Fear is a powerful and dangerous motivator which can mask real issues. Fear is an effective tool to control populations and convince people to voluntarily give up their rights. The video below of an 11-year-old active shooter expert provides an excellent example and has over 18 million views on Facebook.
Any death is tragic, especially the death of a loved one. My heart goes out to those who lost family and friend during mass shootings. My heart also goes out to those who have lost loved ones to violence right here at home and across the country.
On Sunday, August 18, 2019, my birthday, I woke up to read the following headline in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, "Almost A Dozen Children Fatally Shot, 1 Arrest". As of August 18th, 53 people out of a U.S. population of 330 million were killed in mass shootings this year. In contrast, 122 people out of a population just over 300,000 were killed in St. Louis during that same time frame. To put that into perspective, it would take over 133,000 mass shooting deaths in this country to equal the ratio of deaths in St. Louis.
In 2017, there were 14,542 gun homicides and nearly 40,000 gun deaths when suicides are included. We need to concentrate more on reducing those mostly handgun deaths and the underlying cause. I don't know many people within the black community that has not been personally touched by gun violence. I have personally lost a brother-in-law, a nephew, classmates, and my sons, nieces, and nephews have lost friends and relatives. I've experienced close encounters with guns fired from moving vehicles and so did my parents prior to the passing of my mother. Mass shootings are horrible situations, but I'm more concerned with gun violence on the streets of St. Louis than I am in Wal-Mart.
While fear has you worrying about a statistical improbability, your rights could be stripped away. Don't get distracted by false narratives.
Black Gun Rights Under Attack
I'm not a big fan of guns, however, if gun rights continue to exist, I don't want my gun rights infringed upon. Every time a mass shooting incident happens, the discussion eventually turns to background checks. Many if not most mass shooters passed background checks or possessed legal firearms.
Bans on assault weapons is currently a hot topic. Even if assault weapons were banned, handguns with magazines that hold 16-18 rounds are common. A person carrying one or two concealed handguns with multiple clips could also do a lot of damage.
As mention in our Missouri Gun Law page, gun restrictions in this country have always had racist intent. The FBI recently created "black identity extremism”, which falsely identified black protest groups as terrorists. Had the FBI been successful, members of "Black Lives Matter" and related groups could possibly have had their gun rights restricted because of supposed terrorist affiliations. Ironically, white mass shooters are rarely described as terrorist.
In both percentages and numbers, the black community has some catching up to do. I suspect that the vast majority of assault-style weapons are white-owned. Historically, bans include a grandfather clause, so if assault weapons are banned, the black community would be permanently disadvantaged.
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.
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.
“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.
America recently marked the 65-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education – a landmark case intended to abolish the “separate-but-equal” doctrine of racial segregation in schools.
But the racial makeup of today’s schools actually owes itself to a series of other court decisions – including one issued 45 years ago on July 25, 1974. The Milliken v. Bradley decision sanctioned a form of segregation that has allowed suburbs to escape being included in court-ordered desegregation and busing plans with nearby cities.
The Milliken decision recognized “de facto” segregation – segregation that occurs as a result of circumstances, not law. This allowed schools in the North to maintain racially separate schools at the same time southern schools were being ordered by the courts to desegregate. By giving suburbs a pass from large mandated desegregation attempts, it built a figurative wall around white flight enclaves, essentially shielding them from the “crisis” of urban education.
Outside a few voluntary and limited programs such as METCO in Boston and Springfield, Massachusetts, or Chapter 220 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that enabled a small number of children from cities to attend schools in the suburbs or more affluent areas, northern school districts remained largely segregated.
The decision ruled that social segregation was permissible and therefore exempt from court-ordered, “forced” desegregation plans. That is, the court said, if segregation occurred because of certain “unknowable factors” such as economic changes and racial fears – not a law – then it’s legal.
Originating in Detroit, a major destination of the Great Migration, the mass movement of southern African Americans to northern cities, the decision dictated how desegregation would proceed outside the South, if at all.
But the nation largely understood segregation to be an issue confined to the South. Milliken brought the freedom struggle’s call for integration to the North.
A new legal front
Twenty years after the Brown decision, the NAACP, Urban League and civil rights activists documented how segregation led to underfunded and inferior schooling across the North in cities like Chicago, New York and Detroit.
Black activists in Detroit like Rev. Albert Cleage, the NAACP and black parents in segregated housing and schools began to demand education reform as the freedom struggle intensified during the 1940s. They demanded things that ranged from community control to integration in all schools as opposed to token desegregation. By 1970, the NAACP demanded a desegregated school system as promised by Brown and filed a lawsuit against the governor, William Milliken.
As the Milliken case worked its way through the courts from 1970 to 1974, the nature of public education was changing. Millions of whites abandoned the cities for suburban enclaves. Like the rest of the North, Detroit experienced dramatic population shifts that decimated public schools. From the 1950s through 1970s, Detroit lost over 30% of its white population to the suburbs, where the population climbed to over 3 million. By the 1970s students of color comprised nearly 75% of a once majority-white system. More affluent whites and the few families of color who fled left behind a depleted tax base that starved public schools, as described in Jeffrey Mirel’s “The Rise and Fall of an Urban School System.”
Desegregation dreams deferred
To address the issue of persistent segregation, the Supreme Court consented in the 1971 Swann v. Mecklenburg decision to busing students outside their neighborhood schools in North Carolina as a solution to segregation.
Following the spirit of Swann, a United States district judge for the Eastern District of Michigan named Stephen J. Roth, issued one of the most extensive desegregation orders of the era in 1972. Roth’s plan called for the two-way integration of 780,000 students across not only Detroit, but school districts in a tri-county area.
The plan was never put into action because of the 1974 Supreme Court Milliken decision.
Districts could still voluntarily bus – but busing was so unpopular and politically untenable in 1974 that few attempted it in any serious manner. A narrow 5-4 majority of justices determined that “racial imbalance” in Detroit – and by inference in other U.S. cities – was caused by “de facto” segregation.
Justice Potter Stewart wrote in his concurring opinion that segregation in Detroit was “caused by unknown and perhaps unknowable factors such as in-migration, birth rates, economic changes, or cumulative acts of private racial fears.” In other words, the justices in the majority – most of them appointed by President Richard Nixon – found that the suburbs should not be subject to busing.
In a scathing dissent, Justice Thurgood Marshall, the lead counsel for the NAACP when the Brown case was brought to the court and who was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1967, wrote: “After 20 years of small, often difficult steps (toward equal justice under law) the Court today takes a giant step backwards.” He said the Court revived “the same separate and inherently unequal education … afforded in the past.”
Milliken put forth the convenient narrative that segregation in the North was natural and therefore permissible. It also freed northern school districts from being forced to participate in large-scale solutions to segregation and unequal education outside their boundaries.
I believe continuing to ignore Milliken covers up the ongoing segregation of America’s schools today and the nation’s collective, ongoing failure to improve public education in the spirit of Brown.
Systems, including the legal system, are created to protect the wealth, power, and self-interest of those who create them.
White slave owners created our legal and other systems still in use today. Eric Garner, Mike Brown and more were casualties of rigged systems.
Can you name a single system that does not fail black people in general? Education, banking, political, and just about every other system you can think of has extraordinary obstacles or traps targeted against us. We are de facto slaves because of our misguided trust in or lack of understanding about the systems that govern us.
Unless we are prepared to make monumental sacrifices nothing will change. Tomorrow we will learn about another unarmed black person killed by police, get upset and frustrated, possibly march or protest but nothing will change. We will also hear about another black person being gunned down not by the police but by another black person. The police chief and mayor will talk about plans to reduce crime, community leaders will offer prayers and vigils, "We must stop killed each other" signs may go up, but nothing will change because the systems that caused the problems in the first place will not change.
When we become successful, our success does not look like white success. For the most part, they own and we go to work for them. Two years ago, one in seven white families were millionaires and according to Credit Suisse, there are over 17 million millionaires in the U.S.
White people, for the most part, don't have entire systems designed to work against them, therefore as a group, they have better access to education, employment, housing, capital, and every other meaningful institution and system. Until we figure out a way to disrupt their systems the status quo will remain. What are you prepared to do? If the answer is nothing, nothing will change.
"Give me liberty or give me death"
Most Americans are familiar with the famous freedom quote articulated so eloquently by Patrick Henry, a man who owned 67 slaves at the time of his death. Many have never heard the full speech, a video reenactment is below.
As a slave owner, Patrick Henry knew he did not want to become a slave himself. He understood probably better than most that freedom isn't given, it must be taken.
Article by Caren Morrison, Associate Professor of Law, Georgia State University
The Justice Department won’t file federal charges against the New York City police officer who put Eric Garner into the chokehold that led to his death. With the statute of limitations having run out, the case, legally, is closed.
The decision, announced almost exactly five years after Garner was pronounced dead following a confrontation with police officers in Staten Island on July 17, 2014, has sparked renewed objections from his relatives, activists and politicians.
Every officer involved has remained on the force, and no criminal charges have been filed. Daniel Pantaleo, the officer caught on video with his arm around Garner’s neck, was assigned to desk duty, but has stayed on the department’s payroll and even received an increase in his overtime pay.
According to criminal justice professor Philip Stinson, local prosecutors are often reluctant to prosecute the officers they work with to investigate cases. Reporting by the Marshall Project suggests they may not want to anger the police unions they often count on for political support. And existing law gives the police the benefit of the doubt in most situations. Based on my research, it seems that this is just how the justice system works.
Obstacles to prosecution
The case’s basic details are not contested. Pantaleo, who is white, was among a group of officers who approached Eric Garner, who was black, during a routine arrest for selling untaxed, loose cigarettes.
The encounter, which a bystander shot using his phone and the city’s medical examiner ruled a homicide, soon turned contentious. It culminated with Pantaleo taking Garner down to the pavement with his arm wrapped around his neck. Pantaleo is seen shortly afterward on the video pressing down on Garner’s head as other officers crowded around him.
A few months after Garner’s death, the Staten Island district attorney announced that he had presented the case to the grand jury, but did not obtain an indictment.
But the fact is that it is extremely difficult to bring charges against on-duty cops for excessive force.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that in police use-of-force cases, allowance must be made “for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments – in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving – about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”
Because of the Constitution’s protection against double jeopardy, which prevents anyone from being charged twice for the same crime, people aren’t usually prosecuted more than once for a single incident. But because U.S. law considers the states and the federal government to be legally independent jurisdictions, the Justice Department can indict an officer who has previously been charged under state law, even if he was acquitted.
When excessive force prosecutions against police officers don’t result in a conviction at the state level, the local U.S. attorney’s office may indict the officers for violating a person’s civil rights. This happened most notably in 1991 in the case of Rodney King, the black motorist who was beaten by Los Angeles police officers, and recently after the South Carolina mistrial of police officer Michael Slager, for shooting Walter Scott, another unarmed black man, in the back.
But the type of proof needed to bring a federal civil rights case is much more demanding than for a state criminal case. While there are numerous state charges that might be brought against an officer who causes the death of a civilian, from murder to manslaughter to reckless endangerment to assault, there is only one route for a civil rights case.
In those cases, prosecutors must prove that officers used excessive force against a person, generally defined as force that was clearly unreasonable in the circumstances. In addition, they have to prove that the officer’s actions were “willful.”
And willfulness is “the highest standard of intent imposed by law,” as the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, Richard P. Donoghue, said in his public statement about Pantaleo. “An officer’s mistake, fear, misperception or even poor judgment does not constitute willful conduct under federal criminal civil rights law.”
Still, I’m not sure the outcome would have been different with someone else in the White House.
In fact, disagreements on whether the case could be successfully prosecuted in federal court also snarled proceedings during the Obama administration. And there was only ever a narrow path to prosecution.
When Donoghue gave a detailed explanation for his decision, he took an unusual step. Most of the time, when officers don’t get charged, the reasons are shrouded in secrecy. Instead, Donoghue gave a painstaking explanation of the ambiguities in the video, the conflicting medical expert reports, and the reasons he believed the high standard of intent could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
I once served in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, which Donoghue now runs. I hate the fact that many people will never feel that justice was done in Eric Garner’s tragic and avoidable death.
Yet I’m not sure that I could have reached a different conclusion myself.
How Eric Garner's Death Changed New York And The NYPD
The sad reality is, that unless your oppression negatively impacts your oppressor, they have no incentive to change. Even New York Police Commissioner, James P. O'Neill, whose comments begin at 2:26 in the timeline, acknowledges how the protest over no indictments being issued in Eric Garner's death, culminated in the death of two police officers, which was the moment the police department realized they needed to make a change.
Republished with permission under license from The Conversation. The editorial note preceding the article and the video and comments at the end were not part of the original.
SHILOH, Ill. — After a health insurance change forced Bernard Macon to cut ties with his black doctor, he struggled to find another African American physician online. Then, he realized two health advocates were hiding in plain sight.
At a nearby drugstore here in the suburbs outside of St. Louis, a pair of pharmacists became the unexpected allies of Macon and his wife, Brandy. Much like the Macons, the pharmacists were energetic young parents who were married — and unapologetically black.
Vincent and Lekeisha Williams, owners of LV Health and Wellness Pharmacy, didn’t hesitate to help when Brandy had a hard time getting the medicine she needed before and after sinus surgery last year. The Williamses made calls when Brandy, a physician assistant who has worked in the medical field for 15 years, didn’t feel heard by her doctor’s office.
“They completely went above and beyond,” said Bernard Macon, 36, a computer programmer and father of two. “They turned what could have been a bad experience into a good experience.”
Now more than ever, the Macons are betting on black medical professionals to give their family better care. The Macon children see a black pediatrician. A black dentist takes care of their teeth. Brandy Macon relies on a black gynecologist. And now the two black pharmacists fill the gap for Bernard Macon while he searches for a primary care doctor in his network, giving him trusted confidants that chain pharmacies likely wouldn’t.
Black Americans continue to face persistent health care disparities. Compared with their white counterparts, black men and women are more likely to die of heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza, pneumonia, diabetes and AIDS, according to the Office of Minority Health.
But medical providers who give patients culturally competent care — the act of acknowledging a patient’s heritage, beliefs and values during treatment — often see improved patient outcomes, according to multiple studies. Part of it is trust and understanding, and part of it can be more nuanced knowledge of the medical conditions that may be more prevalent in those populations.
For patients, finding a way to identify with their pharmacist can pay off big time. Cutting pills in half, skipping doses or not taking medication altogether can be damaging to one’s health — even deadly. And many patients see their pharmacists monthly, far more often than annual visits to their medical doctors, creating more opportunities for supportive care.
That’s why some black pharmacists are finding ways to connect with customers in and outside of their stores. Inspirational music, counseling, accessibility and transparency have turned some minority-owned pharmacies into hubs for culturally competent care.
“We understand the community because we are a part of the community,” Lekeisha Williams said. “We are visible in our area doing outreach, attending events and promoting health and wellness.”
To be sure, such care is not just relevant to African Americans. But mistrust of the medical profession is especially a hurdle to overcome when treating black Americans.
Many are still shaken by the history of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were used in research worldwide without her family’s knowledge; the Tuskegee Project, which failed to treat black men with syphilis; and other projects that used African Americans unethically for research.
Filling More Than Prescriptions
At black-owned Premier Pharmacy and Wellness Center near Grier Heights, a historically black neighborhood in Charlotte, N.C., the playlist is almost as important as the acute care clinic attached to the drugstore. Owner Martez Prince watches his customers shimmy down the aisles as they make their way through the store listening to Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Kirk Franklin, Whitney Houston and other black artists. Prince said the music helps him in his goal of making health care more accessible and providing medical advice patients can trust.
In rural Georgia, Teresa Mitchell, a black woman with 25 years of pharmacy experience, connects her customers with home health aides, shows them how to access insurance services online and even makes house calls. Her Total Care Pharmacy is the only health care provider in Baconton, where roughly half the town’s 900 residents are black.
“We do more than just dispense,” Mitchell said.
Iradean Bradley, 72, became a customer soon after Total Care Pharmacy opened in 2016. She struggled to pick up prescriptions before Mitchell came to town.
“It was so hectic because I didn’t have transportation of my own,” Bradley said. “It’s so convenient for us older people, who have to pay someone to go out of town and get our medicine.”
Lakesha M. Butler, president of the National Pharmaceutical Association, advocates for such culturally competent care through the professional organization representing minorities in the pharmacy industry and studies it in her academic work at the Edwardsville campus of Southern Illinois University. She also feels its impact directly, she said, when she sees patients at clinics two days a week in St. Charles, Mo., and East St. Louis, Ill.
“It’s just amazing to me when I’m practicing in a clinic setting and an African American patient sees me,” Butler said. “It’s a pure joy that comes over their face, a sigh of relief. It’s like ‘OK, I’m glad that you’re here because I can be honest with you and I know you will be honest with me.’”
She often finds herself educating her black patients about diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other common conditions.
“Unfortunately, there’s still a lack of knowledge in those areas,” Butler said. “That’s why those conditions can be so prevalent.”
Avoiding Medical Microaggressions
For Macon, his experiences with medical professionals of backgrounds different from his own left him repeatedly disappointed and hesitant to open up.
After his wife had a miscarriage, Macon said, the couple didn’t receive the compassion they longed for while grieving the loss. A few years later, a bad experience with their children’s pediatrician when their oldest child had a painful ear infection sparked a move to a different provider.
“My daughter needed attention right away, but we couldn’t get through to anybody,” Macon recalled. “That’s when my wife said, ‘We aren’t doing this anymore!’”
Today, Macon’s idea of good health care isn’t colorblind. If a doctor can’t provide empathetic and expert treatment, he’s ready to move, even if a replacement is hard to find.
Kimberly Wilson, 31, will soon launch an app for consumers like Macon who are seeking culturally competent care. Therapists, doulas, dentists, specialists and even pharmacists of color will be invited to list their services on HUED. Beta testing is expected to start this summer in New York City and Washington, D.C., and the app will be free for consumers.
“Black Americans are more conscious of their health from a lot of different perspectives,” Wilson said. “We’ve begun to put ourselves forward.”
But even after the introduction of HUED, such health care could be hard to find. While about 13% of the U.S. population is black, only about 6% of the country’s doctors and surgeons are black, according to Data USA. Black pharmacists make up about 7% of the professionals in their field, and, though the demand is high, black students accounted for about 9% of all students enrolled in pharmacy school in 2018.
For Macon, though, the Williamses’ LV Health and Wellness Pharmacy in Shiloh provides some of the support he has been seeking.
“I still remember the very first day I went there. It was almost like a barbershop feel,” Macon said, likening it to the community hubs where customers can chitchat about sports, family and faith while getting their hair cut. “I could relate to who was behind the counter.”
The Trump administration has weakened legal protections for farmers and eased off enforcing rules on powerful meat companies.
by Isaac Arnsdorf
After years of working as a sheriff’s deputy and a car dealership manager, John Ingrum used his savings to buy a farm some 50 miles east of Jackson, Mississippi. He planned to raise horses on the land and leave the property to his son.
The farm, named Lovin’ Acres, came with a few chicken houses, which didn’t really interest Ingrum. But then a man showed up from Koch Foods, the country’s fifth-largest poultry processor and one of the main chicken companies in Mississippi. Koch Foods would deliver flocks and feed — all Ingrum would have to do is house the chicks for a few weeks while they grew big enough to slaughter. The company representative wowed Ingrum with projections for the stream of income he could earn, Ingrum recalled in an interview.
What Ingrum didn’t know was that those financial projections overlooked many realities of modern farming in the U.S., where much of the country’s agricultural output is controlled by a handful of giant companies. The numbers didn’t reflect the debt he might have to incur to configure his chicken houses to the company’s specifications. Nor did they reflect the risk that the chicks could show up sick or dead, or that the company could simply stop delivering flocks.
And that growing concentration of corporate power in agriculture would only add to the long odds Ingrum, as a black farmer, faced in the United States, where just 1.3% of the country’s farmers are black.
The shadow of slavery, sharecropping, and Jim Crow has left black farmers in an especially precarious position. Their farms tend to be smaller and their sales lower than the national average, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While white farmers benefited from government assistance such as the Homestead Act and land-grant universities, black farmers were largely excluded from owning land and accumulating wealth. In recent decades, black farmers accused the USDA of discriminating against them by denying them loans or forcing them to wait longer, resulting in a class-action lawsuit that settled for more than $1 billion.
Along with these historical disadvantages, black farmers say they have also encountered bias in dealing with some of the corporate giants that control their livelihood. In complaints filed with the USDA between 2010 and 2015, Ingrum and another black farmer in Mississippi said Koch Foods discriminated against them and used its market control to drive them out of business.
After the complaints by the farmers, an investigator for the USDA, which is responsible for regulating the industry, looked into Koch Foods’ dealings with those farmers and found “evidence of unjust discrimination,” according to a 700-page case file obtained by ProPublica. The investigator concluded that Koch Foods violated a law governing meat companies’ business practices.
The Trump administration has cut back on enforcing this law, with the USDA now conducting fewer investigations and imposing fewer fines, as ProPublica has reported. Koch Foods hasn’t faced any penalty.
Koch Foods declined to provide an interview with any of its executives or to answer detailed questions about its dealings with black farmers in Mississippi. A lawyer for the company said it denies wrongdoing.
The five largest chicken companies now make up 61% of the market, compared with 34% in the hands of the top four firms in 1986. As the biggest companies expanded their control, they raised farmers’ average pay by a mere 2.5 cents a pound from 1988 to 2016, while the wholesale price of chicken rose by 17.4 cents a pound, according to data from the USDA and the National Chicken Council.
Mississippi is the fifth-largest poultry-producing state, with more than 1,300 chicken farms. In a state where the population is 38% black, only 96 of those farms were operated by African Americans in 2012, the most recent USDA data available. From 2009 to 2017, Koch Foods went from having contracts with four black farmers in Mississippi to zero.
Koch (pronounced “cook”) Foods is based outside Chicago and supplies chicken, often sold under other brands, to major restaurants and retailers such as Burger King, Kroger and Walmart. The company, which is privately held, is not part of the business empire of the conservative billionaires Charles Koch and David Koch. The owner of Koch Foods, Joseph Grendys, has a fortune that Forbes estimates at $3.1 billion.
After Ingrum signed his contract to grow chickens for Koch Foods, in 2002, different company representatives kept coming with lists of expensive modifications they wanted Ingrum to make, according to an affidavit he provided to the USDA investigator. After Ingrum met all the specifications, the next representative went back on what the previous one said and wanted things done a different way, Ingrum said in the affidavit.
Chicken companies usually say they update their specifications to improve animal welfare or respond to consumer preferences like avoiding antibiotics. But Ingrum couldn’t find much logic in the changes Koch Foods wanted him to make. One service technician directed Ingrum to install lights in one place, the next one someplace else. Another time, the company wanted Ingrum to move a power line, even though it was out of the way of the feed trucks and bins. That cost him $6,000.
According to Ingrum’s affidavit, when he met with a manager about the shifting demands, the manager said, derisively, “I had a couple of y’all when I was at Sanderson,” another big chicken company. Ingrum asked the manager, who was white, what he meant by that. The manager didn’t answer Ingrum. Reached by ProPublica on his cellphone, the manager hung up.
Ingrum suspected that the truck drivers who delivered feed were shortchanging him, so he installed sensors to alert him when the drivers arrived. In 2007, according to his affidavit, Ingrum caught a driver failing to fill a whole feed bin. The company brushed it off as an honest mistake. But Ingrum had heard of drivers asking farmers for payoffs to get more feed, according to the affidavit.
In 2009, Ingrum spent $50,000 on renovations that Koch wanted. Then the company wanted Ingrum to rebuild his compost shed. That was another $5,000. Then Koch Foods said the shed had to be certified by a government inspector. Ingrum called the agency, which said the shed didn’t require approval and they only sent an inspector out once a year.
With Koch Foods delivering flocks to Ingrum’s farm less frequently than expected, he was making less money and falling behind on his loan payments. He looked into selling his farm. When a prospective buyer from Florida called Koch to inquire about a contract with them, a Koch employee scared him off by saying Ingrum’s farm needed $100,000 in repairs, according to Ingrum’s affidavit. The employee also swore at Ingrum’s real estate agent and spread a rumor that the bank had foreclosed, according to the affidavit. That wasn’t true, but it was becoming increasingly hard to avoid.
In 2010, Ingrum heard that the Obama administration was making a push to help farmers who were getting squeezed by consolidation in agriculture. Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack were going around the country to hear from farmers about the problems in their markets. When they came to neighboring Alabama to meet with chicken farmers, Ingrum went and spoke on a panel.
At the hearing, Ingrum recounted how the company would pay him less if the birds were sick or underfed, even though the company supplied the chicks and the feed. Ingrum said he’d received a tray of 100 chicks with 35 to 40 already dead. Another time, he ran out of feed for three days and the chickens started eating one another.
“There’s no way it could be fair,” he said at the hearing, according to the transcript. “I had no control over the feed that they brought me.”
That night, when Ingrum returned home to Lovin’ Acres Farm, he found a note from Koch Foods saying his contract had expired.
The USDA investigator later inquired whether it was “solely a coincidence” that Koch Foods left the note at Ingrum’s farm on the same day he attended the hearing 300 miles away. A company supervisor said he “could not say.”
“I never got another chicken after going to that meeting over there in Alabama,” Ingrum, 55, said in an interview. “They put me slap out of business.”
As Ingrum ran out of money, the power company cut his electricity, but he refused to leave for three months. His former colleagues at the sheriff’s office had to come remove him. For the next five years, he stayed with relatives until he scraped together enough money from working at a car dealership to get back on his feet.
“Twenty years, everything I worked for, I lost it in one summer,” Ingrum said. “It just ruined me.”
Around the same time, two other black farmers in the area also stopped growing chickens for Koch Foods. Out of 173 chicken farmers under contract with Koch Foods in Mississippi, there was only one African American left. His name was Carlton Sanders.
Ingrum said he warned Sanders: “They’re coming after you, Carlton. You next.”
Sanders’ farm was in a nearby town called Lena. He had been in the business since 1992. Back then, he worked with a local family business called BC Rogers, which he said always treated him professionally. He used the chicken manure to fertilize his vegetable garden, and he took pride in his trees growing figs, pears and apricots. “I just had everything set,” Sanders said.
When Koch Foods bought BC Rogers in 2001, everything changed, Sanders said. Sanders’ performance was above average, according to the ranking system that the company used to pay farmers. But he felt singled out for disadvantages.
“I’ve never been treated like that by anybody,” Sanders, 63, said. “It was just like I was in hell with them.”
In 2014, Koch Foods wanted Sanders to make $105,000 worth of improvements, according to the USDA case file. Then Sanders borrowed an additional $93,000 to buy new curtains, insulation, cables and heaters. Suddenly, he owed a total of $295,000, but he made his payments on time, according to financial records reviewed by ProPublica.
The next year, Koch Foods informed its farmers of a new requirement for the ventilation in their chicken houses. Sanders went to his bank to see about another loan. The loan officer called the manager at Koch Foods and sent a follow-up email asking for “a listing of needed improvements that Koch Foods is requiring.”
The manager never responded directly to the banker. Instead, the company gave Sanders an “update list” with 23 items. Sanders gave the list to his banker, who understood it to be the company’s response to his inquiry. Sanders obtained work estimates for the 23 updates, amounting to $318,000, according to the case file.
The banker advised Sanders not to apply for another loan and to consider selling his farm instead. Meanwhile, Koch Foods stopped giving Sanders chickens to raise.
Sanders asked around and realized other farmers hadn’t gotten the same 23-item “update list.” So in December 2015, he filed a complaint with the USDA.
The complaint was assigned to a government attorney in Atlanta named Wayne Basford. Basford had also looked into Ingrum’s case, stretching back to 2010. Over the years, Basford had collected affidavits attesting to Koch employees’ calling black farmers “niggers” (the employees denied it), and he observed that the office staff was all white. He also noted that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was suing Koch Foods, alleging sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination against Hispanic employees in Mississippi. (The company later paid $3.75 million to settle the lawsuit, though it did not admit wrongdoing.)
In February 2016, Basford notified Koch Foods that he was investigating a new complaint he’d received, without mentioning Sanders. Koch Foods’ lawyer responded by criticizing the condition of Sanders’ farm and, at the same time, denying that the company asks farmers to make “upgrades.”
As Basford inquired about the 23-item “update list” that only Sanders received, Koch Foods said these were optional. The list used the word “must” six times and never said the updates were voluntary.
“I hate to say it, but they just don’t like black people,” Sanders said. “There are no black people in the office — they don’t even want black people cleaning up after them.”
Basford asked to schedule a meeting with Koch Foods’ executives to present his findings. The company’s lawyer, Scott Pedigo, of the firm Baker Donelson in Jackson, Mississippi, called Basford to suggest meeting with local managers instead, according to emails included in the case file. Basford insisted on speaking with the top executives “due to the potential gravity of the situation.”
In July 2017, Basford and two colleagues from the USDA met in Birmingham, Alabama, with Koch Foods’ chief operating officer, Mark Kaminsky, along with two other executives and Pedigo. Grendys, Koch Foods’ billionaire owner, did not attend, but Basford sent Grendys a copy of his slides.
In the presentation, Basford said Koch Foods’ actions toward Sanders, combined with its treatment of Ingrum and the other black farmers, was “evidence of unjust discrimination.” Chicken companies are prohibited from engaging in “unfair, unjustly discriminatory or deceptive” business practices under the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921. The Obama administration tried to tighten enforcement of this law by proposing new regulations to spell out what those prohibited practices are. But the meat industry lobbied Congress to block the proposed rules by withholding funding from the USDA. When the Trump administration came in, it swiftly prevented the rules from taking effect.
So when Basford presented his findings to the Koch Foods executives in July 2017, he included all the evidence of discrimination, but he alleged a narrower violation: that Koch Foods failed to notify Sanders of why it stopped delivering chickens to his farm. In response, Pedigo argued that the notification nine months earlier about the new ventilation requirement was enough.
The notice requirement had been strengthened by the Obama administration, but Congress reversed the change in 2015. That made it harder for Basford’s case to stick.
Basford, who declined to comment for this article, submitted the case for the USDA’s lawyers to evaluate possible next steps, such as seeking a fine against Koch Foods. The agency hasn’t taken any action so far. A USDA spokesman said the investigation is “ongoing” and the agency is coordinating with the Department of Justice.
Meanwhile, Basford tried to mediate between Koch Foods and Sanders. In the months following Basford’s presentation in 2017, he pushed Koch Foods to resume delivering chickens to Sanders’ farm so that Sanders could save it from foreclosure.
Pedigo responded with a list of 10 repairs that Sanders would have to make first. Seven were among the 23 fixes that the company had previously insisted were optional.
Basford wanted Koch Foods to assure Sanders that if he spent the money to make the latest repairs, the company would start bringing him chickens again. The company wouldn’t agree.
In the end, all Koch Foods agreed to was “reviewing its policies and programs.” Pedigo told Basford the company has a “commitment to treating all of its independent contract growers equally and with dignity and respect.”
In response to questions from ProPublica about Ingrum and Sanders, Pedigo declined to comment on the specific allegations in Basford’s investigation. In a statement, he said, “Koch Foods applies its standards and expectations to all growers uniformly without regard to race or any other protected status and has never discriminated against any grower on such basis.”
Kaminsky, the Koch Foods COO who attended Basford’s presentation, last October became chairman of the National Chicken Council, the industry’s trade group.
Koch Foods and other top chicken companies — Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Sanderson Farms and Perdue Farms — are fighting multiple lawsuits from retailers, distributors and farmers accusing them of conspiring to fix prices. The companies have denied the allegations. In one of the cases, the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division asked the judge on June 21 to freeze discovery in order to protect an ongoing criminal investigation.
The USDA is now doing fewer investigations like Basford’s. His office finished 1,873 investigations in 2017, the most recent data available, down from 2,588 in 2012. Penalties for violating the Packers and Stockyards Act dropped from $3.2 million in 2013 to as little as $243,850 in 2018, according to preliminary case data on the USDA’s website.
The enforcement office, known as the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, or GIPSA, was dissolved as part of a department-wide reorganization. The USDA shifted responsibility for enforcing the Packers and Stockyards Act into another division whose primary purpose is helping companies boost sales. The staff in the Packers and Stockyards Division has decreased to 137 from 166 in 2010.
Sanders found himself in a downward spiral after the dispute with Koch Foods. He had a stroke and a heart attack. The bank foreclosed on his farm and he filed for bankruptcy. His wife left him. These days, he’s living on food stamps plus whatever he gets from hunting and fishing.
“I’ve been about as dead as somebody can go without being dead,” he said. “I’m trying to hold my head up, that’s all I can do.”
On Sundays, Sanders passes by his old farm on his way to church. The farm is just sitting there, still up for sale, lying fallow. Sometimes, he takes a long way around to avoid seeing it.
Republished with permission under license from ProPublica.
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 immense powers of prosecutors throughout the US mean that the scales are tipped against defendants — and justice itself, says a legal expert
By Jessica Brown
Every country with a functioning criminal justice system depends on prosecutors, the attorneys who charge defendants with crimes and build the case to convict. But the ones in the US are a breed apart. They are more than agents of the court: Top prosecutors in every US county typically have to run for the office, making them elected officials as well. No other nation in the world elects its prosecutors, and few give them so much power.
Prosecutors in the US have broad discretion over how and when to press their cases, which means they often control the fates of defendants, says Stanford Law School professor David Alan Sklansky. In a 2018 paper published in the Annual Review of Criminology, Sklansky notes that prosecutors are increasingly blamed for the problems that plague US criminal justice — its excessive severity, its lopsided targeting of racial minorities and its propensity for error. Part of the difficulty, he suggests, is the largely unchecked power of prosecutors.
Black men also receive federal prison sentences that are on average almost 20 percent longer than those of white men who commit the same crime. When prosecutors offer a plea deal, white defendants are 25 percent more likely than black defendants to have their most serious initial charge dropped or reduced to a less severe charge. And there are a disturbing number of cases in which prosecutorial misconduct has led to convictions that later are overturned on appeal. In one famous case from 1987, prosecutors removed all four potential black members from a jury that later convicted a black man named Timothy Foster of murder. The prosecutors denied that they were motivated by race during jury selection. Years later, Foster’s lawyers obtained prosecutors’ notes and the Supreme Court declared, by a vote of 7-1, that the jury selection in his trial was unconstitutional.
In another case, Anthony Graves, a 26-year-old black man in Texas, was wrongfully convicted in 1994 of murdering a family of six. He ended up spending 18 years behind bars, including 12 years on death row. The real murderer, Robert Carter, eventually confessed that he had acted alone, and investigations showed that the prosecutor, Charles Sebesta, withheld testimony that would have cleared Graves.
A growing chorus of legal scholars and reform-minded prosecutors has called for a new approach that would restore fairness and justice to the prosecutorial process. But Sklansky says reform won’t come easy. Any meaningful change must start with disentangling prosecutors from conflicting roles that straddle the legal and political systems. In other words, he says, we must be clearer about what we want from prosecutors.
Sklansky spoke with Knowable about the rise of prosecutors and the need for reforms to restore fairness and justice. The discussion has been edited for length and clarity.
What is the biggest problem with prosecutors in the US?
It’s hard to say. There are actually several different problems with US prosecutors. One is that they have so much power to coerce guilty pleas, another is that they have almost unbridled discretion over how to use that power. A third is that prosecutors are often overzealous and break the rules, and a fourth is that they are sometime unimaginative about how to use their discretion more constructively.
But I think the most fundamental problem may be that we have complicated and often contradictory expectations for prosecutors. We want them to be impartial but also to be forceful advocates, to follow the law but also to exercise mercy, and to work closely with the police but also to stand apart from them.
The conflicting expectations for prosecutors, and the ambiguity regarding their role, can make it difficult to regulate them, and difficult for prosecutors themselves to know what it means to do their job well.
Are prosecutors really more powerful than judges?
In many cases, yes. That’s partly due to a surge in statutes calling for mandatory minimum sentences for a wide range of crimes. Because judges have little ability to lower the sentences called for in these statutes, often the only way for defendants to avoid these penalties is to strike a deal with prosecutors — or take their chances at trial. Because prosecutors can threaten such draconian sentences, they have tremendous power to coerce guilty pleas.
Do current laws make it difficult for prosecutors to achieve fair verdicts and sentences?
I wouldn’t say that the laws make it hard for prosecutors to achieve fair results. But they do make it complicated. Some laws — especially many of the laws calling for harsh mandatory sentences — can be unjust when applied to particular cases. So doing justice will often mean being judicious about when these laws should be invoked.
And then there are procedural rules that require prosecutors to take off their advocate’s hat and be fair and impartial. Prosecutors are often called on to decide, for example, when evidence that could be helpful to the defense needs to be disclosed. That’s like asking basketball players to call their own fouls.
We won’t be able to eliminate the ambiguity of the prosecutor’s role, and we should continue to pressure prosecutors to be impartial. But we need to be relatively realistic about how well we can expect them to navigate these conflicting expectations.
Why don’t prosecutors use their powers more fairly?
Again, it’s important to stress that many prosecutors work hard to be impartial, and many do an admirable job of exercising their powers in a balanced, thoughtful way. But many prosecutors’ offices have a culture of competitiveness, and courtroom victories are the primary measure of their success. Prosecutors are attracted to the job partly because of the excitement of legal combat. Too often, convictions and long sentences get celebrated, even if they are undeserved.
It’s hard to shift prosecutors’ priorities from victory to justice. Prosecutors don’t get their names in the newspaper because they worked out a reasonable compromise. “So-and-so convicted on all counts” is an easy headline to write.
If prosecutors want to achieve true justice for defendants, they need to ask themselves some tough questions that go beyond convictions and acquittals — questions that can be very difficult to answer. Have they helped to resolve cases in ways that are equitable and humane? Have they helped move the community forward?
Why do we keep learning about cases where prosecutors have failed to disclose evidence that would help the defense?
Prosecutors have vastly more investigative resources at their disposal than defense attorneys, so they often have more access to information and evidence. Prosecutors are required to share evidence with the defense only if it could help the defendant in a significant way. But because they’re so motivated to win, it can be very hard for prosecutors to objectively decide whether the evidence they’ve uncovered is worth sharing. They have an incentive to convince themselves it isn’t.
Is there a lack of diversity among prosecutors, and does that contribute to unfair and discriminatory practices?
Prosecutors’ offices generally don’t disclose statistics on racial and gender demographics, so we don’t know much about prosecutor diversity. A few years ago, some of my students at Stanford Law School carried out research on the race and gender of prosecutors in California. As far as I know, this was the first time that comprehensive statistics of this kind were compiled for prosecutors in any state. And what the students found was that prosecutors in California are far whiter than the state as a whole.
That matters. There’s very good reason to believe that when prosecutors don’t reflect the diversity of the communities that they serve, it skews their decision-making. Diversity reduces systemic bias and makes it easier for prosecutors to take into account the perspectives of all parts of the community.
Racial diversity is never a panacea. Just as police departments aren’t magically transformed by employing more minority officers, we can’t fix prosecutors’ offices simply be electing or hiring people from different backgrounds. But when prosecutor offices are as diverse as the communities they serve, they bring different skills and perspectives and give fairer consideration to all the factors that should go into prosecutorial decision-making.
Other than increasing diversity, how else could the system be improved?
We need safeguards against prosecutorial power. Strengthening the resources of defense attorneys would be an important step. The vast majority of criminal defendants in the US are represented by appointed counsel, because they’re too poor to hire their own lawyers, and we’ve known for decades that we don’t pay enough to appointed defense attorneys or employ enough of them; they’re overworked and under-resourced. We need to invest more in defense if we want the system to operate properly.
Legislatures can help by rolling back mandatory sentences and by strengthening and clarifying the rules requiring prosecutors to share evidence with defense counsel.
More judicial oversight could also make a big difference. Judges could reclaim some of their power by tightening the rules that require prosecutors to share evidence with the defense. They could force prosecutors to explain and justify their charging decisions and their plea bargaining offers in court. In many courts, judges have the authority to dismiss cases in the interest of justice, such as when prosecutors pursue draconian sentences.
But in order for any of that happen, there would need to be something of a change of judicial mindset; judges would need to believe that prosecutors should be held more accountable, and to believe that it’s part of the business of the judiciary to make that happen.
Finally, there is much that prosecutors themselves can do — and in many places, are doing — to make the system fairer, less discriminatory and less damaging. They don’t need to wait for legislation mandating more disclosure of evidence; they can start doing that on their own. They can stop using unreasonably long mandatory minimum sentences to coerce guilty pleas. And they can work to change the cultures of their offices, so that fair outcomes are celebrated and not just courtroom victories.
Is reform on the horizon?
To some extent, yes. We’re in an unusual moment now because there is great attention to reforming prosecutors’ offices through the ballot box. Criminal justice crusaders have devoted more attention to elections over the last decade. As a result, we have a growing number of head prosecutors who’ve won elections based on a platform of pulling back on mass incarceration and seeking a more balanced approach to criminal justice. For the most part, though, this wave of reform isn’t doing anything to reduce the power of prosecutors’ offices.
How significant is the criminal justice reform bill that passed at the federal level in 2018?
It’s a step in the right direction, although it affects only federal prosecutors. The law modestly cuts back on mandatory minimum sentences and allows federal judges to hand down sentences lower than the statutory minimums without any motion from the prosecutor. That means that federal prosecutors, in some cases, won’t have quite as heavy a hammer to use in pressuring defendants to plead guilty. The new law is important symbolically, even for state prosecutors. It’s a signal of the growing consensus in the US that criminal justice has veered too far in the direction of severity, and that tougher isn’t always better.
What if wider reform doesn’t happen?
If there’s no reform, we’ll likely continue to face the dire problems of the criminal justice system: mass incarceration, excessively long sentences, wrongful convictions and racial bias. Prosecutors have helped to create all of these problems, and they have a critical role in solving them.