Category Archives: Police

Why police reforms rarely succeed: Lessons from Latin America

During a speech to law enforcement on July 28, 2017, Trump encourages police brutality against suspects and many of the officers in attendance clapped and cheered. 

President Donald Trump’s appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions has led people to speculate about the fate of recent police reform efforts. Early into his tenure, Sessions said he intended to “pull back on” the Justice Department’s investigations of police department abuses, saying they diminish effectiveness.

Americans have mobilized extensively in the past three years against police brutality, militarization and corruption through the Black Lives Matter and related movements. Government officials at the federal level have responded to these demands by creating specialized task forces to recommend best practices, and investigating troubled police departments and enforcing reforms. Courts have also worked to roll back unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policies, while city governments have created independent oversight agencies and enacted robust community policing programs.

But will it stick?

My research on police reform in Latin America shows that such reforms are highly vulnerable to political reversals. These cases reveal how they can be quickly rolled back before they can take hold and demonstrate results.

Understanding the politics of police reform in Latin America may be informative for those who hope for changes in policing in the U.S.

Police reform and politics

Leaders in Colombia and Buenos Aires Province, Argentina, overhauled their police institutions in 1993 and 1998, respectively. These reforms were a response to rising crime rates, as well as pervasive police violence, corruption and ineffectiveness in fighting crime.

Comprehensive police reform laws were crafted through broad political consensus. Lawmakers in the Colombian congress and the Buenos Aires provincial legislature enacted sweeping legislation to demilitarize, decentralize and professionalize Colombia’s National Police and the Police of Buenos Aires Province. The reforms also improved recruitment standards and training, strengthened oversight agencies and created formal spaces for community participation.

Former Colombian President Ernesto Samper during a nationally televised speech in 1995. Reuters/Jose Gomez

Only one year after reforms were passed, however, Ernesto Samper was elected president of Colombia. He vowed to undermine his predecessor’s dramatic overhaul of the National Police, saying his government would “let the police regulate itself.”

Similarly in Buenos Aires Province, Carlos Ruckauf was elected governor in 1999. He left his predecessor’s police reform legislation intact. However, he made his preferred approach to crime-fighting clear: “we have to hit the criminals with bullets.”

Both politicians used citizens’ concerns over rising crime to lead calls for greater police autonomy, in order to be “tougher” on crime. Under their administrations, hard-fought police reform gave way to periods of “counter-reform.” These were characterized by increased police autonomy, weakened accountability, militarization, unchecked corruption and extrajudicial killings.

Other research on policing in Latin America has provided compelling evidence of the impact of such political rhetoric. When politicians promoting “tougher” police strategies are elected, police killings and repression of citizens increase.

These examples reveal how the long-term aims of police reforms can be difficult to reconcile with the short-term goals of politicians.

Police support for reform

My research also demonstrates that police forces that are resistant to reforms have considerable power to undermine them. In Buenos Aires Province, police officials succeeded in dismantling a system of neighborhood security forums that allowed citizens to conduct oversight of police. Police officials felt the forums gave citizens too much control over police affairs. As a result, they lobbied the governor and security minister to reduce the funding and staff needed to implement them.

By contrast, a similar participatory system in São Paulo, Brazil, has endured for three decades. There, police are incorporated into the governance structure of the community councils, allowing for a more collaborative relationship. As a result, many police officers have come to see forum members as their advocates. Although citizens in São Paulo do not have oversight authority, the police’s cooperation has contributed to the persistence of these participatory spaces.

Thus, reformers must identify and bolster police officials with a stake in sustaining reforms. Without support from insiders, reform is unlikely to last.

Sustaining momentum

Police reform is also made vulnerable by the fact that, after reform passes, its proponents demobilize. In Buenos Aires and Colombia, human rights and activist organizations remained active when politicians began to reverse reforms. But the broadly shared societal outrage that led to reform in the first place dissipated. With it went the momentum needed to sustain reform in the long term.

Research from both the U.S. and Latin America has shown that campaigning for “tough on crime” policies, or “penal populism,” is a highly successful strategy for winning elections. As scholars have shown, such policies can generate broad support among a diverse set of voters. So-called “pro-order” coalitions, the collection of civil society organizations, media outlets and politicians that advocate for “law and order” policies, have similarly demonstrated great capacity to mobilize resources and public support.

Failing to sustain reform coalitions means there is little counterweight to these pressures.

‘Counter-reform’ in the US?

Is the U.S. entering a period of “counter-reform” similar to that observed in Colombia and Argentina?

Opponents of reform, including Sessions, warn of “a longer-term trend of violent crime going up.” They have also floated theories such as the “Ferguson effect,” the idea that growing scrutiny of police activity has made police more timid. Such arguments may scare voters into believing that police reform may make police less effective in fighting crime.

Meanwhile, President Trump has engaged in rhetoric similar to his Colombian and Argentine counterparts. As a candidate, he called on police to be “very much tougher” in fighting crime. As president, he has said his will be “a law-and-order administration” that will “empower” police.

It is too early to tell whether these police reform efforts will backslide. While the U.S. context differs in some ways from Latin America, these examples demonstrate that police reform is a continuous and contentious process that is difficult to achieve and highly prone to reversal.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation

‘No Regard for Human Rights’: Sessions Slammed for Order on Police Conduct

by Nadia Prupis

Order is "a clear indication that [Sessions’] Department of Justice is moving toward abandoning its obligations to uphold federal civil rights laws through consent decrees"

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday ordered a sweeping review of police accountability agreements, prompting a wave of criticism from civil and human rights groups.

Sessions' order means that the Department of Justice (DOJ) may stop using consent decrees that aimed to address police brutality and other institutional problems, or refrain from fully implementing the ones that exist. The attorney general previously opposed the agreements, which are considered a legacy of the Obama administration.

The move is "a clear indication that [Sessions’] Department of Justice is moving toward abandoning its obligations to uphold federal civil rights laws through consent decrees," said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

"Consent decrees are a crucial tool in the Justice Department's enforcement of civil rights in a variety of areas, including addressing police misconduct. They are only issued after careful study, review, and approval by a federal judge, often after a determination that law enforcement acted in an unconstitutional manner," Henderson said. "These latest developments are particularly ironic given that in the same memo outlining a review of these vital consent decrees, Attorney General Sessions also noted that 'local law enforcement must protect and respect the civil rights of all members of the public.'"

In a memorandum dated March 31 and made public Monday, Sessions directed his staff to review whether police departments are adhering to principles put forth by the Trump administration, including one that states "the individual misdeeds of bad actors should not impugn" police officers from "keeping American communities safe."

Many saw the order as a signal that the rightwing White House would disregard recent gains in improving relations between law enforcement and communities of color, an issue that gained public traction since the 2014 Ferguson, Missouri protests.

The Obama administration ordered a comprehensive review of numerous police departments throughout the U.S., which uncovered an unsurprising epidemic of institutional racism and police brutality against people of color.

"Yesterday, the Department of Justice proved what we have known all along: Attorney General Jeff Sessions has no regard for civil and human rights," Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said Tuesday. "The decision to target police reforms that have been negotiated with police departments with a documented history of civil rights violations is reprehensible. Let me be clear, this review marks the first step in the Trump administration's misguided 'law and order' agenda that will blunt the progress we made on police reform under President [Barack] Obama's leadership."

"We simply cannot afford to turn back the clock on reforms that prevent innocent black women and men from being gunned down in the streets," Lee said. "The time to resist is now. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I will fight to block funding for any effort to thwart the urgent need for police reform."

The New York Times reported:

As part of its shift in emphasis, the Justice Department went to court on Monday to seek a 90-day delay in a consent decree to overhaul Baltimore's embattled police department. That request came just days before a hearing, scheduled for Thursday in the United States District Court in Baltimore, to solicit public comment on the agreement, which was reached in principle by the city and the Justice Department in the waning days of the Obama administration.

Ray Kelly, the president of the Baltimore-based No Boundaries Coalition, a citizen advocacy group, told the Times, "This has all been negotiated by the affected parties. Now we have an outside entity telling us what's best for our citizens and our community when he has no experience, no knowledge."

Baltimore was one of several cities, including FergusonCleveland, Ohio; and Seattle, Washington that were part of the Obama administration's efforts to reform relations, after DOJ investigations found systemic issues. The Baltimore consent decree was reached after protests over the police killing of Freddie Gray revealed systemic racial profiling and other discriminatory tactics.

Likewise, David Rocah, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland, said, "Why is everyone in Baltimore ready to move forward with police reform except Donald Trump's Department of Justice? The Trump administration's move to put off a long-planned public hearing, where the court was going to hear directly from Baltimore residents about their views of the Baltimore Police Department, and the necessity of a consent decree as part of the reform process, is a slap in the face to the people of Baltimore."

"And it is a clear sign that the Trump administration is seeking to undo, and walk away from, the consent decree that is a critical part of reforming Baltimore's police department," Rocah said.

Henderson continued, "The underlying issues that consent decrees address have not disappeared. The attorney general would do well to remember that he must serve the public, and continue to use every tool at his disposal to support police practices that preserve life and protect all."


Republished with permission under license from CommonDreams

Orangeburg Massacre of African American College Students by Police

The Orangeburg massacre refers to the shooting and killing of peaceful unarmed black student protesters by white Highway Patrol officers in Orangeburg, SC, on the South Carolina State University campus on the evening of February 8, 1968.

Approximately 200 protesters peacefully demonstrated against racial segregation at a local bowling alley, All Star Bowling lane, without incident on February 6, 1968. The following night many of the students returned to resume the protest but  fifteen of them were arrested.

The third night, February 8th, the students gathered on the South Carolina State University campus instead of at the bowling alley. The students built a bonfire which a law enforcement officer attempted to put out. The officer was injured by a piece of a banister thrown from the crowd. The officers then opened fire into the crowd of students. 

Orangeburg three

Three of those peacefully assembled, Samuel Hammond, Henry Smith, both SC State students and Delano Middleton, a 17-year-old high school student, were killed and twenty-seven other protesters were injured. 

Middleton was not involved in the protests. His mother worked as a maid on campus, and he often stopped there on his way home from basketball practice. In all, he was shot seven times, once in the heart. Henry "Smitty" Smith, an ROTC student and native of Marion, was shot three times, including in his neck. "Sam" or "Sammy" Hammond was a freshman from Barnwell who was studying to be a teacher. He was shot in the back and died on the floor of Orangeburg's segregated hospital. Also killed was the unborn child of Louise Kelly Cawley, age 27, one of the young women beaten during the protest at All Star Bowling. Cawley suffered a miscarriage the following week.

“They committed murder. Murder…that’s a harsh thing to say, but they did it,” …“The police lost their self control. They just started shooting. It was a slaughter. Double ought buckshot is what you use for deer. It’s meant to kill. One guy emptied his service revolver. That takes a lot of shooting. The (students) are running away. Pow, pow, pow, pow, pow, pow!  My God, there’s a murderous intent there. We are lucky more weren’t killed.” –  Ramsey Clark, U.S. Attorney General in 1968.

This tradedy was the first of its king on any American college campus. The massacre pre-dated the 1970 Kent State shootings and Jackson State killings, in which the National Guard at Kent State, and police and state highway patrol at Jackson State, killed student protesters demonstrating against the United States invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

Background

There were several incidents centering on the segregation of the local bowling alley, All Star Bowling Lane, that led up to the Orangeburg Massacre on February 8, 1968. In the fall of 1967, some of the black leaders within the community tried to convince Harry K. Floyd, the owner of the bowling alley, to allow African Americans.

Harry K. Floyd claimed that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not apply to his establishment because it was private. However, because the alley operated a lunch counter, it fell under the jurisdiction of laws regulating interstate commerce and thus federal desegregation. Floyd was unwilling to desegregate; as a result protests began in early February 1968.

On February 5, 1968, a group of around forty students from South Carolina State University entered the bowling alley and left peacefully after they were asked to leave by Floyd. The next night more students led by John Stroman returned and entered the bowling alley. This time there were police waiting for them and several students were arrested, including Stroman. After the arrests, more students began showing up, angry that protesters were being arrested. Next the crowd broke a window of the bowling alley and chaos ensued. Police began beating student protesters (both men and women) with billy clubs. That night, eight students were sent to the hospital. 

Over the next couple of days, the tension in Orangeburg escalated. Student protesters submitted a list of demands that consisted of integration and the elimination of discrimination within the community.

The Governor of South Carolina at the time, Robert E. McNair, responded by calling in the National Guard after commenting that black power advocates were running amok in the community.

Over the next two days, about 200 mostly student protesters gathered on the campus of South Carolina State University, a historically black college in Orangeburg, to demonstrate against the continued segregation at the bowling alley.

SC National Guard Troops arrive in Orangeburg on the night of February 8, 1968

By the late evening of February 8th, army tanks and over 100 heavily armed law enforcement officers had cordoned off the campus; 450 more had been stationed downtown.

Conflict

On the night of February 8, 1968, students started a bonfire on the front of SC State's campus. As police and firefighters attempted to put out the fire, officer David Shealy was injured by a thrown object. Shortly thereafter (around 10:30 p.m.) South Carolina Highway Patrol Officers began firing into the crowd of around 200 protesters. Eight Patrol Officers fired carbines, shotguns, and revolvers at the protesters, which lasted around 10 to 15 seconds.

Twenty-seven people were injured in the shooting; most of whom were shot in the back as they were running away, and three African American men were killed. The three men killed were Samuel Hammond, Henry Smith (both SCSU students), and Delano Middleton, a student at the local Wilkinson High School. Middleton was shot while simply sitting on the steps of the freshman dormitory awaiting the end of his mother's work shift.

The police later said that they believed they were under attack by small arms fire.

A newspaper reported, "About 200 Negros  gathered and began sniping with what sounded like 'at least one automatic, a shotgun and other small caliber weapons' and throwing bricks and bottles at the patrolmen." Similarly, a North Carolina newspaper reported that week that students threw firebombs at buildings and that the sound of apparent sniper fire was heard.

Protesters insisted that they did not fire at police officers, but threw objects and insulted the men. An AP photographer on the scene, subsequently revealed that he heard no gunfire from the campus.

Aftermath

At a press conference the following day, Governor Robert E. McNair said the event was "…one of the saddest days in the history of South Carolina". McNair blamed the deaths on outside Black Power agitators and said the incident took place off campus, contrary to the evidence.

Demonstrators protest the shootings.

The federal government brought charges against the state patrolmen in the first federal trial of police officers for using excessive force at a campus protest. The state patrol officers' defense was that they felt they were in danger and protesters had shot at the officers first. All nine defendants were acquitted although thirty-six witnesses stated that they did not hear gunfire coming from the protesters on the campus before the shooting and no students were found to be carrying guns.

In a state trial in 1970, the activist Cleveland Sellers, who had been shot during the attack, was convicted of a charge of riot related to the events on February 6 at the bowling alley. He served seven months in state prison, getting time off for good behavior. He was the national program director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1973 he wrote The River of No Return: The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC.

Sellers earned his master's degree from Harvard and his doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. For eight years, he served as the president of Voorhees College, located in his hometown of Denmark, before stepping down in 2016 due to failing health.

Cleveland Sellers stands beside the historic marker on the S.C. State University campus at the 2000 Orangeburg memorial.

In 1993, twenty-five years after the massacre, Sellers was officially pardoned by the governor of South Carolina after evidence proved he was innocent.


Part of the Court.rchp.com 2017 Black History Month Series

Don’t allow Dallas to become an excuse to stop fighting for our rights

Twelve police officers were shot, five are dead and two civilians were also injured in an ambush during a peaceful protest of recent lynchings by police. Our condolences go out to all the victims and their families.

Hundreds of people of all races were marching down Lamar St. between Commerce and Main, mere blocks from Dealey Plaza where President Kennedy was assassinated, when gunfire erupted around 9 p.m. last night from the top floor of a parking garage.

The ambush was a cowardly act and the wrong type of response to recent lynchings by police of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile

One suspect was killed and police have several suspects in custody. Dallas Police Chief, David Brown, said the following about the dead suspect; “he was upset about Black Lives Matter, he said he was upset about the recent police shootings. The suspect said he was upset at white people. The suspect stated he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers. The suspect stated he was not affiliated with any groups, and he stated that he did it alone.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown was absolutely correct, police do need and should expect our support, however, support should not only run in one direction. When police officers murder innocent people or even suspects, other officers need to stop protecting them. When good police remain silent about the deeds of bad cops or when those deeds are covered up, they increase the likelihood that this type of response will eventually take place by someone mentally ill and angry. 

Innocent man originally identified as a suspect

Mark Hughes, the brother of the Dallas protest organizer, was exercising his second amendment right to open carry, similar to Oath Keepers during the Ferguson Protests. Hughes was named in the media as a suspect because he was seen earlier with an AR15 rifle strapped over his shoulder. The police do not want us to jump to conclusions because of videos, but they jumped to conclusions and placed a man's life in jeopardy, simply for exercising his constitutional right to bear arms.

I don't believe assault weapons should be authorized for civilians, but the open carry law should apply equally to everyone. Original gun restrictions and the first modern gun laws were intended to keep guns out of the hands of black people. See video on our "Armed and Black" post.

Mark Hughes speaks to the media after the Dallas Police Department erroneously announced him as a suspect involved in the fatal shooting of several officers during a protest on Thursday.

Double standards must stop

The video above demonstrates the type of double standard that must change in this country. During the Ferguson Protests, none of the multiple white guys carrying assault rifles who called themselves the Oath Keepers were ever named as suspects when shootings occurred during those protests.

A person identified as Changa, an organizer with the Dallas Action Coalition told a reporter from The Daily Beast; “If you don’t give the people justice after a certain amount of time they get hopeless and seek other means of justice.” In his 20 years of activism, Changa said, he could not get any response from the local Dallas community. “So it’s sad, but it’s ironic.”

Changa's expression is similar to those expressed by Frederick Douglass 130 years ago; “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe” 

The shooting in Dallas is the result of a disease that if left untreated will most likely be repeated. The symptoms of racism, poverty, oppression, and injustice when combined results in anger, hopelessness, mental illness and retaliation. We have seen these symptoms take the lives of black men and women in urban areas all across America for years. Some young black men, especially those who believe they have nothing to lose, are starting to focus their anger on targets other than themselves.

Trevor Noah from the Daily Show give a great critique of the double standard in this country during a discussion about the fatal shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

Role Reversal

Prior to the shooting in Dallas, the following headline appeared on the St. Louis Post Dispatch's website; "Police experts urge restraint in reaching conclusions about latest shooting controversies". The videos of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile speak volumes. I don't need an investigation or analysis to explain what is clear to anyone looking at those videos.

The video footage of the Dallas shooting is equally clear, however, I don't expect anyone would dare suggest that we should use restraint before reaching to conclusions. Five police officers were murder, end of conclusion! Two black men were lynched by police, end of conclusion!

If video exists of a suspect shooting one of those officers, no one would suggest sending that suspect home with pay until an investigation is finished a year later. No, I expect that suspect to be immediately arrested if possible. It would be an insult to those officers who gave their lives in the line of duty to suggest anything less. However, when a police officer clearly committed murder on video and is sent to the comfort of his home and taxpayers are forced to continue providing the murderer with a paycheck, that is an insult as well. The ultimate insult occurs when no charges are brought against the officer. 

The killing of those five police officers was senseless and tragic. The killings of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Eric Harris, Mansur Ball-Bey, Laquan McDonald, Samuel Dubose and many others were also senseless and tragic. 

While we pray for the families of the twelve officers injured and killed, let's not forget the twelve victims name above and all the others who were killed by police "for no apparent reason". That's why these protests all over the country are taking place because police for all intents and purposes are above the law. There is no equal treatment under the law as long as police officers can abuse, humiliate and murder innocent people with impunity and suffer no consequences. 

Black police officers

A black female Cleveland Police officer, Nakia Jones, recently acknowledge that fact in a stirring and moving video she made in response to the Alton Sterling lynching.

Officer Jones isn't the only Black police officer complaining about racism in the ranks. Below is a video of three Black St. Louis Police Officers discussing their negative experiences with white officers.

Ironically, just yesterday, the St. Louis Black Police Union called for the resignation of Sam Dotson, the current police chief, because of racism, discrimination, cronyism and even crime within the department.

The media's attention will certainly be focused on Dallas and rightfully so. The police chief, mayors, governors and other public officials and leaders will argue it's time to stop protesting and fully support the police. That would be a false narrative.

I am pro-police, but I am anti-brutality. I don't want to live in an area where I can't call and rely on help from the police. But that's the whole point! I shouldn't fear encounters with police, especially during times when I need them the most; but that is the reality. To stop protesting obvious injustice with certain police encounters would be a monumental mistake and would only embolden and invite continued brutality and murders by rogue officers. 

Potential dangers of rogue police

When police lose respect for the people in a community or when a community fears its police force, there's a sort of unspoken invitation for corruption. Police are public servants and as Officer Jones so eloquently stated, they take a vow to protect and serve. 

Years ago, I heard rumors that the white police chief, who has long since retired, was the head of a local drug cartel. I originally dismissed those claims as an urban legend, and I am not now saying those rumors are true, but over time I seriously began to wonder if they were true. A close family friend called to report what she suspected was drug activity on her block. There was no action taken against the suspected drug house, but housing inspectors showed up to her house the next day resulting in citations costing thousands of dollars and had to mortgage her home to make the repairs.

A relative, who had gone to jail on drug charges and has since passed away, upon mention of calling the police, stated how the then police chief controls drug activity in St. Louis. He said police officers harass, arrest, shakedown and even kill drug dealers competing with drug dealers who are a part of the police network. I know of people making anonymous calls to police to report drug activity who were later retaliate against by the same drug dealers. After hearing about these sort of incidents and others over the years it became increasing difficult to not consider the possibility that the rumors might be true.

Regardless, it's time to take back control of our communities, public officials and require them to serve us properly or get out of the way so we can find others who will. One of the major issues with St. Louis City Police Officers is that they are not required to live in the city in which they serve. That doesn't make any sense to me. Every other city employee is required to live in the City of St. Louis within 120 days of employment. Most city employees are required to maintain residency to keep their jobs, but police officers are allowed to move after seven years, as we stated, police are above the law.

As Jessie Williams recently stated, "The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job, all right, stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down."