Category Archives: Civil Rights

Black and white bail judges show bias against black defendants

By Denise-Marie Ordway

study of bail judges in the Miami and Philadelphia areas suggests that both black and white judges show bias against black defendants.

The study, in The Quarterly Journal of Economics, finds that black defendants are 2.4 percentage points more likely than white defendants to be detained while they await their court hearings. The average bail for black defendants is $7,281 higher than for white defendants.

It appears that bail judges rely on racial stereotypes to predict which defendants will commit another crime if released, the researchers explain. In reality, some white defendants are much more likely than black defendants to get arrested again after their release, the team’s analysis suggests.

“We find suggestive evidence that this racial bias is driven by bail judges relying on inaccurate stereotypes that exaggerate the relative danger of releasing black defendants,” write the authors of the paper, David Arnold and Will Dobbie of Princeton University and Crystal S. Yang of Harvard Law School.

Generally speaking, after an arrest, defendants who seem less risky are released on their own recognizance, meaning they are free to go after promising to appear in court for upcoming proceedings, or they are released if they meet certain conditions such as paying a bail amount or posting a bail bond to guarantee their presence in court. Some defendants are not released because they cannot meet bail.

For the study, researchers examined 162,836 court cases representing 93,914 defendants in Philadelphia County from 2010 to 2014 as well as 93,417 cases from 65,944 defendants in Miami-Dade County between 2006 and 2014.

The findings are consistent with another study published in 2018 that uses machine learning techniques to show that bail judges make mistakes in predicting what a defendant would do if released. That study indicates judges make significant prediction errors for defendants of all races.

Some other key findings of this study include:

  • Racial bias is higher among bail judges in Miami-Dade than in Philadelphia.
  • Racial bias is higher among inexperienced judges and part-time bail judges. Experienced judges are better at predicting defendant behavior. The scholars find that judges in Miami who are considered to be experienced have 9.5 years of experience working in the bail system, on average. Miami judges considered to be inexperienced have an average of 2.5 years of experience.
  • “If racially biased prediction errors among inexperienced judges are an important driver of black-white disparities in pretrial detention, providing judges with increased opportunities for training or on-the-job feedback could play an important role in decreasing racial disparities in the criminal justice system,” the researchers write. “Our findings also suggest that providing judges with data-based risk assessments may also help decrease unwarranted racial disparities.”

Looking for more research on criminal courts? Check out our write-ups on criminal restitutionearly release for good behavior and how defendants’ education levels could impact sentencing decisions.


Republished with permission under license from Jounalist's Resources.

Employers Used Facebook to Keep Women and Older Workers From Seeing Job Ads. The Federal Government Thinks That’s Illegal.

by Ariana Tobin

Two years ago, ProPublica and The New York Times revealed that companies were posting discriminatory job ads on Facebook, using the social network’s targeting tools to keep older workers from seeing employment opportunities. Then we reported companies were using Facebook to exclude women from seeing job ads.

Experts told us that it was most likely illegal. And it turns out the federal government now agrees.

A group of recent rulings by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found “reasonable cause” to conclude that seven employers violated civil rights protections by excluding women or older workers or both from seeing job ads they posted on Facebook.

The agency’s rulings appear to be the first time it has taken on targeted advertising, the core of Facebook’s business. “It answers the question from the EEOC’s perspective,” former agency commissioner Jenny R. Yang said. “If you’re excluding older workers from seeing your ads for jobs it does violate” anti-discrimination laws. The EEOC declined to comment.

The decisions stem from complaints filed by the Communications Workers of America, the American Civil Liberties Union and plaintiff’s attorneys after our reporting. The agency made the rulings in July, but they are becoming public now as part of a separate pending class-action suit in federal court accusing companies of age discrimination.

The ads are all from 2018 or earlier. Since then, Facebook has agreed in a settlement to make sweeping changes to the way employers, landlords and creditors can target advertising. The changes are scheduled to take effect by the end of the year.

A Facebook spokesperson pointed to the company’s recent changes and said, “Helping prevent discrimination in housing, employment or credit ads is an area we believe we lead the advertising industry.”

In the latest rulings, the EEOC cited four companies for age discrimination: Capital One, Edwards Jones, Enterprise Holdings and DriveTime Automotive Group. Three companies were cited for discrimination by both age and gender: Nebraska Furniture Mart, Renewal by Andersen LLC and Sandhills Publishing Company. The companies can now work out a settlement with the EEOC or go to court.

Most of the companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Nebraska Furniture Mart declined to comment. A spokesperson for financial firm Edwards Jones said, “We strongly disagree with the claim that our firm engaged in discriminatory practices in advertising of job opportunities, recruiting or hiring.”

Dozens of other complaints have been filed with the EEOC about discrimination in targeted advertising on Facebook. Most of the allegations are still pending.

The EEOC’s batch of decisions are significant, attorney Peter Romer-Friedman of Outten & Golden says, because they are the first time companies besides Facebook have had to defend how they use Facebook’s tools to advertise jobs.

His firm also filed a suit against seven real estate companies last week for allegedly discriminating by age in housing ads. We first reported on discriminatory housing ads on Facebook three years ago. The company changed its process for screening housing ads after we retested the system two years ago and showed it was possible to buy dozens of ads that excluded people by gender, race, religion, national origin, age and other categories protected by civil rights laws.


Republished with permission under license from ProPublica.

 

Killed while Black at the St. Louis Galleria – Gun Law Analysis

By Randall Hill

Terry Tillman, a 23-year-old black man, who was shopping at the Galleria Mall was killed by a Richmond Heights Police after receiving a call about a man carrying a concealed firearm.

I have two sons who are 20 and 26 years old. Mr. Tillman could just as easily be one of my sons if they decide to exercise their constitutional right to carry a concealed weapon. I want my sons to have the ability to exercise their rights without the fear of being executed. They are both law-abiding citizens who shouldn't be considered criminals because they happen to be black. A gun provides some protection against violent criminals, but when black people encounter criminal, fearful or racist police officers there is little to no defense. 

White men aren't targeted with suspicion when they exercise their gun rights even though mass shooters who target random victims are more likely to white men. 

Legal behavior

The Galleria Mall has signs posted restricting guns, however, as we mention on our "Gun Law in Missouri" page, carrying a gun inside the Galleria was not illegal. A person who carries a concealed weapon onto restricted property and refuses to leave when asked may be removed from the premises by law enforcement officers and fined, as provided in Section 571.107 RSMo, but not charged with a crime unless an additional illegal act is committed on the private property.

Reports say that Mr. Tillman ran when asked about the gun, but running is not a crime. On June 5, 2019, a Federal Appeals Court ruled police who got a tip that a black man was carrying a gun had no authority to chase him down when he fled, and then to search him — at least in a state where carrying firearms is legal, US v. Brown, 925 F. 3d 1150 – Ct of Appeals, 9th Circuit 2019. The court in its opinion quoted Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens who said in a 2000 case: 

“Among some citizens, particularly minorities and those residing in high-crime areas, there is … the possibility that the fleeing person is entirely innocent, but, with or without justification, believes that contact with the police can itself be dangerous.”

It is not illegal to run from a cop who has not detained you or has not issued an order to you. "If you can walk away, you can run away. It shouldn't matter the speed at which you move away." – Ezekiel Edwards, ACLU. However, running may provide reasonable suspicion depending on the circumstances. It IS illegal to run from a cop who has detained you or issued a lawful order. The order "STOP" is a lawful order, and from that point on, you are committing a crime if you do not stop.

The U.S. Supreme Court held in Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985) that, under the Fourth Amendment, when a law enforcement officer is pursuing a fleeing suspect, the officer may not use deadly force to prevent escape unless "the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others."

St. Louis County Police Sgt. Ben Granda provides limited information about the killing of Terry Tillman. The officer approached Mr. Tillman and allegedly advised him of the Galleria’s Zero Tolerance Policy on guns. The officer claims that as he was speaking with Tillman, he suddenly ran away. Sgt. Granda does not indicate that Mr. Tillman did anything illegal. 

Felon in Possession and Warrant

I did not know Terry Tillman, so I am not personally familiar with his background or criminal history. I did visit his Facebook page, which includes some questionable post, but I attribute that to inexperience and youth; his page also indicated he was involved in music like my youngest son. Tillman was a rapper and probably felt the need to carry a gun for his own protection. 

Tupac talked about gun possession and violence in a 1994 BET interview where he explained why so many young people carried guns.

A cursory check of Missouri Casenet indicates that Mr. Tillman had an active pending criminal case for felony theft, but had not yet been convicted. According to the docket entries, Mr. Tillman failed to appear in court and a bench warrant was issued.

Casenet also indicated other criminal charges and convictions, therefore, if those docket entries were correct, Mr. Tillman was a felon in possession of a firearm. However, the police officer would have had no prior knowledge of those facts and therefore his actions may not have been justified. Because of abuses within the criminal justice system, criminal histories may not tell the full story, consider the lesson from "When They See Us". Many people accept plea bargains and confess to crimes not because they are guilty but from fear of long prison sentences in an unfair criminal court system or to simply to be released from jail because they could not afford bail.

What if

What if Mr. Tillman did not have a prior felony conviction, but was still facing felony charges? Since he had not yet been convicted, he would not have been a felon and his gun rights should not have been restricted. Until the police know otherwise, that's the assumption Mr. Tillman should have been given, especially in light of the recent  US v. Brown decision. 

Does a bench warrant make you a fugitive from justice and thereby ineligible per RSMo 571.070? A Missouri Court of Appeals decision, Missouri vs. Chase, 490 SW 3d 771 (2016) indicates it does not. The court determined the phrase "fugitive from justice" was not defined and was ambiguous. Therefore, even a person with an active bench warrant with no prior felony convictions based on that court opinion retains the right to conceal carry.

Identification

It's unclear whether any Galleria Official or store employee requested that Mr. Tillman leave the premises. It's also unclear if there was a duty to make such a request before calling the police. The answers to those question might determine if Mr. Tillman would have even been required to identify himself to police. 

The Richmond Heights Police had no way of knowing about a bench warrant or even who Mr. Tillman was. They can't assume just because he was black and had a gun in a permitless carry state that he was suspicious. 

If there is no reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed, is being committed, or is about to be committed, an individual is not required to provide identification, even in "Stop and ID" states. Kansas City is the only place in Missouri with a "Stop and identify" statute, RSMo 84.710(2). "Stop and identify" statutes authorize police to legally demand the identity of someone whom they reasonably suspect of having committed a crime.

If the police could not legally force Terry Tillman to identify himself, they couldn't have known he had an active warrant and would not have had grounds to arrest him.

Conclusion

The gun-rights of black people are under attack. Because of the no gun policy and signage, the police were within their rights to approach Mr. Tillman and inform him of the Gallerias no tolerance policy regarding weapons. When Mr. Tillman ran, he removed himself from the premises which complied with the newly provided information.

No one knows why Terry Tillman ran. Did he feel threatened or in danger? Did he fear arrest? But we do know that Mr. Tillman cannot explain his actions because he was killed. Running may not have been his best option, but people don't always behave rationally when they are in fear. The only person who can explain their actions is the officers that shot and killed Terry Tillman.

Was it reasonable for the police to be suspicious because Mr. Tillman ran? Probably, but an explanation about why deadly force was used should have been provided within minutes or hours at the utmost.  It's been three days since Mr. Tillman was killed and we still don't know why deadly force was used.

Without reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed, a black person who conceals carry should simply be viewed as exercising their constitutional rights, to behave otherwise is a constitutional violation. It's very possible that Mr. Tillman's Missouri and Federal constitutional rights were violated. Unless police reasonably feared for their safety or the safety of others, deadly force should not have been used.

Family and friends of Mr. Tillman participated in a peaceful protest at the Galleria which resulted in arrests being made. Reportedly the family doesn't know where or how many times Terry Tillman was shot.

It should not be necessary to protest simply to get answers about why your child was killed. It's unreasonable that a family should be expected to accept the death of their loved one without a reasonable explanation. Transparency is required and expected and when not provide suspicion arises. 

Certainly, there are plenty of cameras in and around the Galleria, the bank where the killing took place, and surrounding businesses. The public has a right to know whether body camera, dashcam, or other videos exist.

Based on past history, I expect the police to implement their no snitch policy (blue wall of silence) and to use the facts that Mr. Tillman had prior convictions, a pending felony charge, a bench warrant, a gun in his possession and that he ran as justification for their actions. The police had no prior notice about Mr. Tillman's convictions, charges or warrant, so those aren't valid reasons to chase and then shoot him. Since they have remained silent, I can only conclude the most obvious reason, "black man with a gun".

My heart goes out to the family and friend of Terry Tillman, I'm so sorry for your loss. As you encounter and hear from ignorant and hate-filled people trying to demoralize your spirits and denigrate the memory and legacy of Terry, remember there are so many others who are praying for you and grieving with you. 

How the government can steal your stuff: 6 questions about civil asset forfeiture answered

by Nora V. Demleitner, Washington and Lee University

Editor's note: Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Congress and the states are challenging the Trump administration’s embrace of civil asset forfeiture abuse, which strips billions of dollars a year from Americans – who often have not been charged with a crime. Law professor and criminal justice expert Nora V. Demleitner explains how this procedure works and why it irks conservatives and progressives alike.

The authorities don’t need a conviction or even for a suspect to be charged with a crime before seizing a car, cash or even a house.

1. What is civil asset forfeiture?

Civil asset forfeiture laws let authorities, such as federal marshals or local sheriffs, seize property – cash, a house, a car, a cellphone – that they suspect is involved in criminal activity. Seizures run the gamut from 12 cans of peas to multi-million-dollar yachts.

The federal government confiscated assets worth a total of about US$28 billion during the decade ending in 2016, Justice Department data indicate.

In contrast to criminal forfeiture, which requires that the property owner be convicted of a crime beforehand, the civil variety doesn’t require that the suspect be charged with breaking the law.

Three Justice Department agencies – the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) – do most of this confiscating. Most states also permit local prosecutors to take personal property from people who haven’t been charged with a crime. However, some states have begun to limit that practice.

Even when there are restrictions on when and how local and state authorities can seize property, they can circumvent those limits if the federal government “adopts” the impounded assets.

For a federal agency to do so requires the alleged misconduct to violate federal law. Local agencies get up to 80% of the shared proceeds back, with the federal agency keeping the rest. The divvying-up is known officially as “equitable sharing.” Crime victims may also get a cut from the proceeds of civil forfeiture.

John Oliver’s ‘Last Week Tonight’ segment on civil asset forfeiture in 2014 used humor to help viewers understand the practice.

2. Can people get their stuff back?

Technically, the government must demonstrate that the property has something to do with a crime. In reality, property owners in most states must prove that they legally acquired their confiscated belongings to get them returned. This means the burden is on the owners to dispute these seizures in court. Court challenges tend to arise only when something of great value, like a house, is at stake.

Unless an owner challenges a seizure and effectively proves his innocence in court, the agency that took the property is free to keep the proceeds once the assets are liquidated.

Many low-income people don’t use bank accounts or credit cards. They carry cash instead. If they lose their life savings at a traffic stop, they can’t afford to hire a lawyer to dispute the seizure, the Center for American Progress – a liberal think tank – has observed.

And disputing civil forfeitures is hard everywhere. Some states require a cash bond; others add a penalty payment should the owner lose. The process is expensive, time-consuming and lengthy, deterring even innocent owners.

There’s no comprehensive data regarding how many people get their stuff back. But over the 10 years ending in September 2016, about 8% of all property owners who had cash seized from them by the DEA had it returned, according to a report from the Justice Department’s inspector general.

3. Who opposes the practice?

Many conservatives and progressives dislike civil asset forfeiture. Politicians on the left and right have voiced concerns about the incentives this practice gives law enforcement to abuse its authority.

Critics across the political spectrum also question whether different aspects of civil asset forfeiture violate the Fifth Amendment, which says the government can’t deprive anyone of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” or is unconstitutional for other reasons.

Until now, the Supreme Court and lower courts, however, have consistently upheld civil asset forfeitures when ruling on challenges launched under the Fifth Amendment. The same goes for challenges under the Eighth Amendment, which bars “excessive fines” and “cruel and unusual punishments,” and the 14th Amendment, which forbids depriving “any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

In 2019, the Supreme Court unanimously found for the first time that these constitutional protections against excessive fines apply not just to the federal authorities but to the states as well.

Some concerns resonate more strongly for different ideological camps. Conservatives object mostly about how this impounding undermines property rights.

Liberals are outraged that the poor and communities of color tend to be disproportionately targeted, often causing great hardship to people accused of minor wrongdoing.

Another common critique: The practice encourages overpolicing intended to pad police budgets or accommodate tax cuts. Revenue from civil asset forfeitures can amount to a substantial percentage of local police budgets, according to a Drug Policy Alliance study of this practice in California. This kind of policing can undermine police-community relations.

The Justice Department’s guidelines state that forfeitures “punish and deter criminal activity by depriving criminals of property used in or acquired through illegal activities.”

However, the Inspector General’s office noted “without evaluating data more systemically, it is impossible for the Department to determine … whether seizures benefit law enforcement efforts, such as advancing criminal investigations and deterring future criminal activity.”

Critics of civil asset forfeiture argue that it can make policing more about raising revenue than improving public safety.

4. What is the scale of this confiscation?

The federal revenue raised through this practice, which emerged in the 1970s, mushroomed from $94 million in 1986 to a high of $4.5 billion in 2014, according to the Justice Department.

The Justice Department says it returned more than $4 billion in forfeited funds to crime victims between 2000 and 2016, while handing state and local law enforcement entities at least $6 billion through “equitable sharing.”

The scale of seizures on the state and local level is less clear.

5. What happened during the Obama and Trump administrations?

Under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, the Obama-era Justice Department determined that civil asset forfeiture was more about making money than public safety. It then changed the guidelines for asset adoption.

Beginning in 2015, joint state-federal task forces could continue to share forfeiture proceeds but state agencies were no longer permitted to ask the federal government to forfeit property they had taken on their own.

I love that program,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in 2017. “We had so much fun doing that, taking drug dealers’ money and passing it out to people trying to put drug dealers in jail. What’s wrong with that?”

Attorney General William Barr, Sessions’ successor in the Trump administration, has also defended this policy.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has expressed astonishment regarding the unpopularity of civil asset forfeiture.

6. Congress and the states

When Sessions changed the policy, legislative changes seemed possible. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley sent Sessions a memo about how the federal funds obtained from seizures were wasted and misused. In some cases, Grassley wrote, the government provided “misleading details about some of these expenditures.”

The House of Representatives voted in 2017 for an amendment that would restrict civil asset forfeiture adoption.

The House also approved a bipartisan measure restricting civil forfeiture on June 20, 2019. This one goes further though and would substantially curtail the federal government’s powers.

State governments have also tried to discourage this kind of confiscation. New Mexico, Nebraska and North Carolina have banned civil forfeiture. Michigan has made it easier to challenge these seizures. California limited equitable sharing, and other states have increased the burden of proof the government must meet. But in many states, investigative reporting has shown that innocent owners continue to lose their property.

In a Georgia Law Review article, I gave examples of other ways to keep police departments and municipalities funded, such as increasing fines and fees.

Unless the police pursue some alternatives, funding woes will continue to contribute to abusive policing practices that fall most heavily on those who can the least afford them: the poor and communities of color.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation 

Home Equity Theft: How a Man’s Home Was Seized Over $8.41 in Unpaid Taxes

The unconstitutional practice of home equity theft has allowed individuals to be stripped of their property without fair compensation.

by Brittany Hunter

For three years, the pair scrimped and saved in order to fix up the four-unit property. On the weekends, Ramouldo would spend his days off making the 11-hour drive from New Jersey to Michigan to work on the house, making the much-needed repairs himself. In addition to the small complex, the family had purchased a small home next door. The plan was to renovate and rent out each unit and then use that money to help Ramouldo retire and move his family to the small home in Michigan, where the rest of their extended family resides.

Erica, who had seen her father work long hours and sacrifice to provide for her family over the years, was happy to help her father buy the property. She was eager to begin building her own financial legacy and saw the property as an excellent investment opportunity.

These plans were derailed, however, when their property was seized by Wayne County, Michigan, in 2017 and sold to a private buyer.

All because they unknowingly underpaid their tax bill—by $144.

While the father and daughter had been paying their property taxes diligently for each year they owned the property, in 2014, they unintentionally underpaid by $144. Neither knew about this miscalculation or the situation could have quickly been remedied. And without knowledge of this outstanding debt, the small amount grew as the county tacked on interest charges to the tune of $359.

To be sure, when interest was accounted for, the Perez family did owe roughly $500 in unpaid taxes to the county. County officials used this as justification to seize, sell, and then keep the $108,000 revenue earned from the sale of said property.

The government is allowed to seize property in order to settle a debt owed by an individual. However, it isn’t allowed to take more than it is owed. 

In the American legal system, there is a maxim: the punishment must fit the crime. But when considering the small amount by which the Perez family underpaid their property taxes, this seems like a disproportionate punishment to receive.

The government is allowed to seize property in order to settle a debt owed by an individual. However, it isn’t allowed to take more than it is owed. And in the instance of the Perez family property, Wayne County kept every penny it earned from the sale of their property—a practice known as home equity theft.

Fortunately, Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) has stepped in and on July 9th, announced that it had filed suit on behalf of the Perez family against Wayne County and County Treasurer Eric Sabree.

Many of us have accidentally underpaid a bill before. Whether we were distracted, busy, or simply not paying enough attention to the total amount due, accidents happen to everyone. Eager to get the full amount owed, most companies will send strongly worded letters or call incessantly until you cough up the remaining amount due. It’s completely understandable as to why an entity would do this: they want what is owed.

However, if they tried to take your car away over the miscalculation of a few dollars, most people would be angry—and justifiably so.

When it comes to property taxes, if an individual underpays by even just a few dollars, there are 12 different state governments that can and will seize your property and sell it, without having to pay you a dime of the earnings. This is known as home equity theft. Unfortunately, the Perez family is not the only victim of this practice in Michigan.

In 2014, Uri Refaeli lost his home after it was foreclosed on and seized by Oakland County, Michigan. In 2011, Rafaeli purchased a small $60,000 property for his business, Rafaeli, LLC. While he had paid his 2012 and 2013 property taxes in full, he discovered that he had accidentally underpaid in 2011. When he made this realization and tried to correct his mistake in 2013, he forgot to account for the interest that had accrued on his back taxes. As a result, he underpaid by a measly $8.41. The county seized and sold his property for $24,500. Rafaeli never saw a dime of this money.

When it comes to outstanding debt, just like private companies, governments are eager to get what is owed and there nothing wrong with them attempting to do so. However, when they begin to go after more than they are owed, the situation becomes troublesome.

To make matters worse for Michigan, the state also has a shady reputation for using this practice to its own benefit. According to Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), local governments pad their budgets with the money earned from this stolen property. Each year in Detroit’s budget, there is a line with the estimated total revenue that the government is expecting to bring in from foreclosures of this very nature.

Earlier this year, it was discovered that Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree had violated Treasurer’s office rules by funneling foreclosed properties to family members and well-established and connected businessman for a fraction of the cost.

While state Treasurer’s office rules prohibit family members from participating in these auctions, several Freedom of Information Act requests filed on behalf of a Detroit News investigation found that transfers involving Sabree's family overlap with his time in office. Since 2011, when Sabree began as deputy treasurer, Wayne County has transferred ownership of more than 1/4 of privately owned properties in Detroit as a result of back taxes—making the whole situation in Michigan even more suspicious.

Michigan is not the only state guilty of using the practice of home equity theft. In Montana, local governments have been known to sell private homes of those with back taxes to “preferred” private investors, a practice that helped get the practice of home equity theft banned statewide just a few months ago.

Eighty-year-old electrician Gary Guidotti once owned four homes in Great Falls, Montana, which he rented out to help support himself and pay his bills. When the Great Recession hit in 2007, some of his tenants were no longer able to afford rent and stopped paying altogether. And without their rent helping to support him, Guidotti stopped paying his property taxes.

In 2008, Cascade County, Montana issued a tax lien of $1,125.45 on one of his homes. Just 17 months after issuing the lien, the county ended up selling it to a well-connected private entity for pennies on the dollar at $667.20. The private company, Sunrise Financial, acquired the deed to the property in 2011 and in 2015, sold the property for $139,300. Guidotti, of course, received no compensation from the sale of his home.

“This can’t be fair,” Guidotti said. “It (the law) has to be changed, but what’s the sense in fighting? The lawyers will have it all anyway. It’s just the way it goes.”

Without his properties, Guidotti was forced to move into a motorhome parked behind one of the homes that he used to own.

Our country was founded on the fervent belief that individuals have the right to their life, liberty, and, as is especially applicable here, their property. Greatly influenced by philosopher John Locke and his Second Treatise on Government, our country’s Founders understood how important property rights were to securing individual liberty and protecting Americans against government overreach.

In chapter five of Locke’s famous essay, “On Property,” he writes:

Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to (emphasis added), at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.

When a person works, like Ramouldo Perez did, and uses the fruits of his or her labor to purchase property, that property is theirs and theirs alone. This respect for the sanctity of property rights has been one of the most defining characteristics of the American idea.

Yet, practices like home equity theft and civil asset forfeiture, which allow law enforcement to strip individuals of their property without due process, have belittled this sacred principle and harmed many innocent people in the process. The confiscation of a person’s property, especially over a few dollars of unpaid taxes, is thoroughly unAmerican. Private property should be protected by the government, not seized and sold off before an individual has an opportunity to remedy the situation.

The unconstitutional practice of home equity theft has allowed individuals to be stripped of their property without fair compensation. But there is hope that this practice could soon be reined in or perhaps even stopped altogether.

In May, after diligent efforts made by PLF, Montana passed Senate Bill 253, giving property owners further protections against home equity theft.

The new law protects homeowners’ equity by requiring homes be sold to the highest bidder. Now the extra profits must be returned to the former owner after deducting taxes, interest, penalties, and costs,

Christina Martin of the Pacific Legal recently wrote.

In addition to Perez v. Wayne County, this fall, the Michigan Supreme Court will also begin hearing oral arguments for Rafaeli v. Oakland County.


Republished with permission under license from FEE.org

University of Mississippi Students Face Possible Civil Rights Investigation After Posing With Guns in Front of Emmett Till Memorial

Photos of Ole Miss Students Posing With Guns in Front of a Shot-Up Emmett Till Memorial Found. Now They Face a Possible Civil Rights Investigation.

OXFORD, Miss. — Three University of Mississippi students have been suspended from their fraternity house and face possible investigation by the Department of Justice after posing with guns in front of a bullet-riddled sign honoring slain civil rights icon Emmett Till.

One of the students posted a photo to his private Instagram account in March showing the trio in front of a roadside plaque commemorating the site where Till’s body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River. The 14-year-old black youth was tortured and murdered in August 1955. An all-white, all-male jury acquitted two white men accused of the slaying.

The photo, which was obtained by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica, shows an Ole Miss student named Ben LeClere holding a shotgun while standing in front of the bullet-pocked sign. His Kappa Alpha fraternity brother, John Lowe, squats below the sign. A third fraternity member stands on the other side with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. The photo appears to have been taken at night, the scene illuminated by lights from a vehicle.

One of the students posted a photo to his private Instagram account in March showing the trio in front of a roadside plaque commemorating the site where Till’s body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River.

LeClere posted the picture on Lowe’s birthday on March 1 with the message “one of Memphis’s finest and the worst influence I’ve ever met.”

Neither LeClere nor Lowe responded to repeated attempts to contact them.

It is not clear whether the fraternity students shot the sign or are simply posing before it. The sign is part of a memorial effort by the Emmett Till Memorial Commission, a Mississippi civil rights group, and has been repeatedly vandalized, most recently in August 2018. Till’s death helped propel the modern civil rights movement in America.

Five days after LeClere posted the photo, a person who saw it filed a bias report to the university’s Office of Student Conduct. The complaint pointed out there may have been a fourth person present, who took the picture.

“The photo is on Instagram with hundreds of ‘likes,’ and no one said a thing,” said the complaint, a copy of which was reviewed by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica. “I cannot tell Ole Miss what to do, I just thought it should be brought to your attention.”

The photo was removed from LeClere’s Instagram account after the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica began contacting fraternity members and friends. It had received 274 likes.

Kappa Alpha suspended the trio on Wednesday, after the news organizations provided a copy of the photo to fraternity officials at Ole Miss. The fraternity, which honors Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee as its “spiritual founder” on its website, has a history of racial controversy, including an incident in which students wore blackface at a Kappa Alpha sponsored Halloween party at the University of Virginia in 2002.

Patrick Weems, executive director of the Emmett Till Memorial Commission, takes down a bullet-riddled sign honoring the slain youth, whose death helped propel the civil rights movement in America. (Courtesy of Emmett Till Interpretive Center)

“The photo is inappropriate, insensitive and unacceptable. It does not represent our chapter,” Taylor Anderson, president of Ole Miss’ Kappa Alpha Order, wrote in an email. “We have and will continue to be in communication with our national organization and the University.”

After viewing the photo, U.S. Attorney Chad Lamar of the Northern District of Mississippi in Oxford said the information has been referred to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division for further investigation.

“We will be working with them closely,” he said Thursday.

University officials called the photo “offensive and hurtful.”

University spokesman Rod Guajardo acknowledged that an Ole Miss official had received a copy of the Instagram picture in March. The university referred the matter to the university police department, which in turn gave it to the FBI.

Guajardo said the FBI told police it would not further investigate the incident because the photo did not pose a specific threat.

Guajardo said that while the university considered the picture “offensive,” the image did not present a violation of the university’s code of conduct. He noted the incident depicted in the photo occurred off campus and was not part of a university-affiliated event.

“We stand ready to assist the fraternity with educational opportunities for those members and the chapter,” Guajardo said.

He said the university will continue to build programs to engage students in “deliberate, honest and candid conversations while making clear that we unequivocally reject attitudes that do not respect the dignity of each individual in our community.”

Since the first sign was erected in 2008, it has been the object of repeated animosity.

Vandals threw the first sign in the river. The second sign was blasted with 317 bullets or shotgun pellets before the Emmett Till Memorial Commission officials removed it. The third sign, featured in the Instagram photo, was damaged by 10 bullet holes before officials took it down last week. A fourth sign, designed to better withstand attacks, is expected to be installed soon.

News of the suspensions and referral to the Justice Department came as Till’s cousin, Deborah Watts, co-founder of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation, was already planning a moment of silence Thursday to honor her cousin with a gathering of supporters and friends dressed in black and white in “a silent yet powerful protest against racism, hatred and violence.” Thursday is Till’s birthday. Had he lived, he would have been 78 years old.

This is not the first time Ole Miss fraternity students have been caught up in an incident involving an icon from the civil rights movement.

In 2014, three students from the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity house placed a noose around the neck of a statue on campus of James Meredith, the first known black student to attend Ole Miss. They also placed a Georgia flag of the past that contains the Confederate battle emblem.

According to federal prosecutors, the freshmen students hatched the plan during a drinking fest at the house, where one student disparaged African Americans, saying this act would create a sensation: “It’s James Meredith. People will go crazy.”

One pleaded guilty and received six months in prison for using a threat of force to intimidate African American students and employees because of their race or color. Another student also pleaded guilty. He received probation and community service after he cooperated with the FBI. A third man wasn’t charged.

All three students withdrew from Ole Miss, and the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity’s national headquarters shuttered its chapter on the Ole Miss campus after its own investigation, blaming the closing on behavior that included “hazing, underage drinking, alcohol abuse and failure to comply with the university and fraternity’s codes of conduct.”


Republished with permission under license from ProPublica.

 

 

The Pentagon’s New Laser-Based Tool Uses Your Heartbeat to Track You

by Shelly Fan

The government’s hefty arsenal of surveillance tools just welcomed a powerful new member. Rather than monitoring an external device—a bug or a smartphone—or even the exterior features of your face, the new tech aims straight for your heart. Literally.

First reported by MIT Technology Review, the US Pentagon is developing an infrared laser that captures a person’s unique “cardiac signature” from as far as 200 meters—the length of just over two football fields—away, as long as you’re still. According to Steward Remaly of the Pentagon’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO), even longer ranges may be possible with higher intensity lasers.

Although chilling, the tech builds on previous ideas.

Contact infrared sensors have long been used to monitor a person’s pulse, in a clinical setting or when traversing high altitudes. Here, the devices shoot infrared light into a finger and measure how much blood flow alters the refraction. Unlike this classic setup, the Pentagon’s new tech—dubbed Jetson—uses laser doppler vibrometry that detects minute movements on the skin caused by heartbeat.

Currently under development by Ideal Innovations, Inc., a veteran-owned biometrics, forensics, and scientific company based in Arlington, Virginia, the goal of Jetson is to positively identify an individual within five seconds using a “heartprint.”

“Existing long-range biometric methods that rely on facial recognition suffer from acquiring enough pixels at a distance to use the face matching algorithms and require high performance optics to acquire visual signatures at significant distances,” explained the CTTSO. “The Jetson effort…is a ruggedized biometric system that will capture cardiac signatures to aid in the positive identification of an individual” from a distance with little lag time.

Jetson is just the latest attempt at surveillance from a distance. Rather than old-school technologies such as fingerprinting or retinal scans, this new generation of surveillance technologies uses biometrics to monitor your every move—be it face, speech, heartbeat, or even brain activity—from a distance.

The tech may sound extreme, but Jetson is using the same playbook as biometrics for security. And to project where surveillance is going, it pays to look at biometrics research as the canary in the coal mine. Using your finger or face to unlock your phone is just the convenient side of things—what makes your biometric signature secure as a passcode is also what makes you identifiable as an individual.

Face Off

Facial recognition technology is no doubt the current crown prince of surveillance technologies. China readily adopted the tech as part of their Social Credit System, which monitors a civilian’s every move in public to generate a numerical score for compliance. Even here in the US facial recognition is welcomed by law enforcement. Amazon’s Rekognition system, for example, is reportedly “supercharging” police efforts in Oregon and other police departments, despite pressure from civil liberties groups, lawmakers, and even its own shareholders.

Surveillance loves facial recognition because the tech is relatively mature and can be done from a distance. And no doubt, there is value for the technology in long-range counterterrorism. For example, the technology can be used to remotely confirm the identity of a suspect—say, an ISIS leader—and in turn allow a state to authorize an attack.

The problem? Facial recognition software is far from perfect. A study by the ACLU using Rekognition found that the system incorrectly matched 28 members of Congress to mug shots, with the majority being African-American. Technological hiccups aside, a face is relatively easy to disguise. The perfect surveillance system needs to be efficient, effective, and low-error. In other words, it needs something more concrete, immutable, and physiological to target.

That’s where cardiac signatures come in.

Beat of the Heart

To Dr. Wenyao Xu at the State University of New York, the heart is a much better surveillance target than facial recognition. “Compared with face, cardiac biometrics are more stable and can reach more than 98 percent accuracy,” he said.

Back in 2017, his team developed a non-contact, remote biometrics device that uses dimensions of the heart as a person’s identifier for security. His system distills the geometry of a person’s heart—measured by refracting sound waves with Doppler radars—to identify the particular shape and size that characterizes an individual. But because it relies on sound waves, the system could only function up to 30 meters away—a fraction of the Pentagon’s ideal distance.

Other cardiac signatures have also been used for security. The Toronto company Nymi, for example, developed a wearable wristband that uses an employee’s electrocardiogram (ECG), which is also uniquely tailored to each individual, as an access passcode for an enterprise’s secure database.

Jetson extends this approach by co-opting an off-the-shelf device that normally measures vibrations from structures at a distance. The device further utilizes a gimbal to hold its laser beam steady, allowing it to keep its measurements on target. According to MIT Technology Review, the current system takes roughly 30 seconds to generate a good return signal, and it’s only effective if the target is staying put—either standing or sitting.

Despite these caveats, Remaly said that Jetson works with an admirable 95 percent accuracy if the conditions are optimal. In practice, though, this means Jetson isn’t accurate enough to be reliable on its own. If adopted into surveillance tech, it would likely work alongside other measures, such as facial recognition or gait analysis, as secondary confirmation.

In addition, unlike faces and fingerprints, cardiac signatures aren’t exactly standard collection data. For the technology to truly impact surveillance, the government needs to build a new database from scratch. However, the team argues, when deployed over a period of time—sufficient to capture the heartprint of an individual seen doing something they shouldn’t, for example—it may still be used to positively identify a person, even if his or her actual identity remains mysterious. What’s more, clothing isn’t a deterrent since the tech blasts right through.

Military use aside, the Pentagon foresees the technology trickling down into the cultural mainstream. A doctor could remotely monitor his patient’s cardiac rhythms, for example, without having to rely on electrical wires. Nevertheless, like technologies using echolocation to track an elderly person’s gait for falls, it’s an open question if the benefits warrant the invasion of privacy.

Biometrics Revolution

Monitoring the heart may be just the first step in a new age of long-distance biometrics surveillance.

Speech is another identifier under attack. According to the CTTSO, the already-completed project Beetlejuice uses a beam-forming microphone array to monitor an individual’s speech, in addition to performing speaker tagging, tracking, and locating. The tech relies on deep neural networks to reduce noise and allow near real-time situational awareness of incoming signals, filtering speaker, messages, languages, and location, the report stated.

“The capabilities will be integrated into a lightweight platform in support of operators on the move and handle a variety of noisy audio media…This unique combination will improve performance in both noise reduction, source location, and human language technologies,” the team explained.

Going even further, Xu and others are working on “brainprints” for security measures. Unlike facial or cardiac fingerprints, the brain offers an “inexhaustible” source of secure passwords based on its response to various stimuli, explained Xu.

Using EEG, which picks up neural electrical activity from electrodes placed on the scalp, the team can extract automatic and unconscious activation patterns as a “brain password” unique to a particular individual. Of course, so far there isn’t a way to remotely monitor someone’s brain activity or construct a database of initial readings. And unlike a face or retina, a brainprint changes when an individual is faced with another stimulus.

Nevertheless, a snapshot of brain activity perhaps most uniquely represents you, as an individual, and technological challenges haven’t exactly been a deterrent to agencies that stand most to gain (hydrogen bombs, anyone?).

If history’s any indication, security measures based on biometrics are ripe for hacking and tracking. Now, thanks to Jetson, smearing paint on your face or wearing thick jackets will no longer circumvent surveillance monitoring. San Francisco and Somerville, Massachusetts both recently blanket-banned facial recognition software in protection of civil rights, with New York likely to follow in narrower domains. It’s worth keeping an eye on what comes next.


Republished with permission under license from SingularityHub.

Why the federal government isn’t prosecuting the officer who choked Eric Garner

Editorial note by Randall Hill: 

Systems, including the legal system, are created to protect the wealth, power, and self-interest of those who create them.

White slave owners created our legal and other systems still in use today. Eric Garner, Mike Brown and more were casualties of rigged systems.

Can you name a single system that does not fail black people in general? Education, banking, political, and just about every other system you can think of has extraordinary obstacles or traps targeted against us. We are de facto slaves because of our misguided trust in or lack of understanding about the systems that govern us. 

Unless we are prepared to make monumental sacrifices nothing will change. Tomorrow we will learn about another unarmed black person killed by police, get upset and frustrated, possibly march or protest but nothing will change. We will also hear about another black person being gunned down not by the police but by another black person. The police chief and mayor will talk about plans to reduce crime, community leaders will offer prayers and vigils, "We must stop killed each other" signs may go up, but nothing will change because the systems that caused the problems in the first place will not change. 

When we become successful, our success does not look like white success. For the most part, they own and we go to work for them. Two years ago, one in seven white families were millionaires and according to Credit Suisse, there are over 17 million millionaires in the U.S.

White people, for the most part, don't have entire systems designed to work against them, therefore as a group, they have better access to education, employment, housing, capital, and every other meaningful institution and system. Until we figure out a way to disrupt their systems the status quo will remain. What are you prepared to do? If the answer is nothing, nothing will change.

"Give me liberty or give me death"

Most Americans are familiar with the famous freedom quote articulated so eloquently by Patrick Henry, a man who owned 67 slaves at the time of his death. Many have never heard the full speech, a video reenactment is below.

As a slave owner, Patrick Henry knew he did not want to become a slave himself. He understood probably better than most that freedom isn't given, it must be taken. 


Article by Caren Morrison, Associate Professor of Law, Georgia State University

The Justice Department won’t file federal charges against the New York City police officer who put Eric Garner into the chokehold that led to his death. With the statute of limitations having run out, the case, legally, is closed.

Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother, says the federal government should have filed charges. 

The decision, announced almost exactly five years after Garner was pronounced dead following a confrontation with police officers in Staten Island on July 17, 2014, has sparked renewed objections from his relatives, activists and politicians.

Every officer involved has remained on the force, and no criminal charges have been filed. Daniel Pantaleo, the officer caught on video with his arm around Garner’s neck, was assigned to desk duty, but has stayed on the department’s payroll and even received an increase in his overtime pay.

Garner’s death was brutal, but as a former federal prosecutor and a criminal procedure professor who studies how prosecutors handle police violence cases, the lack of federal charges doesn’t surprise me.

According to criminal justice professor Philip Stinson, local prosecutors are often reluctant to prosecute the officers they work with to investigate cases. Reporting by the Marshall Project suggests they may not want to anger the police unions they often count on for political support. And existing law gives the police the benefit of the doubt in most situations. Based on my research, it seems that this is just how the justice system works.

New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo allegedly used a banned chokehold in the July 2014 death of Eric Garner.

Obstacles to prosecution

The case’s basic details are not contested. Pantaleo, who is white, was among a group of officers who approached Eric Garner, who was black, during a routine arrest for selling untaxed, loose cigarettes.

The encounter, which a bystander shot using his phone and the city’s medical examiner ruled a homicide, soon turned contentious. It culminated with Pantaleo taking Garner down to the pavement with his arm wrapped around his neck. Pantaleo is seen shortly afterward on the video pressing down on Garner’s head as other officers crowded around him.

A few months after Garner’s death, the Staten Island district attorney announced that he had presented the case to the grand jury, but did not obtain an indictment.

A public outcry ensued. Garner’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry at #BlackLivesMatter protests.

But the fact is that it is extremely difficult to bring charges against on-duty cops for excessive force.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that in police use-of-force cases, allowance must be made “for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments – in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving – about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”

Ever since, few juries have found police officers guilty of using excessive force. Since 2005, only 35 officers have been found guilty of charges related to killing civilians.

A sign and plaque near where Eric Garner had a deadly encounter with the police in the Staten Island borough of New York City.

Federal civil rights

Because of the Constitution’s protection against double jeopardy, which prevents anyone from being charged twice for the same crime, people aren’t usually prosecuted more than once for a single incident. But because U.S. law considers the states and the federal government to be legally independent jurisdictions, the Justice Department can indict an officer who has previously been charged under state law, even if he was acquitted.

When excessive force prosecutions against police officers don’t result in a conviction at the state level, the local U.S. attorney’s office may indict the officers for violating a person’s civil rights. This happened most notably in 1991 in the case of Rodney King, the black motorist who was beaten by Los Angeles police officers, and recently after the South Carolina mistrial of police officer Michael Slager, for shooting Walter Scott, another unarmed black man, in the back.

But the type of proof needed to bring a federal civil rights case is much more demanding than for a state criminal case. While there are numerous state charges that might be brought against an officer who causes the death of a civilian, from murder to manslaughter to reckless endangerment to assault, there is only one route for a civil rights case.

In those cases, prosecutors must prove that officers used excessive force against a person, generally defined as force that was clearly unreasonable in the circumstances. In addition, they have to prove that the officer’s actions were “willful.”

And willfulness is “the highest standard of intent imposed by law,” as the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, Richard P. Donoghue, said in his public statement about Pantaleo. “An officer’s mistake, fear, misperception or even poor judgment does not constitute willful conduct under federal criminal civil rights law.”

A narrow path

Many news outlets reported that the decision to close the Garner case happened once U.S. Attorney General William Barr ordered the case dropped, overruling the Civil Rights Division in his own department.

Activists have questioned Barr’s civil rights record, noting that while serving as President George H.W. Bush’s attorney general, Barr released a report titled “The Case for More Incarceration.” Barr’s predecessor, Jeff Sessions, quashed the Justice Department’s attempts to reform policing.

Still, I’m not sure the outcome would have been different with someone else in the White House.

In fact, disagreements on whether the case could be successfully prosecuted in federal court also snarled proceedings during the Obama administration. And there was only ever a narrow path to prosecution.

When Donoghue gave a detailed explanation for his decision, he took an unusual step. Most of the time, when officers don’t get charged, the reasons are shrouded in secrecy. Instead, Donoghue gave a painstaking explanation of the ambiguities in the video, the conflicting medical expert reports, and the reasons he believed the high standard of intent could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

I once served in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, which Donoghue now runs. I hate the fact that many people will never feel that justice was done in Eric Garner’s tragic and avoidable death.

Yet I’m not sure that I could have reached a different conclusion myself.The Conversation


How Eric Garner's Death Changed New York And The NYPD

The sad reality is, that unless your oppression negatively impacts your oppressor, they have no incentive to change.  Even New York Police Commissioner, James P. O'Neill, whose comments begin at 2:26 in the timeline, acknowledges how the protest over no indictments being issued in Eric Garner's death, culminated in the death of two police officers, which was the moment the police department realized they needed to make a change.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation. The editorial note preceding the article and the video and comments at the end were not part of the original.

Digital Jail: How Electronic Monitoring Drives Defendants Into Debt

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

by Ava Kofman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

 

 

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

Editorial note by Randall Hill

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

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

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

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

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

Article by Abby Zimet

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

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

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

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


Republished with permission under license from Common Dreams.