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A victory against a gang database in Cook County, Illinois

What you’ll read today

  • A victory against a gang database in Cook County, Illinois

  • The Police Act Like We Are Nothing’

  • ‘Just Leave Them to Die’

  • The Supreme Court must examine the racial bias that sent Keith Tharpe to death row, law professor says

  • Former Baltimore police officer praises decision not to prosecute marijuana cases

  • State legislatures consider bills to abolish the death penalty, with mixed results

  • Oregon fails to promptly transfer people to mental hospital, in violation of court order

In the Spotlight

A victory against a gang database in Cook County

Last week, the Board of Commissioners in Cook County, Illinois, passed an ordinance to end the use of the sheriff’s Regional Intelligence Gang Database. The database included the names of about 25,000 alleged members, according to a response to  ProPublica open records requests in 2018. “The terms ‘gang association’ or ‘gang membership’ have become a form of criminalizing mostly young people of color,” the commissioner who was the law’s chief sponsor said Wednesday. “The passage of the ordinance will be a major step forward for Cook County. We will serve as a national model.” [Mick Dumke / ProPublica Illinois]

Under the ordinance passed Thursday, the sheriff’s office cannot share information from the regional database with other agencies and cannot feed the information from it into other databases. More than 350 agencies previously had access to Cook County’s database.

The ordinance also paves the way for the regional database’s eventual destruction. The sheriff’s office will destroy the database once it receives permission from a state commission. The destruction of the database, expected to happen within a year, will reflect steady efforts by the Cook County commissioners. After ProPublica published the results of its open records requests last year, the county commissioners, starting with then-Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” García and later led by Commissioner Alma Ayana, began pushing for the database’s destruction and a public hearing into its creation and use. [Jacqueline Serrato / Chicago Tribune] Soon after, the sheriff’s office began asking other agencies if they would host the regional database, saying it didn’t offer them enough information to justify the resources it took to maintain it. When commissioners fought to prevent that transfer and hold a public hearing on the database, the sheriff’s office disabled it last month. [Mick Dumke / ProPublica Illinois]

The efforts to destroy the regional database must be understood in relation to efforts to address the far larger database in the area—the one maintained by the Chicago Police Department. That database contains an estimated 128,000 adults and at least 33,000 young people 17 and younger. For comparison, CalGang, the California database for the entire state, has 100,000 names in it after reforms efforts that cut its size in half.  [Annie Sweeney and Paige Fry / Chicago Tribune] There is also the state police’s database, with 90,000 or so people, and a database maintained by the Illinois Department of Corrections. [Mick Dumke / ProPublica Illinois]

Chicagoans for an End to the Gang Database is a coalition of individuals and community organizations challenging the use of the Chicago police database. In a lawsuit brought by the MacArthur Justice Center, they describe the police department’s targeting of Black and Latinx Chicagoans for inclusion in the database and the lack of restraints on who is included and the criteria used. Those added to the database received no notification of the designation and have no opportunity to challenge the designation. [MacArthur Justice Center]

Reporting by ProPublica revealed glaring errors in both the police department database and Cook County regional database. The county database includes hundreds listed as dead or having no known gang affiliation. The Chicago Police Department, as of last year, included two men listed as 132 years old and several spry 118-year-olds. [Mick Dumke / ProPublica Illinois] Chicago and Illinois don’t have the only error-ridden databases. In California, long overdue reforms were enacted in 2017 after an audit of the state database showed that it included 42 alleged gang members who were under the age of 1. According to the police,  28 of the babies had confessed to their gang affiliation. [Richard Winton / Los Angeles Times]

The mistakes would be comical, except for the devastating and long-lasting ramifications for those included, and the fact that errors are so difficult to correct. A case that sparked widespread outrage in Chicago was that of Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez. ICE agents raided Catalan-Ramirez’s home in March 2017 and violently arrested him (despite his partial paralysis from being shot three weeks earlier), and he was placed in deportation proceedings. Catalan-Ramirez’s attorneys eventually learned that his arrest was the result of his inclusion in the police gang database, where he was mistakenly designated as being a gang member—of two different, and rival, gangs. The city eventually admitted its mistake and Catalan-Ramirez was released from ICE custody in January 2018. Alleged gang affiliation can have implications in immigration proceedings, bail decisions and sentencing, and treatment when in jail or prison. [Emmanuel Felton / Pacific Standard]

The MacArthur Justice Center lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department recommended reforms similar to those enacted in California. As the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board wrote last month, such improvements “seem so obvious.” They include: clear criteria for inclusion, notification to those about to be included, an opportunity to challenge inclusion through a hearing, and a prohibition on the police sharing the list with a third party. [Editorial Board / Chicago Sun-Times]

Stories From The Appeal


Bianey García (with megaphone) at a June 2018 rally for undocumented sex worker who was the target of an alleged hate attack in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens. [Melissa Gira Grant/The Appeal]

‘The Police Act Like We Are Nothing.’ A new coalition of people in the sex trades wants New York to become the first state to fully decriminalize their work. [Melissa Gira Grant]

‘Just Leave Them to Die.’ The crisis at Brooklyn’s federal jail reveals how jails and prisons ‘are not prepared for a disaster.’ [JB Nicholas]

Stories From Around the Country

The Supreme Court must examine the racial bias that sent Keith Tharpe to death row, law professor says: Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy writes about the case of Keith Tharpe, on death row in Georgia, as Tharpe awaits the Supreme Court’s decision on whether it will review his case. That decision is expected as soon as Friday. “The struggle over Mr. Tharpe’s fate has to do, in part,” Kennedy writes, “with a continuing dispute over whether the legal system should allow jury verdicts to be impeached by the post-verdict testimony of jurors.” Years after Tharpe, who is Black, was sentenced to death in 1991, a juror in his case signed an affidavit in which the juror used the n-word and wondered “if black people even have souls.” Before Tharpe’s scheduled execution in September 2017, the Supreme Court issued a last-minute stay based on the court’s belief that, as Kennedy writes, “the juror’s disturbing affidavit which, in the court’s words, presented ‘a strong factual basis’ that Mr. Tharpe’s race affected the juror’s vote for a death verdict.” But the Supreme Court declined to review the racial bias claim at the time, returning the case to the 11th Circuit. Now, Kennedy writes, “There is the stench of prejudice, not just a whiff,” and “an execution would certainly be a miscarriage of justice. The Supreme Court must intervene out of an elemental embrace of due process.” [Randall Kennedy / The New York Times]

Former Baltimore police officer praises decision not to prosecute marijuana cases: “I applaud State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby for her transformative decision to stop prosecuting marijuana possession cases in Baltimore City,” writes Debbie Ramsey, a retired colonel of the Baltimore Police Department. Ramsey notes that progressive prosecutors in Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Boston have implemented similar reforms. “I urge law enforcement agencies across the state to follow [Mosby’s] lead and call on Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) to ensure that our next police commissioner shares Mosby’s vision.” Ramsey points to the success of marijuana legalization efforts thus far and the overwhelming public support for decriminalization. She emphasizes the deep damage marijuana arrests and prosecutions have done to the people of Baltimore with little to show in returns on public safety. Mosby’s decision, Ramsey writes, allows police and prosecutors to focus their limited resources on tackling violent crime. When announcing her new policy, Mosby said: “Ask any mother who has lost a son to gun violence whether she wants us to spend more time solving and prosecuting her son’s killer or to spend time on marijuana possession. It’s not a close question.” [Debbie Ramsey / Washington Post]

State legislatures consider bills to abolish the death penalty, with mixed results: Wyoming’s legislature came within a few votes of adopting legislation this month that would abolish the death penalty. The state Senate ultimately rejected the proposal, which had earlier been adopted by the state House.  One obstacle to the reform was the legislative lobbyist of the Wyoming County & Prosecuting Attorneys Association, who testified against abolition days before the Senate’s final vote. State advocates told the Appeal: Political Report that to be successful in the future, abolition will need the support of more religious denominations, and that this year’s momentum could help broaden the coalition. Death penalty repeal also fell short last week in legislative committees of the Kansas and Montana state Houses. However, also last week, New Hampshire and Washington moved forward one step on legislation that would repeal the death penalty. [Daniel Nichanian / The Appeal: Political Report]

Oregon fails to promptly transfer people to mental hospital, in violation of court order: An investigation by The Oregonian/Oregon Live has revealed that Oregon routinely violates a federal court order regarding the treatment of people with mental illness who are charged with crimes. Under a 2003 decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, people must be transferred out of jails to the state mental hospital within seven days. The Oregonian’s investigation revealed that there have been over 200 instances just since January 2018 when people were held past that seven-day deadline. In 63 of those cases, the person was charged with misdemeanors and likely to face little to no jail time. The major factors responsible for the unlawfully long detention in jail were a lack of available beds at the hospital, court delays in filing the necessary paperwork, and delays by sheriffs in arranging transportation to the hospital. [Gordon R. Friedman / The Oregonian]

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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