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.
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."
I recently finished, Ava DuVernay's "When They See Us" a four-part mini-series on Netflix that tells the story of the Central Park 5; five black and brown teenage boys who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman and spent between 6 to 14 years in prison. If you have not yet seen this movie, I highly recommend that you do. The trailer for "When They See Us" is below.
The film drives homes what can happen when a person doesn't know their rights or how to exercise them. Ironically, the mother of Yusef Salaam understood her son's rights and took the right steps to protect him, however, lack of knowledge of the other parents resulted in Yusef going to jail with the others.
"When They See Us" provides lessons about our criminal justice system that all African-Americans need to be aware of. If you're a black parent, watch it with your kids or at least make sure they see the series as part of their education about the U.S. justice system. Ava DuVernay discussed the film and the criminal justice system with Trevor Noah in the video below:
Children in juvenile court proceedings do not enjoy the same constitutional rights as adults. Prior to the civil rights era in the 1960s, juveniles had few due process rights at all.
The U.S. Supreme Court held that there’s no jury-trial right in juvenile delinquency proceedings. (McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, 403 U.S. 528 (1971).) However, minors tried in adult systems are entitled to juries.
A child’s statements to police can be used against them in court proceedings, however, only when the statements are voluntary and given freely. The government may not coerce confessions, as provided by the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and the due-process prohibition against admitting involuntary confessions into court. However, forced confessions are not easy to prove. Parents need to teach their children not to say anything to police without a parent or attorney present.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police can use deception and are allowed to falsely claim that a friend or acquaintance has confessed or implicated someone when in fact he/she had not (Frazier v. Cupp, 1969). The police can claim to have found a suspect's fingerprints at a crime scene when there were none (Oregon v. Mathiason, 1977), determining such acts insufficient for rendering the defendant's confession inadmissible. State courts have permitted police to deceive suspects about a range of factual matters, including, for example, falsely stating that incriminating DNA evidence and satellite photography of the crime scene exist (State v. Nightingale, 2012).
Children need to be trained on how to respond when stopped or detained by police. Police officers must have probable cause to search and arrest a minor who is suspected of violating a criminal statute. Minors like adults have the right to remain silent and are not required to answer questions. There are exceptions
In some states, you must provide your name to law enforcement officers if you are stopped and told to identify yourself. But even if you give your name, you are not required to answer other questions.
If you are driving and you are pulled over for a traffic violation, the officer can require you to show your license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance (but you do not have to answer questions).
Even if you have already answered some questions, you can refuse to answer other questions until you have a lawyer.
Keep in mind that lying to a government official is a crime but remaining silent until you consult with a lawyer is not.
When my sons were minors, I required them to keep a reverse Miranda card in their wallets that stated the following:
To: Any agent, law enforcement officer, or representative of the government
My Name is: X Hill – I am a minor child, following my parent’s instructions.
If you have been presented with this, then you have detained me against my will. I wish to be released at once. If you believe you have a legal reason for still holding me, then it must be for one of two reasons:
1. You believe I have information relevant to a case or investigation and need my assistance. I am happy to comply and will in no way obstruct justice. Simply type up your questions and contact my parent/s (R or C Hill 314-xxx-xxxx). Upon review by them and any attorney they so choose, I will answer any and all that they and their attorney advise me to. Please do not argue about this, or it will delay the investigation, and neither of us wants that.
2. You believe that I have committed a crime. I want to speak with my parent/s and/or the attorney they provide me and do not wish to answer any questions or make any statement until I do. You may contact my parents at 314-xxx-xxxx, alternate contact, grandmother 314-xxx-xxxx.
While doing those things, please see to it that I am given food, drink, and bathroom breaks frequently, as I will not ask. Please do not ask that I fill out, sign, initial, check off, or in any way mark anything for any reason. I have been forbidden to do this by my parent/s until they and/or their attorney, can review any such documents.
Finally, please do not interpret my silence as rudeness, guilt, retardation or anything else but what it is – obedience to my parent/s and their attorney.
Prison Industrial Complex
Locking up prisoners is big business. The three largest private prison corporations CoreCivic, formerly the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), Geo Group, and MTC take in $5 billion in revenue a year. If you bank with Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, BNP, and U.S. Bancorp, you may have helped finance private prisons.
In addition to private prisons, there are corporations that contract cheap prison labor, construction companies, surveillance technology vendors, companies that operate prison food services and medical facilities, prison guard unions, phone companies, private probation companies,lawyers, and lobby groups that represent them. "The Prison Industrial Complex: Mapping Private Sector Players” exposes over 3,900 companies profiting off mass incarceration.
Private prison inmates earn as little as 17 cents per hour. Companies including: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more have profited from prison labor.
It Begins Early
School districts thru zero tolerance policies often trap disadvantaged kids in the school to prison pipeline that can unfairly introduce them into the criminal justice system. Black students, in particular, are more likely to be arrested in school for minor behavior issues.
When my youngest son was in grade school, the principal shared some startling information, the number of prisons built are based on third-grade reading scores. This is supposed to be an urban myth, however, test scores are used to make some predictions. During my son's freshman year in high school, I had to appeal an excessive penalty for horseplay.
You owe it to yourself and your children to use Court.rchp.com and other resources to educate yourself about the law and our legal system. As "When They See Us" demonstrated, we're only as strong as our weakest link.
The precedents include the Los Angeles riots that broke out after the 1992 acquittal of police officers for beating Rodney King. Those riots happened nearly three decades after the 1965 Watts riots, which began with Marquette Frye, an African American, being pulled over for suspected drunk driving and roughed up by the police for resisting arrest.
I’m a criminal justice researcher who often focuses on issues of race, class and crime. Through my research and from teaching a course on diversity in criminal justice, I have come to see how the roots of racism in American policing – first planted centuries ago – have not yet been fully purged.
There are two historical narratives about the origins of American law enforcement.
Policing in southern slave-holding states had roots in slave patrols, squadrons made up of white volunteers empowered to use vigilante tactics to enforce laws related to slavery. They located and returned enslaved people who had escaped, crushed uprisings led by enslaved people and punished enslaved workers found or believed to have violated plantation rules.
Members of slave patrols could forcefully enter anyone’s home, regardless of their race or ethnicity, based on suspicions that they were sheltering people who had escaped bondage.
The more commonly known precursors to modern law enforcement were centralized municipal police departments that began to form in the early 19th century, beginning in Boston and soon cropping up in New York City, Albany, Chicago, Philadelphia and elsewhere.
The first police forces were overwhelmingly white, male and more focused on responding to disorder than crime.
As Eastern Kentucky University criminologist Gary Potter explains, officers were expected to control a “dangerous underclass” that included African Americans, immigrants and the poor. Through the early 20th century, there were few standards for hiring or training officers.
Police corruption and violence – particularly against vulnerable people – were commonplace during the early 1900s. Additionally, the few African Americans who joined police forces were often assigned to black neighborhoods and faced discrimination on the job. In my opinion, these factors – controlling disorder, lack of adequate police training, lack of nonwhite officers and slave patrol origins – are among the forerunners of modern-day police brutality against African Americans.
Jim Crow laws
Slave patrols formally dissolved after the Civil War ended. But formerly enslaved people saw little relief from racist government policies as they promptly became subject to Black Codes.
For the next three years, these new laws specified how, when and where African Americans could work and how much they would be paid. They also restricted black voting rights, dictated how and where African Americans could travel and limited where they could live.
The ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868 quickly made the Black Codes illegal by giving formerly enslaved blacks equal protection of laws through the Constitution. But within two decades, Jim Crow laws aimed at subjugating African Americans and denying their civil rights were enacted across southern and some northern states, replacing the Black Codes.
For the past five decades, the federal government has forbidden the use of racist regulations at the state and local level. Yet people of color are still more likely to be killed by the police than whites.
The Washington Post tracks the number of Americans killed by the police by race, gender and other characteristics. The newspaper’s database indicates that 229 out of 992 of those who died that way in 2018, 23% of the total, were black, even though only about 12% of the country is African American.
Policing’s institutional racism of decades and centuries ago still matters because policing culture has not changed as much as it could. For many African Americans, law enforcement represents a legacy of reinforced inequality in the justice system and resistance to advancement – even under pressure from the civil rights movement and its legacy.
When a Stanford University research team analyzed data collected between 2011 and 2017 from nearly 100 million traffic stops to look for evidence of systemic racial profiling, they found that black drivers were more likely to be pulled over and to have their cars searched than white drivers. They also found that the percentage of black drivers being stopped by police dropped after dark when a driver’s complexion is harder to see from outside the vehicle.
This persistent disparity in policing is disappointing because of progress in other regards.
What’s more, college students majoring in criminal justice who plan to become future law enforcement officers now frequently take “diversity in criminal justice” courses. This relatively new curriculum is designed to, among other things, make future police professionals more aware of their own biases and those of others. In my view, what these students learn in these classes will make them more attuned to the communities they serve once they enter the workforce.
But the persistence of racially biased policing means that unless American policing reckons with its racist roots, it is likely to keep repeating mistakes of the past. This will hinder police from fully protecting and serving the entire public.
The federal class-action claims thousands of people in Missouri were jailed because they couldn’t pay off fines. Four years after the suit was filed, the plaintiffs are still waiting, and wondering if the deck is stacked against them.
By Topher Sanders
In January 2014, Tonya DeBerry was driving through an unincorporated area of St. Louis County, Missouri, when a police officer pulled her over for having expired license plates.
After discovering that DeBerry, 51, had several outstanding traffic tickets from three jurisdictions, the officer handcuffed her and took her to jail.
To be released, she was told, she would have to pay hundreds of dollars in fines she owed the county, according to her account in a federal lawsuit. But after her family came up with the money, DeBerry wasn’t released from custody. Instead, she was handed over to the municipalities of Ferguson and Jennings, and in each city, she was told she would be released only after she paid a portion of the fines she owed them, according to the lawsuit.
It was as if she were being held for “ransom,” her lawyer would later say.
The Supreme Court ruled almost 50 years ago that a person can’t be jailed for not being able to pay a fine. But like so many people in Missouri, DeBerry had ended up cycling through a succession of jails for that very reason, caught up in what critics have called modern-day “debtors prisons,” used by towns to keep fines flowing into municipal coffers.
“It’s a cat-and-mouse game,” said her daughter, Allison Nelson, who has also spent time in jail for not being able to pay traffic fines.
If DeBerry and her family were exasperated by the heavy-handed collection efforts, they would learn how hard it would be to hold the authorities accountable, especially in Ferguson, even after the killing of Michael Brown later that year drew national attention to the city’s troubled criminal justice system.
The city slowly stopped jailing people for not being able to pay fines as the news media showed the victims were primarily black and the Justice Department made clear that what Ferguson had been doing was wrong. But four years after a federal class-action suit was filed against the city on behalf of thousands of people who claimed they were jailed for their inability to pay fines, the plaintiffs are still waiting for redress.
The city has sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, filing a succession of motions, arguing among other reasons that instead of suing the city, the plaintiffs should be suing the municipal division of the state court. All three of the motions have been denied by the judge, Audrey G. Fleissig, of the U.S. District Court in St. Louis, though one of the rulings was appealed and that took about a year to resolve.
One issue has proved to be particularly frustrating to the plaintiffs: whether the city of Ferguson is even insured for a class action.
In March 2016, the lawyer representing Ferguson sent an email to a representative of the city’s insurer, saying that the scope of the lawsuit had expanded, and that concern about the case “grew” after a similar suit was settled for what was believed to be a “substantial amount of money.”
The five-sentence email concluded with the lawyer, Peter Dunne, of the St. Louis firm Pitzer Snodgrass, saying that legal action may be necessary to resolve the question of whether the city was covered for a class action.
“We believe a DJ [declaratory judgment] suit to determine coverage may be necessary,” Dunne wrote.
Three months later, the insurance trust filed a declaratory judgment suit against Ferguson in St. Louis County Circuit Court, asking a judge to find that the city did not have insurance coverage for class actions.
Dunne’s role was not publicly known until September when St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger reported Ferguson’s allegation that Dunne had violated his duty to the city. The email documenting Dunne’s discussion of a lawsuit with the insurer was first obtained by ProPublica. Dunne, one of the firm’s principals, did not respond to requests for comment. The other principals did not respond to emails or to a call to the firm’s office.
Suggesting legal action involving his own client was a breach of legal ethics, some experts said, and the revelation has only deepened the sense among the plaintiffs and their supporters that the deck is stacked.
“No matter where the citizens of Ferguson go in the legal system, justice is really hard for them to obtain,” said Vincent Southerland, executive director of New York University School of Law’s Center on Race, Inequality and the Law. “It’s another example that we have a legal system that was not built to protect and vindicate the rights of the most vulnerable among us.”
The killing of Brown by a police officer in August 2014 and the unrest that followed thrust Ferguson into the middle of a growing national debate over race and law enforcement. But for black people in Ferguson and the surrounding North County region, racial discrimination had long defined their relationship with the local police and courts.
Even as the rest of the country moved on from Ferguson, the people seeking a judgment against the city found themselves mired in the machinations of an insular legal system and an overburdened insurance carrier.
Ferguson, a city of about 21,000 people, was insured through a cooperative of 25 municipalities called the St. Louis Area Insurance Trust, commonly referred to as SLAIT.
Messenger said the rural courts ensnared whites, while in Ferguson and elsewhere in North County, it was blacks who were victimized. “But it’s the same concept,” he said. “It’s policing on the poor, it’s jurisdictions that don’t have a tax base anymore looking to the judicial system as a fundraising tool and judges allowing themselves to be tax collectors rather than purveyors of justice.”
The trust hired Dunne to provide Ferguson’s defense of the class-action lawsuit. But his firm, Pitzer Snodgrass, was also providing the trust with legal advice on insurance coverage issues, according to a court filing by Ferguson. That set up what Ferguson said in the filing was a conflict that the city had not been made aware of.
Even if city officials wanted to settle the case, the trust claims in court filings there isn’t coverage and it won’t pay out. The insurance trust’s lawsuit will determine whether there is coverage.
Michael Downey, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert on legal ethics, said that unless Dunne had Ferguson’s permission, Dunne should not have talked to the insurer about the possibility of a lawsuit over coverage.
“A breach of the duty of confidentiality basically to encourage a party to take action against your client is a pretty serious violation of the rules,” Downey said.
Even if Dunne thought he was conveying something that the insurer already knew, the exchange was still concerning, Downey said.
The trust, through its lawyer, declined to comment.
Michael Frisch, Georgetown University Law Center’s ethics counsel, said that, were the bar to pursue an investigation, any punishment would not be severe. A reprimand — at most, he said.
“It’s the kind of a thing that would not draw that much of a response from the bar,” Frisch said. “Lawyers tend not to get suspended for things like this.”
New York University law professor Stephen Gillers, who specializes in legal ethics, said that regardless of any punishment, Dunn’s actions are significant.
“It’s a big deal, because clients are entitled to loyalty,” he said. “If you can’t be equally loyal to both clients, then you have a conflict and you have to withdraw entirely or from one or the other client.”
For lawyers hired by insurance companies to represent policyholders, the question of who is the client was for many years unsettled ethical terrain, experts say.
Lawyers can feel a sense of obligation to the insurance companies that hire them — and that can provide a steady stream of business — said William Barker, co-author of “Professional Responsibilities of Insurance Defense Counsel.”
Barker, a Chicago lawyer with the firm Dentons, said that until the 1970s, lawyers hired by insurance companies to represent a policyholder typically thought of the company as their chief client. But a series of court decisions since then established that the lawyer owes undivided loyalty to the policyholder, and that is why the lawyer’s actions in the Ferguson case appear to be troubling, Barker said. “That’s something that the defense lawyer ought not to be doing,” he said. “The lawyer who is handling the defense ought not to be involved, certainly in advising the insurance company on coverage issues.”
Michael-John Voss, a lawyer for the ArchCity Defenders, the civil rights group that brought the lawsuit against Ferguson, expects to case to drag into 2020.
“The relief and the remedy has been a long time coming, and there’s no clear end in sight,” he said. “And it reemphasized to me the way that these larger structures are put in place to avoid accountability and to perpetuate a system of social control.”
ProPublica asked the insurance trust if it had instructed Dunne to act as he did, but the trust’s lawyer said the organization would not answer any of ProPublica’s questions because of the ongoing lawsuits.
The insurance cooperative was created in the 1980s to help small St. Louis-area municipalities share the cost of liability insurance and health care. The arrangement worked for the occasional slip-and-fall claim and other routine municipal litigation. But it has not held up well in the face of payouts to cops injured on duty and for actions by the police and the courts.
Most notably, the trust paid $1.5 million to Brown’s family in 2017 to settle a wrongful death claim against Ferguson. But that was hardly the only big hit in recent years. In 2016, a jury awarded $3 million to the family of Jason Moore, an unarmed 31-year-old man, who died after a Ferguson police officer delivered several shots from a Taser.
A state audit released in February showed the organization’s fund balance dropped to $3.8 million in 2018 from $12.2 million in 2016. Like many insurers, the trust also has its own coverage, known as reinsurance, and it turned to those carriers to help with the Moore verdict. But the companies have told the trust that they won’t cover the judgment in the Moore case because the companies allege the trust improperly notified them of the claim. The trust is suing the companies.
Dunne and his firm are no longer working on the Ferguson case. The firm was disqualified by the judge after it hired a lawyer from the ArchCity Defenders who represented one of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs in court.
De’carlon Seewood, who stepped down in March after three and a half years as Ferguson’s city manager, said resolving the lawsuit will help the community move beyond the abuses and the notoriety that came with them.
“It is important to kind of move forward and show that new face, that better face,” Seewood said this year, before he left Ferguson to become the city manager in Fairburn, Georgia, just outside Atlanta. Jeffrey Blume, Ferguson’s interim city manager, directed questions to the city’s attorney, who declined to answer.
Seewood said the city had hoped the insurance trust would take care of the settlement the way the insurer for the city of Jennings had. But Jennings was in a very different position. Its insurer was Travelers, the country’s sixth-largest property and casualty insurer. By contrast, the insurance trust is a small cooperative with dwindling funds.
“The insurance [trust] looked at the enormity of what’s being asked and they said that’s it’s outside their [coverage] of the city, and so the city finds itself fighting with its insurance company about [coverage],” Seewood said.
According to a memo written by the trust’s claims administrator, the plaintiffs originally asked for $27.5 million but during mediation in April 2016 reduced the demand to $9.5 million. That amount is what the plaintiffs believe, based on the policies, is the total coverage limit of Ferguson’s insurance.
Alexandra Lahav, a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law and an expert in civil litigation, said a case like this typically would be resolved in about two years and said the insurance dispute was slowing the process.
“This really shouldn’t be a very complicated class action,” Lahav said.
Lisa Soronen, executive director for the State and Local Legal Center, a Washington organization that supports states and local governments in legal disputes that rise to the U.S. Supreme Court, said the dispute between the trust and Ferguson didn’t leave the city with many sound options other than fighting the case mightily.
“As a practical matter, Ferguson’s a really small city that has no money,” she said. “If there’s no insurance coverage and there’s a huge judgment, I don’t know how it would pay.”
John Rappaport, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School who has studied the impact insurance can have on police practices and policies, said insurance trusts have a reputation for being less likely than commercial insurers to settle cases involving police officers.
“The risk pools or the trusts, they see themselves as extensions of the cities themselves,” he said. “Their reluctance to settle litigation against the police would seem [to be] a kind of loyalty to their members — their cities.”
Rappaport said commercial insurers often see the issues as purely a matter of dollars and cents.
“Whereas if the city either is in a risk pool or the city represents itself, they see it as more of like a moral issue, like we have to stand up for our officers,” he said.
Even after the Ferguson suit is resolved, litigation in Missouri over “debtors prison” practices won’t be. ArchCity Defenders has lawsuits pending in six other cities, with more in the pipeline stretching beyond North County.
DeBerry, the Ferguson woman who was a named plaintiff in the Ferguson class action, was also a plaintiff in the lawsuit against neighboring Jennings, which settled for $4.8 million less than a year and a half after the suit was filed.
But the suit in Ferguson has dragged on longer than DeBerry could wait.
She died in April 2018.
“And now she will never even get a piece of this justice because she’s no longer here,” said Nelson, her daughter. “That’s sad, that’s really sad. It’s actually pathetic because it should have never come to that. It hurts.”
Republished with permission under license from ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.
There appears to be a concerted effort to destroy the reputations and images of Black men. Not even the dead are immune. Fifty-one years after his death, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is the latest target; allegations of rape and participation in orgies have surfaced.
FBI records show between 1956 and 1971 a covert and at times illegal program, COINTELPRO, targeted black leaders and civil rights organizations with the stated purpose of surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting their activities. The FBI file on my uncle Dick Gregory contains over 3,700 pages.
Two days after Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington, William Sullivan, the FBI’s director of intelligence, famously responded by writing, “We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro and national security.” In late August 1963, FBI leaders met to discuss ways of “neutralizing King".
COINTELPRO tactics are still used to this day, and have been alleged to include discrediting targets through psychological warfare; smearing individuals and groups using forged documents and by planting false reports in the media; harassment; wrongful imprisonment; and illegal violence, including assassination.
The FBI sent a secret memo in August 2017 to alert 18,000 law enforcement agencies that people involved in the black lives matter and similar movements could be "black identity extremism” an inflammatory term for a group that doesn’t even exist to discredit and criminalize black people protesting against police brutality and killings by labeling them as terrorists.
The memos claim that agents knew that King and a group including Baltimore Pastor Logan Kearse were going to be staying at the Willard Hotel in January 1964 days before he ever arrived. The most troubling memos describe King witnessing a rape in a hotel room. Instead of stopping it, handwritten notes in the file say he laughed and encouraged Kearse who died in 1991 to continue. The FBI allegedly listened in on King and at least 11 others who participated in what the FBI memos describe as “an orgy” on Jan. 6, 1964.
Many of these transcripts were based on audiotapes that are still sealed until 2027 under a court order. That’s when the FBI’s full audiotapes, photographs and film footage of King will be unsealed per a 1977 court order.
Some historians have questioned Garrow’s choice to publish the content of the memos and transcripts without listening to the recordings, and have pointed out that the FBI had spent years trying to undermine King. People will rightly debate the trustworthiness of FBI sources, and Garrow’s interpretation of them. No figure, no matter how revered, should be immune from scrutiny over their potential support for violence against women.
But those weighing the evidence and its legitimacy should not forget that the tapes being used to facilitate this discussion were created and preserved with the goal of destroying Martin Luther King’s reputation. The FBI’s intent was to demoralize and fragment the coalition of supporters King brought together in his life, the people who find common purpose by honoring his memory.
A large segment of the black community is too quick to buy into racist narratives created in the news media about black athletes, entertainers, politicians, and leaders.
As we've mentioned before 90 percent of mass media is controlled by a few white corporations. Negative perceptions of black people persist primarily because of racist propaganda. Most white television programming and movies depict even successful black people as former drug dealers, criminals or they have some major character flaw and can't be trusted.
Bill Cosby's reputation was destroyed after a massive media propaganda campaign that accused him of sexually assaulting dozens of women. Cosby was eventually convicted of aggravated indecent assault and sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison. The Cosby Show and A Different World helped spread a more positive image of African-Americans all around the world. The Cosby Show made possible a larger variety of shows with a predominantly African-American cast, such as In Living Color, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and others.
The Cosby Show may not have been possible if Dr. King hadn't inspired millions of people through his actions and words. Although, there were others who were equally dedicated, such as Medgar Evers and Malcolm X who also gave their lives fighting for civil rights; none were more persuasive. Now Dr. King's legacy which inspired a national holiday is under assault.
The white media machine will viciously attack Dr. King's reputation and legacy. Hopefully, large segments of the black community will not be fooled into abandoning one of their most cherished champions. As a reminder of white media's power; in January of this year, the following black reputations were attacked:
Michael Jackson and R. Kelly were vilified in the documentaries "Leaving Neverland" and "Surviving R. Kelly". Both were previously found not guilty in prior sex abuse cases. New charges were bought against Kelly after Surviving R. Kelly aired.
Chris Brown was arrested on rape and drug charges in Paris, however, charges were later dropped but the investigation remains open.
Jussie Smollett after reporting being attacked became a suspect and was indicted on 16 felony counts and faced 64 years in prison. The police held an elaborate press conference which was essentially trial by public opinion. All charges were eventually dropped and the Black prosecutor was smeared. The Chicago police just recently released hundreds of pages of the Smollett case file.
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and others are celebrated by white people despite them being slave owners and rapist. Many in the white community still believe black people should stand to honor a song adopted as the national anthem that celebrated the deaths and defeat of slaves who were fighting for their freedom.
Mentioning slaves fighting for freedom reminded me of the 2016 media attack on Nate Parker, director and star of "Birth of a Nation", a wonderful film about the slave rebellion led by Nat Turner. Nate Parker and his roommate and wrestling teammate, Jean McGianni Celestin, were accused of raping a white female student at Penn State. Parker was acquitted on all four counts brought against him. Celestin was convicted but it was later overturned. False rape allegations are an effective tool of white supremacists; countless numbers of black men have been lynched, jailed and ruined. "Birth of a Nation" was expected to be a huge success and Oscar contender until the media campaign smeared Parker's reputation prior to the release of the film.
Dr. King cannot defend himself against these outrageous allegations, so we must. He gave his life fighting for freedoms and privileges we now take for granted. Destruction of Dr. King's reputation is paramount to an assassination of his dream and legacy.
I'm tired of American Apartheid videos of black people being brutalized by police simply for participating in ordinary everyday activity. South African politician Julius Malema earlier this year stated: "don't be scared of white people"! He mentioned how everywhere in the world; "black people are treated like dogs and lifeless bodies".
A few days ago, a 15-year-old boy was pepper sprayed, knocked to the ground, his head slammed against the asphalt pavement and punched in the face at a Florida Mc Donalds.
Earlier this month, Renardo Lewis, a black business owner was slammed against a glass pane, then to the ground and punched in the face knocking out some of his teeth while at a Georgia IHOP.
The actual IHOP video can be viewed near the bottom of the this page. IHOP seems to have systemic issues. Last year in Missouri 10 Black Washington University students were falsely accused of leaving a Clayton IHOP without paying and a Kansas City IHOP printed "NIGGA" on a Black customer's receipt.
Dining while black, barbecuing while black, selling lemonade while black, gardening while black, and just simply living while black are among the mundane activities that have recently garnered headlines as reasons why some white people have called 911 on black people.
These calls to police often result in violence against innocent black people, however, the people making these frivolous false police reports are never charged and the companies involved are not held accountable. Starbucks is the only company that took serious action and closed all its stores for diversity training to ensure no more "while black" incidents occurred at its locations.
Unless Mc Donalds and IHOP take decisive action and condemn the brutal police tactics that occur against their customers on their property, I won't be dining while black at those locations anytime soon.
Many Black organizations seem to be afraid to speak out in any meaningful way to hold Mc Donalds, IHOP or others accountable when their actions cause harm to the black community. I suspect that many black organizations are afraid to speak out because they are afraid of losing white corporate sponsorship and donations.
Julius Malema the leader of South Africa's Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) party gave a powerful and moving speech about not being afraid of white people! He briefly appeared before the Newcastle magistrates court in northern KwaZulu-Natal and although he faced charges related to his comments to invade vacant land he still courageously renewed his call to action.
Malema is charged with the contravention of the Riotous Assemblies Act for his utterances in 2014 and 2017, his case was continued to after the May 2019 elections. In June 2017‚ Malema told supporters in the northern KwaZulu-Natal town of Newcastle that white people could not claim ownership of land because it belongs to the country’s black African majority.
In 2014 he told the EFF’s elective conference in Bloemfontein: “We’re going to occupy the unoccupied land because we need land. For us to eat‚ we must have the land. For us to work‚ we must have the land. I come from Seshego – if there is unoccupied land‚ we will go and occupy the land with my branch. You must go and do the same in the branch where you come from.”
Institutionalized racism under Apartheid stripped South African blacks of their civil and political rights and instituted segregated education, health care, and all other public services, only providing inferior standards for blacks. Internal resistance was met with police brutality, administrative detention, torture, and limitations on freedom of expression.
During Apartheid, millions of blacks were forced off their land and resettled into slums on some of the worst lands. Ownership of land became firmly concentrated in the hands of the white minority. In 2018 blacks made up 80% of the population but owned just 4% of individually held farmlandand 30% of urban land. Whites comprise only 7.8% of the population but own 72% of farmland and 49% of urban land.
In 1994 South Africa transitioned from the system of Apartheid to one of majority rule and Nelson Mandela became president. By 1996 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission(TRC), where perpetrators of violence, including torture, murder and other human rights atrocities provided testimony and requested amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution. Amnesty also allowed White perpetrators to retain their land. There was more consideration given to a few white oppressors then was given to millions of black victims.
American Apartheid is more subtle but the effect is the same. Pick any major indicator, education, housing, employment, credit, business ownership, skilled trade, technology, science, law, medicine or any other and blacks woefully lag behind whites. These situations did not randomly occur, they were designed and enforced through government legislation and policy. We gave more aid to our former enemies of war Japan and Germany than we provided to Black people here in the United States.
The old methods of peaceful protest do not work. Oppressors do not care if the oppressed have a parade and march down the street. Their system of oppression must be disrupted and the most peaceful way to do that is to hold companies that cause harm or remain silent responsible and impose economic sanctions. It's not enough to fire an employee that causes a chain reaction of undeserved police brutality, those firms involved must denounce the resulting oppressive police action. Instead of marching, picket outside of the offending establishment and ask customers to take their business elsewhere.
Decades ago, my mother and father's car was damaged by a grocery cart in the parking lot of a St. Louis supermarket. Since there were signs posted stating the store was not responsible for damages, the store refused to pay for damages. My parents printed leaflets, made signs and picketed the store causing them to lose substantial amounts of business. The store eventually offered to pay for repairs, however, my parents declined their offer and continued the information picket to teach the store a lesson so they would treat customers differently in the future.
About ten years ago, I responded to an online used car advertisement by a new car dealer. I phoned to make sure the car was still available, traveled there on my lunch break and agreed to purchase. I returned later that night with a cashiers check but was then told that the priced advertised online was wrong and that they would not honor that price. I completed a Missouri Attorney General complaint form.
The next morning I faxed a copy of the form along with a letter explaining if they did not respond by noon, I would file the complaint. I provide details of a planned information picket on the public right of way outside their dealership on Saturday morning.
By 10 am I received a phone call apologizing and that the original agreement would be honored. When the car was picked up that evening, the dealership president explained he was unaware of the situation until my fax arrived and that he had the vehicle checked out and that several repairs had been made and he even had a second key made.
Imagine what might happen if the family and friends of Renardo Lewis picket outside the IHOP. According to a news report, an IHOP brand spokesperson responded to the video of the arrest, saying, “Our top priority is the safety of our guests and team members. After an individual at the Marietta IHOP became belligerent and made multiple threats to those in the restaurant, including the use of a weapon, the franchisee’s team quickly followed protocol and alerted authorities. We’re grateful to the police for their quick response and for keeping the guests and team members in the restaurant safe.”
The video of the arrest is below.
Even when you face oppression, you are not powerless. If you don't take the time to exercise your power, you automatically concede it to your oppressors and enemies.
Jessie Dean Gipson Simmons was full of optimism when she and her family moved from an apartment in a troubled area of Detroit to a new development in Inkster, Michigan in 1955.
With three children in tow, Jessie and her husband settled into a home on Colgate Street in a neighborhood known as “Brick City” – an idyllic enclave of single, working-class families with a shared community garden.
The plan was simple. Like many African Americans who left the South as part of the Great Migration, Jessie’s husband, Obadiah Sr., would find a stable factory job just outside of Detroit. Then Jessie would put to use the bachelor’s degree she had earned in upper elementary education from Grambling State University in the township of Taylor – just a few blocks from their new home.
But the plan went awry. Jessie first applied for a teaching position with the Taylor school district in April 1958, but was denied. The same thing happened in March 1959. And a third time in May 1959. The repeated denials may have set back Jessie’s plans, but they also set her up to fight an important battle for justice for black educators at a time when many were being pushed out of the teaching profession.
I interviewed Jessie’s family as part of my ongoing research into the history of black women teachers from the Reconstruction Era to the 21st century.
The battle began when Jessie filed a grievance with the Michigan Fair Employment Practices Commission, or MFEPC, on Sept. 1, 1959. Jessie’s grievance detailed her conversation with the superintendent Orville Jones in March 1958, in which he told her “there would be vacancies in 1959.”
In August 1958, the Taylor Township Board of Education – the body overseeing the school district where Jessie wanted to teach – took up the matter of employing Negro teachers at a board meeting. The reason the item was placed on the agenda? The Superintendent at the time, Orville Jones, “felt that any handicap” – he deemed race as a handicap – “be pointed out to the board.”
The chair of the school board, Mr. Randall, stated applications were “considered in the order of the dates they were received.” Since the Taylor school board was now on record regarding its hiring practices for teachers, Jessie used that statement in her grievance.
Jessie’s decision to file a grievance would be a costly one for her family. The couple had planned on two steady incomes. In 1959, now a mother of five children, Jessie took a job as a waitress and a cook in a cafe to make ends meet. Her job drew scorn from family members in Louisiana who knew she was severely underemployed. And though her children didn’t know it at the time, Jessie and her husband “gave up meals so the children could eat,” according to Jessie’s oldest son, Obidiah Jr.
In 1960 the MFEPC held a public hearing for the grievance filed by Jessie and Mary Ruth Ross – a second black teacher who was also denied employment by the Taylor board of education. According to the Detroit Courier, Jessie and Mary “were passed over for employment in favor of white applicants who lacked degrees.” Records uncovered by the MFEPC found that 42 non-degreed teachers hired between 1957 through 1960 were all white and “had a maximum of 60 hours of college credits.” Jessie and Mary, on the other hand, were both degreed teachers with some credits toward a graduate degree.
How the Brown decision hurt black teachers
While the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision is often celebrated and considered a legal victory, many scholars believe it had a harmful effect on black teachers. In 1951, scholars writing in the Journal of Negro Education rightly warned that Brown “might conceivably” impact “Negro teachers”. Nationwide, school district leaders pushed back against Brown in two ways.
First, school leaders slow-walked the implementation of Brown – for many school districts as late as the mid-1980s. Second, black teachers across the country lost their once-secure teaching jobs by the tens of thousands after Brown when black schools closed and black children integrated into white schools. In the South, for example, the number of black teachers had soared to around 90,000 pre-Brown. But by 1965 nearly half had lost their jobs. A 1965 report from the National Education Association, a leading labor union for teachers, concluded school districts had “no place for Negroes” in the wake of Brown. School officials railed against Brown and refused to hire black teachers like Jessie, turning them into what sociologist Oliver Cox described as “martyrs to integration.”
My own research confirms that the forced exodus of black women from the teaching profession was ignited by Brown. Discrimination by school leaders fueled the demographic decline of black teachers and remains one of the leading factors for their under-representation in the profession today.
First ruling of its kind
At the eight-day public hearing, Jones admitted that “the hiring of Negro teachers would be something new and different and something we had not done before.” He stated he felt that the Negro teachers were “not up to par.” The hearing eventually revealed that applications for “Negroes” were kept in distinct folders – separated from the submissions of the white applicants.
After more than a year, the MFEPC issued a ruling in Jessie’s case. The decision got a brief mention from Jet Magazine on Dec. 1, 1960:
In the first ruling of its kind, the MFEPC ordered the Taylor Township School Board to hire Mrs. Mary Ruth Ross and Mrs. Jessie Simmons, two Negro teachers, and pay them back wages for the school years of 1959-60 and 1960-61. FEPC Commissioner Allan A. Zaun said the teachers were refused employment on the basis of race.
The attorney for the Taylor board of education, Harry F. Vellmure, threatened to challenge the ruling in court – all the way “to the Supreme Court if necessary,” according to the Detroit Courier. The board stuck to its position that Jessie and Mary were given full and fair consideration for teaching jobs and simply lost out to better qualified teachers.
As a result of noncompliance with the MFEPC’s order, Carl Levin, future U.S. senator and general counsel for the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Taylor school district on Jessie’s and Mary’s behalf. Even though the matter did not reach higher courts, Vellmure filed several appeals that effectively slowed down the commission’s order for seven years.
As the lawsuit dragged on, Jessie became an elementary school teacher with the Sumpter School District in 1961. By 1965, she left Sumpter for the Romulus Community School District. According to Jessie’s children, they would continue in the Taylor school district and were known as the kids “whose mother filed the lawsuit against the school district.”
In 1967, after seven years of fighting the Taylor school district in local court, Jessie and Mary prevailed. They were awarded two years back pay and teaching positions. Saddled by hurt feelings after a long fight with the Taylor school district, Jessie declined the offer and continued teaching in Romulus.
The Simmons moved into a larger, newly constructed home on Lehigh Avenue. Jessie gave birth to her sixth child, Kimberly, one month before moving in. Although the new home was only two blocks south of their old home on Colgate Avenue, Jessie’s four surviving children recall that their lifestyle improved and their childhood was now defined by two eras: “before lawsuit life and after lawsuit life.” And by 1968, Jessie earned a master’s degree in education from Eastern Michigan University.
Unsung civil rights hero
At her retirement in 1986, Jessie’s former students recalled that she was an effective teacher of 30 years who was known as a disciplinarian with a profound sense of commitment to the children of Romulus.
Jessie’s story is a reminder that the civil rights movement did not push society to a better version of itself with a singular, vast wave toward freedom. Rather, it was fashioned by little ripples of courage with one person, one schoolteacher, at a time.
Hate database shows that the terrorizing of people where they live is alive and well decades after the civil rights movement.
by Rahima Nasa and Rachel Glickhouse
In Delano, Minnesota, a black family’s home was broken into in March 2017 and a warning was spray-painted on the walls: “Get out.” The vandals left a note, too: “Next time it’s going to be fire.”
In Athens, Tennessee, the white mother of young biracial children alleged that she’d been harassed verbally by a neighbor for a year.
For close to two years, ProPublica has been compiling reports of hate crimes and bias incidents as part of their Documenting Hate project. The database now houses a vast compendium of ugliness in America. Killings, assaults, threats of terror — they are all there.
One of the more common entries involves people being harassed or threatened at their place of residence, often by neighbors, the people who live next door or down the hall or around the corner. Of course, this isn’t new. The integration of neighborhoods in the U.S. has been as fraught as the integration of the country’s schools.
Jeannine Bell, a lawyer and author of “Hate Thy Neighbor: Move-In Violence and the Persistence of Racial Segregation in American Housing,” said no corner of the country has any claim of immunity from the problem. She also noted that the total number of such incidents is not reliably captured in any formal data set, ours or those kept by federal and local authorities. That’s because, she said, many of these incidents go unreported.
“A lot of times, the people that are targeted don’t even know that this is a crime,” Bell said.
The Documenting Hate database has close to 6,000 entries — a mix of news reports, tips, personal stories of bigotry and records collected by law enforcement and some anti-discrimination groups. Among the most common things reported are anti-Muslim acts, which accounted for 359 entries, and swastikas showing up in public places, which were the subject of an additional 400 or so.
More than 300 entries were reports of harassment or menacing at people’s homes, targeting people of a variety of races and religions. The most frequent victims were African Americans. Indeed, African Americans are the most frequently victimized group nationally for hate crimes, according to data from the FBI.
That finding prompted us to send inquiries to the dozen or so police jurisdictions that had reported the highest number of anti-black hate crimes to the FBI’s hate-crime database from 2010 to 2016. Since we couldn’t get incident reports from every one of those jurisdictions, we also made requests to several police departments where we’d received data that included anti-black hate crimes.
In total, we were able to identify 639 incidents of anti-black violence or harassment from the police reports we received. More than a fifth of those reports, 138 in all, were incidents involving people being targeted by neighbors or in their homes.
In Columbus, Ohio, a man went to police because someone had been ringing his doorbell or banging on his garage 25 to 30 times a night, almost every night. When the man went outside, the suspect would call him racial slurs from the darkness. The man and his family are the only black residents of their cul-de-sac. No arrests were made and the case is currently listed as inactive.
In Toledo, at the north end of the state, a man was allegedly harassing three black neighbors in his neighborhood, using “unwarranted racist language,” according to the police report. One day, the suspect saw a car with black occupants throw trash on the street. Even though they had no relation to anyone on the block, the suspect came over and dumped trash on a black family’s lawn, the report said. “Since you all want to nigger up the neighborhood, I’ll burn you and your nigger family out,” he allegedly told the victim. Police went to the suspect’s home, but he didn’t answer the door. A call to the Toledo police to check on the case was not returned.
In Kansas City, Missouri, an African-American man went to police because his neighbor had harassed him for three years. The suspect allegedly stood in his driveway taking pictures of his home and waved a Confederate flag. The man who filed the complaint wound up moving, but he told police he was worried because he’d seen the man outside his new home.
In Oxford Township, Michigan, a couple — a white woman and a black man — went to police because they said they couldn’t leave the house without getting harassed by their neighbor, who called them racial slurs. When police gave the neighbor a citation for disorderly conduct, she ripped it up in front of the officer. She was subsequently arrested for disorderly conduct and her case was turned over to the local prosecutor’s office.
And in Spokane, Washington, we got records on two cases of possible neo-Nazis harassing their black neighbors. In one case, the neighbors reported that a man with a swastika on his hand called them racial slurs. He allegedly threw a brick at a woman, calling her a slur. In another case, a black man said his white supremacist neighbor and another man assaulted him in his garage while using racial slurs and threatened him with a gun. “Nigger, you don’t deserve to be breathing white men’s air,” they allegedly said. Later, the white supremacist allegedly returned with two other men and yelled “heil the KKK” and “white power” at the man, shortly before shooting a gun at his home from a car. The victim told The Spokesman-Review that one of the suspects had called him racial slurs for months leading up to the shooting.
According to the Spokane Police Department, both cases resulted in arrests and the suspects were charged with first-degree assault and malicious harassment. In the shooting case, suspect Donald Prichard’s criminal history record totals to 16 felony convictions, which included beating and sexually assaulting a woman. He’s awaiting trial on Jan. 22. The second suspect in that case, Jason Cooper, has 12 felony convictions, including unlawful possession of a weapon and burglary, and he is awaiting trial on Feb. 25.
Many accounts, both in our database and that resulted from our queries to police departments, include frustration at what can seem like a lack of police interest or action. In the case of the family targeted in Delano, no one was ever arrested, and the family wound up moving away. The mother in Athens said police told her there was little they could do about verbal harassment, that it was a civil matter. The authorities in Athens didn’t return a request for comment.
That said, we did find examples where the authorities ultimately took serious steps.
In Grapevine, Texas, Dante Petty was harassed by his white neighbor, Glenn Halfin, for over a year after he moved in. The harassment became so persistent that he installed surveillance cameras outside his home and a police officer was stationed outside for over a month. The breaking point occurred when his neighbor left black baby dolls with nooses around their necks hung outside his apartment. Ultimately, Halfin was charged with a hate crime and convicted of violating the family’s housing rights. He was sentenced to year in state prison, the maximum punishment based on his guilty plea to the misdemeanor charge.
“No one should be afraid to go home at night,” said U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox on the day of Halfin’s sentencing. Victims of such harassment at their residences, it turns out, have an option other than going to the local police. Harassing one’s neighbor also violates the federal Fair Housing Act, which makes it illegal for landlords and neighbors to interfere with someone’s right to housing based on who they are. And there is an office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development meant to handle such cases.
Victims can file a complaint with HUD within a year of the alleged violation. Owners, managers and condominium associations may be liable for neighbor-on-neighbor harassment if they fail to intervene when they have a duty to do so. Criminal penalties can include fines and prison.
According to HUD statistics, there were 8,348 complaints of such violations in 2015, 8,350 in 2016 and 8,186 in 2017. Half or more of those cases dealt with alleged violations involving people with disabilities. The HUD statistics show that, historically, very few of the complaints of any kind wound up with federal prosecutions.
The number of prosecutions has gotten appreciably smaller in recent years. In 2015, the Department of Justice closed 84 cases brought to it by HUD regarding the Fair Housing Act. In 2016, there were only 12. In 2017, there were just five.
Calls for comment from HUD were not returned because of the federal government shutdown.
Meanwhile, as the second year of Documenting Hate came to a close, reports kept coming in.
In June 2018, Hubert Roberts, of Clio, Michigan, complained to police that his truck had been targeted by racists. A Nazi symbol was spray painted on the truck, along with slurs and boasts of white pride. The Genesee County Sheriff’s Office would not comment on the case, other than to say no arrests have been made. When asked about the current status of the case, the FBI told ProPublica, “Adhering to DOJ policy, the FBI neither confirms nor denies investigations.”
Roberts said that this wasn’t the first time he was targeted in the community because of his race, either. He noted other instances of being called racist comments, where he was told to “go back to Africa,” while doing work on his yard.
“This could have been an opportunity for some dialogue in this predominantly white community,” Roberts said. “I just feel really disappointed with our justice system.”
Republished with permission under license from ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.
“A little overboard,” is how the police chief had previously described the officers’ actions. The decision to charge them came only after ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network demanded to see the video.
Two Elkhart, Indiana, police officers who punched a handcuffed man in the face more than 10 times will face criminal charges — 11 months after the fact, and only after The South Bend Tribune requested video of the incident as part of an ongoing investigation with ProPublica.
The two officers, Cory Newland and Joshua Titus, will be charged with misdemeanor counts of battery, the police department announced Friday. Both have been placed on administrative leave pending the case’s outcome, department spokesman Sgt. Travis Snider said.
The department also released the video of the beating after 5 p.m. Friday — more than three weeks after The Tribune requested a copy.
Five months ago, the two officers were disciplined for this incident. But they received reprimands rather than suspensions or possible termination.
Speaking to the city’s civilian oversight commission in June, Police Chief Ed Windbigler said the officers used “a little more force than needed” with a suspect in custody, and “just went a little overboard when they took him to the ground.” But Windbigler offered no other details, saying nothing of the two officers punching the man in the face.
The video was recorded in the police station’s detention area after the Jan. 12 arrest of Mario Guerrero Ledesma, who was 28 at the time. The footage shows Ledesma, in handcuffs, sitting in a chair while Newland, Titus and two other officers stand nearby. At one point, Ledesma prepares to spit at Newland, and the officer warns him not to.
As Ledesma spits, Newland and Titus immediately tackle him, and the back of Ledesma’s head strikes the concrete floor. The two officers then jump on him and punch him in the face repeatedly while one calls him a “piece of shit.”
Two other officers walk up casually as the punches are being thrown. “Stop,” one can be heard saying, as the beating ends.
Ledesma pleaded guilty in July to charges of domestic battery and resisting law enforcement, and was sentenced to a year in jail, with 133 days suspended.
The Tribune and ProPublica have been investigating criminal justice in Elkhart County, looking at police accountability, among other issues.
A Tribune reporter requested the Ledesma video after noting a disparity between Windbigler’s public description to the Police Merit Commission — the city panel that exercises civilian oversight — and what the chief wrote in personnel records.
In a June 12 letter of reprimand to Newland, Windbigler wrote: “I completely understand defending yourself during an altercation. However, striking a handcuffed subject in the face is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. We cannot let our emotions direct our reactions or over-reactions to situations such as this.”
The personnel files provided by the police department did not include any response from Newland or Titus to the disciplinary allegations.
Windbigler ended his disciplinary letters to both officers on an upbeat note: “I consider this matter closed!”
At the June 25 meeting of the Police Merit Commission, chairman James Rieckhoff asked Windbigler if anyone had been injured in this incident.
“No,” Windbigler said.
Windbigler, explaining why he opted for only reprimands, told the commission that Titus “had no previous complaints.” He said of Newland: “Here, again, he had no other incidents in his file, so this is his first incident of any type of force.”
“Any questions on this one?” Rieckhoff asked the commission’s other members.
“Just a comment,” commissioner Thomas Barber said. “I like how you police your own.”
“Yes, sir,” Windbigler said.
On Friday, The Tribune requested an interview with the chief, but Snider, the police spokesman, said the department would have no further comment beyond its announcement of the pending charges.
Neither Newland nor Titus immediately returned messages left at their department phone lines. Efforts to reach them at other phone numbers were also unsuccessful.
History of Misconduct
For Newland, the reprimand was not his first disciplinary incident. It was his ninth, according to personnel records gathered by The Tribune and ProPublica.
After being hired in 2008, Newland was suspended six times and reprimanded twice in his first five years.
In 2009, Newland was “very rude and unprofessional,” using profanity toward a member of the public while responding to a call, personnel records say. The police chief at the time, Dale Pflibsen, suspended Newland for one day. “You have been employed for just over one year and this is not the first allegation of you verbally loosing (sic) control towards the public,” Pflibsen wrote to Newland.
“I want to emphasize we will not tolerate this behavior from you towards anyone,” Pflibsen added. “If you plan on continuing your career at the Elkhart Police Department I suggest you seek counseling for anger management.”
The next year, in 2010, Newland was suspended one day for causing a car crash.
In 2011, Newland received a three-day suspension for conduct unbecoming an officer. After arresting a woman for public nudity — she and her boyfriend were having sex in their car, in Elkhart’s McNaughton park — Newland sent her a friend request on Facebook and seven text messages, asking to “hang out.”
“Needless to say you attempting to establish a relationship with this female, a defendant in a criminal case, is unprofessional,” Pflibsen wrote to Newland. “This type of conduct will not be tolerated by you or anyone else.”
One year later, in February 2012, Newland was suspended again, this time for one day. Newland, while off duty, flipped off another driver — who, it turned out, was a jail officer in St. Joseph County, according to a disciplinary letter. Newland also drove recklessly, “brake checking” the other driver, according to disciplinary records.
“Should there be another sustained allegation of this type of misconduct on or off duty I will seriously consider your termination from the Elkhart Police Department,” Pflibsen wrote to Newland.
Exactly one week later, still in February, Newland received a three-day suspension for not turning on his video-audio recording equipment “while on numerous calls and traffic stops,” a disciplinary notice says.
Newland’s last suspension — and his longest, for 35 days — came in the summer of 2013. Newland failed to investigate a woman’s complaint of domestic violence, then lied about it to his superiors, according to disciplinary records.
When asked directly by supervisors if the woman had said her husband hit her, Newland “indicated that she had not made any such statement, and only that there was some pushing involved,” a disciplinary letter said. But “within minutes of the end of the interview,” Newland “returned and informed his supervisors that the victim had, in fact, reported being hit by her husband.”
An audio recording captured the woman telling Newland she had been hit, and that her husband did so in front of her children, a disciplinary letter says.
Newland’s failure to be truthful did more than violate department policy, Pflibsen wrote to the civilian oversight board. If a police officer testifies as a witness, authorities must disclose if the officer “has been dishonest in his or her official capacity,” Pflibsen wrote, adding: “This incident has been referred to the Prosecutor’s Office and may have a significant detrimental impact on their ability to prosecute this case.”
Republished with permission under license from ProPublica a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.
Those conflicts, which ultimately placed justices on the court, yielded some of the most damaging civil rights decisions in our nation’s history.
Unlike any other branch of government, Supreme Court justices do not have to face voters at the polls. They have no term limits. Yet the high court is the final arbiter of constitutional rights and protections.
Controversial appointees who were rammed through hearings, or political careerists nominated for strategic reasons and confirmed despite scant vetting, handed down decisions that expanded slavery and rolled back civil rights.
Bad processes do not by themselves yield bad decisions. There have also been thinly vetted justices who have protected and extended civil rights, but such cases are in a minority.
So Jackson named Taney to the Supreme Court. The Senate refused to confirm him. The next year, after Jackson got a Democratic Senate, he renominated him, this time as chief justice. Taney was pushed hurriedly through confirmation.
The Taney Court was staunchly pro-slavery, rejecting states’ rights when Northerners asserted them to oppose slavery.
Taney’s most sweeping pro-slavery decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857 held that African-Americans “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.” The decision ruled that Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in any U.S. territory. Dred Scott is widely considered to be one of the worst decisions ever made by the court.
A critical time
During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was able to replace the Taney Court with corporation-friendly Republicans like Samuel F. Miller of Iowa, whom he nominated in 1862. Lincoln’s court strategy was to appoint Republicans who would endorse presidential powers in a war to save the Union.
Miller’s appointment came just as Lincoln was contemplating the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln could have asked Miller his views on the scope of black freedom, but he never did. He never even met Miller. And with no opposition in Congress, the Senate confirmed Miller in just hours.
Miller’s appointment may have been shrewd politics but it hollowed out the Civil War’s crowning achievement, the abolition of slavery and constitutional protections for African-American citizenship, including equal protection of the laws and the right to vote.
It was Miller’s majority ruling in the 5-4 Slaughterhouse Cases in 1873 that had the effect of limiting civil rights protections for African-Americans under the 14th Amendment, which extended citizenship to African-Americans and forbade states to deny them equal protection of the laws. The ruling in effect gave states sole power over areas of citizenship not explicitly covered in the federal Constitution. That, in turn, ultimately led to the growth of racist Jim Crow laws in states.
President Ulysses Grant’s two nominees were also pushed through hastily and had an oversized impact on civil rights.
Those appointments – conservative pro-business Republican Joseph P. Bradley and political hack Morrison Waite – unwittingly undermined Grant’s own Justice Department’s civil rights enforcement.
In 1870 Grant appointed Bradley specifically to help business interests concerned about recent decisions that they believed harmed them. Bradley faced scant opposition from a majority-Republican Senate in bed with railroad and other corporate interests.
Four years later, Grant picked Waite, a crony of Grant’s Ohio friends, who had zero judicial experience. Called a “national nonentity” by a court historian, Waite’s appointment surprised everyone, including Waite. The Senate confirmed him without debate.
The unintended consequences of these two overtly political nominations became clear in U.S. v. Cruikshank, an 1876 court decision.
In April 1873, up to 150 African-Americans were murdered by whites in a conflict over two competing Louisiana governments. Among those whites was William Cruikshank.
Cruikshank and others who participated in the massacre were charged and convicted in federal court of civil rights violations under the Enforcement Act of 1870. That act made it a federal crime to violate civil rights and was passed with the intention of putting teeth in the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed equal protection of the laws and due process. The case considered by the court was an appeal of those initial convictions.
Justice Waite ruled that the 14th Amendment’s civil rights provisions, including the equal protections of the laws and right to due process, did not apply to the victims of the Colfax Massacre.
Bradley and Waite’s responses constituted willful blindness to a naked act of racial terrorism. And these decisions gutted the 14th Amendment’s civil rights provisions, leading to the swift and violent rise of Jim Crow.
Bradley went on to rule in 1883 that the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which outlawed racial discrimination in public facilities, was unconstitutional. He did this at a time when blacks were being denied the right to vote, barred from businesses and murdered with impunity. Bradley tutted that with his ruling a black citizen “ceases to be the special favorite of the laws.” And the law ended protection for African-Americans from segregation in schools, theaters and even cemeteries.
It would be 74 years before Congress passed another civil rights act.
Not all justices involved in partisan nominations, or who were poorly vetted, handed down dreadful rulings.
Harold H. Burton was a surprise nomination when Democrat Harry Truman nominated the Republican senator from Ohio in 1945. The Senate dispensed with hearings and confirmed Burton without debate. But Burton defied expectations, shaping the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) ruling that desegregated schools and overturned the Jim Crow doctrine of “separate but equal.”
Back to the 19th century
More recently, contested nominations have revived the 19th-century practice of ramming through partisans whose decisions undermine civil rights.
The 1991 Clarence Thomas nomination evokes that legacy. With a thin resume, partisan credentials, and his nomination hastily pushed through by George H. W. Bush’s administration, Thomas won a lifetime appointment by a two-vote margin after an acrimonious hearing involving his alleged sexual harrassment.
Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, like that of Morrison Waite, Joseph P. Bradley and Roger B. Taney, has been rushed. A partisan warrior, he has been hastily advanced, with the majority of his papers withheld and sexual assault allegations overtaking his hearings.
As American history has shown, this process comes with profound risks.