educated Negro does not understand or is unwilling to start small enterprises which make the larger ones possible." – Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro 1933
As we mentioned during a reparations post, Black churches take in an estimated $12-13 billion per year, which is greater than the GDP of dozens of entire nations. How much of those funds are being spent to benefit the community in which you live? If a fraction of church donations were pooled together think about the endless possibilities: schools, homeless shelters, urgent care clinics, hospitals, business incubators, convention venues and more. Consider how the Catholic church builds schools, hospitals, senior housing, and nursing homes all under the Catholic Charities Umbrella.
The Betrayal of the Black Elite
We have declared drug use to be a health crisis, so we need to decriminalize possession of small amounts of drugs, otherwise, we are declaring drug addiction is a crime. In the United States, drugs became illegal in the early 1900s due to racism and drug enforcement tends to highly disproportionately affect minorities.
Many other countries including Spain, Italy, Germany, and Mexico have already decriminalized small amounts of drug possession. Canada is treating opioid addiction with prescription-grade heroin. In August 2009, Argentina’s supreme court declared in a landmark ruling that it was unconstitutional to prosecute citizens for having drugs for their personal use – "adults should be free to make lifestyle decisions without the intervention of the state".
Decriminalizing drugs would reduce many of the criminal justice encounters that create conditions which result in violence. It will also free police officers to concentrate on other crimes.
Violence always indicates that something else is wrong. Treating violence as a symptom of a disease is a step in the right direction. As long as the disease goes untreated, all of us including our children are in danger of becoming victims.
A handful of people participated in the civil rights movement that provided new rights to everyone and protected denied rights to oppressed people. Had more people participated greater achievements might have been made.
What will you do? If your plan is to let others tackle this problem, then it will never be solved. If you can identify just one person who needs help and then assist them, you can change the world!
Terry Tillman, a 23-year-old black man, who was shopping at the Galleria Mall was killed by a Richmond Heights Police after receiving a call about a man carrying a concealed firearm.
I have two sons who are 20 and 26 years old. Mr. Tillman could just as easily be one of my sons if they decide to exercise their constitutional right to carry a concealed weapon. I want my sons to have the ability to exercise their rights without the fear of being executed. They are both law-abiding citizens who shouldn't be considered criminals because they happen to be black. A gun provides some protection against violent criminals, but when black people encounter criminal, fearful or racist police officers there is little to no defense.
White men aren't targeted with suspicion when they exercise their gun rights even though mass shooters who target random victims are more likely to white men.
The Galleria Mall has signs posted restricting guns, however, as we mention on our "Gun Law in Missouri" page, carrying a gun inside the Galleria was not illegal. A person who carries a concealed weapon onto restricted property and refuses to leave when asked may be removed from the premises by law enforcement officers and fined, as provided in Section 571.107 RSMo, but not charged with a crime unless an additional illegal act is committed on the private property.
Reports say that Mr. Tillman ran when asked about the gun, but running is not a crime. On June 5, 2019, a Federal Appeals Court ruled police who got a tip that a black man was carrying a gun had no authority to chase him down when he fled, and then to search him — at least in a state where carrying firearms is legal, US v. Brown, 925 F. 3d 1150 – Ct of Appeals, 9th Circuit 2019. The court in its opinion quoted Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens who said in a 2000 case:
“Among some citizens, particularly minorities and those residing in high-crime areas, there is … the possibility that the fleeing person is entirely innocent, but, with or without justification, believes that contact with the police can itself be dangerous.”
It is not illegal to run from a cop who has not detained you or has not issued an order to you. "If you can walk away, you can run away. It shouldn't matter the speed at which you move away." – Ezekiel Edwards, ACLU. However, running may provide reasonable suspicion depending on the circumstances. It IS illegal to run from a cop who has detained you or issued a lawful order. The order "STOP" is a lawful order, and from that point on, you are committing a crime if you do not stop.
The U.S. Supreme Court held in Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985) that, under the Fourth Amendment, when a law enforcement officer is pursuing a fleeing suspect, the officer may not use deadly force to prevent escape unless "the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others."
St. Louis County Police Sgt. Ben Granda provides limited information about the killing of Terry Tillman. The officer approached Mr. Tillman and allegedly advised him of the Galleria’s Zero Tolerance Policy on guns. The officer claims that as he was speaking with Tillman, he suddenly ran away. Sgt. Granda does not indicate that Mr. Tillman did anything illegal.
Felon in Possession and Warrant
I did not know Terry Tillman, so I am not personally familiar with his background or criminal history. I did visit his Facebook page, which includes some questionable post, but I attribute that to inexperience and youth; his page also indicated he was involved in music like my youngest son. Tillman was a rapper and probably felt the need to carry a gun for his own protection.
Tupac talked about gun possession and violence in a 1994 BET interview where he explained why so many young people carried guns.
A cursory check of Missouri Casenet indicates that Mr. Tillman had an active pending criminal case for felony theft, but had not yet been convicted. According to the docket entries, Mr. Tillman failed to appear in court and a bench warrant was issued.
Casenet also indicated other criminal charges and convictions, therefore, if those docket entries were correct, Mr. Tillman was a felon in possession of a firearm. However, the police officer would have had no prior knowledge of those facts and therefore his actions may not have been justified. Because of abuses within the criminal justice system, criminal histories may not tell the full story, consider the lesson from "When They See Us". Many people accept plea bargains and confess to crimes not because they are guilty but from fear of long prison sentences in an unfair criminal court system or to simply to be released from jail because they could not afford bail.
What if Mr. Tillman did not have a prior felony conviction, but was still facing felony charges? Since he had not yet been convicted, he would not have been a felon and his gun rights should not have been restricted. Until the police know otherwise, that's the assumption Mr. Tillman should have been given, especially in light of the recent US v. Brown decision.
Does a bench warrant make you a fugitive from justice and thereby ineligible per RSMo 571.070? A Missouri Court of Appeals decision, Missouri vs. Chase, 490 SW 3d 771 (2016) indicates it does not. The court determined the phrase "fugitive from justice" was not defined and was ambiguous. Therefore, even a person with an active bench warrant with no prior felony convictions based on that court opinion retains the right to conceal carry.
It's unclear whether any Galleria Official or store employee requested that Mr. Tillman leave the premises. It's also unclear if there was a duty to make such a request before calling the police. The answers to those question might determine if Mr. Tillman would have even been required to identify himself to police.
The Richmond Heights Police had no way of knowing about a bench warrant or even who Mr. Tillman was. They can't assume just because he was black and had a gun in a permitless carry state that he was suspicious.
If there is no reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed, is being committed, or is about to be committed, an individual is not required to provide identification, even in "Stop and ID" states. Kansas City is the only place in Missouri with a "Stop and identify" statute, RSMo 84.710(2). "Stop and identify" statutes authorize policeto legally demand the identity of someone whom they reasonably suspect of having committed a crime.
If the police could not legally force Terry Tillman to identify himself, they couldn't have known he had an active warrant and would not have had grounds to arrest him.
The gun-rights of black people are under attack. Because of the no gun policy and signage, the police were within their rights to approach Mr. Tillman and inform him of the Gallerias no tolerance policy regarding weapons. When Mr. Tillman ran, he removed himself from the premises which complied with the newly provided information.
No one knows why Terry Tillman ran. Did he feel threatened or in danger? Did he fear arrest? But we do know that Mr. Tillman cannot explain his actions because he was killed. Running may not have been his best option, but people don't always behave rationally when they are in fear. The only person who can explain their actions is the officers that shot and killed Terry Tillman.
Was it reasonable for the police to be suspicious because Mr. Tillman ran? Probably, but an explanation about why deadly force was used should have been provided within minutes or hours at the utmost. It's been three days since Mr. Tillman was killed and we still don't know why deadly force was used.
Without reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed, a black person who conceals carry should simply be viewed as exercising their constitutional rights, to behave otherwise is a constitutional violation. It's very possible that Mr. Tillman's Missouri and Federal constitutional rights were violated. Unless police reasonably feared for their safety or the safety of others, deadly force should not have been used.
Family and friends of Mr. Tillman participated in a peaceful protest at the Galleria which resulted in arrests being made. Reportedly the family doesn't know where or how many times Terry Tillman was shot.
It should not be necessary to protest simply to get answers about why your child was killed. It's unreasonable that a family should be expected to accept the death of their loved one without a reasonable explanation. Transparency is required and expected and when not provide suspicion arises.
Certainly, there are plenty of cameras in and around the Galleria, the bank where the killing took place, and surrounding businesses. The public has a right to know whether body camera, dashcam, or other videos exist.
Based on past history, I expect the police to implement their no snitch policy (blue wall of silence) and to use the facts that Mr. Tillman had prior convictions, a pending felony charge, a bench warrant, a gun in his possession and that he ran as justification for their actions. The police had no prior notice about Mr. Tillman's convictions, charges or warrant, so those aren't valid reasons to chase and then shoot him. Since they have remained silent, I can only conclude the most obvious reason, "black man with a gun".
My heart goes out to the family and friend of Terry Tillman, I'm so sorry for your loss. As you encounter and hear from ignorant and hate-filled people trying to demoralize your spirits and denigrate the memory and legacy of Terry, remember there are so many others who are praying for you and grieving with you.
Systems, including the legal system, are created to protect the wealth, power, and self-interest of those who create them.
White slave owners created our legal and other systems still in use today. Eric Garner, Mike Brown and more were casualties of rigged systems.
Can you name a single system that does not fail black people in general? Education, banking, political, and just about every other system you can think of has extraordinary obstacles or traps targeted against us. We are de facto slaves because of our misguided trust in or lack of understanding about the systems that govern us.
Unless we are prepared to make monumental sacrifices nothing will change. Tomorrow we will learn about another unarmed black person killed by police, get upset and frustrated, possibly march or protest but nothing will change. We will also hear about another black person being gunned down not by the police but by another black person. The police chief and mayor will talk about plans to reduce crime, community leaders will offer prayers and vigils, "We must stop killed each other" signs may go up, but nothing will change because the systems that caused the problems in the first place will not change.
When we become successful, our success does not look like white success. For the most part, they own and we go to work for them. Two years ago, one in seven white families were millionaires and according to Credit Suisse, there are over 17 million millionaires in the U.S.
White people, for the most part, don't have entire systems designed to work against them, therefore as a group, they have better access to education, employment, housing, capital, and every other meaningful institution and system. Until we figure out a way to disrupt their systems the status quo will remain. What are you prepared to do? If the answer is nothing, nothing will change.
"Give me liberty or give me death"
Most Americans are familiar with the famous freedom quote articulated so eloquently by Patrick Henry, a man who owned 67 slaves at the time of his death. Many have never heard the full speech, a video reenactment is below.
As a slave owner, Patrick Henry knew he did not want to become a slave himself. He understood probably better than most that freedom isn't given, it must be taken.
Article by Caren Morrison, Associate Professor of Law, Georgia State University
The Justice Department won’t file federal charges against the New York City police officer who put Eric Garner into the chokehold that led to his death. With the statute of limitations having run out, the case, legally, is closed.
The decision, announced almost exactly five years after Garner was pronounced dead following a confrontation with police officers in Staten Island on July 17, 2014, has sparked renewed objections from his relatives, activists and politicians.
Every officer involved has remained on the force, and no criminal charges have been filed. Daniel Pantaleo, the officer caught on video with his arm around Garner’s neck, was assigned to desk duty, but has stayed on the department’s payroll and even received an increase in his overtime pay.
According to criminal justice professor Philip Stinson, local prosecutors are often reluctant to prosecute the officers they work with to investigate cases. Reporting by the Marshall Project suggests they may not want to anger the police unions they often count on for political support. And existing law gives the police the benefit of the doubt in most situations. Based on my research, it seems that this is just how the justice system works.
Obstacles to prosecution
The case’s basic details are not contested. Pantaleo, who is white, was among a group of officers who approached Eric Garner, who was black, during a routine arrest for selling untaxed, loose cigarettes.
The encounter, which a bystander shot using his phone and the city’s medical examiner ruled a homicide, soon turned contentious. It culminated with Pantaleo taking Garner down to the pavement with his arm wrapped around his neck. Pantaleo is seen shortly afterward on the video pressing down on Garner’s head as other officers crowded around him.
A few months after Garner’s death, the Staten Island district attorney announced that he had presented the case to the grand jury, but did not obtain an indictment.
But the fact is that it is extremely difficult to bring charges against on-duty cops for excessive force.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that in police use-of-force cases, allowance must be made “for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments – in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving – about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”
Because of the Constitution’s protection against double jeopardy, which prevents anyone from being charged twice for the same crime, people aren’t usually prosecuted more than once for a single incident. But because U.S. law considers the states and the federal government to be legally independent jurisdictions, the Justice Department can indict an officer who has previously been charged under state law, even if he was acquitted.
When excessive force prosecutions against police officers don’t result in a conviction at the state level, the local U.S. attorney’s office may indict the officers for violating a person’s civil rights. This happened most notably in 1991 in the case of Rodney King, the black motorist who was beaten by Los Angeles police officers, and recently after the South Carolina mistrial of police officer Michael Slager, for shooting Walter Scott, another unarmed black man, in the back.
But the type of proof needed to bring a federal civil rights case is much more demanding than for a state criminal case. While there are numerous state charges that might be brought against an officer who causes the death of a civilian, from murder to manslaughter to reckless endangerment to assault, there is only one route for a civil rights case.
In those cases, prosecutors must prove that officers used excessive force against a person, generally defined as force that was clearly unreasonable in the circumstances. In addition, they have to prove that the officer’s actions were “willful.”
And willfulness is “the highest standard of intent imposed by law,” as the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, Richard P. Donoghue, said in his public statement about Pantaleo. “An officer’s mistake, fear, misperception or even poor judgment does not constitute willful conduct under federal criminal civil rights law.”
Still, I’m not sure the outcome would have been different with someone else in the White House.
In fact, disagreements on whether the case could be successfully prosecuted in federal court also snarled proceedings during the Obama administration. And there was only ever a narrow path to prosecution.
When Donoghue gave a detailed explanation for his decision, he took an unusual step. Most of the time, when officers don’t get charged, the reasons are shrouded in secrecy. Instead, Donoghue gave a painstaking explanation of the ambiguities in the video, the conflicting medical expert reports, and the reasons he believed the high standard of intent could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
I once served in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, which Donoghue now runs. I hate the fact that many people will never feel that justice was done in Eric Garner’s tragic and avoidable death.
Yet I’m not sure that I could have reached a different conclusion myself.
How Eric Garner's Death Changed New York And The NYPD
The sad reality is, that unless your oppression negatively impacts your oppressor, they have no incentive to change. Even New York Police Commissioner, James P. O'Neill, whose comments begin at 2:26 in the timeline, acknowledges how the protest over no indictments being issued in Eric Garner's death, culminated in the death of two police officers, which was the moment the police department realized they needed to make a change.
Republished with permission under license from The Conversation. The editorial note preceding the article and the video and comments at the end were not part of the original.
Obama Sends Letter to Prisoner He Freed Who Turned Her Life Around
President Obama let Danielle Metz out of prison. Then she enrolled in college and made the dean's list. Obama heard about Metz's success and sent a letter telling her how proud he is of her for turning her life around and graduating college.
“I am so proud of you, and am confident that your example will have a positive impact for others who are looking for a second chance, Tell your children I say hello, and know that I’m rooting for all of you.”
Danielle Metz's full story about her journey from jail to college is below.
From prison to dean’s list: How Danielle Metz got an education after incarceration
by CASEY PARKS
NEW ORLEANS – The sun glowed gold, and a second line parade was tuning its horns just a few streets away. But Danielle Metz had missed half her life already, and she couldn’t spare the afternoon, even one as unseasonably warm as this mid-February Sunday.
She climbed the stairs to the shotgun house her mom had bought in uptown New Orleans more than half a century ago. Metz slipped through the screen door, then shut it tight enough to keep out the sun. Inside, she dug through a box next to her bed and pulled out the clothbound journal that a woman had given her in 1996, when they were both incarcerated in the Federal Correctional Institute in Dublin, California. Metz hadn’t kept much from the 23 years she spent in prison, but the journal had been too special to leave behind. She opened it and read the dedication as a reminder of what she hoped to accomplish now that she was out.
“To Danielle — There’s so many things we can’t get in here, but knowledge and education can’t be kept out by walls.”
Growing up, Metz had believed that college was for white kids and for “Huxtables” — black people she named after the upper-middle-class family in “The Cosby Show.” She knew, as she looked at the laptop screen, how improbable people might think earning a degree would be for her now. She’d dropped out of high school her junior year. At 26, a judge had sentenced Metz to three life sentences plus another 20 years for her role in her husband’s cocaine distribution. She’d thought she’d never see New Orleans again, let alone visit a university.
Even after President Barack Obama granted her clemency in 2016, Metz believed she couldn’t go to college. Nationwide, less than 4 percent of formerly incarcerated people have a bachelor’s degree, according to a report released last year. The chances seemed especially low in Metz’s home state. Louisiana had long held twin records, the world’s highest incarceration rate, and the country’s lowest rate of black college graduates. Put together, this meant tens of thousands of residents lacked a viable pathway to middle-class security.
But lawmakers had come to believe that a change was imperative for the state’s future. In 2017, Louisiana became the first state in the nation to “ban the box” on public college and university applications, prohibiting school officials from asking whether an applicant has a criminal record. Metz knew that people across the country were working to help people like her go to college after prison. Though Illinois and New York failed to pass “ban the box” measures for university applications, several other states are trying to follow Louisiana’s lead. And federal lawmakers from both parties are pushing to allow incarcerated people to access Pell Grants, financial aid that they’ve been barred from using since Metz first went to prison.
Metz was grateful for the legal shifts, but political momentum alone would not carry her through school. As the parade began its march through Uptown, she scrolled through the university’s website and hovered over the tab marked “current students.” She had no idea how long it would take or how much it might cost, but Metz didn’t care. She was going to college.
Metz grew up the youngest of nine children in a city barreling toward chaos. As a kid, she considered herself lucky. Both of her parents worked — her father as a cement finisher, her mother in a bakery — and together they earned enough to buy a home three miles away from the St. Thomas Projects, a public housing development where many other black families lived. St. Thomas was so poor and violent when Metz was young that Sister Helen Prejean described the neighborhood in the opening of her book “Dead Man Walking” as “not death row exactly, but close."
Even as a little girl, Metz knew people who’d gone to jail, but her neighborhood was quiet, and her parents were dreamers. For years, her father urged her to become a nurse. Metz knew the job required a college degree, but she didn’t know anyone who’d earned one. In 1980, the year Metz enrolled at Walter L. Cohen High School, more than half the city’s black adults didn’t have even a high school diploma, let alone a university credential.
Instead, Metz longed to become a hairstylist. She’d practiced since she was a little girl on her mom, whose locks grew in so straight that people speculated she must have white ancestors. But even that goal felt unreachable after Metz became pregnant in 1985, her junior year of high school. She dropped out and assumed she wouldn’t have a career. She’d be a mother instead.
Six months after Metz gave birth to her son, Carl, his father was murdered.
Metz became a single mother just as the state’s economy was collapsing. Louisiana had long been dependent on oil — profits from the natural resource accounted for nearly half of the state’s budget then. But the price per barrel began falling in 1981, and by the mid-1980s, one in eight Louisiana workers was unemployed, the highest rate in the nation. New Orleans lost nearly 10,000 jobs, leaving few openings for a teenage mother with no credentials or documentable skills.
Metz didn’t take time to grieve. Most black people in New Orleans knew someone who’d been killed, she said. Instead, she started looking for someone to help raise her child.
Glenn Metz had money. He’d grown up poor in the Calliope housing projects, one of the most violent neighborhoods in New Orleans, but he owned two tow-truck companies by the time Metz met him. At age 30, he possessed the kind of quiet maturity that Metz, then 18, thought would make him a good substitute father for Carl. Glenn Metz wore such nice clothes and jewelry the night Metz met him that she suspected he at least dabbled in drug-dealing, but she told herself his business had nothing to do with her.
According to federal prosecutors, Glenn Metz formed a drug ring just before he met the girl who would become his wife. Between 1985 and 1992, Glenn Metz and his crew came to dominate St. Thomas and Calliope, prosecutors said, distributing more than 1,000 kilos of cocaine and killing 23 rivals. Glenn Metz sat atop an organization manned by more than half a dozen enforcers, two of whom, prosecutors said, drove through town in an armor-plated pickup with the word “homicide” spelled out on the hood in gold letters.
Metz spent most of those years at home. “The Cosby Show” debuted the year she should have graduated high school, and she watched it and its college-based spin-off “A Different World” every week, dreaming of the life she wished she had. She took a few beauty school classes and occasionally cut hair in someone’s home, but Glenn Metz didn’t like when she left the house, she said. They married in 1989, and Metz soon gave birth to their daughter, Gleneisha. Metz didn’t have a social security number or any way to make money on her own. When Glenn Metz told her to ride with her aunt to deliver a few packages to Houston, Metz said, she did it.
Crack cocaine was spreading through black neighborhoods across the country then, and lawmakers blamed the drug for an increase in inner-city violence. New Orleans was especially hard hit. In 1990, the city topped 300 murders for the first time. Nearly every edition of The Times-Picayune that year carried news of cocaine busts. Police arrested scores of black men, including Metz’s older brother, Perry Bernard, for possession. As the city’s murder rate rose to the nation’s highest, investigators worked to take down Glenn Metz. His was the biggest and most violent drug ring in the city, prosecutors said. They indicted him and eight others, including Metz, in the summer of 1992.
Metz, who’d been temporarily living in Las Vegas with her husband before the indictment, fled to Jackson, Mississippi. She rented an apartment near Jackson State University and planned to enroll after the investigation concluded. When police arrested her there in January 1993, Metz figured she’d just get probation. Most people she knew went to jail “seasonally.” Her older brother had drifted in and out before a 1989 arrest netted him 13 years in a state prison.
After crack cocaine became popular, Congress adopted the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, establishing for the first time mandatory minimum sentences triggered by specific quantities of cocaine. The penalties were worse for defendants charged with possession or distribution of crack cocaine, favored by African-Americans, than for those accused of possessing or distributing the powder cocaine primarily used by white people.
But Metz, 25 then, had never had so much as a traffic ticket. She believed her involvement in her husband’s narcotics sales was minimal enough that prosecutors would let her go with a warning. Police did not find any drugs with her, and she was never implicated in any violence.
Instead, federal authorities charged Metz and her co-defendants under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Lawmakers created RICO in the 1970s under President Richard Nixon as a tool to combat the Mafia, but prosecutors increasingly used it in the 1980s to fight drug rings. The charges under RICO carried automatic sentences of life in prison without parole.
The U.S. attorneys who prosecuted her case presented witnesses who were major narcotics suppliers or small-time drug dealers. They testified that Metz had driven packages to Houston for her husband and, on occasion, accepted cash payments and wired money to suppliers. The jury decided she was guilty.
Four months later, in mid-December, U.S. District Judge A.J. McNamara sentenced Metz to three life sentences plus another 20 years in federal prison.
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.
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.
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.