Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Probation and parole needs an overhaul

 Community supervision — generally speaking, our systems of parole and probation — began in the 19th century as a peer-to-peer system of support, writes Peggy McGarry for the Brennan Center for Justice. Community members came forward to assure the court or prison that they could help those convicted of crime to live lawfully outside of jail or prison.

In 1841, for example, John Augustus, a Boston shoemaker, persuaded the court to release a man to his care, convinced he could cure the man of his drunkenness. When he was successful, the Boston courts began using community care to suspend criminal sentences. In 1876, Zebulon Brockway, the warden of the prison in Elmira, New York, prevailed upon the authorities to release to community care men whom he believed were “rehabilitated.” In the early 20th century, states and counties established formalized systems of support and surveillance as the population of cities and towns grew.

Despite the transition to government agencies with professional staff and budgets, the fundamentally supportive nature of those systems remained in place well into the 20th century. For people released from jail or prison, staff were available to “reintegrate” them, to help them with the problems that might have led to their crimes in the first place, and to see that they succeeded. Today, however, many of those agencies are more primed to find and punish failure than to promote success. The length of supervision and the nature of the conditions have grown more onerous and punitive, and the consequences of failure more severe.

So, we ask: what happened?

Civil rights, voting rights, and the Nixon administration

A focus on crime and “urban unrest” — code for fear of people of color — grew in the aftermath of the upheavals of the 1960s and the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Faced with the potential for people of color having power, the policies and rhetoric of the Nixon administration, particularly its Southern strategy and “War on Drugs,” were aimed at making sure that they didn’t. The attention to crime, especially urban crime, was taken up by the media and by policymakers of both political parties at the federal and state levels. It led to the passage of harsher sentencing laws, including the recategorization of offenses to make them incarceration-eligible, criminalization of more kinds of behaviors, and longer terms of incarceration.

Prison and jail populations increased, and state and local budgets were hit hard. The era’s political rhetoric about race and crime made it much easier to consider those caught up in the system as “other,” rather than as members of the same community. Instead of an opportunity to restore lives, release on parole or probation became a privilege that could be taken away. Any violation, no matter how trivial, could be seen as an affront to the generosity and forbearance of the court or paroling authority.

The budget hits from the growth in incarceration and the building of more prisons and jails, with the assistance of nearly $3 billion in federal funding,  meant fewer dollars for community supervision: fewer staff, larger caseloads, less money for services and a variety of other things to help those released remain stable in the community. Agencies once structured to provide assistance were reduced to offering surveillance and enforcement.

The trend to punish harshly did not end with sentencing. Laws were passed at the state and federal levels that closed off many public benefits that had once been offered to the newly released, such as public housing and public assistance, making a successful term of supervision that much harder to achieve.

The changing nature of supervision

As “tough on crime” became the rallying cry in many political campaigns, and as federal and state legislatures and agencies made changes to laws and policies, the resulting climate affected the actions and decisions of both judges and parole boards. Worried about their elections and appointments, judges looked to longer terms and more rigid “standard” conditions of supervision as insurance. Although in recent years this has begun to change, governors often filled parole board positions with political allies with little education or experience in criminal justice. While they often make headlines for their release decisions, parole boards also determine the conditions of supervision and the responses to any violations of them.

Long lists of conditions — the rules for living while on probation or parole — have become the structure of supervision: surveil for adherence, punish for violation. Standard conditions do not address the specific needs of each person but impose the same rules of conduct on everyone. While some are sensible, most are controls on noncriminal behavior. “Do not associate with felons” — though the individual’s only place to live might be a family home or shelter also occupied by people with felony convictions. “Do not move your place of residence without permission from your parole officer” — though in the crowded housing of poor communities, frequent moves are more common than in society at large. “Do not consume alcohol” — though alcohol use may have been in no way connected to the individual’s crime. “Do not leave the county without prior approval,” curfews, frequent reporting, and random drug testing — even if the original crime had nothing to do with drugs. These are but a few of the common conditions, conditions that can interfere with a person’s ability to keep a job or fulfill family obligations like childcare.

Apart from standard conditions of release, the judge or parole board usually imposes additional requirements, including treatment, classes, electronic monitoring, and others. In many places, the person on supervision is expected to cover the costs of such programs or even the cost of the supervision itself. To someone struggling to find housing and employment, to keep a job or initiate family reunification, these fees can guarantee failure and reincarceration.

This is the result of the budget reductions for staff and services that arose from “tough on crime” rhetoric. Politicians denounced services to those on supervision that “regular” people could not get, while simultaneously pushing for a “mess up and you’re back” approach. With larger caseloads and fewer resources, officers had significant motivation to yank a “difficult” case — a person struggling to comply with conditions — and recommend revocation and a return to jail or prison. For a judge or parole board, that recommendation was easy to approve since it was politically safer than continuing a difficult case — even if the “difficult” circumstance was a noncriminal violation of conditions.

The transition to law enforcement

As the duties of probation and parole officers became more about surveillance and enforcement of conditions, rather than the original concept of community care and reintegration, the recruitment and training of new officers changed as well. They were no longer hired for their “helping” skills or orientation. In many places, new officers were trained alongside institutional corrections officers and law enforcement personnel. The focus of such training is on finding and responding to crime: surveillance techniques, use of force, use of firearms, how to subdue the “other.” Beginning in the mid-1980s, their unions and associations successfully lobbied for arming supervision officers. While these officers surely do encounter dangerous situations at times, their desire to be armed was driven mostly by the difference in the pay and benefits available to those in public safety. The subsequent arming of probation and parole officers completed the transition of those agencies from a service orientation to identification as law enforcement.

Without time and resources, with scant encouragement from their agencies, officers have little reason to work patiently with supervisees to help them stabilize and be successful. Officers are not given raises or promotions based on the successes achieved by people on their caseloads, and the decision to revoke someone back to jail or prison at the first sign of trouble is affirmed by how often their revocation recommendations are approved. It’s a process of circular reasoning: the judge, parole board member, or regional supervisor assumes that the officers in the field know best how to respond to violations; the officers assume their responses and recommendations are correct because the judge or parole board member approves them.

These problems have been exacerbated in recent years by the moves in states to reduce prison spending by making more people eligible for probation and parole. However, with more people eligible for release on supervision with longer terms, and as the resources — and the inclination — for effective and humane supervision have disappeared, revocation has become more frequent. According to the Pew Trust’s Public Safety Performance Project, between 2000 and 2018, 28 states increased the length of their probation sentences. And according to the Council of State Governments, 25 percent of prison admissions in 2017 were revocations from supervision.


A different approach to community care is critical if we are to make it a useful tool for preventing future crime and enhancing both family and community well-being. There have been many efforts in recent decades to change how paroling authorities make decisions, how supervision is conducted, and how revocations are handled. We know how to use officer time effectively to engage with the people on their caseloads, how to assess who needs more time and who can be left alone, how to intervene in ways that are helpful rather than punitive, how to encourage stability and success. And we know how to work with communities, religious organizations, health care and social service agencies to improve lives, rather than to destroy them.

But that change isn’t happening in enough places. We will continue to see these trends until we intentionally recruit officers who are more interested in prevention than enforcement, unless we invest in officer training that focuses on how to help those on supervision to succeed, unless we change our reward structure to incentivize those whose clients succeed, and unless we stop ordering long terms of supervision and onerous conditions.

We have not done these things primarily because we seem to be content to waste the lives of those who have broken the law. The damage we continue to do is of little concern to us. They are other. And, apparently, their lives don’t really matter.

 To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Biden's crime package creates a foundation for success

The issue of crime is frequently employed by politicians as an instrument of ideology. On the right, talk of law and order has often been a method to stoke racial and ethnic fears while remaining a step removed from racism. On the left, criminal justice reform has sometimes been narrowed to the issue of gun control or subsumed into a broader agenda of social justice activism.

So President Biden’s recently announced crime package was remarkable in one way: It was actually focused on reducing crime, writes Michael Gerson of The Washington Post.

If the president’s primary goal had been to reinforce liberal messaging, he could easily have proposed the “Ban All Guns and Crush Right-Wing Subversion Act of 2021.” But he did nothing of the sort. And his commitment to tangible policy outcomes led him beyond some traditional ideological categories.

In criminal justice policy, prescription is largely a function of diagnosis. Looking at three decades of declining violence, and at the past year’s major spike in killings, a few conclusions are unavoidable:

First, aggressive policing and mass incarceration actually work in reducing violent crime. In his book “Uneasy Peace,” the sociologist Patrick Sharkey sets out the evidence that having more “guardians” — police officers, private security forces, closed-circuit cameras — in public spaces makes those places safer. Keeping violent criminals off the streets for longer periods makes the streets less violent. And the benefits of greater safety to poor and minority communities are considerable. Sharkey points out that reductions in violent crime since the 1990s have increased the average life expectancy of Black men by an amount equivalent to the elimination of obesity.

Second, heavy-handed police tactics can also produce community resentment, even rage. This is the reason Sharkey thinks that brute force methods are ultimately unsustainable. When portions of cities are effectively under police occupation, and imprisonment is massively over-applied, the resulting peace is inherently fragile. A moment of filmed police brutality can set spark to tinder. The murder of George Floyd led to unrest last year in some 140 U.S. cities.

Third, in the wake of police scandals, violence can rise. Police pull back from communities and suffer from morale problems when the legitimacy of their calling is questioned. Communities pull back from the police, turning to them less frequently and providing less cooperation and information. When the peace of a community is maintained mainly by external force, the removal of that force is likely to result in additional violence.

Many police officials and analysts also point to a fourth factor in rising violence: the weakening of social ties that resulted from the coronavirus pandemic. “People lost connections to institutions of community life,” Sharkey said during an interview with the Atlantic, “which include school, summer jobs programs, pools and libraries. Those are the institutions that create connections between members of communities, especially for young people. When individuals are not connected to those institutions, then they’re out in public spaces, often without adults present. And while that dynamic doesn’t always lead to a rise in violence, it can.”

In the light of these four claims, the details of Biden’s crime proposal make good sense. It begins with hiring more police officers, with funding from the American Rescue Plan’s $350 billion in state and local spending. The plan also subsidizes overtime for trust-building community policing. The goal is clearly to encourage law enforcement that is active without being oppressive. But Biden is proposing to expand the number of police, not defenestrate them.

Biden’s main focus on gun control — going after gun traffickers and rogue gun dealers — is realistic, incremental and strategic.

The administration’s plan expands employment and housing programs that help released prisoners to find a foothold in a new life.

And Biden’s plan would invest billions of dollars in — and encourage private foundation support for — community violence intervention programs. These programs use trusted local messengers to intervene directly with young people to resolve conflicts and find constructive alternatives to violence. For those who need reminding, supporting community institutions to reach at-risk children is straight out of the compassionate conservatism playbook.

This approach to crime may not be revolutionary, but it is rational, practical and well-devised. And it has already revealed a great deal about politics in the Biden era.

 To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, June 28, 2021

Philly Mayor sticking with crime prevention plan in the face of rising violence

 Mayor Jim Kenney is not ready to dump his violence prevention plan even as the yearslong upward trend of killings and shootings shows no signs of ebbing, reported the Pennsylvania Capital Star.

The mayor defended his approach to reducing gun violence in Philadelphia on Wednesday at a time when the homicide rate was up 38 percent and shootings victim rate was up 27 percent compared to the same time last year.

Asked if his approach to reducing gun violence wasn’t working, Kenney said, “No, I’m not willing to admit that. We’re working very hard and we’ll continue working very hard, despite what your opinion may be.”

While Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said they shouldered responsibility for the city’s homicide rate, the city’s top cop shirked blame for the rise in killings.

“Blame, absolutely not. Responsibility, yes, because it’s our job to ensure the safety of Philadlephians here,” Outlaw said.

Outlaw said the police department didn’t control factors that could drive gun violence, including housing status, education, access to wealth and capital.

Philadelphia had 261 homicides as of Wednesday, up from 190 at the same time last year, according to the police department’s online database. Shooting victims numbered 1,003 this week, up from 790 from the same time last year, according to data provided by police during the news conference.

Kenney maintained the city’s spike in killings during the past year was part of a nationwide trend — “As a matter of fact, we’re not even the worst at this point.”

But the homicide rate in Philadelphia has been increasing for years under Kenney’s watch. Killings in the city went from 277 in 2016 (the first year Kenney took office) to 499 in 2020, according to the police department’s online database.

And while killings have surged in other U.S. cities during the coronavirus pandemic, homicides in Philadelphia outpaced those in larger cities, including New York City and Los AngelesChicago, a city with a population of nearly 2.7 million, had more homicides as of Monday (307) than Philadelphia.

Police are recovering more crime guns and making more gun arrests than previous years.

Officers have recovered 2,906 crime guns as of Monday, putting the department on track to take in more than 6,100 by the year’s end if the current rate continues, according to police. Police recovered 4,989 in 2020, an increase from 2019.

Cops also have made 1,339 arrests for Violations of the Uniform Firearms Act so far this year, up from 816 at the same time in 2020, according to police.

A budget deal hashed out between the Kenney administration and City Council members last week has put the city on track to earmark $58 million in new funding for violence prevention efforts, said Budget Director Marisa Waxman.

Another $10 million in the budget proposal would go toward restoring funding for anti-violence efforts that had been cut last year due to the pandemic — nearly $7 million for the Parks and Recreation Department and close to $3 million for the Free Library of Philadelphia.

In total, the city’s $5.2 billion proposed budget includes approximately $155 million for anti-violence efforts. Philadelphia City Council is expected to vote on the spending plan Thursday, which is expected to pass. Legislators must pass a budget by the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Kenney sidestepped a question about whether he believed the city’s funding level to prevent violence was adequate.

“Funding is adequate because that’s what (City) Council agreed to and that’s what’s on the table at the moment,” the mayor said.

To read more CLICK HERE


Saturday, June 26, 2021

Ohio removes mentally ill man from death row under new first of its kind law

 A Columbus man sentenced to death in 1999 for the murder of his ex-girlfriend and her father has become the first inmate in Ohio removed from death row under a new state law that bans the execution of the seriously mentally ill, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

The death sentence of David L. Braden, 61, was vacated last week by a Franklin County judge, who resentenced him to life without parole.

The county prosecutor's office and the state public defender's office agreed that Braden, at the time of his crime, met the criteria for serious mental illness under the new Ohio law, which went into effect April 12. Both sides prepared an order that was signed by Common Pleas Judge Colleen O'Donnell.

Ohio was the first state to create such a law, thus Braden is also the first death-row inmate in the nation "to be removed from death row because of a statutory prohibition against executing people with a serious mental illness," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

The Virginia legislature was close to approving a similar law late last year, Dunham said, but instead banned the death penalty in March, becoming the 23rd state to do so.

The Ohio law, House Bill 136, was overwhelmingly approved by the state House in June of last year and by the state Senate in December. Gov. Mike DeWine signed the measure in January and it became law 90 days later. 

The law designates certain mental illnesses, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, as qualifying disorders if the condition "significantly impaired the person's capacity to exercise rational judgment in relation to his or her conduct" or "to appreciate the nature, consequences or wrongfulness" of the conduct.

The law applies not only to current and future capital cases, but provides the possibility of postconviction relief for those already on death row who can establish that they qualified as seriously mentally ill at the time of their offense.

While prosecutors have the option to oppose such petitions and request a hearing before a judge, Janet Grubb, Franklin County first assistant prosecuting attorney, said a careful review of information from Braden's appellate attorneys made such a challenge unnecessary.

"We saw enough during the exchange of information to conclude that a reasonable fact-finder in our court would determine that this individual qualified under the statute," said Grubb, who signed the order on behalf of Prosecutor Gary Tyack's office. 

Tyack, who was elected in November, had no involvement in the decision, Grubb said. Because Tyack served on the 10th District Court of Appeals for one of Braden's appeals, he had a conflict of interest that required Grubb to serve as prosecutor on the matter.

"Gary was completely walled off" from discussions about Braden's petition, Grubb said.

Braden was 39 when he was convicted by a Franklin County jury in May 1999 of fatally shooting Denise Roberts, 44, and Ralph "Bud" Heimlich, 83, at the home they shared on Barthel Avenue on the East Side on Aug. 3, 1998.

Testimony established that Braden and Roberts were seen arguing in a parking lot outside her workplace earlier in the day. A man matching his description was seen fleeing the victims' home after neighbors heard gunshots.

All of Braden's appeals over the years, including one heard by the Ohio Supreme Court, have been rejected, although a case in federal court was still pending.

Kathryn Sandford, an assistant state public defender who has handled Braden's appeals since his conviction, said the federal case will be dismissed as a result of the agreed order signed by O'Donnell.

Sandford and Steve Brown, a fellow assistant state public defender, filed the petition outlining Braden's qualifications for the serious-mental-illness designation.

They included the findings of a psychologist who determined that Braden suffered from "paranoid schizophrenia with delusions" before committing the murders.

Since the early to mid-1990s, they wrote, a brother and sister-in-law testified that Braden had made statements about being a prophet of God, while friends attested to his paranoia and alarming personality changes.

Since the beginning of his incarceration, Braden has been treated with anti-psychotic medication to control his psychotic symptoms, according to his attorneys.

A psychologist testified during the sentencing phase of Braden's trial that he was mentally ill, but the jury recommended a death sentence, which was imposed by then-Common Pleas Judge Michael H. Watson.

The change in Ohio law, and its application to Braden's case, shows an evolution in the way the state legislature, the courts and the public have come to view the death penalty since Watson imposed the sentence, Sandford said.

The executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio, one of the groups that pushed for the law, said he hopes the public understands that the serious-mental-illness criteria applies to a relatively small number of those on death row.

"This is not an opening for everyone to claim they're mentally ill," Terry Russell said. "You cannot fake schizophrenia. You cannot fake bipolar illness. The symptoms are such that when someone is seriously mentally ill, it can be recognized."

Russell added that Braden "is never going to get out of prison. He's going to be punished for what he did, and we support that."

As part of the prosecutor's office review of Braden's petition, it was required by a separate state law to contact the family of the victims to inform them of the request, Grubb said.

"The survivor we met with understood the position we were in," she said. "I think she reluctantly accepted that this was something that made sense on multiple levels."

Dunham, of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the law "does not dishonor the victims" of those on death row.

"This is not about somebody who killed their loved ones being set free," he said. "This is about society making a judgment that there are certain classes of very ill people for whom it is inappropriate to carry out the death penalty."

To read more CLICK HERE

Friday, June 25, 2021

Unanimous SCOTUS strikes warrantless entry of home for minor offense

The Supreme Court upheld an individual’s right to private property against government intrusion in two very different California cases, underscoring the libertarian leanings of the more conservative majority, reported the Los Angeles Times.

The decisions — one unanimous and the other ideologically split — also bolstered privacy rights.

In one case, the justices sided with a California motorist who complained when a police officer followed him without a warrant into his home garage, where he was questioned and ticketed for drunk driving.

The justices, both conservative and liberal, have long looked skeptically at police searches of homes, and the unanimous ruling for the California driver arrested in his garage provided a chance to strengthen that position.

The court ruled for a retired Sonoma County real estate broker who was followed home by a California Highway Patrol officer. The officer noticed the man was playing loud music on his car radio.

The officer turned on the flashing lights of his patrol car just as Arthur Lange pulled into his driveway. The officer followed Lange into his garage, questioned him and then wrote him a ticket for drunk driving. Lange appealed, arguing his right to privacy had been violated.

The justices set aside his conviction and said the 4th Amendment usually forbids the police to enter a driveway or a home unless it is a true emergency or they have a search warrant.

Justice Elena Kagan noted that the case did not involve pursuing a felon fleeing from the scene of a major crime. Lange was charged with a misdemeanor.

“The need to pursue a misdemeanant does not trigger a categorical rule allowing home entry, even absent a law enforcement emergency,” she wrote. “When the nature of the crime, the nature of the flight, and surrounding facts present no such exigency, officers must respect the sanctity of the home — which means that they must get a warrant,” she wrote.

Although all nine justices agreed with the outcome in Lange’s case, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote a partial dissent. They said police should have leeway to pursue a fleeing suspect, regardless of the nature of the crime.

Roberts said Wednesday’s ruling will prove confusing for the police. “It is the flight, not the underlying offense, that has always been understood to justify the general rule: ‘Police officers may enter premises without a warrant when they are in hot pursuit of a fleeing suspect,’” he wrote, quoting a 2011 ruling that upheld an officer’s pursuit of a drug suspect who fled into an apartment.

Lange’s case was different, however, because he did not know the officer was following him and, therefore, was not a fleeing suspect.

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh said he agreed with the court’s ruling but stressed that its opinion “does not disturb the long-settled rule that pursuit of a fleeing felon is itself an exigent circumstance justifying warrantless entry into a home.”

California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta applauded the ruling and said it “strengthens protections against warrantless entries into the home.”

A Superior Court judge and a California appeals court had ruled for the police and upheld the search because the officer had grounds to stop and question the motorist.

“Because the officer was in hot pursuit of a suspect whom he had probable cause to arrest, the officer’s warrantless entry into Lange’s driveway and garage were lawful,” the state court said.

Kagan and the high court disagreed, saying there is no “law enforcement emergency.” The “constitutional interest at stake is the sanctity of a person’s living space,” she said. “When it comes to the 4th Amendment, the home is first among equals.”

To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, June 24, 2021

President Biden to implement measures to crack down on gun violence

 President Biden will announce measures to crack down on gun stores that don’t follow federal rules, step up programs for recently released convicts and provide more support for police departments across the country as the administration grapples with spikes in homicides and other violent crimes across major cities, reported The Washington Post.

Though overall crime was down last year, according to FBI data, the murder rate rose about 25 percent and violent crime about 3 percent.

“That’s impacting people’s lives, people’s communities, people’s families, people’s neighbors,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in Tuesday’s news briefing, which was dominated by questions about crime. “Of course, they want to hear more and [Biden] wants to share more with the American public about what he’s going to do.”

Crime has become a dominant issue in a slew of local campaigns, most notably the New York mayoral race, where a former police officer with a tough-on-crime posture was seen as the front-runner heading into Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

The Biden White House sees a political advantage in focusing on gun control as a way to stem the violence. The issue polls well among Democrats and independents, as opposed to stiffening sentences or backing aggressive policing tactics, policies favored by the right.

Democrats are deeply internally divided over how to respond to the violence as it pertains to empowering police. Many in the party’s establishment political wing believe positions such as “defunding the police” hurt them in the 2020 election, while the left flank sees the crime wave as a potential obstacle to changing police practices. But they are unified in seeing tougher gun enforcement as a potential solution.

“If you look at a number of cities across the country, it is actually driven by gun violence,” Psaki said, citing increases in shootings and gun crimes in St. Louis and New York. “And that will be a central part of what [the president] will talk about when he delivers his remarks.”

Biden will direct the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to seek to revoke licenses from gun sellers the first time they are caught willfully selling a weapon to a person who is not permitted to have one, neglecting to run a required background check or ignoring a federal request to provide trace information about a weapon used in a crime. The policy attacks a source of crime guns, which in some instances can be traced to sloppy or irresponsible dealers, experts say.

The president also wants to reduce recidivism by opening opportunities to those leaving prison, including hiring more of them in federal jobs and encouraging business to do so. Biden also wants to offer additional federal housing vouchers for them, according to administration officials.

And Biden will allow $350 billion in federal stimulus funds to be used to pay to fund police departments in areas that have seen an increase in crime, administration officials said.

Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland are slated to meet with a handful of mayors and local officials and advocates Wednesday afternoon to discuss the administration’s strategy.

Psaki said that Biden’s Wednesday afternoon remarks after that meeting will “build on a number of the announcements” the president has already made.

She noted that he wants to “lay out a comprehensive strategy to address violent crime and gun violence” now, as the country moves into the summer months. Crime tends to increase in warmer weather, and experts say the lifting of pandemic restrictions could also factor into crime spikes in some areas.

Biden previously issued some directives aimed at gun control. In April, he directed the Justice Department to draft new restrictions on “ghost guns” — kits that allow buyers to assemble firearms without a serial number.

In May, the Justice Department released a draft of the rule, which would require retailers to run background checks before selling kits that allow someone to readily make a gun at home, and it would force manufacturers to include a serial number on a firearm’s “frame or receiver” — the primary structural components of a gun — in easy-to-build kits. Serial numbers help ATF trace guns used in crimes.

He also instructed the Justice Department to create a template that states can use to enact red-flag laws, which allow judges to seize firearms from people who are deemed a threat to themselves or others. And he ordered a repeat of a landmark 2000 gun-trafficking study that was instrumental in helping police determine the source of guns used in crimes.

Biden announced David Chipman as his pick to run ATF. The former ATF agent is now a senior adviser to a gun-control group founded by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was severely wounded in a mass shooting in 2011. He has not yet been confirmed.

Biden also plans to highlight how the $1.9 trillion stimulus package he signed into law has included funds used for police departments — a message the White House hopes will blunt criticism from Republicans who have tried to paint all Democrats as supporting the “defund the police” movement.

“The president has never supported defunding the police,” Psaki said.

She noted Biden’s longtime support for community policing. “He also believes that we need to ensure that state and local governments keep cops on the beat, that we’re supporting community policing,” Psaki said.

To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Mangino on Crime Stories with Nancy Grace

NAVY WIFE IN FREEZER, medical examiner stumped

Elizabeth Sullivan, 31, was reported missing in 2014. Her body is found two years later in the San Diego Bay. Where has she been in the meantime? Investigators conduct a thorough search of her home. Forensic tests find Elizabeth Sullivan’s blood soaked into the wooden floor in her bedroom and the carpeting.

A major clue, however, happens when a police cadaver dog reacts to a spot in the Sullivan garage where a refrigerator-freezer stood for several years.

Joining Nancy Grace today:

Matthew Mangino - Attorney, Former District Attorney (Lawrence County), Author: "The Executioner's Toll: The Crimes, Arrests, Trials, Appeals, Last Meals, Final Words and Executions of 46 Persons in the United States"

Dr. Michael B. Donner, Ph.D. - Psychoanalyst, Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, Author: "Tearing the Child Apart: The Contribution of Narcissism, Envy and Perverse Modes of Thought to Child Custody Wars", @michaelbdonner

Karen L. Smith - Forensic Expert, Lecturer at the University of Florida, Host of Shattered Souls Podcast, @KarensForensic,

Dr. Kendall Crowns – Deputy Medical Examiner Travis County, Texas (Austin)

Levi Page - Crime Online Investigative Reporter, Host, "Crime and Scandal" True Crime Podcast, 

To listen to Crime Stories with Nancy Grace CLICK HERE

The cost of violent encounters with police

In the national conversation about policing over the past year, public attention has focused on those who die at the hands of officers. Americans know the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice and others killed by cops. Few know that tens of thousands of people like Paulino end up in the ER after run-ins with police, reported The Marshall Project.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that since 2015, more than 400,000 people have been treated in emergency rooms because of violent interactions with police or security guards. But there’s almost no nationwide data on the nature or circumstances of their injuries. Many of the country’s roughly 18,000 law enforcement agencies don’t tally or make public the number of people who need medical care after officers break their arms, bruise their faces or shock them with Tasers.

Researchers point out that only a tiny portion of arrests involve force. But when police do use force, more than half the incidents ended with a suspect or bystander getting hurt, according to a 2020 analysis. It’s unclear how serious the harm is. “We need better data on injury severity,” said Matthew Hickman, a professor at Seattle University and one of the study’s authors.

Many experts agree that injuries at the hands of cops remain underreported.

"This data depends on the discretion of police, who get to decide who is worthy or unworthy of an ambulance,” said Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, an associate professor of sociology at Brown University who has researched the Chicago Police Department. “It is absolutely an undercount.”

But even as the rate of injuries goes unacknowledged in the national conversation about police reform, it has strained the relationship between officers and the people they aim to serve — particularly in Black and brown neighborhoods.

“There is a withering away of community trust,” said Van Cleve. “The police are not seen as enforcing the law, they are seen as outside the law.”

Only in a place like San Jose, which requires officers to report injuries and encourages them to take people they’ve wounded to the hospital, do we have a glimpse of what the national scale of the issue might be. The city, with just over a million residents in the heart of Silicon Valley, took the rare step of tracking injuries and hospitalizations as part of a years-long effort to reduce violent interactions between residents and officers, after long-standing complaints that officers were beating people up during arrests.

Despite those efforts, about 1,300 people ended up in the ER after interacting with city police from 2017 to 2020, an analysis of San Jose’s data by NBC News and The Marshall Project found.

Most of the ER visits involved officers using their hands on people, our analysis found. “Control holds” — twisting arms or holding people down — played a role in 60% of the cases. Almost 20% of people who went to the ER were shot with stun guns, and 10% were hit with an “impact weapon” such as a baton.

In those four years, city data shows, encounters with San Jose police left 72 people “seriously injured,” which includes broken bones, dog bites and internal injuries. Nine more people died, all from gunshot wounds.

Rough arrests have cost the city more than $26 million in lawsuit payouts for civil rights violations since 2010, according to the analysis by NBC News and The Marshall Project.

Chief Anthony Mata, who took over the department in March, said that when it comes to using force, his officers are reacting to the behavior of the people they encounter.

“We try to use the minimal force,” he said. “But sometimes individuals are not compliant or are resistant.”

How typical is San Jose’s track record? Do the same analysis “on any department in the country and you would come up with the same results,” said Bob Scales, a police consultant for the city and many other law enforcement agencies. The most unusual thing about San Jose is that it makes its data public, he said.

Another unusual thing about San Jose is how often a use-of-force incident ends up with a trip to the hospital: about 43%, among the highest of the nine cities we looked at that track when a run-in with police results in an ER visit.

But some police departments may have a low percentage of ER visits because they have loose reporting requirements and don’t make officers seek medical treatment for people who are hurt – creating the possibility of a significant undercount of the true rate of injury.

San Jose officials say their rate reflects the city's policy of taking injuries seriously. Unlike many law enforcement agencies, the San Jose Police Department has rules telling officers to get a “medical clearance” from a hospital when someone “has been struck in the head with an elbow, a knee, or a kick.”

Officers routinely go further, current and former officials say, taking people with even minor wounds or complaints to the ER, in part because the local jail requires it. A spokesman for the Santa Clara County Jail did not respond to requests for comment.

“Officers are erring on the side of caution” when they take people to the hospital, said Eddie Garcia, who led the San Jose Police Department from 2016 to 2020, and is now the chief in Dallas. “That doesn’t mean that we are breaking arms and causing skull fractures.”

The police in Denver, like San Jose, have strict rules about seeking medical attention when someone complains of injury, though the decision about whether to go to the hospital is made by EMS, not officers. Medics took people to the hospital in 38% of use-of-force cases.

In Chicago, the police department’s handbook requires officers to request medical assistance if they shoot someone with a gun or a Taser, or hit them with a baton. But if there’s no weapon involved and the person doesn’t ask for medical help or have obvious wounds, there's not a mandatory trip to the ER.

“It’s situational,” said Sgt. Rocco Alioto, a Chicago police spokesman. “He's got an injury from that arrest, you're going to have to get that looked at. But if he's not complaining of an injury, and there's no visible sign of injury, then there's nothing that says that we have to call or take them to the hospital for clearance.”

About 34% of use-of-force incidents in Chicago end in a hospital visit, our analysis found. The city’s office of inspector general said it may be an undercount, pointing to a change in the way the police department tallies hospitalizations.

"We have seen gaps in use-of-force reporting," said Deborah Witzburg, the deputy inspector general for public safety. "In an area where there is so much need for transparency and accountability, any lack of clarity is really problematic."

In Mesa, Arizona, a city of a half-million residents near Phoenix, 36% of use-of-force incidents ended with a trip to the hospital between 2017 and 2020. The police department doesn’t require officers to call EMS or take a person to the ER after a rough arrest, a spokesman said.

So people with injuries that would send them to the hospital in San Jose end up in jail in Mesa. For example, surveillance video at an apartment building caught Mesa police beating Robert Johnson during a 2018 arrest, leaving him with a swollen face and injuries on his chest, back, shoulder and arms. Even with the blows to the head, officers took Johnson directly to jail.

A departmental investigation found that the officers did nothing wrong. Charges against Johnson were dropped, and he then filed a federal lawsuit against the police, which is pending. In court papers, city attorneys said the force was justified.

San Jose’s efforts to reduce police abuse go back to the days of Rodney King. After his infamous beating by Los Angeles police officers in 1991, San Jose was among the first big cities to employ an independent police auditor who investigates civilian complaints about officers.

Walter Katz took on the role in 2015, San Jose was a “baton heavy department” where cops injured people and broke bones, he said. He added that police officials weren’t conducting robust investigations of civilian complaints.

“They really had a weak use-of-force accountability system,” Katz said.

In a push for transparency, in 2017 the department hired Scales’ consulting firm, Police Strategies, which created a publicly accessible website that culls use-of-force information from police reports.

As the picture of police behavior became clearer, San Jose officials learned that their officers were using batons and rubber bullets more than other law enforcement agencies.

Department officials say they have encouraged officers to use weapons less often. In 2015, “impact weapons” were involved in 19% of use-of-force incidents, the Police Strategies report shows. By 2019, that had dropped to 11%. But officers were wrestling more often with people they were trying to arrest. Two-thirds of all use-of-force incidents in 2019 led to injuries, a rate the report described as “above average.” The majority of the injured people ended up in the ER.

Critics seeking police reform want more than detailed statistics.

“I don’t think there’s any pats on the back or gold stars given out for chronicling their overuse of force and injuries on civilians,” said Raj Jayadev, founder of the criminal justice watchdog group Silicon Valley De-Bug. “The end of the story isn’t, ‘Here are all the people we’ve killed’ or ‘Here are all the people we’ve maimed.’ The point is to stop it.”

He and other critics complain that San Jose isn’t doing enough to root out problematic cops. Marco Cruz, the officer who tackled Paulino to the ground in 2015, for example, was transferred to the training unit to help teach recruits. The department declined to make him available for comment. Paulino’s lawyer said he moved back to his hometown in Mexico; he could not be reached for comment.

In interviews and reports, police auditors criticized the department’s internal reviews of use of force, saying investigators didn’t fully examine whether people who were injured had actually posed a threat to officers.

To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

States pass legislation to crack down on protestors

Eight states have passed laws cracking down on protest activity since Black Lives Matter protests erupted across the United States last summer, according to the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law, which tracks such legislation. Similar bills are pending in 21 states, according to the PEW Charitable Trust.

New laws enacted in Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Oklahoma and Tennessee this year increase penalties for blocking traffic, tearing down monuments and other unlawful behavior during a protest or riot. The bills typically define “riot” as a gathering of three or more people that threatens public safety.

New Arkansas, Kansas and Montana laws increase penalties for protesting near oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure. And an Alabama law will allow cities in Lauderdale County, where protestors called for the removal of a Confederate statue, to control where protests occur and to charge protest organizers permit fees.

Republican bill sponsors and police groups say increasing penalties for crimes committed during a protest will help prevent violence and protect law enforcement officers. But civil rights groups and Democrats say the heightened penalties will chill First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceful assembly, and could be used to disproportionately arrest people of color.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed his state’s new law in April surrounded by GOP lawmakers and law enforcement officers.

“We wanted to make sure that we were able to protect the people of our great state, people’s businesses and property against any type of mob activity or violent assemblies,” he said then, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

But Democratic state Sen. Shev Jones told the Times that DeSantis’ “press conference spectacle was a distraction that will only further disenfranchise Black and brown communities.”

To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, June 21, 2021

Gun violence soaring around the country

Mass shootings — defined by CNN as four or more people shot, excluding the shooter — account for just a portion of lives lost to gun violence, according to The Washington Post. Add in domestic homicides, street crime, gang activity and unintentional and other shootings, and the number of deaths last weekend climbs to more than 120. Analysis of the Gun Violence Archive’s data by The Post’s Reis Thebault, Joe Fox and Andrew Ba Tran showed that through the first five months of 2021, gunfire killed more than 8,100 people. That’s about 54 lives lost per day, 14 more deaths per day than the average toll during the same period of the previous six years, putting 2021 on track to be one of the deadliest years in gun violence in decades. The numbers don’t include gun-related suicides, but researchers say those deaths also may be on the rise.

The Post’s analysis found an increase in shootings during summers, and police and other officials are already bracing for the coming months when schools let out and more of the country opens up as pandemic restrictions are eased. “Unless we all start speaking up, speaking out and demanding our elected officials take action, we’re going to see a lot more bloodshed,” Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo, head of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”

Congress, though, has failed to address the issue. Modest gun-safety laws expanding background checks, supported by a majority of Americans, remain stalled in the Senate. Perversely, Republican-led legislatures in several states are taking steps to make it easier to obtain and carry guns. Texas, where the Austin shooting was preceded by a shooting Friday in Dallas that injured five people, including a 4-year-old child, is on the cusp of allowing residents to carry handguns openly in public without a permit or training. It is time for the country to treat gun violence like the public health emergency it is so that tallying up the casualties of the weekend doesn’t become just another Monday routine.

To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, June 20, 2021

South Carolina halts executions waiting on firing squad

South Carolina Supreme Court has blocked two executions until the inmates are given the choice of death by electrocution or firing squad, reported the BBC News Service.

A new law requires inmates on death row to decide between the two methods if lethal drugs are not available.

But as prison authorities have not yet formed a firing squad, the executions have been halted by the supreme court.

Inmates Brad Sigmon and Freddie Owens were due to be executed this month.

The convicted murderers were denied lethal injections - their favored option - because prison authorities did not have the drugs needed.

A shortage of these drugs has led to a 10-year pause in this method of execution in the state.

The new law, which came into effect last month, was designed to close a loophole that allowed inmates to indefinitely postpone their executions if the drugs were not available.

Lawyers for the inmates argued that electrocution was cruel and unusual

Given the lack of a firing squad, electrocution was the only method of execution available in the state.

But lawyers for Sigmon and Owens challenged the use of the method in court, arguing their clients have the right to die by lethal injection.

They petitioned the South Carolina Supreme Court to stop the planned executions of their clients until their appeals had been heard.

The court ruled in their favor, saying the inmates had not been given the choice "to elect the manner of their execution".

The court said no further execution notices should be issued until "protocols and policies to carry out executions by firing squad" are in place.

In response to the court order, the state's prison authorities said it was "moving ahead with creating policies and procedures for a firing squad".

"We are looking to other states for guidance through this process. We will notify the court when a firing squad becomes an option for executions," the South Carolina Department of Corrections said.

Only four US states allow executions by firing squad

South Carolina is one of four states that allow executions by firing squad. Oklahoma, Mississippi and Utah are the others.

Sigmon, 63, was scheduled to be executed on Friday. He has spent nearly two decades on death row after he was convicted in 2002 of killing his ex-girlfriend's parents with a baseball bat.

Owens's execution was planned for 25 June. The 43-year-old has been on and off death row since 1999, when he was convicted of murdering a shop worker during a robbery spree.

To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Mangino on WFMJ-TV Weekend Today

Watch my interview on WFMJ-TV Weekend Today talking about the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court and the death penalty.

To watch the interview CLICK HERE

Biden disappoints activists on the death penalty

Activists widely expected Joe Biden to take swift action against the death penalty as the first sitting president to oppose capital punishment, especially since an unprecedented spate of executions by his predecessor ended just days before Biden took office.

Instead, the White House has been mostly silent, reports The Associated Press.

Biden hasn’t said whether he’d back a bill introduced by fellow Democrats to strike the death penalty from U.S. statutes. He also hasn’t rescinded Trump-era protocols enabling federal executions to resume and allowing prisons to use firing squads if necessary, something many thought he’d do on day one.

And this week, his administration asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the Boston Marathon bomber’s original death sentence.

The hands-off approach in Washington is adding to disarray around the death penalty nationwide as pressure increases in some conservative states to find ways to continue executions amid shortages of the lethal-injection drugs. Worse, some longtime death penalty observers say, is that Biden’s silence risks sending a message that he’s OK with states adopting alternative execution methods.

“Biden’s lack of action is unconscionable,” said Ashley Kincaid Eve, a lawyer and activist who protested outside the Terre Haute, Indiana, prison where the federal inmates were executed. “This is the easiest campaign promise to keep, and the fact he refuses to keep it ... is political cowardice.”

His cautious approach demonstrates the practical and political difficulties of ending or truncating capital punishment after it’s been integral to the criminal justice system for centuries, even as popular support for the death penalty among both Democrats and Republicans wanes.

Sup​port for the death penalty among Americans is at near-historic lows after peaking in the mid-1990s and steadily declining since, with most recent polls indicating support now hovers around 55%, according to the nonpartisan Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

presidential run, but he did say on his campaign website that he would work “to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and incentivize states to follow the federal government’s example.”

That simple-sounding promise was historic because it wasn’t just about the federal death penalty, which, before former President Donald Trump, had been carried out just three times in the previous five decades. Then, 13 federal prisoners were executed during Trump’s last six months in office during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Biden’s promise also took direct aim at states, which, combined, have executed some 1,500 inmates since the 1970s; 27 states still have death penalty laws.

But the fact that the Biden administration chose to actively push for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s execution suggests the president’s opposition to the death penalty isn’t as all-inclusive as many activists believed.

Justice Department lawyers said in court filings Monday that a lower court was wrong to toss the 27-year-old’s death sentence over concerns about the jury selection process, saying the Supreme Court should “put this case back on track toward a just conclusion.”

White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in an email regarding the Tsarnaev decision that the Justice Department “has independence regarding such decisions.” Bates added that the president “believes the Department should return to its prior practice, and not carry out executions.”

Meanwhile, states have resorted to other means as drugs used in lethal injections have become increasingly hard to procure. Pharmaceutical companies in the 2000s began banning the use of their products for executions, saying they were meant to save lives, not take them. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons has declined to explain how it obtained pentobarbital for the lethal injections under Trump.

Some states have refurbished electric chairs as standbys for when lethal drugs are unavailable. On Wednesday, South Carolina halted two executions until the state could pull together firing squads.

To the disbelief of many, Arizona went so far as to acquire materials to make cyanide hydrogen — the poisonous gas deployed by Nazis to kill 865,000 Jews at Auschwitz — for possible use in the state’s death chamber.

“Execution processes are becoming more and more out of touch with core American values,” Robert Dunham, director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said about Arizona’s purchase. “It provides a very clear picture of what the death penalty has become in the United States.”

To read more CLICK HERE

Friday, June 18, 2021

Forfeiture of Land Rover was “grossly disproportionate” to the gravity of crime

The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled that a convicted drug dealer who challenged the forfeiture of his Land Rover before the U.S. Supreme Court should get his vehicle back, reported The ABA Journal.

The state supreme court ruled for Tyson Timbs, reasoning that the forfeiture is unconstitutional because the seizure of his vehicle amounted to an excessive fine, the Indianapolis Star reports.

The Indiana Supreme Court ruling followed the Supreme Court’s decision for Timbs’ in 2019 finding that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on excessive fines applies to the states, as well as the federal government. On remand, the Indiana Supreme Court said the harshness of the forfeiture was “grossly disproportionate” to the gravity of Timbs’ drug dealing crime.

The state supreme court used a two-part analysis. First, it considered whether the property seized was an “instrument” of the crime committed. The state won on that prong because Timbs had used the Land Rover to transport the first heroin that he sold to undercover officers for $225. The second drug sale, made on foot, was for $160.

But the state lost on the proportionality prong.

Timbs had purchased the Land Rover, worth at least $35,000, with life insurance proceeds that he received after his father died. He spent the rest of the money, about $30,000, on heroin. Most of the miles that Timbs put on his Land Rover were from out-of-town trips to buy the drug. Later, an acquaintance asked Timbs whether he would sell some heroin.

Timbs agreed. He made the two drug sales to a person who turned out to be an undercover officer. Police arrested Timbs as he was on his way to a third planned buy. Timbs pleaded guilty to drug dealing and conspiracy to commit theft. He spent one year on home detention and five years on probation. His costs and fees amounted to about $1,200.

The maximum fine for the offense was $10,000, and the maximum sentence was 20 years in prison.

Timbs participated in treatment programs and successfully completed his sentence. He has held down several jobs but has to use his aunt’s car to get to work.

“We conclude that the $35,000 market value of the vehicle and the other sanctions imposed on Timbs point to the punitive, rather than remedial, nature of the forfeiture,” the Indiana Supreme Court said. “It’s appropriate to evaluate the market value of the forfeiture relative to the owner’s economic means—because ‘taking away the same piece of property from a billionaire and from someone who owns nothing’ do not reflect equal punishments,” the state supreme court said, quoting a prior opinion.

“To be sure, the Land Rover’s forfeiture is not unconstitutional just because Timbs was poor,” the Indiana Supreme Court said. “Or because he suffered from addiction. Or because he dealt drugs to an undercover officer and not someone who would use them. And it’s not simply because the vehicle’s value was three-and-a-half times the maximum fine for the underlying offense. Or because he received the minimum possible sentence for his crime and wasn’t a sophisticated, experienced dealer. Or because the car, his only asset, was essential to him reintegrating into society to maintain employment and seek treatment. Rather, it’s the confluence of all these facts that makes Timbs the unusual claimant who could overcome the high hurdle of showing gross disproportionality.”

To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

DOJ seeks to reinstate death penalty for Boston Marathon Bomber

President Joe Biden’s administration is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the death sentence for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev despite the president’s vocal opposition to capital punishment, reported The Associated Press.

Justice Department lawyers wrote in court documents filed Monday that the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was wrong when it threw out the 27-year-old’s death sentence last year over concerns about the jury selection process.

Calling Tsarnaev’s case “one of the most important terrorism prosecutions in our Nation’s history,” the solicitor general’s office — which represents the administration before the high court — said the Supreme Court should “put this case back on track toward a just conclusion.”

“The jury carefully considered each of respondent’s crimes and determined that capital punishment was warranted for the horrors that he personally inflicted—setting down a shrapnel bomb in a crowd and detonating it, killing a child and a promising young student, and consigning several others ‘to a lifetime of unimaginable suffering,’” it wrote. “That determination by 12 conscientious jurors deserves respect and reinstatement by this Court.”

White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in an email that the Justice Department “has independence regarding such decisions.” But Bates said the president “believes the Department should return to its prior practice, and not carry out executions.”

An email seeking comment was sent to a lawyer for Tsarnaev.

Former President Donald Trump’s administration, which carried out the executions of 13 federal inmates in its final six months in office, appealed the July 2020 appeals court ruling to the high court. Then-Attorney General William Barr told The Associated Press last year that the Trump administration would “do whatever’s necessary.”

The initial prosecution and decision to seek a death sentence was made by the Obama administration, in which Biden served as vice president. Biden has pledged to seek an end to the federal death penalty, but he has said nothing about how he plans to do so.

The Supreme Court agreed in March to hear the case. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at the time that Biden has “grave concerns about whether capital punishment as currently implemented is consistent with the values that are fundamental to our sense of justice and fairness.” She said “he has also expressed his horror at the events of that day and Tsarnaev’s actions.”

The appeals court ordered a new penalty-phase trial to decide whether Tsarnaev should be executed for the attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others, finding that the judge who oversaw the case did not adequately screen jurors for potential biases. Observers have been watching whether the Biden administration would stop pursuing the death penalty for Tsarnaev and agree to life in prison.

Tsarnaev’s lawyers acknowledged at the beginning of his trial that he and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, set off the two bombs at the marathon finish line on April 15, 2013. But they argued that Dzhokar Tsarnaev is less culpable than his brother, who they said was the mastermind behind the attack.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a gunbattle with police a few days after the bombing. Dzhokar Tsarnaev is now behind bars at a high-security supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.

Tsarnaev was convicted on 30 charges, including conspiracy and use of a weapon of mass destruction. The 1st Circuit upheld all but a few of his convictions.

To read more CLICK HERE


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Gunfire is killing more than 54 people a day in this country

According to the Washington Post, by almost every measure, 2021 has already been a terrible year for gun violence. Many fear it will get worse. Last weekend alone, more than 120 people died in shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive, with three especially dangerous incidents in Austin, Chicago and Savannah, Ga., killing two and injuring at least 30.

Through the first five months of 2021, gunfire killed more than 8,100 people in the United States, about 54 lives lost per day, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research organization. That’s 14 more deaths per day than the average toll during the same period of the previous six years.

This year, the number of casualties, along with the overall number of shootings that have killed or injured at least one person, exceeds those of the first five months of 2020, which finished as the deadliest year of gun violence in at least two decades.

From 2015-2019, about 40 people per day were killed in incidents of gun violence. 2020 saw a huge increase in gun deaths compared with previous years, and 2021 is trending even higher.

Experts have attributed the increase to a variety of new and long-standing issues — including entrenched inequality, soaring gun ownership, and fraying relations between police and the communities they serve — all intensified during the coronavirus pandemic and widespread uprisings for racial justice. The violence, its causes and its solutions have sparked wide-ranging and fierce policy debates.

The Post’s analysis found an increase in shootings during summers, especially last year, echoing a trend that law enforcement officials and gun violence researchers have warned about for years. With the weather warming, school letting out and virus-related restrictions falling away, leaders are worrying about a deadlier season than usual.

“I’m scared to death of the summer, I’ll be real honest,” said Mark Bryant, the Gun Violence Archive’s founder. “I expect this to be a record year.”

Gunfire deaths began to rise in April 2020, when covid-19 shut down much of the country, in-person schooling was paused and more than 20 million people lost their jobs. Gun violence — like the coronavirus — takes an unequal toll on communities of color. So as the pandemic took hold, it was one crisis on top of another.

“What we have is compounded trauma,” said Shani Buggs, an assistant professor with the University of California at Davis’s Violence Prevention Research Program. “The pandemic exacerbated all of the inequities we had in our country — along racial lines, health lines, social lines, economic lines. All of the drivers of gun violence pre-pandemic were just worsened last year.”

In most places, violent-crime rates remain well below what they were in the 1980s and early 1990s, a period that gave way to “the great American crime decline.” But last year, in some of the country’s largest cities, homicides increased by a total of 30 percent when compared with 2019.

In July 2020, shooting deaths reached a peak of roughly 58 per day and continued, nearly unabated, around that level until early 2021.

Now, the numbers are rising again.

In the nation’s capital, 2020 set a recent record for homicides — mostly from gun violence — and their number is rising again, even with the annual summer crime prevention initiative well underway. Seventy-nine people were killed in the District during the first five months of 2021, a 23 percent increase over the previous year.

At a recent vigil for Kassius-Kohn Glay, a 16-year-old standout high school student who was fatally shot last month, his parents said they were conscious of the danger their son, a young Black man, would face in his Northwest Washington neighborhood. Last year, Glay saw his best friend die in a shooting.

“I don’t want this to happen no more,” Glay’s mother, Juanita Culbreth, said at the memorial. “To the last breath of my body, I’m going to be sure. I’m going to keep on advocating for y’all.”
Attendees of a vigil for Kassius-Kohn Glay, a 16-year-old killed in D.C. last month. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)

After a string of deadly shootings in Miami, the city’s police chief, Art Acevedo, went on national television to warn about coming months.

“Unless we all start speaking up, speaking out and demanding our elected officials take action, we’re going to see a lot more bloodshed,” Acevedo, who also heads the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

A week after Acevedo’s TV appearance, a shooting at a Miami graduation party killed three and wounded five.

Shootings have also increased in cities from Los Angeles to Chicago to Columbus, Ohio. In Philadelphia, officials are preparing for what could be the deadliest year in the city’s history. The mayor is holding regular updates on gun violence, reminiscent of weekly coronavirus briefings.

But the rise in gun violence is not just a big-city phenomenon. The number of gunfire deaths has also increased in suburban and rural areas, though the overall numbers are lower because of smaller populations.

Areas across the country saw an increase in gun deaths in 2020. High-population urban areas were the most affected, but residents in suburban and rural areas also experienced more gun violence.

Researchers note a number of factors they say are driving the upswing, including the unprecedented surge in gun sales. In 2020, a year of pandemic, protests and elections, people purchased more than 23 million guns, a 66 percent increase over 2019 sales, according to a Post analysis of federal data on gun background checks.

In January and February of 2021, people bought more guns than they did during either month of any previous year in which such purchases were recorded. In January alone, about 2.5 million guns were sold, the third-highest one-month total, behind only June and July of 2020.

Before 2020, gun-sales spikes coincided with elections and mass shootings, such as the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in late 2012. Last year, the numbers climbed during pandemic-induced shutdowns and again in the summer, with millions protesting a Minneapolis police officer’s murder of George Floyd.

Controlling for population, the analysis found the higher the jump in gun sales between 2019 and 2020, the higher the jump in gun violence that resulted in at least one death.

Michigan and Nevada were among the states with the largest per capita increase in gun sales and gun-related deaths, while Washington and Oklahoma saw their rates of gun violence stay relatively flat.

A large body of research shows gun availability increases the relative risk of fatal shootings, and Buggs co-authored a study last year that found an association between firearm purchases that spring and a statistically significant increase in firearm violence.

Researchers caution against drawing causal links, especially during a year as unique as 2020, and Buggs said gun sales are among a number of elements that “are difficult to tease out.” Others have noted that millions of guns were sold in past decades, when crime rates were falling, and have said one year of data is not enough to settle the matter.

Early numbers indicate a large slice of 2020 gun buyers — about a fifth — purchased their first-ever firearm.

Hawaii is not shown because its data was not granular enough to estimate sales. D.C. gun sales were too low to chart,

but sales and gun deaths both rose significantly in 2020.

That flood of new gun owners, plus a possible lack of in-person firearm-safety training because of coronavirus shutdowns, is a worrying combination for Cassandra Crifasi, the deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy.

“All of these people who bought guns in the context of fear around the pandemic and the unrest and uprising in relation to the murder of George Floyd, what do they do with those guns now?” she said.

The Post found the number of fatal shootings the Gun Violence Archive classified as some type of accident increased by more than 40 percent from 2019 to 2020. The number of deadly incidents involving children — who may get guns from adults who do not store them properly — also rose by 45 percent, though a share of that is attributable to other types of shootings. The analysis does not include suicides because real-time data is unavailable, but researchers have noted worrying signs that gun-related suicides, along with intimate-partner violence and family violence, are also on the rise.

The past 14 months have presented “a perfect storm,” Crifasi said. Along with the mass influx of guns, the pandemic fueled a recession that overwhelmingly affected low-wage and minority workers and would keep Black women and men out of jobs longer than other Americans. Then a police officer killed Floyd in Minneapolis, leading to an erosion of public confidence in law enforcement. The protests after Floyd’s murder yielded more images of police brutality. An increase in violence was underway, but it continued to rise, experts noted, just as it did after police killings in Ferguson, Mo., and Chicago in 2014.

The surge in gun violence during 2020 didn’t have a corresponding increase in defensive use or murder-suicide incidents, but accidental shootings and incidents involving children did increase.

Includes incidents in which at least one person died.

The pandemic and protests also thinned officer ranks, sickening them or sending them to manage unrest. Researcher and former U.S. district judge Paul Cassell has charted in some cities a decline in street and vehicle stops, termed “proactive policing.”

Through it all, young people were especially vulnerable, with activities that normally provide structure and support — in-person school, sports, social work and community-level violence-prevention programs — not operating.

California-based Advance Peace is one of those organizations.

Julius Thibodeaux Jr., the strategy program manager for the nonprofit’s Sacramento chapter, calls gun violence “the forgotten pandemic.” The work he and his team do to fight it depends on human-to-human contact. It can’t be done remotely.

Before covid-19, Sacramento was on a 28-month run of no juvenile homicides. But the pandemic temporarily shuttered the program, which works with those most at risk of being involved in gun violence — as perpetrators or victims. The regular life-skills classes and one-on-one counseling were put on hold, outings to places such as Universal Studios and sports events were canceled, and just hanging out, having a conversation over a meal, became more difficult. All those interactions help build a foundation that prevents violence, Thibodeaux said.

“The pandemic really limited us in doing the very things that make the program successful,” he said. “I don’t think people know what it means to take a young person out of the environment where they’re impacted by trauma on a daily basis, to exhale, to take a look around and not feel threatened by their very environment.”

Thibodeaux has seen more anger in his city since the onset of the pandemic, more people looking to settle arguments with deadly weapons, more despair. Homicides in Sacramento rose by 26 percent from 2019 to 2020, and four young people were killed, including a 9-year-old girl, police reported.

It could have been worse, Thibodeaux said, if Advance Peace and groups like it hadn’t continued their work, even in a limited capacity. Advance Peace Sacramento says it mediated hundreds of conflicts that may have otherwise escalated. The group’s mentors prevented at least 84 “imminent gun violence conflicts” and responded to 83 shootings, stopping potential retaliation, according to a year-end report prepared by the University of California at Berkeley.

Advance Peace is starting to resume pre-pandemic operations, but many of the other problems linger, which is why experts expect the violence to continue.

During the pandemic’s first year, public mass shootings were largely absent from national headlines — until a pair of deadly rampages in March, roughly one week apart, in the Atlanta area and Boulder, Colo. This began a run of high-profile shootings, which account for a relatively small fraction of overall firearm deaths, that some have identified as a cluster, where one attack may prompt another.

But throughout 2020 and into 2021, there were soaring levels of shootings that killed or injured four or more people and didn’t get much widespread attention beyond the places they occurred.

This is happening amid growing calls to treat gun violence not only as a matter of law and order but as a public health concern.

Crifasi, of the Johns Hopkins center, has drawn a parallel to the opioid epidemic: Heroin wreaked havoc in Black communities for decades, giving rise to a “war on drugs.” But, she said, “as soon as opioids started impacting White communities, it was a public health crisis.”

“When we think about gun violence, it’s been ravaging Black and Brown communities for decades,” Crifasi said. “But it wasn’t until mass shootings started impacting predominantly White communities that people really started paying attention.”

There are signs that elected officials are increasingly embracing a public health approach, perhaps most notably in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, which includes $5 billion over eight years to fund gun violence prevention programs. Negotiations with Senate Republicans over the proposal are stalled.

That legislation, along with the latest covid-19 stimulus package, which allows local governments to direct federal relief money to gun violence prevention, could have a far-reaching impact, said Buggs, the UC Davis professor.

“The federal government has never invested in community violence intervention and prevention in this way,” she said.

The funding could help cities and organizations address the mental health challenges that come with the violence, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and feelings of isolation — work Buggs said police officers cannot do.

“In communities where there is gun violence, there needs to be conversations about how can we stop this,” she said. “How can we address people’s anger and fear and pain in ways that lower the risk of individuals solving disputes and conflicts in fatal ways.”

In D.C., officials recently rolled out a program to distribute grants to people or groups involved in promoting public safety. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced last month what he described as the largest-ever state investment in violence intervention and prevention, more than $200 million over three years.

This, Advance Peace’s Thibodeaux said, is a start.

“You can’t just say a prayer and throw pennies at this pandemic and expect it to go away,” he said. “It’s going to take more than prayer and pennies.”

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