Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Black males 20 times more likely to die from gun fire than white males

Young Black men and teens made up more than a third of firearm homicide victims in the USA in 2019, one of several disparities revealed in a review of gun mortality data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the USA Today.

The analysis, titled "A Public Health Crisis in the Making," found that although Black men and boys ages 15 to 34 make up just 2% of the nation's population, they were among 37% of gun homicides that year.

That's 20 times higher than white males of the same age group.

Of all reported firearm homicides in 2019, more than half of victims were Black men, according to the study spearheaded by the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Sixty-three percent of male victims were Black.

The contrast is even more stark when the rates were compared with white people: Across all ages, Black men were nearly 14 times more likely to die in a firearm homicide than white men, and eight times more likely to die in a firearm homicide than the general population, including women. 

To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, August 30, 2021

Sirhan Sirhan, RFK's assassin, recommended for parole

More than 50 years after he carried out one of the most infamous political assassinations in American history, the man who gunned down Robert F. Kennedy was recommended for parole in California, reported the Los Angeles Times.

Sirhan Sirhan — who was 24 when he shot and killed the senator at a Los Angeles hotel in 1968 — was deemed suitable for release by a two-person parole panel, the first step toward making him a free man. The panel reached its decision, in part, after two of Kennedy’s children expressed support for Sirhan’s release.

Sirhan, a Palestinian immigrant who had written a manifesto calling for Kennedy’s death, had said he was drunk and doesn’t remember opening fire at the since-demolished Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard.

Kennedy was considered a leading candidate for president and had just won primaries in South Dakota and California at the time of his death. He was murdered nearly five years after his brother, President John F. Kennedy, was shot and killed in Dallas.

Sirhan, now 77, admitted to the killing in 1969 and has been in prison for 53 years. He originally faced the death penalty but his sentence was commuted to life after the state briefly outlawed capital punishment in the 1970s.

Don't forget Sirhan's novel "Manchurian Candidate" defense he invented about a decade ago. It didn't work, but it appears the parole board, at least initially, has fallen for see something redeeming in him.

The two-person panel Sirhan appeared before granted parole, but the decision is not final. Parole staff still have 90 days to review the matter. After that, Gov. Gavin Newsom — or whoever might replace him following next month’s recall election — could still decide to block Sirhan’s release.

Sirhan expressed deep remorse for the slaying, and said he had given up alcohol and recommitted his life to peace during the decades he has spent housed in a San Diego prison.

“Sen. Kennedy was the hope of the world and I injured, and I harmed all of them and it pains me to experience that, the knowledge for such a horrible deed, if I did in fact do that,” he said. “I’m still responsible for being there and probably causing this whole incident, through my own gun or other guns.”

Two of Kennedy’s children submitted letters on Sirhan’s behalf. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — who has previously expressed doubt about Sirhan’s guilt and echoed others’ claims that a second gunman actually killed the senator — said he believed his father might extend mercy to Sirhan.

“While nobody can speak definitively on behalf of my father, I firmly believe that based on his own consuming commitment to fairness and justice, that he would strongly encourage this board to release Mr. Sirhan because of Sirhan’s impressive record of rehabilitation,” Kennedy Jr. wrote in a letter submitted in advance of the hearing.

In an interview with The Times, Kennedy Jr. said he was “very happy” Sirhan had been recommended for release and reiterated concerns that the wrong man was convicted.

Kennedy, who was a teen at the time of the murder, pointed to an autopsy report indicating the senator had been shot from behind when Sirhan had been standing in front of Kennedy. Some have argued that this would have made it impossible for Kennedy to have been shot in the back by Sirhan, while others have said that Kennedy turned after the first shot.

“I’m happy that the justice system showed some humanity,” said Kennedy Jr., who has sometimes garnered criticism for indulging in conspiracy theories surrounding both his father’s killing and the use of vaccines. “I think that my father, who was the top administrator of justice in this country as attorney general and he fought to assure the justice system was humane. … He would be very happy with this result.”

Paul Schrade, a former Kennedy aide who was one of several bystanders wounded in the shooting, also said Friday that he believed Sirhan was innocent.

“I sympathize very clearly about the way that Sirhan’s been treated,” said Schrade, 96, from his home in Los Angeles. “This was his 16th parole board hearing, when the guy is not guilty.”

Schrade said that he hopes the granting of parole will push police to reopen their investigation of Kennedy’s death.

Douglas Kennedy also said that while he’d lived in fear of Sirhan for years, he saw him now as “worthy of compassion and love.”

“I really do believe any prisoner who is found to be not a threat to themselves or the world should be released,” Douglas Kennedy wrote. “I believe that applies to everyone, every human being, including Mr. Sirhan.”

To read more CLICK HERE


Sunday, August 29, 2021

The child welfare system is a powerful state policing apparatus that functions to regulate poor and working-class families

 The Dissent-Dorthy Roberts

Imagine if there were an arm of the state that sent government agents to invade Black people’s homes, kept them under intense and indefinite surveillance, regulated their daily lives, and forcibly separated their families, often permanently. The left would put toppling this regime high on its agenda, right? This racist structure exists in the United States today, and yet the left pays little attention to it. The child welfare system—the assemblage of public and private child protection agencies, foster care, and preventive services—is a crucial part of the carceral machinery in Black communities. Many Americans view the child welfare system as a benign social service provider that safeguards children from abuse and neglect in their homes. Though it may bungle its responsibilities, they tell themselves, it is an essential safety net for children whose parents are unable to care for them. The left should be contesting, not buying into, this misguided perspective.

The child welfare system is a powerful state policing apparatus that functions to regulate poor and working-class families—especially those that are Black, Latinx, and Indigenous—by wielding the threat of taking their children from them. In 2018 alone, Child Protective Services (CPS) received referrals of nearly 8 million children suspected to be victims of maltreatment. Intake workers weeded out reports regarding 4.3 million of these children as inappropriate for CPS involvement. But the screening process still leaves millions of families subject to state investigation each year.

In cities across the nation, CPS surveillance is concentrated in impoverished Black neighborhoods, where all parents are ruled by the agencies’ threatening presence. Fifty-three percent of Black children in America will experience a CPS investigation at some point before their eighteenth birthday. During CPS investigations, caseworkers may inspect every corner of the home, interrogate family members about intimate details of their lives, strip-search children to look for evidence, and collect confidential information from schools, healthcare providers, and social service programs. If caseworkers detect a problem, like drug use, inadequate medical care, or insecure housing, they will coerce families into an onerous regimen of supervision that rarely addresses their needs.

More disruptive still is the forcible family separation that often follows CPS investigations. Every year child welfare agencies take over 250,000 children from their parents and put them in the formal foster care system. At the same time, these agencies informally separate an estimated 250,000 more children from their parents each year based on so-called “safety plans”—arrangements parents are pressured to agree to in lieu of a formal court proceeding. In 2019, the national foster care population stood at 423,997. Hundreds of thousands more children were removed from their homes and kept in foster care at some point during the year. Black children have long been grossly overrepresented in the national foster care population: although they were only 14 percent of children in the United States in 2019, they made up 23 percent of children in foster care. Most of the money spent on child welfare services goes to keeping children away from their families. In 2019, the federal government alone devoted $8.6 billion to maintaining children in foster care—more than ten times the amount allocated to services aimed at keeping families together.

While President Trump’s cruel policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the Mexican border drew national condemnation, hardly anyone on the left connected it to the far more widespread family separation that takes place every day in Black neighborhoods. For centuries, the United States has wielded child removal to terrorize, control, and disintegrate racialized populations—enslaved Africans whose children were considered white people’s property and sold away at will, European immigrant children swept up from urban slums by elite charities and put to work on farms, and Indigenous children kidnapped and confined to boarding schools under a federal campaign of tribal decimation. Today’s child welfare system still revolves around an ideology that confuses poverty with child neglect and attributes the suffering caused by structural inequities to parental pathologies. It then prescribes useless therapeutic remedies in place of radical social change.

The rhetoric of saving children is a guise to justify expanding the government’s power to investigate and regulate communities even beyond what would be permitted by the criminal legal system. Local child welfare agencies collaborate with law enforcement by sharing information, engaging in common trainings, cooperating in investigations, and jointly responding to reports. The prison system and the foster care system converge disproportionately in the lives of incarcerated Black mothers, sometimes ending in termination of their parental rights and the permanent loss of their children.

Although many on the left argue for redistribution of wealth to raise families out of poverty, and for cash assistance, child care, and other welfare programs to help struggling parents, the child welfare system has been largely overlooked. During the uprisings against police violence in summer 2020, I became increasingly concerned that family policing was absent from most demands to defund the police and dismantle the prison-industrial complex. Some activists even recommended transferring money, resources, and authority from police departments to the health and human services agencies that handle child protection. This move would magnify the capacity of these agencies to regulate Black communities. Linking 911 calls to child abuse hotlines would trigger more child maltreatment investigations. Even well-meaning recommendations to deploy social workers to conduct “wellness checks” in homes would increase maltreatment reports, expanding the state’s capacity to monitor and separate families.

The abolition of family policing should be at the top of the left’s agenda. A growing movement to dismantle the family regulation system led by parents and youth who have been ensnared in it is already charting the way. These activists promote legislation to curtail mandated reporting, guarantee legal representation for parents, and require informed consent for drug testing of pregnant people and their newborns. They advocate for policies that shift government funds away from coercive interventions in families toward putting resources directly in parents’ hands. And they are creating community-based approaches to support families and keep children safe. As with prison abolition, the aim is not to reform the child protection system; the aim is to replace it with a society that attends to children’s welfare in a radically different way. With a common vision for meeting human needs and ensuring safety, we can build a world where caging people and tearing families apart are unimaginable.

To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Louisville under siege and under protected

 LOUISVILLE, Ky. NBC NEWS— This is a city under siege.

Homicides — particularly deadly shootings — have piled up with no clear end in sight.

The city had reported 125 homicides as of Sunday and is in danger of breaking its homicide record for a second consecutive year.

Roughly 65 percent of this year’s killings have gone unsolved, a sharp change from just three years ago when about 39 percent of killings were not resolved.

Louisville's current 34 percent solve rate falls far short of the 61.4 percent national average in 2019, the last year for which FBI data is available.

Louisville is one of several major U.S. cities grappling with a surge of violent crime over the past year and a half.202102:14

City officials and the Louisville Metro Police Department say they are working to find solutions and trying to regain control of the climbing homicide numbers and the woeful case-closure rate.

The city, for instance, has nearly quadrupled its investment in efforts to tackle violent crime by pumping money into officer recruitment, community outreach and social service programs.

But the mayor and others say progress, so far, has been stymied by myriad factors including easy access to guns, a shrinking police force and officers reluctant to carry out their duties because of increased scrutiny.

What’s more, the police killing of Breonna Taylor in March 2020 exacerbated issues of community mistrust of police, and a pending Justice Department investigation suggests there may be long-standing problems within the department.

Louisville Metro Police Chief Erika Shields, through her communications team, declined several requests for interviews.

During the inaugural episode of the police department’s podcast “On the Record,” she acknowledged the crime surge and said shootings “have to stop.”

“The pace at which we’re seeing these shootings is absolutely unacceptable,” Shields said.

Citywide slayings pierced the life of Marcus Collins, whose 17-year-old stepson, LaMaurie Gathings, was killed June 4.

"It’s really taken a toll on my wife. I’m here trying to hold it together," Collins said.

Sometime past 2 a.m., Gathings snuck out of the house to meet with his cousin.

A short while later, possibly after leaving a party, relatives said, Gathings was fatally shot. His cousin was shot three times, once in the neck, but survived.

“I still haven’t heard nothing. I haven’t heard anything about what happened or from the detective at all. It’s been a month,” Collins, 43, said.

Louisville police haven't arrested or charged anyone for Gathings’ killing.

“The police aren’t doing a good job investigating,” Collins said, adding that officers have told the family they don’t have enough resources to adequately investigate.

This points to a larger hurdle for the city: solving homicides.

Louisville is among several U.S. cities experiencing a high volume of homicides recently. The nation’s murder rate was up nearly 15 percent last year, according to a preliminary FBI report released in September.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the cause of the killings nationwide.

Some experts have said existing issues like rising gun ownership, poor relationships between police and citizens and socioeconomic inequality became worse during the pandemic and the 2020 calls for racial justice.

In Louisville, Mayor Greg Fischer attributes the number of homicides to easy gun access, social media beefs morphing into deadly street violence and a culture of retaliation.

“Anyone can walk down the street with an assault rifle. Guns are everywhere,” the mayor said.

Shields has stopped short of criticizing her officers but said on the department's podcast that officers could help prevent homicides by being more confident while on duty.

“It’s getting officers to feeling confident and knowing they can be proactive. I need them to be proactive. I need them to be making arrests,” the chief said on the podcast, which was posted to the police department’s YouTube page in June.

January report commissioned by the Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government said Louisville officers may be experiencing low morale.

Officers who responded to a survey expressed concern about a lack of support and leadership from upper management and the community, resulting in many of them wanting to leave the department, according to the report, which was conducted by Hillard Heintze, a Chicago consulting firm.

Shawn Butler, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police, said low morale doesn’t incentivize officers to do more than bare-minimum work.

“I think low morale is an occupational hazard. You aren’t going to do your job as effective,” Butler said. “It doesn’t help when we’ve had the civil unrest that we’ve had.”

Howard Henderson, a nonresident senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C., said more focus needs to be placed on why morale is low.

“It’s bad for the system to have officers with low morale. The lower the morale, the worse the job performance,” Henderson said. “The question really needs to be why is morale low? Is it that morale is low because people are being held accountable for the first time? Morale might be low for a good reason.”

The police department is short about 240 police officers, many of whom have retired or taken jobs elsewhere, city officials said.

As it stands, 1,048 officers make up the current Louisville police force, compared with 1,247 at the beginning of 2019, police records show.

That includes the 43 officers added this year either through recruitment or rehiring. That number is lower than in each of the last three years, records show.

Police officials say officers typically investigate four to five homicides per year, but they are now working eight to 10.

“It’s very difficult when you’re catching a homicide case every two weeks,” Lt. Donny Burbrink, the commander of the LMPD homicide unit, said during an LMPD podcast episode. "We’re having a very difficult time right now. If I pick up a homicide today, at the rate we’re on right now, in two weeks I’ll pick up another homicide.”

LMPD has been so short-staffed that last year the department pulled several officers from their regular beats to investigate homicides.

“When you put more cases on a homicide detective, that means there’s only so many interviews and investigations they can do in a 24-hour time,” said Henderson, who is also director of the Center for Justice Research at Texas Southern University. “That means there are cases they aren’t going to even get to or they spend fewer hours working a case.”

Meanwhile, families left to grieve their slain children say the homicides must stop.

 “Living in Louisville is terrible,” said Delisa Love, 44, whose 19-year-old daughter, Kelsie Small, was killed hours before Mother’s Day last year. Small was a sophomore nursing student at Northern Kentucky University.

Love said her 21-year-old nephew survived being shot in June. She said she also lost a 17-year-old nephew to gun violence in 2006. “I’ve never seen so much violence,” Love said.

Louisville police confirmed nobody has been arrested in connection with Small's death.

Collins, whose son was killed earlier this summer, wants to know why more homicides aren’t being solved.

“My son was a good kid, just hard-headed. He didn’t have a criminal record,” Collins said.

Officials and residents say witnesses not bringing forth relevant information regarding homicides has stifled police efforts.

“I’m convinced it’s unusual for a homicide to take place and someone not know who did that,” Fischer said. “There’s going to be zero tolerance for gun crime, violent crime and homicides.”

That would require overcoming the broken relationship between police and members of the community, particularly people of color.

LMPD is currently under investigation by the Justice Department to determine whether officers engage in a “pattern or practice of violations of the Constitution or federal law.”

The investigation was announced in April, more than a year after officers killed Breonna Taylor in her apartment as they served a “no-knock” warrant. No criminal charges were brought in direct connection with Taylor’s death.

The shooting inflamed racial tensions in the city, prompted calls for police reform and led to numerous protests and the hiring of Shields as police chief.

“There’s no trust at some level. And when there’s no trust, you can’t get things accomplished in a collaborative way,” Louisville activist Christopher 2X said. “Most people don’t want to participate in any way or be connected to a violent crime through a judicial process.”

He added that when people think about feeling protected versus giving the police relevant information, they conclude it’s not worth it.

 To read more CLICK HERE

Friday, August 27, 2021

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Sirhan Sirhan killer of Robert F. Kennedy up for parole, again

Sirhan B. Sirhan, convicted of the 1968 assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, will face a California parole board for the 16th time Friday in a prison outside San Diego, reported The Washington Post. But unlike the first 15 times, no prosecutor will stand to oppose the release of Sirhan, who is now 77.

Sirhan was arrested at the scene of Kennedy’s shooting in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968, convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for the slaying of a U.S. senator who appeared headed for the Democratic presidential nomination. The assassination, along with that of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. two months earlier, created a turning point in American history with the sudden elimination of the charismatic leaders of the American civil rights movement and the Democratic Party respectively.

When California abolished the death penalty, Sirhan’s sentence was reduced to life with the possibility of parole. And now Sirhan, who has been incarcerated for 53 years, may benefit from a new push among progressive prosecutors to seek the release, or not oppose the release, of convicts who have served decades behind bars, no longer pose a threat to society and will be costly to treat medically in their later years.

Newly elected Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón told The Washington Post shortly before his inauguration in December that he was creating a sentencing review unit to revisit the cases of about 20,000 prisoners for possible resentencing, analyzing both the fairness of long sentences and the cost savings for releasing low-risk or older inmates. Gascón issued a directive that his office’s “default policy” would be not to attend parole hearings and to submit letters supporting the release of some inmates who had served their mandatory minimums, while also assisting victims and victim advocates at parole hearings if requested.

In Sirhan’s case, Gascón’s office is remaining neutral. The office said it will not attend the parole hearing, as Los Angeles prosecutors have done historically, but it also will not send a letter in support of Sirhan’s parole.

“The role of a prosecutor and their access to information ends at sentencing,” said Alex Bastian, special adviser to Gascón. “The parole board’s sole purpose is to objectively determine whether someone is suitable for release. If someone is the same person that committed an atrocious crime, that person will correctly not be found suitable for release. However, if someone is no longer a threat to public safety after having served more than 50 years in prison, then the parole board may recommend release based on an objective determination.”

Kennedy is survived by his wife, Ethel Kennedy, and nine children, many of whom declined to comment. The family has not submitted any letters taking a position on Sirhan’s parole and has not requested to speak at Friday’s hearing.

In 2018, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. told The Post that he thought that Sirhan had not killed his father and that he had met with Sirhan in prison to tell him so. Kennedy said this week that he supports Sirhan’s parole application and that he still thinks a second gunman committed the assassination but that he would not participate in the parole process and declined to comment further. Robert Kennedy Jr.’s stance against vaccines, most recently the coronavirus vaccine, has drawn controversy.

Former Maryland lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said in 2018 that she supported her brother’s call for a reinvestigation of their father’s assassination. She declined to comment before the parole hearing, as did human rights activist Kerry Kennedy and former congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II.

After Gascón’s announcement that his office would not appear at parole hearings, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced that members of his department would attend the hearings, “in support of those who have been victimized by violent crime.” But Villanueva’s office declined to comment on whether they would appear in the Sirhan case, and they did not file a request to be present.

Sirhan has a new parole lawyer for this hearing, who does not raise any claims about Sirhan’s involvement in the shooting, in which five other people standing behind Kennedy in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel were wounded. Instead, lawyer Angela Berry focuses on Sirhan’s age at the time — 24 — his clean record in prison, his remorse and his unlikely chance of reoffending if released.

Berry does not mention Kennedy in her prehearing brief, other than to argue that “denying parole on an opinion that Mr. Sirhan’s actions ‘changed the course of history’ or ‘disenfranchised millions of Americans’ violates due process.” She cites the California Supreme Court’s guidance on parole consideration, which says that an analysis “cannot be undertaken simply by examining the circumstances of the crime in isolation, without consideration of the passage of time or the attendant changes in the inmate’s psychological or mental attitude.”

Berry argues that “current dangerousness is the relevant inquiry by the Board. Statutory and case law dictate that parole shall be granted unless the prisoner poses a current danger to public safety.” Under California law in effect in 1968, a life sentence with parole would have made Sirhan eligible for release after seven years. He has had no disciplinary violations since 1972, and although he claims not to remember the act of shooting Kennedy, he has expressed remorse in parole hearings since the 1980s and said at one, “I have feelings of shame and inward guilt ... I honestly feel the pain that [the Kennedys] may have gone through.”

Munir Sirhan, Sirhan’s younger brother, continues to live in the family’s home in Pasadena, Calif., where they grew up after emigrating as children from Israel, as Palestinian refugees, with their parents. “His home is ready for him,” Munir Sirhan told The Post, and his neighbors have filed letters in support of Sirhan’s return. “We’re awaiting the deserved, proper decision from the parole board.”

Berry’s pleadings raise the possibility that Sirhan could be deported if paroled, because he did not obtain citizenship before his arrest. “He has said he would give up his right to live in this country,” Munir Sirhan said, “and go back to the Arab world. There are a number of countries who have said they would accept him.”

In California, two parole commissioners conduct the hearing, corrections department spokesman Luis Patino said. The two-person panel typically issues its decision and explains its rationale on the day of the hearing. Following that, the parole board staff has 90 days to review the case, followed by a 30-day period in which the governor can uphold, reverse or modify the decision, take no action, or send the decision to the full 17-person parole board, Patino said.

Looming over all of this are Sirhan’s supporters who say he did not shoot Kennedy, and who have raised that issue in vain both in the California courts and in parole hearings. The most prominent of those supporters is Paul Schrade, now 96, who was also shot while walking behind Kennedy, and appeared at Sirhan’s last parole hearing to advocate for his release.

Shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, Kennedy was declared the winner of the Democratic presidential primary in California. He gave a short victory speech in a packed ballroom, with Schrade standing next to him, then walked through the hotel pantry toward a news conference. But witnesses said Sirhan moved forward and began firing a .22-caliber gun, striking Kennedy and five others. One shot entered Kennedy’s brain, and he died a day later. Sirhan was tackled immediately and arrested. A jury convicted him in 1969, and all appeals were rejected.

But Kennedy was shot four times at point-blank range from behind, one shot passing through his jacket and not striking him, with the fatal shot fired so close that gunpowder was on his hair, coroner Thomas Noguchi found. Multiple bullet holes in the ceiling and door frames indicated that more than eight shots, the capacity of Sirhan’s gun, were fired. Prosecutors and some experts have said that Kennedy probably turned his back on the advancing gunman, enabling the wounds to the rear, that the extra bullet holes weren’t really bullet holes and that Sirhan is lying when he claims not to remember the shooting.

Schrade said that he and the other people behind Kennedy were shot by Sirhan but that a second gunman killed Kennedy from behind. He said the lead crime scene investigator lied when he testified that he test fired Sirhan’s gun and the bullets matched those taken from Kennedy and two other victims; subsequent investigation showed that the test bullets did not match the victim bullets. Prosecutors claimed the mismatch came from a clerical error, although the crime scene investigator was later found to have bungled other major cases.

“He’s not the guilty one,” Schrade said of Sirhan. “The important thing is to get him out, and then identify the second gunman, who’s never been identified by the LAPD.” The Los Angeles Police Department has declined to comment on the case in recent years. As a victim, Schrade is entitled to speak at Sirhan’s hearing, but instead is sending Denise Bohdan, a lawyer and filmmaker whose father, journalist Fernando Faura, pursued the Kennedy assassination story for decades.

To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

First Amendment versus school disruption laws

Police officers who patrol school hallways have the authority to punish, search and arrest students deemed “disruptive,” According to The Crime Report. But when it comes to arresting students for so-called “disruption” — the most subjective of all school-based offenses, which can entail protests and even the filming of misbehaving school police officers — officers’ outsize power is potentially unconstitutional, argue the authors of a paper published in the Lewis & Clark Law Review.

Examining Masters v. Kentucky, a Kentucky appellate case dismissing a First Amendment challenge to an open-ended “school disruption” statute, authors Frank LoMonte and Anne Marie Tamburro argue that Kentucky and other states have statutes that expose students to criminal penalties based on a threshold lower than what the First Amendment requires to validate even a minor disciplinary sanction.

Leaving intact the nation’s “most aggressively broad” statute criminalizing certain speech and conduct directed toward school employees, the Masters case involved Johnathan Masters, an education graduate student who distributed surveys to secondary school students as part of his research. When the principal failed to distribute the surveys, Masters began arguing and asked the principal to “fight” — an offense that resulted in a misdemeanor violation of the school disruption statute.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied Masters’ petition to hear the case, putting an end to his argument that Kentucky’s statute was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. Ending at the court of appeals, the case carries broad implications, even if Masters’ behavior was legitimately punishable.

“If the reasoning of Masters were to take hold elsewhere, it would be nearly impossible for speakers to bring successful constitutional challenges against school-disturbance laws,” write LoMonte, the director of University of Florida’s Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, and Tamburro, a UF law student.

The Masters case contrasts with the High Court’s landmark Tinker v Des Moines ruling that determined school authorities may not impose discipline for the content of speech without a showing that punishment “is necessary to avoid material and substantial interference with schoolwork or discipline.”

The 1968 Tinker ruling technically shifted substantial power away from school authorities. In practice, though, school authority figures regularly prevail in First Amendment cases, and courts have bolstered schools’ claims of “disruption,” even where “the risk seems speculative and the speech addresses matters of public concern,” the authors write.

“The existence of Tinker has done little to curtail hair-trigger disciplinary decisions by school administrators in the online-speech era, as momentary lapses in judgment result in disciplinary action because of the perceived power, reach and durability of the internet.”

The imposition of heavy-handed consequences for nonviolent behavior in schools isn’t just potentially unconstitutional; it also facilitates the school-to-prison pipeline, in which punishing students in educational settings can intensify their risk-of-arrest as adults.

Numerous studies have documented the racial disparities that define over-policing in schools.

Chalkbeat, the nonprofit education news platform, reported in 2020 that Black students are 2.5 times more likely than white students to be arrested in public schools in Indiana, for instance.

The offenses that warrant an arrest are wide-ranging, encompassing the refusal to stop texting in class to the participation in a protest. As more students engage in activism, the authors warn that the court’s ambivalence on “disruption” offenses could having a chilling effect on free speech.

“School is, in many ways, the perfect ‘trap for the unwary’ to make a misjudgment and end up in jail: Authority figures monitor students’ every move. They can search and question students with minimal justification. And the more rules schools enact, the more violations police can invoke as a basis for even more intrusive searching, interrogation, and detention.”

To access the full paper, click here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

North Carolina appeals court overrules felony disenfranchisement

Judges have restored voting rights to an estimated 55,000 North Carolinians on parole or probation for a felony, reported The News & Observer.

GOP state lawmakers, who were defending the law in court, plan to appeal the ruling to a higher court. But if the ruling is upheld on appeal, then people convicted of felonies in North Carolina will regain their right to vote once they leave prison.

“Everyone on felony probation, parole or post-supervision release can now register and vote, starting today,” the challengers’ lawyer, Stanton Jones, said in a text message after the ruling came down.

Most U.S. states allow people with felony records to regain their voting rights at some point after leaving prison, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some have the same rules North Carolina had until Monday’s ruling, requiring people to first finish their probation or parole. But a larger number have the rules that the judges have now switched North Carolina to, with people regaining their rights as soon as they leave prison.

It’s the biggest expansion of voting rights in North Carolina since the 1960s, said Daryl Atkinson, co-director of Durham civil rights group Forward Justice and a lawyer for the challengers in this case.

“Our biggest quarrels in this state have been over what groups of people have a voice at the ballot box to be included in ‘We the People,’” Atkinson said at a press conference Monday, later adding: “Today, we enlarged the ‘we’ in ‘We the people’.”

The law’s challengers argued that felon disenfranchisement laws were explicitly created to stop Black people from voting in the years after the Civil War and coincided with a widespread campaign to accuse newly freed Black people of felonies — troubling trends, they said, which have continued into the current day.

Jones said in his opening arguments in the trial last week, The News & Observer reported, that while Black people make up 21% of North Carolina’s voting-age population, they are 42% of the people whose voting rights have been taken away because of this law — “which is no surprise because that’s exactly what it was designed to do,” he said.

If the  ruling survives on appeal, North Carolina will be the only state in the South to automatically restore voting rights to people after they leave prison.

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GOP leaders said Monday that in addition to appealing the ruling, they will also ask for the ruling to be blocked until the appeal is done.

In the meantime, however, the N.C. State Board of Elections said Monday that it would immediately begin updating its website, voter registration forms and other materials to reflect the ruling.

And some advocacy groups are already planning to start educating people with criminal records about the ruling.

“Starting tomorrow, we plan to start a voter registration drive across the state,” said Dennis Gaddy, who founded Community Success Initiative, a Raleigh group that helps former prison inmates rejoin society.

Gaddy’s group was one of several challengers to the law, who said that once people are out of prison, they’ve rejoined society and should have a say in how it’s run. Even if they’re on probation they still can pay taxes and send their kids to school — and thus should be able to vote on the people in charge of spending their taxes or running the schools, they said.

“They can’t advocate for themselves” without being able to vote, Gaddy said. “They can’t advocate for their communities. They can’t advocate for their families.”

In addition to Gaddy’s group, the other challengers in the lawsuit included several individuals on probation or parole and the North Carolina NAACP.

NC NAACP President T. Anthony Spearman said Monday that North Carolina should still go a step further and let all adult citizens vote, even if they’re in prison. Two states, Maine and Vermont, already do that.

“I believe it is immoral to disenfranchise any individual, who is a citizen, the right to vote,” Spearman said. “The states of Maine and Vermont got it right.”

Some other western democracies do allow prisoners to vote as long as they’re citizens, including IsraelCanada and Germany.


In court last week the lawyer for the GOP lawmakers defending the law, Orlando Rodriguez, said they agreed with the challengers that the law was rooted in racism when first passed in the 1870s. But state lawmakers substantially updated the rules in the 1970s, he said, to make improvements following the civil rights movement.

“This newer history clearly indicates a trajectory toward improving the ability to have the right to vote,” Rodriguez said, noting that some of the changes made in the 1970s had been proposed by Mickey Michaux, a longtime Durham politician and civil rights leader.

After the ruling Monday, Republican Sen. Warren Daniel of Morganton said he didn’t believe the judges had the authority to issue the decision they did. Daniel, who co-chairs the Senate’s committee on election law issues, said the issue of when felons should regain the right to vote is simply a policy debate that shouldn’t be settled in court.

“If a judge prefers a different path to regaining those rights, then he or she should run for the General Assembly and propose that path,” he said in a written statement to The N&O.

He called the decision a “power grab” and added: “Judges aren’t supposed to be oligarchs who issue whatever decrees they think best.”

To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, August 23, 2021

DA accused of preferential treatment for rich and famous

The lawyer for a Derry man awaiting trial on drunken driving charges contends Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck gave preferential treatment to a local celebrity and unfairly rejected a bid for his “blue collar” client to enter a jail diversionary program, reported the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

Defense attorney Robert Domenick, in court documents filed Wednesday, said Peck’s office used “divine district attorney superpowers” when it allowed the radio play-by-play man for the Pittsburgh Steelers and University of Pittsburgh football and basketball teams to enroll in the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program for a DUI charge last year. Prosecutors declined to offer the same deal to a Giant Eagle meat cutter accused of a similar offense.

Paul Barnhart, 25, was arrested Dec. 12 when police said he was drunk while driving his Dodge Charger up to 120 mph on Route 22 in Derry Township. According to court records, police said Barnhart had a blood-alcohol content of 0.174%, more than twice the limit at which a motorist in Pennsylvania is considered to be intoxicated.

He was charged with DUI and speeding offenses and faces potential sentences of three days in jail or six months on house arrest, if convicted, Domenick said. He noted that Barnhart had never before been arrested but had several traffic offenses on his record.

Domenick said prosecutors refused to allow Barnhart to enter the ARD program, which allows first-time nonviolent offenders to serve a probation term without having to plead guilty to charges and enables them to have their criminal records expunged.

As part of its argument, the defense referred to the DUI case last year of broadcaster Bill Hillgrove. The 79-year-old Murrysville resident was charged in January 2020 after police said he was intoxicated and crashed his car through the front windows of a local pharmacy. No one was injured. Hillgrove in October, with the district attorney’s consent, entered the ARD program and was ordered to serve two years on probation. It was Hillgrove’s second time in the ARD program, having served a probation sentence for another drunken driving charge about two decades earlier.

Domenick said the district attorney has not applied a fair standard when determining who is allowed to enroll in the diversionary program.

“We are arguing that hitting a building full of people at 5 (p.m.) while driving drunk is more dangerous to human life and public safety than speeding at night on a(n) empty stretch of a divided four-lane highway where no businesses are open,” Domenick wrote in his court filing. “Yet our district attorney seems to have set a low bar for admission to the ARD program for the rich and famous only.”

Peck denied the accusation of favoritism and said the circumstances between the two cases are significantly different. He called the allegations related to Barnhart “too egregious to be considered for ARD,” and denied that Hillgrove’s status played a role in his case.

“I don’t know Mr. Hillgrove. He was simply another defendant in a case,” Peck said.

Judge Christopher Feliciani scheduled a hearing on Oct. 18 on Barnhart’s request to allow him to enter the program over the district attorney’s objections.

To read more CLICK HERE

Friday, August 20, 2021

States scrutinize civil asset forfeiture

For more than three decades, criminal justice advocates and legal experts have pushed federal and state lawmakers to change or abolish laws that allow police officers to take property, money or assets from people who have not been convicted of crimes, reported Stateline. Most states and the federal government have such laws, which funnel billions of dollars in proceeds to police and prosecutors.

Law enforcement agencies argue that civil asset forfeiture helps curb drug trafficking and other illegal activity. The practice takes the profit out of crime, they say, and gives police and prosecutors additional resources to fight it.

But critics across the political spectrum say the statutes give law enforcement a financial incentive to go after innocent people.

Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia have taken steps to scale back their civil asset forfeiture laws since 2014. But only Maine—which enacted a law this year—Nebraska, New Mexico and North Carolina have completely abolished the practice. Those states replaced it with a criminal forfeiture process that requires prosecutors to prove the property owner’s guilt, according to the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm and leading advocate for overhauling the laws.

In large part, civil asset forfeiture continues in the rest of the states because they have failed to close a giant loophole: the federal equitable sharing program.

That program allows state and local law enforcement officials to partner with the U.S. Justice and Treasury departments. Police agencies transfer seized property, money or assets to the federal government and receive up to 80% of proceeds from the sale of the property—regardless of state law.

Between 2000 and 2019, the federal government paid out $8.8 billion to state and local agencies participating in the equitable sharing program, according to a report released last year by the Institute for Justice. The states that participate most heavily in equitable sharing are California, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Texas.

Lower Standard of Proof

To seize property under civil forfeiture laws, the government doesn’t have to prove that the owner was involved in illegal activity. It just has to demonstrate that the property was connected to a crime.

“The fact that the burden of proof is so low for government prosecutors just provides such weak protections for property owners,” said Grey Gardner, senior staff attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit organization that opposes punitive drug laws. “I think it alarms a lot of people on the right and the left.

“When people know the government is effectively taking people’s property without sufficient due process, without criminal charges … they’re disgusted by that,” Gardner told Stateline.

But John Flynn, president-elect of the National District Attorneys Association, said civil asset forfeiture laws are a valuable crime-fighting tool.

“We should not let drug dealers, or anyone involved in any kind of financial scam or Ponzi scheme, reap the benefits for their illegal actions,” Flynn said. “It’s a punishment. I don’t want drug dealers benefitting from poisoning our children and then keeping the money.”

Flynn said prosecutors don’t want innocent people to lose their belongings, but that civil asset forfeiture should be altered, not abolished. He also dismissed the assertion that police and prosecutors support the practice to “beef up their budgets.”

Opponents of civil asset forfeiture argue that the practice rarely takes down big-time criminals. In the 21 states with available data, the median currency forfeiture was just $1,276, according to the Institute for Justice report.

Only a handful of states even try to track how often they seize property from people who are never convicted of a crime, the Institute for Justice found, and the data is unreliable.

“You’re talking about hundreds of thousands of forfeitures that are initiated every year,” said Clark Neily, senior vice president for legal studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C. “[But] police are generally pretty bad about collecting data about all kinds of practices, not just civil forfeiture.”

One fact seems clear, however: Civil asset forfeiture disproportionately affects people of color.

In a 2020 study published in the International Public Management Journal, researchers from Indiana University and Arizona State University analyzed forfeitures by 2,278 municipal police departments between 1993 and 2007 and found “a significant relationship between minority population share and reported forfeiture revenue.” Other studies and several media investigations, including a 2019 series by St. Louis Public Radio and a 2014 series in The Washington Post, reached the same conclusion.

“Given all the other factors of everything else happening in law enforcement and police action, [you can see] how that can lead to racial disparity issues here,” Isaac Safier, a San Francisco attorney who specializes in civil asset forfeitures, told Stateline. “If a guy is caught with a bag of cocaine in a fraternity house, the officers aren’t going into his father’s [investment] account and seizing all the money in [it].”


Safier said some of his clients are targeted because of their race. Many of them, he said, don’t have traditional bank accounts, which puts them at a disadvantage from the start.

“If a large percentage of a group of people are underbanked, then it’s going to be harder for somebody from that group to prove where their money came from and show the source of funds,” Safier said.

“If there’s an ethnic group that uses nonbanking or nontraditional banking methods such as lending circles, which are perfectly legal to raise funds for businesses … the fact they don’t have the conventional paperwork makes it harder for them to prove their case.” 

Maine Makes Big Changes

Several state legislatures took up the issue of civil asset forfeiture this year, but only one made a significant change.

In Hawaii, House and Senate negotiators couldn’t agree on the final version of a bill that would have restricted forfeiture to cases involving a felony conviction. The measure also would have directed all forfeiture proceeds to the state’s general fund.

Nevada lawmakers debated a bill that would have made any forfeiture of property worth less than $5,000 a criminal matter, rather than a civil action. It also would have prohibited police from seizing less than $200 in cash or a vehicle worth less than $2,000.

Supporters of the Nevada bill argued the changes would make it easier for property owners with less money to contest forfeitures. But police and prosecutors successfully lobbied against the measure, citing a loss in revenue and the weakening of a crime deterrent.

“We should remember that the purpose of forfeiture law is that crime should not pay,” John Jones of the Nevada District Attorneys Association told the Las Vegas Review Journal. “[The $200 limit] means that crime can pay in increments of $200 or less.”

But critics of civil asset forfeiture notched a huge victory in Maine, where a new law prohibits forfeitures except in cases where the owner of the property is convicted of a crime in which the property was involved. The measure, which became law without the signature of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, also requires the Maine Department of Public Safety to post records of forfeited property on a public website.

Perhaps most significantly, it also bars Maine law enforcement agencies from participating in the federal equitable sharing program.

“We completely abolished civil asset forfeiture and repealed all statutes and moved everything over to criminal forfeiture which requires [a] conviction,” state Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, a Republican and the measure’s chief sponsor, told Stateline. “We also took it one step further … [and] ended the federal equitable sharing program.

“I think civil asset forfeiture is one of the most outrageous violations of our constitutional rights,” Faulkingham said. “I would just hope that this bill is a beacon to other states to see it can be done and needs to be done and I hope that's a domino effect for other states to enact it.”

To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Mangino a guest on Crime Stories with Nancy Grace

Listen to my interview with Nancy Grace on the mass shooting in Plymouth, U.K. by the professed 'Involuntary Celibate' Jake Davidson.

To listen to the interview CLICK HERE

Biden takes on state 'Second Amendment Preservation Act'

The Biden Justice Department asked a court to block a Missouri law that declares certain federal gun laws invalid and threatens financial penalties on state and local agencies that enforce them, arguing the measure violated the Constitution and undermined public safety, reported The Washington Post.

In a statement of interest filed in an ongoing lawsuit against the Missouri law in the Circuit Court of Cole County, Justice Department lawyers argued that the bill signed by the governor in June was “legally invalid” and undermined law enforcement activities in the state.

A dozen local officers withdrew from participating in Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives task forces at least in part because of the law, an ATF official asserted in an affidavit, and several state and local law enforcement agencies indicated they would no longer input data into a national system that helps investigators match ballistics evidence with crimes across the nation.

“In sum, HB85 has caused, and will continue to cause, significant harms to law enforcement within the State of Missouri,” the Justice Department argued, using the number of the bill.

The law at issue — known as the Second Amendment Preservation Act — takes aim broadly at federal laws and regulations having to do with taxes, registration and transfer of firearms. It threatens $50,000 fines for local jurisdictions or governments that enforce the provisions at issue, which it declares to be “infringements on the people’s right to keep and bear arms.” It was sponsored by Republican state Rep. Jered Taylor and signed by Republican Gov. Mike Parson.

“The Second Amendment Preservation Act is about protecting law-abiding Missourians against government overreach and unconstitutional federal mandates,” Parson said in a statement provided to The Washington Post on Wednesday. “We will reject any attempt by the federal government to circumvent the fundamental right Missourians have to keep and bear arms to protect themselves and their property. Throughout my career, I have always stood for the Constitution and our Second Amendment rights, and that will not change today or any day.”

The measure generated confusion and concern among some local jurisdictions and law enforcement officers, who worried it would hamper their ability to work with federal agencies, especially the ATF, on crime-fighting efforts. The city of St. Louis, St. Louis County and Jackson County filed a lawsuit seeking to block the law.

In an affidavit, Frederic D. Winston, the special agent in charge of the ATF’s Kansas City division, noted that gun crime is an acute problem in Missouri. In 2020, he wrote, the Missouri State Highway Patrol reported more than 13,800 firearms offenses, and of the state’s 730 homicides, about 75 percent involved a firearm. So far in 2021, he wrote, the highway patrol has reported more than 8,000 firearms offenses, and about 75 percent of its 218 homicides involved a firearm.

“ATF’s role in limiting unlawful access to firearms is thus key to preventing additional violent crimes in the state,” he wrote.

Under pressure from gun-control advocates, President Biden earlier this year announced a series of executive actions intended to curb gun violence and pledged to push for sweeping change to the country’s firearms laws. Attorney General Merrick Garland also has emphasized the Justice Department’s need to do more to prevent gun deaths, saying at a May congressional hearing the problem was a “law enforcement and a public health issue.”

That same month, the Justice Department released a proposed rule that would put new restrictions on so-called “ghost guns” — kits that allow buyers to assemble firearms without a serial number.

The rule drew pushback from the National Rifle Association, which said it would “do nothing to address violent crime while further burdening law-abiding gun owners and the lawful firearm industry with overbroad regulations.” The NRA has also voiced concern over Biden’s nominee to lead the ATF: David Chipman, a former ATF agent and now a senior adviser to a gun-control group founded by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was severely injured in a mass shooting in 2011.

Chipman’s nomination has languished on Capitol Hill, with the White House and Senate Democrats struggling to muster support even in their own ranks.

To read more CLICK HERE


Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Criminal justice reformers urge POTUS to act

A group of more than 100 former and current prosecutors and law enforcement officials is calling on President Joe Biden to prioritize criminal justice reform and make good on his campaign promise to form a task force to evaluate how criminal cases are prosecuted in the U.S., reported The Associated Press.

The group, which included state attorneys general, police chiefs and former federal justice officials, sent a letter to the Biden administration asking that a task force on 21st century prosecution be convened by the end of the year. It’s the latest call to action from progressive groups that have been putting pressure on the Biden administration and the Justice Department to implement criminal justice overhauls from policing to prisons.

“We haven’t seen a national focus on the work of local prosecutors, who were in many ways the driver of damage that has been done over the decades, but in many ways in recent years in isolated jurisdictions are the source of reform and inspiration,” Miriam Aroni Krinsky, founder and executive director of the group Fair and Just Prosecution and also a former federal prosecutor, said in an interview.

Biden’s criminal justice platform included plans to create a task force to look at prosecutorial discretion, meaning the decisions made on when to charge someone and with what crimes, which varies widely across jurisdictions and can mean longer sentences, parole or probation and force some people to take plea deals.

The letter writers are hoping the administration will take a broader look at prosecutorial policies with its recommended task force. Krinsky’s organization released a research paper Tuesday outlining hopes for what the task force would look like and what it could achieve as well as further steps the federal government should take to incentivize implementing recommendations from the task force to make sure its findings don’t sit on a shelf gathering dust.

The Biden administration has held multiple meetings to discuss and implement measures to address rising gun violence across the country as well as touting money in the COVID-19 relief package for policing. Other talks have focused on prison reforms or the death penalty. Attorney General Merrick Garland recently traveled to Chicago and visited a community group focused on driving down violence in the community.

To read more CLICK  HERE

Saturday, August 14, 2021

SCOTUS upholds Indiana University vaccine mandate

The US Supreme Court denied an application for an emergency writ of injunction against Indiana University’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, upholding the rulings of the two lower courts., reported Jurist.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett denied the application without seeking response from the university or the state and without referring it for a vote to the full Court.

The plaintiffs argued that because Indiana University’s vaccination mandate encroaches on constitutional rights to bodily autonomy and integrity, it should be subjected to heightened judicial scrutiny and Indiana University should have to prove that its mandate is justified.

According to the application, the students are adults and therefore “entitled to make their own medical treatment decisions, and have a constitutional right to bodily integrity, autonomy, and of medical treatment choice in the context of a vaccination mandate.”

However, the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit already rejected this argument earlier this month, pointing to the relatively limited scope of the mandate and the numerous exemptions it offers. The Seventh Circuit particularly noted that “six of the eight plaintiffs have claimed a religious exception, and a seventh is eligible for it” adding that those who do not want to get vaccinated have the freedom of choice in attending the ample number of other universities that do not require vaccination against SARS-CoV-2.

Indiana University’s vaccination policy requires that all students, faculty, and staff be fully vaccinated or have an approved religious, medical, or ethical exemption before returning to campus.

The lack of referral to the full court and not seeking a response from the university on the emergency injunction application is seen by legal commentators as a sign that the Court does not consider this a “particularly close case.”

This is the third consecutive defeat for the students in less than a month. Attorney for the students, James Bopp, noted the students’ disappointment with the Supreme Court’s refusal to intervene and stated that the students intend to continue to fight in the lower courts.

Insofar as the injunction is concerned, this may not be possible because the lower courts have already ruled on the matter. Thus, the students will have to argue the case on merits and potentially go to trial while the vaccine mandate remains in place.

To read more CLICK HERE

Friday, August 13, 2021

Police involved shootings often involve mental illness

Of the more than 200 people killed by police gunfire since the landmark conviction of Derek Chauvin for George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, about 15% exhibited signs of mental illness, according to data collected by The Washington Post. They include Ryan LeRoux, a 21-year-old Black man fatally shot last month while parked in a McDonald’s drive-thru lane in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Responding to a call indicating that LeRoux had refused to pay for his meal or move his vehicle, officers suspected that he was experiencing a mental health emergency, a fact later confirmed by his parents. Police called for a crisis specialist, but after noticing a handgun on the front passenger seat and what they described as uncooperative behavior on LeRoux’s part, officers opened fire before help arrived. Police footage includes audio of LeRoux talking to the county police Emergency Communications Center, stating that he was cooperating with officers on the scene. The video also shows that LeRoux had been reclined in the driver's seat, and that he sat up before officers fired, according to Thaddeus Johnson writing in the  USA Today.  

Despite uncertainties surrounding his death, LeRoux’s all-too-familiar demise in a hailstorm of bullets illustrates yet again how race and the need for mental health support often intersect at deadly police encounters. Since the pandemic’s onset, Black people have accounted for a disproportionate 20% of the nearly 300 Americans with known mental illness who were fatally wounded during police shootings. 

Given our nation’s woefully underfunded web of behavioral health care, police invariably are required to step in as first responders for calls involving mental health and substance use issues. Unfortunately for both police and those in distress, officers are generally unqualified or ill-prepared to handle these complicated and sometimes volatile situations, which account for about 1 in 5 calls

Acknowledging this deficit, a growing number of law enforcement agencies are forging collaborations with nonpolice organizations prioritizing less punitive approaches in responding to mental health emergencies. Loosely defined as crisis intervention team (CIT) programs, these initiatives take many forms. Some involve intensive training that prepares officers to verbally de-escalate conflict, recognize symptoms of mental illness and engage people in crisis, while others pair such officers with crisis experts for behavioral health-related calls.

Sadly, LeRoux’s death makes clear that the availability of certified crisis professionals does not guarantee that these rapidly unfolding, high-stakes encounters will abide by the schedule of the interventionist. And just as important, would it have made a difference in this case if the crisis specialist had made it to the scene in time? 

While more rigorous evaluation is needed, CIT programs have proved largely ineffective against, among other things, use of force. Experts blame this on agencies not fully committing to CIT principles and not integrating crisis intervention into the given area's overall mental health system. Ultimately, however, the bigger issue is that officers simply lack clinical expertise.

Mirroring racial disparities in other aspects of policing, the evidence suggests that Black people exhibiting signs of mental distress are likely at greater risk of dying during encounters with law enforcement. As is often heard after police shootings involving Black citizens, some will ask why LeRoux didn’t just comply. The question is fair, but it’s not that simple.  

This country’s legacy of racial violence and discriminatory policing has instilled generational mistrust and fear of the police that powerfully informs how Black people respond to those in uniform with guns and badges.

In LeRoux's case, he insisted that his hands were in the air, as police had instructed. The audio from the police footage also reveals LeRoux's hesitancy to open his windows, another instruction from police. His explanation to police on the phone: He doesn't want to put his hands down. Who can blame him? Black men putting their hands out of police line of sight has resulted in death during traffic stops – even when the man is moving his hands to follow police instructions, as was the case with Philando Castile, who was killed during a traffic stop in 2017 near St. Paul, Minnesota. LeRoux's possible fear of that is understandable. 

We can personally attest to this kind of fear, which is continually stoked in many Black households by the recurring refrain that policing is a dangerous institution for Black America. The experiences that one of us encountered as a Black male police officer in Memphis, Tennessee, validates this story line. While serving on the force, I was pulled over several times by my colleagues, and although I knew most officers were consummate professionals, I still experienced feelings of anxiety – a harsh reality far too familiar to many people of color. 

This fear can be debilitating. Skeptics suggest arguments about fear are excuses for noncompliance, but terror is real and often triggers a physiological response. Studies show that humans unconsciously react to perceived danger in three ways: fight, flight or freeze. The fear response can be compounded by co-occurring mental health issues and substance use, and it may intensify when power imbalances exist and escape seems impossible – much like the conditions that exist during custodial police encounters.

The fatal shooting of Miles Hall in 2019 provides another example. The 23-year-old Black man in California was holding a gardening tool and having a meltdown when police shot and killed him. Hall's mother had called the police hoping for help with her son. But combustible dynamics often underpin what some might consider defiant responses that police are ill-equipped to deal with.

Such tragedies, coupled with the limitations of crisis intervention programs, have sparked calls to revisit police responsibilities and share certain duties with social service providers and other organizations. 

One longstanding example of this is the Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets, or the CAHOOTS initiative. It's a 24/7 service staffed by crisis workers and medics trained in intervention and de-escalation who are sent to substance abuse and behavioral health calls – mostly without the police – by dispatchers trained to ask the right questions. That means moments like the one experienced between LeRoux and officers waiting for a crisis intervention specialist to show up would occur less frequently.

While the research supporting the impact of CAHOOTS is thin, the principles underlying the approach hold promise for reducing violent altercations between police and the public – and a more culturally responsive CAHOOTS-like model could reduce the racial disparity in fatal police outcomes. 

Given the uneven police contact that puts Black people at greater risk of coming face-to-face with officers amid conditions ripe for physical altercation, such a model, if done correctly, would likely enable Black Americans to reap the greatest benefits.

In the end, the responsibility falls on civic governments to protect and meet the needs of those most vulnerable to unnecessary arrest and coercive police force. A broader community-centered approach must ensure that culturally responsive crisis interventions are especially sensitive to the unique stresses and fears plaguing Black communities.

Such steps would represent a profound investment in improving police-citizen relations.

More important, they would save lives.

To read more CLICK HERE