Sunday, August 20, 2017

When a white person kills a black man in America

When a white person kills a black man in America, the killer often faces no legal consequences, reports The Marshall Project.
In one in six of these killings, there is no criminal sanction, according to a new Marshall Project examination of 400,000 homicides committed by civilians between 1980 and 2014. That rate is far higher than the one for homicides involving other combinations of races.
In almost 17 percent of cases when a black man was killed by a non-Hispanic white civilian over the last three decades, the killing was categorized as justifiable, which is the term used when a police officer or a civilian kills someone committing a crime or in self-defense. Overall, the police classify fewer than 2 percent of homicides committed by civilians as justifiable.
The disparity persists across different cities, different ages, different weapons and different relationships between killer and victim.
“If, for instance, white-on-black homicides were mainly defensive shootings in a residence or business, and black-on-white shootings mainly occurred during the commission of a street crime, then the [racial] disparity would be warranted,” wrote researcher John Roman in a 2013 Urban Institute study of justifiable homicides.
Although the F.B.I.’s Supplementary Homicide Report tracks more than 100 details about each killing, the location of the death is not recorded. In addition, some police agencies, indeed some states entirely, choose not to share some or all information on killings.
Still, the disparities in how police classify these cases remain across widely different circumstances and causes of death. Whether the killer and victim were married, lovers, neighbors or complete strangers, whether they were shot, stabbed or beaten, the trend holds. The killings of black men by whites were two to 10 times as likely to be called justifiable.
Even after adjusting for the ages of the killer and victim, their relationship and the weapon used, the likelihood of a white-on-black-male case being called justifiable was still 4.7 times higher than in other cases.
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Saturday, August 19, 2017

GateHouse: Lincoln and ‘the better angels of our nature’

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
August 19, 2017
Hanging on the wall in my office is a painting by Francis Bicknell Carpenter — “First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln.” The 1864 painting depicts Abraham Lincoln sitting in his office with members of his cabinet. It is a stark reminder today of “the better angels of our nature.”
Those men with Lincoln — Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War; Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury; Gideon Wells, Secretary of the Navy; Caleb B. Smith, Secretary of the Interior; William H. Seward, Secretary of State; Montgomery Blair, Postmaster General and Edward Bates, Attorney General — were, as Doris Kearns Goodwin proclaimed, a “Team of Rivals.”
The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order issued by Abraham Lincoln in the fall of 1862 that took effect on Jan. 1, 1863. In the wake of the unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia, it is important to remember what Lincoln did over 150 years ago.
Some say as a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation sat in his desk, Lincoln wrote a letter to Horace Greeley the editor of the New York Tribune, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union ... If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”
Initially, Lincoln’s advisors were not in support of the Emancipation Proclamation. When Lincoln first proposed the idea many of his cabinet secretaries were concerned that the Proclamation was too radical.
During the meeting depicted in Carpenter’s painting, Secretary of War Stanton, brought up the idea of arming the freed slaves. Lincoln was thinking of something bigger. He rose, turned to his Cabinet and told them that he had prepared a draft of a proclamation that would free all of the slaves in the Confederate States.
Stanton and Bates supported Lincoln’s idea. Seward and Chase were reluctant and Blair was opposed. Welles and Smith apparently remained silent.
Seward suggested waiting for a Union victory to legitimize the Union’s authority to issue such a far-reaching order. The Battle of Antietam was the “victory” Lincoln was looking for. He issued the Proclamation just five days after the battle.
Chase wrote a letter to Carpenter in 1866, an apparent effort to revise history, noting that he and Stanton appear symbolically on Lincoln’s right in the painting, having “thoroughly endorsed and heartily welcomed the measure,” and the cabinet members who had at first “doubted, or advised delay, or even opposed” the proclamation appear on Lincoln’s left.
The Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in the 10 Confederate States still fighting the Civil War. Interestingly, the Proclamation did not outlaw slavery or free the slaves in the Union states that still permitted it.
The proclamation also authorized the enlistment of freed slaves in the Union Army, increasing the Union’s available manpower.
Maybe most important for the war effort, the Proclamation also prevented European forces from intervening in the war on behalf of the Confederacy. The proclamation made the abolition of slavery a goal of the war. Most European countries had abolished slavery and were squeamish about slavery in the Confederacy.
As Lincoln hoped, the Proclamation swung foreign popular opinion in favor of the Union and ultimately achieved his goal at saving the Union.
President Lincoln anticipated that the Emancipation Proclamation would be the most important aspect of his legacy. “I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper,” he declared. “If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.”
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino
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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Civil forfeitures on the down swing

Today, three states—North Carolina, New Mexico and Nebraska—have abolished civil forfeiture entirely, reports the Institute for Justice.

Since 2014, 24 states and the District of Columbia have reformed their civil forfeiture laws:
Minnesota (the state enacted reforms in both 2014 and 2017)
Michigan (the state enacted reforms in both 2015 and 2017)
Utah (the state enacted reforms in both 2015 and 2017)

Fourteen states now require a criminal conviction for most or all forfeiture cases:
North Carolina
Missouri (enacted in 1993)
California (enacted in 1994) (excluding cash over $40,000)
Oregon (enacted in 2000)
New Mexico
New Hampshire
Ohio (excluding property valued at over $15,000)
Iowa (excluding property valued at over $5,000)
In a similar vein, Utah bans forfeiture for cases where the claimants are found not guilty and are acquitted.
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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Former President Obama’s tweet on Charlottesville is is the most liked tweet in Twitter’s history

Former President Barack Obama’s tweet on the violence fueled by neo-Nazi’s is Charlottesville has become the most liked tweet of all-time, reported the Washington Post.
Since leaving office, Obama has commented on major events or controversies, including the terrorist attack in Manchester, England, and Sen. John McCain's brain cancer diagnosis. He did so again on Saturday, after the deadly violence in Charlottesville.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion … People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love … For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite,” Obama said, quoting former South African president Nelson Mandela in tweets.
The first tweet, which shows a picture of Obama smiling at four children, has been retweeted more than 1.1 million times and liked 3.2 million times as of as of this writing.
The message became the most liked tweet of all time, surpassing Ariana Grande's response to the deadly terrorist attack after her concert in Manchester. It also ranks No. 7 among the most retweeted tweets according to Favstar, a tweet tracking site.
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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Some states want to protect people who 'accidentally' run-over protesters

It the wake of what appears to be an intentional act to kill and maim counter-protester by a white supremacist in Charlottesville, VA, it is interesting to note that state lawmakers in at least six GOP-controlled states have pushed for laws this year that would shield drivers who hit protesters.
The bills are part of a wave of anti-protest proposals introduced since the rise of the Black Lives Matter and anti-Trump resistance movements, reported ThinkProgress.
Two Republican lawmakers in North Dakota started the trend in January when they introduced a bill that would protect motorists who hit pedestrians blocking traffic, as long as the consequences are unintentional.  State Rep. Keith Kempenich (R) said he authored the legislation after his mother-in-law was swarmed on a roadwayby people protesting the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.
“A driver of a motor vehicle who negligently causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway may not be held liable for any damages,” the proposed law read.
The bill was rejected in a 41-50 vote in February, but not before it inspired similar legislation in other red states across the country.
In Tennessee, lawmakers proposed a measure to protect drivers from civil liability after a motorist ran into safety workers at a rally against President Trump’s travel ban in Nashville. Police said that five or six protesters ended up on top of an SUV before the driver, who was not arrested, left the scene. The bill failed in a House committee in March.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

40 years ago: The Summer of Sam

Forty years ago was the Summer of Sam in New York City. David Berkowitz—the Son of Sam--a postal employee from Yonkers killed six and wound seven. He used a .44 caliber revolver and he not only terrified the city—he became a legend. 
According to Irish Central, there had been much speculation that the “Son of Sam” nickname referred to a former US soldier perhaps, but Berkowitz said that the "Sam" was his former neighbor Sam Carr. Berkowitz claimed that Carr's black Labrador retriever Harvey was possessed by an ancient demon and that it issued irresistible commands that Berkowitz must kill people.
New York in 1977 felt like a city under siege. The City of New York was broke. There were 1,919 murders. The subways had wall-to-wall graffiti and more robbers than cops, the potholes were never filled, and in certain areas of the city—like the South Bronx and even what is now lower Columbus Avenue in Manhattan—it looked like Berlin at the end of World War II.
Son of Sam was arrested 40 years ago this month. A woman, Cacilia Davis, saw Berkowitz return to his car his arm held stiffly by his side, holding the gun he had just used for his final killing.
He stared her down. Disconcerted, she took off for home and heard shots as Berkowitz fired after her. Terrified, she did not report the incident until four days later. When the police investigaed, it led them to Yonkers and Berkowitz.
Unlike his terror, his surrender did not end with a bang, but rather a whimper. He was arrested on August 10th outside his apartment without incident. New York’s summer of fear and agony was over.
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Sunday, August 13, 2017

This is the age of the plea bargain

This is the age of the plea bargain, writes Emily Yoffe in The Atlantic. here are excepts from her exceptional recent column.
Most people adjudicated in the criminal-justice system today waive the right to a trial and the host of protections that go along with one, including the right to appeal. Instead, they plead guilty. The vast majority of felony convictions are now the result of plea bargains—some 94 percent at the state level, and some 97 percent at the federal level. Estimates for misdemeanor convictions run even higher. These are astonishing statistics, and they reveal a stark new truth about the American criminal-justice system: Very few cases go to trial. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy acknowledged this reality in 2012, writing for the majority in Missouri v. Frye, a case that helped establish the right to competent counsel for defendants who are offered a plea bargain. Quoting a law-review article, Kennedy wrote, “ ‘Horse trading [between prosecutor and defense counsel] determines who goes to jail and for how long. That is what plea bargaining is. It is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system; it is the criminal justice system.’ ”
Ideally, plea bargains work like this: Defendants for whom there is clear evidence of guilt accept responsibility for their actions; in exchange, they get leniency. A time-consuming and costly trial is avoided, and everybody benefits. But in recent decades, American legislators have criminalized so many behaviors that police are arresting millions of people annually—almost 11 million in 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available. Taking to trial even a significant proportion of those who are charged would grind proceedings to a halt. According to Stephanos Bibas, a professor of law and criminology at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, the criminal-justice system has become a “capacious, onerous machinery that sweeps everyone in,” and plea bargains, with their swift finality, are what keep that machinery running smoothly.
Because of plea bargains, the system can quickly handle the criminal cases of millions of Americans each year, involving everything from petty violations to violent crimes. But plea bargains make it easy for prosecutors to convict defendants who may not be guilty, who don’t present a danger to society, or whose “crime” may primarily be a matter of suffering from poverty, mental illness, or addiction. And plea bargains are intrinsically tied up with race, of course, especially in our era of mass incarceration.
As prosecutors have accumulated power in recent decades, judges and public defenders have lost it. To induce defendants to plead, prosecutors often threaten “the trial penalty”: They make it known that defendants will face more-serious charges and harsher sentences if they take their case to court and are convicted. About 80 percent of defendants are eligible for court-appointed attorneys, including overworked public defenders who don’t have the time or resources to even consider bringing more than a tiny fraction of these cases to trial. The result, one frustrated Missouri public defender complained a decade ago, is a style of defense that is nothing more than “meet ’em and greet ’em and plead ’em.”
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, 630,000 people are in jail on any given day, and 443,000 of them—70 percent—are in pretrial detention. Many of these defendants are facing minor charges that would not mandate further incarceration, but they lack the resources to make bail and secure their freedom. Some therefore feel compelled to take whatever deal the prosecutor offers, even if they are innocent.
Writing in 2016 in the William & Mary Law Review, Donald Dripps, a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law, illustrated the capricious and coercive nature of plea bargains. Dripps cited the case of Terrance Graham, a black 16-year-old who, in 2003, attempted to rob a restaurant with some friends. The prosecutor charged Graham as an adult, and he faced a life sentence without the possibility of parole at trial. The prosecutor offered Graham a great deal in exchange for a guilty plea: one year in jail and two more years of probation. Graham took the deal. But he was later accused of participating in another robbery and violated his probation—at which point the judge imposed the life sentence.
What’s startling about this case, Dripps noted, is that Graham faced two radically different punishments for the same crime: either be put away for life or spend minimal time behind bars in exchange for a guilty plea. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled, in Graham v. Florida, that the punishment Graham faced at trial was so cruel and unusual as to be unconstitutional. The Court found that a juvenile who did not commit homicide cannot face life without parole.
Thanks in part to plea bargains, millions of Americans have a criminal record; in 2011, the National Employment Law Project estimated that figure at 65 million. It is a mark that can carry lifetime consequences for education, employment, and housing. Having a record, even for a violation that is trivial or specious, means a person can face tougher charges and punishment if he or she again encounters the criminal-justice system. Plea bargaining has become so coercive that many innocent people feel they have no option but to plead guilty. “Our system makes it a rational choice to plead guilty to something you didn’t do,” Maddy deLone, the executive director of the Innocence Project, told me. The result, according to the late Harvard law professor William J. Stuntz, who wrote extensively about the history of plea bargains in The Collapse of American Criminal Justice (2011), is a system that has become “the harshest in the history of democratic government.”
Plea bargaining didn’t exist in colonial America. Law books, lawyers, and prosecutors were rare. Most judges had little or no legal training, and victims ran their own cases (with the self-evident exception of homicides). Trials were brief, and people generally knew one another. By the 19th century, however, our modern criminal-justice system was coming into its own: Professional prosecutors emerged, more defendants hired lawyers to represent them, and the courts developed more-formal rules for evidence. Trials went from taking minutes or hours to lasting days. Calendars became clogged, which gave judges an incentive to start accepting pleas. “Suddenly, everybody operating inside the system is better off if you have these pleas,” Penn’s Stephanos Bibas told me.
The advantages of plea bargains became even clearer in the latter part of the 20th century, after the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, issued a series of decisions, between 1953 and 1969, that established robust protections for criminal defendants. These included the landmark Gideon v. Wainwright andMiranda v. Arizona decisions, the former of which guaranteed the Sixth Amendment right to counsel in felony cases (since expanded to some misdemeanor cases), and the latter of which required that police inform those in their custody of the right to counsel and against self-incrimination. The Court’s rulings had the inevitable effect of making trials lengthier and more burdensome, so prosecutors began turning more frequently to plea bargains. Before the 1960s, according to William J. Stuntz, between one-fourth and one-third of state felony charges led to a trial. Today the figure is one-twentieth.
The legal system provides few rules and protections for those who take a deal. In what has been described as one of the Court’s earliest plea-bargain decisions, Brady v. United States (1970), the justices found that guilty pleas were acceptable as long as certain conditions were met, among them the following: Defendants had to have competent counsel; they had to face no threats, misrepresentations, or improper promises; and they had to be able to make their plea “intelligently.”
This seemed eminently fair. But crime had already started to increase sharply. The rise provoked a get-tough response from police, prosecutors, and legislators. As the rate of violent crime continued to accelerate, fueled in part by the crack epidemic that started in the ’80s, the response got even tougher. By the 1990s, the U.S. had entered what Donald Dripps calls “a steroid era in criminal justice,” which continued even though violent crime peaked by 1992 and began its now-historic decline. In the late 20th century, legislators passed mandatory-minimum-sentence and “three strikes” laws, which gave prosecutors an effective bludgeon they could use to induce plea bargains. (Some “three strikes” laws result in life imprisonment for a third felony; hundreds of people in California received this punishment for shoplifting. California reformed its three-strikes legislation in 2012 to impose such punishments only for serious or violent felonies.)
The growth of the system took on a life of its own. “No one sets out to create bloated criminal codes,” I was told by David Carroll, the executive director of the Sixth Amendment Center, which protects the right to counsel. “But once they exist, vast resources are spent to justify them.” In response to the crime wave, the United States significantly expanded police forces to catch criminals, prosecutor’s offices to charge them, and the correctional system to incarcerate them. Legislators have added so many acts to criminal codes that in 2013, Neil Gorsuch—now on the Supreme Court, but then an appellate judge—publicly raised concerns. In a speech sponsored by the Federalist Society, he asked, “What happens to individual freedom and equality—and to our very conception of law itself—when the criminal code comes to cover so many facets of daily life that prosecutors can almost choose their targets with impunity?”
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