‘Back to the Dark Ages’: Sessions’s asylum ruling reverses decades of women’s rights progress, critics say

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Aminta Cifuentes suffered weekly beatings at the hands of her husband. He broke her nose, burned her with paint thinner and raped her.

She called the police in her native Guatemala several times but was told they could not interfere in a domestic matter, according to a court ruling. When Cifuentes’s husband hit her in the head, leaving her bloody, police came to the home but refused to arrest him. He threatened to kill her if she called authorities again.

So in 2005, Cifuentes fled to the United States. “If I had stayed there, he would have killed me,” she told the Arizona Republic.

And after nearly a decade of waiting on an appeal, Cifuentes was granted asylum. The 2014 landmark decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals set the precedent that women fleeing domestic violence were eligible to apply for asylum. It established clarity in a long-running debate over whether asylum can be granted on the basis of violence perpetrated in the “private” sphere, according to Karen Musalo, director for the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at the University of California Hastings College of the Law.

But on Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned the precedent set in Cifuentes’s case, deciding that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence generally will not qualify for asylum under federal law. (Unlike the federal courts established under Article III of the Constitution, the immigration court system is part of the Justice Department.)

For critics, including former immigration judges, the unilateral decision undoes decades of carefully deliberated legal progress. For gender studies experts, such as Musalo, the move “basically throws us back to the Dark Ages, when we didn’t recognize that women’s rights were human rights.”

“If we say in the year 2018 that a woman has been beaten almost to death in a country that accepts that as almost the norm, and that we as a civilized society can deny her protection and send her to her death?” Musalo said. “I don’t see this as just an immigration issue … I see this as a women’s rights issue.”

Sessions’s decision reversed a 2016 ruling by the Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals, the body responsible for interpreting U.S. asylum law, granting asylum to a Salvadoran woman who said she was abused by her husband. Musalo is co-counsel in the case.

Sessions’s reasoning hinged on the argument that domestic violence victims generally are not persecuted as members of a “particular social group,” according to his ruling. Under federal law, asylum applicants must show that either “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion … was or will be at least one central reason” for their persecution.

In the precedent-setting Cifuentes case, the Board of Immigration Appeals held that an applicant can qualify for asylum as a member of a particular social group of “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship.” To support its ruling, the board noted that Guatemala has a culture of “machismo and family violence.” Spousal rape is common and local police often fail to enforce domestic violence laws.

Sessions rejected that reasoning. “When private actors inflict violence based on a personal relationship with a victim,” Sessions wrote, “then the victim’s membership in a larger group may well not be ‘one central reason’ for the abuse.”

“The prototypical refugee flees her home country because the government has persecuted her,” Sessions wrote. “An alien may suffer threats and violence in a foreign country for any number of reasons relating to her social, economic, family, or other personal circumstances. Yet the asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune.”

As Kara Lynum, an immigration lawyer in Minnesota, tweeted, “Sessions thinks these women aren’t eligible for asylum because their husbands are only violent to them — not all women.”

A group of 15 retired immigration judges and former members of the Board of Immigration Appeals wrote a letter in response to Sessions’s decision, calling it an “affront to the rule of law.”

The Cifuentes case, they wrote, “was the culmination of a 15 year process” through the immigration courts and Board of Immigration Appeals. The issue was certified by three attorneys general, one Democrat and two Republican. The private bar and law enforcement agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, agreed with the final determination, the former judges wrote. The decision was also supported by asylum protections under international refugee treaties, they said.

“For reasons understood only by himself, the Attorney General today erased an important legal development that was universally agreed to be correct,” the former judges wrote.

Courts and attorneys general have debated the definition of a “particular social group” since the mid-1990s, according to Musalo.

“It took the refugee area a while to catch up with the human rights area of law,” Musalo said.

A series of cases led up to the Cifuentes decision. In 1996, the Board of Immigration Appeals established that women fleeing gender-based persecution could be eligible for asylum in the United States. The case, known as Matter of Kasinga, centered on a teenager who fled her home in Togo to escape female genital cutting and a forced polygamous marriage. Musalo was lead attorney in the case, which held that fear of female genital cutting could be used as a basis for asylum.

“Fundamentally the principle was the same,” as the one at stake in Sessions’s ruling, Musalo said. Female genital cutting, like domestic violence in the broader sense, generally takes place in the “private” sphere, inflicted behind closed doors by relatives of victims.

Musalo also represented Rody Alvarado, a Guatemalan woman who fled extreme domestic abuse and, in 2009, won an important asylum case after a 14-year legal fight. Her victory broke ground for other women seeking asylum on the basis of domestic violence.

Then, after years of incremental decisions, the Board of Immigration Appeals published its first precedent-setting opinion in the 2014 Cifuentes case, known as Matter of A-R-C-G.

“I actually thought that finally we had made some progress,” Musalo said. Although the impact wasn’t quite as pronounced as many experts had hoped, it was a step for women fleeing gender-based violence in Latin America and other parts of the world.

Now, Musalo says, Sessions is trying to undo all that and is doing so at a particularly monumental time for gender equality in the United States and worldwide.

“We’ve gone too far in society with the MeToo movement and all of the other advances in women’s rights to accept this principle,” Musalo said.

“It shows that there are these deeply entrenched attitudes toward gender and gender equality,” she added. “There are always those forces that are sort of the dying gasp of wanting to hold on to the way things were.”

Sessions assigned the 2016 case to himself under his power as attorney general and said the move will help reduce the growing backlog of 700,000 court cases.

He concluded his ruling by saying he does not intend to “minimize the vile abuse” that the Salvadoran woman suffered or the “harrowing experiences of many other victims of domestic violence around the world.” But the “asylum statute is not a general hardship statute,” Sessions wrote.

Relatively few refugees are granted asylum annually. In 2016, for example, nearly 62 percent of applicants were denied asylum, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

Paul Wickham Schmidt, a retired immigration judge and former chairman of the Board of Immigration Appeals, wrote on his blog that Sessions sought to encourage immigration judges to “just find a way to say no as quickly as possible.” (Schmidt authored the decision in the Kasinga case extending asylum protection to victims of female genital mutilation.)

Sessions’s ruling is “likely to speed up the ‘deportation railway,’ ” Schmidt wrote. But it will also encourage immigration judges to “cut corners, and avoid having to analyze the entire case,” he argued.

“Sessions is likely to end up with sloppy work and lots of Circuit Court remands for ‘do overs,’ ” Schmidt wrote. “At a minimum, that’s going to add to the already out of control Immigration Court backlog.”

By Samantha Schmidt/WAPO

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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A white woman called police on black people barbecuing. This is how the community responded

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Hundreds danced to hip-hop and ’80s soul music Sunday and listened to local African-American candidates make their pitches. But this cookout in Oakland, California, wasn’t just any spring festival.

The event, dubbed “BBQing While Black,” was one community’s powerful response to what many perceived as yet another example of everyday racism.

It all started on April 29, when a white woman reportedly called police on a few black people who, she said, were using a charcoal grill in an area where it was banned, according to CNN affiliate KRON. Oakland police arrived; no one was arrested. But the 25-minute episode was captured on video, then posted to YouTube and viewed more than 2 million times.

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In Races for District Attorney, Insurgent Candidates Are Challenging Police-Backed Incumbents

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The blue wave that Democrats hope will help them take back control of Congress from the Republicans is not the only battle that will take place during the midterm elections later this year. There is a progressive movement at the local level to reshape the criminal justice system by winning elections for district attorney. By taking control of local prosecutor positions, lawyers and activists focused on reform across the country hope to cut out the mass incarceration middleman and directly target cash bail, harsh sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, and police accountability. Two women of color in California are hoping to do just that.
Pamela Price of Alameda County and Geneviéve Jones-Wright of San Diego are running for their local district attorney seats in the upcoming primary election in June. They spoke about their fight against police-endorsed incumbents last week in an interview with Jeremy Scahill on the Intercepted podcast.

Price, who has worked for 27 years as a civil rights lawyer, told Intercepted about her run for office. She has a 10-point platform that addresses issues she intends to tackle as DA. It includes ending mass incarceration, eliminating the death penalty, protecting immigrant communities, holding the police accountable, and reducing gun violence. When asked about her motivation to run in Alameda, she said, “We have a criminal justice system that not only over-criminalizes and decimates black and brown communities, and poor communities, but it has been happening for the entire time that the incumbent has been a part of that office.” Price is challenging District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, who has received many endorsements from law enforcement agencies, including from the Alameda Police Officers Association, and the Oakland Police Officers’ Association.

Jones-Wright has been a deputy public defender since 2006 and her campaign promises to break the cycle of crime, provide justice to all victims, and hold the powerful to account. “I will bring a much-needed perspective that the current administration doesn’t have and can’t offer because they are entrenched as prosecutors, and they have a certain mentality that doesn’t take into account the people that they’re actually supposed to represent,” she told Intercepted.

Her opponent, District Attorney Summer Stephan, a registered Republican, has been endorsed by a multitude of local law enforcement associations. “When you talk about her having law enforcement endorsements, that goes to the heart of it,” Jones-Wright said. “We need a district attorney in San Diego County that’s going to represent the people whose names we file complaints in.”

California adopted an open primary measure in 2010. Regardless of political party, only the top two candidates in a primary vote will head to the general election in November. Price and Jones-Wright are each the only challengers to the DA in their respective counties, so come June, if one secures more than 50 percent of the vote, the election will be called.

According to a 2016 report by Fusion, 72 percent of elected prosecutors ran unopposed in their last elections. “The DA makes the decisions on who is charged with what crimes, when, how, and even why … with very, very little oversight,” Jones-Wright explained. A district attorney is the chief prosecutor in a local county, and the position has the power in the community to open or drop a case, decide what level of charges and sentences to demand, and even to decide if a case should be pursued in the first place. Those decisions could range from issues on police accountability in a fatal shooting to how harshly, if at all, to prosecute undocumented immigrants.

Jones-Wright spoke about ICE crackdowns in San Diego, saying, “We are seeing that immigration agents are taking people off the streets in front of their children while they are crying, simply because they left out of their apartment doors and went to the store, or went to pay rent. This cannot happen.” She believes that the roughly 200,000 undocumented immigrants in the city should be protected community members and that ICE does not have a place in the courthouse.

California currently is embroiled with the Department of Justice led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions over its proclaimed status as a “sanctuary state.” President Donald Trump has gone so far as to threaten to cut federal funding, while the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against California last month over immigration enforcement. It is an escalation by the White House to make the most vulnerable in these communities as intimidated as possible, and they’ve gone after the most progressive state first.

Price, too, said she would stand up to Immigration and Customs Enforcement in her county. “California is a ‘sanctuary state’ and we’re going to require our law enforcement agencies in Alameda County to respect and follow that policy,” she said. “Jeff Sessions may be the attorney general, but in communities across this country, district attorneys are subverting his attempts to keep draconian prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.”

A 2015 report by the San Francisco-based Women Donors Network, and published by the New York Times, found that the racial disparity of prosecutors in the United States was exceptionally white: about 95 percent white in total, and 79 percent white men. Only 1 percent of local and federal district attorneys are women of color, and only 4 percent are men of color. Prosecution decisions are overwhelmingly being decided by white people, and the result is a current prison population in the United States that is decidedly racist when looking at the demographic breakdown: Almost 40 percent of the incarcerated population are black Americans, who make up only around 13 percent of the overall U.S. population.

According to data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, low-income black men have a 52 percent chance of having been behind bars. A progressive DA, however, could choose not to harshly prosecute lower-income families. Price notes, “Most of the people who are charged with something are black or brown people. Most of them cannot afford to post bail. Most of them are ultimately compelled to plead guilty to something.”

Price rattled off statistics that offer a glimpse into the injustice that Alameda County, home to the cities of Oakland and Berkeley, faces. “Black people are 20 times more likely to be incarcerated than a white person,” she noted. The latest census shows that 6.5 percent of the state population is black, while according to Price, black people are half of those on parole or probation, and black children are 53 percent of all felony arrests. “The record that we have from the district attorney is that when you are arrested in Alameda County, you have a 93 percent chance of being charged with something.”

The Intercepted podcast has aired episodes related to these issues, including on white supremacy within the National Rifle Association and the racist roots of the Second Amendmentthe sanitizing of Martin Luther King Jr., and the overt racism shown by the Trump administration. Trump’s latest decision that the U.S. military will be deployed to the border with Mexico until he gets his wall comes on the heels of news that a caravan of Central American migrants is headed to the United States. Extensive Fox News coverage resulted in a panicked presidential meltdown on Twitter the morning of Easter Sunday.

Indeed, Sessions pushed for a substantial shift from Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder’s 2013 memo that encouraged prosecutors to take into consideration the defendant’s criminal history and “the needs of the communities we serve, and federal resources and priorities. … We must ensure our most severe mandatory minimum penalties are reserved for serious high-level or violent drug traffickers.” Holder even wrote, “Long sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenses do not promote public safety, deterrence, and rehabilitation.”

But the 2017 Sessions memo appears to rescind all previous policy and pushed for harsher sentencing: “It is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.”

Sessions doubled down on his May 2017 memo with a speech to the Sergeants Benevolent Association of New York City, where he said of prosecutors, “They deserve to be unhandcuffed and not micromanaged from Washington.”

Even after Black Lives Matter protests demanding police accountability swept the country for years following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the Los Angeles Times reported that even as 2015 saw an increase in nationwide charges of officers for murder and manslaughter, “such prosecutions remain almost unheard of in six Southern California counties — Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Imperial — where there has been a police shooting roughly every other day since 2004, records show.”

Jones-Wright talked about the lack of accountability that has become evident in San Diego: “We have not had a district attorney here who was willing to take the first step in asking the necessary questions in investigations, and to stand and say, ‘I will hold everyone accountable under the law, even when you wear a badge.’ So, unfortunately, even after 2015, we’ve seen more officer-involved shootings here in San Diego. They haven’t stopped.”

Jones-Wright sounded incensed when she spoke about the failure to prosecute in a fatal shooting case last year. Jonathan Coronel, a 24-year-old, was shot 22 times in San Diego. “Mr. Coronel was lying prone on his stomach when he was shot. He was unarmed,” she said. The officer, who had been involved in a prior fatal shooting, was found justified in his actions last month. “So, the very first step is we need someone in the DA’s office who’s willing to hold officers accountable. We have to have that desire.”

Price said that O’Malley accepted a campaign donation of $10,000 from the Fremont police union while the office was investigating two different fatal shooting cases last year, the East Bay Times reported. “I will hold bad cops accountable for bad acts,” Price said. The current DA’s office cleared all three officers involved. One officer under investigation, Sgt. Jeremy Miskella, is the president of the police union. Price has condemned this donation as a conflict of interest in previous interviews. She told Scahill, “We have a tremendous disconnect between what justice should look like and what ethical conduct should look like in our relationship with local law enforcement.” O’Malley was first appointed in 2009 and was re-elected unopposed in 2010 and again in 2014. “We have found that this is a community that is desperate for police accountability,” Price concluded.

To date, more than 300 people have been killed by police this year, according to the Washington Post’s “Fatal Force” — a scandal that has receded from national media attention. By contrast, a Mother Jones data set reveals that this year, 24 people have been killed in mass shootings — as defined as three or more dead in one incident. Price’s words could apply on a larger scale: We are a country desperate for police accountability.

These two women, if successful, may follow the example of recently elected Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who has implemented what Shaun King called a “revolutionary memo” that is actually being enforced. Prosecutors have real power in the community and the ability to reform — if they can achieve in office what they campaigned on.

When asked what she would do if officers did not abide her decisions as district attorney, Price responded with gusto. “Bring it on. I’m ready,” she said. “This county has voted overwhelmingly for criminal justice reform … so I am prepared to, if necessary, do battle with officers who do not respect the law.”

By Elise Swain/TheIntercept

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Austin police search for bombing motive, say explosives made with ‘skill and sophistication’

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Police and federal investigators continued searching Tuesday for answers about a string of packages that have exploded at homes in Austin this month, killing two people, seriously injuring two others and unnerving the city at a time when it is flooded with visitors for the South by Southwest Festival.

While police have not provided specific details about the explosive devices, they have said the three packages that detonated at three homes several miles apart over an 11-day span appear to be related — and the work of a person or people who know what they are doing.

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said Tuesday that “the suspect or suspects that are building these devices” have been able to construct and deliver deadly bombs without setting them off at any point.

“When the victims have picked these packages up, they have at that point exploded,” Manley said on KXAN, an Austin television station. “There’s a certain level of skill and sophistication that whoever is doing this has.”

Precisely what motivated the attacks remained a mystery Tuesday, though officials have said they do not believe there is any connection between the bombings and the festival. Officials have urged people to use caution, telling them to call 911 if they see a potentially suspicious or unexpected package, with Manley saying that police had responded to more than 150 such calls between Monday morning and Tuesday morning.

Authorities said they were looking into whether the bombings could have been a hate crime, noting that the two people who were killed — an adult man and a teenage boy — were both black, while an elderly woman seriously injured Monday is Hispanic.

Police were also looking into connections between the victims themselves. The two victims who were killed were both related to prominent members of Austin’s African American community, and they have relatives who are close, leading families to wonder whether these connections played some role.

“Are you trying to say something to prominent African American families?” said Freddie Dixon, stepfather of Anthony Stephan House, the 39-year-old killed in the first explosion on March 2. “I don’t know who they’ve been targeting, but for sure, they went and got one of my best friend’s grandson. Somebody knew the connection.”

Dixon said he is good friends with Norman Mason, whose grandson was the teenager killed in the explosion early Monday morning. The teenager has not been formally identified by police, though they say that could come Tuesday. Mason’s wife, LaVonne, confirmed that her grandson was the 17-year-old victim but declined to comment further.

Manley, asked on television Tuesday morning about the ties between the two victims who were killed, said police were “going to look into … if there is any connection there that would be relevant to the investigation.”

Dixon said he used to be the pastor at Wesley United Methodist Church, which the Masons attend, and he and Norman Mason were longtime friends and fraternity brothers. Dixon said he spoke with Norman Mason on Monday, describing him as understandably distraught.

“It’s not just coincidental,” Dixon said. “Somebody’s done their homework on both of us, and they knew what they were doing.”

Dixon said while he knew of no one who bore a grudge against his stepson, he could not help but think about his and Mason’s family ties and their prominence in Austin’s African American community.

“My diagnosis: Number one, I think it’s a hate crime. Number two, somebody’s got some kind of vendetta here,” he said, remarking of the third victim, a Hispanic woman who he said he did not know: “Is she a diversion to throw this off, and lead to something else?”

Manley said police continue searching to see if there is any ideology that could have motivated the attack. He also said authorities remain uncertain whether the people hurt or killed were the specific targets of the attacks.

🚨If you receive a package that you are not expecting or looks suspicious, DO NOT open it, call 911 immediately. RT- Help us spread this message. 🚨 https://t.co/j9bxbaaBce

— Chief Brian Manley (@chief_manley) March 12, 2018

Authorities had initially said the first blast — a March 2 explosion that killed House — was “suspicious” but likely “an isolated incident” that posed no ongoing danger to the community.

The explosion “sounded like a cannon,” said Kenneth Thompson Sr., who lives across the street from the house where the first explosion occurred.

The police narrative of an isolated explosion suddenly shifted Monday when a pair of blasts went off. The first explosion early Monday morning killed the teenager and seriously injured an adult woman. Later in the morning, investigators at that scene had to rush miles away to respond to the second explosion, which seriously injured a woman identified by her relatives as Esperanza Herrera.

Authorities work on the scene of one of the Austin explosions. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman/AP)

Police soon said they believed all three attacks were related because of evidence recovered at all three scenes. Rianne Philips, who lives next door to House, said she was alarmed to hear about the bombings Monday but relieved it meant police would be more focused on House’s death.

“They’re not going to let this slide,” Philips said. “It’s really sad, but this means there’s a lot of attention on this now.”

Manley on Tuesday said that authorities believing the first blast was isolated “didn’t slow anything down” in the investigation, stressing that House’s death was still being investigated by Austin police and federal officials alike. After that explosion, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent a team to help process the scene.

ATF’s involvement ramped up Monday with the second and third explosions. The agency said it was sending members of its National Response Team (NRT) to help with the investigation. That group is activated for particularly large-scale or complicated fires and explosions, including the West, Tex., plant fire in 2013 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said his office is offering a $15,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or people responsible for the “atrocious attacks.”

by Mark Berman and Matt Zapotosky/WAPO

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Does the Fraternal Order of Police Have A Black People Problem?

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Recently, John McNesby, the president of Philadelphia chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), drew criticism for calling Black Lives Matter “a pack of rabid animals.” He made the remarks at a pro-police “Back the Blue” rally in support of a white officer who fatally shot David Jones, a Black man, in the back in June. McNesby, whose chapter joined the national FOP in endorsing Trump for president, once defended a white officer who wore a Nazi tattoo.

Founded more than a century ago, the FOP is the largest police union in the United States. Although the organization’s constitution stated that “race, Creed or Color shall be no bar,” recent positions by the FOP call into question its attitudes on civil rights, social justice and issues related to Black people.

From its inception, the FOP was not a part of the greater labor union movement, which despite its racial blind spots and history of racism, has taken stands in favor of racial justice. Historically, police have been used to control and employ violence against the “problem” segments of society, such as Black people — whether enslaved or emancipated — striking workers, radical protesters or others. The modern police union movement was formed as a response to the demands of the civil rights movement, complaints of police brutality and calls for police-community relations initiatives from the Black community, and cries of “law and order” from reactionary whites.

At the same time, Black police formed their own associations in the 1960s as a part of the civil rights movement, at a time when they faced racial discrimination from their colleagues in blue and there was an intersection between law enforcement and the Klan. It is because of this legacy of racism and segregation that some cities such as Dallas have separate police unions.

In Chicago, the FOP celebrates its history of brutality, including its legacy of violence against protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. In an attempt to rewrite history, the local FOP proclaimed that “the time has come that the Chicago Police be honored and recognized for their contributions to maintaining law and order — and for taking a stand against Anarchy…The Democratic National Convention was about to start and the only thing that stood between Marxist street thugs and public order was a thin blue line of dedicated, tough Chicago police officers.” The Chicago FOP also fought against affirmative action and the efforts by the Afro American Patrolmen’s League to bring inclusion to the police force, and opposed a resolution making December 4 “Fred Hampton Day” after the slain Black Panther and police assassination victim.

In Detroit, the local Police Officers Association organized a police demonstration to oppose affirmative action in the 1970s. Similarly, in New York in 1992, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) organized a demonstration of 10,000 officers, many drunken and racist, against the city’s Black mayor, David Dinkins. Some of the rally participants called Dinkins a “washroom attendant,” while others carried signs depicting him with swollen lips and a bushy Afro.

A fundamentally conservative organization, the FOP lobbies for the shielding of bad police officers, and opposes police reforms to hold law enforcement accountable. As police unions resist prosecution of brutal and criminal police officers who engage in excessive force and racial discrimination, they promote a debunked “war on police,” and seek hate crimes protections when officers are injured or killed, even equating the wearing of a blue police uniform with experiencing racism.

Fourteen states have a police bill of rights protecting police from criminal investigations and allowing 10 days after an incident before an officer must speak to authorities. Further, police unions have smeared the character of civilians who accuse the police of misconduct or are killed by police. Local unions have boycotted Beyonce and movie director Quentin Tarantino for their so-called “anti-police” positions, and have refused to provide security at football games where players sit down for the national anthem to protest police violence against Black victims.

When the 330,000 member FOP endorsed Trump for president, the organization said in a press release that “Mr. Trump has seriously looked at the issues facing law enforcement today. … He understands and supports our priorities and our members believe he will make America safe again.” The FOP also wrote a wish list for Trump’s first 100 days in office, which included such items as reversal of the Obama-era restrictions on military equipment for local and state law enforcement; repealing the ban on private prisons and racial profiling by the federal government; scrapping Obama’s policing reform recommendations; restricting aid to sanctuary cities; ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA); reversing changes in U.S.-Cuba relations and extraditing Assata Shakur, and repealing Obamacare.

The national FOP support for Trump put the group at odds with many Black police officers and associations who have criticized Trump for his racism, sexism and homophobia, only further highlighting the divide between the majority-white law enforcement organization and the Black community.

“Is this endorsement a result of the surveying of the membership of individual unions that represent police officers or is this endorsement the result of a few individuals who may stand to benefit from a so-called law and order candidate who knows nothing about the criminal justice system and is opposed to basic reforms of the system?” read a statement from Blacks in Law Enforcement of America, encouraging Black cops and others to oppose Trump. “He has no record of anything positive concerning criminal justice issues and concerns of our community,” it added.

By David Love/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Anything Goes When You’re a Cop in America

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“There is one criminal justice system for citizens—especially black and brown ones—and another for police in the United States.”

—Redditt Hudson, former St. Louis police officer

President Trump needs to be reminded that no one is above the law, especially the police.

Unfortunately, Trump and Jeff Sessions, head of the Justice Department (much like their predecessors) appear to have few qualms about giving police the green light to kill, shoot, taser, abuse and steal from American citizens in the so-called name of law and order.

Between Trump’s pandering to the police unions and Sessions’ pandering to Trump, this constitutionally illiterate duo has opened the door to a new era of police abuses.

As senior editor Adam Serwer warns in The Atlantic,

“When local governments violate the basic constitutional rights of citizens, Americans are supposed to be able to look to the federal government to protect those rights. Sessions has made clear that when it comes to police abuses, they’re now on their own. This is the principle at the heart of ‘law and order’ rhetoric: The authorities themselves are bound by neither.”

Brace yourselves: things are about to get downright ugly.

By shielding police from charges of grave misconduct while prosecuting otherwise law-abiding Americans for the most trivial “offenses,” the government has created a world in which there are two sets of laws: one set for the government and its gun-toting agents, and another set for you and me.

No matter which way you spin it, “we the people” are always on the losing end of the deal.

If you’re a cop in the American police state, you can now break the law in a myriad of ways without suffering any major, long-term consequences.

Indeed, not only are cops protected from most charges of wrongdoing—whether it’s shooting unarmed citizens (including children and old people), raping and abusing young women, falsifying police reports, trafficking drugs, or soliciting sex with minors—but even on the rare occasions when they are fired for misconduct, it’s only a matter of time before they get re-hired again.

For example, Oregon police officer Sean Sullivan was forced to resign after being accused of “grooming” a 10-year-old girl for a sexual relationship. A year later, Sullivan was hired on as a police chief in Kansas.

St. Louis police officer Eddie Boyd III was forced to resign after a series of incidents in which he “pistol-whipped a 12-year-old girl in the face in 2006, and in 2007 struck a child in the face with his gun or handcuffs before falsifying a police report,” he was quickly re-hired by another Missouri police department.

As The Washington Post reports: “

In the District, police were told to rehire an officer who allegedly forged prosecutors’ signatures on court documents. In Texas, police had to reinstate an officer who was investigated for shooting up the truck driven by his ex-girlfriend’s new man. In Philadelphia, police were compelled to reinstate an officer despite viral video of him striking a woman in the face. In Florida, police were ordered to reinstate an officer fired for fatally shooting an unarmed man.”

Much of the “credit” for shielding these rogue cops goes to influential police unions and laws providing for qualified immunity, police contracts that “provide a shield of protection to officers accused of misdeeds and erect barriers to residents complaining of abuse,” state and federal laws that allow police to walk away without paying a dime for their wrongdoing, and rampant cronyism among government bureaucrats.

Whether it’s at the federal level with President Trump, Congress and the Judiciary, or at the state and local level, those deciding whether a police officer should be immune from having to personally pay for misbehavior on the job all belong to the same system, all with a vested interest in protecting the police and their infamous code of silence: city and county attorneys, police commissioners, city councils and judges.

It’s a pretty sweet deal if you can get it, I suppose: protection from the courts, immunity from wrongdoing, paid leave while you’re under investigation, the assurance that you won’t have to spend a dime of your own money in your defense, the removal of disciplinary charges from your work file, and then the high probability that you will be rehired and returned to the streets.

It’s a chilling prospect, isn’t it?

According to the New York Times, “Some experts say thousands of law enforcement officers may have drifted from police department to police department even after having been fired, forced to resign or convicted of a crime.”

It’s not safe to be one of the “little people” in the American police state.

Consider what happened in San Antonio, Texas.

In 2006, police officer Jackie Neal was accused of putting his hands inside a woman’s panties, lifting up her shirt and feeling her breasts during a routine traffic stop. He remained on the police force. In 2007, Neal was accused of digitally penetrating another woman. Still, he wasn’t fired or disciplined.

In 2013, Neal—then serving as supervisor of the department’s youth program—was suspended for three days for having sex with a teenage girl participating in the program. As Reuters reports, “Neal never lost a dime in pay or a day off patrol: The union contract allowed him to serve the suspension using vacation days.”

Later that same year, Neal was arrested on charges that he handcuffed a woman in the rear seat of his police vehicle and then raped her. He was eventually fined $5,000 and sentenced to 14 months in prison, with five months off for “work and education.” The taxpayers of San Antonio got saddled with $500,000 to settle the case.

Now here’s the kicker: when the local city council attempted to amend the police union contract to create greater accountability for police misconduct, the police unions flexed their muscles and engaged in such a heated propaganda campaign that the city backed down.

It’s happening all across the country.

This is how perverse justice in America has become.

Our Bill of Rights has been torn to shreds, and the cops have replaced it with their own Bill of Rights: the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBoR), which protects them from being subjected to the kinds of debilitating indignities heaped upon the average citizen.

Incredibly, while our own protections against government abuses continue to be dismantled, a growing number of states are adopting LEOBoRs—written by police unions—which provides police officers accused of a crime with special due process rights and privileges not afforded to the average citizen.

In other words, the LEOBoR protects police officers from being treated as we are treated during criminal investigations: questioned unmercifully for hours on end, harassed, harangued, browbeaten, denied food, water and bathroom breaks, subjected to hostile interrogations, and left in the dark about our accusers and any charges and evidence against us.

Not only are officers given a 10-day “cooling-off period” during which they cannot be forced to make any statements about the incident, but when they are questioned, it must be “for a reasonable length of time, at a reasonable hour, by only one or two investigators (who must be fellow policemen), and with plenty of breaks for food and water.”

According to investigative journalist Eli Hager, the most common rights afforded police officers accused of wrongdoing are as follows:

+ If a department decides to pursue a complaint against an officer, the department must notify the officer and his union.

+ The officer must be informed of the complainants, and their testimony against him, before he is questioned.

+ During questioning, investigators may not harass, threaten, or promise rewards to the officer, as interrogators not infrequently do to civilian suspects.

+ Bathroom breaks are assured during questioning.

+ In Maryland, the officer may appeal his case to a “hearing board,” whose decision is binding, before a final decision has been made by his superiors about his discipline. The hearing board consists of three of the suspected offender’s fellow officers.

+ In some jurisdictions, the officer may not be disciplined if more than a certain number of days (often 100) have passed since his alleged misconduct, which limits the time for investigation.

+ Even if the officer is suspended, the department must continue to pay salary and benefits, as well as the cost of the officer’s attorney.

+ These LEOBoRs epitomize everything that is wrong with America today.

As Redditt Hudson, a former St. Louis police officer, noted,

“We all know – either from personal experience or the experience of someone close to us – that there are officers that will violate citizens’ human rights and civil liberties with impunity and who are comfortable in the knowledge that the system will protect and cover for their actions… These inequities have led, inexorably, to the current national crisis in police-community relations – and the best way forward is to make sure we severely punish officers that violate the rights of the citizens they serve. They must be held accountable for their actions.”

Now once in a while, the system appears to work on the side of justice.

Every so often, police officers engaged in wrongdoing are actually charged for abusing their authority and using excessive force against American citizens.

And occasionally, those officers are even sentenced for their crimes against the citizenry.

Yet in just about every case, it’s still the American taxpayer who foots the bill.

For example, Baltimore taxpayers have paid roughly $5.7 million since 2011 over lawsuits stemming from police abuses, with an additional $5.8 million going towards legal fees.

New York taxpayers have shelled out almost $1,130 per year per police officer (there are 34,500 officers in the NYPD) to address charges of misconduct. That translates to $38 million every year just to clean up after these so-called public servants.

Over a 10-year-period, Oakland, Calif., taxpayers were made to cough up more than $57 million (curiously enough, the same amount as the city’s deficit back in 2011) in order to settle accounts with alleged victims of police abuse.

Chicago taxpayers were asked to pay out nearly $33 million on one day alone to victims of police misconduct, with one person slated to receive $22.5 million, potentially the largest single amount settled on any one victim. The City has paid more than half a billion dollars to victims over the course of a decade. The Chicago City Council actually had to borrow $100 million just to pay off lawsuits arising over police misconduct in 2013. The city’s payout for 2014 was estimated to be in the same ballpark, especially with cases pending such as the one involving the man who was reportedly sodomized by a police officer’s gun in order to force him to “cooperate.”

Over 78% of the funds paid out by Denver taxpayers over the course of a decade arose as a result of alleged abuse or excessive use of force by the Denver police and sheriff departments.

That’s just a small sampling of the most egregious payouts, but just about every community—large and small—feels the pinch when it comes to compensating victims who have been subjected to deadly or excessive force by police.

The ones who rarely ever feel the pinch are the officers accused or convicted of wrongdoing, “even if they are disciplined or terminated by their department, criminally prosecuted, or even imprisoned.”

In fact, police officers are more likely to be struck by lightning than be held financially accountable for their actions.

A study published in the NYU Law Review reveals that 99.8% of the monies paid in settlements and judgments in police misconduct cases never come out of the officers’ own pockets, even when state laws require them to be held liable. Moreover, these officers rarely ever have to pay for their own legal defense.

For instance, law professor Joanna C. Schwartz references a case in which three Denver police officers chased and then beat a 16-year-old boy, stomping “on the boy’s back while using a fence for leverage, breaking his ribs and causing him to suffer kidney damage and a lacerated liver.”

The cost to Denver taxpayers to settle the lawsuit: $885,000. The amount the officers contributed: 0.

Kathryn Johnston, 92 years old, was shot and killed during a SWAT team raid that went awry. Attempting to cover their backs, the officers falsely claimed Johnston’s home was the site of a cocaine sale and went so far as to plant marijuana in the house to support their claim.

The cost to Atlanta taxpayers to settle the lawsuit: $4.9 million. The amount the officers contributed: 0.

Meanwhile, in Albuquerque, a police officer was convicted of raping a woman in his police car, in addition to sexually assaulting four other women and girls, physically abusing two additional women, and kidnapping or falsely imprisoning five men and boys.

The cost to the Albuquerque taxpayers to settle the lawsuit: $1,000,000. The amount the officer contributed: 0.

Human Rights Watch notes that taxpayers actually pay three times for officers who repeatedly commit abuses: “once to cover their salaries while they commit abuses; next to pay settlements or civil jury awards against officers; and a third time through payments into police ‘defense’ funds provided by the cities.”

Still, the number of times a police officer is actually held accountable for wrongdoing while on the job is miniscule compared to the number of times cops are allowed to walk away with little more than a slap on the wrist.

Trust me, this is a recipe for disaster.

“In a democratic society,” observed Oakland police chief Sean Whent, “people have a say in how they are policed.”

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, America is a constitutional republic, not a democracy, which means that “we the people” not only have a say in how we are policed—we are the chiefs of police.

By John W. Whitehead/CounterPunch

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Jeff Sessions Just Revived a Policy Nobody Supports

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Every day, law enforcement officials across the United States seize cash from motorists stopped at the side of the road. It’s called “civil forfeiture,” and the stories of abuse are legion: over $17,000 seized from the owner of a barbecue restaurant in Staunton, Virginia; over $13,000 seized from a former church deacon in DeKalb County, Georgia; and over $50,000 seized from a Christian rock band in Muskogee County, Oklahoma.

Civil forfeiture allows government to seize property based on the mere suspicion that it is connected to a crime. For instance, the fact that the cops think someone has too much cash is enough to warrant a seizure. After the property is seized, in a complete reversal of the way the American justice system is supposed to work, owners must prove their own innocence to get it back.

Public outrage over the practice has grown as more tales of abuse have been reported. And fortunately, over the last three years, 24 states have passed reforms to protect property owners and curtail civil forfeiture. Less fortunately, on Wednesday Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new federal policy that threatens to undermine those reforms.

Speaking in a small conference room surrounded by law enforcement officials, Sessions announced the federal government was rolling back a Holder-era policy that had sharply curtailed so-called adoptive seizures. An adoptive seizure occurs when a state police officer seizes property and then transfers it to the federal government, which then forfeits the property under federal law. Importantly, state law enforcement gets to keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds of the forfeiture.

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Posted by Libergirl

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