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Police Killings Underscore Need for Reform

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNNPA) – Blacks and Latinos are incarcerated at disproportionately higher rates in part because police target them for minor crimes, according a report titled, “Black Lives Matter: Eliminating Racial Inequity in the Criminal Justice System” by the Sentencing Project, a national, nonprofit group that advocates for criminal justice issues.

Researchers said disparities are punitive and can turn deadly over minor violations.

For example, Eric Garner, 43, was stopped and accused of selling untaxed cigarettes, a misdemeanor, before Officer Daniel Pantaleo choked him to death on a sidewalk of a Staten Island neighborhood. Officer Darren Wilson stopped 19-year-old Ferguson resident Michael Brown for jaywalking, before a disputed confrontation led to Wilson fatally shooting Brown.

Targeting low-level lawbreakers epitomizes “broken windows” popularized during William Bratton’s first tenure as commissioner of the New York Police Department under then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Mayor Bill de Blasio reappointed Bratton to that position and he remains “committed to this style of order-maintenance policing,” even though only spurious correlations to its efficacy in crime prevention remain.

The report said that “flawed research” plagued an early study cited by proponents of the “broken windows” policies.

“More recent studies have found that high misdemeanor arrest volume, high summons volume, and other factors, have had only a modest association or no association at all with the city’s violent crime drop,” stated the report. “‘Stop and frisk’ activity has also been shown to have no impact on precincts’ robbery and burglary rates.”

Racial disparities that exist at every step in the criminal justice system, the report noted. That helpsexplain why Blacks and Latinos account for about 30 percent of the United States population, but 56 percent of the incarcerated population.

In Ferguson, police stopped White drivers for moving violations 68 percent of the time, and the majority of Black drivers were stopped for license or equipment problems, the report said. Once they were stopped, Black drivers were searched at almost twice the rate as White drivers (12 percent vs. 7 percent), but White drivers were more likely to have contraband than Blacks (34 percent vs. 22 percent).

“Yet blacks were twice as likely as whites to be arrested during a traffic stop (10 percent versus 5 percent),” the report continued, partly because, “black drivers were more likely to have arrest warrants compared to their white counterparts. Black drivers were more likely to have these warrants in part because of unpaid fines related to their disproportionate exposure to traffic enforcement.”

Nationally, Blacks and Hispanics are three times as likely to be searched by police during traffic stops.

Blacks were twice as likely as whites to be arrested during a traffic stop,” state the report. “These patterns hold even though police officers generally have a lower ‘contraband hit rate’ when they search Black versus White drivers.”

“Almost 1 in 3 people arrested for drug law violations is black, although drug use rates do not differ by race and ethnicity. An ACLU report found that blacks were 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites in 2010,” stated the report. “This disparity expands at later stages of the criminal justice system so that 57% of people in state prisons for drug offenses are people of color, even though whites comprise over two-thirds of drug users, and are likely a similar proportion of sellers.”

The report continued: “Once arrested, people of color are also likely to be charged more harshly than whites; once charged, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences – all after accounting for relevant legal differences such as crime severity and criminal history.”

According to the report, these trends are driven by race-neutral laws that still have a significant have racial impact, criminal justice professionals influenced by racial bias, an underfunded criminal justice system, and policies that impose strict “collateral consequences” that make it harder for ex-offenders to return their home after prison.

If current incarceration trends hold, one in three Black teenage boys can anticipate going to prison in his lifetime, compared to one in 17 White boys. One in 18 Black women face the prospects of incarceration, compared to 1 in 111 White women.

“Federal prosecutors, for example, are twice as likely to charge African Americans with offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences than otherwise-similar Whites,” the report said. “State prosecutors are also more likely to charge Black rather than similar White defendants under habitual offender laws.”

The report said that defense attorneys might show signs of racial bias in how they prioritize their caseloads, and all-White juries spend less time deliberating in cases than racially diverse ones. All-White juries are also more likely to seek the death penalty in capital trials.

“Because the criminal justice system is an institution that primarily reacts to – rather than prevents – crime, it is ill-equipped to address many of the underlying causes of crime,” stated the report. “But mass incarceration’s hold on vast public resources and the obstacles erected for people with criminal records further erode the economic and social buffers that prevent crime.”

The report recommended addressing the source of racial bias in the criminal justice system, revising draconian drug laws through reforms like the Fair Sentencing Act, establishing alternatives to incarceration for low-income youth, and redirecting public spending to crime prevention and drug treatment.

“The Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) of 2010 reduced from 100:1 to 18:1 the weight disparity in the amount of powder cocaine versus crack cocaine that triggers federal mandatory minimum sentences,” stated the report. “California recently eliminated the crack-cocaine sentencing disparity for certain offenses, and Missouri reduced its disparity. Thirteen states still impose different sentences for crack and cocaine offenses.”

More than 90 percent of ex-offenders complete their sentences and return to their communities, where they are often shut out of jobs and those with felony drug convictions are blocked from receiving federal aid like food stamps and publicly subsidized housing, the report said.

During a recent appearance on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal,” Marc Mauer, the executive director for The Sentencing Project, said that there are hundreds of laws on the books in every state that restrict the ability of people coming out of prison to make ends meet once they return home.

Mauer added that the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission issued guidance to employers asking them to take a more nuanced approach to hiring.

“If we want people to succeed, we have to reconsider how we approach all these issues and not just say, ‘one size fits all. You have a conviction, that is it for you,’” said Mauer. “That doesn’t get us very far.”

Record-level of Criminal Exonerations

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Black criminal defendants accounted for roughly 46 percent of the 125 known exonerations in 2014, the highest annual number of exonerations recorded since 1989, according to a national registry that tracks wrongful convictions.

According to a recent report by The National Registry of Exonerations, the next highest total for exonerations was 88 recorded in 2012 and 87 in 2013. Researchers said that prosecutors have increasingly taken a harder look at flawed cases, which contributed to jump in exonerations.

The powerful role that prosecutors play in the criminal justice system has increasingly drawn sharp public criticism following grand jury proceedings involving the highly publicized deaths of unarmed Black men at the hands of White police officers.

In the chokehold death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y. and shooting deaths of John Crawford in Beavercreek, Ohio and the teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., grand juries chose not to indict police officers.

Attorney General Eric Holder has called for reform in sentencing practices and urged federal prosecutors to exercise greater discretion in non-violent drug cases.

Researchers with the exonerations registry reported 716 exonerations of Black criminal defendants, compared to 624 Whites through February 6, 2015. That includes 330 exonerations for homicides, 167 for sexual assaults and another 179 for other crimes including drug crimes.

Blacks accounted for roughly 46 percent of the known exonerations in 2014. The number of Black criminal defendants exonerated in 2013 accounted for 47 percent of known cases, compared to 40 percent for Whites.

In a press release about the report, Samuel Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan and the editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, said that the big story is that more prosecutors are working hard to identify and investigate claims of innocence.

The report credited the rise of conviction integrity units (CIU), “long-term operations that work to prevent, to identify and to remedy false convictions” for contributing to an increase in criminal exonerations.

“There were 49 CIU exonerations in 2014, including 10 murder exonerations in Brooklyn, and 29 of the 33 Harris County (Texas) drug-crime exonerations,” stated the report.

Gross said that many more innocent defendants were exonerated after pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit.

The report said that 47 of the 125 defendants (38 percent) who were exonerated in 2014 were cleared of criminal convictions to which they had pled guilty, also a record. In fact, in 58 of the 125 known exonerations from last year, no crime occurred, according to the report, and that number is likely to grow.

“The states with the most exonerations in 2014 are Texas (39), New York (17), Illinois (7), Michigan (7), Ohio (6), North Carolina (4), Louisiana (3), Maryland (3), Oregon (3), Pennsylvania (3), and Tennessee (3),” stated the report. “The states with the most recorded exonerations are not necessarily those where most false convictions have occurred.”

In Harris County, Texas defendants often pled guilty to drug crimes before evidenced was tested. When lab tests revealed that the evidence was not an illegal substance, the convictions were overturned. More than 90 percent of the drug-crime exonerations in 2014 were no-crime cases, including all 33 drug-crime exonerations in Harris County, the report said.

“Judging from known exonerations in 2014,” said Gross. “The legal system is increasingly willing to act on innocence claims that have often been ignored.”

Civil Rights Leaders Upset Over Non-Voting Rights Act Hearing

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By James Wright
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he sparked controversy on Jan. 14 saying that, “The Voting Rights Amendment Act” – which would restore the pre-clearance requirement by the Justice Department for states mainly in the South – “is not necessary.” He has decided not to hold a hearing on the bill that would restore key elements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and this has outraged African-American and civil rights leaders.

Goodlatte said the watered down Voting Rights Act (VRA) that is presently in effect protects voters from discrimination but Rep. George Butterfield (D-N.C.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, disagrees. “I am deeply troubled that Goodlatte doesn’t think it is necessary to restore the Voting Rights Act,” Butterfield said. “We began this Congress very hopeful to build upon the bipartisan work of Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.). If this is indeed the position of the entire Republican Conference, then they have clearly drawn a line in the sand – one in which they are on the wrong side of.”

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat. It has been renewed with amendments by Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush – all Republicans. However, the Supreme Court gutted Section 4B and 5 of the VRA that required states and local jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to approve election law and practices with the Justice Department.

The court’s conservative majority said the VRA was outdated and that Congress should update it to reflect the changes that have taken place.

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, also disagrees with Goodlatte’s decision. “Chairman Goodlatte has paid no attention to the rampant voting discrimination still happening throughout the country, most recently in the 2014 midterm elections,” Henderson said. “The now-weakened [VRA] lacks the ability to protect voters from discrimination before they are denied the right to vote. The remedies that the chairman says still exist are costly and time consuming to pursue through the courts and decisions in these cases often come long after voters have been excluded from elections that they have every right to participate in.”

Hilary Shelton, Washington NAACP bureau chief, said his group met with Goodlatte last year to discuss legislation to restore the VRA to its original form. “We made it clear that we supported hearings on the VRA and we have bipartisan support on this,” Shelton said. Shelton said that representatives of the Virginia NAACP, including those who live in Roanoke, a major city in Goodlatte’s district, met with him, too.

One of the arguments anti-VRA advocates make is the election and re-election of President Obama in 2008 and 2012, respectively. They say that minorities cannot be considered disenfranchised when the country, still majority White, elected an African-American to its top political position.

However, Kathleen Collier-Gonzalez, senior attorney and director of the voter protection for the Advancement Project, counters that view. “The measure of success is not the re-election of an African-American president,” she said. “You still have very serious problems in terms of people who don’t having ‘acceptable’ voting identification, and states reducing the early voting period and eliminating Sunday voting. As a matter of fact, I think there is a backlash because of our first African-American president.”

Shelton said it was because of the VRA that Obama became president and it should be preserved as a tool to help people become more involved in politics.

Collier-Gonzalez said government identification as the only acceptable form for citizens to be able to vote is similar to the poll taxes that some Southern states in the pre-Civil Rights era levied against its citizens with the subtle purpose of disenfranchising Blacks. She notes that many young people, seniors, and low-income citizens don’t have government identifications that are acceptable to voter registrars.

Butterfield is urging the House Republican leadership to override Goodlatte’s decision.

“I call on Speaker [John] Boehner, Majority Leader [Kevin] McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise to reverse this decision and make restoring the VRA a priority,” the representative said. “The weakening of the VRA left millions of Americans vulnerable to discriminatory state laws. To do nothing sends a terrible message, not only to minorities, but to anyone who believes the right to vote is essential to our democracy and way of life.”

Fallout from Police Shooting of Black Man in NJ Continues

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By Cyril Josh Barker
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

Black citizens in the southern New Jersey city of Bridgeton continue to demand answers for the police shooting of a Black man who clearly had his hands up, as seen on a dash cam video.

Reports indicate that demonstrators marched to City Hall in Bridgeton over the Dec. 30, 2014, police shooting of 34-year-old Jerame Reid. Protesters planned to disrupt a City Council meeting.

However, because of having to go through metal detectors at City Hall and being held up, few were allowed to speak during the public session of the meeting. Council President Jack Surrency announced that a public meeting will be held on the topic at a later date.

Tensions have been running in the city after a video went viral of Reid putting his hands up before officer Braheme Days, who is Black, fatally shot Reid. Days claimed he saw a gun in the glove compartment of the vehicle Reid was riding in.

Protesters say that while they were on their way to the City Council meeting, they were detained by police and given summonses. One woman said hers was scheduled for the same day as the next City Council meeting. Another woman, Felicta Cox, said during the public session that there is a fear of police in the community among Black men.

“Look around the room,” Cox said, according to reports. “Our young Black men are afraid to come out and speak because they’re afraid they’re going to get locked up.”

Another woman called what happened to those protesting who wanted to speak “harassment,” with others saying their constitutional rights were violated.

Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly vowed that he will meet with anyone who has concerns about violence in the city.

Meanwhile, more is being learned about Reid’s relationship with law enforcement. Reports indicate that he had a lawsuit against Cumberland County involving assault allegations. At the time of his death, Reid was seeking $100,000 from the Cumberland County Department of Corrections over allegations that in 2009, he was punched, kicked and pepper sprayed and had a bucket of cold water poured on him while in a county jail cell.

Reid said that because of fears of retaliation, he told a nurse that he was beaten by other inmates. He suffered broken ribs, a fractured left orbital bone and nerve damage to his face.

Political Uproar in Trinidad and Tobago, Scandal Takes a Heavy Toll

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By Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

It was reminiscent of the “night of the long knives” and when it was all over, political blood was spilled all over the place in Trinidad and Tobago when Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar wielded her cabinet axe.

Gone from the cabinet are Attorney-General, Anand Ramlogan, and Minister of National Security Garry Griffith, both of whom were fired by the country’s leader in a 20-minute national broadcast as she attempted to stem the fall-out from a mushrooming scandal triggered by allegations that the Attorney-General might have been involved in an attempt to pervert the course of justice in the twin-island republic.

But the country’s embattled first female Prime Minister didn’t stop there with her bloodletting .She: Demanded the resignation of David West, Chairman of the Complains Authority for his role in the witness tampering investigation ordered by acting Police Commissioner, Stephen Williams. Sacked the President of the Senate, Timothy Hamel Smith and Justice Minister, Emmanuel George. Ousted the Minister in the National Security Ministry, Embau Moheni.

Lifted the responsibilities of the Sports Ministry from Rupert Griffith.

Switched Stacy Roopnarine from being Minister in the Ministry of the Infrastructure to the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development.

Placed Prakash Ramadhar as head of the Ministry of legal Affairs; made Christine Nawal Hosein the new Minister of Social Development; appointed Brent Sancho, soca warrior footballer as the Minister of Sport.

Made Garvin Nicholas, a former High Commissioner (Ambassador) in London as the new Attorney-General and chose Carl Alfonso as the National Security Minister.

Interestingly, the Prime Minister disclosed that while she had asked for and received the resignation of Ramlogan, she fired Griffith when he didn’t hand in his resignation.

“I cannot and will not sit idly by while the office of the Attorney-General and that of the Minister of National Security and the head of the Police Complaints Authority are being compromised and brought into disrepute by such allegation that have warranted a police inquiry,” the Prime Minister told the nation.

Persad-Bissessar then called for a wide-spread independent probe into the affair which has shaken the government to the core. It was the fourth cabinet reshuffle since she became the country’s leader and with a general election expected to be held in a few months, the political temperate is rising as Opposition Leader as Dr. Keith Rowley insists the scandal and other events should be enough to force the Prime Minister to call the election sooner than most people thought she would.

“It should now be crystal clear to the citizenry of Trinidad and Tobago that the crime and criminality which have been plaguing our nation have now identified themselves at the cabinet door,” charged Rowley.

“This reshuffle for the nth time is a poor attempt to create a distraction, a diversionary tactic aimed at turning the population away from the real issue, the real scandalous issue which is the extended reach of allegations of criminal conduct within the cabinet and outward to others who are now scampering to find criminal defense lawyers, much as they did when the email-gate matter was exposed for investigation,” Dr. Rowley said.

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BVN National News Wire