Monday, May 27, 2024

Tennessee rep calls Memphis preemption bill worse than “overreach”

By Sam Stockard

Governor signs measure turning back city ordinance despite speaking with mother of slain motorist

A Memphis state representative is calling a preemption bill signed into law by the governor more than a case of “overreach” as it turns back efforts to stop “pretextual” traffic stops such as those that led to the 2023 death of motorist Tyre Nichols.

“The majority once again is more concerned with being patriarchal and telling us poor folks in Memphis and Shelby County how to live and taking the authority that’s been vested by the voters and really making it moot,” Democratic state Rep. G.A. Hardaway said Monday. 

The Republican-controlled General Assembly passed legislation this year prohibiting a Memphis City Council ban on “pretextual” stops, including those for a bad tail light. Only stops for “primary” offenses were to be allowed.

The Legislature’s move came after Nichols’ parents, RowVaughn and Rodney Wells, worked with Memphis officials to end stereotyping that can turn into violent incidents. 

Nichols died in January 2023 after being pulled over for reckless driving, then was beaten by police officers. The death led to local requests for a federal investigation of Memphis police policies. 

The majority once again is more concerned with being patriarchal and telling us poor folks in Memphis and Shelby County how to live and taking the authority that’s been vested by the voters and really making it moot.

– Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis

Gov. Bill Lee said last week he spoke with Mrs. Wells during this year’s session as she lobbied against the bill. He noted he appreciated her ability to express her views passionately without being disrespectful and even found her approach “inspirational.”

Yet he signed the bill she opposed anyway, pointing out he disagreed with her views on the legislation.

Five police officers were charged in connection with Nichols’ death, and one pleaded guilty in November 2023 to federal and state charges.

A U.S. Department of Justice investigation into Memphis Police practices continues, according to Hardaway, who sought the federal probe of police policy after helping lead a local group that put together police statistics.

The Wells family could not be reached for comment on the governor’s decision to sign the bill into law. But during the 2023 session, Mrs. Wells said she felt police were “harassing the Black citizens of Memphis.” Her husband contended police are “discriminating” against people of color, and, as a result, “too many parents are going through what we’re going through — senselessly.”

The legislation reversing Memphis’ traffic stop ordinance was sponsored by Republican Sen. Brent Taylor of Memphis and Republican Rep. John Gillespie of Memphis.

Rep. John Gillespie called for a vote on a measure limiting local officials' ability to monitor police traffic stops. (Photo: John Partipilo)
 Rep. John Gillespie called for a vote on a measure limiting local officials’ ability to monitor police traffic stops. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Gillespie also spoke with the Wells family during this year’s session but moved ahead with his bill when they weren’t present and said those who oppose state traffic laws should change them instead of “enacting local ordinances that are in conflict with state law.” Gillespie came under criticism for bringing the bill up for a House vote several days after the Wells family visited the State Capitol to lobby against the measure.

Taylor also was adamantly opposed to the Memphis ordinance and backed several law-and-order measures in hopes of curbing crime in urban Shelby County.

Hardaway argues that most Shelby County residents supported the local ordinance and added he is “suspicious” that the bill’s passage had more to do with political contributions than good law enforcement policy.

He was unaware the governor had spoken with the Wells family but said, “They’re very gracious in the way they accommodate individuals who think like they think and those who don’t. They know that there’s a certain level of sensitivity that some people are gonna express but it won’t be followed up by any real serious work to prevent the circumstances that caused Tyre Nichols’ death.”

Local research presented to the U.S. Department of Justice verified there was enough evidence to show patterns of discriminatory police work, Hardaway said. He was uncertain when the federal report would be finished.

This article originally appeared in the Tennessee Lookout on May 24th, 2024.


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Memorial Day Weekend Could See Mass Evictions - Oklahoma County Has 387 Cases on Thursday’s Docket

By Heather Warlick

Memorial Day weekend could see more people than usual packing up their homes in a hurry after being evicted. Thursday, Judge Trent Pipes will handle more than 380 eviction cases in small claims court, more than double the usual number of cases heard in a single day.

Oklahoma County Court Clerk Rick Warren said the holiday weekend is to blame for the overload.

Normally, Warren said, eviction court dockets contain no more than 180 cases. Thursday’s docket contains 387; Wednesday’s docket has 222. Pipes consented to the extra caseload. 

If all 387 defendants on Thursday’s docket attend their hearings, which usually take place during a two-hour time period, the judge will have less than 19 seconds per case to ascertain the facts and render decisions. That’s without any pauses between cases. 

However, a whopping 78% of Oklahoma evictions that resulted in judgments against tenants in 2023 were due to tenants not appearing to defend themselves at their hearings, said Amy Coldren, CEO at Shelterwell. Since 48% of cases result in judgments, that means 35% of all eviction cases resulted in losses by default. 

For those who do show up, Legal Aid Services Oklahoma will have its entire team of housing attorneys offering free representation for tenants. Some may not know to seek out Legal Aid Services, Executive Director Michael Figgins said. 

“For those who do know to seek Legal Aid, the docket size will put efficiency as the paramount goal and increase pressure to hurry and afford little time to get facts and prepare,” Figgins said. 

Factors other than the holiday weekend contribute to what eviction attorney Robert Goldman called a perfect storm for Thursday’s docket. 

Eviction cases are often filed after that month’s rent is late, resulting in more late-month hearings. 

Eviction hearings must take place at least five days after a summons is issued, but no more than 10 days after. That requirement can force a lot of cases onto a docket. Since Oklahoma County District Court holds eviction proceedings Mondays through Thursdays, with Fridays dark, a missed day on Monday means cases have to be crunched into the former week.

Attorney Richard Klinge said that because many people don’t show up for hearings and, oftentimes, agreements or settlements are made outside the courtroom, the remaining parties who wish to go before the judge will all have their chance. 

Klinge is the director of the Pro-Bono Housing Eviction Legal Assistance Program at the Oklahoma City University School of Law. “We have tremendous judges in Oklahoma County, and in six years, I have never been denied the right to a full hearing,” Klinge said. “Do I wish the dockets were not that big? Sure, but the Legislature’s got to address that.”. 

Statutory details like these can lead to massive overloads once or twice a year, said Legal Services Oklahoma attorney Justin Neal.

“I don’t think any of this is fair, but the law isn’t about being fair,” Neal said. “The law is about enforcing statutes.”

Neal said he doesn’t know how any person can be reasonably expected to look at all of the necessities of a proper eviction filing and confirm that everything is correct in such a short time. 

A similarly overloaded docket hit the courthouse about a year ago, Neal said. Legal Aid Services managed to help everyone who sought it, but it was still a crazy day.

Goldman said he has seen days like this, usually about once or twice a year. He’s been in Oklahoma courthouses since the mid-1970s. 

He said it would be like any other day, only faster-paced, and that Pipes will be able to accurately determine within the parameters of the law the facts of each case and return a judgment or other decision.

Goldman will bring a second lawyer or assistant to court on Thursday to help handle his caseload. 

On Thursday, Tulsa County District Court has only 91 cases on the docket, split into four time slots. May 28, the day after the holiday, has 139.

Kilinge and Warren both said extending the time limit for eviction hearings would help prevent overscheduled dockets.

“This will probably be the biggest docket of the year,” Figgins said. “If this does not sound fair it is because it is not fair.” 

This article originally appeared in Oklahoma Watch on May 24th, 2024.


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Thursday, May 16, 2024

The Media Mogul Trying to Buy Baltimore’s Mayoral Race

By Pete Tucker

Baltimore’s mayoral election tomorrow will be shaped by “the single biggest donation to a political campaign in city history,” but search campaign finance records, and you won’t find it anywhere. What you will find, however, are plenty of other donations from David Smith.

To End 'Failed Approach,' Biden DOJ Formally Moves to Reclassify Marijuana

The decision "validates the experiences of tens of millions of Americans, as well as tens of thousands of physicians, who have long recognized that cannabis possesses legitimate medical utility," said one advocate.

As Democratic lawmakers push for the federal decriminalization of marijuana, U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday announced the Department of Justice was formalizing a proposal to remove the substance from Schedule I—the legal classification which for decades has placed marijuana in the same category as heroin.

The Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) proposal to reschedule marijuana under Schedule III—which would place it alongside substances like testosterone and steroids—was submitted as a Notice of Formal Rulemaking in the Federal Register, commencing a 60-day public comment period.

Biden Moves Forward With 'Immoral' $1 Billion Arms Shipment to Israel

The new shipment was announced "right after the State Department admits Israel has 'likely' used U.S.-supplied weapons in violation of humanitarian law," said one journalist.

Less than a week after U.S. President Joe Biden said he was pausing a shipment of thousands of bombs to Israel, citing concerns over the safety of civilians in Rafah and other "population centers" in Gaza, the White House informed Congress Tuesday that it will soon send over $1 billion more in arms and ammunition to the Israel Defense Forces.

The package includes about $700 million for tank ammunition, $500 million in tactical vehicles, and $60 million in mortar rounds, congressional aides toldThe Associated Press.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

What students protesting Israel’s Gaza siege want — and how their demands on divestment fit into the BDS movement

By Mira Sucharov, Carleton University

A wave of protests expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people is spreading across college and university campuses. There were more than 400 such demonstrations by the end of April 2024 just in the U.S., with many more in Canada and other countries.

The specific demands vary from place to place. What unites them is a call for schools to use their financial leverage and other kinds of influence to apply pressure on Israel.

The protesters are demanding divestment, meaning the sale of financial assets either related to Israeli companies or shares in other corporations perceived to assist the Israeli military. In addition, many protests include calls for the disclosure of those financial ties. They also feature demands for colleges and universities to distance themselves from Israel by ending study-abroad programs and academic exchanges.

Still much unknown on how marijuana policies would change in states under Biden plan

By Jacob Fischler

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has proposed loosening the illegal status of marijuana at the federal level – but that doesn’t mean the federal government now condones recreational or medicinal use in the many states that have legalized the drug.

Moving marijuana from the government’s list of the most dangerous and least useful substances to a less serious category was a clear signal that the federal government, at least under President Joe Biden’s administration, wants to ease restrictions on a drug that’s been legal in an increasing number of states for more than a decade.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Dozens march to Flint city hall as the water crisis turns 10 year old

Chanting “Clean water is what we demand,” “Water is a right” and “No justice, no peace,” dozens of people marched to Flint City Hall on Thursday to demand “justice and accountability” as the Flint water crisis turns 10 years old. 

“This march is not just about remembering the past; it’s about shaping our future,” said Claire McClinton of Flint. “We must stand together to ensure that no community ever suffers the same fate as Flint.” 

Residents, activists and researchers have described the Flint water crisis as one of the most egregious cases of environmental racism the state and country have ever faced.  

Tough-on-crime bill imposing adult sentences on juveniles heads to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk

By Anita Wadhwani

Senator says the measure brings “massive repercussions,” complicated jurisdiction and legal questions

Teens as young as 14 years old who commit serious crimes in Tennessee will face up to five years of adult incarceration or probation once their juvenile sentence ends under a bill now awaiting Gov. Bill Lee’s likely signature.

The measure also requires juvenile court judges to automatically transfer 16- and 17- year olds facing first and second degree murder, or attempted murder, to adult court. 

Saturday, April 27, 2024

News of Mass Graves Isn’t Much News to US Outlets

The bodies of over 300 people were discovered in a mass grave at the Nasser medical complex in Khan Younis, a Gaza city besieged by Israeli forces. The discovery of these Palestinian bodies, many of which were reportedly bound and stripped, is more evidence of "plausible" genocide committed by Israel during its bombardment of Gaza. Over 34,000 Palestinians have died thus far, with more than two-thirds of the casualties being women and children (Al Jazeera, 4/21/24).