Category Archives: Police

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” Windbigler said.

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

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

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

“Yes, sir,” Windbigler said.

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

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

History of Misconduct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Murdered in his home while being black!

Thursday night, September 6th, while some people were contemplating burning their Nike gear because of an ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, a 26 year-old unarmed immigrant, Botham Shem Jean, was shot and killed while being black in his own home by a 30 year-old white female off duty Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger, after supposedly entering an apartment she mistakenly thought was her own.

The same night Jean was killed, Nike aired its first 30th anniversary "Just Do It" ad, narrated by Colin Kaepernick, during the NFL season opener between the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles. 

Colin Kaepernick began his slient and peaceful protest, first by sitting and then by taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. Kaepernick has clearly stated a number of times that his protest has nothing to do with disrespecting the flag or military, but is simply a stand against the killing of unarmed black men at the hands of mostly white police officers. Jean's killing is the most recent example of what Kaepernick's protest is about. 

Guyger told police she thought she was entering her own apartment not realizing she was on the wrong floor; she thought her home was being burglarized and opened fire, shot him twice in the chest, and killed him. Guyger, off-duty but still in uniform, was returning home from either a 12 or 15-hour shift Thursday night; she said she mistook  Jean's apartment for her own, which was a floor below in the same complex. Weird, given he had a red welcome mat at the door (she didn't) and presumably different stuff in his place, but okay.

Jean was a devout Christian and talented singer and worked as a risk assurance associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers. He earned a bachelor's degree at Harding University in Arkansas, where he had been a beloved worship leader. Jean described himself on LinkedIn as a "young professional, engaged in developing a career built upon integrity, dedication and relationships, leveraging useful technologies to gain an understanding of and add value in a range (of) industries, striving towards leadership in my career, my community and society." A college friend described him as "wildly popular, hugely successful, and an incredible leader…he was a gentleman and a scholar." 

In an affidavit released Monday, Guyger made several shady new claims. She said Jean's door was open; she didn't know it was the wrong apartment until after she shot him; she saw "a large silhouette" – cue myth of the big black dude – as she entered; and Jean "ignored" her "verbal commands" – in, lest we forget, his own apartment. At least two witnesses refute her; they say they heard a woman knocking on the closed door and saying "Let me in,” and Jean was too “meticulous” to ever leave his door ajar. Also Guyger, it turns out, has been here before: In May 2017, Guyger was called to assist another officer searching for a suspect. An affidavit indicates a man identified as Uvaldo Perez got out of a car and became combative with Guyger and another officer. A struggle began and Guyger fired her Taser at Perez, who wrested the weapon away from her. Guyger then drew her gun and shot Perez in the abdomen, the affidavit says. Guyger was not charged in the case.

Dallas police requested an arrest warrant Friday for Guyger after Jean’s death was ruled a homicide; it wasn't issued until Sunday, reportedly because the Texas Rangers took over the case and were still investigating. Guyger, a four-year veteran of the department, was charged with manslaughter, booked into Kaufman County jail that evening and was freed an hour later after posting $300,000 bond, according to jail records. Given the contradictions in Guyger's story, officials say she could face stiffer charges once her case goes to a grand jury.

Allison Jean flew to Dallas from the family’s native St. Lucia after the shooting. Her son will be buried on the Caribbean island Thursday.  “She took my life away, like my very own life,” said Jean's mother, Allison. “She has to face whatever the law says. The very Bible says to render to Caesar that which is Caesar so if Caesar says to pay a penalty for a life, then she has to pay.”

Brandt Jean, brother of Botham Jean, is comforted by his sister, Allisa Charles-Findley, as their mother, Allison, looks on during a news conference.

For now, his family is left to grieve and seek answers. They gathered this weekend for a vigil at Jean's Dallas church, where the congregation honored him with one of his favorite hymns, "My God is Real," and a friend compared him to holy men of the Bible who gave friends spiritual guidance and "evangelized every day." His loss, he said, is "a disservice to humanity." It's also why Kaepernick and so many others continue to speak out in righteous rage, said family attorney Benjamin Crump, who said Jean's death should "astonish most sensible Americans…Black people have been killed by police in some of the most arbitrary ways in America. Blacks have been killed for ‘driving while black’ in their automobiles, ‘walking while black’ in their neighborhoods and now ‘living while black’ in their own apartment."

Critics online echoed him. The harsh clear lesson, said one: "Suit. Tie. Christian. Respectable. At home. Black. Dead." Jean's mother Allison Jean, a former government official of St. Lucia, likewise cited the clear racism behind her son's murder in an interview, calmly arguing a white man would not have met the same grim fate. “Botham loved God. Botham loved you. Botham loved mankind," she said. "God loves us all the same, and this has to stop."

As I heard about this young man's life, I couldn't help but be reminded about my oldest son. My son, who will be 25 tomorrow has been actively involve in church since his youth. Like Jean, he sings in the choir, and  is currently a minister and founder of an organization dedicated to help others. This could have just as easily been either of my two sons. My thoughts and prays go out to the Jean family. Hopefully Jean's tragic death will open the eyes of those burning their Nike gear and help them realize that police killing unarmed people is a real problem that needs to first be acknowledged and then solved. 

White Cop found Guilty of Murder for Killing Black Teen

A Texas jury found a white former police officer who shot and killed Jordan Edwards, an unarmed black teenager last year guilty of murder. 

Roy Oliver fired three rifle rounds into a car full of teenagers, which included Edward's sixteen year old brother who was driving and another brother, as they were leaving a party in the Dallas suburb of Balch Springs in April 2017. Fifteen-year-old Jordan Edwards, who was unarmed and sitting in the passenger seat, was struck and killed. Edwards was a first-year student at Mesquite High School where he played football. 

The Texas high school football team that Jordan Edwards had been a part of prior to his untimely death

Edwards' brother was held in police custody overnight for the purpose of questioning him as a witness. Police originally claimed there was alcohol present, during the trial, the jury learned there was no alcohol present at the party, despite what police had initially said. 

"It's been a hard year … I'm just really happy," Edwards's father, Odell, told reporters at the court after the verdict on Tuesday. 

Jordan Edwards with his father, Odell, in a family photo.

At the time of the shooting, Oliver claimed the vehicle was trying to run over his partner, but several witness accounts and body-cam footage showed the car was moving away from the officer. A vigil was held at Edwards's school on the evening of May 1, 2017. A lawyer for Edwards' family demanded the arrest of Oliver.

Oliver was placed on administrative leave following the shooting and fired from the Balch Springs police force on May 2, 2017 after police admitted the video of the shooting contradicted Oliver's initial statement. 

Police originally stated there was an "unknown altercation with a vehicle backing down the street towards the officers in an aggressive manner". After reviewing body cam footage, Police Chief Jonathan Haber later admitted that the vehicle was not moving toward the officers, but rather away from them.

Local reporters, who were present in the courtroom on Tuesday as the verdict was read, reported that there were hugs, claps and cheers from the family of Edwards. 

Oliver faces between five and 99 years in prison for the murder. His sentencing hearing began immediately after the trial. The former police officer was acquitted of manslaughter and aggravated assault. 

Daryl Washington, Edwards's lawyer, said the verdict is not just about justice for the young teenager's family but for the families of all unarmed black people killed by police. 

"This case is not just about Jordan," Washington told reporters, adding that "it's about Tamir Rice, it's about Walter Scott, it's about Alton Sterling, it's about every unarmed African American who has been killed and who has not got justice". 

According to the Washington Post Fatal Force database, more than 980 people were killed by police in 2017. 

The Guardian identified more than 1,090 police killings the previous year.

Nearly a quarter of those killed by police in 2016 were African Americans, although the group accounted for roughly 12 percent of the total US population.

According to watchdog group The Sentencing Project, African American men are six times more likely to be arrested than white men.

These disparities, particularly the killing of African Americans by police, has prompted the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, a popular civil rights movement aimed at ending police violence and dismantling structural racism.


For additional information and details, see: "Flashback: Jordan Edwards' stepbrother recounts harrowing night, hearing cop's fatal shots," from the Dallas Moring News which includes links to 38 other articles related to Jordan Edwards.

When some police feel misunderstood, it can impact their performance

Shefali V. Patil, University of Texas at Austin

Amid a string of fatal police shootings of unarmed black citizens, the Pew Research Center ran a massive study in 2017 of 8,000 U.S. police officers asking them about their experiences.

It revealed something startling: 86 percent of officers believe the public does not understand the risks and challenges of their jobs, even though 83 percent of U.S. adults rated officers’ jobs as very risky.

A police officer once told me in an interview: “I think police officers are misunderstood, what we do, why we do things. All the public sees are 30-second cell phone camera videos from a biased individual.”

Another said, “There’s this automatic generalization of an officer being there just because of the color of their skin or the uniform they’re wearing.”

These officers, who I won’t name to protect their confidentiality, are not alone.

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Antwon Rose Jr. was fatally shot by a police officer in East Pittsburgh. AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Dealing with people who do not understand your work and have unrealistic expectations can be frustrating. For example, a previous study found that serving difficult people can cause stress, burnout and lower performance among lawyers, accountants, architects and registered nurses.

As an organizational psychologist, I set out to study if police who feel misunderstood also perform worse on the job.

After all, there are many ways in which officers feel misunderstood. Some feel that the public doesn’t understand how difficult it is to make quick decisions when lives are on the line, deal with social ills like drug addiction and poverty, and witness tragedy and loss on a daily basis. With so much at stake, they only have to get it wrong once – something officers think the public does not fully appreciate.

The studies

To answer this question, I conducted two studies across six U.S. police agencies. First, I asked patrol officers to rate the public’s understanding of the difficulties of their jobs and the dilemmas they confront on a daily basis.

I also asked officers about their beliefs about how society should deal with crime. Some officers supported softer policies that emphasize rehabilitation and community outreach. Others supported harder policies that emphasize “get tough” punishment to set an example for others.

Then, I collected about 800 body camera footage videos of 164 officers. The videos captured everyday policing duties such as traffic stops, arrests and house calls. I recruited experts – retired division commanders and current supervisors – to rate officer behaviors in the videos. For example, they rated the degree to which officers “performed their on-scene functional duties in a competent manner.”

Ideology matters

Dallas Police Department Chief Joseph Hannigan bows his head at a ceremony to remember five law enforcement officers killed in a sniper attack in downtown Dallas on July 7, 2016. AP Photo/Jaime Dunaway

Surprisingly, not all officers who thought the public misunderstood their jobs received poor performance ratings. Some actually had high performance ratings.

In fact, I found that only the police officers who indicated a softer stance toward crime were rated poorly. Their bodycam videos revealed that they hesitated or acted too quickly, violating basic safety protocols.

By contrast, the performance ratings of officers who believe in harder approaches to fighting crime remained high.

I found this was the case regardless of the raters’ personal beliefs about crime.

Why did officers who support softer approaches to crime receive poorer ratings?

It is likely that they are more frustrated than their peers by perceptions that the public does not appreciate their jobs. They are trying to build closer relations with the public, and their efforts are being met with criticism and a lack of appreciation.

This frustration and uncertainty about how the public will react may be leading to lower performance. For example, when asked how public misunderstanding affects him during an interview, an officer stated: “It makes not only me, but I see it in a lot of these guys, they don’t want to be proactive. Officers pause, and there’s going to be times where it’s going to be a safety issue.”

On the other hand, officers who believe in hard-line approaches do not expect the public to understand their jobs. From their perspective, officers are given authority over the public because they have knowledge and expertise that are only understandable to them. They are the ones who wear the uniform.

Because of this lower frustration, these officers may be performing better. For example, another cop told me: “Public misunderstanding don’t really change anything. I know what I was trained to do. Whether you’re happy to have me there or not, I’m still going in there. I have a job to do.”

Coping with misunderstanding

These studies suggest two things.

First, community safety suffers when some officers believe that the public does not understand the physical and emotional difficulties they face on the job. While it is generally known that there is tension between officers and the public, my studies demonstrate the dangers of this tension.

Second, because public misunderstanding can reduce the effectiveness of some officers, it is important to explore ways to help all cops – regardless of their different approaches to crime – be effective despite today’s environment. For example, some of my current research suggests that officers who feel misunderstood, but also feel that they have little autonomy and discretion in making decisions, actually perform better than those who feel they have a lot of freedom.

The ConversationGiven the impact that officers can have on human life, helping police officers cope with public tension should be a priority.


Re-published with permission under license from The Conversation

Shefali V. Patil, Assistant Professor of Management, University of Texas at Austin

Why black women’s experiences of #MeToo are different

By Yolonda Wilson

In April, a 25-year-old black woman named Chikesia Clemons was violently arrested by police at a Waffle House restaurant in Alabama.

A video of the arrest that went viral shows police pulling Clemons from her chair and throwing her to the floor. In the process, her breasts are exposed and her dress rides up in the back. When she attempts to cover her breasts, the two officers on top of her threaten to break her arm for “resisting.”

Clemons’ experience is not unique. In the U.S., black women are not afforded the same regard for bodily privacy as white women.

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Actress Nicolle Rochelle, who appeared on several episodes of ‘The Cosby Show.’ AP Photo/Corey Perrine, File

Another example: In an investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department, the Department of Justice found that the Baltimore Police Department frequently engaged in unjustified strip searches of African-Americans. In one instance, Baltimore police conducted a strip search of a black woman, including an anal cavity search, on a sidewalk in broad daylight and in full public view. The woman’s pleas to not be forced to disrobe in public were ignored. Her offense? A broken headlight.

While the #MeToo movement has been successful in bringing down several high-profile assailants, critics continue to argue that it has been monopolized by middle- and upper-class white women, particularly white Hollywood actresses. This, despite the fact that a black woman, Tarana Burke, created the Me Too campaign more than a decade ago. These criticisms reflect the fact that black women have experienced sexual violence differently than white women.

As a philosopher of race and gender who has written about sexual harassment, I offer historical context on the ways that black women experience sexual abuse, often by the authority of the state, as a way to think about black women’s contemporary experiences as the kinds of experiences that #MeToo should address.

History of black women’s bodies on display

As early as the 17th century, European men wrote travel narratives about their trips to West Africa to capture, enslave and trade African people. Their writings offer a window into how they perceived African women and what they thought primarily European male readers would find titillating.

In particular, their descriptions of West African women’s style of dance played a role in shaping European perceptions of black women’s sexual immorality and availability.

These travel accounts were the popular media of their day and offered some of the first reports of continental Africa to average Europeans. For example, Frenchman Jean Barbot wrote of African men and women “knocking bellies together very indecently” while “uttering some dirty mysterious words.” Meanwhile, naval officer Abraham Duqesne characterized African women as desiring the “caresses of white men.”

Because African women differed from European women both in attire and bodily movement, European travel writers regarded African women as sexually available and immoral. European settlers carried these attitudes to the United States where enslaved black women were subjected to violent sexual abuse and forced nudity as routine social practice, in ways that would have been unthinkable toward white women.

Sexual violence and the father of gynecology

A statue of J. Marion Sims. ‘The Father of Modern Gynecology’ stands on the Capitol grounds in Montgomery, Ala., Jan. 25, 2006. AP Photo/Rob Carr

By the 19th century, treating black and white women differently was firmly entrenched in society. Nowhere was this more evident than in the practice of J. Marion Sims, the physician widely regarded by gynecologists as the “father of modern gynecology.” The convention of the period was for physicians to conduct gynecological examinations of white women with averted gazes while the patients remained as clothed as possible.

However, Sims also conducted medical experiments on enslaved black women that ultimately resulted in a technique to repair vesicovaginal fistula, an opening that can develop between the vaginal wall and the bladder or large intestine, sometimes as a result of childbirth. The enslaved black women were stripped completely naked and examined on all fours, as Sims and other physicians took turns using a specially created speculum that enabled full viewing of the vagina. Private citizens were also allowed to watch these experiments and they, too, were invited to witness the full exposure of enslaved women’s vaginas.

Sims conducted his experiments without anesthesia, despite the fact that ether was known and in use by the time he performed later surgeries. Black women were denied anesthesia on the grounds that black people did not feel pain in the same ways that white people felt pain, a perception that still exists today. For example, one study found that when people viewed images of blacks receiving painful stimuli, like needle pricks, they responded with less empathy than when they viewed similar images of white people in pain.

Sexual violence in a court of law

In New York in 1925, another historical example shows how black women’s exposed bodies have been treated with indifference. Kip Rhinelander, a member of New York’s high society, was set to wed Alice Beatrice Jones, a working-class biracial woman. Their union drew national attention.

Although New York did not legally prohibit interracial marriage as other states did at that time, society strongly disapproved of interracial marriage.

Once their marriage was made public, Kip filed for divorce on the grounds of fraud. The salient question in the divorce hearing was whether Kip knew that Alice was black at the time of their marriage.

In order to answer that question, Alice’s attorney suggested that Alice bare her breasts in front of the all-white male jury, judge and attorneys in order to prove her racial identity. By viewing the shading of her areolas and legs, he said, the jurors could assess whether Kip – who had admitted to premarital sex with her – should have known her racial identity.

The judge directed Alice to follow through. Neither Alice Rhinelander’s tears nor her connection to a prominent white family could save her from the indignity of forced nudity in front of strangers. Ultimately, the jury decided that Alice was, in fact, “of colored blood” and that she did not conceal or misrepresent her racial identity.

The past is present

The hostility to black women’s bodily privacy and dignity in these examples isn’t accidental. Rather, it is part of the history of how black women have been cast in U.S. society.

In the Sims and Rhinelander examples, the legal status of enslavement and weight of the court validated the coercive display of black women’s bodies. The Department of Justice found that the Baltimore police used the weight of their badges to force compliance with public strip searches. Likewise, in the Waffle House example, although Clemons’ initial exposure may not have been intentional, the police responded to her cries and her attempts to cover herself by using their authority to threaten her with further harm.

This is a unique form of sexual violence experienced by black women. The convergence of race and gender in black women’s lives has created the social conditions in which black women are coerced and often expected, under threat of punishment by the government, to suffer the exposure of intimate body parts.

The ConversationRace and gender converge in black women’s lives and have created the social conditions under which black women are coerced and expected to suffer the exposure of intimate body parts, or else face punishment. If movements like #MeToo are serious about combating sexual violence, then they have to also understand these practices as sexual violence.


Re-published with permission under license from The Conversation

Yolonda Wilson, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Howard University

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

The East St. Louis Race Riot Left Dozens Dead, Devastating a Community on the Rise

Three days of violence forced African-American families to run for their lives and the aftereffects are still felt in the Illinois city today.

Two National Guard escort an African-American man in the tense summer weeks of 1917 in East St. Louis, Illinois. (Bettmann)

No one really knows about this. . . . I know about it because my father, uncles and aunts lived through it,” Dhati Kennedy says.

He’s referring to an incident that survivors call the East St. Louis Race War. From July 1 through July 3, 1917, a small Illinois city located across the river from its Missouri counterpart was overrun with violence. Kennedy’s father Samuel, who was born in 1910, lived in East St. Louis when the conflict occurred. A smoldering labor dispute turned deadly as rampaging whites began brutally beating and killing African-Americans. By the end of the three-day crisis, the official death toll was 39 black individuals and nine whites, but many believe that more than 100 African-Americans were killed.

St. Louis Globe Democrat headline on Tuesday July 3, 1917

“We spent a lifetime as children hearing these stories. It was clear to me my father was suffering from some form of what they call PTSD,” Kennedy recalls. “He witnessed horrible things: people’s houses being set ablaze, . . .  people being shot when they tried to flee, some trying to swim to the other side of the Mississippi while being shot at by white mobs with rifles, others being dragged out of street cars and beaten and hanged from street lamps.”

Kennedy is the founder of the Committee for Historical Truth, a group that has spent 20 years commemorating the event and the subsequent black exodus from the city. This year, the Kennedys, survivors, historians and human rights activists are hosting three days of activities in East St. Louis and St. Louis, as well as on the Eads Bridge that connects the two cities. Many residents of East St. Louis used this bridge to flee into Missouri.

“Thousands of blacks were streaming across that bridge when what they called the ‘race war’ got into full swing,” Kennedy says. “When that happened, the police shut down the bridge, and no one could escape. Some, in desperation, tried to swim and drowned.”

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture holds within its collections a copy of the September 1917 issue of The Crisis, a NAACP publication. The magazine includes articles about the East St. Louis race massacres and the Silent Parade held in Harlem, New York, to bring attention to the atrocities happening in Illinois.

The September 1917 issue of The Crisis, the official magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

Racial tensions began simmering in East St. Louis—a city where thousands of blacks had moved from the South to work in war factories—as early as February 1917. The African-American population was 6,000 in 1910 and nearly double that by 1917. In the spring, the largely white workforce at the Aluminum Ore Company went on strike. Hundreds of blacks were hired. After a City Council meeting on May 28, angry white workers lodged formal complaints against black migrants. When word of an attempted robbery of a white man by an armed black man spread through the city, mobs started beating any African-Americans they found, even pulling individuals off of streetcars and trolleys. The National Guard was called in but dispersed in June.

On July 1, a white man in a Ford shot into black homes. Armed African-Americans gathered in the area and shot into another oncoming Ford, killing two men who turned out to be police officers investigating the shooting. The next morning, whites pouring out of a meeting in the Labor Temple downtown began beating blacks with guns, rocks and pipes. They set fire to homes and shot residents as they fled their burning properties. Blacks were also lynched in other areas of the city.

Carlos F. Hurd, a reporter known for his harrowing interviews with survivors of the R.M.S. Titanic wreck, published a July 3 eyewitness report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The article was also quoted in The Crisis.

“The East St. Louis affair, as I saw it, was a man hunt, conducted on a sporting basis, though with anything but the fair play which is the principle of sport,” Hurd wrote. “There was a horribly cool deliberateness and a spirit of fun about it. ‘Get a nigger’ was the slogan, and it was varied by the recurrent cry, ‘Get another!’”

Hugh L. Wood, writing for the St. Louis Republicwas also quoted in The Crisis: “A Negro weighing 300 pounds came out of the burning line of dwellings just north and east of the Southern fright home. . . . ‘Get him!’ they cried. So a man in the crowd clubbed his revolver and struck the Negro in the face with it. Another dashed an iron bolt between the Negro’s eyes. Still another stood near and battered him with a rock. Then the giant Negro tumbled to the ground. . . . A girl stepped up and struck the bleeding man with her foot. The blood spurted onto her stockings and men laughed and grunted.”

The Crisis articles include more scenes of raw horror: a person was beheaded with a butcher knife, and a 12-year-old African-American girl fainted after being pulled from a trolley bus. Her mother stopped to help and a white crowd attacked, leaving the mother prostrate with a gaping hole in her head.

As Kennedy’s family prepared for a Sunday morning church service, they learned that whites were heading into the “African quarter.” His grandmother called everyone into the house, and his teenaged father and uncles prepared for battle. Some in the city—both white and black—had just returned from World War I.

“Uncle Eddie and some of the other young men were armed—he had a squirrel rifle. They staked out in front of our home and warded off the marauding white mob as they came down our street. They had to take cover because the white men were shooting at them,” Kennedy says. “There was a standoff if you will, and I understand from my uncle that it seemed to last for hours. They witnessed the burning of homes and people. . . .  People were hanged as well.”

By early Monday morning, the whole neighborhood was on fire. Kennedy’s family decided to run for the river under the cover of darkness.

“According to my uncles, it took four hours to get across that river. . . .They fashioned a raft out of old doors and charred wood to cross the Mississippi River and get to the St. Louis side,” Kennedy explains. “The raft [sprung] leaks, but they were able to get across.”

Even now, Kennedy says, the family deals with the aftermath of those harrowing days. His grandmother, Katherine Horne Kennedy, died several weeks after the riots from pneumonia and the stress of the crossing. To this day, the family tells children answering the door to look out of the window and stand aside—somebody might be waiting outside with a gun.

“My uncles said they had to stay on the Missouri side of the river, and in the east the horizon was just glowing for weeks from burning buildings. For days afterward, you could still hear screams and gunshots,” Kennedy says.

He is looking forward to the centennial commemoration because, as he explains, freedom did not come easily to African-Americans, and people need to know what happened. East St. Louis was not the only example of violence against blacks: Other cities suffered similar destruction, including Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921, and Rosewood, Florida, in 1923.

The centennial begins with a film festival in East St Louis on July 1. The next day, a procession accompanied by drummers will leave from East St. Louis and proceed to the middle of the Eads Bridge. A memorial wreath will be placed in the river, and sky lanterns will be released in honor of those who died. There will be discussions at a local church on July 3, a day of resurrection.

But Kennedy notes that in East St. Louis, a stone’s throw from Ferguson, Missouri, the healing is far from over. Ferguson is ground zero for the Black Lives Matter movement, which erupted in the wake of the 2014 police killing of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown.

“With all of the talk of healing, especially after Ferguson—here we call it the uprising—my feeling is how can you heal over a festering sore?” Kennedy asks. “You’ve got to clean it out and disinfect it first, and to do that we have to know the truth.”


For information and videos about other race riots, visit the Race Riot and the Red Summer of 1919 pages at Court.rchp.com


Republished from article originally appearing in the Smithsonian


 

“We’re Coming for You”: Is There a Hidden Agenda to the Florida Sheriff’s Anti-Drug Message?

A viral Facebook video posted by the Lake County Sheriff’s Department in Florida features the sheriff surrounded by four masked officers, their eyes hidden behind sunglasses, their torsos protected by bullet-proof vests, wearing the olive green pants of the military — not the blue of law enforcement. Many on social media have pointed out the similarities to ISIS videos, which usually show a row of masked militants issuing extreme threats to enemies. They look like some sort of para-military hit squad, and that's what Sheriff Peyton Grinnell promises they will be. 

"To the dealers that are pushing this poison, I have a message for you," the sheriff warns. "We're coming for you. As a matter of fact, our undercover agents have already bought heroin from many of you… To the dealers, I say: Enjoy looking over your shoulder, constantly wondering if today is the day we come for you. Enjoy trying to sleep tonight as you wonder if tonight's the night our SWAT team blows your door off its hinges."

Since 90% of heroin users are white and white people are more likely to deal drugs, but most of those arrested for dealing drugs are black, the obvious question is; who is the sheriff's target? Lake County, Florida is 84.3% white and only 10.8% black, however, it's predictable that mostly black suspects will be targeted.

The sheriff's message presumably was designed to be reassuring for the good citizens of Lake County, but the sheriff's promise of increased para-militarized, high-intensity, middle-of-the-night drug raids is anything but, given the record of SWAT raid errors over the years.There's no shortage of news stories about police targeting the wrong house often with disastrous results. 

In the Trump era, the fear that Sheriff Grinnell actions might be the first step in a new war on black people has to be considered. The election of President Trump has emboldened racist to commit overt acts. Recently a woman was denied an Airbnb rental and was specifically told it was because of her race. When the renter said she would report the racist action to Airbnb officials, the host replied: “It’s why we have Trump.”

‘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

Black Cop gets 40 Year Sentence in death of White kid

White cops kill a Black kid in a park with a toy gun, no charges. Black cops kill a white kid after a two-mile car chase involving the kid's father; sentenced to 40 years. "Black St. Louis Ex-Cop Tells the Truth About Race and Policing".

Three days after the incident, a grand jury indicted Derrick Stafford, then 32 and Norris Greenhouse Jr., then 23 with second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder. Both officers are black.

Officers Norris Greenhouse Jr., left, and Derrick Stafford

On November 3, 2015, Christopher Few, a 25-year-old white man, lead police on a 2-mile chase in Marksville, LA after officers attempted to make a traffic stop. At some point during the chase, officers Derrick Stafford and Norris Greenhouse Jr. called for backup, and two other officers responded

Christopher Few

The chase ended when Few hit a dead-end at the corner of Martin Luther King Drive and Taensas Street. Shots were fired by officers Stafford and Greenhouse who didn't know that Few had his six-year-old son in the vehicle with him. Both Few and his son, Jeremy Mardis, were hit. Mardis died at the scene, Few was hospitalized and has since recovered.

Jeremy Mardis

A jury convicted Derrick Stafford on March 24, 2017, of manslaughter and on March 31, 2017, the judge sentenced Stafford to 40 years. Norris Greenhouse will be tried separately in June.

Stafford and Greenhouse shot a total of 18 bullets into the vehicle and some have mentioned the number of bullets fired demonstrates the cops intended to kill. However, when police officers fired 137 bullets, killing Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, unarmed black men; the judge acquitted Michael Brelo, the cop who jumped on the hood of their car shooting 15 times through the windshield.

Body cam video from Kenneth Purnell, one of the officers who did not fire his gun, captured the moment that shots were fired. Stafford and Greenhouse over reacted and carelessly cause the child's death. There was no effort by the Black community to start GoFundMe campaigns to support these cops. Had this been white cops, a black father, and son, the cops would have been put on paid administrative leave while a lengthy investigation was conducted. Most likely, it would have taken protest to bring charges, and the white officers most likely would be acquitted since the officers "reasonably feared for their lives" under the circumstance.

Local police officials and prosecutors quickly determined and announced that the video made it clear that charges needed to be filed. There was no discussion about what the video doesn't show or what happened immediately before the cops fired. I suspect a very different narrative would have been told it the cops were white and the father and son black. We would have heard how the father should have complied and stopped his vehicle. We would have heard how the father's actions were responsible for his son's death. The father might even have been charged with reckless endangerment of a child. The father would have been vilified and every negative detail about his life broadcast. There would have been vast public support for the cops who place their lives on the line every day and a GoFundMe account would have been setup for their legal fees. 

The white kid's life mattered as it should, but black kid's lives should matter too. How many times have we seen a video of the actual shooting of black men when it was obvious they were not armed. We've even seen a man choked to death on video while complaining "I can't breathe", with no charges against the officers. This is the sort of obvious disparity that created the Black Lives Matter movement and sparked multiple protests around the country when the victim is black. The white community didn't need to protest for action to be taken against the black cops.

Few acknowledged drinking at a bar with his then-girlfriend shortly before the shooting but said he hadn't taken any drugs that day. Few and his fiancee Megan Dixon had an argument at a bar that evening and drove away in separate vehicles. Dixon said she saw Few pass her, followed by a marked police car with two officers. Dixon said that the police pursuit of Few may have been prompted by his running a red light or by the officers seeing an altercation she had with Few at a traffic light when he approached her car and they had words. One police vehicle reportedly received damage caused by Few reversing into it.

Killing of Terence Crutcher

Ironically, over the same weekend that Stafford was convicted of manslaughter, 60 Minutes aired "Shots Fired," about the killing of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man shot and killed while holding his hands up. Betty Shelby, the white female Tulsa police officer that fatally shot Crutcher, was interviewed.

A white male cop was nearby when Crutcher was shot and two additional officers were in a helicopter hoovering above, however, Shelby claimed she feared for her safety when she shot Crutcher. Even the cops in the helicopter seemed surprised Crutcher was shot rather than tased. The video below was taken from the helicopter's camera. 

Shelby was placed on paid administrative leave and charged with manslaughter six days later while the investigation continued. During the 60 Minutes interview, Shelby blamed Crutcher for his own death. She said if he had only complied, he would still be alive. An online fundraiser was held for officer Shelby which included a donation from one of the officers who was named by the state as a witness.

Just as it was obvious that the black officers in Marksville overreacted, it is equally obvious that the white officer in Tulsa overreacted. We don't believe officer Shelby started her day with the intention of killing a black man, but we do believe that the fact that he was black created a bias that made her believe he was more dangerous than was reasonable.

Mr. Crutcher isn't alive to give his side of the story, but we can guess what it might have been. After seeing too many videos of unarmed black men being shot and killed, Crutcher didn't want to be one of them. Therefore, he put his hands up, walked slowly to indicate he was not a threat and put his hands on top of his vehicle, however, Crutcher was shot, just like another unarmed black man laying the ground with his hands up. Even Donald Trump had to admit that Shelby's shooting of Crutcher was not justified after viewing the video. If Shelby gets convicted, you can be certain it wont be anywhere near 40 years.

This double standard can not be allowed to stand. When justice is unbalanced, we need to take action both politically and economically. We need to stop supporting political candidates who do not work on behalf of our best interest and stop spending our money with companies who do not speak out for us.

If you don't demand your rights, don't be surprised when they are denied. If you accept being treated as a second-class citizen, why would anyone even consider upgrading you to first class?

The black community must also stop giving greater importance to the cultures and traditions others. If you didn't celebrate MLK day or Black History month by educating yourself or your children but you wore green on St. Patrick's Day, you're disrespecting yourself and your community. When you acknowledge Cinco de Mayo, but ignore Juneteenth, you dishonor your ancestor's suffering. How many people in the black community even know what Kwanzaa really is?

By all means, wear your kiss me I'm Irish button and drink Mexican beer, but show just as much pride in your own traditions and customs. When you don't respect your own custom and traditions, why should others? When a white life is lost, don't allow yourself to be drawn into the media hype that black lives that were lost were not as important and don't deserve as much attention.