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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

President Trump police speech "jokes" about excessive use of force

By CHARLES BROOKS


President Trump has again raised concerns with his tough on crime message when he publicly endorsed the use of police violence.  On July 28th, the president visited Suffolk County Community College to talk about the federal plans for the MS-13 gang“…Right now, we have less than 6,000 Enforcement and Removal Officers in ICE.  This is not enough to protect a nation of more than 320 million people.  It's essential that Congress fund another 10,000 ICE officers…” But then the president went on to say: “And when you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon -- you just see them thrown in, rough -- I said, please don’t be too nice.  Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you're protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over?  Like, don’t hit their head and they've just killed somebody -- don't hit their head.  I said, you can take the hand away, okay?”

While the White House dismissed the reckless remarks as a joke, widespread criticism and condemnation has been nevertheless unleashed from both law enforcement and civil liberties groups. Described as “unconscionable”, “irresponsible” and “unprofessional”, the president remarks underline the deep concerns that range from blatant violation of constitutional rights to the negative impact on police-community relations. What is equally disturbing is that in the past his inflammatory comments not only sparked several incidents of physical violence at his campaign events but his election victory triggered a nationwide outbreak of racial attacks.

This latest controversy should serve as a reminder of the 2016 campaign and primary season when Trump would often refer to himself as the law and order president; voiced his support for stop and frisk tactics and federal intervention as a way to deal with the gun violence in Chicago; while delivering his get tough message via social media: “This election is a choice between law, order & safety - or chaos, crime & violence. I will make America safe again for everyone.  Crime is out of control, and rapidly getting worse. Look what is going on in Chicago and our inner cities.”

As part of the presidential transition from Obama to Trump, the
White House website was redesigned to include issues deemed important to the new president such as Standing Up for our Law Enforcement Community. The new president escalated concerns with his appointment of Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. In his opening statement during his confirmation hearings, Sessions declared: “If we are to be more effective in dealing with rising crime, we will have to rely heavily on local law enforcement to lead the way. To do that, they must know that they are supported. If I am so fortunate as to be confirmed as Attorney General, they can be assured that they will have my support. In his six months as Attorney General, we’ve witnessed Sessions announcing his intention to resume the drug war, forfeit property and undo medical marijuana protections.

In addition to Trump’s controversial picks for Attorney General and the Supreme Court, he also signed three “law and order” executive orders that would; create a task force that would propose new legislation to reduce crime by highlighting drug trafficking, illegal immigration and violent crime; increase penalties for crimes committed against officers, and strengthen federal law to combat transnational criminal organizations and prevent international trafficking. 

Discussion Question:
Do you think the president was ‘joking’ when he made the remarks? Do you have any concerns about the possible implications of Trumps remarks? How much confidence do you have in the Congressional Black Caucus to impede the progress of the president’s plan for law and order? What about the larger civil rights/civil liberties community? What do you think is the best way to pressure Congress, and legislators at the state and local level?

Further Reading
Cops, civil rights groups brace for 'law and order' Trump

What the Trump administration wants you know about civil rights and policing




Monday, July 24, 2017

Are mandatory minimums the answer?

By Charles Brooks

The triumvirate of political leadership in Baltimore City has proposed controversial legislation in their tough approach to address the rising crime and murder rate.  On July 14th, Mayor Catherine Pugh, City Council President Bernard Young and Police Commissioner Kenneth Davis were joined by a group of supporters in announcing the proposed measure. “We are proposing that we will make it a misdemeanor crime punishable by a mandatory sentence of one year and a fine of $1000 for possessing an illegal handgun within 100 yards of a school, church, a public building or a place of public assembly, said Mayor Pugh. She cited the need for the proposal by offering the following crime data: a gun was used in 90% of murders; nearly half of the 184 victims of crime have been arrested for a crime involving a handgun; and in 2016 60% of years imposed through sentencing was suspended. Current state law calls for a 30-day minimum sentence eligible for suspension.    

There are plans for additional proposals to the state General Assembly to impose even stiffer penalties for illegal gun possession in Baltimore City such as an upgrade to a felony.  “…we’re going to ask them to push this forward and we will not stop until we get the law that says 5 years minimal penalty…” asserted Council President Young. The police commissioner dismissed concerns about criminal justice: “This isn’t about mass incarceration or locking up more people.  It is about holding the right people accountable and putting the right people in jail.” 

Although the mayor contends that this measure is just “one step” – there were several steps taken before this one.  For one, the commissioner was unsuccessful last year to get similar legislation passed by the General Assembly. Just last month in apparent frustration, Commissioner Davis announced that every patrol officer, detective, and administrative officers will put on uniforms and begin patrolling the streets in 12 hour shifts. There was also the mobile forensic unit borrowed from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for immediate identification of repeat offenders and to build cases for sentencing.

Less than a year ago, the Gun Violence Enforcement Unit was created with the mission to get more convictions. At the time, Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby said: "to ensure the aggregation of intelligence that's extracted from my criminal strategies unit and the Baltimore Police Department is used to not only apprehend and charge, but to convict those who are administering gun violence in the city."  In addition, there are the remnants from the former Mayor Sheila Dixon's term in office ten years ago such as GunStat, a gun task force and the gun offender registry.  There is also the myriad of issues surrounding the defunct jail system.

Meanwhile in light of the current climate around policing, this controversial proposal has certainly ignited debate and criticism. There are op-eds expressing outrage, activists and community leaders are alarmed while media reports indicate that several members of the Baltimore City Council are not in support of the measure. Adam Jackson, the CEO of the Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle (LBS) had this to say about the proposal: “We think this bill is a tremendously short-sighted approach to stemming violence in Baltimore. This “one-size-fits-all” approach leads to severe unintended consequences e.g. targeting those trying to protect themselves as opposed to violent criminals, constructive possession traps innocent people who had nothing to do with the weapon, etc. Jackson continues, “Cases will be pled out to lower sentences not because of weak prosecutors/judges but because of bad policing.” Jackson also pointed out that Baltimore City has not invested in black people around the anti-violence movement in Baltimore, citing examples such as the Baltimore Cease Fire movement, or Safe Streets Baltimore or the Kujichagulia Center.

Discussion Question
There is an 18 year old, who was recently arrested for illegal firearm possession.  He was in a car with two other people, in the back seat when the car was stopped and pulled over.  The arresting police officer stopped the car because he smelled marijuana from the car.  When the officer searched the car, he found a loaded .22 hand gun under the drivers seat. He was searched and no drugs or weapons were found - nothing illegal at all was found.  He was arrested on two counts of illegal firearm possession and denied $10,000 bail despite no criminal history.  If the proposed legislation was in place - he would spend a year in jail.

What are your thoughts about this case - should he have to spend a year in jail considering the circumstances, i.e., no criminal history, nothing found from search, etc. 

Update:
The initial proposal has been amended to apply mandatory sentences on the second offense with a gun or in connection with violent crime.


Further Reading




Friday, June 30, 2017

When free speech is not so free...

By  Charles Brooks


In recent months, there’s been an unmistakable trend amongst college professors who dare to express their political views and opinions.  Professor Lisa Durden was fired from Essex County College because of controversial remarks she made on June 6th as a guest on the Fox news program, The Tucker Carlson Show.   She was invited on the show to discuss her views about a black only Memorial Day event sponsored by a Black Lives Matter chapter, The Black Youth Project 100.  The show host, Tucker Carlson, took issue with Ms. Durden when she expressed her support for the event as the two engaged in a heated exchange on the air.

Well, Ms. Durden’s comments set in motion a series of events that ultimately ended with her termination as an adjunct professor at Essex County College.  She was immediately suspended for six days before a public meeting was held where school administrators decided to terminate her employment.  Essex County College President, Anthony Munroe said in a statement: “In consideration of the College’s mission, and the impact that this matter has had on the College’s fulfillment of its mission, we cannot maintain an employment relationship with the adjunct.” 

But when taking a closer look at the actions taken by the College, their actions do appear questionable and contradictory when there’s another line of facts to consider. There’s the matter of her affiliation to Essex County College that was not displayed during the program because she was identified as a political commentator.  Mr. Munroe even admitted as much in his statement when he said that her comments "...was in no way claiming to represent the views and beliefs of the College, and does not represent the College..."  But he went on to say: "The College affirms its right to select employees who represent the institution appropriately and are aligned with our mission,” which clearly applied to Ms. Durden just a few months back when she was hired in January.

In fact, two months after came on board, she was a panelist in the school’s annual conference, ironically under the theme: “Radical Humanities:The Radical Tradition in the Humanities”. Ms. Durden appeared on the “Radical Approaches to Women and Film” panel where her topic of discussion was Women in Media.

But before coming to Essex, she was a frequent guest on Fox News shows as the resident supporter for Black Lives Matter and other topics related to race. She participated on a Black Lives Matter panel, debated pro-police supporters such as Mark Furhman and Bo Dietl, provided biting commentary about Dallas police officers being shot, and she chimed in on the resignation of the University of Missouri President after racism emerged there.

Meanwhile Ms. Durden has taken her case to the court of public opinion via interviews and social media. Her supporters have held rallies and press conferences as well as started an online petition with 2460 signatures.  Even conservative voices have joined the chorus of supporters for Durden and her reinstatement.

Ms. Durden joins a long line of professors who have felt the whip  of retribution - such as Professor's Keeanga Yamatta-Taylor (Princeton University), Johnny Eric Williams (Trinity College), George Ciccariello-Maher (Drexel University),  Katherine Dettwyler (Delaware University), Tommy Curry (Texas A&M), and Lars Maischak (California State University) all have suffered in one way or another because they dared to express their political views. 

Discussion Question: In light of these facts, what are your thoughts about this case? About professors expressing their political views? Should the Essex County College reinstate Professor Durden? What can be done to ensure the freedom of speech and academic freedom for college professors?









Friday, June 23, 2017

What exactly does the CBC want?

By Charles Brooks 

Less than two weeks left with the Obama presidency, members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) discussed their plans to be more aggressive with the incoming president, Donald Trump. Well, after just six months of Trump being in office the CBC has seen enough as CBC Chairman Rep.Cedric Richmond (D-LA) rejected the president’s invitation to meet with him at the White House. In his letter to the president and in subsequent media interviews, Rep. Richmond outlined specific concerns around the Trump administration’s plans to dismantle healthcare, resurrect the drug war, disregard consent decrees, and implement billion dollars in cuts to Pell Grants.  The CBC Chair also reminded the president of his failure to respond to outreach to him of eight letters and a policy report submitted during their first meeting back in March.  “Through an objective assessment, we have seen no evidence that your administration acted on our calls for action, and we have in fact witnessed steps that will affirmatively hurt black communities,” wrote Rep. Richmond. In the letter as well as in a number of media interviews explaining their decision, the CBC Chair dismissed the would-be meeting as a “social gathering”.

I think we are clear on what the CBC does not want but what they do want and the path to get there is not as equally clear.  This is disturbing particularly considering their first meeting with the president back in March was viewed as “productive” and “frank” with a commitment for more regularly scheduled meetings to discuss policy issues.  So the first – if not, obvious – question is what exactly is being accomplished by not sitting with the president to address the issues and concerns they’ve outlined in their letters and policy paper? Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to meet with the president to discuss these critical issues?  Which brings us to the next question, what is their next move - or in other words what is their Plan B? Well they did submit an alternative federal budget for the FY2018 as they’ve always done since 1981 with little fanfare. But realistically, what are the chances that a Republican majority in Congress will act or much less debate the merits of the CBC’s alternative budget?

This apparent public display of defiance by the CBC actually raises more concerns about their effectiveness and, yes their relevance. For eight years, they served with a muted voice while providing a protective shield against Republican attacks on President Obama. Equally troubling was their refusal to endorse one of their own, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md) for the open Senate seat in Maryland. And then we learned about their ties to corporate interests during the 2016 presidential campaign. 

Authors of the CBC Report Card 2016, Glen Ford and Patrice Johnson brings into question the CBC’s leadership with an extensive analysis of ten key votes between September 2015 and September 2016.  Their report states the following: “What the CBC Monitor Report Cards bring into focus is that the Black Caucus is simply an appendage of Democratic leadership in the House. It has no independent existence or policy, and is therefore not a leadership institution for Black America. Rather, it is the Black face of the Democratic Party. Only about one-third of its members (the 14 that voted against the internet “terror” bill, last December, for example) are willing to break with their party on occasion.”
for 
In his letter to the president, Rep. Richmond left the door open for the President to invite individual CBC members for future meetings with him and cabinet officials. 

Discussion Question: 
Should individual members of the CBC pursue individual meetings with the president? What plan of action should the CBC pursue in this age of Trump?

Further Reading: