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A rare guilty verdict in a police shooting case cannot substitute for systemic reform


What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: A rare guilty verdict in a police shooting case cannot substitute for systemic reform

  • Police in California are killing sleeping people

  • The Appeal Podcast: The NYPD SVU’s low clearance rate for sexual assault

  • A ‘poll tax’ to undermine Amendment 4

  • California appeals court rejects DAs’ challenge to law that keeps 14- and 15-year-olds in juvenile court

  • Palantir helped ICE track and identify immigrants for deportation

In the Spotlight

A rare guilty verdict in a police shooting case cannot substitute for systemic reform

On Tuesday, Mohamed Noor, a former Minneapolis police officer, was found guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for the shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, an unarmed woman, in July 2017. It is believed to be the first time a Minnesota police officer has been convicted of murder in an on-duty shooting. Noor is Somali American. That he was found guilty of murder in the killing of a white woman—against the backdrop of nonprosecutions or acquittals of white officers or of officers who have shot and killed Black men—makes questions about how race factored into the prosecutors’ and jury’s decisions inevitable. In Minneapolis, even among those who hoped for his conviction, many have questioned its significance in the broader fight for police accountability. [Amy Forliti / Associated Press]

The conviction comes two years after a jury acquitted Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile in 2016, of second-degree manslaughter. Castile, a Black man, was in his car with his girlfriend when Yanez, who is Latinx, shot him. Yanez is believed to have been the first Minnesota police officer prosecuted for an on-duty shooting, but he was not charged with murder as Noor was. [Mitch Smith / New York Times]

As the verdict against Noor was announced, the police shooting of Jamar Clark was on the minds of advocates for police accountability and reform in Minneapolis. Clark, a 24-year old Black man, was killed in 2015 by two white police officers. The Hennepin County district attorney’s office, the same office that brought charges against Noor, did not prosecute the officers. One member of the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice4Jamar seemed to summarize the views of many when she told The Intercept: “There would have been no trial if Noor’s victim was African American or Native American, and I think the vast majority of people in our movement believe that. There also would have also been no conviction if it was a white police officer.” [Rachel M. Cohen / The Intercept]

Noor’s fatal shooting of Damond and his conviction this week also brings to mind at least two other guilty verdicts in police shooting cases where the officer involved was not white. In both those cases, however, the victim was Black, making the verdicts more consistent with demands for an end to large-scale police violence against Black civilians, but still raising questions about the degree to which individual accountability is more easily won against non-white officers. (There is also, of course, the fundamental question about whether convictions and lengthy prison sentences from a system so shaped by racism and state violence can ever be the right mechanism for racial justice and accountability.)

The first case was the 2014 killing of Akai Gurley, an unarmed Black man, by NYPD officer Peter Liang. Liang, who is Chinese American, was found guilty of manslaughter in 2016, in a rare conviction in police shooting cases. In Asian American communities around the country, there was substantial, but far from monolithic, support for Liang, and supporters accused protesters of scapegoating him because of his race.  Rachel M. Cohen / The Intercept]

More recently, Nouman Raja, a Florida police officer, joined the thin ranks of officers found guilty after fatal shootings. Raja shot and killed 31-year old Corey Jones, a Black musician, in 2015. He was the first officer in Florida to be found guilty in an on-duty shooting in 30 years, and was sentenced to 25 years in prison last week. Raja’s family argued that his actions were not influenced by race, and in comments to the Palm Beach Post, his brother, a police officer as well, said that the “elephant in the room” was that Raja is “an American Muslim.” [Daphne Duret / Palm Beach Post]

In Minneapolis, after Officer Noor shot and killed Damond, Black Lives Matter and other local activists came together with her friends and family to call for accountability. From the beginning, local advocates for police reform have made two related points. First, that Noor’s prosecution in Damond’s killing was influenced by race and class. Second, that the point was not to seek leniency for Noor but to seek accountability for all officers and, more broadly, reform in police departments. [Rachel M. Cohen / The Intercept]

During Noor’s trial, Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney and former head of the Minneapolis NAACP told the Associated Press that the problem is the tendency of the public to rubber stamp police violence. While she and others wanted Noor to be held accountable, she emphasized that one guilty verdict should not be used to exonerate the system that produces violence. “I don’t want to see a Somali, black, Muslim officer be scapegoated when the rest of the system remains intact,”she said. [Amy Forliti / Associated Press]

And advocates in Minneapolis have already had some success. Racial justice organizations successfully pushed for the end of so-called “warrior-style” police trainings, which encourage police to believe they are always under threat of attack. Last month, the Minneapolis mayor announced that the city’s police force will no longer use the trainings, saying, in his State of the City address that, “fear-based, warrior-style trainings like ‘killology’ are in direct conflict with everything that our chief and I stand for in our police department. Fear-based trainings violate the values at the very heart of community policing.” [Rachel M. Cohen / The Intercept]

Sundin of the Justice4Jamar coalition also spoke with The Intercept of the significance of the Minneapolis police chief being forced to resign after Damond’s death, something that had previously never happened following a fatal police shooting. She also noted the increased awareness of police brutality among city residents and a shift in media coverage of police shootings since 2015. In contrast with a few years ago, she told The Intercept that news outlets no longer “parrot the police’s story without looking into it first.” [Rachel M. Cohen / The Intercept]

Stories From The Appeal

Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brown. Photo by Mary Howe

Police in California Are Killing Sleeping People. The fatal shooting by Oakland police of an unconscious man as he woke is putting pressure on the California department to rethink its deployment of force. [Darwin BondGraham]

The Appeal Podcast: The NYPD SVU’s Low Clearance Rate for Sexual Assault. Adam speaks with Appeal contributor Meg O’Connor, who dug into the data and interviewed victims to find out what’s behind the NYPD and its Special Victims Unit’s high rate of prematurely closed rape cases. [Adam H. Johnson]

Stories From Around the Country

A ‘poll tax’ to undermine Amendment 4: Florida’s state Senate and House Republicans have reached an agreement on a bill that would significantly narrow the impact of Amendment 4, the historic voting rights amendment intended to restore the right to vote for over a million people with felony convictions. They are expected to vote on it today. The bill would require people to pay all court fees, fines, and restitution—a requirement hundreds of thousands of people will be unable to meet—before being able to vote. It would allow judges to waive those costs or impose community service hours as an alternative to payment, but the expectation is that there will be no uniformity in how judges approach these requests from people unable to pay. Amendment 4 restored the right to vote to people with felony convictions, except those convicted of murder and sexual offenses, who completed “all terms of their sentence including parole or probation,” but it made no mention of fines and fees. [Lawrence Mower / Miami Herald]

California appeals court rejects DAs’ challenge to law that keeps 14- and 15-year-olds in juvenile court: Last year, California passed Senate Bill 1391, a law to ensure that cases against 14- and 15-year-olds remain in juvenile court. District attorneys from across the state challenged the law, arguing that it conflicted with Proposition 57, a 2016 youth justice measure that made judges, rather than prosecutors, the arbiters of when cases against 14- and 15-year-olds could be transferred to adult court. On Tuesday, the First District Appeals Court in San Francisco rejected that argument in a 3-0 vote. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that it is the first appellate ruling on the issue but cases are pending in other counties and the issue could reach the state Supreme Court in the next year. [Bob Egelko / San Francisco Chronicle]

Palantir helped ICE track and identify immigrants for deportation: The Intercept reports that “Palantir, the CIA-funded data analysis company founded by billionaire Trump adviser Peter Thiel, provided software at the center of a 2017 operation targeting unaccompanied children and their families.” This was revealed in Homeland Security documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act litigation and provided to The Intercept by the advocacy organization Mijente. The documents contradicted Palantir’s previous claim, made to the New York Times last year, that the firm’s software was only used in cross-border criminal investigations and the firm did not work for Enforcement and Removal Operations, the division of ICE responsible for the deportation and detention of undocumented immigrants.  [Sam Biddle and Ryan Devereaux / The Intercept]

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you on Monday.

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