Today's LACP news:
November 25, 2014
Ferguson Smolders After Night Of Fires, Unrest Following Grand Jury Decision
by Ed Mazza
Ferguson, Missouri, is waking up to a city that is still smoldering after a night of unrest following a grand jury's decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.
At least a dozen buildings were torched and looted, many of them local businesses that police said were total losses. Dozens of cars -- including two police cruisers and rows of vehicles at a car dealership -- were also vandalized and left charred. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said he heard about 150 gunshots, none from police.
" What I've seen tonight is probably much worse than the worst night we had in August," he said, referring to the summer protests after the shooting death of Brown, an unarmed black teenager who some witnesses say had his hands up when he was shot on Aug. 9.
Police said they made at least 61 arrests, and that there were only minor injuries.
Shortly after St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch made the rambling nighttime announcement, officer Wilson's grand jury testimony was released, in which he claimed Brown looked like a "demon" during the deadly confrontation.
"I mean it was, he's obviously bigger than I was and stronger and the, I've already taken two to the face and I didn't think he would, the third one could be fatal if he hit me right ...Or at least unconscious and then who knows what would happen to me after that," Wilson said during his grand jury testimony.
The prosecutor's office also
released photos of Wilson taken after the incident that show his injuries from the confrontation, which appear to be a bruise on his face and a mark on his neck. The photos, which were used as evidence in the proceedings, had not been previously released to the public.
Other grand jury evidence released overnight reiterated witnesses' firm beliefs that they saw Brown throw his hands up before he was shot.
As about 1,000 vocal protesters gathered on Ferguson's main street to learn the grand jury's decision, Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, cried out in anguish while standing on top of a car.
Brown's family also released a statement, which read in part:
"We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions," Brown's family said in a statement. "While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen."
As President Barack Obama spoke to the nation and appealed for calm, the tense demonstrations were already starting to boil over into violence.
On West Florissant Avenue, a focal point of summer protests, police ordered protesters off the streets. But once police left, some smashed the windows of a McDonald's and others set fire to a beauty supply store and other businesses.
The unrest in the wake of this news wasn't limited to Ferguson and the surrounding area. Protests also sprung up across the nation. In New York, demonstrators crowded into Times Square and someone sprayed fake blood on NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton.
Also in the city, protesters shut down at least three major bridges while decrying other police-involved shootings.
Politicians and community leaders and change-makers alike pleaded for peace. But fury had already spread across the United States.
In Seattle, protesters reportedly threw rocks at cars and eventually shut down I-5. Others linked arms at 12th and Pike:
In Oakland, Calif., vandals lit fires in trash cans, spray painted anti-police slogans on buildings and blocked a major freeway.
In Los Angeles, protesters took to the streets and at one point tried to take to the freeway:
In downtown Los Angeles, police used foam projectiles to disperse a crowd.
However, it's in Ferguson where by far the most devastating damage took place.
"We're going to have to come together and be better," Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol said during a news conference held at about 1:30 a.m. local time. "We're going to have to come together to make some changes. But we have to understand that this community has to be whole, and right now this community is really fractured."
After Ferguson, can the use of force by police be addressed?
by Stephanie Condon
After meeting for 25 days, a Missouri grand jury has decided that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson will face no charges for shooting and killing Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old in August.
The decision, announced Monday night, is a profound disappointment to many seeking justice for Brown and other victims of unjustified police force. However, the discussion that activists are hoping to spark -- in Ferguson and nationwide -- "doesn't start or end" with the grand jury's decision, Montague Simmons, chairman of the Organization for Black Struggle, told CBS News.
"The community's outraged not just by Mike Brown," he said, but also by repeated stories of African-Americans who are wrongly shot by police, like 28-year-old Akai Gurley who was killed in New York last week, or 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was killed on Sunday in Cleveland.
"Black skin cannot be used as probable cause," Simmons said.
Reports out of Missouri, Rhode Island, New York and elsewhere suggest racial bias in policing is a widespread problem. It's a serious enough concern that the Justice Department in September launched a major, five-city probe into the issue. At the same time, at least one lab-based study out of Washington state showed that local officers were slower to aim their weapons at black suspects in simulated scenarios.
Whether racially biased or otherwise, there's little information available about the use of force by police. The FBI reports on "justifiable" police homicides -- there were 410 in 2012 -- but does not report on unjustified homicides, or about nonlethal uses of force. Only a small fraction of the nation's police forces produce reports on misconduct.
Simmons and others have said that collecting such data would be a strong first step toward improving police conduct and police relations with the communities they serve.
"It would help at least determine whether [racially-motivated] behavior exists," Simmons said.
Still, he insisted it's just the first step.
"The people that were actually hired to protect us -- who were empowered to protect us and our rights -- are attacking us, and it's intolerable," he said. "There are solutions that can actually bring those relationships back into balance, but we need to compel elected officials to do their job."
David Klinger, a University of Missouri-St. Louis professor who formerly served as a police officer, told CBS News that "it's important for people to not draw conclusions that cops are out there looking to shoot people -- they're not."
His research into the issue, which has included interviewing hundreds of officers involved in shootings, shows that in "the vast majority of cases where officers have lawful cause to shoot, they hold fire."
Still, he said, there are without doubt "lawful but awful" incidents -- where an officer may have been legally justified in using force but did so unnecessarily. Law enforcement officers have a broader right to use force -- including deadly force -- than normal citizens.
"What I can tell you from interviewing officers is... often times the training is not what it should be," Klinger said.
Every state has some kind of licensing process for police officers that mandates certain levels of training, but Klinger said that it's up to the departments themselves to do more than the bare minimum and ensure their officers are ready to engage with their communities. He said that establishing a use-of-force database would be "hugely valuable" for improving those efforts.
"Every time a police officer discharges his or her firearm, we need to know that," he said. "We need to get fine grain information about the incident -- race of those involved, age, what type of weapons did the suspect have, that the officer used."
With that sort of information, he said, "Not only will we be able to track the rate at which cops are shooting, we'll also be able to get valuable information about where the shootings occur so we can improve police training."
After the Michael Brown shooting, the Justice Department stepped into Ferguson to help improve the police department's community relations. Specifically, the Justice Department's Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services (COPS) has been on the ground working with local police forces and community groups.
Along with imparting advice through agencies like COPS, the federal government can encourage stronger police conduct with the grants it doles out. Already, the Obama administration is reviewing policies that let police departments acquire military equipment for free from the federal government. Congress is similarly looking at that issue. A report produced this year by the Brennan Center for Justice suggested at the administration should review all grant programs for police -- not just those which transfer military equipment or funding for military equipment.
Klinger said that relying primarily on reforms at the federal level can make the process unnecessarily political. Furthermore, he noted that there's no "one size fits all" approach to improving police forces' community relations.
"You cannot train a police officer in Bismarck, North Dakota... with the same tactics and procedures as I was trained with in South Central Los Angeles," he said.
Civil rights groups and others have called for other reforms at the local and state level. For example, Trevor Burrus, a research fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, suggested that after an officer uses force, the adjudication process should be taken out of the hands of the police and their natural allies, like county prosecutors.
"Internal affairs doesn't really seem to work in most situations," he said.
While it's impossible to know how often officers are exonerated for using force, Burrus said his work tracking the issue leads him to believe that officers are let off the hook far too often. The Cato Institute runs the National Police Misconduct Reporting Project, which uses media reports to track alleged and confirmed cases of police misconduct. In 2010, the group found 1,575 reported allegations of excessive force.
"Power without accountability is always a problem," Burrus said.
Simmons agreed that police forces should be subject not just to internal reviews, but civilian oversight as well.
"We've got to get serious about what it means to be held accountable," he said.
Do Online Death Threats Count as Free Speech?
by EMILY BAZELONNOV
Exhibit 12 in the government's case against Anthony Elonis is a screenshot of a Facebook post he wrote in October 2010, five months after his wife, Tara, left him. His name appears in the site's familiar blue, followed by words that made Tara fear for her life: ‘'If I only knew then what I know now . . . I would have smothered your ass with a pillow. Dumped your body in the back seat. Dropped you off in Toad Creek and made it look like a rape and murder.''
Exhibit 13, also pulled from Facebook, is a thread that started when Tara's sister mentioned her plans to take her niece and nephew — Elonis's children — shopping for Halloween costumes. Tara responded and then Elonis did, too, saying their 8-year-old son ‘'should dress up as a Matricide.'' He continued: ‘'I don't know what his costume would entail though. Maybe your head on a stick?'' This time, Elonis included a photo of himself, holding a cigarette to his lips.
After Tara saw these posts — and another one, from the same time, which begins: ‘'There's one way to love ya but a thousand ways to kill ya. I'm not gonna rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts'' — she went to court in Reading, Pa., and got a protection-from-abuse order against her husband.
On Nov. 7, three days after Tara got the ruling, Elonis linked to a video satire by the comedy troupe the Whitest Kids U' Know. On camera, a member of the group mocks the law against threatening to kill the president. Elonis mimicked the group's lines but subbed in his own text, to make it about Tara. ‘'I also found out that it's incredibly illegal, extremely illegal to go on Facebook and say something like the best place to fire a mortar launcher at her house would be from the cornfield behind it because of easy access to a getaway road and you'd have a clear line of sight through the sun room,'' he wrote. ‘'Yet even more illegal to show an illustrated diagram.'' Elonis added a diagram with a getaway road, a cornfield and a house. ‘'Art is about pushing limits,'' his post concluded. ‘'I'm willing to go to jail for my Constitutional rights. Are you?''
At the same time that he was posting about Tara, Elonis used Facebook to threaten his co-workers at an amusement park in nearby Allentown, where he worked. In one photo, from Halloween, Elonis held a fake knife to a co-worker's neck. They were both dressed in costume, but Elonis added the caption, ‘'I wish.'' His boss saw the image and caption and fired Elonis. He also called the F.B.I. In December 2010, Elonis was charged under a federal law that makes it a crime to use a form of interstate communication (like the Internet) to threaten to injure another person.
A jury convicted Elonis, and he spent more than three years in prison. On December 1, the Supreme Court will hear Elonis's First Amendment challenge to his conviction — the first time the justices have considered limits for speech on social media. For decades, the court has essentially said that ‘'true threats'' are an exception to the rule against criminalizing speech. These threats do not have to be carried out — or even be intended to be carried out — to be considered harmful. Bans against threats may be enacted, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in 2003, to protect people ‘'from the fear of violence'' and ‘'from the disruption that fear engenders.'' Current legal thinking is that threats do damage on their own.
Elonis, however, claims that he didn't make a true threat, because he didn't mean it. ‘'I would never hurt my wife,'' he told the jury. ‘'I never intended to threaten anyone. This is for me. This is therapeutic.'' Talking about the loss of his wife, he continued, ‘'helps me to deal with the pain.'' He had copied the Whitest Kids U' Know, along with the rapper Eminem, to try his hand at art and parody. Tara said she knew her husband had borrowed some of his words, but they still scared her. ‘'I felt like I was being stalked,” she said in court. ‘'I felt extremely afraid for mine and my children's and my family's lives.''
The central question for the Supreme Court will be whose point of view — the speaker's, or the listener's — matters. The jury was instructed to convict Anthony Elonis if it was reasonable for him to see that Tara would interpret his posts as a serious expression of intent to harm her. The court could uphold the standard, or it could require that jurors be asked to convict only if they believe the speaker truly intended to threaten harm. In essence, the court will have to decide what matters more: one person's freedom to express violent rage, or another person's freedom to live without the burden of fear?
The legal issue is connected to a larger question: how to deal with the frequent claim that online speech is a special form of playacting, in which a threat is as unreal as an attack on an avatar in World of Warcraft. Gilberto Valle — known as the Cannibal Cop for fetish chat-room messages in which he talked of capturing, cooking and eating specific women — persuaded a judge to overturn his conviction by saying he was just expressing a dark fantasy. In the ongoing ‘'GamerGate'' campaign, a faction of video-game enthusiasts tweeted death threats to women who had criticized misogyny in video-game culture. When a few of the women felt scared and left their homes, some gamers scoffed, dismissing the threats as ephemeral.
If it's possible to shrug off anonymous online threats, it's much harder to do that when a threat is made by someone you know intimately. In these cases, dread felt by targets is rational and may leave them struggling to sleep, eat or work. To escape, they may uproot themselves and their families. This kind of disruption fits with the Supreme Court's rationale for allowing laws that ban threats. ‘'We usually think of freedom of speech as enhancing liberty, but this is speech that takes away someone else's liberty,'' said Danielle Citron, a law professor at the University of Maryland.
For years, activists have lobbied for laws that punish stalking, given that burden of fear. Elonis's threats, they say, should be treated like stalking because it was reasonable for Tara to feel threatened by them. Cindy Southworth, a vice president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, points out that when a relationship goes bad, threats become both a tool of manipulation and a reliable predictor of physical assault. ‘'Every abuser says, ‘I didn't mean for her to think I would kill her,''' Southworth said.
But advocates for civil liberties want to give more breathing room to free speech and don't think the question of whether a statement online qualifies as a threat should be ‘'in the eye or ear of the beholder,'' the A.C.L.U. and other groups put in a brief they filed in the Elonis case. ‘'Words are slippery things, and one person's opprobrium may be another's threat.'' In a case that worries free-speech activists, a teenager named Justin Carter got into a Facebook exchange and wrote, ‘'I think I'ma SHOOT UP A KINDERGARTEN.'' After someone in Canada alerted the police, he spent months in a Texas jail for that comment and is still facing charges. ‘'I wasn't trying to scare anyone, I was trying to be witty and sarcastic,'' he wrote to the judge. ‘'I failed, and I was arrested.''
To prevent people from being locked up over a misunderstanding, the A.C.L.U., like Elonis, wants a higher bar for conviction. ‘'The age-old principle is that we don't criminalize speech without that clear intent,'' said Lee Rowland, an A.C.L.U. staff attorney.
The truth is that even when intent to do harm seems obvious, online threats are rarely prosecuted. Citron looked at the federal law that is the basis for the Elonis case and found that it has been enforced fewer than 50 times, online and off, over the past eight years. Stalking laws, domestic-violence advocates say, aren't enforced much, either.
If the Supreme Court requires evidence of a speaker's intent to harm in true-threats cases, it could give the police and prosecutors one more reason not to bring them. Maybe that's simply the unavoidable consequence of a broad interpretation of the First Amendment. Let's be clear, though, that such an approach to free speech doesn't come free. The choice in this case between points of view — Anthony's or Tara's — mirrors another choice, between types of personal liberty. His or hers.
Feds, state clash: Does new state immigrant policy pose public safety risk?
by Ana Radelat
Washington – The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency blasted a new state policy on when Connecticut's prisons will detain undocumented immigrants, saying it poses a risk to public safety and could release dangerous criminals into the community. The Malloy administration disagreed.
The state Department of Correction notified ICE last week in a memo from interim Commissioner Scott Semple that, as of Dec. 15, it will cease to honor ICE detention resquests and would hold for deportation only immigrants convicted of a violent felony or those subject to a court order.
A spokesman for ICE issued a statement Monday accusing the state of endangering public safety.
“The release of serious criminal offenders to the community, rather than to ICE custody for removal, undermines ICE's ability to protect public safety and impedes ICE from enforcing the nation's immigration laws,” said a statement from Daniel Modricker, a regional spokesman for ICE. “While some aliens may be arrested on minor criminal charges, they may also have more serious criminal backgrounds."
Some jurisdictions that have stopped honoring ICE's detainers have released dangerous criminals who have gone on to commit serious and violent crimes, Modricker said, rather than being turned over to ICE and placed in removal proceedings. In his speech on immigration last week, President Obama said he wanted to deport "felons and not families."
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a close ally of the Obama administration, downplayed the conflict with federal immigration officials.
“We notified them of the changes we were making," Malloy told The Mirror. "There's been some court cases that could lead us to being sued. We're making the policy compliant with recent case law. My job is to do that.”
Michael P. Lawlor, the governor's top adviser on criminal justice issues, said that the state was responding to a string of federal decisions, notably an Oregon case in which a federal judge found that jailing a defendant solely on the basis of an ICE detention request violated the woman's due-process rights.
By issuing a detainer, ICE requests that a law enforcement agency notify ICE before releasing a subject and keep him or her in custody for up to 48 hours, excluding weekends and holidays, to allow ICE to take custody. Three states—California, Colorado and Connecticut—have adopted the same policy of noncompliance, according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
In addition to those states, county officials have adopted similar policies. In most states, pre-trial prisoners are held in county jails, not state prisons. Connecticut has no county government.
Lawlor said the state policy poses no danger to public safety. All criminal defendants, whether they are citizens or undocumented, are subject to a bail commissioner's evaluation as to flight risk or a danger to the public, he said.
The Malloy administration's action takes the state one step further than most others in shielding the undocumented from deportation. It was cheered by immigrant advocates in the state.
In July of 2013, Connecticut became the first state to enact a version of the TRUST Act, a law that prevents state authorities from holding undocumented residents for immigration officials if they haven't committed serious crimes.
The state implemented the policy to settle a court case challenging the constitutionality of the state's previous policy of honoring all ICE detainers.
John Jairo Lugo of Unidad Latina en Acción said Semple's actions “improves upon the TRUST Act.”
“It means that people whose only issue is being a victim of unjust policies will now be protected from ICE's overreaching quota,” Lugo said.
Department of Correction spokeswoman Karen Martucci said her agency "routinely reviews its policies."
Martucci said concerns about public safety drove the latest policy change.
"Our concern was the full enforcement of ICE detainers would deter the immigrant community from reporting crimes," she said.
Two years ago, Malloy riled ICE when he informed the agency Connecticut would no longer participate in “Secure Communities,” a federal program to identify potentially deportable immigrants by providing immigration agents with fingerprints collected at local jails.
Sometimes, federal agents would ask local law enforcement officials to hold inmates believed to be in the country illegally beyond the length of their jail terms so that they could be transferred to federal custody.
Malloy said he would turn over these inmates on a case-by-case basis. Other states and local communities also defied Washington over the program, which was criticized by immigration advocates who said it eroded immigrant communities' trust in police and often resulted in the deportations of those accused of only minor infractions.
Last week, Obama said he would scrap “Secure Communities” as part of his immigration overhaul. He said federal agents should focus on deporting "felons, not families," and announced a new initiative, the Priority Enforcement Program, which would target only those convicted of serious crimes.
Obama said he would also provide the opportunity for millions of undocumented aliens to apply for provisional legal status. But to qualify, an immigrant must have no criminal record, belong to a “mixed family” whose members include U.S. citizens or legal residents and who have lived in the United States for at least five years.
Recent immigrants and those with criminal records or no relatives with legal status will continue to be deported, and ICE will continue to ask states to help the agency by issuing detainers.
Connecticut has a diverse immigrant community with peoples from South America, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, Asia, Europe and Africa. Many are here legally, but an estimated 55,000 to 100,000 are undocumented.