Tag Archives: law enforcement

Sessions invokes ‘Anglo-American heritage’ of sheriff’s office

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday brought up sheriffs’ “Anglo-American heritage” during remarks to law enforcement officials in Washington.

“I want to thank every sheriff in America. Since our founding, the independently elected sheriff has been the people’s protector, who keeps law enforcement close to and accountable to people through the elected process,” Sessions said in remarks at the National Sheriffs Association winter meeting, adding, “The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.”
“We must never erode this historic office,” Sessions continued.
Invoking “Anglo-American heritage” seems to have been an impromptu decision by the attorney general. A written version of the remarks says that Sessions was supposed to say: “The sheriff is a critical part of our legal heritage.”
Posted by The NON-Conformist

 

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The FBI Is Once Again Profiling Black Activists Because of Their Beliefs and Their Race Being upset that police kill black people could get you labeled a “black identity extremist.”

Janine Jackson: Demonstrations continue in St. Louis, Missouri, over the acquittal of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley of first degree murder charges in the 2011 killing of Anthony Lamar Smith. Very likely some protesters would tell you they are distraught and angry, not just about this case, but about the undeniable fact that US law enforcement rarely pay any penalty for murdering black people, whatever the circumstance. According to an FBI intelligence assessment recently leaked to Foreign Policy, that may make those people “black identity extremists.”

The report, written up by Foreign Policy’s Jana Winter and Sharon Weinberger, was dated August 3, nine days before the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The report assesses that

it is very likely black identity extremist (BIE) perceptions of police brutality against African-Americans spurred an increase in premeditated retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement, and will very likely serve as justification for such violence.

If that sounds to you like a set-up — a pretense by which anyone protesting police brutality is ipso facto guilty of extremism that calls for action by the “counterrorism division” of the country’s most powerful law enforcement — well, you aren’t alone with those concerns.

Nusrat Choudhury is senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program. They’re pursuing the issue. She joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Nusrat Choudhury.

Nusrat Choudhury: Thank you so much for having me.

What can we say about how the FBI seems to be defining “black identity extremists,” and the vagueness of that term, that we’re all sort of laugh/crying about, could that be the point of it, in some way?

Well, the report is disturbing on so many levels, not the least of which is that it’s a red flag that the Bureau is once again profiling black activists because of their beliefs and their race. And we know that there’s a long history in this country of the FBI using the fear of threats, real or perceived, as a cover for profiling black people, and in particular black civil rights leaders and activists. This report doesn’t make sense, and it raises that red flag that this is happening, yet again, to today’s modern-day black civil rights movement leaders.

I’m going to ask you a little about that history, but what, on the face of it, is what they’re calling evidence for the existence of — I mean, the assessment says, we’re talking about criminal activity; that’s different from protected activity, but what is their evidence for the existence of a “black identity extremist” movement, and then the definition of that as a violent movement?

Right. So the definition is so confusing that it’s really hard to discern, but it seems to be circular. The FBI talks about six separate violent incidents in this internal report, and then appears to assume, it literally “makes a key assumption,” that those incidents were ideologically motivated. And then it even contradicts itself to acknowledge that those six incidents appear to have been influenced by more than one ideological perspective. Yet it concludes that there is some kind of unitary “black identity extremist” threat, I would say a so-called threat.

And what this does is raise lots of questions from the public, from black people, black activists, and certainly the ACLU, and that’s why the public needs to know: What does this term even mean, what’s the basis for it, and what’s the FBI doing after creating this designation? That’s why we have joined with the Center for Media Justice in filing a Freedom of Information Act request, seeking all documents that use this term, as well as other terms that have historically been used as a guise for surveilling black people and black activists.

We know that the general public responds differently when you label something “terrorism,” when you label something “extremism,” and that that impact is meaningful. You know, this sounds like kind of Alice in Wonderland: “If I stab you and you object, you are an anti-stabbing extremist.” But we know from history that a tool doesn’t have to be precise to be used: You don’t have to sharpen a knife if you’re going to use it as a club. So what are the concerns about the way this new designation — even if everybody kind of scoffs at it — how do we think it might potentially be used?

The FBI, when it releases a report like this internally, that kind of labeling of a so-called threat can be the basis for additional surveillance, investigations and law enforcement activity. So creating this new label, even on the basis of these flawed assumptions, these conclusions that don’t make sense on the face of the report, could lead to further surveillance and investigative activity, not just by the FBI, but even by other federal, state and local law enforcement who share information with the FBI.

So for good reason, black people and especially black activists are really concerned. They want to know what this is being used to do, and they have really good reasons to fear that it’s going to be used to promote further law enforcement scrutiny of their First Amendment–protected activities, and even potentially result in racial profiling.

You mentioned the relevant history here. Can you tell us some of that history, which doesn’t go — it starts in the past, but it continues up to the present. What is some of the FBI’s history in this regard, that raise questions for folks?

The federal government and the FBI in particular kept files on civil rights and anti-Vietnam War activists in the 1960s and ’70s. We know that even more recently, since 9/11, that the federal government, including the FBI, kept information on American Muslim civil rights leaders and academics. As recently as 2005 and 2006, state law enforcement were exposed for infiltrating and monitoring peaceful political protests.

So there’s this history of targeting people because of their race, as well as because of their beliefs, and often at that intersection are black activists, more recently also American Muslim leaders and activists. This is a history we know so well, and the exposure of this report needs to be a catalyst to get more information, and really just to demand that this stop.

And I know folks will be thinking COINTELPRO, which is, of course, a program against black activists in the ’50s and ’60s and even into the ’70s, most famously known for targeting Martin Luther King, but also taking aim at other civil rights organizations.

Absolutely. And that history is a long, sordid one; it has been exposed. It involved extensive surveillance of people who were deemed “black extremists” or “black nationalists” in that covert FBI COINTELPRO program. But creating a new label and just extending that type of surveillance to the modern day, we know what the harms are, and that’s not what the federal government should be doing.

We also know that people within federal, state and local law enforcement have been raising concerns about far-right violence, and about violence by white nationalists and white supremacists, those types of threats. So at a moment when there are many people in the intelligence community stating that those threats are on the rise, why is the FBI creating a new designation for a so-called threat of “black identity extremists,” without sound methodology or conclusions that the threat even exists?

I certainly see the problem that a lot of folks are pointing out, saying that they’re lumping together various groups. And I also, though, appreciate the comments of Hari Ziyad on Afropunk. They talked about our desire to find a meaning in the violent/nonviolent distinction, and they said — one of the cases that the assessment cites is Micah Johnson, who killed police officers. And Ziyad says:

Because there aren’t too many Micah Johnsons, we reason, “extremists” like him can continue being unethically bombed by robots as long as we don’t get bombed too. But black people always get bombed, literally and figuratively, in an anti-black world, and no amount of distance between us and black “extremists” will change that.

In other words, the supposed safety that we’re offered, if we are not like those extreme black people, doesn’t exist. And it seems to me an important point, because I think, again, those who are not immediately impacted may buy the idea that they aren’t going after black people, they aren’t going after black activists, only violent people, and that seems an important distinction to kind of play with, or to at least interrogate.

I think that’s right, and the public wants safety; people want law enforcement to focus on true threats, and true threats of violence, right? But what the FBI is doing is talking about “extremism,” and what is that? People are allowed to have beliefs, and there’s a lot of evidence out there that just having a radical or extreme idea does not show that people will actually engage in violent conduct. But using that label with broad brush strokes, and linking it to black identity, is exactly the kind of overbroad categorization that can lead to racial profiling, and targeting people because of their beliefs.

Finally, you note that the ACLU, along with the Center for Media Justice, have filed a FOIA request, a kind of what-the-heck-is-going-on-here request. What are you hoping to learn, and what’s our way forward?

This FOIA is a tool really for the public. And the Center for Media Justice, which consists of black activists and folks who are really at the forefront of doing that protest work, they are partners with us in this effort. We’re hoping to get documents that will shed light on exactly how this term is being used, how often it’s being used, what other types of investigations or surveillance have been conducted as a result of the creation of this kind of designation.

And in the past, similar FOIA efforts have shown that the FBI has mapped racial and ethnic communities, and given more insight into exactly what the FBI is doing with the dramatic and vast tools at its disposal. So we’re hoping to get that information. If we don’t, we will push for that information, using the tools that the Freedom of Information Act provides.

We’ve been speaking with Nusrat Choudhury from the ACLU Racial Justice Program. You can follow their work online at ACLU.org. Nusrat Choudhury, thank you so much for joining us today on CounterSpin.

Thank you so much for having me.

By Janine Jackson / FAIR

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Racial Bias, Perceptions of Law Enforcement, Legal Standards Make Police Convictions Nearly Impossible

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — In the three years since fatal police shootings of unarmed Black people launched the Black Lives Matter movement, few officers have been charged and none has been convicted by juries in those deaths.

Experts cite a confluence of factors, including racial bias, attitudes toward law enforcement and the challenge of showing precisely what an officer was thinking in a high-pressure situation. In the end, many jurors are simply reluctant to reject the accounts provided by police.

“They just don’t want to second-guess officers in those life-or-death decisions,” said Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. “They think, ‘What if that was me? What if that was my child who was the police officer?’”

A jury last week acquitted the Minnesota officer who fatally shot Philando Castile, whose girlfriend live streamed the moments after the shooting on Facebook. Then on Wednesday, jurors acquitted a Black police officer of first-degree reckless homicide in the killing of a Black Milwaukee man who threw away the gun he was carrying during a brief foot chase after a traffic stop.

Meanwhile, a jury in Cincinnati is scheduled to deliberate for a fourth day Thursday in the second trial of Ray Tensing, a white former University of Cincinnati officer charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter. He shot Sam DuBose, an unarmed Black driver, during a 2015 traffic stop. The first trial in November ended with a hung jury.

A closer look at some factors that work against the prosecution or conviction of officers:

RACIAL BIAS

Studies have shown conscious and unconscious fear of African-American men plays out in numerous ways, including in exchanges between police and Blacks.

“People think that Black men are violent and dangerous,” said Georgetown University professor and former federal prosecutor Paul Butler. “What the law does is respond to that fear by trying to contain the threat. The issue is always, ‘Did the police act reasonably?’”

When the question is put before a jury, jurors must decide whether it was reasonable for an officer to think his or her life was in danger.

“That bias makes it much more reasonable to think that the Black man posed a threat,” Butler said.

PERCEPTIONS OF LAW ENFORCEMENT

Race also plays a role in how people view the role of police. A recent Pew survey found that fewer than half of Blacks surveyed felt the police did an excellent or good job of protecting people from crime compared with nearly 80 percent of whites.

The same poll found that 75 percent of whites believed police used the right amount of force for each situation compared with 33 percent of Blacks, and that 70 percent of whites believed the law holds officers accountable when misconduct occurs compared with 31 percent of Blacks.

“Policing is structured in a way that favors the officer over the civilian,” said Sam Sinyangwe, co-founder of Campaign Zero, which seeks to reduce police killings. “In many ways, the laws and institutions that have been created in this country have been in the context of those beliefs. It’s not a coincidence that those two things align.”

A conviction on charges of homicide or murder often requires prosecutors to establish the suspect’s intent, which can be difficult in the split-second exchanges between police and civilians.

Many police shooting trials center on a self-defense strategy. Stinson found that almost 40 percent of cases in which officers were charged with murder or manslaughter since 2005 ended in mistrials or acquittals when officers testified they feared for their lives.

“It’s about your character, about what you meant to do,” said Phil Goff, president and co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity. “These are not officers who got up that day looking to shoot Black people.”

In Tensing’s trials, both sides called use-of-force experts and other witnesses to testify about police training. The prosecution said Tensing could have de-escalated the situation and did not need to shoot. Defense witnesses said officers are trained to “stop the threat” if they believe they are in danger.

Tensing, 27, testified in both trials, tearfully saying that he feared he could be dragged or run over as DuBose tried to drive away from what began as a stop for missing a front license plate.

“I meant to stop the threat,” he told jurors Friday. “I didn’t shoot to kill him. I didn’t shoot to wound him. I shot to stop his actions.”

A video-analysis expert hired by prosecutors said his frame-by-frame review of the former officer’s body camera video showed Tensing was not being dragged by the car.

In her closing argument Monday, prosecutor Stacey DeGraffenreid said Tensing repeatedly used “stop the threat” and “feared for my life” in his testimony as “buzzwords” he learned in training to justify the shooting.

Donyetta Bailey, president of the Black Lawyers Association of Cincinnati, said she understands how jurors could have difficulty convicting in some cases. But in others, she added, juries seem to disregard the facts, such as in the shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina as he was running away from officers, and in the Castile slaying.

“We don’t view police officers the same in our community,” she said Wednesday. “I think [white jurors] view them as not being capable of any wrong even when the facts … show the other side.”

Some activists and criminal justice reform advocates say there are legal and systemic factors that can predetermine the outcome.

“Law enforcement is one of the most protected groups in our country,” said Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors. “We don’t have a judicial system that is set up to hold them accountable.”

From Associated Press

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Who Will Check the Police If the Justice Department Doesn’t?

The attorney general doesn’t plan on using his oversight authority to monitor and intervene in local departments. California provides examples of how states can compensate for that absence.

California policing played a significant role in the development of federal oversight of local law enforcement more than 20 years ago. Now, with the new Justice Department resistant to that power, California could show state and local governments how they can exert more control.

Rodney King’s infamous 1991 beating by Los Angeles police officers, and the subsequent L.A. riots, prompted Congress to expand the attorney general’s authority to monitor police departments. Former President Bill Clinton’s 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, a law frequently criticized today as fuel for mass incarceration, included a small statute that authorized the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer to investigate and file civil litigation against departments that demonstrate a “pattern or practice” of unconstitutional conduct.

The administration of former President Barack Obama embraced its oversight authority, particularly in its final years; it investigated 25 police departments, including those in Baltimore and Chicago. But President Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions has no intention of following suit. He has sharply criticized federal investigations, arguing that they’re bad for police “morale,” and has said it’s “not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law-enforcement agencies.”

Critics perceive Sessions, and the president he serves, as more interested in protecting the police than public safety—a quality often attributed to the larger Republican Party. But even heavily Democratic areas have mixed track records when it comes to addressing police misconduct. That includes California, which is one of the country’s most liberal states but home to some of its deadliest police. Both California’s reforms and shortcomings are worth examining during the Trump era, as activists and researchers consider state-level measures to counter possible federal inaction.

One policy currently being debated among police-reform advocates is the adoption of a statute that would allow state attorneys general to investigate and mandate structural changes within troubled departments, just as the federal Justice Department can. These changes can vary, but could include amending a department’s use-of-force policy or requiring bias training. The proposal has its origins in California, as it is the only state in the country that explicitly authorizes its attorney general to intervene in this way.

William Lockyer was the first California attorney general to exercise that power, after four Riverside police officers shot and killed a 19-year-old black woman in 1998. The shooting ignited community protests and attracted attention from civil-rights activists Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. The Riverside County district attorney invited Lockyer to review the evidence and circumstances of the case.

Though the state did not have enough to bring criminal charges against the officers, Lockyer told me, he launched a civil-rights investigation into the Riverside Police Department’s policies and practices. In 2001, he filed a judgment forcing the department to implement specific reforms within a five-year period. The changes included using more experienced officers on overnight shifts and implementing community policing: assigning officers to monitor specific neighborhoods on a long-term basis and build trust with residents.

“The police chief and many others said after the fact that this was the best thing to ever happen to the Riverside Police Department; it really professionalized the force,” Lockyer said. “I think it makes sense to have some external review, whether federal or state, as a way to check local politics and pressures that can stand in the way of reform.”

The Riverside reform agreement presents one case study to examine stronger state intervention in local policing, but state oversight is not an easy fix. The California attorney general has had intervention authority for 16 years, but has only used it a handful of times. That includes investigations launched in December 2016 by then-state attorney general and current U.S. Senator Kamala Harris. Even police-reform researchers who say these statutes have potential acknowledge they can run into problems when it comes to execution.

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, said he suspects that political pressures and ambitions deter California attorneys general from exercising their authority more frequently. University of Virginia law professor Rachel Harmon suggested state funding might also present a barrier. “I don’t think mirroring the federal statute, section 14141, is likely to be the most successful state reform effort,” Harmon said, referring to the order granted by Clinton’s 1994 crime bill. “It took the federal government a long time to get that train rolling, and I think it’s very unlikely that the resources or expertise exist in most states to engage in a similarly effective effort.”

Another way for state lawmakers to potentially deter misconduct is through the issuance of professional police licenses. Much like certifications for health-care professionals or lawyers, these licenses can be revoked and prevent police from getting law-enforcement jobs in the state again. This is an area where California lags behind. It is one of about five states without such a mechanism to use after a serious offense. As a result, police chiefs in these states can have complete discretion over the hiring and firing of officers. In an interview last month, Roger Goldman, a law professor emeritus at Saint Louis University in Missouri, told me chiefs rarely exercise their authority to let officers go.

That can have wide-ranging implications for public safety. Sometimes employers hire an officer with a record of misconduct because they simply don’t have access to his or her work history. But other times, Goldman said, departments know a prospective hire’s troubled background, but may hire the officer anyway to reduce training expenses.

Goldman argues that all states need a strong licensing system, but that plan faces its own set of challenges. A critical problem is data—or lack thereof. It’s a multilayered issue involving both individual departments and their broader communities. For example, Frontline has reported that black and Latino communities are less likely to report officer misconduct due to fear that they won’t be believed or may face retaliation. Lawyers and police officials may also keep quiet about officer improprieties to reduce their liability.

Without thoroughly reporting and tracking misconduct, the state law-enforcement training and standards boards tasked with overseeing certifications cannot accurately assess which officers should be considered for decertification. Officers can then quietly resign and potentially find another law-enforcement job. This problem is even worse in states like California that have strict laws preventing the public release of records on police misconduct and the outcomes of internal investigations, said Peter Bibring, director of police practices for the American Civil Liberties Union of California.

Ultimately, state governments have wide-ranging authority to adopt measures for reform. So do cities, though at a more micro level. The key is whether these jurisdictions deem changes necessary on their own, or if they’d only take them under pressure from the federal government.

By CANDICE NORWOOD/TheAtlantic

Why the Idea of Abolishing the Police Isn’t So Far-Fetched, According to Activists

Amid countless incidents of Blacks dying at the hands of police, the push for sweeping police reform is stronger than ever before. However, a group of grassroots organizers in Chicago is opting to take a different route — by abolishing the police altogether.

According to the Chicago Reader, grassroots groups around the city are already making moves to put their abolitionist ideas into practice. However, they insist the notion isn’t as crazy as it sounds.

The idea began with a local activist named Jessica Disu, who appeared on a televised Fox News town hall discussion on the recent killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and the deadly police ambush in Dallas. The time came for Disu to voice her unpopular opinion as fellow speakers touted false claims that Black Lives Matter endorsed the killing of police officers.

“This is the reason our young people are hopeless in America,” she said. “Here’s a solution: We need to abolish the police.”

“Demilitarize the police, disarm the police,” Disu continued amid boos from the crowd. “We need to come up with community solutions for transformative justice.”

More from Atlanta Black Star

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Family and neighbors call Scott a quiet ‘family man’

Vernita Walker calls her son, Keith Lamont Scott, a “mama’s boy” who called her every day.

He last checked in with her on Tuesday afternoon at around 2, Walker says. “But I missed his call.”

Keith Lamont Scott, at far right, in a photo from a GoFundMe page set up on his behalf after Tuesday’s events.
Image: GoFundMe via Charlotte Observer

About two hours later, Scott, 43, was fatally shot by police conducting a search for someone who had an outstanding warrant. Scott was not the person police were looking for.

His shooting launched a night of violent protests in the University area and conflicting stories from neighbors and police. Police say they saw Scott had a handgun as he got out of his car and got back in. A woman who said she is Scott’s daughter said on a live-streamed video that Scott was unarmed, sitting in his car reading a book.

In a brief phone interview with the Observer, Walker hesitated talking about her son in the past tense: “I don’t like to talk about him in that term.”

She called him “a family man” and “a likeable person.”

“… And he loved his wife and his children … And this was, they don’t want to say it, but a mama’s boy. Yes, he’s one of those. But he was a smart, young man.”

Posted by Libergirl

American Muslims: Yes, We Feel Targeted By Cruz Surveillance Comments

“We’re targeted even if it’s not our fault,” said Omar Ghanim, 23, eating Lebanese pizza Tuesday at a suburban strip mall in Orange County’s Little Arabia neighborhood, just miles from Disneyland in California.

Ghanim said Islamic State doesn’t represent his faith.

“They don’t follow the Islamic rules or anything Islam,” he said. “We’re a peaceful people — we’re not violent.”

Cruz said Tuesday that law enforcement should be empowered to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” Echoing earlier statements from rival Donald Trump, Cruz also said the U.S. should stop the flow of refugees from countries where the Islamic State militant group has a significant presence. IS claimed responsibility for the attacks at the Brusselsairport and a subway station that killed dozens Tuesday and wounded many more.

More from Associated Press via TPM

Posted by Libergirl