Social Justice Posts
Brief # 2 Social Justice
Breonna Taylor Case Update
By Erika Shannon
January 7, 2021
On March 13, 2020, Breonna Taylor was sleeping in her home when Louisville, Kentucky police executed a no-knock search warrant. The warrant was for another person, not Breonna Taylor or her boyfriend, the only people in the apartment at the time. While police claim that they announced themselves prior to entering, there are statements from neighbors to the contrary. When police entered without announcing who they were, Breonna Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, feared for their lives and her boyfriend brandished a gun. Walker was a licensed firearm holder and fired a shot in self-defense when the officers continually would not announce that they were members of law enforcement. Officers then negligently shot over twenty rounds into the apartment and ended up hitting Taylor eight times, killing her. While the case did not gain national attention at first, it did not take long for protests to pop up across the country in support of justice for Breonna Taylor.
There was no action being taken against the officers by the city of Louisville, and so the Taylor family filed a lawsuit against Louisville Police. The allegations were wrongful death, excessive force, and gross negligence. The family wished to be awarded compensatory and punitive damages, along with legal fees. On September 15, 2020, the mayor of Louisville announced that the city reached a $12 million dollar settlement with Breonna Taylor’s family. Besides compensation, the settlement also included policy changes that could help to reform police conduct in the city of Louisville and help stop situations like this from happening again in the future. There is no amount of money that could bring her daughter back or make this killing just; because of that, her mother decided that they will move forward and attempt to have the cops involved criminally charged in Taylor’s death.
Months and months went by before any type of justice was served for the killing of Breonna Taylor. This past September the attorney general of Kentucky, Daniel Cameron, convened a grand jury to review Taylor’s case. On September 23, 2020, it was announced that only one police officer would be indicted on three criminal charges of wanton endangerment. Officer Brett Hankison was indicted of the Class D felony, which is the least serious type of felony in Kentucky; his punishment would be possibly one to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000. The most heinous part of it all is that these charges are reportedly not related to Breonna Taylor’s death in any way, but have to do with Officer Hankison shooting his firearm ten times into neighboring apartments. There were two other officers in question, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove. They were not indicted, for the grand jury found they were justified in their use of force due to “self-defense.” It was revealed that Officer Cosgrove shot his weapon sixteen times total and he was the one who actually fired the shots that killed Taylor that night. At the time of Officer Hankison’s indictment, Cosgrove was still employed by the Louisville Metro Police Department.
In the latest news related to the Breonna Taylor case, two officers related to the fatal incident have received notice from the Louisville Police Interim Chief that they will be fired. The two detectives who received the notices were Joshua Jaynes and Myles Cosgrove; Cosgrove is the one thought to have fired the bullet that killed Taylor, while Jaynes allegedly lied about information obtained in the search warrant. Had Jaynes not violated procedures in preparing and obtaining that no-knock search warrant, Taylor may still be alive today. Firing these police officers is the first step to getting justice for Taylor’s family, but there is still a lot that can and should be done. Many people are still holding out hope that proper charges will be fired against the police officers who acted recklessly that night.
It is clear that justice has not yet been served in the excessive police killing of Breonna Taylor. The fact of the matter is that it took too long for something to be done in the first place. No-knock warrants should be a thing of the past, and police should be required to announce their presence in all situations. In today’s society, you never know who may want to harm you; it is like that if Kenneth Walker had shot an intruder that night, he would have been a hero to those around him. Instead, trained police officers barged into a home unannounced where a couple was sleeping and murdered one of them in cold blood. They proceeded to taunt Walker and tell him it was “unfortunate” that none of the gunfire had hit him. While all of this was happening, the actual target of the search warrant, Jamarcus Glover, was already allegedly in police custody. Let’s not forget, Taylor was designated as a “soft target,” which means she posed no threat to the officers serving the warrant. While the cops maintain that they did knock and identify themselves, there is a lot of evidence to the contrary. In the grand jury proceedings a neighbor testifies that the police did not identify themselves. Walker says there was pounding at the door but no one identified who they were. Had they announced who they were, Kenneth Walker would have never feared for his and Taylor’s life, and acted accordingly. Had they announced who they were instead of barging in with a battering ram, Breonna Taylor would still be alive. In a world where police officers cannot follow the rules any better than the criminals they are supposed to apprehend, there will never be any justice.
Social Justice Brief # 2
Alternatives to Deadly Force: Tasers
Policing in America Series: Alternatives to Deadly Force
By Laura Plummer
December 21, 2020
On Oct. 26, Philadelphia police shot and killed Walter Wallace Jr. in broad daylight. In a viral video of the incident, Wallace can be seen approaching officers with a knife. After issuing a verbal warning, they unloaded 14 rounds into the 27-year-old from a distance of around 15 feet. He quickly collapsed to the pavement and was later pronounced dead.
What the video doesn’t show is that police were actually responding to a 911 call that Wallace was experiencing a mental health crisis. The event sparked a nationwide debate about the role of law enforcement in mental health emergencies. At minimum, many believe Wallace’s death could have been prevented if officers on the scene had been equipped with tasers.
A taser is a conductive electrical device (CED) that causes painful muscle contractions. It came on the market in 1993 to provide law enforcement with an alternative to firearms. Over 90 percent of police departments in the U.S. issue them. But at the time of Wallace’s death, only one third of Philadelphia officers were trained to use tasers.
Tasers are often confused with stun guns. While both are CEDs that deliver an electric shock, a stun gun must be used directly against the skin. Depending on the model, police tasers can be effective at a distance up to 35 feet. This makes them especially useful if a suspect is fleeing, resisting arrest or behaving in a menacing way. They can incapacitate someone for five minutes to an hour without causing any permanent injury.
While tasers are less lethal than firearms, they still present the possibility of serious injury or death if misused or abused. Some people are also at higher risk, including pregnant women, the elderly, children, and those with certain medical conditions. In addition, secondary risks exist if a tasered subject falls from a height, crashes his vehicle, or hits the ground while running. Tasers have even been known to catch flammable materials on fire.
Despite the taser’s shortcomings, it is likely Walter Wallace Jr. would still be alive today had he been tasered rather than shot. The Philadelphia Police Department has a use-of-force continuum on the books, which prescribes an officer’s level of force according to an offender’s behavior. Additionally, the department requires police to exhaust all alternatives prior to discharging their firearms. Because Wallace was at a sufficient distance away, and armed with only a knife, a compliant officer may have first reached for his taser.
Policies around use of force and exhausting alternatives are only effective when police have access to less lethal weapons like tasers. When officers only have firearms in their tool belts, that will be their go-to weapon when responding to a threat.
This brief was compiled by Laura Plummer.
Brief # 1
New Defense Authorization Act Calls for the Taking Down of Confederate Monuments at Military Bases
By Erika Shannon
With 2020 finally coming to a close, many of us are beginning to look ahead to 2021. It is a new year with a new president and new possibilities for our country. Our government is certainly looking ahead, and recently, the House and Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2021. The spending bill sets aside $740 billion dollars for the United States military, and there are several new provisions within it. Perhaps the most interesting provision is also one of the reasons why Donald Trump wanted to veto the bill; this provision created a commission to help in removing names, symbols, displays, monuments and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederate States of America on buildings and at military bases. This change must happen within three years, and Trump has certainly been vocal about his disdain for this specific provision. There is speculation on what Trump will do with the bill once it comes time to sign it.
Now that the bill has officially passed both the House and the Senate, it will be landing on Trump’s desk any day now. He feels that the provision about renaming military bases and buildings is one of the deal breakers that this bill contains; however, any efforts to stop the passage of the bill are likely to be unsuccessful. With it passing 335-78 in the House and 84-13 in the Senate, the National Defense Authorization Act is more or less veto-proof at this point. Even if Trump wishes to veto it, it is probable that Congress will override his veto when they vote on it again. Essentially, by not signing the bill, Trump is simply prolonging the inevitable, because someway, somehow, our military does need their budget to be approved. This is something our divided Congress understands, but Trump still has apparently not figured it out. Trump’s time as our president is ticking away, and he is superficially trying to make the most of his remaining days in office. If he wishes to foster change before his anti-climactic exit, there are other ways to do it than to veto a military spending bill.
The National Defense Authorization Act for the year 2021 has been controversial since June; this is mostly due to the fact that military bases and buildings must change their names if they are named after anybody who helped to lead the Confederate States of America. Some, including Trump, are upset because they feel it is erasing a part of American history. The fact of the matter is that that is a dark spot on our history. The United States was divided during the Civil War, partially because the South did not wish to lose the free labor that came with slavery. The states that seceded did so because they did not want their economy ruined by the abolishment of slavery and they did not wish to accept Abraham Lincoln as their president. The Confederate States of America coming to exist is nothing for our country to be proud of, as some seem to think. The monuments, names, and homages to Confederate leaders in the South should be rightfully renamed. American history does honor our heroes – the heroes that fought for every American to be free, regardless of skin color. The Confederacy is a symbol of hate, bigotry, and lack of empathy.
Think of what it must be like to be a black US soldier working at one of the bases named after a confederate general. Many might feel a disconnect between their commitment to defending their country and working or training at a government base named after a person who was committed to defending slavery.
Public opinion on the matter is largely divided. While the general public is primarily against displaying the confederate flag in public places, feelings on renaming military bases and removing monuments is not as clear-cut. According to YouGov polls from earlier this year, only 20% of people strongly favor changing names of bases or buildings, while 30% of people strongly oppose. It is a hard choice for some who are holding on to our country’s historic past, no matter how wrong it was. Those who want them removed see the removal as a way to show that our values as a country are changing in a positive direction. There is no way to dismantle oppression unless change begins somewhere. These military bases and buildings names are not being changed to erase that part of our history. They are being changed so that every American can feel included, and they are being changed so that nobody has to be reminded of a time when slavery was widespread and acceptable. The America we live in now should not be a place that is built upon the backs of others; rather, it should be a place where everybody has a voice and nobody feels alienated.
Policing in America Series
“Police Wall of Shame” is a Policing in America series by Laura Plummer.
Philadelphia is the sixth largest city in the U.S. and the largest city in Pennsylvania. It has a population of just over 1.5 million, with roughly equal percentages of Black and white citizens (42 and 41 percent respectively). Its police department is the fourth largest in the country, behind only New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. It employs over 6,300 full-time sworn officers, around one for every 238 people.
While the defeat of Pres. Trump in the Nov. 3 election elicits hope for an end to police brutality in our nation, this is not a time to rest on our laurels. One need only examine the litany of untoward events involving the Philadelphia Police Department to be convinced of the ongoing need for radical and comprehensive police reform.
Date: Feb. 10, 2020
Incident: The department graduated 19 officers, none of whom was African-American, despite the city’s Black population of 42 percent.
Date: April 27, 2020
Incident: A report by the Penn. ALCU showed significant racial disparities when it came to traffic stops by the department. Black people accounted for 71 percent of all stops, despite only representing 42 percent of the city’s population.
Date: June 4, 2020
Incident: In his new budget, the mayor proposed a massive funding increase for the department while slashing funds for anti-violence programs and civilian oversight of the police.
Date: June 5, 2020
Incident: A high-ranking commander was charged with aggravated assault after being caught on video beating protestors with a baton. The same commissioner was cited in 2014 for failing to supervise four narcotics officers accused of theft and lying.
Date: June 6, 2020
Incident: Thousands of UPenn students and faculty urged the institution to cut its ties with the department, claiming a militarized police presence on campus.
Date: July 23, 2020
Incident: A report revealed that officers misused their body cameras. Misuse included not turning on the camera prior to handcuffing a person, not filing arrest paperwork, and, in one instance, turning off a camera to allow a fellow officer to beat a detainee.
Date: Sept. 17, 2020
Incident: A former officer claimed he was harassed and demeaned by his colleagues for his support of the Black Lives Matter movement, which he believed led to his unjust termination from the force.
Date: Oct. 9, 2020
Incident: A former officer was charged with murder in the 2017 fatal shooting of an unarmed Black man.
Date: Oct. 26, 2020
Incident: Police shot dead Walter Wallace Jr. in an incident captured on video.
The 27-year-old Black man was suffering from severe mental illness.
Date: Oct. 28, 2020
Incident: It was revealed that, at the time of the shooting of Walter Wallace Jr., only one third of officers was equipped with tasers, an alternative to firearms.
Date: Oct. 30, 2020
Date: Nov. 6, 2020
An attorney for the family of Walter Wallace Jr. claimed that the police department ignored a 2015 report from the Dept. of Justice urging that tasers be given to officers in order to prevent fatal shootings.
Date: Nov. 23, 2020
Incident: The city board tasked with overseeing police shootings did not meet since Oct. of 2019 and did not have any meetings slated for the remainder of 2020.
Non-profit organizations and advocacy groups are hard at work in Philly. Amistad Law Project and #PhillyWeRise aim to gut the city’s police budget. POWER launched its Live Free/Justice Reform Campaign in response to recent police violence. The ACLU of Greater Philadelphia and Black Lives Matter Philly continue to push for broad criminal justice reform.
ACLU Greater Philadelphia Chapter is the local chapter of the national American Civil Liberties Union
Amistad Law Project is a human rights organization based in Philadelphia
Black Lives Matter Philly is the local chapter of the global Black Lives Matter movement
#PhillyWeRise is a campaign of the Movement Alliance Project
POWER is an interfaith religious organization serving Pennsylvania
This brief was compiled by Laura Plummer. Did we miss an incident? Contact email@example.com.
FBI Hate Crime Statistics, 2019
By Erika Shannon
November 26, 2020
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has put out their annual report on hate crimes in the United States. The report is made public and can be found here if you are interested in looking over it yourself for reference. Hate crimes are defined here as offenses that are motivated by bias toward race, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender, or gender identity. Throughout 2019, there were 7,314 total incidents reported, with 8,812 total victims of those incidents. The incidents are broken down into whether or not the victim was targeted due to a single bias against them, or multiple biases. When looking at single-bias incidents, there were 8,552 victims; a staggering 57.6% of those incidents were motivated by the victims race, ethnicity, or ancestry. Most hate crimes committed were classified as intimidation, simple assault, or aggravated assault; however, there is also data of fifty-one murders, thirty rapes, and three offenses of human trafficking. According to FBI data, racially motivated hate crimes have been on the rise for the past ten years. This is disturbing information, and leads one to wonder why this number continues to grow. Besides crimes against people, there were also 2,811 hate crimes classified as crimes against property and 236 classified as crimes against society. Regardless of who or what the target is, hate crimes should not be on the rise in today’s society.
The numbers put forth by the FBI regarding hate crimes are troubling – the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed 56 years ago, and it was one of the highlights of the civil rights movement. We also saw the passage of another Civil Rights Act in 1968, which came with more notable hate crime laws and punishments. Decades have passed, and one would assume that the amount of hate crimes would go down over the years; especially hate crimes motivated by a racial bias. Some hypothesize that the rise in hate crimes can be attributed to racist rhetoric being put forth, especially on social media platforms. Others blame our lack of a leader who will condemn white supremacist groups. While in office, Donald Trump himself told right-wing extremist group Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” during a presidential debate just months ago. Confirmation of Trump’s influence came when one of the group’s social media accounts incorporated the phrase “Stand Back. Stand By” in their new logo. A nation’s leaders influence clearly stems far and wide, which is why there is concern when a leader will not condemn white supremacy himself. A leaders inactions can feed into a long-standing pattern of intolerance; it comes as no shock that white people commit the highest amount of hate crimes in any given year since data has been reported. In 2019, 52.5% of the 6,406 offenders were white. This statistic may be proportionate with the fact that there are a higher percentage of whites than any other race in the U.S. population; however, one must also take into consideration what race is the most targeted by hate crimes. 48.5% of victims of single-bias incidents were committed due to anti-Black or African American bias.. For a nation whose past is riddled with slavery, segregation, intolerance, and discrimination, we must do better to lower the amount of hate crimes and promote tolerance in our communities.
There is no clear solution on how we can overcome the evidently growing problems of racism in America. There are numerous programs that exist to attempt to eliminate discrimination in the workplace, schools, and other institutions, yet we still see it happening on all levels. For starters, a leader who condemns racism and works to unite America’s citizens, regardless of color, gender, religion etc., would be a step in the right direction. With an apparent Joe Biden victory, there is hope that his leadership will do something to discourage the rise of white supremacist groups.
While hate crimes have been on the rise in the past years, 2020 specifically was full of right-wing extremists spewing hate, antagonizing protesters, and at one point, even plotting to kidnap government officials. Something must be done to curb their hate-filled motivations. Besides the rise in white supremacist group activity, there are other issues that need to be addressed in order to make the U.S. a place where all feel safe and included. The FBI hate crimes report showed that of the 3,963 hate crimes motivated by race, 25.3% of those took place in or near homes, and 20.5% occurred on roads or highways. Minorities should not have to fear for their safety at all, much less in their home or on their commute. We live in such a fast-paced society that people seem to forget: everybody around them has the same rights that they do. No person is less significant because of his or her race, religion or gender. We as Americans must take a step back and remind ourselves that America is supposed to be the land of equal opportunity. Racism cannot be tolerated, and the FBI’s report is evidence that we have a long way to go before every American can live their life without fear of being discriminated against or harmed.
- If you or someone you know has been the victim a hate crime, you can fill out this form on the Anti-Defamation League website.
- To find out how you can join the fight to stop racism against African-Americans, check out the NAACP’s #WeAreDoneDying Campaign.
- Click here to find out more about hate crimes or to view Hate Crime Reports from past years.
By Erika Shannon
November 20, 2020
In the past weeks, there has been some confusion about who our next President truly is. The Associated Press has declared Joe Biden the projected winner due to his surpassing 270 electoral votes; yet, there are still some doubters out there who believe that this election could end up miraculously turning for Donald Trump. There are some recounts going on, and Trump has filed lawsuits in a couple of states to attempt to stall as long as possible. While there is a small chance that a recount may mean a Trump victory, most people have come to terms with the fact that Biden will be the next president. However, there are those who are still clinging to the idea that Trump could still somehow win, and that the election was rigged in Biden’s favor. Since the election has been called, there have been various pro-Trump protests occurring in cities across the country, including the nation’s capital, where protests turned violent and arrests were made.
This past weekend, several thousand Trump supporters showed up in Washington D.C. to protest the results of the election. Protesters marched in the streets at Freedom Plaza and the Supreme Court building. The rally was dubbed the “Million MAGA March” or “Stop the Steal Rally” on social media and was attended by members of the far-right group the Proud Boys. Other far-right groups in attendance included QAnon, Patriot Prayer, and the self-named American Guard. During the day, the protests were mild and mostly uneventful. However, as night fell, protesters clashed with ANTIFA and Black Lives Matter counter-protesters. Just blocks from the White House, police had to break up a brawl between the two groups. Tensions have been rising throughout 2020 at protests being held by both sides, and protests often end in violence or tragedy. Reports indicate that over the course of Saturday’s protests, at least twenty people were arrested. Charges from the arrests include firearms violations, simple assault, disorderly conduct, and assault on a police officer. Two police officers were injured and seven guns were recovered, though it is unknown if the guns belonged to the Trump supporters or counter-protesters.
With the election having been called by the Associated Press, there was hope that Donald Trump would simply concede to Joe Biden. However, Trump has managed to imply that the election was not fair and that he is, in fact, the winner. His comments have clearly caused quite the stir among Trump supporters; one can only wonder what they hope to achieve by protesting the election results. They often chant, “stop the steal” or, “four more years,” implying that they feel the democrats have stolen the election. Their motivation is a hope that somehow this election will end up being called in favor of Trump. The end result Trump supporters want does not seem likely at this point. The recounts being done are still projected to be in Biden’s favor for the presidency. This will hopefully result in Trump finally being satisfied with the results and peacefully conceding. There is the lingering concern that Trump will continue to insinuate that the election was unfair and that voter fraud occurred, which may incite his supporters to continue on with these protests. More protests could mean more violence and unrest for American citizens.
Regardless of Donald Trump’s claims, there are signs that this election was not actually fraudulent. In late September, FBI Director Christopher Wray wrote that the FBI had not seen any evidence of a “coordinated national voter fraud effort.” This included mail-in ballots, which goes against Trump’s statements regarding concerns over mail-in votes. The FBI investigates all instances of voter crimes, and so far none have been announced. Recently, sixteen federal prosecutors, who were specifically chosen to investigate elections crimes, have said that there was no proof of voter fraud or other irregularities that could substantially influence the election. It is also important to note that there are non-biased organizations at work to ensure that the election results are genuine. The National Task Force on Election Crises is a cross-partisan organization of over fifty experts ensuring that the outcome of the 2020 general election is free and fair. It seems that there are many powers at work to ensure that there is no election interference, here in America or internationally. There is no reason to believe that the election has been “stolen” by democrats, and those who state otherwise pose a threat to our democratic voting process. If Biden still has the most electoral votes when all legitimate votes are finally done being counted and there is no evidence of election fraud, Trump supporters will have no choice but to support Trump in his new endeavors — ones that do not include being the President of the United States.
2020 Presidential Election Motivates Both Sides to Protest
By Erika Shannon
November 6, 2020
This past week, tensions have been rising here in the U.S. while everyone impatiently awaits the result of the 2020 presidential election. A winner has still not been announced, but we already see civil unrest in American cities. There was always a fear that no matter who won the presidency, we would see demonstrations and protests, even violence; however, the waiting has been the hardest part for some, and we are already seeing protesters on both sides take to the streets so their voices can be heard. On the one hand, supporters of President Trump are protesting to demand that the process of counting votes is stopped because some of the votes are “fraudulent,” with claims that this election has somehow been hi-jacked by Democrats. On the other hand, Biden supporters are protesting to insist that all legitimate votes should be counted. The Black Lives Matter movement has combined with the Count Every Vote movement, with the two groups rallying together in several cities across the U.S. They are protesting because they want peoples voices to be heard, while Trump supporters are seemingly seeking to suppress valid votes.
While both sides are (mostly) peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights, these two sides could not be more different in what they represent for our democracy. Trump supporters have often been vocal about their disdain for Black Lives Matter protests around the country. They have taunted and antagonized peaceful protesters, with some of the altercations ending in violence and tragedy. However, now that they are the ones in danger of losing something – a republican presidency – they wish to take to the streets and attempt to derail the Democratic voting process. We have seen pro-Trump protests break out in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada, and Arizona, among other states. President Trump himself is likely responsible for inspiring these protests, for as early as Wednesday morning he was proclaiming premature victory and demanding that people stop voting, and that votes should stop being counted. The remark was partially unfounded, for voting itself had been finished since Tuesday night, and counting the remaining votes was the last step before revealing a winner. The President then tweeted Thursday morning to “STOP THE COUNT,” a day after it had been announced that he was filing suit in Michigan and Pennsylvania to stop the counting of votes. These moves are a threat to the integrity of our democracy. It is evident that Donald Trump is not ready to give up yet, and now that losing is a real possibility, he is grasping at straws to do anything in his power to stop our democratic processes at work. Pro-Trump supporters chanting to “stop the count” represent a true threat to fair democracy, one where all votes that were received on time are counted. It seems that a group of people who were so keen on shouting “all lives matter” have forgotten that all votes matter, too.
Supporters of Joe Biden have also taken to the streets in response to the messages from Trump and his supporters. They are leading their own protests to voice that states should continue to count their legitimate votes. These protesters, many of whom are associated with the Black Lives Matter or Count Every Vote movement, have convened in places like Washington, New York, Minnesota, and Washington D.C. They are insisting that votes should continue to be counted so that we can finally know who has won this roller coaster of an election. Some protesters feel that President Trump is trying to stall the election results so that he can do anything in his power to retain the presidency. A move like this would come as no shock, for the President implied in late September that he would only turn over power if he felt the election was fair. His comments also included a theory about a “ballot scam,” where ballots of people who voted for Trump were supposedly being lost. To date, there has been no evidence of pro-Trump ballots disappearing, yet unfounded comments like these lead some Biden supporters to believe that Trump may not want to step down if he loses the election. Filing suits to stop counting votes is evidence that the President is in fear of what the votes may reveal: a win for Biden. He has been able to get his supporters riled up and there are still concerns that things may not stay peaceful if it is eventually revealed that Trump has lost the election. It is only fair to tally every vote that was cast, postmarked, or dropped off on time. The Count Every Vote movement is representative of the need to consider each vote so that a winner can be fairly determined. Some people’s only voice in the political process is their vote, and to rob them of that is a blatant disregard for our Democracy in action.
USRESIST NEWS Legal Brief
The USRESIST NEWS legal briefs report on the roles that our legal system plays in relation to the processing and adjudication of public policy issues.
# 1 End of Eviction Moratoriums Strains Renters’ Legal Support System
By Zack Huffman
October 27, 2020
Covid-19 brought record unemployment over the summer, which left millions of families unable to afford rent.With a federal moratorium on evictions expiring in January along with numerous states ignoring the problem, an impending eviction wave could further cripple nonprofit and pro bono legal organizations, further diminishing access to legal counsel for the nation’s neediest.
Somewhere between 30 and 40 million renters are in danger of losing their homes because they can no longer cover the cost of rent, according to data from the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program.
Those in danger represent about a third of all renters in the country, with concentrations in the South and the Rust Belt.
Data from the Aspen Institute and the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project show, as of early August, at least 37% of renters in Alabama and Nevada were in danger of eviction. Louisiana, New York and Oklahoma show 36% of all renters in danger, which 14 other states had rates above 30%.
Several states issued their own eviction bans, such as New York, Massachusetts and California. California’s lasts until 2021, but other states that previously issued moratoriums have allowed them to expire.
The Trump administration initially announced a federal ban on evictions, which expired in July. The Centers for Disease Control then issued its own eviction ban, which lasts until January 2021, as a means to reduce the spread of COVID-19.In October, the CDC clarified that its ban solely applies to the removal of people from a home and that landlords were still able to bring tenants to court as a means to start the eviction process or to collect unpaid rent.Whatever happens this fall and winter, it is almost guaranteed that 2021 will bring an avalanche of housing court evictions when there is already a limited supply of support for nonprofit and pro bono legal help.
Regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic, tenants facing eviction need legal representation. Now with the economy reeling from the effects of COVID-19 shutdowns there is an even greater need for legal help on the horizon.Without adequate funding for nonprofit legal aid organizations and attorneys that provide pro bono help, there will be little that can help against the swelling eviction wave.
In the absence of federal action, cities and states can pass regulations that require full notification of tenants’ rights by the landlord before they can begin the eviction process. Few tenants are properly prepared to defend themselves from legal action. Most people lack a basic knowledge of housing law and are ill-equipped to defend themselves. At the same, few people who struggle to pay their rent have enough income to cover the cost of a lawyer. Aside from leaving people without a home, eviction can leave a black mark on their record, making it more difficult to obtain housing from skeptical landlords.
“Civil legal aid evens this unfair playing field and helps people protect their health, home, income, and family,” said the National Legal Aid & Defender Association in an open letter to all members of the U.S. Congress from June, seeking additional funding for the Legal Services Corporation. “This will be of particularly critical importance over the coming months as the legal consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to develop and become clearer.”
The National Legal Aid & Defender Association
The NLADA advocates and raises funds for legal aid, particularly for those who cannot afford it. http://www.nlada.org.
The COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project
The CED Project was founded in March 2020 to respond to urgent questions about housing, homelessness and community recovery during the spread of the coronavirus. https://cedproject.org
Learn More References
Buhayar, N. (2020, August 26). Why a Historic Eviction Wave Is Bearing Down on U.S.: QuickTake. Retrieved October 23, 2020, from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-08-26/why-a-historic-eviction-wave-is-bearing-down-on-u-s-quicktake
The CDC and Health and Human Services’ FAQ on the Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions to Prevent the Further Spread of COVID-19. Retrieved October 23, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/eviction-moratoria-order-faqs.pdf
Keating, D. And L. Tierney (2020, April 29). Which States Are Doing a Better Job Protecting Renters from Being Evicted During the Coronavirus Pandemic. Retrieved October 23, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/04/29/which-states-are-doing-better-job-protecting-renters-being-evicted-during-coronavirus-pandemic/?arc404=true
By Linda F. Hersey
October 21, 2020
Deshawn Grange says he is proud to have not just one but two jobs. He is a part-time worker assembling vehicle doors at a Tesla plant in California. He also is a monitor at a public restroom owned by the City of San Francisco.
Grange, a San Francisco native, said he landed the jobs through assistance from a prison re-entry program that connected him to life-skills training, job preparation and employment. “I work all the time now,” said Grange, who did not use his real name for this story.
With two thirds of state prisoners in the U.S. re-arrested within 36 months of their release, prison-to-work or so-called re-entry programs are a path for former offenders to enjoy a law-abiding life. The goal is to provide wraparound services, from help with housing to finding a job, to lower the risk of returning to jail or prison.
A growing body of evidence shows that offenders need a diverse range of support services as they transition from incarceration to their communities, to lessen the chance of re-arrest and landing back in prison or jail, according to the National Institute of Justice.
Research shows that the better educated and/or older offender is less likely to re-commit crimes, according to the Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization.
HIGH RATE OF INCARCERATION
Incarceration numbers in the U.S. are staggering for a western nation. More than two million people are behind bars in the United States, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.
More than a half-million Americans each year are released from prisons and jails after serving time.
Many go back to the communities and friends they left when they originally broke the law and got into trouble. The return to their former lives poses risks and challenges.
The ex-offenders face significant barriers:
- Having a criminal record makes it hard to find work.
- Many have a history of drug addiction.
- Offenders are less likely to have completed high school or have the skills to sustain a job.
- Many have no place to live.
Advocates for people who have served time focus efforts more and more on education, employment and housing. These support services, studies show, can determine whether a former convict succeeds or fails after release.
To reduce the $40 billion spent by state governments annually for corrections without compromising public safety, advocates say it is critical to identify programs and services like these that improve outcomes.
FAITH-BASED PROGRAMS REACH OUT TO EX-OFFENDERS
An array of nonprofits in the U.S., many of them faith-based, aim to help offenders post-release. Saved by Grace of the San Francisco Bay area, for example, is staffed by ex-felons and focuses on both the spiritual and economic needs of former offenders.
The agency offers case management, job training, education resources and help with writing resumes and contacting employers. The agency provides a positive and welcoming community with church pastors, employers, caseworkers and advocates who represent a new network of friends and associates for the former offender.
The agency not only directs former offenders to education and employment, it also tries to provide a constructive alternative to peer pressure and negative influences former offenders may encounter again in their communities.
“Throughout my life I have made some good and bad decisions, but through it all I truly believe God had, and still has, his hand on my life,” Pastor Ronnie Muniz states about his former criminal life and his founding of the prison-re-entry agency, Saved by Grace.
A FOCUS ON OUTCOMES
Nationally, two initiatives known as SVORI and the Second Chance Act, have shown the most promise and continue to evolve, according to research by the National Institute of Justice.
- SVORI – the Serious and Violent Offender Re-entry Initiative — is considered the pioneering federal grant program for integrating support services for former offenders, including job and life-skills training, education, and treatment and release plans. Research shows that participation in SVORI-funded programs have resulted in fewer re-arrests and longer times between arrests, compared with former prisoners who did not participate. Women, especially, experienced better outcomes in the areas of employment and overcoming substance abuse.
- The Second Chance Act, reauthorized by President Trump in 2018, is a follow-up to SVORI. Its goal is to improve outcomes for former offenders. In looking at outcomes for close to 1,000 former offenders in Second Chance, the National Institute of Justice found that the men and women had better rates of long-term employment and earnings but were not less likely to be re-arrested. Researchers are trying to determine why and how to change that. The legislation signed by Trump provides federal funding to programs considered essential to an offender’s re-entry.
Now a new generation of programs and research aims to identify high-risk populations that are more prone to re-offend and land back in jail or prison, according to the National Institute of Justice. Former offenders in this at-risk group may have literacy challenges, dropped out of high school, struggled with drug addiction, and a long rap sheet, including with the juvenile justice system.
The First Step Act (FSA), also signed into law in 2018, centers on developing a risk and needs assessment for the Federal Bureau of Prisons to better identify this high-needs population. Increasingly, a strong body of research shows that successful outcomes do not depend on just one factor but a whole host of supportive services and positive connections in the community.
Trauma During Re-Entry Study: This report by the Institute for Justice Research and Development looks at the effects of violence and trauma on offenders returning to their communities after serving time.
National Institute of Justice and Recidivism: The institute researches, reviews and evaluates programs for the U.S. Department of Justice.
Prison Policy Initiative: The nonpartisan, nonprofit organization offers research and advocacy around prisons and prison reform in the U.S.
Saved by Grace is a nonprofit California agency that provides supportive services to former inmates returning to their communities.
The Marshall Project is a nonpartisan, national news organization that covers the criminal justice system.
Policing in America
“Police Wall of Shame” is a Policing in America series by Laura Plummer.
October 15, 2020
The New York Police Department (NYPD) is the largest police department in the U.S. and the second largest in the world after Tokyo. It has over 36,000 sworn officers, equal to the population of a small city, with approximately one officer for every 233 people.
When the NYPD killed Black man Eric Garner in 2014, it helped transform the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter into a national movement. Since then, the department has not done much to improve its reputation. In fact, its shocking antics continue to dominate headlines. From discriminating against women to planning assaults on protestors, it’s no wonder the NYPD finds itself in our Police Wall of Shame.
Date: June 4, 2020
Incident: Officers assaulted protestors in what was called the “most aggressive police response” to the George Floyd murder protests in the U.S.
Date: August 11, 2020
Incident: A female chief quit and sued the department for rampant gender discrimination. She alleged that women were systematically prevented from reaching top positions.
Date: September 1, 2020
Incident: Officers pushed back against the department’s new disciplinary measures, which are meant to improve transparency and accountability in the department. They complained that such measures would prevent them from doing their jobs.
Date: September 9, 2020
Incident: The president of the sergeants union posted a homophobic tweet about an openly gay city councilman. The councilor called for the union leader’s resignation.
Date: September 10, 2020
Incident: The department continued to promote an officer who was accused of invasive, inappropriate strip searches of Black and Latino men.
Date: September 17, 2020
Incident: Reporting showed that officers were still ticketing street vendors in September, despite Mayor de Blasio’s June declaration that the department would be relieved of this duty.
Date: September 25, 2020
Incident: The department suddenly suspended its funding for a crisis intervention training meant to reduce violent conflict with the mentally ill by teaching officers empathy.
Incident: The state attorney general declared that the department should cease making traffic stops, due to a history of stops escalating quickly into fatal violence.
Date: September 26, 2020
Incident: Officers aggressively charged at a group of protestors, diners and pedestrians, arresting 12 people. Protestors were responding to having their music equipment seized by the department during a raid of a peaceful art protest earlier in the evening.
Date: September 28, 2020
Incident: An officer was arrested for allegedly punching and pointing a gun at his girlfriend. The officer had a long history of domestic violence and was previously arrested in 2014 for threatening a woman with knives.
Date: September 29, 2020
Incident: Officers refused to wear face masks, despite it being law. Gov. Cuomo pointed out the hypocrisy of a group that is tasked with enforcing mask-wearing and yet refuses to cover their own faces.
Incident: A judge ordered a judicial review into the department’s killing of Eric Garner in 2014. Officers put Garner in a chokehold despite the fact the chokehold had been banned since 1993.
Date: September 30, 2020
Incident: A report revealed that the department planned the assault on protestors on June 4 (see above.) The attack was led by the highest-ranking uniformed officer on the force.
Incident: The department was lambasted by a former officer. The man uploaded a video in which he criticized its modern tactics and militarism, comparing it to the Call of Duty video game.
Date: October 2, 2020
Incident: Several dozen officers dressed in riot gear disrupted an outdoor concert. Neighbors were shocked, stating they had never seen such an overwhelming show of force.
Incident: The department broke the law by failing to enforce illegal placard parking. Officers are required to investigate placard abuse and turn the evidence over to the Department of Investigation.
In early summer 2020, New York City saw an increase in protests against police brutality and calls to defund the NYPD. While these outward demonstrations seem to have waned in recent months, local advocacy groups like Brooklyn Movement Center, Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) and The Gathering for Justice are still hard at work organizing for tangible change in policing.
One way in which residents can have their voices heard is by voting in the city’s 2021 elections. Up for election are mayor, city councilors, public advocate, borough presidents and district attorneys. New Yorkers are urged to support progressive candidates who back comprehensive police reform. A list of current candidates can be found here.
- Brooklyn Movement Center – A campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York
Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) – A campaign working against discriminatory and abusive policing in New York
- The Gathering for Justice – An organization working to expose the NYPD’s unfair targeting of people of color
This brief was compiled by Laura Plummer. To add an incident involving the NYPD to this article, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.