Race, policing, and the universal yearning for safety

“poverty and crime are big predictors, but in all the cities we’ve ever looked at, they aren’t sufficient to explain the racial disparities. Crime and poverty matter, but there are still disparities after that. There’s evidence that there’s still bias after that. In some cities, crime and poverty predict about 80 percent of the disparity; in other cities, crime and poverty rates are about 20 percent. And that means there’s a real difference in how much police behavior and policy is a driver of inequality in policing and therefore in criminal justice outcomes.”

A Man Died After Police Held Him on Hot Asphalt for 6 Minutes. He Was Reported for Loitering.

“The Phoenix Police Department (PPD) is conducting an internal investigation after a man was killed when three officers pinned and arrested him on hot asphalt.

Ramon Lopez, who was 28 years old, died on August 4 after being subdued on a roadway for approximately six minutes. It was about 100 degrees that morning, and blacktop temperatures can climb 40 to 60 degrees above outside temperatures.”

“”He’s kinda acting funny, he’s over there sticking his tongue out, I don’t know what’s wrong with him,” a woman told a Phoenix 911 dispatcher that day. “And then he got ripped pants on, and he jumping around…looking at people’s cars.”

“Alright, what is he doing exactly?” the dispatcher asks.

“He’s out there looking at people’s cars,” the woman repeats. “Sticking his tongue out. Holding his, you know, his private parts.”

“You say he’s exposing his private parts?” the dispatcher interjects.

“No, he’s holding it, like he’s scratching on it or something,” the woman replies. Video footage shows him briefly clutching the crotch area of his shorts.

A police vehicle arrived at the scene shortly thereafter. At the sight of the car, Lopez darted across the street and into a convenience store; an officer followed and met Lopez outside as he exited the shop. Lopez ran, throwing a drink over his shoulder that the PPD alleges he stole from the convenience store, though that didn’t factor into his arrest as law enforcement wasn’t yet aware of that allegation. He was tackled onto the hot roadway and subdued by three officers after a scuffle, during which one officer can be heard saying “left arm broken” in reference to Lopez. Officers handcuffed him and placed him in leg restraints after he was no longer moving. Lopez can be heard screaming and groaning in the body cam footage.

“You’re fine,” one officer says.

Additional backup then arrived. At one point, at least seven officers can be seen in the footage, not including the cop whose body cam was recording. After leaving Lopez on the asphalt for a few minutes, officers carried his body into a police vehicle, at which point they realized he was unresponsive. They then dragged his body back out and placed him on the ground. “Wake up buddy,” an officer says as he shakes Lopez’s body.

Fire personnel were called to the scene to provide medical treatment. He was pronounced dead later that day at a nearby hospital. Lopez’s partner said he had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia; his mother maintains that, while he had intense anxiety and was starting to seek help from medical professionals, she was not aware of any specific diagnosis.”

“It’s not the first time the PPD has come under scrutiny. The department has developed somewhat of a reputation: They are the subject of a recent lawsuit from a teen who suffered second-degree burns after a cop allegedly pinned her on hot asphalt in August of last year after law enforcement responded to complaints of a fight between high school students. Also last summer, a PPD officer assaulted a young father while a different officer threatened to shoot his fiancé because their daughter was suspected of stealing a Barbie from a dollar store. “Get your fucking hands up,” one officer said. “I’m gonna put a fucking cap right in your fucking head!” An internal investigation resulted in that cop’s firing.

And in May, a Phoenix officer shot a man in the back at least twice while responding to a noise complaint.

Law enforcement certainly has a rightful place in society. But our country’s criminalization of small nuisances, and the corresponding gut impulse to call the police for those routine annoyances, can have deadly consequences. ”

If You Want to Fix Policing, Listen to the Pragmatists

“Reason asked writers who have been on the criminal justice beat for years to lay out serious proposals for reforms with a fighting chance of being implemented in the coming months or years. The result is a robust list that includes calls to abolish qualified immunity (page 18), bust the police unions (page 22), better regulate the use of police force (page 25), rethink crisis response (page 28), end the drug war (page 32), release body cam footage (page 35), stop overpolicing (page 37), and restrict asset forfeiture (page 40).”

The FIRST STEP Act Has Reduced Prison Terms for More Than 7,000 People

“The FIRST STEP Act sentencing reform with the biggest impact in 2019, measured by the number of people affected, was retroactive application of the lighter crack cocaine penalties that Congress approved in 2010. Congress raised the mandatory-minimum weight thresholds, moving them closer to the thresholds for cocaine powder while maintaining a still irrational and unjust 18-to-1 ratio (down from 100 to 1). In 2019, the USSC report says, 2,387 already imprisoned crack offenders qualified for shorter sentences under the FIRST STEP Act’s retroactivity provision. The average reduction was 71 months, making the average sentence for this group 187 months (more than 15 years), down from 258 months (more than 21 years).

The second most significant FIRST STEP Act sentencing reform in 2019 (again, measured by the number of people affected), was its widening of the “safety valve” that allows low-level, nonviolent drug offenders to avoid mandatory minimums they otherwise would receive. The USSC reports that 1,369 defendants benefited from that expansion in 2019. The average sentence for that group was 53 months (more than four years), compared to 36 months (three years) for defendants who already were eligible for the safety valve. The average sentence for federal defendants who receive mandatory minimums, based on data for fiscal year 2016, is 138 months, or more than 11 years.

Two other FIRST STEP Act sentencing provisions had a much smaller impact. The law narrowed the criteria for the enhanced penalties that apply to repeat drug offenders, which reduced the number of defendants eligible for those sentences. The enhanced penalties applied to 849 drug offenders in 2019, 152 fewer than in fiscal year 2018. The FIRST STEP Act also reduced the enhanced penalties, from 20 to 15 years for defendants with one prior conviction and from life to 25 years for defendants with two prior convictions. In 2019, the USSC says, 219 drug offenders benefited from the first reduction, while 21 benefited from the second reduction.

Even rarer were situations where defendants received shorter sentences because of the FIRST STEP Act’s changes to a law that imposes escalating mandatory minimums on drug offenders who have firearms. The USSC says 205 defendants benefited from that provision in 2019, receiving sentences of five, seven, or 10 years rather than the 25-year sentence that previously would have applied.

The FIRST STEP Act was supposed to facilitate compassionate release of elderly or ailing prisoners. In 2019, 145 prisoners were granted compassionate release, five times the number in fiscal year 2018.”

“Even leaving aside the moral bankruptcy of drug prohibition, the FIRST STEP Act fell far short of reforms that have gained bipartisan support in Congress. In addition to making shorter crack sentences retroactive and widening the safety valve, the Smarter Sentencing Act, which was introduced by Sens. Richard Durbin (D–Ill.) and Mike Lee (R–Utah) in 2014, would have cut mandatory minimums for drug offenses in half. That bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with the support of three Republicans and 10 Democrats. The Justice Safety Valve Act, which Sens. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) and Pat Leahy (D–Vt.) introduced around the same time, would have gone further, making mandatory minimums effectively optional by allowing judges to depart from them in the interest of justice. Joe Biden, Trump’s Democratic opponent in this fall’s presidential election, likewise favors abolishing mandatory minimums, along with the distinction between the smoked and snorted forms of cocaine (both of which he supported as a senator).”

After the DEA Robbed Her of $43,000 at an Airport, She Joined a Class Action Challenging the Agency’s Cash Grabs

“After flying from Tampa to North Carolina for a casino reopening last May, Stacy Jones and her husband had dinner with friends, who were interested in buying a car the couple owned. They paid for it in cash. When the couple had to cut their trip short because of a death in the family, Jones put that money, along with cash she had for gambling, in a carry-on bag and headed for the airport in Wilmington, never considering the possibility that she was about to be robbed of $43,000 by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

A local sheriff’s deputy, alerted to the presence of seizable cash by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners, grilled Jones and her husband about the money and deemed their explanation fishy, even after he called their friend, who confirmed the car purchase but was unable to say exactly how many miles were on the odometer. The deputy called in two DEA agents, who interrogated the couple some more and then announced that they were seizing the money based on their suspicion that it was related to drug trafficking.

Jones is the latest named plaintiff in a federal class action lawsuit that the Institute for Justice filed in January, arguing that the DEA’s practice of seizing money from travelers without any evidence of criminal activity violates the Fourth Amendment. The lawsuit also argues that the TSA’s participation in this racket is unconstitutional and exceeds the agency’s statutory authority.”

“”Civil forfeiture allows the government to seize and permanently keep your property, even if you’ve never been charged with a crime,” Institute for Justice senior attorney Dan Alban explained to WFLA. “DEA has a policy of seizing large amounts of cash at airports, regardless if it has any proof the money is connected to drug trafficking. And unfortunately, that sweeps up a whole bunch of innocent people who have perfectly legitimate reasons for traveling with cash.””

“The named plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Terrence Rolin, a 79-year-old retired railroad engineer, who lost his life savings—$82,373—to a DEA seizure after his daughter, Rebecca Brown, whom he had charged with depositing the money in a joint bank account, took it with her while flying from Pittsburgh, where she was visiting him, to her home in Massachusetts. Two months later, after the case attracted national publicity, the DEA agreed to return the money.”

Why police encouraged a teenager with a gun to patrol Kenosha’s streets

“Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged with murder in the shooting deaths of two people during the violent protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, had a run-in with the police earlier in the night — an extremely friendly one.

In footage from about 15 minutes before the shootings pieced together by the New York Times’s Visual Investigations team, you can see Rittenhouse walk up to an armored police vehicle and chat with officers. A police officer pops out of one vehicle’s hatch and tosses bottles to Rittenhouse’s associates, members of an armed militia. “We appreciate you guys, we really do,” the officer says before driving off.

The young-looking Rittenhouse is under the legal age for firearm ownership and was carrying an assault rifle, which appears to be a misdemeanor under Wisconsin law. Instead of stopping him and asking for proof of age, the police give him water and an attaboy. And when he tried to surrender after the shootings, the police went right by him, even as bystanders were telling them that Rittenhouse had shot people.”

A Florida Deputy Threatens To Show ‘What Fucking Freedom of Speech Is’ During an Arrest

“A Florida deputy is on administrative leave, thanks to a video of him telling a teenager as he arrests him that he’ll show him “what fucking freedom of speech is.”

The exchange occurred between Charles Rhoads of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and 19-year-old Kevin Wygant.”

No Qualified Immunity for Kentucky Cops Who Strip-Searched a 4-Year-Old and Threatened Mom

“Back in March of 2017, Curry was driving her kids to karate when she stopped to get them some muffins. She was in the café for just a few minutes. When she came out, two cops rebuked her for leaving the kids.

In Kentucky, it’s a crime to leave children under the age of eight in a car under circumstances that “manifest an extreme indifference” to human life and create a grave risk of death. But the cops didn’t say she’d done that. The kids all looked fine, and they the officers left without charging Curry with a crime. Nevertheless, they felt obligated to call the state’s child protection hotline, thus opening a neglect investigation which automatically required a visit to the Curry home to check on the kids.

When the caseworker arrived at the home, Holly refused to let her in without a warrant. The worker returned with a sheriff’s deputy, but still no warrant. When Holly insisted that they still couldn’t enter, they threatened to “come back and put your kids into foster care.” Holly begged for time to call her husband. They refused. Finally, crying and terrified, Holly let them in.

Labeling that decision “voluntary consent,” the authorities entered the home. Unsurprisingly, the house and kids all looked fine. Even so, the caseworker insisted on strip searching each kid, removing their underwear and examining their genitals for signs of abuse.

A few months later, the caseworker closed the investigation as “unsubstantiated,” saying that what Holly had done was a “one-time ‘oopsy-daisy.'” But she telephoned Curry later and said, “If we ever get a call against your family again, bad things will happen to you, and we’ll take your children.”

At that point, Curry had had enough. She turned around and filed suit against the caseworker and cop, claiming violation of her constitutional rights.

They, in turn, pressed hard for immunity. But in in a powerful ruling on August 19 in Curry v. Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Human Services, Judge Justin Walker said that it was clear the government used an improper threat to enter the home, lacked any evidence that might have justified a strip search, and violated the children’s rights to bodily integrity.”

” To enter a home without consent and examine stripped kids requires a warrant, genuine suspicion of abuse, or an actual emergency. Who knew? Apparently not the authorities in Kentucky, who have been defending the warrantless entry and strip ever since the Curry’s filed their lawsuit in 2018.”

Leaked Footage Shows Aggressive Cops Terrifying George Floyd in His Last Minutes Before Death

“Floyd is ordered from the vehicle, as are the other two passengers, who are told to wait next to a nearby wall. During this time the officers appear to be interested only in asserting control over the situation, constantly ordering Floyd’s compliance but not really explaining what’s happening. Lane even demands “Stop resisting!” when Floyd is being handcuffed, even though it does not appear that Floyd is resisting at that point.

Floyd does completely panic when the cops attempt to put him in the back of a police SUV. He keeps telling them he’s claustrophobic, but they keep pushing him to get into the back of the SUV. He screams that he’s going to die, and he even tells them that he had COVID-19 (an autopsy on Floyd would verify this claim). He starts repeating that he “can’t breathe” while he’s in the back of the car before he manages to struggle his way out of the SUV somehow (even in the footage, it’s not clear how) and ends up on the ground next to it.

And that’s where Officer Derek Chauvin, who had arrived on the scene with fellow Officer Tou Thao, ends up kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, ultimately killing the man. On the video you can hear bystanders begging Chauvin to let him up or check Floyd’s pulse, telling him, “He’s not responsive!”

Lane asks the woman who was in the car with Floyd if he’s drunk and why he’s “being all squirrelly” with his responses. She’s savvy enough not to point out that Lane had pointed a gun directly at his head and was talking to Floyd as though he were a carjacker, not a police officer. She suggests to Lane that Floyd has mental health issues.

A subsequent autopsy would show that Floyd had meth, fentanyl, and cannabinoids in his bloodstream. But none of that justifies the police aggression captured on camera. Floyd is panicking and at points resistant, especially when he’s put in the police SUV, but at no point does he engage in threats, exhibit any threatening mannerisms, or act violently.

The officers’ encounter with Floyd is precisely why police reformers talk about the importance of de-escalation training. The stressfulness of this entire encounter is ratcheted up every step of the way by the officers, even though the crime for which Floyd was being arrested was not violent and his responses to the police were not violent. The violence in this encounter came entirely from one direction: the police.

It’s easy to say after the fact that the encounter could have and should have been handled differently given the fatal outcome. But now that the body camera footage has made its way into the public domain, it’s even more clear that none of Floyd’s responses to the officers merited their aggression. The Minneapolis Police Department was right to fire them all. Chauvin has since been charged with second-degree murder and the other three with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.”

Another Rogue Cop Just Got Qualified Immunity. The Judge Who Gave It to Him Isn’t Happy About It.

“A federal judge this week gave a blistering rebuke of qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that makes it difficult to sue police officers in federal court when they violate your civil rights.

“The Constitution says everyone is entitled to equal protection of the law—even at the hands of law enforcement,” wrote Judge Carlton W. Reeves of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi in a majority decision released yesterday. “Over the decades, however, judges have invented a legal doctrine to protect law enforcement officers from having to face any consequences for wrongdoing. The doctrine is called ‘qualified immunity.’ In real life it operates like absolute immunity.””

“to overcome qualified immunity, a plaintiff must show that the defendant’s misconduct had been “clearly established” by existing case law—the standard pulled out of thin air by the Supreme Court in Harlow v. Fitzgerald (1982). In practice, this criterion requires that plaintiffs show a public official’s misbehavior is prohibited almost verbatim by a previous ruling from the same federal circuit or from the Supreme Court. That requirement is nearly impossible to meet. “This Court is required to apply the law as stated by the Supreme Court,” Reeves writes. “Under that law, the officer who transformed a short traffic stop into an almost two-hour, life-altering ordeal is entitled to qualified immunity. The officer’s motion seeking as much is therefore granted.”

It is not unheard of for a federal judge to show disdain for his own ruling. They are required to enforce precedents established by the Supreme Court, even when doing so defies common sense. (Federal judges can also be seen decrying the mandatory minimum sentences they are required by Congress to impose on defendants who meet statutory criteria.)

A review of current qualified immunity decisions is instructive. The legal doctrine has protected two cops who allegedly stole $225,000 while executing a search warrant; a sheriff’s deputy who shot a 10-year-old boy while aiming at the child’s non-threatening dog; a prison guard who forced a naked inmate to sleep in cells filled with raw sewage and “massive amounts” of human feces; two cops who assaulted and arrested a man for the crime of standing outside of his own house; two officers who sicced a police dog on a surrendered suspect. That list is not exhaustive.”

“The Supreme Court has declined to hear a slew of qualified immunity cases and instead volleyed responsibility back to Congress. While such decisions should arguably be made by Congress, the Supreme Court created the very problem it now wants no part in solving.

“I do not envy the task before the Supreme Court. Overturning qualified immunity will undoubtedly impact our society,” Reeves writes. “Yet, the status quo is extraordinary and unsustainable. Just as the Supreme Court swept away the mistaken doctrine of ‘separate but equal,’ so too should it eliminate the doctrine of qualified immunity.””