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Can Closed Prisons Be Repurposed to Mend the Harm They’ve Done?

A guard tower at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, which closed in 1971 and has since reopened as a museum and historic site.

Can Closed Prisons Be Repurposed to Mend the Harm They’ve Done?


A guard tower at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, which closed in 1971 and has since reopened as a museum and historic site.

Can Closed Prisons Be Repurposed to Mend the Harm They’ve Done?

by Prince Shakur

In June, New York City Mayor Eric Adams cut the ribbon on a new public project to convert the shuttered Spofford Juvenile Detention Center in the Bronx into a mixed-use site that will include affordable housing and a cultural arts center. In his speech, Adams noted that he spent a night detained at Spofford as a 15-year-old. He called the redevelopment project a “new day” for the neighborhood and “so many young people who were traumatized” at the lockup, which closed in 2011.

This message of transformation and revitalization is part of a broader trend playing out across the country, as some communities move to repurpose closed prisons and jails to help address social issues. Although simply repurposing detention facilities cannot fully remedy the immense damage of the carceral system, it shows how the work of reforming and dismantling the prison system can move us towards a society centered around restorative justice and social wellness.

The last half-century has brought an interesting shift in our nation’s reliance on prisons. In the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s—an era of extreme sentencing and the so-called War on Drugs—the U.S. incarceration rate more than tripled amid a wave of racist and draconian policies passed under Presidents Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton. The prison population would finally reach a peak in 2008, before beginning a slow but steady decrease. But even before that decline, states had begun closing detention centers. Since 2000, 21 states have fully or partially closed at least one correctional facility, resulting in a national reduction of over 81,000 prison beds, according to an August report by The Sentencing Project.

As we evaluate the impact of prisons and jails and determine what should take their place, it’s important to note that carceral facilities operate beyond their perceived public safety function. Prisons and jails frequently serve as housing for vulnerable people who are disproportionately struggling with homelessness or mental illness. Many communities also rely on them as economic engines that provide jobs and cheap or unpaid labor.

But this reliance on carceral facilities comes at a massive social, economic, and environmental cost. The conditions present in jails like New York’s Rikers Island have been proven to lead to lasting mental health issues and a crisis of detainee death by suicide. The families of incarcerated people also face additional financial burdens, including steep prices to maintain contact with their loved ones, court fees, and beyond. And, one-third of prisons are built within three miles of toxic superfund sites. The environmental impact of prisons only further harms the health of the surrounding communities and the people inside those facilities.

These factors alone provide a compelling case for closing prisons and jails and redirecting resources toward addressing the damage they’ve done. Once closed, officials can finally begin cleaning up polluted sites around detention centers to prevent further harm to nearby communities. But closing prisons and jails can also save jurisdictions millions of dollars a year—money that can instead be invested in reentry services or other social support specifically designed to confront issues often tied to incarceration.

Around the country, we are seeing more and more examples of how we can shift from a punitive to a restorative notion of justice by transforming carceral facilities. In Manhattan, a former jail is set to be repurposed to include at least 60 units for affordable housing, following a failed 2019 proposal to turn the building into a women’s center. In Philadelphia, the Eastern State Penitentiary, which pioneered the “all-seeing” architectural design by John Haviland that many prisons use today, is now a museum that explores the failures of the criminal justice system.

In 2013, community leaders in Gainesville, Florida, collaborated with Alachua County officials to convert a local correctional facility into Grace Marketplace, a center that provides food, housing, and support to people experiencing houselessness. In North Carolina, a closed prison saw a similar transformation when it was turned into Haywood Pathways Center, which serves as a homeless shelter and in-patient recovery facility that provides resources to help people find work and stable housing.

Both Haywood Pathways Center and Grace Marketplace show what is possible when defunct carceral facilities are repurposed into institutions that invest in—rather than extract from—the most disadvantaged members of a community.

But just because a jail or prison is being repurposed doesn’t mean it will work toward the goal of undoing past harms. While Adams pitches the Spofford project as an opportunity to heal trauma, a statewide commission on repurposing prisons in New York is promising “innovative redevelopment opportunities,” including retail shops and office space.

We have also seen prison reuse projects, no matter how good their intentions, make missteps. When the Lorton Reformatory, a closed prison in Northern Virginia, was turned into a mixed-use development, the community art center that launched on the site faced pushback in 2020 over its decision to host a “Nightmare Prison” event for Halloween.

If repurposed jails and prisons are going to live up to their potential as a restorative force in a community, they must present solutions based on the needs of the local community—and at a bare minimum, avoid trivializing the harms that once took place there.


 

In the news

 

In 2015, a woman alleged that she had a sexual relationship with a correctional officer while detained at the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City. Seven years later, in June of this year, he was fired. “I’m a nobody, but somebody actually believed my words,” she said. “It felt vindicating.” [The Marshall Project and The City / Reuven Blau and Keri Blakinger]

Since 2020, at least 28 people have died at Arizona’s Pima County Adult Detention Complex. Wade Welch died at the jail after at least one guard repeatedly tased him. As he was dying, one guard said, “He’s faking his ass off.” [John Washington / Arizona Luminaria]

Private-equity-backed companies are offering exonerees cash advances at exorbitant interest rates while they wait for financial compensation. Huwe Burton was wrongfully convicted of killing his mother when he was a teenager. After he was exonerated, he filed a civil suit and took an advance of $500,000 from USClaims. Within 16 months, the loan had accumulated $210,000 in interest. [Corey Kilgannon / The New York Times]

An Ohio judge declared Ru-El Sailor wrongfully imprisoned, which will allow him to receive compensation from the state. He was convicted in 2003 of a murder he did not commit and exonerated in 2018. [Matthew Richmond / WKSU]

Carla J. Simmons writes on the trauma of incarceration. “I panic when I see a guard,” she writes. “I panic when I see the violent groups that coalesce in the absence of guards. I panic in the morning and at night. I am always alert.” [Carla J. Simmons / Scalawag]


ICYMI — from The Appeal

A new report details Colorado’s practice of using painful metal four-point restraints on people with mental illness. One person was strapped to a cot in this manner for 39 straight days.


That’s all for this week. As always, feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to invest in the future of The Appeal, please donate now and your donation will be tripled here.

Youth Curfews Feed Kids into the Criminal System. But Cities Keep Expanding Them.

Photo by Redd F on Unsplash

Youth Curfews Feed Kids into the Criminal System. But Cities Keep Expanding Them.


Photo by Redd F on Unsplash

Youth Curfews Feed Kids into the Criminal System. But Cities Keep Expanding Them.

by Tara Francis Chan

In 1996, President Bill Clinton flew to Monrovia, California, to highlight the city’s daytime youth curfew aimed at curbing truancy. The curfew, along with a new uniform rule, “may wind up being the most important anticrime initiatives you’ll ever adopt,” Clinton said during a speech at a local high school. “Other communities have got to do this.”

Local governments took Clinton’s advice. Youth curfews proliferated in the tough-on-crime era of the 1990s. By 2009, 84 percent of cities with more than 180,000 residents had youth curfews. Proponents said the restrictions prevented kids from committing crimes and protected children from becoming victims.

But, despite nationwide protests against police violence in 2020, these heavy-handed curfews persist. Currently, there are more than 400 states, counties, cities, and towns “where it is illegal for young people to be outside of their homes at certain times of the day,” according to the National Youth Rights Association. The United States is one of the only countries to use youth curfews so widely. Just this year, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Chicago all made existing summer curfews begin hours earlier. Prince George’s County, Maryland, also instituted a brand new curfew, with the county executive saying, “these kids don’t just need a hug, they also need to be held accountable.”

The problem is, youth curfews don’t work. Not even in Monrovia, where police later admitted crime reduction findings were due to state-wide trends and other factors, including data entry errors. Instead, the restrictions harm children and damage communities. Across the country, young people who violate curfews can be punished with hundreds of dollars in fines or criminal charges, or removal to child protective services if police deem it necessary. Once children are picked up by police, they can be taken home, to police stations, or to community centers, but may still be searched and handcuffed. Restrictions vary by town.

At least 11,650 youth were arrested in 2019 for curfew violations or loitering, according to FBI data. Nearly thirty percent of those children were Black.

“At best, curfews are an ineffective band-aid; at worst, they criminalize our most vulnerable and at-risk children,” Maryland Public Defender Natasha Dartigue said in a press release in September 2022 in response to Prince George’s County’s curfew. “Youth who are not safe in their home, or lack a stable home, will be subject to police and court involvement regardless of whether they are involved in any delinquent or criminal activity. Curfews serve as an entry into the school-to-prison pipeline.”

A 2016 review of 12 studies by the Campbell Collaboration, a nonprofit research network, found curfews are “ineffective at reducing crime and victimization”—and that there were even slight increases in crime during curfew hours. In a 2018 study, researchers found that in Washington, D.C., gun violence increased in some instances, possibly because busier streets may be a greater deterrent for crime. Curfews likely decreased public safety at the time, taking up time police officers could be using to investigate serious crimes.

But data doesn’t seem to matter. In June 2022, when Canton, Ohio, made its youth curfew begin earlier, the police chief told The Repository he didn’t care about efficacy studies, because their curfew “is not designed as a primary strategy to reduce violence.” The goal, he said, was to “measure” parents’ and guardians’ level of supervision—effectively criminalizing families for different styles of parenting and life circumstances.

A 2012 report by multiple civil rights groups, including the ACLU of Southern California, found that daytime curfews in Los Angeles—which make it illegal for children to be outside school or home during school hours, with very few exceptions—were, as the report was titled, “Counterproductive and wasteful.” The ACLU noted that if children missed school, they needed to take additional days off to attend court dates if they were arrested. Additionally, LA’s curfew didn’t reduce crime but did disproportionately impact Black and Latinx youth—a common pattern.

In Cleveland Heights, Ohio, 93 percent of the 187 children who received civil penalties for curfew violations between 2011 and 2021 were Black. In Dallas, 88 percent of tickets in 2017 and 2018 were issued to Black and Latinx youth, though those groups only made up two-thirds of the city’s population.

Curfews not only limit kids’ rights to free assembly and movement but criminalize activities like truancy or just coming home late for many reasons. Under these curfews, teenagers have been arrested for visiting family members, working, or seeing a movie.. While some towns have exceptions for important activities, some are not exhaustive. Rarer still are exceptions for children protecting themselves by escaping violent situations at home. And there is often virtually no age limit on whom police can arrest: kids as young as 4 years old have been cited in Minneapolis, according to the ACLU.

In 2012, one student told the ACLU of Southern California that she was ticketed three times, once for running late to school and a second time after attending a track and field event. “After two tickets, I felt very distrustful at police,” she said. She said she received her third ticket after dropping her niece at daycare.

Advocates for kids at risk of committing or becoming victims of violence say that therapeutic or community programs would be far more useful.

“The children who are involved in violence need evidence-based responses that account for their brain development, behavioral health needs, extreme poverty, and other concerns,” Dartigue, the Maryland public defender, said in her September media release.

Waco and Austin, Texas, ended their curfews within the last decade. Neither has experienced increases in crimes committed by youth.

A flyer the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Santa Clarita Valley Station sent to residents a decade ago encapsulates the faulty logic of youth curfews.

“This curfew ordinance is necessary in order to protect [kids] from becoming victims of crime or from becoming involved in crimes late at night,” the department said.

But, in the next sentence, the flyer stated that in 2009, 472 children were arrested for violating the city’s curfew, in many cases for simply “loitering around public areas[.]”

To protect kids from getting arrested, the police had been arresting them.


 

In the news

 

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg sent a letter to the New York State Supreme Court saying that his office cannot proceed with the prosecution of Tracy McCarter, a nurse and survivor of domestic violence who was charged with murdering her estranged husband. Community activists have rallied for years to demand that the office drop the charges against McCarter. [Victoria Law / The Nation]

Bragg also announced that his office would vacate 188 misdemeanor convictions connected to police officers convicted of crimes related to their jobs. [Verónica Del Valle / Gothamist]

After she discovered her baby wasn’t breathing, Jessica Logan sobbed and screamed on the call with a 911 operator. Using lessons he’d learned in a class called, “911 homicide: Is the caller the killer?,” an Illinois detective decided that she had killed her baby. [Brett Murphy / ProPublica]

When students returned to school in Uvalde, Texas, “state troopers were visible everywhere,” writes Bekah McNeel. “There’s a lot of police presence now,” one student said. “They said that they weren’t there when it happened, but I don’t know. I just don’t like it.” In May, a teenager opened fire inside an Uvalde elementary school. As the victims lay dying, police stood outside and in the school’s hallways, and did nothing. [Bekah McNeel / The Trace and The Guardian]

Missouri plans to execute Kevin Johnson on Nov. 29. His 19-year-old daughter, Corionsa “Khorry” Ramey, is petitioning a federal court to allow her to attend his execution. State law forbids anyone under the age of 21 to attend executions. Johnson, now 37, is on death row for a crime that occurred when he was 19. [Jack Suntrup / St. Louis Post-Dispatch]


ICYMI — from The Appeal

On Sept. 13, a guard at the Fulton County Jail in Georgia found a man dead in a mental health unit. He was covered in lice and feces. A report by the Fulton County Jail’s medical provider would reveal shocking neglect: more than 90 percent of detainees in the unit were so malnourished that they developed a wasting syndrome often associated with advanced-stage cancer.


That’s all for this week. As always, feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to invest in the future of The Appeal, please donate now and your donation will be tripled here.

Riots Work: An interview with Alex Mingus

Photo provided by Alex Mingus
Screenshot from On Site Public Media's YouTube video featuring Alex Mingus

Riots Work: An interview with Alex Mingus


Photo provided by Alex Mingus
Screenshot from On Site Public Media's YouTube video featuring Alex Mingus

Riots Work: An interview with Alex Mingus

with Alex Mingus and Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg

In October, outside the Saint Paul, Minnesota, police station, Alex Mingus was presented with the Chief’s Award for Valor for saving the life of a shooting victim. Mingus stepped up to the podium to accept the award—then took his sweatshirt off, revealing a t-shirt underneath that said: “Smash white supremacy.”

“I do not rock with the police,” he said. “They don’t keep us safe. We keep us safe. Riots work.”

Mingus teaches with the Minneapolis-based group, Atlas Defense Violence Prevention Training, which provides classes on permit-to-carry. He told The Appeal he is a member of the Wild Path Collective, which Mingus described as a “multicultural, intergenerational” group of like-minded people who are “trying to do some wonderful things.”

The collective’s working farm in Wisconsin is part of the group’s 100-year plan to “help the land heal,” and to “bring Black and brown, indigenous, trans, queer folks out to the land to help them heal as well.”

Wild Path Collective, he said, is “trying to create almost like a new society where we’re doing things the right way and with everyone in mind.”

Mingus spoke with The Appeal about the police as an occupying force, riots, and how to keep communities safe.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What role do the police currently play in your community and what role, if any, should they play?

A: I see them as sort of like an occupying force. Police respond to crime. They don’t prevent crime. And on the off chance that they do prevent something from happening, it’s usually because they stumbled upon something

They’re crime responders, and one of the biggest gangs I think in our country. But what role do I think they should play?

I don’t see something that was set up to catch slaves having any positive benefit in our communities. It was set up to protect rich white people’s property and that’s still what they do today.

Q: In your speech, you said the police don’t keep us safe, we keep us safe. Can you tell me more about that?

A: During the uprising, we were literally keeping ourselves safe because where I live—I live sort of in between George Floyd Square and the third precinct, much closer to the third precinct. Me and some of my kids and a few of my neighbors were up most nights till three, four in the morning, holding our block down.

It’s really about us keeping us safe, right?

I know my neighbors. I know who lives around me. We speak. We’re not in silos. If somebody needs something or if there’s some sort of emergency, we know that we can call on each other before we necessarily have to call 911. Now, there’s a difference between medical emergency and non-medical emergency. And I’m not afraid to call 911 for a medical emergency.

I won’t call 911 for the police.

Q: That day when there was a shooting, can you tell me about what happened and your thoughts as you saw the police cars going past you?

A: Well, in the moment, I didn’t know that the shooter was back up towards the original scene of the shooting. I was a block down from where the shooting had taken place and with the victim.

It was frustrating. I was literally in the middle of the streets trying to get in front of their cars. I thought they were coming for the shooting victim, unaware that they were going to the shooter. There were nine squads that passed me. One of them should have peeled off and at minimum thrown me a tourniquet.

The Saint Paul Police Department did not immediately respond to a phone call from The Appeal seeking comment. In a statement published by the local FOX affiliate, the department said: “Shooting scenes can be very chaotic. As officers respond to these calls, critical information comes at them quickly and they are focused on preventing the suspect from returning or harming more people while also securing the scene for Saint Paul Fire paramedics to come in and treat the victim.”

Q: You said in your speech riots work. Can you tell me more about that?

A: I saw it spray painted on Minneapolis Police Department’s First Precinct in our downtown during—we had marched from the Government Center to the First Precinct downtown after Amir Locke was murdered.

And I thought, “Oh shit, that’s dope.” We seen it firsthand. After the uprising, the only reason we got movement is because things were burning.

There’s always going to be, well, what about a small business and what about mom-and-pop shops? And yes, I think it is quite unfortunate when people who have played this capitalist game and gotten to a point where they own a business—it does suck when they lose the things, but also you’re playing the capitalist game. Most things in this country have been moved forward by force.

Q: What has the response been since you gave your speech?

A: For me to have another 40-something dad message me and say, “Hey, man. I showed your video to my sons. We’re really proud of you.” It’s like—I’m fighting back tears now. I’ve just been overwhelmed with the love.

I’ve gotten messages from Germany, Australia, Chile, the UK. I’m really blown away and really humbled and grateful. I’m really grateful for the amount of love that I’m getting.

Update: After publication, St. Paul Public Information Officer Sgt. Mike Ernster told The Appeal that, “Sometimes it looks like officers are going by you and not stopping to help but they’re also trying to problem solve and prevent more victims from being impacted by this person.”

As for Mingus’s actions—stopping his own vehicle, getting out, and tending to the gunshot victim—he said, “We’re very happy that Mr. Mingus was there to make a difference for that victim that day. It’s great that he did stop because a lot of people don’t.”


 

In the news

 

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is undermining a new law that is supposed to allow people on electronic monitoring to run occasional errands without risk of arrest and incarceration. [Maryam Saleh / The Intercept]

Staff of New York’s Rochester Police Accountability Board (PAB) are unionizing. The PAB secretary said that the working conditions have “grown intolerable.” They are calling on the mayor and city council to recognize their union. [Patrick Moussignac / News10NBC]

Investigative Post obtained transcripts of depositions provided by retired Buffalo, New York, police officers in a case alleging that the department engaged in racially discriminatory policing. Lt. Thomas Whelan admitted that he and other officers called community members the N-word, but a “good verbal thrashing beats going to jail any day.” [Geoff Kelly / Investigative Post]

A Republican who has vowed to enforce abortion laws in a state where abortion may soon become illegal won one of the biggest prosecutor races in the country last week. Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell defeated her Democratic challenger and secured another term as Maricopa County’s top prosecutor. [Meg O’Connor / Twitter]

Voters ousted Bristol County, Massachusetts, Sheriff Thomas Hodgson. His defeat ended a “25-year reign marked by extreme medical neglect, mounting jail suicides, and staunchly anti-immigrant policies,” writes Alex Burness for Bolts. [Alex Burness / Bolts]


ICYMI — from The Appeal


New York’s prison package ban forces people
to turn to expensive third-party vendors to send products to their incarcerated loved ones. As Molly Hagan reports, the policy is doing disproportionate harm to women, both inside and outside of prison.

As it turns out, repeatedly yelling “crime” at voters—both literally and figuratively—is not a winning election strategy. Jerry Iannelli and Nick Wing explain how both parties miscalculated on crime, and what Democrats should take away from the results.


That’s all for this week. As always, feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to invest in the future of The Appeal, please donate now and your donation will be tripled here.

Midterm Elections Deliver Some Good News for Criminal Legal Reform

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

Midterm Elections Deliver Some Good News for Criminal Legal Reform


Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

Midterm Elections Deliver Some Good News for Criminal Legal Reform

by Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg, Nick Wing, Jerry Iannelli, and Meg O’Connor

Civil rights were under assault this midterm election cycle, as political campaigns sought to capitalize on fear-mongering crime coverage to turn out voters in support of tough-on-crime policies.

But the results so far signal that the bad-faith “crime wave” narrative pushed by conservatives and some Democrats failed to con a critical mass of voters, who instead largely favor a less draconian police state.

In the first nationwide election after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated Roe v. Wade in June, several states voted to protect reproductive rights and prevent abortion from being further criminalized.

Voters in a handful of states also had the opportunity to buck the nation’s deeply unpopular drug war by voting to legalize marijuana. And in Colorado, a proposition to decriminalize possession of natural psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline was also put to the test. The measure currently maintains a slim lead, with 51 percent of the vote as of Wednesday morning.

Bail reform was perhaps the biggest test of the false and exaggerated crime panic messaging. In recent years, the nation has succeeded in paring back harmful cash-bail policies. But after years of Fox News, local TV stations, and other news outlets pummeling the public with disingenuous stories about crime, some states, like Alabama and Ohio, passed ballot measures that may make it harder for people to make bail. And while Democrat Kathy Hochul won the New York governor’s race over anti-bail zealot Lee Zeldin, Hochul also campaigned on toughening bail laws.

District attorney races across the country have shown mixed results, with candidates who support ending cash bail both winning and losing across the country. While there was plenty of cause for optimism in the midterm elections, it’s clear that progressives and reformers must redouble their efforts if they want to put an end to this country’s excessively harsh criminal punishment system.

Here’s a summary of the major races yesterday that impacted the legal system:


Abortion

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, it gave states control over the legality of abortion. Since June, at least 13 states have banned the healthcare procedure, forcing people to have children against their will and thrusting many more people into the criminal legal system. Several elections across the country last night had a significant impact on protecting the legality of abortion.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Race: Abortion is currently legal up to 15 weeks in Arizona. But that is likely to change next year when the current case blocking a near-total abortion ban from taking effect makes its way to the state Supreme Court, where every justice was appointed by a Republican governor. The Phoenix-based Maricopa County Attorney has jurisdiction over the lives of 4.5 million of Arizona’s 7.3 million residents—it’s one of the most populated counties in the entire country. One candidate, Democratic challenger Julie Gunnigle, has vowed never to prosecute people who provide or obtain abortions. The other, Republican incumbent Rachel Mitchell, has said she will “enforce the law” when it comes to abortion, whatever that law ends up being.

The results: As of Wednesday morning, November 9, Mitchell had a four-point lead over Gunnigle, though votes are still being counted over the next couple of days.

Ballot initiatives: Michigan, California, Vermont, Kentucky, and Montana all voted on initiatives that will greatly affect the legality of abortion in those states.

  • In Michigan, voters decided to enshrine the right to “reproductive freedom” in the state constitution, granting Michigan residents the right to “make and effectuate decisions about all matters relating to pregnancy,” including abortion care.
  • Voters in California and Vermont passed similar measures that also amend the state constitution to protect abortion access.
  • In Kentucky, voters rejected a measure to change the state constitution to say that nothing in the state constitution creates a right to an abortion, a victory for reproductive justice supporters that could make it easier to make abortion legal in the state again further down the line.
  • In Montana, voters are leaning toward rejecting a measure that purports to give legal personhood rights to infants (which they already have in the state), but actually would have simply criminalized healthcare providers and families. The measure stated that healthcare providers who allow newborns with fatal prognoses to die (instead of prolonging their lives as long as possible) could face 20 years in prison. The race has yet to be called, but votes against the measure are five points ahead.

Drug Policy

Voters in six states and a handful of cities had a chance on Tuesday to further chip away at the nation’s war on drugs. As in years past, most of the action was centered around marijuana, with voters in five states—including four that are solidly red—deciding whether to join the 19 others that have already legalized cannabis for recreational use. Advocates have kept an especially close eye on the campaigns in Republican strongholds, where victories would signify further bipartisan momentum in favor of marijuana legalization.

The burgeoning psychedelics movement also faced a significant test in Colorado, where voters considered an initiative to decriminalize possession of natural psychedelics such as psilocybin, the psychoactive compound found in magic mushrooms.

Cannabis Legalization: Residents of Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota all voted Tuesday on whether to legalize the possession of marijuana for people over the age of 21.

  • In Arkansas, Maryland, and Missouri, people voted on measures to enshrine into their state constitutions the right to possess small quantities of cannabis for personal use—and in some cases the right to grow weed.
  • In Maryland, state lawmakers passed legislation tied to the passage of their ballot measure, which will provide a pathway for expunging many past marijuana convictions and allowing people incarcerated for such offenses to file for resentencing.
  • Missouri’s proposed measure also allows those convicted of similar offenses to apply for expungement or resentencing.
  • North Dakotans voted on a measure to create a law legalizing possession of up to an ounce of marijuana after rejecting such a measure four years ago.
  • And in South Dakota, residents voted a second time on whether to legalize pot possession, after a lawsuit invalidated a successful “yes” vote two years ago.

The results:

  • Marylanders voted overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing marijuana. Prior to Tuesday’s vote, Maryland had been the darkest blue state not to have legalized weed, going by the results of the 2020 presidential election.
  • Voters in Missouri also voted in favor of legalization, which means the U.S. is now one step closer to having a contiguous strip of legal-weed states that spans the country. (Kansas and Kentucky could take a while, but still!)
  • Elsewhere, in Texas, voters in five cities passed local ordinances to decriminalize marijuana possession.
  • Meanwhile, in Arkansas, voters rejected their legalization measure by a significant margin. If successful, it would have been just the second Southern state to approve recreational marijuana, after Virginia.
  • North Dakota also rejected their initiative.
  • South Dakota’s looked likely to fall short as well, though the results are not yet official.

Psychedelics: A decade ago, Colorado voters passed a proposition that made their state one of the first to legalize recreational marijuana. A measure on the ballot this year—Proposition 122— once again puts Colorado at the cutting edge of drug policy by decriminalizing the personal use, possession, growth, and transport of natural psychedelics including psilocybin, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), ibogaine, and mescaline. Proposition 122 also creates a program for licensing and regulating so-called “healing centers” that could administer the natural substances covered under the measure.

The results: As of publish time, Proposition 122 was maintaining a slim lead—around 51 percent of the vote, with 80 percent of ballots counted. The results have not yet been made official.


Bail Reform

This election season, bail reform was on the ballot across the country, whether it was a topic at candidate forums or a talking point in campaign ads.

If bail reform is rolled back, more people who are accused, but not convicted, of a crime will be incarcerated as they wait for their case to resolve. During that time, they may lose everything—their jobs, their homes, their children, and their lives. But this bleak reality for millions of people, many of them people of color, is not what dominates the headlines. Instead, Republicans and tough-on-crime Democrats falsely claim that bail reform drives up crime.

In some states, constitutional amendments on the ballot will likely have major implications for those accused of crimes and their loved ones:

Alabama: Voters were asked to amend their state constitution to allow judges to deny bail for a number of first-degree offenses, including robbery, kidnapping, rape, sodomy, and domestic violence. Under the current Alabama state constitution, judges can only deny bail for people charged with a capital offense. If voters approve the measure, significantly more people could be held in jail pretrial.

Ohio: A Republican-proposed constitutional amendment would require judges to consider public safety, a person’s criminal record, the likelihood a person will return to court, and “any other factor the Ohio General Assembly may prescribe” when deciding to set bail. Critics have noted that the measure appears to be mostly redundant, as judges can already consider many of those factors at a pretrial detention hearing. The amendment would also remove the requirement that the the Supreme Court of Ohio set procedures for establishing the amount and conditions of bail.

And in several states, local races, from head prosecutor to governor, will help determine the future of bail reform and how many people may be detained in already overcrowded and dangerous jails.

New York Gubernatorial Race: In New York State, bail reform has been a punching bag for both the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor. In one campaign ad for the incumbent, Democrat Kathy Hochul, the narrator says Hochul “passed a comprehensive crime plan [that] toughens bail laws to keep repeat offenders off our streets.” Republican candidate Lee Zeldin had promised to unilaterally suspend New York’s bail reform law if elected.

  • The results: Hochul defeated Zeldin and was elected governor of New York.

San Francisco District Attorney: After Chesa Boudin was ousted by a well-funded recall campaign that trafficked more in feelings than facts, Mayor London Breed chose Brooke Jenkins to replace him. She’s running against several challengers to serve out a full term. After she took office, she reversed Boudin’s policy of not requesting cash bail in any cases. Less than a week before Election Day, Mission Local reported that as an Assistant District Attorney, Jenkins sent police reports and a person’s criminal record to a colleague’s personal email address, in possible violation of state law. She and her colleague, former prosecutor Don du Bain, used the materials as they campaigned to recall Boudin.

  • The results: As of Wednesday morning, the race hadn’t been called, but Jenkins had a significant lead over her main opponent, former police commissioner John Hamasaki.

King County (Seattle), Washington Prosecuting Attorney: Neither candidate—Leesa Manion or Jim Ferrell—supports ending cash bail. However, Manion, the current county prosecutor’s chief of staff, has criticized the cash bail system and believes there are effective alternatives to ensure someone returns to court. Jim Ferrell’s position has no such nuance. Ferrell, who is backed by police organizations, told Real Change News that he believes cash bail protects victims.

  • The results: As of Wednesday morning, Manion had a sizable lead over Ferrell, with just under a third of ballots counted.

Alameda County (Oakland), California District Attorney: Civil rights attorney Pamela Price and longtime prosecutor Terry Wiley are running to replace District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. O’Malley is also the president of the California District Attorneys Association, an organization that tends to oppose criminal justice reforms. Price supports ending cash bail, Wiley does not.

Hennepin County (Minneapolis), Minnesota District Attorney: Neither candidate supports eliminating cash bail. But candidate Mary Moriarty, former head of the public defender’s office, supports laws that would restrict “wealth bias” in the legal system, including restrictions on money bail. Martha Holton Dimick, a former prosecutor and retired judge, has said Moriarty is not qualified to be County Attorney because she “has just worked with criminals.”


 

In the news

 

Documents obtained by Mission Local show that as an Assistant District Attorney in 2021, interim San Francisco DA Brooke Jenkins sent sensitive case files to a colleague’s personal email address. Experts say her actions constitute a grave—and potentially illegal—breach of conduct. [Joe Eskenazi / Mission Local]

In May of 2021, Robert Adams says that prison guards beat him and one sexually assaulted him while he was incarcerated at Shawangunk Correctional Facility in New York. Afterward, a doctor refused to give Adams a proper rape exam, a witness was denied food until he agreed not to testify, and another witness says he was beaten for reporting the assault. [Victoria Law / New York Focus and The Intercept]

Hall County, Georgia, Solicitor General Stephanie Woodard used public funds that were supposed to help witnesses or victims of crime to pay for her own personal expenses, such as jewelry repair and a garden gnome. Her office prosecutes misdemeanors like DUIs, domestic violence, and simple assault. [Randy Travis / Fox 5 Atlanta]

Aaron Miguel Cantú and Kandist Mallett investigate the case of Black Lives Matter activist Brittany Dawn Jeffrey, who has been incarcerated since June 2021. “She became a target of a historic federal crackdown,” they wrote, “against racial justice protesters and organizers.” [Aaron Miguel Cantú and Kandist Mallett / The Nation]

The police did nothing. ProPublica and The Texas Tribune have published more transcripts of 911 calls from children trapped with a gunman and dead bodies inside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. [Lomi Kriel, Zach Despart, Alejandro Serrano, and Roxanna Asgarian / ProPublica and The Texas Tribune]

In October, Javarick Gantt, who was deaf, was killed while detained on a probation violation at the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center. Shortly before his death, experts with the ACLU had documented inhumane conditions at the jail, especially for people with disabilities. [Ben Conarck / The Baltimore Banner]


ICYMI — from The Appeal

Bryce Covert reports on ballot initiatives to close loopholes in state constitutions that allow the forced labor of incarcerated people.

Pamela Price is running a progressive campaign to change the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office in Oakland. Her opponent is trying to cut into her apparent lead by painting her as the next Chesa Boudin, Akintunde Ahmad reports.

In Virginia, people who menstruate are forced to remove tampons and menstrual pads in front of corrections staff during strip searches, currently and formerly incarcerated women tell Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg.

This may come as a surprise, but it looks like drug dealers did not, in fact, give out any free fentanyl to kids on Halloween. Jerry Iannelli breaks down the origins of this sensational “news” story and the forces that benefited from manufacturing a panic.


That’s all for this week. As always, feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to invest in the future of The Appeal, please donate now and your donation will be tripled here.

A Big Milestone for The Appeal

A Big Milestone for The Appeal


Help The Appeal unlock $30,000!

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A Big Milestone for The Appeal

from Nick Wing

November 2 is a big date for The Appeal, and it has nothing to do with the fact that it’s National Stress Awareness Day, National Deviled Egg Day, or David Schwimmer’s birthday.

One year ago today, we published the first reported piece of The Appeal’s worker-led era: Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg’s infuriating story about Reginald “Reggie” Randolph, a chronically homeless man who spent more than 800 days at the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City after his arrest in 2018 for stealing cold medicine. Readers reacted by calling attention to the many ways the system had failed Reggie before it ultimately tried to dispose of him. In January, following widespread advocacy from community members and state lawmakers, Reggie was released into supportive housing pending an appeal in his case.

A lot has happened in the year since that first story. We’ve published over 100 original articles, earned recognition from awards committees, and built up a newsletter—the one you’re reading right now—that reaches over 10,000 people each week. And we’ve had our work cut out for us. Fear-mongering rhetoric about crime reached new highs, leading to continued pushback against justice reform and its champions. President Joe Biden, an architect of the modern war on drugs, announced a plan to potentially end the federal prohibition on marijuana. The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, with votes from three men who had previously testified under oath that they believed the ruling was settled precedent.

In New York City, we can’t talk about Reggie’s story without noting that 18 people have died at city jails so far in 2022, including a dozen at the Rikers complex where he was detained for years. Despite the raging humanitarian crisis, NYC officials have offered few answers, with some pushing for further rollbacks of a state bail reform law that would only increase overcrowding and deprivation at the hellhole that is Rikers.

All of this brings us to today. We’re officially entering Year Two of publishing at the worker-led Appeal at a pretty consequential time. Elections next week could shift the balance of power at the local, state, and national levels, shaking up the momentum both in favor of and against reform. The assault on abortion rights has only just begun, as prosecutors and police prepare to ramp up efforts to criminalize abortion. Gun violence continues to plague the nation at elevated rates, and lawmakers continue to insist that we respond first and foremost with more cops and cages—though we are thankfully also seeing major new investments in community-based alternatives. Problems of homelessness and visible poverty and mental illness are only getting worse in cities, while officials double down on failed interventions that stress enforcement and further displacement over robust investments in services and housing.

All of that means The Appeal’s reporting will become even more crucial in the months ahead. There’s no way around it: We need your support to be able to do that work. Luckily for us, today isn’t only National Stress Awareness Day—and wow are we aware—it’s also Day 2 of Newsmatch, a program that helps small newsrooms like ours grow.

From now until December 31, all donations from readers will be tripled. Say you want to donate $56 in honor of David Schwimmer’s 56th birthday, that would turn into $168!

Even better, monthly donations will be matched at their annual value. So if you sign up to give $8 a month right now, that means $192 for us upfront.

Year One of the worker-led Appeal is officially in the books, and we couldn’t be more proud of what our team has already accomplished. But we know how much more there is to do: how many more injustices need to be exposed, how many more people need to be freed, how many more carceral policies need to be defeated, and how many more community-based solutions need to be elevated. Help us continue this work by donating today.


 

In the news

 

Not even six months after he was exonerated and released from prison, Claude Garrett died on October 31. Based on debunked forensic science, Garrett had been convicted of setting a fire that killed his girlfriend. He spent more than 30 years in prison for a crime that he never committed. [Liliana Segura / Twitter]

New York City Department of Correction Commissioner Louis Molina announced plans to ban physical mail at New York City jails, supposedly in response to recent drug overdoses. The jail chief claimed, without providing evidence, that “fentanyl-soaked” drawings, letters, prayer schedules, and clothing have been shipped to detainees. [Matt Katz / WNYC]

Commissioner Molina’s plan, which could involve a switch to digitized mail and new restrictions on care packages, follows reports of smuggling by jail staff and nonprofit employees. [Greg B. Smith And Reuven Blau / The City]

A Hawaii judge ruled that the state Department of Public Safety must publicly release the names of incarcerated people who die in state custody. The department had disclosed such deaths in the past but abruptly changed policy in 2020. [Kevin Dayton / Honolulu Civil Beat]

In Pennsylvania, the Lackawanna County Board of Elections blocked local efforts to put a referendum on the ballot that would limit solitary confinement in the local correctional facility, the Lackawanna County Prison, where many people are confined to their cells for up to 23 hours a day. [Michael M. Santiago / Truthout]


That’s all for this week. As always, feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to invest in the future of The Appeal, please donate now and your donation will be tripled here.

“The Media Emboldens a Police State”: A conversation with movement lawyer Olayemi Olurin

Olayemi Olurin

“The Media Emboldens a Police State”: A conversation with movement lawyer Olayemi Olurin


Olayemi Olurin

“The Media Emboldens a Police State”: A conversation with movement lawyer Olayemi Olurin

Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg and Olayemi Olurin

Inside New York City courtrooms, movement lawyer and commentator, Olayemi Olurin battles a legal system set up to punish, humiliate, and degrade her clients, all of whom are poor and many of whom are Black.

Olurin spoke with The Appeal about abolition, living in a police state, and the media, which she says plays an “indispensable role in upholding our criminal system.”

She also told us what inspires her to keep fighting.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What is prison abolition?

A: Abolition is a vision of tomorrow.

We have a massive prison industrial complex that doesn’t do anything to make us safer. Instead of putting all this money into prisons and police and incarcerating the same communities repeatedly, we want to start divesting from prisons. Putting that money back into the communities, back into the infrastructure, health, housing, education, and everything that would alleviate the actual root causes of crime so that we could stop crime itself.

Q: In this country, it’s so hard for people to imagine a world without prison cells, jails, or police. People say, ‘Well, what would we do about violent crime? What would we do about theft?’ How do you respond?

A: We would actually address it. The system that we have in place does not address those things at all. Condemning violent crime does not stop violent crime from reoccurring. If we actually want violence to stop happening, we have to actually interrogate what’s causing the violence.

I think it’s important to remember that over 80 percent of the cases we have in our criminal system nationwide are misdemeanor or nonviolent offenses. They have nothing to do with violence.

Violent crime is not only rare, but it’s also deeply interpersonal so it requires an interrogation of how we got there. So that’s my response. Let’s actually address it.

Q: Can you talk about the lack of respect for people’s time when they are charged with a traffic violation, misdemeanor, or felony, whatever it might be?

There’s no respect in any shape or form. We created an entire virtual court system that works. Post bail reform and our virtual system, our failures to appear in court went down dramatically.

We created this incredibly efficient system and they did not want it so badly. They could not stand the fact that they could not issue warrants on people as often. They insisted, “Let’s get back to court.” Why? It’s literally far more efficient and easier on everybody involved.

Your clients, that are already poor people, have to figure out how to get there. They gotta go find childcare. If they haven’t lost their job, the job has to let them off for an entire day.

It’s just a series of negative consequences. I once had a client [arrested for] a DUI. She had a newborn baby. She never once missed a court date. She had no one to watch that baby. She had the baby in court. And the judge reprimanded her. She was like, “You need to get childcare.”

The judge is aware of everything. You are aware that this person is poor and she has come to court and you are screaming at her in court because her child is there. Who the fuck is paying for childcare? Who’s paying for it? You paying for it?

Q: In April, The Guardian reported that police had killed almost 600 people in traffic stops since 2017. Black drivers make up 28 percent. These statistics don’t include people who are shot, but survived or were otherwise harmed. Can you talk about the danger of having police conduct traffic stops?

A: When you live in a police state, you live in a society that criminalizes everything. People don’t even realize that it’s an abnormal response to everything. There are systems in countries that don’t respond this way. I’m born and raised in the Bahamas, we don’t do this shit.

Oftentimes traffic offenses can be dealt with, without the criminal law. You can give a ticket and that’s white people’s experiences with traffic infractions.

Do you know how many criminal cases I have of traffic shit because they decide they’re going to arrest? Because they can give a ticket, but Black people [they] arrest. There are people who have sat up in Rikers, or lost their lives—you look at the Philando Castile’s, you look at the Daunte Wright’s—because of traffic stops.

Q: What role does the media play in propping up the police narrative?

A: The media emboldens a police state by treating all of what the police say as fact, instead of police being treated as other governmental agents or regular individual people, whose narrative needs to be interrogated.

Q: How do you maintain hope? What inspires you to stay in the fight?

A: There are no new pains. I say this a lot as an Audre Lorde quote. I constantly read from all of the thinkers and people before me that have already explored and dealt with the same issues.

Some people might hear that and think, “Oh it doesn’t get better.” But it does. Even the fact that we’ve gotten to a place that in mainstream coverage, we can even talk about abolition— even if we’re in the minority, even if they’re fighting us constantly—the fact that we can get it to the main stage.

I believe in the permanence of racism. I don’t expect the entire criminal system is going to be abolished in my lifetime. There were people fighting about it before me. There are people fighting for it now, during me. There will be people fighting for it after me.

And so, you know, therapy.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to discuss that I didn’t ask about?

A: Rikers is a human rights crisis. [New York City Mayor] Eric Adams is more concerned with the Department of Correction than he is with anybody incarcerated at Rikers and he continuously tells us that.

A [federal] receivership would allow the court to appoint a neutral, nonpartisan expert. They’d be allowed to fire people, hire people, change policies as they wanted.

Ultimately Rikers needs to be closed, but what needs to happen to stop these deaths, we need new people in charge of what’s happening at Rikers.


 

In the news

 

Reporter Cerise Castle obtained a video that shows deputies with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department attacking Blake Anderson as he walked with a friend. Since the beating, he has lost all vision in his right eye. Anderson is facing charges of assault on an officer. [Cerise Castle / Knock LA]

More than four million people, or one in every 50 adults, will be barred from voting in the 2022 midterms due to a felony conviction, according to a new report from The Sentencing Project. In Florida alone, 1.1 million people are banned from voting—more than any other state in the country—and more than one in 10 Black adults is disenfranchised. [The Sentencing Project]

Nearly 20 states have constitutions with language permitting slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments. Voters in five states are now considering measures that could rein in the use of forced labor by people convicted of certain crimes. [Kimberlee Kruesi / Associated Press]

Nearly 100 in-custody deaths in Maryland will face independent review amid scrutiny of the former chief medical examiner’s role in the George Floyd murder trial. Dr. David Fowler testified that he wouldn’t have classified Floyd’s death as a homicide. [Dylan Segelbaum / The Baltimore Banner]

A recent audit finds that the Philadelphia Police Department—with a nearly $800 million budget—has “lowest-in-class homicide clearance rate, slow 911 response times that are worse in communities of color, and a dearth of community input and trust.” [Anna Orso / The Philadelphia Inquirer]


That’s all for this week. As always, feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to invest in the future of The Appeal, please donate here.

A Star Witness Recanted. But Tasha Shelby is Still Imprisoned for ‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’ Junk-Science.

From left to right: Valena Beety, Emily Girvan-Dutton, Tasha Shelby, Astrid Parrett.
Courtesy of Valena Beety.

A Star Witness Recanted. But Tasha Shelby is Still Imprisoned for ‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’ Junk-Science.


From left to right: Valena Beety, Emily Girvan-Dutton, Tasha Shelby, Astrid Parrett.
Courtesy of Valena Beety.

A Star Witness Recanted. But Tasha Shelby is Still Imprisoned for ‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’ Junk-Science.

by Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg

In a Mississippi courtroom more than twenty years ago, a jury was tasked with deciding if 25-year-old Tasha Shelby should be executed for the murder of two-year-old Bryan Thompson IV, a crime that likely never occurred. The Mississippi Second Circuit Court District Attorney’s Office alleged that Shelby had shaken Thompson and hit his head against an object in their home in Biloxi—despite the fact that Shelby says the boy, who had a history of neurological issues, appeared to be having a seizure that night.

“I didn’t know what the death penalty really meant,” Shelby told The Appeal in a phone call from Central Mississippi Correctional Facility. “I thought that meant that they would kill you that night.”

The jury came back with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

“I remember just putting my head down and I, out loud, but in a whisper, I just said, ‘Thank you, Jesus,’” said Shelby. “I just wanted to be able to live.”

In the years since her 2000 conviction, the case against her has unraveled. The state’s star witness, the medical examiner who ruled Thompson’s death a homicide, has said he was wrong. But prosecutors have fought her appeals. She’s now awaiting a decision from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, which can order a hearing, affirm, or overturn her conviction.

Numerous exonerations and studies have shown that symptoms associated with Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) can be caused by short-distance falls or seizures, among other factors. Earlier this year, a New Jersey judge called the SBS diagnosis “akin to ‘junk science.’” But people continue to be charged, convicted, and sent to prison based on a widely discredited diagnosis.

“Even when the science has changed, even when there’s proof that false evidence was presented at trial, it’s still so so hard to reverse the conviction,” said Valena Beety, a member of Shelby’s legal team and deputy director of the Academy for Justice at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. [Disclosure: The Appeal receives funding from the Academy for Justice at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.]

“Prosecutors will still fight to uphold the conviction,” Beety said, “even when there’s no reliability to it.”


In the early morning hours of May 30, 1997, Shelby, then 22 years old, said she was in bed with her newborn girl. About two weeks earlier, she’d given birth by emergency cesarean, according to a hospital discharge summary. She was engaged to her daughter’s father, who was at work that night.

Thompson, her fiance’s son from a previous relationship, was asleep in his room. While in bed, she heard a thump and went to check on Thompson, she told The Appeal. She found him on the ground, where he appeared to be having a seizure. She called her fiance. He came home and all four rushed to the hospital. Thompson never regained consciousness.

When the family got home, Shelby told The Appeal, agents from child protective services were there. She said they ripped her daughter from her arms. She’s only seen her once since then. Her three-year-old son from a prior relationship had spent the previous night at a relative’s home; she has not seen him since.

“That is something that no one will ever be able to give back to me—those moments that I’ve lost as a mom,” Shelby said.


There’s no shortage of evidence to suggest that Shelby is innocent. Her legal team has retained expert opinions from a biomechanical engineer and a forensic pathologist who concluded that Thompson was not abused.

But possibly the most powerful piece of evidence they’ve uncovered is from LeRoy Riddick, the medical examiner who originally ruled Thompson’s death a homicide. In 2018, Riddick testified at a hearing before the Circuit Court of Harrison County that Thompson wasn’t murdered.

Riddick amended the manner of death on Thompson’s death certificate from homicide to accident. He told the Court he now believed that Thompson had fallen and suffered a seizure and that the child’s asthma had also contributed to his death. (Riddick died last year.)

“I made a mistake,” he testified.

Riddick said he did not know that Thompson’s family had a history of seizures or that Thompson had an appointment to see a neurologist a week after his death. Shelby’s grandmother had told the police she had observed Thompson experience a possible seizure. Shelby’s fiance had testified at trial that Thompson’s eyes had been bloodshot for several weeks.

But, the Court wasn’t persuaded by Riddick’s testimony and denied Shelby’s petition to toss out her conviction.

Even though the State’s case has come undone, Shelby, now 47, remains in prison. She’ll spend the rest of her life there unless the governor, the courts, or local prosecutors intervene. Instead of fighting the case, state Attorney General Lynn Fitch or District Attorney W. Crosby Parker could petition the court to reverse the conviction, said Beety, Shelby’s attorney. The State Attorney General’s office told The Appeal in an email they do not comment on active litigation. Parker’s office did not respond to messages from The Appeal.

Or, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves can grant Shelby’s recently submitted application for clemency.

“The truth is there and I am innocent,” Shelby said. “He has the power to give me back some of what was taken from me.”


 

In the news

 

Reporter James Finn toured the old death row unit at Angola that will soon house teenagers. Louisiana plans to send kids from juvenile facilities to the unit if they’re “acting up.” [James Finn / The Advocate] From The Appeal: Louisiana Wants to Jail Kids on Angola Prison’s Old Death Row

Child protective services agencies routinely enter homes without a warrant, a trend that disproportionately impacts Black & Latino families. When one mother refused them entry, as is her right, the agency called the NYPD. [Eli Hager / ProPublica]

Two comedians are suing over an alleged “policing for profit” scheme at the Atlanta airport, which has led to the seizure of over $1 million from passengers. Over 50 percent of these “drug enforcement” stops involve Black people. Drugs are almost never found. [Kate Brumback / Associated Press]

A South Florida Sun-Sentinel investigation found that the newly formed Pembroke Park Police Department hired several cops with problematic backgrounds. [Lisa J. Huriash / South Florida Sun-Sentinel]

Mental health professionals are in the 911 call center in Durham, North Carolina, as part of a pilot program to better connect people with help. [Nadia Kounang / CNN]

Michigan state senators introduced a bill that would punish parents and medical professionals with up to life in prison for providing gender-affirming care to a minor—“for refusing to torture trans kids, then, parents, caregivers, and doctors could spend the rest of their lives in prison,” writes Natasha Lennard. [Natasha Lennard / The Intercept]


ICYMI — from The Appeal

Smart Communications, a for-profit Florida company that sells phone, videochat, and email-like services to prisons and jails, told at least one sheriff’s department that it can live “the resort life” on a trip to Florida.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced that a secret informant program operated by the Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s office in Orange County, California, violated accused people’s constitutional rights.

In Georgia, the Fulton County Sheriff wants to move people from his overcrowded jail into beds leased from Atlanta’s detention center. But a recent study from the American Civil Liberties Union finds nearly half of the detainees at his jail haven’t been formally charged. Advocates say many could be released.

The recent in-custody death of a young Brazilian asylum-seeker has led to renewed scrutiny of one of the nation’s cruelest ICE prisons. Detainees say the tragedy has left them traumatized, and that conditions haven’t improved.


That’s all for this week. As always, feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to invest in the future of The Appeal, please donate here.

An Innocent Man May Die Because of Illogical Deadlines

Rodney Reed on Texas death row in September 2019.
Photo courtesy of Tiffany McMillan.

An Innocent Man May Die Because of Illogical Deadlines


Rodney Reed on Texas death row in September 2019.
Photo courtesy of Tiffany McMillan.

An Innocent Man May Die Because of Illogical Deadlines

by Molly Greene

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case this term that will impact whether the state of Texas executes Rodney Reed for capital murder—even though it appears another man has confessed to committing the crime. But the case is not about Reed’s innocence. It’s a case about whether Reed filed his legal claims in time. Lauren Gill first covered Rodney Reed’s efforts to prove his innocence for The Appeal in September 2019 and his efforts have since gained national attention.

In 1997, the then-30-year-old Reed was charged with killing 19-year-old Stacey Stites, after Stites’ body was discovered in bushes in Bastrop, Texas. Reed, a Black man, has always maintained his innocence but was convicted in 1998 by an all-white jury and later sentenced to death. Medical examiners stated that Stites had been sexually assaulted prior to her death and found a small amount of semen that linked Reed to the woman. The defense produced evidence that Stites—who was engaged to another man—and Reed had secretly been dating and argued that the presence of DNA was due to consensual sex. But the jury clung to the prosecution’s assertion that the idea of a romance between the pair was “ludicrous” and “preposterous.”

In the years since, Stites’ then-fiance appears to have confessed to the crime. Stites’ was engaged at the time to local police officer Jimmy Fennell, who was later incarcerated for kidnapping and allegedly raping a woman while on duty as a police officer in 2007. While in prison, a member of the Aryan Brotherhood stated in a sworn affidavit that Fennell said he’d murdered Stites for her affair with Reed. “I had to kill my n*****-loving fiancé,” Fennell said, according to Snow’s sworn statement.

Reed repeatedly sought post-conviction relief in Texas state courts and in 2014 requested DNA testing of crime scene evidence, including the belt used to kill Stites, a name tag, a shirt, and two beer cans. The trial court denied his request. Reed appealed in 2017, but the state appellate court affirmed the lower court’s opinion. Later that year, the state court denied his requests for rehearing. In 2019, Reed filed a claim in federal court asserting that the state law’s procedures for DNA testing are unconstitutionally inadequate.

These dates are important because the question presented to the Supreme Court in Reed’s case is not actually about DNA testing or innocence, but about timing. The law at the center of this case, 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, lets defendants seek redress in federal court when their rights have been deprived by a state or local government official. When Texas state courts denied Reed his request for DNA testing, Reed filed a claim in federal court on the grounds that his right to due process was violated. But both the federal U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas and the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Reed waited too long to file his claim.

Section 1983 claims are subject to a state’s personal injury statute of limitations, which is two years in Texas. But federal appeals courts don’t agree on when the clock starts running. On the one hand, the Fifth Circuit determined that Reed’s countdown started when the trial court first denied his request for DNA testing in 2014 and had thus run down by the time he filed his request in federal court in 2019. On the other hand, the Eleventh Circuit determined that the clock doesn’t start until all state court action has completed, which would have been in November 2017. The Supreme Court will now settle the question.

If the Supreme Court makes it harder to file Section 1983 claims, the decision will disproportionately impact Black defendants on death row. According to a new report by the National Registry of Exonerations, “fifty-five percent of all defendants exonerated for murder are Black people (628/1,167), who make up 13.6% of the population of the United States.”

Starting the countdown early makes no sense, since, generally, federal courts—where Section 1983 claims are filed—will not consider state cases until all state courts have weighed in on a matter. Because state appellate cases often take years, filing a federal claim at the same time as a state appellate claim is illogical; it would be like ordering a package and trying to return it before it arrived. That’s what the Fifth Circuit has ruled about Reed’s Section 1983 claim—he should’ve brought it before he knew whether he would need to file in federal court.

There are three possible outcomes of this case, but only one of them helps Reed:

  1. Outcome one: the Supreme Court sides with the Fifth Circuit and agrees that the clock started running in 2016, when the state trial court denied Reed’s request for DNA testing, making Reed’s 2019 federal claim too late.
  2. Outcome two: the Court says the clock started running in October 2017, once the state appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision, making Reed’s November 2019 claim still be too late.
  3. Outcome three: the Court determines that the clock started running when the state appellate court denied Reed’s request for a rehearing in November 2017, which is when Reed fully exhausted his options for relief in state courts. Only then would Reed’s November 2019 federal claim have been filed in time.

If the Court splits the difference and goes with outcome two, it will leave a larger window for a lot of defendants seeking post-conviction relief. But Rodney Reed will be out of options.

If the court rules that Reed’s claim was not filed in time (outcome one or two), no evidence will be subject to DNA testing, including the belt used to strangle Stites. The potential confession by Fennell won’t matter. And Reed will be executed by the state of Texas.

For anyone looking to understand how convoluted the criminal legal system is, look no further than this case. In determining whether a man should die, the system will prioritize nine people’s opinions about the interpretation of a law about timekeeping over a violent and racist man saying, “I had to kill my n*****-loving fiance.”


 

In the news

 

Sunday was National Wrongful Conviction Day. Since 1989, there have been more than 3,200 known wrongful convictions. [National Registry of Exonerations] From The Appeal: Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg has reported on how Shaken Baby Syndrome, which one judge called “akin to junk science,” has led to a number of wrongful convictions.

Appeal alum and Bolts editor-in-chief Daniel Nichanian breaks down what criminal justice bills California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed—one that would place limits on solitary confinement—and what he signed—a bill to decriminalize jaywalking. [Daniel Nichanian / Twitter] From The Appeal: Last month, Nneka Ewulonu wrote that jaywalking is just one example of “America’s long history of criminalizing public spaces and our existence in them.”

The internet largely did not exist for Lyle C. May and others incarcerated in North Carolina prisons until 2020 when tablets were first distributed there. But that hasn’t meant access to information for free. “The advent of new technology in prison doesn’t just allow for increased communication—it presents the state with new opportunities to make a buck,” he writes. [Lyle C. May / Scalawag]

Police have killed at least 889 people so far this year. Police have killed more people in the past nine months than they have at any other point in the past decade, according to Samuel Sinyangwe, an activist and data scientist who runs the Mapping Police Violence database. [Samuel Sinyangwe / Mapping Police Violence]

Los Angeles police officer Houston Tipping, who was killed by other officers during a training exercise in May, had been investigating four LAPD officers for committing a gang rape when he was killed, according to Tipping’s family attorney, Bradley Gage. One of the four officers who is accused of participating in the gang rape was present when Tipping was beaten to death by his fellow officers. [Kylie Cheung / Jezebel]


That’s all for this week. As always, feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to invest in the future of The Appeal, please donate here.

Almost All Abortions Are Now Banned in Arizona

A judge allowed a Civil War-era law to go back into effect today. The law requires two to five years in prison for people who provide abortions, except to save the life of the pregnant person.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich
Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Almost All Abortions Are Now Banned in Arizona

A judge allowed a Civil War-era law to go back into effect today. The law requires two to five years in prison for people who provide abortions, except to save the life of the pregnant person.


Virtually all abortions are now banned in Arizona after a judge allowed a Civil War-era law to go back into effect today. The 1864 law bans abortion except to save the life of the pregnant person and mandates two to five years of prison time for people who provide abortions.

The law has not been in effect since 1973, when the Arizona Court of Appeals placed an injunction on the law following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, which protected the constitutional right to abortion.

After the current Supreme Court overturned Roe in June, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed a motion in Pima County Superior Court, where the injunction originated, requesting that a judge allow the ban to take effect once more. Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson ruled in favor of Brnovich and against Planned Parenthood of Arizona, which contended that a total abortion ban should not go into effect because Arizona lawmakers have spent decades passing other laws regulating abortion and did not intend to outlaw abortion altogether.

The law will have devastating consequences for people in Arizona. It will also affect people in neighboring states, as Arizonans have already been traveling to California and New Mexico to get abortions, creating longer wait times at clinics.

People of color, poor people, and other marginalized communities will be harmed the most by the ban, which will force people to travel long distances to have a legal abortion or obtain abortion pills illegally. Traveling to another state often involves finding childcare, taking time off work, and paying for gas, food, and lodging—not to mention the cost of the procedure itself. These costs can prevent people from being able to get an abortion at all, leaving them shackled to a pregnancy they do not want or can’t afford.

Abortion rights advocates are also concerned that the law could be used to criminalize people who help others obtain abortions. The full text of the 1864 ban states, “A person who provides, supplies or administers to a pregnant woman, or procures such woman to take any medicine, drugs or substance, or uses or employs any instrument or other means whatever, with intent thereby to procure the miscarriage of such woman, unless it is necessary to save her life, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not less than two years nor more than five years.”

Eloisa Lopez, executive director of the Abortion Fund of Arizona, told the Arizona Agenda in August that she worries prosecutors could even use the 1864 ban to criminally charge people for providing financial assistance for abortions or driving people to their appointments. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe in June, the Abortion Fund of Arizona has spent about $40,000 helping people get abortions—including facilitating transportation, childcare, and lodging arrangements.

Competing abortion laws and misinformation from Republican lawmakers caused chaos in Arizona in the months following the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe. Immediately afterward, Senate Republicans falsely stated that the 1864 law banning all abortions had been reinstated, “effective immediately.” A few days later, on June 29, Arizona Attorney General Brnovich announced that he was filing to lift the injunction on the 1864 ban, but also said in the same statement that the law was “back in effect,” even though the statute did not go back into effect until today.

Many health care clinics stopped providing abortions for a time due to the lack of clarity about the legality of abortion in Arizona. Some clinics resumed services after a judge enjoined a separate anti-abortion law: the state’s fetal personhood statute, which gives embryos and fetuses at all stages of development the same rights as people. On July 11, a federal district court judge blocked a part of that “personhood” statute that could have been used to criminalize people for providing or obtaining abortions.

Now providers will need to suspend abortion services again or face severe criminal consequences. The top prosecutor for the largest county in the state, Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell, has already expressed her intention to investigate prosecuting people for abortions if and when police submit cases to her.

“My role is to enforce the law and to look at cases as they come to me and make a decision and follow the ethical charging standards that we apply to every case, which is the reasonable likelihood of conviction,” Mitchell said in June.

Mitchell’s jurisdiction includes Phoenix and approximately 4.5 million of Arizona’s 7.2 million residents. She is up for election this November. Her challenger, Democrat Julie Gunnigle, has vowed not to prosecute abortions.

“Today’s ruling is a devastating decision and marks a dark day in Arizona’s history,” said Jennifer Allen, executive director for the ACLU of Arizona. “No one should be forced to carry a pregnancy to term against their will. By allowing this archaic law to go into effect, Arizona has put the lives of pregnant people at risk and will send doctors to prison for doing what’s best for their patient.”

“Our vote now holds more power than ever,” Allen continued. “Elected officials, like county attorneys, have the power to exercise their prosecutorial discretion and decline to go after physicians. We encourage voters to elect those who will do everything within their power to protect abortion access.”

This is a breaking story and it may be updated. You can find a list of resources and ways to help here.

How American Public Spaces Became so Criminalized—and How We Can Win Them Back

No loitering sign
Mr.TinMD via Flickr

How American Public Spaces Became so Criminalized—and How We Can Win Them Back


Mr.TinMD via Flickr

How American Public Spaces Became so Criminalized—and How We Can Win Them Back

Nneka Ewulonu

On September 23, 2020, a Black man died for the alleged crime of crossing the street the wrong way. That day, two Orange County, California, sheriff’s deputies claimed they saw a Black man, Kurt Reinhold, jaywalking. The cops stopped Reinhold and attempted to arrest him. Reinhold called the jaywalking stop “ridiculous” and asked the sheriffs to stop touching him. The deputies then claimed he was resisting arrest. According to video clips, police then escalated the situation and subsequently shot Reinhold twice, killing him.

Reinhold’s death was due in large part to America’s long history of criminalizing public spaces and our existence in them. As such, it’s far past time to reexamine whether some “public” behaviors merit criminalization. Many of these laws have explicitly racist or classist roots. When laws were born directly out of Jim Crow-era racism and continue to be enforced disproportionately against people of color today, these laws must fall.

So, here’s a rundown of how many of our laws criminalizing public spaces came about.

Jaywalking

A picture of city streets from about 120 years ago has obvious differences: building heights, clothing, et cetera. But another jarring difference is the status of the public sphere in general. As a 2015 piece on the history of jaywalking by Vox notes, people, machines, and even animals shared the streets. Pedestrians crossed the street freely. As cars took off in the early 20th Century, so did the number of fatal car crashes.

Cars were quickly demonized as dangerous, and the auto industry began its own advocacy in response. The 1920s saw a flurry of crosswalk ordinances due to campaigning from the industry. Auto industry lobbyists popularized the term “jaywalking.” Since “jay” was an offensive synonym for “hick” at the time, the term implied that jaywalkers were ignorant of the societal and safety norms in cities. As cars grew in popularity, pedestrians lost their rights to the road, culminating in states today that do not give pedestrians the right of way.

Vagrancy, Loitering, and Trespassing Laws

Laws regarding vagrancy — lacking a permanent job, home, or material resources — and loitering have existed in America for more than a century. According to a 2020 piece by The Week, states during the Jim Crow era passed laws that made it a crime not to work and then selectively enforced those laws against the recently freed Black population. Soon came loitering laws, which criminalized “strolling about in idleness” and were also enforced overwhelmingly against Black people. These laws, while not expressly discriminatory, gave police pretexts to stop, harass, or ultimately arrest Black individuals for the crime of existing freely in the public sphere.

Laws against trespassing don’t have as direct ties to Jim Crow but still can result in racist enforcement. In April 2018, two Black men were sitting in a Starbucks waiting for a third person when a store manager called 911, alleging the two men were not patrons and refused to leave. The two men were arrested and spent eight hours in jail before being released without charges for doing nothing other than sitting in a coffee shop. While courts have significantly narrowed loitering and related ordinances in more recent years, the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed while going on a jog, shows that Black public existence continues to be questioned and can have lethal consequences.

Curfews

Curfews also have racist, anti-Black roots. The quintessential examples of curfews in America are sundown towns: municipalities in which people of color, and especially Black people, were expected to be out of town by the time the sun set, lest they face harassment or worse. These laws and informal rules made it clear that Black people were unwelcome by majoritarian society. The state continues to this day to use curfews as a direct tool of societal control. During the George Floyd protests of summer 2020, at least 39 cities around the country enacted curfews as an attempt at quelling civil unrest. When these authoritarian curfews were violated, many law enforcement departments used items like rubber bullets to disperse protestors. When the state dislikes how its citizens are reclaiming public spaces, the state will use violence to protect its own interests.

Homelessness

Housing crises are fueling the most recent campaign to criminalize public existence. In 2022, several state governments passed anti-camping laws that criminalize sleeping in public spaces. Tennessee recently enacted HB 0978/SB 1610, which makes it a felony to sleep on public property. Missouri passed a similar law, making it a misdemeanor to sleep on state property. Neither of these laws came paired with initiatives to provide permanent housing or help people find places to sleep. These kinds of laws reinforce that only certain individuals can benefit from public spaces.

Some jurisdictions are walking back their criminalization of public existence. As of June 2022, 12 million Americans live in a jurisdiction where jaywalking is no longer a crime. Colorado is using $95 million to create two transitional housing campuses in the state for unhoused individuals, the largest anti-homelessness initiative ever seen in the state. Boston, MA, Kansas City, MO, and Olympia, WA, mayors have made some or all public transit free in their respective cities. These positive changes are hopefully the start to us demanding back greater freedom in public spaces.


 

In the news

 

Adnan Syed, the subject of the podcast Serial, was freed Monday, more than 20 years after his conviction for a murder he maintains he did not commit. The judge placed him on home detention while prosecutors decide whether to drop his charges or retry him. [Alex Mann and Lee O. Sanderlin / The Baltimore Sun]

At least 23 jails in the Midwest have been proposed for or constructed on toxic or hazardous sites—with many projects using federal funds meant for COVID relief. [Adam Mahoney / Capital B] From The Appeal: Billions of pandemic relief dollars are flowing to law enforcement sources across the country, including to fund the construction of new jails and prisons. Read more here on the fight for—and against—that spending.

Between October 2019 and March 2022, judges in two federal districts in Georgia granted only 1.7 percent and 2.2 percent of requests for “compassionate release” by federal prisoners, the fewest of any district in the country. [Jake Shore / The Current]

Vera’s Sam McCann spoke with prosecutors about why they won’t enforce anti-abortion laws. “Criminalizing abortion undermines public safety and public trust,” said Georgia’s DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston. [Sam McCann / Vera Institute of Justice]

New York City has been under a court mandate to reform the Rikers Island jail complex for seven years. With 14 deaths at the complex in 2022 and few signs of progress, advocates and officials are calling for a federal judge to appoint a third party to run the jail. [Fola Akinnibi / Bloomberg CityLab]


ICYMI — from The Appeal

HIV criminalization laws are disproportionately wielded against Black and brown people living with the virus, and continue to be applied in cases where there is little or no possibility of transmission, Adam Rhodes reports.

Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg was on KPFA’s Law and Disorder to discuss her reporting on the Los Angeles County Jail’s Inmate Reception Center.


That’s all for this week. As always, feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to invest in the future of The Appeal, please donate here.

Intergenerational Partnerships are Critical to Curb Youth Violence

Bastiaan Slabbers via iStock

Intergenerational Partnerships are Critical to Curb Youth Violence


Bastiaan Slabbers via iStock

Intergenerational Partnerships are Critical to Curb Youth Violence

by Ras Stanford

In 1993, only a year after the Rodney King uprising in Los Angeles County and its surrounding areas, my then-17-year-old brother was killed in a drive-by shooting only one block away from our Southern California apartment complex.

The ripple through our family continues today. We live with the effects of institutionalization, juvenile incarceration, and PTSD. My other brother and I both grapple with parenting young children nearly 30 years later, in a world where violence and political unrest surge—and where politicians seek to punish young people while reducing social services that let them thrive.

When my remaining brother and I discuss our experiences, we often wonder how our journeys with community violence relate to those of young people today. As we have learned firsthand, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness often drive community violence, and carceral interventions fall desperately short. What we needed was intentional care from adults and the opportunity to share our own experiences and solutions for our environments. As Black children and teens, these opportunities were few and far between, especially as we experienced displacement and the juvenile legal and psychiatric systems.

Today, I live in Philadelphia, which is battling gentrification, wealth inequality, segregation, and a new surge of gun violence similar to what Los Angeles County experienced in my youth. When high-profile news stories involving youth violence and gun deaths circulate, it’s easy to give into nihilism and hopelessness about the future. According to a 2022 survey of 1,300 Philadelphia students aged 12 to 19 by the Enough is Enough Students Against Violence Steering Committee, 46 percent said they’d had a loved one who’d been shot, 36 percent said they’d witnessed gun violence directly, and 11 percent said they had been victims themselves.

As a social worker with lived experience of gun violence, I have been grateful to have my own experiences to draw from as I work with youth in the city. Just sharing similar stories with young people as a non-judgmental mentor can make all the difference. The need for intergenerational partnerships has not been prioritized amid the youth gun violence epidemic. America’s leaders seem once again poised to fund police and prisons instead.

Kids in these environments cannot solve this vast issue on their own. Intergenerational partnerships—to help build community organizations, youth leaders, and job opportunities—are a proven strategy to protect young people from violence and incarceration. Intergenerational interventions that work well involve adults with lived experience empathizing with youth, validating their experiences, and showing young people they are pivotal parts of their communities.

For example, Project Imagine in Danville, Virginia, provides at-risk kids with mentorships, employment opportunities, and the ability to represent their neighborhoods in city meetings. In Sacramento County, California, My Brother’s Keeper trains teens as mentors who work with younger students.

In Philadelphia, Queen Mother Falaka Fattah, co-founder of the House of Umoja, a nonprofit that mentors young and predominantly Black locals, has weathered over 50 years of youth violence. In 1969, Fattah was a seasoned journalist and editor of House of Umoja Magazine, when letters poured in from Philadelphians who demanded answers about the surge in youth violence that gripped the city.

“After learning all the statistics about the murders, hospitalizations and incarceration rates, and about the mothers sending their sons out of the city to save their lives, I stopped looking for what others could do, and started looking inward,” Fattah told The Appeal.

In a radical act of intergenerational solidarity, Fattah and her late husband, David Fattah, invited the gang her then-16-year-old son ran with into their home, parenting them as their own.

That type of care and intentional listening went a long way, as the Fattahs continued to serve as surrogate parents for the community’s young men. This hands-on mentoring eventually led to the brokering of the Imani Peace Pact in 1974, a gang truce that reduced homicides in the area within three years. The group says it has helped to raise and nurture more than 3,000 young Philadelphians in an attempt to protect them from community violence.

Fattah has noticed some changes in the dynamics of youth violence, like the rapid spread of fights over social media. But other things have stayed the same.

“They like to eat,” laughed Fattah. “Before we do anything we make sure we have a good meal.”

Now, The House of Umoja is training its first cohort of what it calls the Umoja Youth Peace Corps. The kids who participate in this program serve as ambassadors for peace for their community and are trained in community building, leadership, career exploration, and more. Recruitment for a new cohort is underway. The next program is slated to start this fall.

“I’m optimistic,” said Fattah. “All around the city, communities are stepping up—we’ve got groups of dads forming ‘safe corners’ to protect our youth before and after school, male teachers at Martin Luther King High School stepping up for their students, groups just listening to young people.”

But Fattah reiterates the need for young people and concerned community members to get involved.

“It’s not just leaders who are trying to figure out what to do,” she said. “It has to be from the grassroots up.”


 

In the news

 

Black feminist scholars Mariame Kaba and Andrea J. Ritchie spoke with Sam Levin about their new book, No More Police: A Case for Abolition. “The current system is not sustainable,” Kaba told Levin. “Human beings will put up with a lot, but what the violence of policing does is get at people’s sense of the right to be free.” [Sam Levin / The Guardian]

Jesse Rinke writes about becoming a literary mentor to fellow incarcerated people. [Jesse Rinke / Prison Journalism Project]

A prison chaplain was sentenced to seven years in prison for sexually abusing incarcerated women. [Michael R. Sisak and Michael Balsamo / Associated Press]


ICYMI — from The Appeal

A transgender man is suing New York prison officials for allegedly subjecting him to an illegal genital exam. He claims staff threw him in solitary confinement after he objected and threatened to hold him there until he submitted.

Senior reporter Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg was on the Law and Disorder podcast discussing conditions in Illinois and Virginia prisons.

Pop the champagne! The Appeal has been named a finalist for the 2022 Online Journalism Award for Excellence in Social Justice Reporting for our “Prison Dispatches from Incarcerated Writers” series.

Senior reporter Meg O’Connor’s investigation into the NYPD Special Victims Division’s neglect and mismanagement of sex crimes has also been selected as a finalist for the Institute for Nonprofit Newss 2022 Nonprofit News Awards.


That’s all for this week. As always, feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to invest in the future of The Appeal, please donate here.

Stop Letting Politicians Trick You About Abortion

Mark Brnovich
Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Stop Letting Politicians Trick You About Abortion


Mark Brnovich
Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Stop Letting Politicians Trick You About Abortion

by Meg O’Connor

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich is fighting to make abortion illegal in Arizona—even though he claimed two months ago that he had already made it illegal. In 1864, Arizona outlawed providing abortions except to save the life of the pregnant person, but that law has been blocked since 1973 by a state judicial order. Last month, with Roe v. Wade overturned, Brnovich filed to lift that injunction—and on Friday his representatives tried to convince a judge to reinstate that near-total abortion ban from 158 years ago.

It’s interesting that Brnovich is fighting in court to get the 1864 law reinstated, given that he falsely claimed on June 29 the law was “back in effect.” Why is he sending his cronies to court to argue for a law that he—and many reporters—unilaterally declared was the law of the land in June? Could it be that he lied?

Yes. Brnovich, who is pro-life, had clear reason to do so, since any confusion anti-abortion politicians and activists can drum up about abortion laws around the country means fewer people will get them. But plenty of journalists fell for the AG’s tactics over the last few months and shared his statement as if it were fact, without clarifying that it was not true. Confusion and misinformation about the legality of abortion was so pervasive that many healthcare clinics stopped providing abortions out of concern that providers could be charged with crimes or lose their licenses.

Arizona isn’t the only state stuck in this situation. In at least 16 states, abortion laws remain tangled in court proceedings, leading to confusing flurries of judicial orders, stays, and injunctions. In some cases, politicians seem to be overstating their hands. In Kentucky, for example, a state appeals court temporarily allowed a pre-Roe “trigger ban” to take effect while a lawsuit over the law proceeds. That legal case remains open, but Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron has declared that he “ENDED abortion in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

In North Dakota, a 2007 “trigger law” states that if the Supreme Court invalidates Roe, abortion will become illegal in the state 30 days later. On June 28, North Dakota’s Republican attorney general, Drew Wrigley, announced that the countdown had begun and abortions would be outlawed on July 28. But a judge later ruled that Wrigley was incorrect. Since the Court did not transmit its formal ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization until July 26, the state’s 30-day countdown could not have begun until then. As a result, abortion is still legal until August 26.

In Arizona, some providers recognized that Brnovich, the attorney general, was lying and resumed services. But the intentional chaos has already hurt patients seeking care. Clinics in California and New Mexico say they have seen an influx of patients from Arizona. A 21-year-old woman who was 26 weeks pregnant was told her pregnancy was not viable—but she was not allowed to get care to help end the pregnancy in Arizona. The woman was left to choose between spending tens of thousands of dollars to end her pregnancy in another state or remaining pregnant with her nonviable fetus until she miscarries or gives birth.

Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson will make a decision on Arizona’s 1864 law on or after September 19, meaning abortion will remain legal until the point of “viability” for nearly another month. A ban on abortions after 15 weeks will go into effect in the state on September 24. Arizona advocates were concerned after Roe fell that the state’s so-called “fetal personhood” law could be used to criminalize people who provide or obtain abortions, but a judge blocked that aspect of the law last month. No new laws restricting abortion in Arizona have been passed or triggered into effect since Roe was overturned.

And the near-total ban Brnovich claimed was “back in effect” two months ago remains blocked by that 1973 Arizona Court of Appeals injunction. This is why the AG’s office is fighting in court to get it reinstated. When The Appeal asked in Brnovich’s office in July how the law could be both “back in effect” and enjoined, his office never responded. The AG’s office has also spread confusion by claiming the injunction only applies to one county. The ruling applies statewide. Brnovich didn’t respond to our questions about that either.

Not to be outdone, Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell—the district attorney for the third largest prosecuting agency in the country—has also incorrectly said the injunction doesn’t apply to her. Mitchell, whose jurisdiction includes Phoenix and 4.5 million of Arizona’s 7 million residents, told ABC15 that the injunction “specifically pertains to the attorney general’s office and the Pima County attorney’s office. It doesn’t pertain to every county attorney.”

Two prominent local news outlets published Mitchell’s erroneous claims without bothering to point out that the injunction itself contradicts her.

Mitchell didn’t respond when The Appeal asked her last month why she thinks the injunction doesn’t apply to her, but it’s concerning that one of the state’s top law enforcers—who has already said she intends to file abortion-related charges—doesn’t think the law applies to her.

It’s highly unlikely that Brnovich and Mitchell, two trained attorneys, are simply confused about what a “judicial injunction” is or how the state court of appeals works. The simplest explanation is that they are lying for party gain: While the Dobbs decision was a massive victory for anti-abortion zealots across the U.S., the ruling did not actually outlaw abortion, and even in many red states, it is still possible to get an abortion.

In some cases, abortion may become illegal in a matter of days or weeks, but that hardly matters—any confusion sown over abortion laws, even for a few days, could mean someone is forced into parenthood, harmed permanently by a traumatic childbirth, or killed. The stakes for getting reporting on abortion right are very high, but it costs nothing to call out politicians on their BS.


 

In the news

 

California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill to allow supervised injection sites in Oakland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The bill’s sponsor, state Senator Scott Wiener said, “Each year this legislation is delayed, more people die of drug overdoses.” [Angela Corral / Twitter]

The town of Susanville, California, and the Service Employees International Union Local 1000, which represents prison employees, are fighting to keep a prison open because it financially benefits the town and the prison’s staff. The judge hearing the case declined to consider an amicus brief from incarcerated people in support of closing the prison. [Hailey Branson-Potts / Los Angeles Times]

BuzzFeed News Reporter Albert Samaha profiled a San Francisco man, Jordan Smith, who was convicted of misdemeanor petty theft “to hear the perspective of people behind the property crimes that have garnered so much attention.” When the police showed up as Smith was stealing wire from a warehouse, he said he apologized. “I’m not getting unemployment money, I’m hungry, I’m cold, I’m just trying to make ends meet,” he recalled telling them. [Albert Samaha / BuzzFeed]

Former Brooklyn prosecutor Tali Farhadian Weinstein joined the Vera Institute of Justice’s Board of Trustees. “Tali Weinstein? How disappointing and seemingly antithetical to the work you say you strive to do,” tweeted New York City Council Member Tiffany Cabán in response to the announcement. [Tiffany Cabán / Twitter] From The Appeal: Under Farhadian Weinstein’s leadership, Brooklyn’s unit exonerated just four people—a far lower rate than in previous years. [Sam Mellins / The Appeal]

U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner ordered two former Pennsylvania judges to pay more than $200 million to hundreds of victims of their scheme to lock up children as young as 8 years old, in exchange for kickbacks from two for-profit detention centers. [Michael Rubinkam / Associated Press]


ICYMI — from The Appeal

We’ll be closed for our summer break next week. We’ll see you again when we’re back in September. Until then, you can catch up on these very lighthearted and fun beach reads from The Appeal.

A​​ federal monitor issued a damning condemnation of substandard healthcare in Illinois prisons. As Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg reports, the monitor reviewed 25 deaths, concluding that some were “allowed to deteriorate without intervention.”

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins has “moved quickly to abandon and undo Boudin’s most impactful reforms,” Rachel Marshall, former San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s communications director and policy advisor, writes for The Appeal.

Caleb Brennan writes about the expansion of “assisted outpatient treatment”—or AOT—which usually entails a compulsory regimen of psychiatric medication.

Heather Tirado Gilligan looks at a program to stop gun violence without the use of police.

Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg reports that Legionella bacteria have been found in the water at 12 Illinois prisons since testing began in February.

Incarcerated writer and podcast host Phillip A. Jones writes on the decline of rehabilitative programs in prisons and the myth of our so-called “corrections” system.

Daniel Moritz-Rabson reports on mental health units in Texas prisons, which detained people describe as a shadowy purgatory, where they sit in their cells for days and weeks on end without treatment, showers, or recreation time.


That’s all for this week. As always, feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to invest in the future of The Appeal, please donate here.

How to Get an Abortion by Mail in Your State

Photo by Anna Shvets

How to Get an Abortion by Mail in Your State


Photo by Anna Shvets

How to Get an Abortion by Mail in Your State

by Meg O’Connor

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade accelerated efforts to criminalize abortion in the United States. Laws banning abortion have gone into effect in at least eight states since the decision came down in late June. More states are expected to restrict access soon.

But there is one abortion method states will have a hard time eradicating: medication abortion. The abortion pills available—mifepristone and misoprostol—are safer than Tylenol and have been approved by the FDA since 2000. They are only recommended for use up to 12 weeks of pregnancy though, so abortion pills will only help people who are still early in their pregnancy. Mifepristone blocks the hormone progesterone, preventing the pregnancy from continuing to grow in the uterus. Misoprostol causes cramping and bleeding to empty the uterus. Misoprostol is available over the counter in other countries and is also used as a treatment for ulcers.

“People deserve to have access to clinic support regardless of what state they live in,” said Ushma Upadhyay, an associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco who studies abortion, medication abortion, and telehealth abortion services. “Health is a basic human right and should be accessible to everyone.”

While states may ban abortion altogether—or specifically ban telemedicine, self-managed abortions, or sending abortion pills in the mail—practically speaking, these bans will be difficult to enforce. Illegal drugs like fentanyl and LSD are frequently sent through the mail and federal and local governments have generally not been able to stop it.

“How are they gonna stop people from getting it in the mail?” said Laurie Bertram Roberts, executive director of the Yellowhammer Fund, an abortion fund and reproductive justice organization that assists people in the Deep South. “You can’t stop abortion. You can’t stop people from being pregnant and not wanting to be pregnant. That’s what history shows us.”

We talked to experts and put together this brief explainer on how to access abortion pills by mail, the legal risks, and how to protect yourself from them.


Can I get abortion pills by mail?

It depends on where you live. At least eight states have banned most or all abortions. More state bans are expected soon. Nineteen states have passed restrictions that effectively make it impossible to obtain abortions by telemedicine in that state. Some states, including Louisiana and Tennessee, specifically criminalize sending abortion pills in the mail, while others, such as Arizona, make it illegal to deliver abortion medication.

For details on what is legal in your state, check state guides from news sources or organizations like Planned Parenthood, the Guttmacher Institute, the Center for Reproductive Rights, or the Kaiser Family Foundation. If you have questions, you can always call the Repro Legal Helpline to speak to an attorney for free.

In over 20 states, you can obtain abortion pills legally through telemedicine or an in-clinic visit. These days, many people prefer using telemedicine for abortion services because it is often more convenient and private than an in-clinic visit, said Upadhyay. With telemedicine, patients often do not need to find childcare or travel long distances to see a healthcare provider, and they don’t have to risk running into someone they know or being hounded by anti-abortion protesters outside of a clinic. Places that offer telemedicine for abortions include HeyJane, Just the Pill, Choix, Carefem, Abortion on Demand, and Pills by Post.

If you live in a state where you cannot obtain an abortion, you can still get abortion pills by driving to the nearest state where telemedicine is legal, taking your appointment there, and sending the medication to an address in that state, like the hotel you’re staying at. Another method involves using mail forwarding services to ship abortion pills to an address in a state where it is legal, then redirecting the mail from that address to your actual home address. Plan C, an information campaign run by public health advocates and social justice activists, has step-by-step accounts on its website detailing how mail forwarding and other options work.

“We have reports from patients in restricted areas — one in Texas who used the service to have pills mailed to a friend in Illinois, who then mailed it to her,” said Upadhyay, who is currently completing a study looking at the safety of three telehealth clinics, which analyzes data from over 6,000 patients. “We know that patients are getting creative. Patients are having the medications mailed to a post office box just across the border, like New Mexico if they’re from Texas. Or they’ll get a hotel room near the border and do the telehealth appointment.”

Another way to obtain abortion pills in restricted states is to use Aid Access, a nonprofit founded by Dutch physician Rebecca Gomperts. Aid Access connects patients in restricted states with doctors in Europe, who fill prescriptions for abortion medication using a trusted pharmacy in India, which sends the pills by mail. The medication typically arrives in one to three weeks and costs about $110, though financial help is available for people who need care but can’t afford it.

“Aid Access is reliable, credible, and will mail to addresses in restricted states,” said Upadhyay. “It’s very safe and very effective. My concern is that patients often want support when they’re going through an abortion. My fear is that people will go to emergency rooms in larger numbers and will be criminalized that way.”

Some online pharmacies also will ship abortion medication without a prescription from a doctor. Plan C lists pharmacies they have tested pills from and verified that orders did contain the correct medication. However, they do not operate the pharmacies and cannot vouch for the continued authenticity of those pharmacies.

Whatever route you choose, help is available. Organizations have stepped in to keep abortion accessible, even if your state has banned it. So if you get an abortion and have any concerns along the way, you can contact M+A Hotline (833-246-2632), a confidential and secure phone and text hotline for people who need support with abortions or miscarriages that is staffed by volunteer licensed clinicians. If you have legal questions, you can contact Repro Legal Helpline (844-868-2812), a free, confidential helpline. If you need financial assistance, you can contact your local abortion fund or call the National Abortion Federation Hotline (800-722-9100), a toll-free, multi-lingual hotline for abortion referrals and financial assistance in the U.S.

What are the risks?

Abortion pills are safe for up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, according to the World Health Organization. They may not be a safe option under certain circumstances, such as when a person has an ectopic pregnancy, a blood clotting disorder, significant anemia, or an intrauterine device (IUD).

People who obtain an abortion in states where it is banned also risk criminalization. While most abortion bans currently target providers, three states—Oklahoma, Nevada, and South Carolina—do explicitly ban self-managed abortions. And even when Roe was in place, police and prosecutors often found creative ways to criminalize people for their pregnancy outcomes. According to an analysis by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), over 1,700 people were criminalized for their pregnancy outcomes between 1973 and 2020. Prosecutors across the country have charged people who have had stillbirths or miscarriages with child abuse, murder, manslaughter, drug use, improper disposal of fetal remains, and misuse of a corpse. If a friend in another state sends you the pills, they may be at risk of criminalization as well.

People who obtain abortions are often criminalized when someone else reports them to the police. This could be a provider, a relative, or an ex-partner. If you obtain an abortion in a state where it is banned, you can minimize your risk of criminalization by telling as few people as possible and only people you trust.

“When it comes to legal risk, what we know from cases that we have already seen is that people often face legal consequences when they share information about their pregnancy outcomes with people and those people then report them to the police,” said Elizabeth Ling, senior helpline counsel for If/When/How, nonprofit, reproductive-focused legal aid network that runs the Repro Legal Helpline.

“The legal risks really depend on a person’s specific situation, as well as their identity,” Ling added. “The risk of criminalization is and always has been greater for those communities who have experienced greater state surveillance in this country: Black people, people of color, indigenous people, marginalized people, disabled people, and LGBTQ people.”

You do not need to disclose having an abortion to your provider. Abortions and miscarriages are indistinguishable from one another, so you can get help from a healthcare provider without telling them you terminated your pregnancy. If you have questions about your abortion as you are experiencing it, you can contact the M+A Hotline by phone or text.

How can I protect myself?

Keep the number of people you tell about your procedure to a minimum, and only tell people you trust. Lean on the resources available to you via the M+A Hotline and the Repro Legal Helpline if you have any questions. Practice good digital safety and security by opting out of targeted advertisements, using search engines like DuckDuckGo that do not save your searches to their servers, using encrypted messaging apps like Signal, turning off location sharing on your devices, and using strong password protection on your devices. The Digital Defense Fund has a detailed guide full of helpful digital security tips to keep your healthcare choices private. So does the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

It is important to use browsers that do not store your search history and messaging apps that keep your conversations private because prosecutors have used people’s search history and text messages against them in the past. In 2018, prosecutors used an internet search for misoprostol to charge a woman with second-degree murder. In 2015, prosecutors used text messages to convict a woman for feticide and child neglect.

“I would implore folks to use encrypted messaging apps, to be careful who they share information with, and to protect their digital security and digital footprint and be very intentional about that,” said Dana Sussman, acting executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, a legal organization that defends the rights of pregnant people from criminalization. “Contact us or contact trusted resources to get information. Do not turn over your devices to law enforcement. Make them get a warrant.”


 

In the news

 

Mario Lopez died of a drug overdose while locked up on Rikers Island. His mother told The City’s Reuven Blau that his mental illness and drug addiction “took over.” Lopez was the 11th person to die at the jail this year. [Reuven Blau / The City]

Instead of rectifying homelessness with investments in free public housing, politicians reach for their tried and true weapons—the legal system. “The public discourse around Visible Poverty has been, as always, to turn to police, jails, and a deep bench of dead-eyed careerist Tough on Crime prosecutors and mayors,” writes Adam Johnson. [Adam Johnson / The Column]

Federal lawmakers have introduced legislation to limit the admissibility of an artist’s lyrics in court proceedings. “Our judicial system disparately criminalizes Black and brown lives, including Black and brown creativity,” said Congressman Jamaal Bowman, a sponsor of the Restoring Artistic Protection Act (RAP Act). [Quinn Moreland / Pitchfork] From The Appeal: Young Thug’s ‘Racketeering’ Charges Are Absurd

When Vanessa Garrett of Motherhood Beyond Bars was imprisoned, she developed numbness in her legs and then a growth on one leg. The nurses told her it was a bug bite. It was a blood clot. [Luci Harrell / Scalawag]

There is no air conditioning in the segregation units at Texas’s 15 women’s prisons, where women are trapped in their cells for at least 23 hours a day. [Vikki Law / Truthout]


ICYMI — from The Appeal

Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg reports that Legionella bacteria have been found in the water at 12 Illinois prisons since testing began in February.

Women at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Troy, Virginia, say healthcare at the prison is dangerously inadequate.


That’s all for this week. As always, feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to invest in the future of The Appeal, please donate here.

Stacey Abrams’ Bold New Idea is to Tack to the Center

Stacey Abrams
Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Stacey Abrams’ Bold New Idea is to Tack to the Center


Stacey Abrams
Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Stacey Abrams’ Bold New Idea is to Tack to the Center

by Nneka Ewulonu

In June 2020, then-Vice Presidential hopeful Stacey Abrams appeared on ABC’s “This Week” to respond to Atlanta Police Officer Garrett Rolfe’s murder of 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks. As protesters chanted in Georgia streets, demanding justice for both Brooks and George Floyd, Abrams said the protesters had a point.

“There is a legitimacy to this anger,” she said. “There is a legitimacy to this outrage. A man was murdered because he was asleep in a drive-through. And we know this is not an isolated occurrence.”

But now, two years later, Abrams is running for Georgia governor—and wants to give those same police officers raises.

On June 23, 2022, Abrams outlined her law enforcement platform in a series of tweets. The thread starts by stating that police officers in Georgia do not make a living wage and that Georgia “must” raise their pay. As of July 2022, the starting salary for an Atlanta police officer is $48,500—approximately $23 an hour, significantly more than the estimated $18.37 living wage for a single person in the Atlanta metro area. Atlanta PD does not require a college degree to be an officer, yet offers a salary that is nearly double the $27,915 average salary for a Georgian with a high school diploma or GED. To make matters worse, this appeared to be the first time she had ever tweeted the phrase “living wage.”

Police salaries keep growing. But American policing is broken. Our police kill more people than the law enforcement agents of all other Global North nations. A 2019 study published by the National Academy of Sciences found that Black men are approximately 2.5 times more likely than white men to be killed by police, while Indigenous women are up to 2.1 times more likely than white women to be killed by police. An estimated 40 percent of law enforcement families experience domestic abuse. And as we saw recently, some cops would rather stand around while children are shot to death than muster the courage to enter an unlocked classroom.

But instead of recognizing these failures, Abrams’ policy proposals represent another instance of the Democratic Party folding in the face of an all-too-predictable Republican and police backlash to 2020’s anti-police-brutality uprisings.

One element of Abrams’ plan includes “[p]rovid[ing] grants to localities to support increased salary for local law enforcement.” In 2020, law enforcement’s national clearance rate for murder hit a historic low of 50 percent, while the clearance rate for rape also hit a low of 30 percent. Atlanta cops spent an average of $950,000 settling misconduct claims between 2015 and 2020.

What increased funding to law enforcement does seem to reliably accomplish is an increase in misdemeanor arrests rather than improvements to crime rates or public safety. Worse yet, an increase in a city’s Black population is correlated with that city increasing its budget for law enforcement.

Abrams claims specifically that officer raises “will lead to better officer recruitment, better officer retention, better community interactions and a safer Georgia.” But there’s almost no other profession where you can be objectively bad at your job and still be rewarded with a raise.

Abrams’ policy also includes “[i]nvest[ing] in expanded training.” At first glance, this policy has merit: American law enforcement spends an average of 21 weeks in training before going on patrol, almost half the amount of training done by Canadian police and a tenth the training of Finnish police. American cops spend an average of 168 hours on firearms, self-defense, and use of force training, compared to only 9 hours on mediation and conflict management skills. These trainings do little other than prepare police for violence—especially when departments sometimes use paper targets of Black men during shooting practice.

But improved training isn’t the quick fix many Democrats like Abrams seem to think it is. A 2020 study on the impact of the New York Police Department’s mandatory implicit bias training found that while cops said the training changed their personal perspectives on race, the lessons had little to no impact on how these officers engaged with the public. The NYPD continued to overpolice Black and Hispanic residents at nearly the same rates.

What is clear, however, is that Democrats have reacted to calls for racial justice and an end to police brutality — featuring potentially the largest social justice movement in American history — by giving more money to cops. When these funding increases come from the pockets of Democrats in Georgia, it’s a betrayal not only of our history as leaders in civil rights movements, but to the state’s new position as a purple political battleground.

The groundswell of Georgian Democrats that elected the first two Democratic senators in the state since 2000 deserve acknowledgement. Instead, under Abrams’ proposals, the only people winning anything would be her opponents.


In the news

According to an In These Times investigation, at least 115 people convicted of minor traffic charges or misdemeanors in Clayton, Georgia, in 2018 received probation sentences of a year or more. [Nick Barber / In These Times]

The criminalization of homelessness has pushed unhoused people in Lancaster, California, to live in the desert, where they try to survive “blazing hot temperatures in the summer, snow in winter, rugged terrain inaccessible to many vehicles, a constant wind that blankets everything with silt, and no running water for miles.” [Sam Levin / The Guardian]

Students are organizing to get cops out of schools, and school boards are key to their fight. [Desiree Rodriguez / Truthout]

The new San Francisco District Attorney, Brooke Jenkins, has fired 15 people, most of them hired by her predecessor Chesa Boudin. “There is no question that DA Jenkins’s approach differs dramatically from my values,” one fired staffer told Tana Ganeva. [Tana Ganeva / The Intercept]

So-called bite mark evidence is the epitome of junk science, but it still keeps people locked up. [Jason Flom / Wrongful Conviction]


ICYMI — from The Appeal

At least 60,000 people aged 50 or older are released from U.S. prisons each year, and as Hope Corrigan reports, the challenges formerly incarcerated people face in securing eldercare leave many with nowhere to turn.

Meg O’Connor spoke with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer about the Department of Justice’s investigation into the NYPD’s Special Victims Division, raising the question as to whether sex crimes should be handled by police at all.

Bryce Covert reports on the challenges of uplifting positive outcomes from bail reforms, how the lack of positive coverage plays a role in the backlash movement, and why media is so fixated on negative bail reform coverage.


That’s all for this week. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to invest in the future of The Appeal, please donate to our anniversary campaign here.

From now until Friday, if you make a one-time donation of just $40, you can get a limited edition “Fire Your Bosses, Read The Appeal” T-Shirt.

To Fight Gun Violence, Kids Need Places to Play

Children playing in a pool
USAG Humphreys

To Fight Gun Violence, Kids Need Places to Play


Children playing in a pool
USAG Humphreys

To Fight Gun Violence, Kids Need Places to Play

Ras Stanford

When I was 19 years old, I worked for six months in an emotional support classroom in a North Philadelphia elementary school. I witnessed children as young as five years old get treated like prisoners in the hallways. Children were regularly profiled as criminals by school staff and the campus lacked a fence around the schoolyard. This meant that adults from the community could wander onto campus during recess. There was no playground equipment, just vacant blacktop.

More than a decade later, gun violence rages in Philadelphia and the city is significantly boosting funding for police in response. The children I oversaw are now young adults, no doubt working to avoid the fates of many of their peers as survivors and drivers of gun violence. I now wonder what we expected the children forced into these situations to grow into. When we systematically deprive Black, brown, and low-income children the opportunity to safely play and explore alongside other children in their communities, we breed a generation with little hope, investment, or skill in navigating conflict and interpersonal dynamics.

In June, community members in my neighborhood laid empty kiddie pools outside the shuttered Sayre Morris Recreation Center in West Philadelphia to protest the number of recreation centers with empty pools this spring and summer, despite high temperatures and the epidemic of gun violence plaguing our neighborhoods. The Sayre Morris Center’s pool, for example, has been closed since 2017.

Kirsten Britt, president of the Sayre Advisory Council and founder of the #IDeserve2Swim movement, told The Appeal that free neighborhood recreation centers have historically filled that gap in her neighborhood. “These places were the first line of defense for young people to stay out of trouble,” she said. “Whether parents were engaged or not, they would have somewhere where people looked out for them.”

Now, Britt says, pools remain closed in areas where they are needed most. In Philadelphia, children struggle to face the grief and trauma that comes with living through a massive gun violence epidemic—and for years have suffered as the few safe places they have to play in low-income areas have been shut down.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, children in some of the city’s hardest-hit areas have been without local pools for at least three summers. While the city says it is facing a lifeguard shortage, the Inquirer in 2021 reported that 73 percent of the city’s closed pools were in areas where the median income is less than $40,000 per year.

“There are staff shortages, constant changeover, no community input about handling transfers, the buildings are poorly maintained, and that becomes the excuse to close them,” Britt said.

While pools and rec centers may seem insignificant compared to the enormous issues of gun violence, youth mental health, and mass incarceration, the neglect and erasure of safe spaces to play dehumanizes and adultifies children from poor, and/or Black neighborhoods. Research suggests that well-maintained environments help communities reduce violent crime. And the United Nations lists “the right to play” in its Convention on the Rights of the Child, a human-rights treaty that every single U.N. member has ratified—except for the United States.

The pool is just one safe space for children without the means to play. In Philadelphia in 2019, two-thirds of elementary schools did not have working playgrounds. Children instead play in parking lots. In 2019, millions of Americans did not have regular access to parks, especially those from poor or predominantly Black neighborhoods. Since the pandemic, recreation centers, libraries, and pools have been affected by closures and short staffing. Nationwide, children in Black and brown communities are three times less likely to have consistent access to green space. By the time they are six years old, low-income children spend 1,300 fewer hours in novel places outside the home and school than wealthier children. Surprisingly, children living in rural areas also often lack safe play opportunities.

Back in Philadelphia, city council recently passed a bill that would fine developers who cut down and do not replace trees as part of a larger commitment to increase the tree canopy of the city 30 percent by 2025. Across the country, asphalt playgrounds are being greened and turned into public parks. Play-centered policy in educational, juvenile legal, and other child and youth-serving systems can help to address root causes of community mental health issues. Simply ensuring the safe free play of children and youth can interrupt generational cycles of poverty, and avert pathways into incarceration.

“It’s strategic,” Britt said. “If you don’t create spaces for young people to be successful, you’re saying you don’t want them to be successful. If you don’t fund schools and safe spaces properly, you’re saying ‘we don’t want you to be safe.’”


In the news

Residents of the home involved in a stand-off with an Albuquerque, New Mexico, SWAT team say law enforcement used flash-bang grenades, igniting a fire that left them homeless and a teenager dead. [KOB4]

Victoria Law spoke with Tracy McCarter, a domestic violence survivor and nurse who maintains she killed her abusive estranged husband in self-defense. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office is prosecuting McCarter for murder. [Victoria Law / The Nation]

A mother of six is at risk of homelessness because of an 11-year-old drug-related conviction. She has started a GoFundMe to help raise money for the family’s housing expenses. [Molly Duerig / Spectrum News 13]

Elijah Muhammad, 31, is the tenth Rikers Island detainee to die this year. [Graham Rayman and Thomas Tracy / Daily News]

San Francisco Mayor London Breed has appointed Brooke Jenkins to replace the recalled Chesa Boudin as District Attorney. Jenkins has said she wants to undo several of Boudin’s reforms. She wants to give prosecutors the power to request cash bail and to charge children as adults. [Samantha Michaels / Mother Jones] From The Appeal: The Fight to Recall Chesa Boudin was a Fight to Protect the Status Quo


ICYMI — from The Appeal

A federal district court judge in Arizona has blocked a state law that gave fetuses the same rights as people. But, as Meg O’Connor reports, the legal status of abortion in Arizona still remains unclear.

Police officers in San Diego have arrested a man 160+ times, mostly on low-level charges. As Kelly Davis reports, his story offers a window into a system that immensely harms so many people who are chronically homeless or have mental illness.

Law enforcement agencies spend hundreds of millions each year on militarized sweeps of sex-offense registrants. The evidence shows the operations do little to prevent sexual violence. But as Steven Yoder reports, they’re a powerful tool for copaganda.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has earned praise recently for investigating Trump and vowing not to prosecute abortion seekers. This glossy coverage, however, has largely ignored Willis’’s tireless efforts to incarcerate Black educators, writes Anna Simonton.


That’s all for this week. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to invest in the future of The Appeal, please donate to our anniversary campaign here.

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Arizona Judge Blocks Law That Treats Fetuses as People

The law granted embryos and fetuses the same rights as a person. Civil rights groups sought an injunction out of concern the law could criminalize people who provide or obtain abortions.

Police and protesters outside the Supreme Court
Flickr via Victoria Pickering

Arizona Judge Blocks Law That Treats Fetuses as People

The law granted embryos and fetuses the same rights as a person. Civil rights groups sought an injunction out of concern the law could criminalize people who provide or obtain abortions.


A federal district court judge in Arizona has placed an injunction on a 2021 law that grants fetuses at any stage of development the same rights as citizens of Arizona. The injunction prevents the law from being used to bring criminal charges against people who provide or obtain abortions.

In an order released Monday evening, Judge Douglas Rayes agreed that the personhood law was unconstitutionally vague, noting that the law “does absolutely nothing, or it does something. What that something might be is a mystery or, as Defendants put it, ‘anyone’s guess.’ And that is the problem.”

Even with the injunction, the legality of abortion remains unclear in Arizona, where the Republican governor and state attorney general have given conflicting statements about which anti-abortion laws are in effect. The governor has stated that a 15-week ban passed earlier this year supersedes other anti-abortion laws, while the attorney general maintains that a century-old ban on providing abortions except to save a parent’s life—from before Arizona became a state—is the law of the land.

Supporters of abortion rights say Arizona’s forced-birth proponents are creating chaos on purpose. Confusion over what is legal has led most abortion providers in the state to stop providing abortions out of fear they could be charged with crimes and/or lose their licenses.

On June 25, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed an emergency motion for an injunction on the so-called personhood law one day after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, stating they were concerned the law could be used to criminalize people who provide or obtain abortions.

The civil rights groups argued that the personhood statute was unconstitutionally vague. As written, the law grants “all rights, privileges, and immunities” available to Arizona residents to “an unborn child at every stage of development” without providing any further guidance on what that actually means.

“These uncertainties create an intolerable risk of arbitrary enforcement,” Rayes wrote in the order he issued on Monday. “Medical providers should not have to guess about whether the otherwise lawful performance of their jobs could lead to criminal, civil, or professional liability solely based on how literally or maximalist state licensing, law enforcement, and judicial officials might construe the [law].”

If embryos and fetuses have the same rights as a person, the plaintiffs noted, someone who ends a pregnancy could potentially be charged with crimes like aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, child endangerment, or child abuse. Such charges have already been filed against women in other states who have had stillbirths, miscarriages, and abortions.

Last year, a 19-year-old in Oklahoma who miscarried at 17 weeks was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison. The woman, Brittney Poolaw, told hospital staff that she had recently used methamphetamine and marijuana—but a medical examiner stated that the fetus’s congenital abnormalities and the fact that the placenta had detached from the uterus had also contributed to the miscarriage.

“Beyond restricting access to abortion, personhood laws have broad potential for criminalizing pregnant people and allowing state surveillance and regulation of their conduct,” Civia Tamarkin, president of the National Council of Jewish Women Arizona, said in a press release.


Confusion over Arizona’s many anti-abortion laws has already hurt patients seeking care. Clinics in California and New Mexico have seen an influx of patients from Arizona. Sexual assault victims and a seriously ill 15-year-old have sought abortions in Arizona in the weeks since Roe was overturned, but will likely need to seek care elsewhere. Young people in Arizona have already begun self-managing abortions. And a 21-year-old woman who is 26 weeks pregnant told NBC News that she was told her pregnancy is not viable—but she cannot get care to help end the pregnancy in Arizona. The woman is now left choosing between spending tens of thousands of dollars to end her pregnancy in another state, or remaining pregnant with her nonviable fetus until she miscarries or gives birth.

The pre-statehood abortion ban makes it a felony to “provide, supply, or administer” an abortion except to save the life of the pregnant person. The law includes a mandatory two to five years in prison for people who provide abortions. The statute is not currently in effect due to an injunction from a 1973 Arizona Court of Appeals ruling—which blocked the pre-statehood ban due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling. The state attorney general could file to lift that injunction at any time, but he has yet to do so.

Confusingly, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich on June 29 said both that the pre-statehood ban is “back in effect” and something his office will seek to lift the injunction on. Brnovich’s office did not immediately respond when asked how the law could be both “back in effect” and enjoined.

Brnovich’s office has claimed the injunction on the pre-statehood ban only applies to Pima County, but the injunction was handed down by the Arizona Court of Appeals and applies statewide. The 1973 Court of Appeals decision states, “The decision of the trial court is affirmed except that part of the decision limiting the effect of the decision to the parties only is modified in that the statutes in question are unconstitutional as to all.”

In other words, the decision of the “trial court”—the 1972 decision by the Pima County Superior Court which ruled that Arizona’s abortion statutes were unconstitutional—was upheld by the Court of Appeals. Except, as the 1973 Court of Appeals decision explicitly states, the 1972 decision “is modified” so that the pre-statehood ban statutes are “unconstitutional to all.”

Meanwhile, Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell— the district attorney for one of the largest prosecuting agencies in the country—has also incorrectly said the injunction doesn’t apply to her. Mitchell, whose jurisdiction includes Phoenix and 4.5 million of Arizona’s 7 million residents, told ABC15 that the injunction “specifically pertains to the attorney general’s office and the Pima County attorney’s office. It doesn’t pertain to every county attorney.”

Mitchell did not respond when asked why she thinks the injunction on the pre-statehood ban doesn’t apply to her.

The state’s 15-week ban makes it a felony to perform an abortion after 15 weeks unless it is to save the life of a pregnant person. People who perform abortions after 15 weeks can have their medical licenses suspended or revoked under this law. That ban does not take effect until September 23.

Neither the pre-statehood ban nor the 15-week ban makes exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. Both bans criminalize providers, not pregnant people.

“We’re glad the court stopped [the personhood] law from being used to force Arizonans to carry a pregnancy against their will and face the life-altering consequences of being denied essential health care,” Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a press release. “But our work to block the state from trying to control women and pregnant people’s bodies and futures is far from over.”

“We’ll continue using every tool at our disposal to fight for a future where everyone can decide if and when to have a child, regardless of where they live.”

Here’s How You Can Help People After Roe

Protest outside the Supreme Court
Flickr via Victoria Pickering

Here’s How You Can Help People After Roe


Protest outside the Supreme Court
Flickr via Victoria Pickering

Here’s How You Can Help People After Roe

by Meg O’Connor

The Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will make it nearly impossible for people in many states to access abortion. The ruling will force people to have children against their will and thrust many more people into the criminal legal system.

But there are ways you can help.

In this newsletter, we have compiled a list of resources — and do’s and don’t’s — from organizations that have spent decades helping people access abortions and defending people who are criminalized for their pregnancy outcomes.

“You can’t stop abortion,” said Laurie Bertram Roberts, executive director of the Yellowhammer Fund, an abortion fund and reproductive justice organization that assists people in the Deep South. “You can’t stop people from being pregnant and not wanting to be pregnant. That’s what history shows us. ”

Without Roe, at least half of the states in this country are likely to ban abortion almost entirely or in part. Abortion will become inaccessible for large swaths of people in the South and Midwest. People in those states will be left to either self-manage an abortion illegally at home by purchasing abortion pills online, or travel long distances to obtain an abortion in a state where it is legal.

Such travel often requires people to take time off work and arrange childcare and lodging. The time and expense are prohibitive for many people, and the abortion itself can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars and is often not covered by insurance. The demand at abortion clinics in neighboring states will increase, creating long wait times that will make it more difficult for both locals and travelers to receive timely care. This in turn can make it more expensive — and in some cases, functionally impossible — to get an abortion.

These restrictions will impact marginalized communities the most. People of color, indigenous people, trans people, LGBTQ people, undocumented people, young people, people who live in rural areas, and poor people will be hardest hit by the fall of Roe. They already have been most impacted by the myriad of abortion restrictions states enacted while Roe was still in place.

Maternal mortality rates, which are already abysmal in the United States, are worse for women of color. People denied abortion are more likely to become trapped in cycles of poverty, as the Turnaway study, a longitudinal study by the University of California San Francisco, has shown. And people will be forced to have children against their will in a country with no paid parental leave, right to healthcare, or guaranteed childcare. Now, people could end up facing criminal consequences as well.

“We know without a doubt more folks, in particular folks who are already targeted for criminalization and surveillance, are going to be punished and thrust into the criminal legal system,” said Dr. Jamila Perritt, president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health. “People will be more likely to be thrust into poverty. The children they are already parenting are more likely to have challenges moving forward. People will be more likely to be tied to abusive relationships.”

The harm will be immense, but there are ways to help.

“The most important message to convey is that every state in the country has abortion funds that will provide resources to folks to get to a place to access an abortion if they need one,” said Dana Sussman, acting executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, a legal organization that defends the rights of pregnant people from criminalization. “There is a robust network of abortion funds around the country that provide forms of support like travel, accommodations, childcare.”


Do

  • Support abortion funds and independent clinics. Abortion funds directly connect people with abortion care and help people pay for that care. They also assist people with the travel, lodging, and childcare that can be necessary to obtain an abortion. Here is a list of abortion funds across the country from the National Network of Abortion Funds.
  • Volunteer for an abortion fund. Abortion funds need financial support, but they also need more people-power to meet the increased demand they are expected to get.
  • Know your rights and share accurate information on abortion in your state with your network.
  • Know the hotline for legal help from If/When/How. Yveka Pierre, senior litigation counsel for the nonprofit, reproductive-focused legal aid network If/When/How, told The Appeal, people can use the helpline to “speak to an attorney, they can ask questions about what is legal, what is not, what laws are currently in effect” and more.
  • Practice good digital privacy and share best practices with your network.
  • Learn how to self-manage an abortion.
  • Know the M+A hotline for self-managed abortion and talk to a medical professional.
  • Bookmark resources to help people find abortions, like the geographic search tool ineedana.com.
  • Support If/When/How’s legal defense fund to cover bail and legal support for people who are criminalized for their pregnancy outcomes.
  • Share your abortion stories. Destigmatize abortion with your friends, family, and social networks.
  • Get politically involved. “Get your friends together and schedule an appointment with your local district attorney,” said Yellowhammer’s Bertram Roberts. “Talk to them and see if they would privately or publicly pledge not to prosecute people for their pregnancy outcomes.”

 

Don’t

  • Don’t report people for their pregnancy outcomes. As Dr. Perritt put it, “Stop calling police on your patients.” NAPW has a detailed guide for healthcare providers, child welfare workers, and law enforcement, among others, on ways to combat the criminalization of pregnancy outcomes and learn what is and isn’t required under the law.
  • Don’t funnel all your energy to supporting Planned Parenthood. Abortion funds directly connect people with abortion care they wouldn’t otherwise be able to obtain. Planned Parenthood has a much broader mandate (it lobbies politicians, runs educational campaigns, and provides other health services) and is already well funded.
  • Don’t exclusively support abortion funds in states where abortion access will be restricted. Abortion funds in states where abortion remains legal will need help to meet the increased demand for abortion in their states.
  • Don’t exclusively support abortion funds in states where abortion access won’t be restricted, either. “The funds in the South are still gonna be here and helping people get where they need to go. And we’re gonna help people who are forced to parent,” said Bertram Roberts.
  • Don’t ignore existing networks of care to set up “auntie networks”—unverified networks of people online offering to help provide lodging and other assistance to people seeking abortions. This needlessly (and poorly) attempts to replicate a system that is already in place, and does so in a dangerous and unsecured way. Abortion funds vet their volunteers. People against abortion could easily join unvetted online networks and do harm.
  • Don’t call abortion networks the “Underground Railroad.” It’s deeply offensive.
  • Don’t stockpile abortion pills. This would make it harder for people who really need abortion pills to get them.
  • Don’t invoke coat hanger imagery. Science and medicine has come a long way. Coat hanger imagery stigmatizes self-managed abortions, which are largely safe and can be done by taking oral medication.

Thank you for reading this early edition of our newsletter. Please contact the reporter, meg.oconnor@theappeal.org, directly if you have feedback on this list.

What To Expect Now That Roe’s Been Overturned

Most abortion bans criminalize providers by making it a felony to perform an abortion. But experts say people who obtain abortions can and will be criminalized for their pregnancy outcomes — they already have been even while Roe was still in place.

Police standing outside the Supreme Court
Elvert Barnes via Flickr

What To Expect Now That Roe’s Been Overturned

Most abortion bans criminalize providers by making it a felony to perform an abortion. But experts say people who obtain abortions can and will be criminalized for their pregnancy outcomes — they already have been even while Roe was still in place.


On Friday, the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to overturn Roe v. Wade, leaving control over abortion access up to individual states. At least 25 states are likely to ban abortion entirely or in part. About 80,000,000 women live in states where abortion is likely to be restricted, according to census data. The ruling will force people to have children against their will and thrust many more people into the criminal legal system.

“What that means is that abortion will be unavailable in half the country, and some parts of the country will be an abortion desert for many contiguous states,” said Dana Sussman, acting executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, a legal organization that defends the rights of pregnant people from criminalization. “That includes both medication abortion and in-clinic care.”

Thirteen states have trigger bans — laws that are triggered into effect by the overturning of Roe. Three of those states — Kentucky, Louisiana, and South Dakota — will immediately ban abortion. Three states — Idaho, Tennessee, and Texas — have abortion bans that will go into effect 30 days after Roe is overturned. The remaining seven states with trigger bans — Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming — require state actors like the governor or the attorney general to take an additional step for the ban to go into effect. Those actions could be taken within hours or days, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that studies abortion and reproductive health laws. All 13 states will make it a felony to provide someone with an abortion.

There are several ways the other states likely to restrict abortion could enact bans. Some, like Arizona, Michigan, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, have pre-Roe laws that banned abortion before Roe was passed that were never repealed. In some cases, those bans could be immediately enforced, while in others, courts or lawmakers need to take additional actions to make the bans enforceable. Other states, like Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, and South Carolina, previously passed bans on abortions after six weeks that were blocked by a judge but could become enforceable without Roe. Abortion opponents would need to take additional steps, such as getting a court to lift an injunction, for those bans to go into effect. Florida and Arizona recently passed 15-week bans that will go into effect later on this year. Other states may seek to pass new abortion bans in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.

Now, abortion will become even less accessible across many contiguous states in the South and Midwest. In order to obtain an abortion, people in those states will have to either self-manage an abortion illegally at home by purchasing abortion pills online or travel hundreds of miles to obtain an abortion in a state where it is legal. Such travel often requires people to take time off work and arrange childcare and lodging. And mandatory waiting requirements between appointments can mean a person has to make two trips to get an abortion—which can include two long journeys to a clinic, two stays at a hotel, two childcare arrangements, and two absences from work. The time and expense are prohibitive for many people, and the abortion itself can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars and is often not covered by insurance.

For detailed information on the laws in your state, check the New York Times, Guttmacher, the Center for Reproductive Rights, or The 19th. You can also contact the hotline for legal help from If/When/How, a national nonprofit network of legal professionals fighting for reproductive justice.

“Every single state and every community is going to be dealing with a different situation. There is going to be a lot of confusion,” said Erin Grant, deputy director of the Abortion Care Network. “What will be the same is that abortion will still fundamentally be legal in the United States. Folks at places like ineedana.org will be working very hard to make sure folks know where they can go. Clinics will still be providing help.”

The demand at clinics in abortion-legal states will increase, creating long wait times that will make it more difficult for both locals and travelers to receive timely care. This in turn can make it more expensive — and in some cases, functionally impossible — to get an abortion.


Most abortion bans criminalize providers by making it a felony to perform an abortion. But experts say people who obtain abortions can and will be criminalized for their pregnancy outcomes — they already have been even while Roe was still in place. According to an analysis by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), over 1,700 people were criminalized for their pregnancy outcomes between 1973 and 2020. Prosecutors across the country have charged people who have had stillbirths or miscarriages with child abuse, murder, manslaughter, drug use, improper disposal of fetal remains, and misuse of a corpse.

At least 38 states currently have some form of fetal homicide laws in place. Of those states, 29 say that a person can be charged with homicide for killing an unborn child at any stage of development. Multiple states have also introduced laws defining a fetus, from the moment of conception, as a “person” entitled to civil rights and protection under the law.

“The laws that have already been used to criminalize people for the loss of a pregnancy can and will be used to criminalize people for an abortion,” said Laurie Bertram Roberts, executive director of the Yellowhammer Fund, an abortion fund and reproductive justice organization that assists people in the Deep South. “We have laws that have already been misappropriated to be used to say your womb is the environment and anything you ingest is child abuse. You can weaponize that precedent.”

In 2020, a 19-year-old Brittney Poolaw went to the hospital after suffering a miscarriage at home in Oklahoma. She was 17 weeks pregnant at the time. She told hospital staff she had recently used marijuana and methamphetamine. Police later arrested her for manslaughter. She was convicted last year and sentenced to four years in prison. Earlier this year in Texas, 26-year-old Lizelle Herrera was arrested and charged with murder for allegedly having a self-induced abortion. She was held on a $500,000 bond, though the charges were later dropped. It is likely that healthcare providers reported Herrera to the police. In Alabama, hundreds of new or expecting mothers have been arrested under the state’s chemical endangerment law. One of those women, Casey Shehi, took half of one of her boyfriend’s Valium pills during her rough pregnancy, gave birth to a healthy though premature baby, and temporarily lost custody of her child anyway.

“We’re already politically motivated to criminalize people for pregnancy loss. Now [police and prosecutors] just have a wider pool of laws that they may be able to choose from to go after folks,” said Yveka Pierre, senior litigation counsel for If/When/How, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization focused on reproductive justice. Pierre works on cases where people have been criminalized for losing a pregnancy, including people who have been criminalized for an abortion, a stillbirth, a miscarriage, or for disposing of fetal remains.

“Police and prosecutors are misusing laws to criminalize people,” said Pierre. “We see things like misuse of a corpse if they gave birth at home.”

The criminalization of abortion will impact marginalized communities the most. People of color, LGBTQ people, undocumented people, poor people, and people who live in rural areas have already struggled to access abortions when Roe was still in place. People of color are already arrested and incarcerated at higher rates than white people. Maternal mortality rates, which are already abysmal in the United States, are worse for women of color. People denied abortion are more likely to become trapped in cycles of poverty, as the Turnaway study, a landmark, longitudinal study of people who sought abortions, has shown. And people will be forced to have children against their will in a country with no paid parental leave, right to healthcare, or guaranteed childcare.

People are likely to come into contact with the criminal legal system after seeking care for an abortion, miscarriage, or stillbirth, said Dr. Jamila Perritt, president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health, a network of physicians advocating for access to reproductive health. Healthcare providers might not know what they are or aren’t legally required to report, so they may report patients to police for their pregnancy outcomes out of fear for their own legal liability.

On Thursday, NAPW released a detailed guide for healthcare providers, child welfare workers, and law enforcement, among others, on ways to combat the criminalization of pregnancy outcomes and learn what is and isn’t required under the law.

“Stop calling the police on your patients,” said Perrit. “Our ask to healthcare providers, to doctors especially, is to think about ways we can honor the oath we all took to do no harm. That begins with really giving some thought to the role we play.”

For those who could be forced into the criminal legal system for their pregnancy outcomes, digital safety habits will be important. Sussman from NAPW told The Appeal prosecutors in states hostile toward abortion may seek to obtain records on people’s search history or GPS data to confirm that someone intentionally sought an abortion (and that a pregnancy loss wasn’t a miscarriage).

“I would implore folks to use encrypted messaging apps, to be careful who they share information with, and to protect their digital security and digital footprint and be very intentional about that,” said Sussman. “Contact us or contact trusted resources to get information. Do not turn over your devices to law enforcement. Make them get a warrant.”

In the future, lawmakers in states that ban abortion will be looking for ways to crackdown on the two main workarounds to get an abortion—traveling to another state and obtaining abortion pills by mail. The National Right to Life Committee, one of the oldest and most influential anti-abortion groups in America, in June began circulating model legislation for a post-Roe America: The suggested laws include making it illegal to share information online about obtaining abortion pills, give abortion advice over the phone, or act as an abortion doula. The NRLC recommends states strip doctors of their medical licenses for performing abortions, allow civil suits to be brought against people who violate abortion laws, and use Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO)-style laws to prosecute anyone “aiding or abetting” an abortion.

Separately, Perritt said birth control, emergency contraception, IUDs, and in vitro fertilization could all be next on the chopping block.

“Everything is at stake,” Perritt said. “Abortion is the canary in the coal mine. This is just the beginning of all the ways we’re under assault … It begins with abortion but it absolutely does not end there.”

She added: “Their only interest is to eliminate individual autonomy and personal liberty. This is about power and control.”

Democrats Would Rather Become Republicans Than Make the Case for Justice Reform

James Carville
Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Democrats Would Rather Become Republicans Than Make the Case for Justice Reform


James Carville
Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Democrats Would Rather Become Republicans Than Make the Case for Justice Reform

by Jerry Iannelli

When San Francisco’s progressive district attorney, Chesa Boudin, lost a recall election this month after a years-long, bad faith smear campaign, influential pundits and politicians rushed to claim that his defeat spelled the death of justice reform as a winning political issue. In perhaps the most high-profile example, New York Times reporter Shane Goldmacher wrote — in an ostensibly non-opinion news piece — that voters in California “delivered a stark warning about the potency of law and order as a political message in 2022.

But the takes seem to be a case of willful blindness more than anything. On the day of Boudin’s loss, a wave of progressive candidates also won elections in Los Angeles County and across California, propelled by campaigns centered around shifting resources away from policing and punishment and toward social services.

As of publication time, Hugo Soto-Martinez, a longtime union organizer running for Los Angeles City Council District 13, received more votes than incumbent Mitch O’Farrell. Erin Darling, a civil rights lawyer who has also advocated for greater investment in non-carceral services, also leads his race for District 11. In the city controller’s race, accountant Kenneth Mejia dominated his primary after plastering billboards across the city showing that police were sucking up far too much of the budget.

And while certainly on the less progressive end of the spectrum, mayoral candidate Karen Bass received more votes than her Democratic primary opponent, former Republican and billionaire tough-on-crime candidate Rick Caruso. Multiple races will head to runoffs in November thanks to California’s “jungle primary,” system, wherein the top two primary candidates, regardless of party, face head-to-head (unless a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round).

Most notably, City Council District 1 candidate Eunisses Hernandez, a longtime police critic who worked on decarceration initiatives for the Drug Policy Alliance and La Defensa (a group she co-founded), won her race outright with 54 percent of the vote. Hernandez beat centrist incumbent Gil Cedillo by running on a platform that prioritized shifting resources away from armed cops and closing down the scandal-plagued Men’s Central Jail.

These may not be races for state or national office, but they’re still shockingly powerful positions. There are just 15 council members representing Los Angeles’s 4 million residents, which means a single commissioner, on average, represents a population roughly half the size of Wyoming’s. The mayor and city controller are citywide positions, representing a population larger than 23 U.S. states.

One might think that the mainstream Democratic Party would be relieved to see such a large slate of justice reform candidates sweeping up consequential primary election victories—including in the comparatively more conservative Contra Costa County, California, where progressive district attorney and Boudin ally Diana Becton won reelection. With early indications suggesting the 2022 midterms could be a bloodbath for Democrats, these wins could be an indication that campaigns centered around police reform and more expansive visions of justice and public safety can drive voters to the polls.

But instead, Democrats once again seem to be running in the opposite direction. On June 8, mere hours after Boudin’s defeat, the influential centrist think-tank Third Way went on the offensive, effectively urging Democrats to cynically abandon justice reform and instead try to out-Republican the Republicans.

In a piece titled, “The Red City Defund the Police Problem,” Third Way authors Jim Kessler and Kylie Murdoch made the case for Democrats to argue that it is actually Republicans who are “soft on crime.” According to their report, large cities run by Democrats actually funnel more of their budgets to police than those run by Republicans. To some, this data is likely a not-so-surprising reflection of the fact that Democratic mayors have continued to prop up the historic over-policing of many urban areas in America—even amid growing skepticism about its effectiveness as a public safety strategy. But to Third Way, it was a cause for celebration.

“Our conclusion is that the ‘defund the police’ charge against Democrats may be politically damaging, but it is factually inaccurate,” the authors wrote. “If anything, Republican mayors have a defund problem.”

This tactic—the political equivalent of saying, “I know you are but what am I?”—seems tailor-made for the army of centrist pundits and political “strategists” who have used Boudin’s demise to call for a Democratic retreat on policing and justice reform. Said commentators include New York Magazine’s Jonathain Chait, talking head Bill Scher, and Clinton-era fossil James Carville, who cheered Boudin’s loss on CNN, claiming that he had been elected by “snobby, self-righteous elites.” That Carville—a former presidential adviser who trades in luxury real estate and is famously married to a prominent conservative strategist—could get away with calling anyone but himself “elite” exposes how divorced from reality the anti-police-reform crowd really is. Like many of Boudin’s critics, Carville is financially invested in a world where police enforce social and economic order. He and other members of the pro-recall crowd were so eager to define Boudin’s loss as an endorsement of their worldview that they seemingly forgot to check the results of the state’s other elections that night.

Never mind the fact that jettisoning justice reform from the Democratic platform only legitimizes the many, many lies told during the campaign against Boudin. Fetishizing police as society’s problem-solvers is an inherently conservative endeavor, and by now it should be clear that Democrats cannot win by simply turning the GOP’s toxic and disingenuous messaging against them. Pointing the finger at Republicans and arguing that they are the soft-on-crime party offers voters no competing vision for the world, no positive new ideas to support, and no hope that Democrats believe the country could be better or even marginally different than it is now.

To cede even an inch to the Republicans’ talking points on crime is to validate their entire project in the eyes of voters. If Democrats are willing to buy into the false idea that crime is rampant and that cops can fix it, then why would voters opt to choose the Democrats’ moderate half-measures over Republicans’ full-throated support for police?

Since the 1990s, Third Way-style Democrats have banked on the idea that voters will choose their brand of conservatism-lite over the Republicans’ Conservatism Classic. The ensuing years have provided little evidence that this approach has done much other than hand Republicans control of most major state and federal governmental branches. In the meantime, justice reformers at the local level are winning major races and building strong coalitions of local voters, largely due to their ability to make the case that there is a path to a safer society that doesn’t rely exclusively on the failed tough-on-crime strategies of the past. If the Democratic Party wants to run away from those candidates, it will only be running towards its own demise.


In the news

Contact us at newsletter@theappeal.org so we can feature your work here.

A 13-year-old Black boy had his hands raised when Chicago police shot him last month, video obtained by The Daily Beast shows. In a lawsuit filed against the department, the family of the boy, known only as A.G., says he “at this point doesn’t have movement of his legs.” [Eileen Grench / The Daily Beast]

Abortion bans “could lead to a new chapter of mass incarceration,” writes NPR’s Lauren Hodges. As with previous waves of criminalization, this era will disproportionately harm poor people who have less access to legal defense. [Lauren Hodges / NPR]

Teenagers in states that ban abortion may try to travel to another state where abortion is legal. But they may face another obstacle once they get there—parental notification laws. [Sara Sirota / The Intercept]

Medical experts are questioning a report by KCTV5 news in Kansas City, which claimed that a police officer overdosed on fentanyl just by touching it. Experts have said that the officer was not showing signs of opioid overdose and that fentanyl is not absorbed through the skin. The station’s news director hung up on reporter Alex Pareene when he asked if the outlet had consulted any medical experts. [Alex Pareene / The AP (Alex Pareene) Newsletter]

Prison “residential mental health units” are supposed to be therapeutic, but incarcerated people say that the units function like solitary confinement. One man in New York State told reporter Victoria Law that he spends 20 hours in his cell on weekdays and 24 hours there on weekends and holidays. [Victoria Law / Truthout]

Law-enforcement agents in Uvalde, Texas spent an hour waiting for a key to a classroom door that was not actually locked while a mass shooter killed 21 people last month. No one tested to see if the door was open. [Ryan Grenoble / HuffPost]

Scalawag Magazine is hosting a pop justice Live! event tomorrow night to “reckon with the ubiquity of the police state and imagine what a mediascape less infiltrated by copaganda might look like.” Register here.


That’s all for this week. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to support our relaunch, please donate here.

Without Roe, Prosecutors Will Be The Abortion Police

Photo by Ian Hutchinson on Unsplash

Without Roe, Prosecutors Will Be The Abortion Police


Photo by Ian Hutchinson on Unsplash

Without Roe, Prosecutors Will Be The Abortion Police

by Meg O’Connor

In a few weeks, the nation’s highest court may overturn the landmark ruling that legalized abortion, paving the way for over a dozen states to immediately criminalize abortion. According to a leaked opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade.

This means that prosecutors across the country could soon be tasked with enforcing laws that require people to reproduce against their will.

Some district attorneys have already pledged not to prosecute abortion cases. But in Arizona, the impending Supreme Court decision has significantly raised the stakes in the race for the top prosecutor role in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and 4.5 million residents. It’s an extremely powerful position, as Maricopa is the fourth most populated county in the country.

The current county attorney, Rachel Mitchell, is most well known for her highly-criticized questioning of then-Judge Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, during his Senate confirmation hearings in 2018. Mitchell has said she will enforce Arizona’s many anti-abortion statutes if Roe falls. Her challenger, Julie Gunnigle, has said the opposite. Gunnigle, the lone Democrat in the race, told The Appeal that if elected in November, she will exercise prosecutorial discretion and decline to prosecute people who provide or obtain abortions.

Arizona has several anti-abortion laws that could be enforced if Roe falls. One, a 15-week ban which will be effective this September, states that any doctor who performs an abortion after 15 weeks can be prosecuted for committing a Class 6 felony and can have their medical license suspended or revoked.

The state also has a pre-Roe abortion ban on the books that dates back to 1864 and requires two years mandatory prison time for anyone who provides an abortion (except in cases of medical emergencies). While that ban is currently enjoined and cannot immediately go into effect— a court would need to lift the injunction for it to be enforceable, according to the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Arizona—its existence threatens the long-term safety and legality of abortions in Arizona.

When asked by local media if she would prosecute abortions if Roe falls, Mitchell has repeatedly misstated that Arizona law only criminalizes providers. Last year, the governor signed a sweeping “fetal personhood” law that could give prosecutors the ability to charge people who obtain abortions.

The law gives “an unborn child at every stage of development all rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents” of Arizona. Such a law means that without Roe, prosecutors can theoretically charge abortions as anything from civil-rights violations to homicides, given that a fetus at any stage of development in Arizona is now legally considered a “person.”

Mitchell, apro-lifeconservative who supports the death penalty, told The Appeal she will “follow the law” when asked whether she will prosecute people who provide or obtain abortions if Roe falls. Mitchell did not respond when asked if she would use the fetal personhood law to prosecute people who provide or obtain abortions.

Six of Arizona’s nine abortion clinics are in Maricopa County. Two are in Pima County, where the county attorney, Laura Conover, said earlier this month that her office will “do everything in our power to ensure that no person seeking or assisting in an abortion will spend a night in jail.”

The remaining abortion provider is in Coconino County. Bill Ring, the county attorney for Coconino, told The Appeal that he thinks the state’s 15-week ban is too “vague and illusory” to be enforceable, though he only said he was “unlikely” to actively prosecute under it. He said that he was not aware of the 2021 fetal personhood law when asked about it by The Appeal.

“Having these people elected and holding this much power over perpetuating harm to our communities is really scary,” said Eloisa Lopez, executive director of the Abortion Fund of Arizona.

She stressed, for instance, that many people who seek abortion care are already parents. “We are looking at a future of criminalizing parents, putting them in prison, stripping them away from their existing families, and those people will probably be funneled into child protective services.”

Lopez added that it would make a difference if county attorneys instructed their staff to hold off on prosecuting abortion. “These prosecutors are one of those few lines of defense against the criminalization of pregnancy outcomes,” she said.


In the news

Contact us at newsletter@theappeal.org so we can feature your work here.

On May 24, 2022, an 18-year-old man shot and killed 19 children and two teachers inside an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Children called 911, pleading for help. The police did nothing. [Kevin Rector, Jenny Jarvie, Richard Winton, Hayley Smith / Los Angeles Times]

Parents begged the police to help the children trapped inside the school. In response, officers pinned parents to the ground, pepper sprayed, or tasered them. One was put in handcuffs. [Fabiola Cineas / Vox]

The Department of Justice announced they will investigate law enforcement’s response to the shooting. [Joe Hernandez / NPR]

The police did what they always do. “The behavior of the police at Robb Elementary is only shocking if you are committed to a mythic notion of what policing entails,” writes Natasha Lennard. [Natasha Lennard / The Intercept]

But that doesn’t make it any less painful. “I’m not surprised the cops were ghoulishly idle while kids were being killed,” writes Vanessa Taylor. “I’m not surprised they stood around with their guns holstered while an 18-year-old was wielding his on children. But that doesn’t mean I stop hurting.” [Vanessa Taylor / Mic]


That’s all for this week. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to support our relaunch, please donate here. Until next time, the work continues.

Criminalized Abortions Loom Over Phoenix’s Biggest Prosecutor Election

Maricopa County elects a new top prosecutor this year. In the meantime, state law could let the county’s conservative county attorney prosecute abortions if Roe falls.

Rachel Mitchell at the Senate confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh.
C-Span

Criminalized Abortions Loom Over Phoenix’s Biggest Prosecutor Election

Maricopa County elects a new top prosecutor this year. In the meantime, state law could let the county’s conservative county attorney prosecute abortions if Roe falls.


This story was published in partnership with Bolts.

Rachel Mitchell, the prosecutor famed for her role in Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, may soon be prosecuting abortions. Four years after questioning Christine Blasey Ford on behalf of Senate Republicans, Mitchell is now the chief prosecutor for the nation’s fourth most populous county—and Kavanaugh could soon hand her the power to criminalize reproductive rights.

According to a leaked opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade in the coming weeks. Arizona is one of many states with a “trigger” law that would criminalize abortion if Roe falls. As interim Maricopa County attorney, Mitchell is in charge of prosecutions in a county that is home to Phoenix and 4.5 million residents, putting her on the front lines of enforcement. She has said she will bring criminal charges under the state’s anti-abortion statutes if the Court greenlights them.

But a special election later this year may cut Mitchell’s tenure short and shift the local policies on abortion in a county that is home to the majority of Arizona’s population.

Julie Gunnigle, the only Democrat running in this prosecutor’s race, has promised not to prosecute abortion cases if she is elected in November. “As Maricopa County attorney I will never prosecute a patient, a provider, or a family for choosing to have an abortion or any other reproductive decision,” she told The Appeal and Bolts. “Not now, not ever.”

This is a stance Gunnigle also took in the 2020 race for Maricopa County attorney, which she very narrowly lost to Republican incumbent Allister Adel. But Adel resigned earlier this year, amid a series of scandals, and the county government appointed Mitchell to replace her. Adel’s resignation has triggered the special election to fill the remaining two years of her term. To get to the general election, Mitchell must first win an August primary against Gina Godbehere, who shares Mitchell’s views on abortion.

Arizona has passed plenty of anti-abortion laws in recent years. Earlier this year, the state adopted a ban on abortions after 15 weeks that is similar to a Mississippi law currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Even if the Court does not overturn Roe v. Wade, it may still affirm the Mississippi law—a somewhat narrower step reportedly favored by Chief Justice John Roberts that would still amount to a drastic new restriction on access to abortion in Arizona.

Such a decision would open the door to Mitchell and other Arizona prosecutors bringing cases against abortion providers. Arizona’s 15-week ban, which goes into effect in September, states that any doctor who performs an abortion after 15 weeks can be prosecuted for committing a Class 6 felony and can have their medical license suspended or revoked. People who obtain abortions would not be prosecuted under this law, which makes no exceptions for rape or incest.

In 2020, physicians in Arizona performed 636 abortions after 15 weeks, according to a report from the state’s Department of Health Services.

If Roe falls entirely, a complicated patchwork of laws and court rulings will take effect. For one, the state has a full abortion ban on the books that dates back to 1864 and could trigger into effect if Roe is overturned. That one-sentence law stipulates that anyone who provides an abortion can be sentenced to two to five years in prison (except in cases of medical emergencies).

However, there is some uncertainty over how promptly that ban would apply if the Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

“While Arizona has pre-Roe criminal laws on its books, they are currently enjoined and therefore would not immediately take effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned,” Brittany Fonteno, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Arizona, told The Appeal and Bolts via email. “A court would have to issue an order lifting the injunction on these laws.”

Perhaps most aggressively, Arizona adopted a sweeping anti-abortion law in 2021 that, among other clauses, established so-called “fetal personhood.” That provision grants “an unborn child at every stage of development all rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents” of Arizona. If Roe falls, abortion-rights organizitations have warned that “fetal personhood” clauses could give prosecutors the ability to charge abortions as anything from civil-rights violations to homicides, given that a fetus at any stage of development in Arizona is now legally considered a “person.”

Arizona Republicans, who control the legislature and governor’s office, may also take new steps to further criminalize abortion.

“If Roe is overturned, we expect that anti-abortion politicians will continue working to make abortion inaccessible in Arizona,” Fonteno said.


The impending U.S. Supreme Court decision has significantly raised the stakes in the race for top prosecutor in Arizona’s most populous county.

“Having these people elected and holding this much power over perpetuating harm to our communities is really scary,” said Eloisa Lopez, executive director of the Abortion Fund of Arizona.

She stressed, for instance, that many people who seek abortion care are already parents. “We are looking at a future of criminalizing parents, putting them in prison, stripping them away from their existing families, and those people will probably be funneled into child protective services.”

Lopez added that it would make a difference if county attorneys instructed their staff to hold off on prosecuting abortion. “These prosecutors are one of those few lines of defense against the criminalization of pregnancy outcomes,” she said.

In Arizona’s second largest county, Pima County Attorney Laura Conover has already drawn such a line in the sand. She tweeted earlier this month that her office will “do everything in our power to ensure that no person seeking or assisting in an abortion will spend a night in jail.”

Another Arizona prosecutor, Coconino County Attorney Bill Ring, told The Appeal and Bolts that he thinks the state’s 15-week ban is too “vague and illusory” to be enforceable, though he only said he was “unlikely” to actively prosecute under it.

Two of Arizona’s nine abortion clinics are in Pima County. One is in Coconino. The other six are in Maricopa.

Mitchell, Maricopa’s new prosecutor, has worked in the County Attorney’s Office for almost 30 years. A self-proclaimed “pro-lifeconservative who supports the death penalty, Mitchell is known nationally for her role in Kavanaugh’s 2018 confirmation hearing, when Republican lawmakers tapped her to question both Kavanaugh and Ford on their behalf. Many former prosecutors admonished Mitchell for getting involved in a partisan political process and making misleading and disingenuous statements after the hearing.

Asked whether she would prosecute people who provide or obtain abortions if the Supreme Court allows it, Mitchell confirmed to The Appeal and Bolts that she would, reiterating a stance she has taken elsewhere.

“As County Attorney, I follow the law,” she said in a written statement. She added that she may use her discretion to not prosecute cases that involve incest. “I’ve sat across from a young girl who became pregnant through incest,” she said. “I will not treat victims as criminals, and I will ensure that cases prosecuted by my office meet the charging standard of a likelihood of conviction at trial.”

The only other Republican in the race, Godbehere, did not respond to a request for comment. But Godbehere, who has also spent the better part of her career working for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and is running with the endorsement of several police unions, has largely echoed Mitchell’s views on the issue.

Speaking on a local radio show last month, Godbehere said that Gunnigle’s stance on abortion prosecutions should disqualify her from the office and that prosecutors cannot “disregard a whole category of offenses because you believe that your opinion is better than the legislature’s or the voters’ of our community.” Mitchell mirrored that language in her statement to The Appeal and Bolts. “Anyone who refuses to uphold the law based on their personal beliefs is unfit to hold office and a danger to democracy,” she said.

Gunnigle contends that Mitchell and Godbehere are denying the discretion that they already exercise as prosecutors. “It’s clear that my opponents don’t understand the role that they’re applying for,” Gunnigle said. “Every single day the role of the county attorney is to go in and decide which cases to prosecute.” She added, “I find statements like that to be incredibly disingenuous, particularly when the office right now only charges about half of the cases, and the county attorney right now is picking which cases to prosecute.”

Defenders of Gunnigle’s take on prosecutorial discretion point out that there are crimes that even conservative prosecutors choose not to prosecute. Eli Savit, a prosecutor in Michigan, recently told Bolts that adultery is still a criminal offense in his state, but “not a single prosecutor is spending any time and any resources prosecuting people for cheating on their spouses.” Adultery is also a criminal offense in Arizona.


Complicating matters further in Arizona is that the state’s attorney general may try to override county attorneys who choose not to prosecute abortion. Some states, like Michigan, allow the attorney general to prosecute criminal cases.

Arizona law outlines several specific criminal offenses attorney generals may prosecute. Abortion is not one of them. But it is possible that an attorney general could use a creative interpretation that stretches the meaning of other criminal offenses, as prosecutors are wont to do, in order to go after abortion providers.

“I think there’s definitely the possibility of a legal showdown and asking the court to interpret what this really means,” Gunnigle said about the attorney general’s role. “I will fight tooth and nail to make sure the integrity of this office isn’t sacrificed and doesn’t become beholden to the attorney general’s office.”

Arizona voters will elect a new attorney general this year, and abortion access has already emerged as a major fault line in that race. Kris Mayes, the sole Democratic candidate, has said she would encourage state courts to block new anti-abortion rules, and she has ruled out prosecuting abortion cases if elected.

But several of the Republican candidates have expressed elation at the thought of Roe being overturned, and some, like Rodney Glassman, have said they will “vigorously defend anti-abortion laws as attorney general. Another Republican candidate, former prosecutor Abraham Hamadeh, called abortion “murder” and said he is running for attorney general to “stand up for the most vulnerable.” All six Republican candidates in the race are anti-abortion.

Regardless of who’s in office, a ruling against abortion by the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming weeks, coupled with the state’s laws, would create rapid legal and criminal liabilities for people across Arizona.

“These bans won’t stop abortion,” said Lopez, of the Abortion Fund of Arizona. “They will just make it dangerous and unsafe for people. We’re going to see maternal mortality increase, infant mortality increase. There will be more abuse of children. Pregnant people will be criminalized. There will be more family separation. There will be many long-term harms in our community.”

Don’t Let Cops Co-Opt Denim Day

The Anchorage PD, which in 2020 cleared only 46 of the 558 rapes reported to the department.
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Don’t Let Cops Co-Opt Denim Day


The Anchorage PD, which in 2020 cleared only 46 of the 558 rapes reported to the department.
Facebook

Don’t Let Cops Co-Opt Denim Day

by Meg O’Connor

Today is Denim Day, an international day of solidarity with survivors of sexual violence. Its name is a reference to a 1999 Italian Supreme Court decision to overturn a rape conviction because the victim was wearing jeans. “It is nearly impossible to slip off tight jeans even partly without the active collaboration of the person who is wearing them,” members of the then-male-dominated Italian Supreme Court said. So, the court ruled, the victim must have consented.

The ruling sparked intense backlash across the Italian political spectrum and demonstrations by some female Italian Parliament members. Since then, people have continued to wear jeans on the last Wednesday in April to show solidarity with survivors of sexual violence and make a stand against victim-blaming.

But the day has, annoyingly, been co-opted by police and prosecutors, who have shown time and again that they consistently blame victims and are woefully inadequate at responding to sexual violence. Yet the Denim Day origin story only furthers the case that the criminal legal system is not equipped to provide survivors with justice.

The defendant in the case, a 45-year-old driving instructor accused of raping his 18-year-old student in 1992, was initially acquitted of most charges stemming from the alleged assault. A prosecutor appealed the acquittal, and in 1998 the man was convicted of additional offenses and sentenced to two years and ten months in prison. The conviction was overturned the following year. At the time, Italy’s highest court was made up of 410 male judges and just 10 female judges.

The rest of the Supreme Court panel’s ruling—written by a male judge named Aldo Rizzo—was nearly as obscene as the judiciary’s comments about jeans. The judges implied that the victim may have been motivated to claim she was raped in order to hide her sexual activities from her parents; that if the victim felt any guilt or shame about the incident she may have been fabricating the case; and that because she did not “resist with all of her strength,” she may not have been sexually assaulted, because it was somehow “illogical to suggest that a girl would passively submit to rape.”

Seven years of recounting what happened to you only to end up with the nation’s highest court telling you you’re a liar and you were never raped doesn’t sound particularly healing.

Many survivors of sexual violence want non-police options when it comes to seeking justice after an assault. Decades of relying on law enforcement to respond to sex crimes have not reduced the prevalence of sexual assault, nor has it consistently produced positive outcomes for victims. Instead of throwing more money at something that clearly isn’t working, cities could invest in ways to equip survivors with financial resources and support systems to help them leave violent homes, or provide victims with the extensive mental health care necessary to overcome trauma. But survivors who seek other ways to heal, like restorative justice, have limited options available to them and are often left choosing between seeking punishment or doing nothing at all.

The options for recourse are even worse for incarcerated people, who are often left out of the conversation when reckoning with sexual assault. As Val Kiebala wrote for The Appeal last week, reporting a sexual assault in prison often leads to consequences for the victim, rather than the perpetrator.

Cynthia Alvarado told The Appeal that she was raped in jail by a Philadelphia correctional officer more than 10 years ago. She was then sentenced to life in prison for a murder she didn’t commit. Her sentence has since been overturned. When discussing her decision not to report the rape while incarcerated, Alvarado said, “Who was I going to tell? The same people that were oppressing me? The same people that had the keys to my cell?”

What happened to Alvarado isn’t uncommon. From 2013 to 2018, the number of reports of sexual abuse in prisons and jails nationwide more than doubled, from approximately 13,500 to 28,000, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Yet even when incarcerated people do report sexual assaults, prison administrators tasked with investigating those reports rarely substantiate the allegations. Often, staff claim an investigation determined the assault was “unsubstantiated” or “unfounded,” meaning it was deemed false or baseless. In 2019 and 2020, incarcerated people reported a total of 75 instances of sexual misconduct or harassment by the staff of one Central Pennsylvania state prison, SCI Muncy. Not a single one of those instances was substantiated.

“People are bravely stepping forward to report sexual abuse, only to be failed by the people in charge of their safety,” said Linda McFarlane, executive director of Just Detention International, a human rights organization that aims to end the sexual abuse of incarcerated people.

“What corrections officials are saying, essentially, is that in completely locked detention facilities, where they monitor and control every person’s movements, they can’t determine whether abuse has happened,” McFarlane told The Appeal’s Kiebala.

So if law enforcement agencies truly want to honor the spirit of Denim Day, they should start by taking a good hard look at themselves.

Read more about Cynthia Alvarado, the epidemic of sexual assaults in prisons, and the people who are fighting back here.


In the news

Contact us at newsletter@theappeal.org so we can feature your work here.

Video shows Syracuse, New York police officers detaining a sobbing eight-year-old boy, who is Black, for allegedly stealing a bag of chips. [Antonio Planas and Suzanne Ciechalski / NBC News] From The Appeal: Police almost sent a five-year-old child to jail.

At a sheriffs’ forum in Riverside, California, County Sheriff Chad Bianco said homelessness “has nothing to do with homes or lack of homes. It’s a drug-induced psychosis.” Bianco was previously a member of the right-wing militia, the Oath Keepers. [Vishal P. Singh / Twitter]

In upcoming elections, Trump-aligned county sheriffs may play a “uniquely aggressive role” in criminalizing election officials. [Jessica Pishko / Bolts]

All charges have been dropped against Pamela Moses, who was sentenced to six years for registering to vote. A probation officer had mistakenly told her she was no longer on probation and was able to vote. [Sam Levin / The Guardian]

The Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade this summer. If they do, district attorneys in states that subsequently ban abortion will be the ones who decide whether or not to pursue abortion-related criminal charges. [Eleanor Klibanoff / Texas Tribune]


That’s all for this week. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to support our official relaunch, please donate here. Until next time, the work continues.

‘It’s an Emergency’: Tens of Thousands of Incarcerated People are Sexually Assaulted Each Year

Cynthia Alvarado was raped in jail before she was sentenced to life in prison for a murder she did not commit. Now that her sentence has been overturned, Alvarado is fighting for women like her.

Cynthia Alvarado
Photo by Val Kiebala

‘It’s an Emergency’: Tens of Thousands of Incarcerated People are Sexually Assaulted Each Year

Cynthia Alvarado was raped in jail before she was sentenced to life in prison for a murder she did not commit. Now that her sentence has been overturned, Alvarado is fighting for women like her.


When Cynthia Alvarado learned that her life sentence had been overturned during her 12th year of incarceration at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) Muncy, in Pennsylvania, it was more than a reprieve; it was a resurrection.

“At that moment, I felt like I was alive,” she said in an interview with The Appeal. “I was so dead in there. I didn’t realize how dead I was until I got that news, because a part of me had to die in there to survive.”

During those 11 years and five months, Cynthia Alvarado didn’t just lose her freedom. She survived brutality, isolation, and sexual assault. Like thousands of other women who have been raped and sexually abused while behind bars, Cynthia Alvarado found herself powerless, abandoned by the system, stymied by the law, and, she said, largely ignored by the #MeToo movement, which drew attention to the abuse of women in the workplace, but not in prisons and jails.

Cynthia Alvarado, a 27-year-old mother of two at the time of her arrest, had been sentenced to life without parole in 2010 on charges of second-degree murder. On the day of the crime, Oct. 21, 2008, Cynthia Alvarado had driven to Fairhill Square Park, in North Philadelphia, with her cousin Oscar Alvarado, in search of Xanax. That same afternoon, Oscar killed a woman named Marta Martinez.

The Philadelphia Police Department tells one account of what happened that day, and Cynthia Alvarado tells another. One absolute fact in both accounts, however, is that Cynthia Alvarado never killed anyone.

Despite this, Cynthia Alvarado was sentenced to die in prison under Pennsylvania’s felony murder statute. If a death occurs during the commission of any felony in Pennsylvania, all participants in the felony can be found guilty of second-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life without parole, even if they had no role in the actual killing.

While awaiting her trial, Cynthia Alvarado spent about a year and a half at Riverside Correctional Facility, a county jail on the north side of Philadelphia. Oscar was held in an adjacent jail, but on Thanksgiving Day in 2008, he escaped and was on the run for 18 days.

That’s when the guards’ wrath turned on Cynthia Alvarado. Cynthia Alvarado told The Appeal that guards at Riverside tugged on her chains, punched her in the stomach, and ripped up pictures of her daughter. Then came eight months of solitary confinement. Then came the rape. He was wearing his City of Philadelphia correctional officer’s uniform, and she was in her baggy, blue prison jumpsuit. It happened in a closet.

“There were no officers there, it was just him on the pod and he was able to watch all the cameras,” Cynthia Alvarado said. “So he knew exactly what he was doing. He was a predator. What I found out later was that he was doing this to a lot of girls.”

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Department of Prisons (PDP) told The Appeal that what happened to Cynthia Alvarado predates Blanche Carney’s tenure as commissioner of the PDP.

“The PDP does not have a record of Ms. Alvarado’s allegations,” a spokesperson said. “However, we acknowledge and are empathic towards Ms. Alvarado’s experience during her incarceration…The PDP does not tolerate any form of sexual harassment or abuse. We strongly advise all incarcerated people who have experienced sexual abuse or harassment to immediately file a PREA complaint.”


Predators with Power

Cynthia Alvarado had no real options for legal recourse while she was incarcerated.

“Who was I going to tell?” Cynthia Alvarado said. “The same people that were oppressing me? The same people that had the keys to my cell?”

The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), the first federal piece of legislation that created standards to combat sexual assault in prison, was signed into law by George W. Bush in 2003. Philadelphia’s jails did not adopt PREA-compliant policies until 2015.

In a piece published in the Yale Law Journal in 2013, Elizabeth Reid, a woman who had been incarcerated in Washington state, told her own story of being sexually assaulted by a guard—and made it clear how difficult it is to hold abusers accountable. “The charges are always ‘unfounded,’” Reid wrote, meaning they were deemed to be false or baseless by the prison administration. “The victim is humiliated and then discredited. We cannot win if we come forward.”

Incarcerated people are often treated as though they have no credibility when it comes to their own bodies, even when they are suffering from clear and legitimate health issues. Staff at a Texas jail dismissed a pregnant woman when she said she was experiencing contractions, forcing her to give birth in a holding cell known as the “cage.” A man in Illinois had to have his leg amputated after prison staff refused to take his medical needs seriously and instead allowed blisters on his feet to fester. And time and again, incarcerated people suffering from mental illness have been ignored when they expressed a desire to hurt themselves and have gone on to commit suicide as a result. Even outside of prisons, people who report a sexual assault are often not taken seriously, so it should come as no surprise that incarcerated people are even more likely to be dismissed.

At SCI Muncy, there are two options to report rape: verbally reporting to a staff member or submitting a written report to the prison administration. The latest PREA report from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC) disclosed that people held at SCI Muncy reported 32 allegations of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment by prison staff in 2020. Of those claims, zero were found “substantiated,” meaning an investigation found enough evidence to determine that the incident occurred; nine were found “unsubstantiated,” meaning an investigation did not find enough evidence to determine whether the allegation was true; and 23 were “unfounded,” meaning that an investigation determined that the incident did not take place. In 2019, women at Muncy came forward to report 43 incidents of staff sexual misconduct or harassment, and, again, the PADOC ruled none of their claims to be “substantiated.” This means that in the last two reported PREA cycles, none of the women who came forward about sexual abuse at Muncy were believed.

There is no PREA report for Philadelphia county jails available on the Philadelphia Department of Prisons website.

Reporting rape in prison often leads to punishment for the victim and not for the perpetrator. It can even lead to more prison time. Reid’s assault happened during a work-release program, where a guard could easily get someone sent back to prison just by saying they had violated a rule. Cynthia Alvarado was preparing for trial when she was raped. She feared that the prosecution might find a way to blame her for the incident and use it against her in court.

Reporting rape in prison can also get you sent to solitary confinement. Cynthia Alvarado had just been released from eight months in the hole when she was sexually assaulted, and going back to solitary was the last thing she wanted.

“They just put me in a room. They locked the door. And all I could think about, no lie, was ending my life,” Cynthia Alvarado said. “A voice telling me, ‘Just do it, just do it,’ and I just kept fighting it and fighting it and fighting it. But when I got upstate and I saw how many women ended their life in solitary, I knew that those voices were real.”

Guards in prison hold the key not only to incarcerated people’s cells but also to their so-called privileges, such as phone time with family members, visitation schedules, commissary access, work programs, education programs, mental health resources, and book and library access. “Our phone calls are monitored,” Cynthia Alvarado explained. “If you’re talking about a guard on the phone, you don’t think they’re gonna hang up? You really can’t say shit.”

Elizabeth Reid waited two weeks after she returned home after finishing the work-release program to report the rape. “Maybe, I thought, if I could just get to my release, then I could report it to the police. The real police,” Reid wrote. After she’d had two humiliating interviews with the police, however, they stopped answering her calls.

Reid had even provided evidence. She told them about marks on the guard’s legs that could only be seen if he wasn’t wearing pants. It didn’t matter. There was no real investigation. When the guard denied the assault over the phone, that was the end.

“As soon as they realized that I’d been an inmate on work release,” she wrote, “the skepticism of what I’d told them became evident on their faces.”


Cynthia Alvarado
Photo by Val Kiebala

Women Silenced Behind Prison Walls

For incarcerated women, sexual assault often comes on top of a long history of abuse. More than 90 percent of incarcerated women experienced sexual assault or physical trauma before their incarceration, according to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Unaddressed trauma is often what leads people into the criminal legal system in the first place. Numerous studies have linked exposure to trauma with the perpetration of crime.

Cynthia Alvarado grew up in a home plagued by domestic violence. She started running away when she was 12 or 13 years old. And when she was 25 years old, she fell into an opioid addiction after a car accident killed her uncle and nearly paralyzed her.

“Not dealing with that trauma is what led me to this pill spot to buy drugs” on the day of the murder, she said.

Cynthia Alvarado returned home after being released from prison on March 11, 2020. Her sentence was overturned based on a due-process violation during the trial. The violation stemmed from a misleading response the court gave to a question from the jury regarding accomplice liability—suggesting that someone can be found guilty of aiding in a crime even without intent to do so. Cynthia Alvarado won through a habeas corpus petition, which challenges the legality of someone’s confinement. Fewer than one percent of habeas corpus petitions are successful.

Nationwide, about 200,000 women remain locked behind bars and vulnerable to sexual assault with little to no recourse. In Pennsylvania, about 200 of the 2,000 women held in prison are serving life sentences, which means they have been left to die in prison.

In the past 40 years, the number of incarcerated women in the U.S. has increased by more than 700 percent—double the growth rate for incarcerated men, according to the Sentencing Project. In 2019, African American women were imprisoned at a rate 1.7 times greater than white women, and African American girls are three times more likely than white girls to be incarcerated. Native girls are more than four times as likely.

Between 2013 and 2018, the number of reports of sexual abuse in prisons and jails nationwide more than doubled, from approximately 13,500 to 28,000, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. This number does not necessarily reflect an increase in sexual assaults but likely indicates that mechanisms for reporting have been used.

While it is good that more people are using the reporting mechanisms, Linda McFarlane, the executive director of Just Detention International, a human rights organization that aims to end the sexual abuse of incarcerated people, condemns the low rate of substantiation for claims of sexual assault in youth and adult prisons. “What corrections officials are saying, essentially, is that in completely locked detention facilities, where they monitor and control every person’s movements, they can’t determine whether abuse has happened,” McFarlane said. “And, worse, when they can make a determination, they conclude the report was false.”

“People are bravely stepping forward to report sexual abuse, only to be failed by the people in charge of their safety,” McFarlane said.


“It’s an Emergency”

Across the country, there are people fighting for incarcerated women. A group in Pittsburgh called Let’s Get Free, dedicated to the rights of women and transgender people in prison, was founded by a group of women in 2013 during One Billion Rising, a global day of action to end violence against women.

For the event, etta cetera, the co-founder of Let’s Get Free, collaborated with incarcerated women to amplify their voices through an art installation. “The stories of five women were highlighted in a life-size solitary confinement cell, all of whom were women criminalized for defending themselves against sexual violence or racial violence,” cetera said. For nearly a decade now, Let’s Get Free has been challenging mass incarceration by building relationships, hosting workshops, conducting media work, pushing for policy changes, and hosting an annual art show featuring artists inside and outside of prison.

cetera also works for Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, which provides free resources and counseling for people who have experienced sexual assault. She has received calls from people experiencing sexual assault, including people in prison reporting PREA claims.

“It’s an emergency,” cetera said, referring to the epidemic of sexual violence. “One thing that COVID taught us is that there can be enormous sweeping changes to institutions in under a month. …What if the crisis we prioritize is not COVID but sexual violence?”

The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls has been shining a light on this crisis for more than a decade. The organization, founded inside the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, in 2010, aims to end the incarceration of women and girls. And in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) is also advocating for incarcerated women. CCWP was formed in 1995 following a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of women held in two California prisons. The lawsuit claimed that the state had violated the women’s constitutional rights by denying them medical care. According to the lawsuit, one woman was told by prison staff, “No one had ever died from swelling,” when she was experiencing severe edema in her legs, excessive menstrual bleeding, and large blood clots. She was eventually diagnosed with cancer and died nine months later.

Incarcerated women still face the same neglect today. Cynthia Alvarado recently reconnected with a former cellmate, Rose Dinkins, who is 50 years into a life sentence. Dinkins told Cynthia Alvarado that while the visiting rooms in men’s prisons are often filled with sisters, wives, mothers, and grandmothers on holidays, the visiting rooms in women’s prisons are empty.

“It makes me feel forgotten and disrespected,” Dinkins said. “They treat us any kind of way in here. They do what they wanna do. And there’s nothing you can do about it. … It’s like we’re excluded from the conversation. It’s like we don’t exist.”

Not only do prisons fail to protect the human rights of incarcerated people, they are not equipped to heal the unaddressed trauma that women—particularly poor women of color—face in society. That trauma is compounded when victims of sexual assault in prisons have no recourse against their assailants. In order for meaningful change to reach these victims, guards must be stripped of impunity.

Now that she has returned home, Cynthia Alvarado fights for women like Dinkins who are serving death-by-incarceration sentences, trying to help them get another chance at freedom. She says more of today’s feminists need to step up and support incarcerated women.

“I’m calling on the #MeToo movement to bring awareness to the women that are being raped in prison,” Cynthia Alvarado said. “I would invite you ladies to look at the women inside who are oppressed. We have nobody.”

Florida Cops Nearly Sent a Five-Year-Old to Jail

Pembroke Pines Police Department

Florida Cops Nearly Sent a Five-Year-Old to Jail


Pembroke Pines Police Department

Florida Cops Nearly Sent a Five-Year-Old to Jail

by Nneka Ewulonu

Five-year-olds get away with a lot of things: inquisitive-yet-annoying questions, bluntness bordering on impoliteness, or being sticky all the time, for example. Generally speaking, we give children a pass for acts of cruelty or selfishness because they are, obviously, children, and their brains are not fully developed. But when a special-needs 5-year-old in South Florida injured their pre-K teacher in early March, local media outlets seemed unable to offer the unnamed youth a basic level of humanity.

Instead, some reporters entertained the notion that a toddler deserved prison time. “No Charges for 5-Year-Old Who Left Teacher Hospitalized in Pembroke Pines School Attack,” read one particularly outrageous NBC 6 South Florida headline.

The case perfectly exemplifies America’s absurd belief that prisons are the best—or only—way society can deal with humans who hurt other humans. According to reports, two students, ages 4 and 5, began throwing items around a pre-K classroom at Pines Lakes Elementary School in Pembroke Pines, Florida. A teacher responded by taking the 5-year-old to a separate room to cool down. Once there, the child allegedly attacked the teacher, leaving the adult wheezing and unable to speak. The teacher was then transported to the hospital and needed to be intubated. This was the third instance in which the student had injured that same teacher.

But, rather than report the incident as an unfortunate accident or a sign that Broward County Schools need to change their policies when dealing with special-needs kids, media outlets were only able to see the incident through a carceral lens. Reporters responded by posting the police incident report and suggesting the small child could “face a charge of aggravated assault.” Police and prosecutors ultimately decided not to send the toddler to jail.

The degree to which the child injured this teacher is undoubtedly egregious, and there is no question an intervention is merited. But the idea of pursuing criminal charges against such a young child should be unthinkable. Society’s insistence on viewing harms solely through a carceral lens limits our ability to pursue meaningful, harm-reduction interventions in young people’s lives. As a result, more than 30,000 children under the age of 10 were arrested between 2013 and 2018, according to FBI data.

The public school system is deeply intertwined with the prison industrial complex. While the race of the child in Pembroke Pines was not reported, racism and over-policing within the legal and schooling systems created the context for this incident regardless. Black and Hispanic public students are disproportionately likely to experience school disciplinary action such as suspension or expulsion. A 2021 paper by researchers from Boston University, the University of Colorado, and Harvard University found that students who go to schools with high suspension rates are 3.2 percent more likely to be arrested and 2.5 percent more likely to be incarcerated as an adult. Black students are also disproportionately referred to law enforcement and subsequently arrested.

The American Civil Liberties Union states that more than 60,000 children are housed in juvenile detention centers or residential treatment facilities each day. These facilities often exhibit the same issues as adult facilities, including poor rehabilitative measures and education resources, solitary confinement, and sexual abuse. Inequality is also present: Black and Hispanic youth are more likely to be detained, imprisoned for longer periods, and sent to solitary confinement compared to white children. It’s therefore unsurprising that the juvenile justice system has the same abysmal outcomes. When compared to children who are given less disruptive consequences such as home monitoring, youth who experience incarceration are 13 percent less likely to graduate high school and 22 percent more likely to be incarcerated in prison as an adult.

Underlying every factor is the insidious reality that Black kids are robbed of their innocence and youth starting from an early age. Americans view Black boys over the age of 10 as older and less innocent than white boys of the same age, while Black girls as young as age 5 are viewed as less innocent and more mature than white girls of the same age, according to studies by the American Psychological Association and Georgetown University Law Center, respectively. In addition to the adultification of Black kids, racialized anger bias results in Black boys and girls’ facial expressions being more likely to be interpreted as angry as compared to white childrens’ facial expressions, according to research by North Carolina State University.

These pervasive implicit biases often have outlandish consequences. In early 2021, police in Rochester, New York, made national news for pepper spraying a suicidal 9-year-old girl while responding to a 911 call. As the officers struggled to get the girl in the patrol car, an officer told her she was “acting like a child,” to which she replied, “I am a child!”

These biases can also have lethal outcomes. On November 22, 2014, a Cleveland park-goer called 911 about a kid playing with a gun. Even though the caller stated that the weapon was “probably fake,” law enforcement arrived at the park and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice within seconds of seeing him. Officer Timothy Loehmann would later justify the shooting before a grand jury by stating that he thought that Rice was 18 years old, robbing Rice of both six years of his childhood and his life.

The adultification of Black youth in combination with society’s reverence for incarceration results in a landscape where criminally charging a five-year-old child of any race is an idea that can be entertained. In an era where school shootings have become commonplace and our remaining time on a habitable earth diminishes, kids — especially Black kids — deserve the chance to grow and make mistakes without facing the threat of a derailed future.


In the news

Contact us at newsletter@theappeal.org so we can feature your work here.

In Texas, Lizelle Herrera was charged with murder for a “self-induced abortion.” The Starr County District Attorney has dropped the charges. To follow this case and learn how to support people seeking abortions in Texas, please follow @LaFronteraFund. [Pablo De La Rosa, Carolina Cuellar, Dan Katz, Fernando Ortiz Jr. / Texas Public Radio]

Mayor Eric Adams’ anti-crime units are mostly arresting people for low-level crimes like drug possession and driving with a suspended license, according to an investigation by City & State. [Sara Dorn / City and State]

Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies frequently punch incarcerated people in the head, and in September forced people to stay undressed for hours, according to the court-appointed monitor’s report. [Sam Levin / The Guardian]

The American Rescue Plan Act sent billions of dollars to states to help them respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. California cities spent millions of it on law enforcement. [Sam Levin / The Guardian] [See also: Brian Dolinar reports on how pandemic relief funds went to pad bloated law enforcement budgets.]

Unable to secure lethal injection drugs, South Carolina is planning to execute Richard Moore by firing squad or electrocution. People executed by firing squad will be strapped to a chair, a hood placed over their head, and a small aim point will be placed on their heart. [Maurice Chammah / The Marshall Project]

Ketanji Brown Jackson will be the first Black woman and the first public defender to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate voted to confirm her in a 53 to 47 vote, mostly on party lines. Former public defender Premal Dharia wrote about why Jackson’s experience will make her a needed addition to the Court. [Premal Dharia / CNN]


That’s all for this week. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to support our official relaunch, please donate here. Until next time, the work continues.

Does Bail Reform Lead to More Crime?

Photo by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

Does Bail Reform Lead to More Crime?


Photo by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

Does Bail Reform Lead to More Crime?

by Ethan Corey, The Appeal

In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Bail Reform Act, which he announced would overhaul the country’s “archaic, unjust, and virtually unexamined” bail system and “insure that defendants are considered as individuals and not as dollar signs.”

The law, along with similar legislation at the state level, helped drive down the number of people jailed before trial. But the backlash to these reforms was quick, as politicians like Richard Nixon blamed reform for releasing “dangerous hard-core recidivists.” By 1984, 34 states and Congress had passed legislation expanding judges’ ability to jail people before trial.

Today’s movement to rein in the use of cash bail is now at risk of suffering a similar fate. Once again, pro-carceral forces have made bail reform a scapegoat for rising crime. Many officials, apparently unswayed by the lack of evidence that recent increases in shootings and homicides are linked to bail reform, have begun turning on existing laws. Focusing on spurious claims about bail reform and crime rates, however, ignores the proven harms of jailing nearly 5 million people each year before any determination of guilt.

Reform—and Backlash

Between 2011 and 2019, proponents of bail reform won victory after victory across the country. Kentucky kicked off the trend in 2011, passing legislation that made release without bail the default option for most defendants. By the time New York enacted a bill in 2019 restricting the use of bail for most crimes, at least 13 other states and dozens of local jurisdictions had adopted policies aimed at reducing the use of bail.

Then came the backlash. From the start, opponents of reform had predicted that bail reform would be, in the words of one bail bond executive, “the worst thing ever for public safety.” But when crime rates remained stable —and even declined in some jurisdictions—reform advocates were quick to argue that it was possible to reduce the use of cash bail without triggering “The Purge.” Jurisdictions like New Jersey and Cook County (Chicago) reduced their jail populations by more than a quarter without any uptick in crime rates.

In 2020, the landscape changed. Prompted by sensational headlines about a handful of isolated crimes allegedly committed by people on pretrial release, Democratic leaders in the New York state legislature announced plans to roll back the reforms just over a month after they had taken effect. As shooting and homicide numbers increased during the pandemic, bail reform became an easy target for figures across the political spectrum, from Donald Trump to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Proposals to jail more people pretrial are now on the rise, with anti-reform bills pending or on the way in New Hampshire, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.

Does Bail Reform Lead to More Crime?

Despite the sensational headlines, there is no solid evidence that bail reform leads to more crime. But that’s partly because there’s very little rigorous research on how bail reform affects crime in general. Identifying the impact of a particular policy change on crime rates is difficult, because crime rates can rise or fall for many reasons.

With a wide variety of bail reform measures and no set standards for data collection or evaluation, most bail reform studies have focused on outcomes that are easier to directly attribute to specific laws, such as the percentage of people who are rearrested while on pretrial release. Most research has found that reducing the use of cash bail had little to no effect on the percentage of people who are rearrested while on pretrial release. Some studies have found that jailing people before trial may even increase their likelihood of rearrest in the future.

But as critics of bail reform have pointed out, with more people being released pretrial, crime can increase even if pretrial rearrest rates remain unchanged. For instance, one study in Cook County found that the number of people on pretrial release rearrested for new crimes rose by 12 percent during the first 15 months of bail reform, even though the percentage who were rearrested decreased slightly.

This criticism ignores the fact that the vast majority of crimes are not committed by people on pretrial release. The Cook County study looking at the first 15 months of bail reform documented about 4,000 arrests of people on pretrial release—just over 4 percent of the nearly 90,000 total arrests the Chicago Police Department reported making in that period. Data from other jurisdictions shows a similar trend: A report last month by the New York City Comptroller found that only 5 percent of people arrested were on pretrial release.

The bottom line: There isn’t enough evidence to say definitively that any given bail reform proposal would increase or decrease crime. All of the existing research suggests that any effect would be relatively small.

Crime Rates Are Only Part of the Story

On the other hand, there is overwhelming evidence that the status quo is broken. A January report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights concluded, “Pretrial detention, as currently used, tears apart individual lives, families, and entire communities.” Research shows that even a short stint in jail can have lasting consequences: lost jobs and housing, increased likelihood of pleading guilty, and higher odds of being arrested for new crimes in the future. Incarcerated people and their loved ones pay around $2 billion each year in nonrefundable bail fees, money which disproportionately comes from communities of color and low-income people.

Considering those facts, even if bail reform did lead to a marginal increase in crime rates, the benefits of reducing pretrial incarceration could still be worth the cost. Across the country, nearly five million people go to jail every year. Any honest discussion of bail reform has to weigh these concrete benefits—fewer lost jobs, fewer evictions, fewer children in foster care—against the uncertain prospect that a small increase in crime might follow.

None of this is to say that proponents of bail reform should dismiss concerns about increased crime. Nor should they make impossible promises that these measures will necessarily reduce crime. The available evidence suggests that bail reform has little impact on crime one way or the other. Instead, these concerns should be an opportunity to build support for promising solutions that don’t rely on putting people in jail, such as supportive housing, community treatment programs, and better infrastructure in communities with high levels of crime.

Opponents of bail reform want to focus the debate on crime, because it’s much easier to convince people to accept the monstrous cruelty of the criminal legal system when they’re scared. Supporters of reform should reject their framing and emphasize the failures of the existing system. Advocates can make the case for ending cash bail on its own merits, without letting pro-carceral forces set the terms of the debate.


In the news

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police officers can be sued for falsifying evidence against people who have their charges dismissed. The MacArthur Justice Center brought the case on behalf of Larry Thompson. In 2014, New York City police officers forcibly entered his apartment and tackled and handcuffed him. An officer lied and said Thompson had violently resisted; Thompson was arrested and charged with resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration. Months later, the District Attorney dismissed the charges “in the interest of justice.” [Thompson v. Clarke]

Police departments are using COVID relief funds to buy military-grade drones, armored vehicles, and license plate readers. “There is plenty of money for people, it is just being spent in ways that are antagonistic to working-class Americans,” Jasmine, who asked to withhold her last name because she fears police retaliation, told Motherboard. [Ella Fasler / Motherboard]

Brian Dolinar appeared on #RolandMartinUnfiltered to discuss his investigation for The Appeal on how billions of COVID relief funds have been funneled to law enforcement and prisons. “It’s a big handout here that is going out to police,” Dolinar said. “This is fattening already fat budgets.” [Roland Martin / #RolandMartinUnfiltered]

At the height of the pandemic, in 2020, Amazon fired Christian Smalls after he led a walk-out to demand safe working conditions at the warehouse where he worked in Staten Island, New York. In Amazon’s campaign to crush Smalls, they used various weapons at their disposal, including the criminal legal system. In February, they had Smalls and two other organizers arrested. Amazon workers have since voted to join the Amazon Labor Union, becoming the company’s first unionized workplace. [Amy Goodman / Democracy Now]


That’s all for this week. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to support our official relaunch, please donate here. Until next time, the work continues.

The New Law Enforcement Spending Spree Is Already Underway

Photo by Spenser H via Unsplash

The New Law Enforcement Spending Spree Is Already Underway


Photo by Spenser H via Unsplash

The New Law Enforcement Spending Spree Is Already Underway

by Nick Wing, The Appeal

Billions of dollars of federal COVID relief aid are flowing to police, prisons, and jails in jurisdictions across the nation. As Brian Dolinar reported for The Appeal last week, as much as $350 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds could be sent to law enforcement “at a time when punitive responses to crime are facing an unprecedented crisis of legitimacy.”

It’s hard not to get mad about this. Less than two years ago, millions of people around the world took to the streets, enraged by another heinous police killing that once again revealed the racism at the rotten core of this institution. Police “reform” efforts in the preceding years did virtually nothing to slow the torrent of abuse by officers. Despite this clear pattern, U.S. officials continued to shower law enforcement with billions of dollars each year, without so much as asking whether this was an effective investment for public safety.

In 2020, George Floyd’s murder finally pushed many people over the edge, leading to more widespread criticism of the prevailing public safety paradigm: Why were we continuing to rely almost exclusively on punitive responses to crime and instability, while at the same time refusing to invest in resources to support people without relying on the criminal legal system?

But now, amid a wave of backlash to the Floyd uprising and subsequent “defund the police” movement, we appear to be in the early stages of another carceral spending spree. 

In a speech last month in New York City, President Joe Biden encouraged communities to use ARPA funds “to keep our communities safe by hiring more police officers for community policing and paying police overtime.” Many major cities already have: Officials in Los Angeles reportedly directed more than $300 million in federal COVID aid to the LAPD in 2021 to cover ”payroll expenditures.” Washington D.C. reportedly spent $2.5 million in ARPA funds to hire more parking enforcement officers. Biden’s call to fund the police came as many cities had already expanded their policing budgets to new highs last year. This week, Biden proposed a 2023 budget that includes an additional $32.2 billion in federal funding to “put more officers on the beat.”

It’s important to note that for all of the controversy around the “defund” slogan, police overall were never defunded. Many Americans simply could not—or would not—challenge our overwhelming reliance on police and prisons. The country would surely descend into chaos if we took funding from police, they argued.

Yet somehow, at least according to many elected officials and media outlets, the nation has descended into chaos anyway. Faced with rising crime, the political establishment has now settled on a response that involves doubling down on the very same failed strategies that got us here. They have triggered another massive expansion of policing and incarceration using funds supposedly meant to help the nation recover from a devastating pandemic. Some have claimed this new spending is a necessary response to the defund movement—which, again, did not actually defund the police. If this is the justification, police apparently deserve more money just because people dared to suggest they should get less.

As Jacobin writer Branco Marcetic tweeted in response to The Appeal’s reporting, it is “profoundly dispiriting [that] the largest civil rights movement in U.S. history produced a policy response *against* its demands, and at the urging of a supposedly liberal president.”

There is one silver lining to all of this. As Dolinar reported, the federal funding in ARPA doesn’t necessarily have to go to law enforcement. In some jurisdictions, organizations have been able to secure pandemic relief aid to build up supportive services like mental health crisis response programs and behavioral health treatment. As Ras Stanford also wrote for The Appeal last week, groups like the Philly Homes 4 Youth Coalition are fighting to receive ARPA funding for issues like homelessness and affordable housing.

The most optimistic conclusion, as Dolinar puts it, is that these funds could present a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for communities to “fundamentally realign their approach to public health” by “investing in infrastructure that supports and uplifts, rather than punishes and destabilizes.” While this offers some hope, it’s also clear that the forces of punishment and destabilization are much better positioned to grab hold of this money, thanks to their institutionalized power and support from politicians, law enforcement unions, and much of the mainstream U.S. media.

Over the next few months, we’re going to be keeping a close eye on how ARPA money is being spent across the country—and we want your help tracking it. Are officials in your city or town using COVID relief dollars to pad police budgets or building a new jail? Are organizations trying to use the money to launch new crisis response services or mental health programs? Reach out to us and let us know what you’re seeing at tips@theappeal.org.

And be sure to read Brian Dolinar’s story here.


In the news

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Physician Rachael Bedard began working on Rikers Island in 2016. She cared for patients during the pandemic and advocated for hundreds to be released. But in January, she left her job at Rikers. “Doctoring in a broken place required a sustaining belief that the place would become less broken as a result of my efforts,” she wrote for The New Yorker. “I couldn’t sustain that belief any longer.” [Rachael Bedard / The New Yorker]

Ketanji Brown Jackson is the first public defender and the first Black woman to be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court. At last week’s confirmation hearings, Republican lawmakers’ racist, absurd questioning dominated the headlines. So if you’d like to learn more about the likely next Supreme Court Justice, check out Vox’s piece on her legal career. [Fabiola Cineas / Vox]

In 2019, Colorado legislators passed a law granting people on parole the right to vote, but the State’s paperwork still hasn’t been updated, leading to confusion among those trying to register. Less than 30 percent of people who have been on parole since 2019 have registered to vote since the law was enacted, according to an analysis by The Marshall Project and The Colorado Sun. [Ilica Mahajan, Andrew Rodriguez Calderón, Alexandra Arriaga, and Weihua Li / The Marshall Project and The Colorado Sun]

Political prisoner Leonard Peltier has been imprisoned for more than 40 years for a crime he maintains he did not commit. Peltier and his supporters—including several members of Congress—are asking Biden to grant him clemency and release him from prison. In January, Peltier, who is 77 years old, contracted COVID-19. According to Rep. Raúl Grijalva, who supports clemency for Peltier, Peltier told him that when he had COVID he had “difficulties receiving adequate medical attention and gaining access to basic needs, like water.” Peltier has diabetes, hypertension, and is partially blind from a stroke. “They’re going to try and make me die here,” Peltier told NBC News in a telephone interview. “I have a last few years, and I got to fight.” [Erik Ortiz / NBC News]

HuffPost spoke with three families of those killed by police about their personal grief and stalled criminal justice reforms. “I still have trauma and I still have PTSD from the case,” Walter Scott’s brother, Anthony, told HuffPost. South Carolina police officer Michael Slager shot Walter Scott five times in the back. “When we stop protesting, stop doing things that we do to show them that we are upset, they think we will be OK and they go away again until the next killing happens,” Anthony told HuffPost. [Phillip Jackson / HuffPost]


That’s all for this week. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to support our official relaunch, please donate here. Until next time, the work continues.

A Coalition Led by Philly’s Homeless Youth Wants to Change How Cities Help the Unhoused

Philadelphia City Hall
Photo by Alejandro Barba via Unsplash

A Coalition Led by Philly’s Homeless Youth Wants to Change How Cities Help the Unhoused


Philadelphia City Hall
Photo by Alejandro Barba via Unsplash

A Coalition Led by Philly’s Homeless Youth Wants to Change How Cities Help the Unhoused

by Ras Stanford

Every Thursday morning, the Philly Homes 4 Youth (PH4Y) Coalition hosts a weekly virtual workspace for its members. The coalition of young advocates, youth workers, and non-profit administrators have been strategizing together since at least 2016 to improve care for young people experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia. But lately, the group’s meetings have taken on a more urgent tone: Tens of millions in federal COVID-19 relief funding is currently up for grabs in Philadelphia, and the coalition wants to ensure at least 20 percent of the money goes to youth services.

In April 2021, the federal government announced that it would allocate $42 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan (ARP)—the federal COVID-19 relief package passed in March 2021—to help build affordable housing and alleviate homelessness in Philadelphia. But, while the city’s unhoused residents desperately need that money, the city is still allocating those funds more than one year later. (The city did not respond to a request for comment.) The situation in Philadelphia exemplifies issues going on around the country: Many of the nation’s most vulnerable communities are still waiting for pandemic-related relief from the federal government.

Philadelphia’s system of support for young people in crisis is a web of community-based organizations funded by various large city agencies such as the Department of Human Services, The Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services, the Office of Homeless Services, the School District of Philadelphia, and the Office of Violence Prevention. These departments operate in isolation, creating major breakdowns in service delivery when it comes to youth experiencing homelessness. In a March 3 PH4Y Zoom meeting, coalition co-chair Liam Spady noted that the group is “one of the few opportunities for connection” across the city’s various siloed systems. The coalition for example helped create youth-specific access points into the city’s shelter system.

Youth experiencing homelessness are more likely to experience mental health issues, violence, the loss of a caregiver, and family housing insecurity. During the 2019–2020 school year, almost 8,000 children and youth in Philadelphia were identified as being homeless, but advocates say that number is massively undercounted.


The Appeal sat down with Spady to talk about how the coalition can address youth homelessness in Philadelphia, including the silos that exist between public agencies. 

Q: How do silos impact the fight against youth homelessness?
A: If you are experiencing homelessness and waiting for services, breaking down the silos could help rebuild the social cohesion necessary to provide services that move youth out of poverty. One example is that every year cohorts of youth exit foster care into homelessness because DHS and OHS don’t have a plan to work together so that youth could have a solid exit plan. Two large, well-funded systems already have info, and it’s all shareable if those silos didn’t exist.

Q: How does remedying youth homelessness work to fight mass incarceration?
A: Eliminating youth homelessness would mean a reduction in risky behavior that results in long-term consequences. When you feel like you’re a part of a real community and you have space, you’re less likely to have to worry about basic needs. You can focus on improving your education, working. Youth may turn to drugs, survival sex, and other ways to get by during these periods of instability. Our system doesn’t recognize couch surfing as being truly homeless, but couch surfing is still dangerous for youth. Further institutionalization like group homes and residential treatment centers set kids up for future incarceration, not success.

Q: What are innovative solutions or thought patterns you think can be alternatives to the current status-quo, especially silos?
A: The biggest thing is young people develop a sense of autonomy and meaningful decision making. This is why the Federal government instituted the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project, a fund to develop new solutions to youth homelessness that requires youth to be primary planners in cities’ efforts to address youth homelessness. And New York City is experimenting with direct cash transfers for youth aging out of care to prevent homelessness.

When more organizations have meaningful roles for young people who are interested in improving systems, with actual compensation and support, they can be more effective. Staff that support youth are rarely supported themselves. But flexible funds could help both with giving cash directly to youth in need for things that are not typically covered by traditional human services systems, and with supporting existing agency staff to be better trained, better staffed, and better invested in.

Q: What would the ARP funds mean to the coalition? To youth experiencing homelessness?
A: Most importantly the ARP could provide flexible funds for innovative solutions like direct cash transfers to youth. It would also go towards supporting youth and young adults who are long-time advocates of this work, like those in this coalition who still struggle to be stably housed. When we talk about the coalition and the engagement, we don’t have the funds to pay youth consistently to not only plan for change but to implement it. So if a youth wants to collect surveys or do focus groups there’s no money to support that work.

Q: What do you see in the future for the PH4Youth Coalition?
A: I really see Philly becoming a model for other cities where a system of support for youth dealing with homelessness, is led and operated by youth and young adults completely. Anything that has to do with community wellness should have community input, and I feel like the coalition represents the community. This coalition represents young people, and should be at the table to sign off on funding that addresses youth homelessness.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The Philly Homes 4 Youth Coalition is recruiting people who have lived through youth homelessness, young people, and any other concerned community members. The Coalition is building power as they work to fight for innovative solutions to youth homelessness that buck the status quo. To learn more, please visit their website here or follow them on Instagram @Phillyhomes4youth.

Ras Stanford is a long-term Philly resident, youth worker, member of the Philly Homes 4 Youth Coalition, and co-founder of Deep Space Mind 215 Co-op. She has lived experience of psychiatric institutionalization, and grew up in an environment colored by the child welfare and juvenile detention systems.


In the news

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Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced that she will not charge Officer Eric Stillman who shot and killed 13-year-old Adam Toledo. On March 29, 2021, Stillman chased Toledo, according to video footage of the incident. When Toledo stopped running and had his hands in the air, Stillman shot and killed him. Foxx also announced that no criminal charges would be brought against the officer who killed 22-year-old Anthony Alvarez. Days after Toledo’s death, Officer Evan Solano chased Alvarez and then shot him in the back. [Megan Crepeau, Paige Fry, Stephanie Casanova / Chicago Tribune]

Instagram influencer Eva Lopez is suing the New York City Police Department and the city for putting her photo on a Wanted poster for a person accused of theft — even though she had nothing to do with the crime. She’s seeking $30 million in damages. [Fatma Khaled / Newsweek]

In 1998, Edward Ates was convicted of a murder he has always maintained he didn’t commit. The prosecution claimed feces from the victim—who had allegedly defecated during the crime—were on his shoe. In 2017, DNA testing on his shoe revealed the substance—never proven to be human feces—belonged to an unidentified man. Ates was released on parole, but not exonerated. “I still want my name cleared and I’m still fighting,” Ates told the Atlanta Black Star. [Kavontae Smalls / Atlanta Black Star]

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones took office almost a year ago, but she has still not fulfilled her campaign promise to close the city jail known as the Workhouse. Local activists who campaigned for her are demanding answers. [Skyler Aikerson / In These Times]

WBEZ Chicago will be reporting on big prisons in small towns in a new season of its podcast, Motive. New episodes start March 28. Subscribe here. [Shannon Heffernan, Jesse Dukes / WBEZ Chicago]


That’s all for this week. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to support our official relaunch, please donate here. Until next time, the work continues.

Los Angeles Democrats Embrace the Tough-on-Crime Backlash

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón and U.S. Rep. Karen Bass

Los Angeles Democrats Embrace the Tough-on-Crime Backlash


Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón and U.S. Rep. Karen Bass

Los Angeles Democrats Embrace the Tough-on-Crime Backlash

Despite its self-styled reputation as America’s most progressive city, LA Democrats are becoming virtually indistinguishable from Republicans on public safety.

by Jerry Iannelli

A tough-on-crime backlash is currently gripping Southern California. In February, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón became the latest local Democratic politician to fold to conservative critics, when he walked back two major campaign promises that had swept him into office just over a year before.

Gascón, previously a deputy LAPD chief and top prosecutor in San Francisco, won election in 2020 on the backs of progressive voters by promising a slew of anti-carceral policies, including banning prosecutors from seeking the death penalty or charging teenagers in adult court.

Predictably, conservatives responded by cherry-picking cases in a bad faith attempt to brand Gascón as “pro-crime.” But, perhaps less predictably, they succeeded in forcing Gascón to cave. In two staff memos last month, Gascón announced that he will, after all, let prosecutors in his office try children as adults and seek sentences of life without parole in “exceptional cases.”

Some progressives who supported Gascón have told local media they’re dismayed by his decision. But Gascón’s reversal was only the latest in a series of cruel and spineless moves by the county’s Democratic political class, which in recent months has adopted a public safety agenda that has put it squarely in line with some of LA’s more reactionary forces. 

Los Angeles is far from the only jurisdiction to trend in such a rightward direction, less than two years after making meager concessions in response to racial justice uprisings sparked by the murder of George Floyd. But that it is happening here—in what is supposedly one of the most progressive cities in America, where the Democratic machine dominates nearly every level of government—is a testament to the power of a fearmongering campaign that has ginned up dubious stories claiming Los Angeles has devolved into “The Purge.” And it shows why people must continue to put pressure on local officials to revamp the legal system.

What a difference a few years makes. In 2020, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti cut millions of dollars from the LAPD budget amid a broader push to redirect law enforcement funding toward supportive services for people struggling with homelessness or mental health issues. Those cuts have since been reinstated, with Garcetti calling in 2021 to increase the city’s police budget by 3 percent

As hopes for more meaningful budgetary shifts have dwindled, many cities in Los Angeles County have instead ramped up enforcement, cracking down on homeless encampments with varying degrees of severity and violence.

In July, the city of Los Angeles passed a sweeping anti-homeless encampment ordinance that bans sitting or sleeping in many public spaces. The measure, drafted by Democrat Mark Ridley-Thomas (who has since been suspended from his post following federal corruption charges), sailed through the city council with just two opposing votes from Nithya Raman and Mike Bonin, both left-leaning council members who have openly feuded with the city’s Democratic political class.

Such opposition looks likely to remain a minority position in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future. With Garcetti set to depart his post to become President Joe Biden’s ambassador to India, U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, a Democrat from Los Angeles, has emerged as the front-runner to win the city’s mayoral election in November.

Although Bass has previously fought to change American policing, she has been quick to cheerlead for local cops since entering the race. In the run-up to the city’s June Democratic primary, Bass has promised to “aggressively recruit” new LAPD officers, move more sworn officers from desk duty to street patrol, roll back bail-reform measures in some form, and crack down on “property crime.” In interviews, she has said she “agrees with the intent” of the city’s homeless encampment ban and has refused to endorse a measure backed by progressives and labor groups that would tax real estate transactions in order to fund housing for the homeless.

While Bass has vowed to house at least 15,000 people in her first year, she also states on her website that she plans to “end street encampments” citywide. More than 60,000 people were experiencing homelessness on any given night in Los Angeles County during 2020, according to the most recent count.

As this has played out, conservatives in both the local and national press have cranked out story after story blaming Gascón for nearly every crime or societal ill in the city, from shoplifting all the way up to murder.

During his campaign to unseat longtime Los Angeles County DA Jackie Lacey, Gascón said his prosecutors would never charge anyone under the age of 18 as an adult. Since then, however, some members of the Los Angeles press corps have all but begged Gascón to throw the book at people who committed crimes as children. In February 2021, critics lambasted Gascón for refusing to charge a man as an adult after he allegedly shot two people to death at age 17. Months later, Gascón enraged conservatives when his policy against the death penalty prevented prosecutors from seeking capital punishment for a couple accused of killing a 10-year-old boy.

Members of Gascón’s own office have helped fuel the pushback: The union that represents his workers, the Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County, is currently suing Gascón over policies that had sought to limit requests for excessive sentencing. And, this being California, conservatives have launched campaigns to recall Gascón and boot him from office.

The tipping point finally came in recent months, amid conservative furor over Gascón’s decision to charge 26-year-old Hannah Tubbs in juvenile court, in a case involving allegations that she molested a 10-year-old girl when she was 17. Fox News has seized on the fact that Tubbs is transgender, and that the alleged incident took place in a public bathroom.

Although Gascón at first appeared prepared to defend the positions that got him elected, he later reportedly became aware that Fox News was planning to release jailhouse recordings of Tubbs mocking her victim and joking that she’d “lucked out” by being tried as a juvenile. In a Feb. 20 statement, Gascón cited the Tubbs case as a major reason he was reversing his policies on juveniles.

“Like every responsible office, we learn as we go, take feedback from the community, and make necessary adjustments based on our experiences and the complex nature of this work,” he said, adding that the “complex issues and facts of her particular case were unusual, and I should have treated them that way.”

Though this may have simply been an attempt at damage control, Gascón’s capitulation also comes with a cost. After all, this wasn’t just a disingenuous attack on Gascón’s policies and leadership—it was part of a much broader campaign to undermine the entire ethos he has embraced as a progressive prosecutor; to discredit his stated belief that draconian punishments are ineffective, and, in fact, actively harmful to public safety.

Gascón must know this. And yet he wilted anyway in the face of a manufactured moral panic. 

It’s a bad sign that Los Angeles Democrats have been so eager to submit to bad faith criticism over crime and public safety. By now it should be clear that they gain nothing by giving into right-wing smear campaigns. The end goal of Gascón’s harshest critics is not just to walk back police reform or temper his policies, but to boot Democrats from office entirely and create new fodder for the right-wing outrage mill. The hits will just keep coming—only now, conservatives smell blood.


In the news

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Samaria Rice, Tamir Rice’s mother, wrote in Scalawag on the Department of Justice’s decision to keep the investigation into her son’s death closed. In 2014, Tamir Rice, then 12, was playing outside when police arrived. Within seconds, Cleveland Police Department Officer Timothy Loehmann shot and killed Rice. When the Department of Justice closed its investigation in 2020, Rice and others, including 50 attorneys and legal scholars, asked the Department of Justice to reopen its investigation. In January, the DOJ sent a letter to the Rice family’s attorney, denying their request. “After the horrible news from the DOJ, I now know that there will be no justice for Black and brown people in America when it comes to police murders and police shootings. The DOJ breaks its own rules, so how do we get justice in a system like that? They are cowards, and the system can’t be fixed,” Samaria Rice writes in Scalawag. [Samaria Rice / Scalawag]

New York City police officers shot 18-year-old Luis Manuel-Monsanto in the head while he was driving. Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain, has claimed that the high school student, who is in critical condition, drove toward an officer. “In the days where vehicles are used in terrorist attacks, to drive into crowds, we’re dealing with a different moment in policing,” Adams said. The victim’s father is demanding to see the video, which has not been released to the public. [Nicole Johnson / Pix 11]

A Philadelphia plainclothes police officer identified by the Philadelphia Inquirer as Edsaul Mendoza fatally shot a 12-year-old boy in the back. The commissioner, who has not identified the officer by name, said the officer will be fired. Criminal charges have not yet been filed. [Barbara Laker and Ryan W. Briggs / Philadelphia Inquirer]

The Idaho House passed a bill, HB 675, that will make it a felony, punishable by life in prison, to provide gender-affirming healthcare, such as puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and gender affirming surgery, to transgender youth, to provide permission for such treatment, or to allow a minor to travel outside the state to receive such treatment. Only 13 legislators voted against the bill. The legislation now heads to the State Senate. [Betsy Z. Russell / Idaho Press]

New York’s Less Is More Act, which eliminated jail sentences for most technical parole violations, went into effect on March 1. But the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has refused to release 91 people jailed for technical parole violations because they were incarcerated before the law went into effect. Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest, who sponsored the Assembly version of Less Is More, called the department’s interpretations “appalling and frankly, embarrassing.” [Chris Gelardi / New York Focus]

Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that the state has finalized rules forbidding cities with populations above 250,000 from cutting their police budgets, which includes Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, and Austin. “Texas remains a law-and-order state and we continue to make it abundantly clear that we support our law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day to keep communities safe,” he said in a release. [Brad Johnson / The Texan]


That’s all for this week. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to support our official relaunch, please donate here. Until next time, the work continues.

Private Tech Surveillance Companies Are Taking Over Prisons

Barbed wire and a surveillance camera
User 652243 via Pixabay

Private Tech Surveillance Companies Are Taking Over Prisons


Barbed wire and a surveillance camera
User 652243 via Pixabay

Private Tech Surveillance Companies Are Taking Over Prisons

by Nneka Ewulonu

Incarcerated Americans are being watched like never before. Private American companies are rapidly digitizing prison mail. Some ankle-monitors can record whole conversations without people’s knowledge or consent. Most recently, at the end of last month, a group of American civil-rights organizations urged the federal government to crack down on the use of surveillance software called Verus, which transcribes imprisoned people’s phone-calls and scans the conversations for key phrases.

While all people have certainly become more surveilled since the advent of the digital and social-media ages, prisons have now become an unrestricted playground for technological advancements in monitoring and tracking tools. But relatively few people in power seem to be concerned about how such constant surveillance may impact the mental health and wellbeing of incarcerated people. Few studies have been conducted on the topic, but the data on the American prison-industrial complex that does exist suggests that affording incarcerated people a modicum of privacy can benefit society at large. 

It may be easy to think incarcerated individuals should be constantly surveilled. Prison in its current form is a punishment, after all. But incarcerated Americans, no matter their crime, still have constitutionally protected rights—-rights that are threatened when the deprivation of freedom is coupled with the deprivation of privacy. 

Ever since the 18th Century philosopher Jeremy Bentham developed what he called “the panopticon,” a building where a central figure could monitor the ongoings of an entire building, prisons have kept incarcerated individuals under strict monitoring. This reinforces a culture of fear and paranoia in modern facilities. Phone calls are tracked and recorded. Physical mail is scanned. Cameras and guards alike permeate the premises ready to catch and punish infractions, no matter how arbitrary or even discriminatory the consequences may be. To an incarcerated person, privacy is fantasy not found within the four walls of a prison cell. 

But in the last decade or so, private technology companies have invented wholly new ways to invade the lives of imprisoned people. In 2015, Securus Technologies, which provides phone services for more than 3,000 correctional facilities across the U.S., was accused of recording at least 14,000 conversations between incarcerated individuals and attorneys over the course of almost three years. While it is unknown specifically how many of those conversations violated the right to attorney-client privilege, Securus paid out millions in settlements. 

In 2019, The Appeal and The Intercept reported that U.S. prions are using artificial intelligence to create “voice prints” of incarcerated people. Separately, The Appeal also reported that year that officials in Chicago had been placing GPS ankle monitors on children that could call them and record their conversations without their consent. Privatizing and surveilling prison activities is big business for the companies that receive contracts: Jon Logan, the CEO of a firm called Smart Communications that takes physical mail, scans it, emails copies to people in prison, and creates searchable logs of mail communications, has become known online for Instagramming himself driving Lamborghinis and posing in luxury yachts. Imprisoned people, meanwhile, say that losing the ability to receive physical mail from loved ones—such as birthday cards or drawings from their children—can be devastating to their mental wellbeing.

In 2021, Reuters reported on a new artificial-intelligence tool that prisons are now using to track and record calls to imprisoned people. In eight states, AI tools were used to scan for mentions of the Spanish word for lawyer or complaints about COVID-19 outbreaks. In response, more than 40 civil-rights organizations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the New York University Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law, last month urged government agencies to curtail the use of AI phone surveillance. In an open letter, the groups argued that the use of audio surveillance violates the constitutional rights of incarcerated people.

“Ultimately, this surveillance infringes the rights of incarcerated Americans, many of whom have not been convicted and are still working on their defenses, as well as those of their families, friends, and loved ones trying to stay connected and supportive, including minor children,” the letter stated.

If the civil rights of incarcerated individuals somehow isn’t enough, consider the downstream effects panopticonic prisons have. Surveillance is known to increase an individual’s feeling of stress, fatigue, and anxiety. Incarcerated individuals already experience serious mental illness at a rate two to four times higher than the general population, and few receive appropriate mental health care while incarcerated. A recent literature review suggests that incarcerated individuals frequently experience potentially traumatic events that are in turn strongly correlated with a future diagnosis of PTSD after release from prison. Keeping incarcerated people in a permanent state of heightened awareness, in addition to the overcrowding, solitary confinement, and lack of rehabilitative resources issues plaguing prisons, contributes to that individual’s inability to reintegrate with the general public upon release.

If prisons exist, they should at least achieve their alleged desired outcomes of rehabilitation and reintegration after release. Norway, for example, which reduced its recidivism rate from 70 percent to just 20 percent after adopting a set of humane principles in the 1990s centered around treating people with respect, educating them, and building positive communities inside prisons that resemble life on the outside.

Whether motivated by empathy or outcomes, our current treatment of incarcerated individuals is untenable. What the state does to those under its complete control will eventually expand beyond carceral contexts; the surveillance state is growing in almost every environment. Privacy is a right, and shouldn’t be extinguished even for those in prison.

Nneka Ewulonu (they/them) is a civil rights attorney based out of Atlanta, Georgia. All views contained in Nneka’s writing represent them alone and not their employer.​​


In the news

Contact us at newsletter@theappeal.org so we can feature your work here.

Demetrius Buckley has been in a Michigan maximum security prison since 2018, even though he was approved for a transfer in 2019. He and other incarcerated people are subjected to lockdowns multiple times a week and the constant threat of solitary confinement, which takes them off the transfer list. [Demetrius Buckley / Filter Mag]

New York Governor Kathy Hochul is proposing passing a constitutional amendment to overturn New York’s century-old ban on private employment of incarcerated people. Hochul’s proposal would allow the state to garnish up to 50 percent of incarcerated people’s wages. [Lauren Gill / New York Focus]

In his State of the Union, President Biden said we need to “fund the police,” not defund them. Congresswoman Cori Bush tweeted in response: “All our country has done is given more funding to police. The result? 2021 set a record for fatal police shootings. Defund the police. Invest in our communities.” [Ben Leonard / Politico]

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has directed the state’s child protective services agency to investigate families with transgender children who have received gender affirming healthcare, or in Abbott’s parlance, “sex change” procedures. Educators, members of the general public, and “licensed professionals who have direct contact with children” can face criminal penalties if they do not report such “child abuse,” according to his directive.  Child protective services placed one of its own employees on leave and began an investigation into her family because she has a transgender daughter. The ACLU has filed suit to block the directive. [Melissa Gira Grant / The New Republic]

Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb told reporter Jessica Pishko that all visits at the county jail have been by video since around 2013 because, he said, “You just can’t risk people bringing stuff into the prison.” As Pishko writes, most banned items that are brought into prisons (which are not necessarily illegal outside the prison walls, like a cell phone) are brought in by jail employees. [Jessica Pishko / Posse Comitatus]


That’s all for this week. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to support our official relaunch, please donate here. Until next time, the work continues.

Police PR Departments Keep Showing Their Asses

From the NYPD's Twitter

Police PR Departments Keep Showing Their Asses


From the NYPD's Twitter

Police PR Departments Keep Showing Their Asses

Not literally, thankfully.

by Nick Wing

Police in New York City make hundreds of arrests every day, the overwhelming majority of which we never hear anything about. But every so often, the public relations experts at the NYPD find a case so exemplary of the service their officers provide that they deem it worthy of global recognition.

Like last month, when the PR professionals who run the NYPD’s official Twitter account boasted to more than 700,000 followers that police had arrested 12 people who were allegedly responsible for stealing $1,800 worth of diapers, cold medicine, body wash, and laundry detergent. The tweet included side-by-side photos of three officers and the products laid out on a table as if it were a drug bust.

The backlash was swift, and perhaps entirely predictable to anyone not employed to do PR for the NYPD. The department quickly deleted the tweet, but the dunking was so furious that numerous media outlets wrote stories about their tone-deaf decision to celebrate the criminalization of poverty. Journalist and rapper AWKWORD later noted that one of the arresting officers had attracted dozens of misconduct complaints and cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuit settlements. Even U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, criticized the tweet.

After all, the goods in the NYPD’s photo were necessities. Even if the products were meant to be resold, these were likely crimes of survival: People who are otherwise stable don’t make a living hocking stolen diapers to bodegas. Then there’s the question of who was allegedly doing the stealing. As The Appeal’s Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg reported, two of the people arrested, including one 64-year-old woman, appeared to be living at homeless shelters. She was accused of taking about $20 worth of items—a bottle of laundry detergent and a bag of potato chips, according to the criminal complaint obtained by Weill-Greenberg.

Although right-wing tabloids did their best to cover for the NYPD by writing about the arrestees’ “lengthy rap sheets,” those records only suggest that these are people who have been needlessly entangled in the criminal legal system largely because of poverty, instability, and substance use issues.

Upon closer inspection, these arrests were not such a straightforward and obvious victory for public safety. But the fact that the NYPD chose to highlight these particular cases shows just how little police PR departments understand—or care about—the mounting criticisms of their enforcement priorities.

Of course, these are the same officials who’ve helped generate a tidal wave of media coverage about a supposed “shoplifting crisis” in New York City, a storyline that has relied more on concerned statements and cherry-picked anecdotes than concrete data. Maybe it’s not surprising that the people fueling this dubious “crime wave” narrative are now trying to make it look like they’re doing something to combat it.

And if the NYPD can convince the public that officers are protecting them from the most visible kinds of crime, maybe they won’t ask questions about the crimes police care less about, like illegal evictions by landlords. 

An investigation by The City, published the same day as the shoplifting tweet, found that the NYPD had made just 39 arrests for illegal evictions in 2020 and 2021—a period in which New York tenants filed 2,642 illegal lockout cases in housing court. The NYPD has made no attempt to digitally perp walk any of the landlords arrested in those cases.

This is far from the first time a police PR department has accidentally called attention to the twisted enforcement priorities that so often define U.S. policing. In 2019, cops in Mobile, Alabama, drew international scorn after they posted a photo on their official Facebook page showing two officers posing with a “homeless quilt” made out of cardboard panhandling signs. In 2018, police in Maine defended their practice of posting the mugshots and other identifying information of people arrested for shoplifting, claiming it was an effective deterrent. The NYPD has also waded into similar controversy before, in 2015, when the city’s largest police union encouraged officers to take photos of unhoused people so they could be put up online for public shaming.

“Please utilize your smartphones to photograph the homeless lying in our streets, aggressive panhandlers, people urinating in public or engaging in open-air drug activity, and quality-of-life offenses of every type,” Ed Mullins, then-President of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, advised officers at the time. Mullins has since resigned from his position, and was slapped last week with federal charges for allegedly defrauding his union out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. There was no official NYPD tweet about this alleged theft either.

As revolting as these sorts of police PR posts can be, they offer a helpful window into the mindset of law enforcement in America. Over the past few years, there has been a growing recognition of the role police play in society, as agents of the state whose primary responsibility is to protect private property and the interests of the rich and powerful, while reinforcing racial and class inequality. When police departments send out tweets gloating about low-level shoplifting arrests, they are simply telling us that this criticism is accurate. They are, in other words, showing their asses—and many people are tired of what they’re seeing.


In the news

Contact us at newsletter@theappeal.org so we can feature your work here.

Maryland lawmakers are poised to pass a bill that would allow many people with felony convictions to serve on juries. Maryland laws are among the nation’s most restrictive when it comes to excluding people with criminal records from jury service, with clauses that cover both felonies and some misdemeanor convictions. Under the legislation, people could serve on juries  unless their convictions involved witness intimidation or jury tampering. [Ovetta Wiggins / Washington Post]

​​Efforts to expand non-police first response services have been complicated by the struggle to accurately identify 911 calls that may pertain to mental health issues. If cities want to expand alternatives to police, 911 operators will have to improve their ability to recognize calls that don’t need a police response, so that they can be patched through to the relevant responders. [David A. Graham / The Atlantic]

A Republican congressional candidate in Florida was caught on police body camera video threatening an officer who’d pulled him over for a traffic infraction. In the footage, Martin Hyde, who is white, suggests the officer’s job could be in peril over the stop—allegedly because Hyde was speeding and texting while driving. Hyde has since admitted to being a “Karen,” apologized, and appears to have abandoned his run for Congress. [Aysha Qamar / Daily Kos]

Voters in Texas are headed to the polls today for primary elections that could have profound consequences on local policies such as bail, the severity of sentences, the death penalty, and prosecutions that target reproductive and voting rights. The newly launched Bolts Magazine has you covered for a breakdown of what’s at stake. [Michael Barajas, Daniel Nichanian / Bolts]

Mark Hale, a former Brooklyn prosecutor who later went on to lead the office’s wrongful-conviction unit, took the stand last week in a hearing to review the integrity of a murder case that landed Anthony Sims in prison for 25 years to life. Although Hale prosecuted the case against Sims, he now says he has no memory of any of the details—including the victim, testifying witnesses, or his own closing argument. [George Joseph / The City]

People leaving prisons in California are currently given a debit card loaded with a maximum of $200. This amount hasn’t changed since 1973, and experts say it’s so insufficient that it can contribute to recidivism. State Senator Sydney Kamlager has introduced legislation that would increase the “gate money” allowance to $2,590. [Maanvi Singh / The Guardian]


That’s all for this week. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to support our official relaunch, please donate here. Until next time, the work continues.

Ex-Prison Boss Drunkenly Pulls Gun On Cops, Shows Two Tiers Of Justice

Former Arizona prison director Charles Ryan and Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel

Ex-Prison Boss Drunkenly Pulls Gun On Cops, Shows Two Tiers Of Justice


Former Arizona prison director Charles Ryan and Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel

Ex-Prison Boss Drunkenly Pulls Gun On Cops, Shows Two Tiers Of Justice

Meg O’Connor, The Appeal

On the night of Jan. 6, Arizona’s former prison director, Charles Ryan, drank half a bottle of tequila and got into a three-hour armed standoff that involved about 50 police officers. After a tense confrontation in which Ryan repeatedly pointed a gun at officers, Tempe police took Ryan into custody and brought him to a hospital — but he was never booked into jail. In the end, Ryan went back home like nothing had happened.

The incident began with a 911 call from Ryan’s wife, who told police she feared that her husband had injured himself. When police arrived, Ryan’s wife stepped out of their home and told police that Ryan had been “consuming half a bottle of tequila regularly at night for the past two years.” Ryan eventually stepped outside and pointed a handgun at two cops for over 30 seconds.

When someone points a gun at police officers, they often get shot. But instead, police went to incredible lengths to protect Ryan from himself, even as he put officers’ safety in danger.

First, police hit Ryan with a beanbag round, prompting him to return inside his home. In the ensuing hours, a swarm of law enforcement officers, including hostage negotiators and SWAT teams, descended on the upscale, gated community where Ryan lives. Police evacuated seven homes in the area. They spent hours urging him to come out over a loudspeaker. They brought a robot and an armored vehicle to the scene, and eventually used the robot to push open Ryan’s front door. Then they convinced Ryan to go to the hospital with them. 

This more compassionate, though in many ways still militarized and excessive, approach shows that police absolutely can peacefully de-escalate deadly situations if they want to. But the approach officers take is often based on their perception of the threat an individual poses, as well as the value they place on that person’s life — judgments that are inherently tied to race, class, and status. While all of this worked out in Ryan’s favor, it tends not to when the individual isn’t wealthy, white, and powerful.

Tempe police did not show the same restraint in January 2019, when they encountered Antonio Arce fleeing down an alley with a toy airsoft gun in his hand. Instead, an officer shot the 14-year-old boy in the back and killed him. After the shooting, the officer retired and now collects about $30,000 a year in retirement benefits. He faced no criminal charges, no official discipline, and no other form of accountability. This sort of disparate treatment is exactly what we’ve come to expect from the U.S. justice system. 

Tempe police submitted charges against Ryan to the county prosecutor’s office for aggravated assault on a peace officer. But Ryan’s fate is now in the hands of a fellow privileged white person who has made headlines after drinking: Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel. 

Adel — who decided not to charge the Tempe cop who killed Arce — has been embroiled in scandal since her election in 2020 to a full term as top prosecutor for the third-largest prosecuting agency in the country. That drama began on election night, in fact, with a trip to the hospital for emergency surgery after she fell and hit her head. Adel has denied the fall had anything to do with her very public battle with alcoholism.

In the time since, Adel’s office has colluded with Phoenix police to manufacture gang charges against Black Lives Matter protesters, a scandal that has triggered multiple outside investigations, resignations and demotions of both prosecutors and police, several lawsuits, and the dismissal of nearly 40 bogus cases against protesters. 

In August, the Department of Justice launched a pattern-and-practice probe into the Phoenix Police Department, citing, among other things, the fabricated charges against protesters. In September, the county sheriff forced Adel to admit that she wasn’t in the office because she was at an out-of-state rehab clinic getting treatment for alcoholism, anxiety, and an eating disorder. At the time, Adel asked the public to treat her with “patience” and “grace,” despite the fact that her office almost never shows such sympathy to less privileged people who are struggling with the same challenges. 

Adel returned to work after 19 days in rehab — though she has repeatedly misstated how much time she spent there — but a recent story by the Arizona Republic revealed that she has been absent from many events she was expected to attend. One staffer reported that Adel was slurring her words during an after-hours call in November, leading the employee to believe she was inebriated. 

Things took a sharp turn for the worse earlier this month. The top spokesperson for the county attorney’s office announced her resignation, citing frustrations over repeatedly being called on to defend Adel personally. Then, in a seemingly retaliatory move, Adel had the spokesperson escorted out of the building and ordered her not to have any contact with other employees. 

Now, five of the top-ranking officials within the county attorney’s office have sent a letter to Adel, county officials, and the state bar association calling on Adel to resign. The head staff outlined numerous issues with Adel’s behavior and absence at the office, and alleged that during work hours at 11 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 14, Adel made another drunken call to one of the office’s top prosecutors to talk about “pranking” an employee who had just resigned. 

Adel has vehemently denied the allegations and says she has no plans to step down. And why would she? Powerful people like Adel rarely have to face consequences for their own actions. Consequences are for other people — like the 62-year-old man struggling with substance use who Adel’s office sentenced to years in prison after he failed to return a rental car on time.

It’s against this backdrop that Adel is weighing charges for Charles Ryan, a man who retired as Arizona’s corrections director in 2019 after it was revealed that he had ignored serious safety issues in prisons and put people’s lives at risk. (Ryan faced no official punishment in that instance, either.) Although Ryan’s January actions would constitute a grievous crime in almost any other circumstance—pointing a gun at the cops is routinely punished by extrajudicial execution—Adel may see them as little more than regrettable indiscretions, akin to drunk-dialing a colleague. 

Ryan has already received such special treatment once, from the police who proved that it’s possible for them not to kill someone pointing a gun at them. Now, Adel will decide whether Ryan will get the same harsh treatment she’s doled out to so many others, or whether he’s deserving of the sort of compassion that Adel wants others to grant to her — a compassion typically reserved for powerful white people and few others.


In the news

Contact us at newsletter@theappeal.org so we can feature your work here.

San Francisco police linked a woman to a property crime using DNA from her rape kit. District Attorney Chesa Boudin said his office learned last week that the police use DNA samples from victims of sexual assault to identify potential perpetrators in other cases. Boudin is calling on the legislature to ban the practice. Boudin’s office has dropped the charges against the woman. “This practice treats victims like evidence, not human beings,” Boudin said. “This is legally and ethically wrong.” [Megan Cassidy / San Francisco Chronicle]

New York City’s child protective services agency took Kenneth Watkins’s son when he was less than a week old. There were no allegations of abuse or neglect. Over the next few years, Watkins, who is Black, was forced to take parenting classes, attend countless court hearings, and have the minutiae of his parenting scrutinized — from the movies he showed his son (The Lion King) to the food he fed him (french fries). The court finally agreed to give Watkins custody of his own son, but ordered him to move out of his mother’s home, where he’d lived since before his son was born. With nowhere to go, he and his son, then a toddler, entered the shelter system. [Petra Bartosiewicz / New York Magazine]

Waverly Lucas says Suffolk County police ripped off his prosthetic leg. Lucas is now suing the department. Video shows the police tossing his leg in the back of their police cruiser. The department has still not returned his leg. Lucas was charged with possession of pain medication, which he said he has a prescription for and takes for his leg. “To rip that off, it’s like someone ripping off your skin,” Lucas told NBC New York. [Pei-Sze Cheng / NBC New York]

Shelby County, Tennessee, District Attorney General Amy Weirich told The New Tri-State Defender that Pamela Moses, who was sentenced to six years for voter fraud, brought the sentence upon herself by deciding to go to trial.  Moses was convicted of registering to vote while still on probation even though a probation officer had signed a certificate stating that her probation had ended. “I gave her a chance to plead to a misdemeanor with no prison time,” Weirich told the paper. “She requested a jury trial instead.” [Sybil C. Mitchell / The New Tri-State Defender]

Rebecca Hogue’s boyfriend killed her 2-year-old son while she was at work. Hogue was convicted of her son’s murder under Oklahoma’s “failure to protect” law. The jury recommended life without parole. The judge sentenced her to 16 months in prison. [Samantha Michaels / Mother Jones]


That’s all for this week. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to support our official relaunch, please donate here. Until next time, the work continues.

How Could Police Shootings Keep Happening After We Did Nothing To Stop Them?

Photo by Chad Davis via Flickr

How Could Police Shootings Keep Happening After We Did Nothing To Stop Them?


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Photo by Chad Davis via Flickr

How Could Police Shootings Keep Happening After We Did Nothing To Stop Them?

by Jerry Iannelli, The Appeal

In the early morning hours of February 2, Minneapolis Police SWAT officers, with body-worn cameras running, burst into an apartment and found 22-year old Amir Locke lying under a blanket on his couch. Locke, seemingly unsure who was breaking into the apartment, was clutching his own legally purchased and registered firearm. Police had apparently been looking for someone else at that address, but upon seeing Locke potentially prepared to defend himself against unknown intruders in the middle of the night, an officer opened fire and killed him. Now, less than two years after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd, thousands of the city’s residents are taking to the streets again, chanting the name of another person killed by the state, and once more asking if politicians will do anything at all about it.

For many of these protesters, this must feel like déjà vu. Not long ago, they were marching on the same city streets, protesting against the same police department, the same mayor, the same governor, and much of the same political class in Washington, D.C. And in that time, they’ve watched as supposedly reform-minded politicians — especially Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey — have made a staggering series of failures and gutless decisions that have led us here once again. 

The specific ways in which Frey and other local leaders failed to respond to Floyd’s death seem frankly astonishing when laid out on paper. But the story of this failure is, in fact, the only future offered by the centrist “police reformer” set. 

In May 2020, Frey stood in front of the public and said that “being Black in America should not be a death sentence,” calling Floyd’s killing “a clear reminder of just how far we have to go” as a society. In June 2020, then-Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo pulled out of the city’s scheduled police union contract negotiations, stating that he wanted to study ways in which the city could revamp the contract to reform the department.

But by September, the tone from city hall had changed. That month, Frey shut out a local police-reform group, Minneapolis for a Better Police Contract (MBPC), from the contract negotiation process entirely, before ultimately ignoring all of the group’s recommendations for changes to departmental policy, including ending indemnification for cops who commit violence off-duty. (In June 2021, MBPC sued the city for locking the public out of the negotiation process. That case remains open. In court motions, the city has denied any wrongdoing.)

In November 2020, eight months after police in Louisville, Kentucky, killed Breonna Taylor in a “no-knock” raid, Frey and MPD announced that Minneapolis was restricting the use of “no-knock” warrants, except in specific circumstances — “like a hostage situation,” Frey’s office told the media at the time. But Frey and MPD never actually enacted any sort of meaningful ban: According to the Star-Tribune, MPD continued to apply for and execute no-knock raids, even as Frey was bragging about banning them in his own campaign literature. In April 2021, Frey was forced to apologize to a woman after Minneapolis cops burst into her house in another botched “no-knock” raid. 

By December 2020, Frey had dropped all pretense that he was interested in reining in the police department. That month, as city council members debated shrinking the police force’s future size from 888 officers in 2022 to 750, Frey threatened to veto the entire city budget if any cuts were made to police staffing levels. Frey’s threats won out, and the city shifted just a few million dollars out of the roughly $170 million 2022 police budget toward funding a set of trial mental health response teams. Then-city councilmember Lisa Bender tweeted that Frey “fought us every step of the way” as the council sought to build up alternatives to policing for certain services. 

In the wake of Locke’s shooting, Frey is once again facing the predictable consequences of his own inaction. He’s halfheartedly apologized for previously claiming he’d banned no-knock raids — an oversight he chalked up to his failure to use the “necessary precision or nuance.” Now, Frey says, he’s actually going to do the thing he said he’d already done, by placing an only-slightly-less-toothless moratorium on no-knock raids. He’s also attempted to reiterate his commitment to police reform, insisting he is “dead serious about seeing the necessary changes through” — though he was not serious enough to save Locke from an entirely preventable death.

But the failures go much deeper than Frey. Minnesota lawmakers in June 2021 passed a paltry series of “no-knock raid” reforms that did little to scale back these dangerous tactics. The bill didn’t stop Locke’s killing. Now lawmakers say they will consider further restrictions on no-knock warrants, but even if they pass — a big “if” — it may come as little comfort to Locke’s family.

This level of futility is what we’ve come to expect from so-called “reformers.” At the federal level, Democratic lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, responded to Floyd’s murder by wearing kente cloth and kneeling in the Capitol — a shameless and deeply weird display that led to exactly zero concrete change.

For the past two years, Congress has rejected the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” amid opposition from Senate Republicans and some moderate Democrats. The bill is what many reasonable people might consider “the floor” — with measures to end the “qualified immunity” legal standard that shields police from lawsuits, create a national officer misconduct database, fund local misconduct investigations, and lower the legal standard to convict officers of misconduct. But even those modest proposals have proven a nonstarter, as did a competing, Republican-proposed bill to ban no-knock warrants.

So, here we are yet again. For nearly two years, America’s political leaders have sworn that they would act to end the waves of police brutality and racist violence that have plagued this nation for more than a century. And yet, as police killings continue at a record pace, they’ve maintained that they can accomplish this objective with a series of small, sensible, and somehow still substantive changes to the institution of policing in America. 

But the last few years have revealed that the moderate American police “reform” movement is less concerned with keeping police violence in check than it is with beating back the Left and preserving their own tenuous monopolies on power and discourse. After Democrats underperformed in the 2020 elections, centrists wrongly blamed the “defund” movement for going “too far” and scaring voters. Then, after media outlets ginned up a bad faith “crime wave” panic last summer, numerous Democrats who’d previously adopted the language of police reform — such as San Francisco Mayor London Breed — fully reversed course, embracing tough-on-crime police tactics, and even advocating for a return to the war on drugs.

In May 2021, Frey himself baselessly blamed the “defund” movement for contributing to rising crime in his city, even though Minneapolis did very little to defund its police department, and despite the fact that similar crime trends were seen in cities across the nation, with no link to police funding. As politicians have coalesced around scapegoating the “defund” movement for all sorts of societal ills, they have, by and large, abandoned even the most modest police reform initiatives they claimed to care about less than two years ago.

But this is, quite simply, the politics of police “reform” in action. To push back on the supposedly “radical” ideas of “abolition” or “defunding,” proponents of reform have rallied behind a brand of reactionary politics that guarantees no outcome other than more dead Americans like Amir Locke.


In the news

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Minneapolis City Council member Robin Wonsley Worlobah is calling on Mayor Jacob Frey to resign in the wake of Amir Locke’s killilng. She writes that after yet another incident of preventable police violence, it’s clear that the police department must be replaced by a new Department of Public Safety. [Robin Wonsley Worlobah / Teen Vogue]

Despite overwhelming public opposition, in September, the Atlanta City Council approved a multi-million dollar police training facility that opponents call Cop City. Writer and activist Micah Herskind takes a deep dive into the prison industrial complex in Atlanta, explaining how it has led the city’s elected leaders to embrace Cop City and ignore their constituents’ demands. [Micah Herskind / The Mainline] See also: Check out The Appeal’s recent story on Cop City, by Aja Arnold.

Speaking of Cop City, former NYPD captain and current New York City Mayor Eric Adams has announced plans to dramatically expand the police department’s use of surveillance technology, including facial recognition software that has been shown to be racially biased and inaccurate. [Sally Goldenberg and Joe Anuta / Politico]

A women’s federal prison in California is known as “the rape club” among incarcerated people and prison workers, according to an Associated Press investigation into FCI Dublin. Incarcerated people say correctional officers and the warden sexually abuse them, and threaten or punish people when they try to speak out. [Michael Balsamo and Michael Sisak / Associated Press] 

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that juvenile offenses can count toward the calculation of a person’s three strikes. The case was brought on behalf of Samuel Ryan, who was convicted as a teenager in 1990 of two counts of armed robbery. Six years later, when he was convicted of two more armed robbery charges, he was sentenced to life without parole under the state’s three strikes law. [S.P. Sullivan / NJ.com]

With a federal ban on Pell Grant aid for incarcerated people set to lift next year, advocates worry that the prison profiteers behind predatory services like JPay and Securus are angling to make prison education their next cash cow. [Madison Pauly / Mother Jones]

Police officers are filling in for teachers in classrooms across Oklahoma, following an executive order that was intended to address a statewide teacher shortage. Cops are showing up to class armed, unmasked, and with no prior teaching experience. [Destinee Adams / Scalawag]

A trial began last week in the first known excessive force case against an on-duty San Francisco police officer. The trial is seen as a major test for District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who campaigned on efforts to rein in police abuse and misconduct. [Megan Cassidy / San Francisco Chronicle]


That’s all for this week. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to support our official relaunch, please donate here. Until next time, the work continues.


How St. Paul Became The Twin Cities’ Leader On Justice Reform

Although Minneapolis has garnered media attention since the George Floyd uprising, St. Paul may be the Twin City making the most strides toward transformative justice. But Sheriff Bob Fletcher’s actions may undo positive steps in Ramsey County.

Photo of John Choi by Jaida Grey Eagle. Photo illustration by Natalie Pryor, featuring creative commons images from Unsplash.

How St. Paul Became The Twin Cities’ Leader On Justice Reform

Although Minneapolis has garnered media attention since the George Floyd uprising, St. Paul may be the Twin City making the most strides toward transformative justice. But Sheriff Bob Fletcher’s actions may undo positive steps in Ramsey County.


This story was published in partnership with Sahan Journal, a nonprofit news organization covering immigrants and communities of color in Minnesota.

When leaders in Ramsey County, Minnesota, considered building a new youth jail in 2016, residents responded with outrage.

“The community showed up in a very angry way,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, recounting a public hearing about the project. “All the people that were there shut it down.”

In 2011, Choi became the first Korean American chief prosecutor in the U.S. Since then, Choi, whose jurisdiction includes St. Paul and nearby communities, has quietly developed a reputation as one of the nation’s most reform-minded prosecutors. 

Choi spent the years leading up to the 2016 fight over the child jail by collaborating with county officials and community leaders. The goal was to decrease youth incarceration rates by offering diversion programs to kids who ended up in court. And it was working: At Boys Totem Town, a jail in St. Paul’s Battle Creek neighborhood, a facility built for 36 boys held just six in its final year. 

Community members in 2019 successfully pushed the county to close Boys Totem Town for good. Choi says the fight over Boys Totem Town sparked a local movement to transform the county’s criminal legal system, which polices and incarcerates Black and Native people at disproportionately higher rates than white people. Neighboring Minneapolis in Hennepin County may have garnered significantly more headlines since Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, but St. Paul may be the municipality that has made more strides toward transforming its criminal legal system.

“I believe that the solutions are embedded in our community, especially the aspect of our community that has been the most impacted by violence, the most impacted by mass incarceration,” Choi said. “[We need] to engage those communities to be a part of the solution. And that’s the conversation that we’ve been having for the past three years.”

Since the killing of George Floyd in 2020 and the subsequent uprising, the coalition that formed to close Boys Totem Town has succeeded in its push for significant legal reforms in Minnesota’s second most populous county after Hennepin. Choi has embraced reforms including an effort to reduce the use of cash bail and a policy to not prosecute most felonies that arise from “pretextual traffic stops” — when a cop pulls someone over for a small driving infraction and uses that stop as an excuse to search or detain them. Studies have found that pretextual traffic-stops are disproportionately deployed against people of color, and civil rights groups maintain that such stops violate Fourth Amendment bans on “unreasonable searches.” And the Ramsey County Commission agrees with these changes: Commissioners recently approved a plan for unarmed, community-based responders to address some situations that would normally be handled by police, a move that could make a difference for thousands of people who might otherwise face arrest. 

But not all of those reforms have sailed through without opposition.

At first, “nobody complained about any of this,” Choi told Sahan Journal and The Appeal. “In fact, it was celebrated.” But that’s starting to change. “Now it’s being blamed for a whole bunch of things.”

Despite the county’s reputation as a progressive stronghold, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher and other major state law-enforcement groups have fought Choi’s attempts to change policing in St. Paul and its surrounding communities. Fletcher has argued that more children should be jailed and has ordered his deputies not to comply with Choi’s ban on pretextual stops.

“This is a crisis and you can say the juvenile justice system failure is a crisis,” Fletcher told KSTP, the local ABC affiliate, in September. “If we don’t restore those 40 to 50 beds for these juveniles, then we are going to continue on the cycle that we’re at.”

Now the county is taking an even bigger step toward reshaping policing, and it’s unclear how Fletcher and the state’s powerful police unions will react.


In November, the county approved $13.2 million to fund alternative ways of handling some 911 calls that would typically be dealt with by police. Dubbed the Appropriate Responses Initiative, the plan could put Ramsey County on the leading edge of new approaches to public safety. While many jurisdictions in the U.S. send mental health professionals or social workers to 911 calls alongside police, this plan would remove police from certain situations entirely. Officials hope to revamp how the county responds to mental health crises, homelessness, and a range of non-emergency calls, for example.

“We know there is a disproportionate number of Black and American Indian individuals that are engaged with the criminal justice system,” Nancie Pass, the Ramsey County Emergency Communication Center director, said in a presentation to commissioners on Nov. 9. “Our goal with this initiative is to connect people with community services before the need to engage with traditional responders, and to connect them with the most appropriate resource to meet their need.”

Black residents in Ramsey County are almost 13 times as likely to be admitted to prison compared to white people; Native residents are about 12 times as likely.

The initiative includes three models of alternative responses. The first is co-response, in which both police and professionals from other government agencies, such as mental health care providers, respond to emergencies. The county is already using this approach during limited hours in some areas.

Currently, police request a co-responder when they think they need it. Under the new initiative, a 911 dispatcher will make the choice based on information from the callers themselves. Pass’s presentation to the board included hypothetical scenarios that could be handled by co-responders, including domestic violence and suicide attempts.

But the plan also enables responses that don’t involve police at all.

For 911 calls where there’s no threat of violence — like panhandling, someone living in a car, or a welfare check (a visit to a person’s home to make sure they’re OK) — dispatchers could send public health or social workers without police. And in other cases, such as noise complaints, someone from a community-based organization could respond, avoiding government intervention altogether. A study that Ramsey County completed in October found other comparable programs with “non-law enforcement dispatchable resources that respond to more than just mental health related calls” in just four U.S. cities: Denver, Houston, Eugene, Oregon, and Olympia, Washington.

This could make a difference for thousands of people in Ramsey County who would otherwise interact with police each year. In November alone, police made nearly 800 welfare checks and responded to about 500 noise complaints. And out of about 79,000 911 calls, more than half were non-emergencies, according to county data.

“We can’t be a rubber stamp to what the police want. We have to be an independent actor willing to hold police accountable,” Choi said. “We have to work towards a more just way of responding to incidents and finding justice, safety, and wellness for everybody.”

Raj Sethuraju, a criminal justice professor at Metropolitan State University in Brooklyn Park, works closely with Choi and is involved in developing the Appropriate Responses Initiative. 

“We practice mass punishment, mass incarceration and mass surveillance…versus trusting humanity, right, breaking the barriers, so that human beings can flourish in our community.”

Sethuraju conducts restorative justice circles, which bring together victims and the people who committed crimes against them for a discussion on healing. The meetings serve as an alternative to criminal charges in some cases. Sethuraju says the county also uses feedback from restorative justice circles when developing new policies. 

“We’ve been talking about all of the challenges, all of the barriers, all of the ways our work can be impactful,” Sethuraju said. 

Efforts like this have led officials to embrace bold measures like the Appropriate Responses Initiative. At a time when the role of police is up for debate across the country, a decade of changes in Ramsey County have laid the groundwork for this transformation. 


Under Choi’s leadership, the number of people sent to prison between 2013 and 2019 in Ramsey County decreased by 47 percent, to 652 from 1,226. For youth, there was an even steeper decline: The number of people ages 16 to 25 sent to prison between 2010 and 2019 decreased by two-thirds to 112 from 317. At the same time, the county attorney’s office brought down the number of people on probation by nearly a quarter — to 12,787 from 16,711 — while eliminating $1 million in fines against defendants. Choi told Sahan Journal and The Appeal he attributes that change in part to creating an office culture in which prosecutors aren’t judged by the number of convictions they land. 

The racial disparities are “still way too high,” Choi said. “But all the numbers went down. It wasn’t like one group benefited more during this reduction period.”

More recent reforms could change policing and drive down incarceration even further. In September, Choi announced he won’t prosecute most felonies that result from pretextual traffic stops.

And in September 2020, Choi partnered with the Minnesota Freedom Fund, a nonprofit bail fund, to work toward eliminating the cash bail system, which disproportionately subjects Black and brown people to pretrial incarceration.

“Oftentimes people who are under detention have not been adjudicated guilty,” said Elizer Darris, co-executive director of the Minnesota Freedom Fund. “The harm is that each day that goes by, you’re not able to go to work, you’re not able to contribute to the family.”

Darris, Choi, and other county officials and stakeholders have been examining alternatives to cash bail, including a pretrial risk assessment tool to determine whether someone can be safely released without bail before trial. Critics of pretrial risk assessments have alleged that such tools are racially biased and poor predictors of pretrial misconduct. Darris described the reform process as “slow moving.” But he noted that this is necessary in order to include people like him who have experienced incarceration and other aspects of the criminal legal system.

“Part of the shift that’s happening is a lot of those of us who are directly impacted who have gone through a lot of these systems are now becoming involved with helping to shape and craft the outcomes,” he said.


But these efforts could be derailed if opposition from Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher gains traction. Fletcher, who has drawn the ire of local officials for live-streaming his patrols, has begun to vocally critique the Boys Totem Town closure and other reforms. In September, Fletcher called for a return to jailing Ramsey County’s children, and said he plans to propose an initiative concerning youth crime to state lawmakers. 

“I have talked with dozens of parents who have made it clear: the status quo is not working; there are no consequences, no resources and no support,” Fletcher said in a statement. “Youth are frequently released from custody only to repeat the same dangerous and criminal behavior.”

Fletcher did not respond to a request for comment from The Appeal and Sahan Journal.

Choi, however, disagrees. “What’s driving a lot of the crime and the repetitive nature of youth who are coming back in the system is a much more complicated thing that relates really specifically to the pandemic, it relates to other things that are happening in a community,” he said. He added that incarcerating youth only perpetuates the cycle. “Young people end up going deep deep into the system, and they can never get out.” 

Fletcher and other law enforcement officials testified before the Minnesota Senate in October at what politicians described as an “informational hearing on violent crime” in the Twin Cities. “I know a lot about juvenile crime,” Fletcher said. “Shooters start out as juvenile delinquents and they evolve through the system.” He added: “We need some type of location that we can stop the evolution of these children before they become shooters.” Studies have shown that incarcerating youth doesn’t decrease their risk of committing future crimes and may actually increase it in some cases.

Fletcher has also been a vocal opponent of Choi’s policy not to prosecute cases that stemmed from pretextual traffic stops. He has said his office will still conduct low-level traffic stops despite the county attorney’s policy.

Other major law-enforcement leaders and groups, such as the statewide Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA), said Choi’s pretextual-stop ban endangered Ramsey County residents.

“Basically the county attorney just announced his office won’t uphold the law and won’t prosecute those who break it,” MPPOA President Brian Peters told state lawmakers. “That’s absurd and a slap in the face to victims of crime.” In other cities where prosecutors have attempted to make the criminal system more humane — such as Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Los Angeles — local police departments, sheriffs, and police unions have fought bitterly against proposed police reforms. 

But despite roadblocks from the Ramsey County sheriff’s office and others, reformers told Sahan Journal and The Appeal that they are still optimistic about getting the Appropriate Responders Initiative off the ground. Those involved with the plan said it could take at least another year before community-based responders actually hit the streets.

“It becomes more difficult, especially now, because we’re facing immense skepticism and criticism around some of the new justice reform efforts,” Choi said. “But we have to keep pushing forward in this space, because the alternative is to go back to the status quo.”

Thinking Of Those Who Can’t Be Home For The Holidays

Thinking Of Those Who Can’t Be Home For The Holidays


It’s been quite a year for us, to say the least. In May, we unionized. Then our former bosses shut The Appeal down. But we, the workers, resolved to save The Appeal and continue the important work we do covering the criminal legal system. 

Since then, we succeeded in becoming a worker-led nonprofit newsroom. We took ownership of The Appeal’s intellectual property, including our website, social media, and mailing lists. We launched this weekly newsletter. We published stories from our staff, freelancers, and incarcerated writers covering topics that matter to our readers. And we’ve secured a significant amount of funding through grants and donations, though we still need more to become fully operational.

And all of that happened in the last six months. We’ve all been wearing a lot of hats to get our worker-led newsroom off the ground. Now that we have a moment to catch our breath, we have decided to spend January working on the long-term health of this newsroom. That means defining our editorial vision and ethos, raising more money, completing audits and reports, and much more.

We will be pausing our weekly newsletter during that time. When we resume in February, it is our goal to bring you more varied voices in this newsletter, and to hone in on what you, our readers, truly value. Please tell us what you like, what you don’t like, and what you’d like to see more of or less of when we come back by taking this two-minute survey.

Thank you so much for all of your support. We couldn’t be where we are today without you. In lieu of our usual column, this week we are highlighting some resources to help the many incarcerated people who must spend the holidays separated from their loved ones. We’ll see you in February.

In solidarity,
The Appeal workers


Thinking Of Those Who Can’t Be Home For The Holidays

by Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg, The Appeal

The COVID-19 pandemic has been, and continues to be, brutal for incarcerated people. They have gone without visits, education, therapy groups, and recreation. For those who become ill, they may be shackled on their way to the hospital and throughout their stay, or tossed into a solitary confinement cell

And even without a global pandemic, the holiday season can be an especially painful time to be separated from loved ones. But there are many ways those on the outside can show solidarity with incarcerated people this season and throughout the year. Here are just a few opportunities we thought our readers might be interested in:

• Survived and Punished advocates for the decriminalization of survivors of domestic and sexual violence. The Survived and Punished Mutual Aid group, a project of Survived and Punished NY, is raising money to provide commissary, packages, and other material support for incarcerated survivors. You can also volunteer to organize a book drive for incarcerated people or sign up to correspond with an incarcerated survivor. 


Write a message to an incarcerated survivor of sexual violence through the organization Just Detention International, which works to end sexual violence in prisons and jails. 


Join the Lifelines to Solitary project and correspond with a person in solitary confinement, or volunteer to take a photo for someone in solitary.  


IN THE NEWS

Rogel Aguilera-Mederos was sentenced to 110 years in prison for his involvement in a multi-vehicle accident that killed four people in Jefferson County, Colorado. Aguilera-Mederos was driving a semi-truck when his brakes malfunctioned. “I’m dying,” Aguilera-Mederos said at his sentencing. “It is hard to live with this trauma. I can’t sleep. I’m thinking all [the time] about the victims. This was a terrible accident, I know. I take responsibility. But it was not intentional. I am not a criminal.” More than 4 million people have signed a petition in support of clemency or commutation for Aguilera-Mederos. [Robert Garrison / Denver ABC] The trial prosecutor posted on her Facebook page that her co-counsel had given her Aguilera-Mederos’s failed brake as a gift. [Rory Fleming / Davis Vanguard]

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of incarcerated people in the United States decreased by at least 16 percent — the largest, fastest reduction in prison population in American history — but the proportion of incarcerated Black and Latino people sharply increased in almost every state and the District of Columbia, according to a study that has not yet been peer-reviewed. [Elizabeth Hinton / Twitter]

New York City Mayor-elect (and former police officer) Eric Adams said he will bring back disciplinary solitary confinement for people incarcerated in the city’s jails. “The mayor announced Dec. 31, he’s going to empty out punitive segregation,” Mr. Adams said. “They better enjoy that one-day reprieve. Because Jan. 1, they are going back into segregation if they committed a violent act. That is unacceptable.” Solitary confinement, isolation in a cell for up to 24 hours, can lead to suicide, self-harm, and psychosis. [Reuven Blau / The City]

Mayor-elect Adams also announced that he’ll replace current New York City Department of Correction commissioner Vincent Schiraldi with Louis Molina, a former NYPD officer. Schiraldi has been an outspoken supporter of criminal justice reforms, including parole reform. [Nicholas Fandos and Jonah E. Bromwich / New York Times]

Chicago’s City Council approved a $2.9 million settlement for Anjanette Young. In 2019, police officers used a battering ram to enter her home, then handcuffed her and forced her to stand naked for several minutes. The officers were looking for someone who had lived there four years earlier. Council members have proposed the Anjanette Young Ordinance, which would institute a number of police reforms, including a ban on no-knock warrants and a requirement that police officers wait at least 30 seconds before entering a home. [Justin Laurence / Block Club Chicago]

The Los Angeles Police Department used social media monitoring software from Edge NPD to surveil Black Lives Matter and “defund the police” tweets, according to internal police documents. Edge NPD proposed that the police department monitor “LA riots,”  “police violence,”  “BLM protests,” and the “Proud Boys.” “The LAPD itself is being targeted by organized attacks of automated bots and trolls (e.g. police brutality misinformation and “defund the police” narratives),” reads the group’s proposal. [Sam Levin and Johana Bhuiyan / The Guardian]

Contact us at newsletter@theappeal.org so we can feature your work here.


That’s all for now. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to support our official relaunch, please donate here. Until next time, the work continues.

“It’s like a slow war, like a slow burn. Like a slow, quiet form of torture.”

Art by DaJuan Ainsworth

“It’s like a slow war, like a slow burn. Like a slow, quiet form of torture.”


Thank you for all of your support. Your contributions have enabled us to turn The Appeal into a worker-led newsroom dedicated to exposing the harms of the criminal legal system — and to begin publishing again!

Check out some of our recent pieces: We uncovered a robbery task force at DC’s Metropolitan Police Department that became known for its use of oppressive tactics, including stop-and-frisk in Black communities. We profiled the grassroots campaign to halt a massive new police training facility in Atlanta. We elevated perspectives that are often left out of conversations about gun violence. And since Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg first reported on the incarceration of Reginald Randolph, a 58-year-old sentenced to two to four years in prison for stealing cold medicine, New York state senators have asked Governor Kathy Hochul to commute his sentence.

If you love this newsletter and The Appeal’s reporting, donate today and help us make major headway toward funding more vital journalism in 2022.


Art by DaJuan Ainsworth

“It’s like a slow war, like a slow burn. Like a slow, quiet form of torture.”

by Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg, The Appeal

Survivors of solitary confinement say it’s a living tomb, hell, worse than death, and torture. Someone can land in solitary — for days or decades — for any number of reasons, or no reason at all: a fight, having too many stamps, a positive COVID test, yelling, a death sentence, self-harm, protesting

Solitary confinement is a punishment that correctional officers wield freely, and its harms are catastrophic. The practice — confinement in a cell for up to 24 hours a day — can lead to psychosis, self-mutilation, and suicide. A study of people incarcerated in North Carolina found that those subjected to solitary were almost 80 percent more likely to die by suicide within a year after their release than those not placed in solitary. 

Many of its victims are Black. Approximately 11 percent of all Black men in Pennsylvania born between 1986 and 1989 experienced solitary confinement by age 32, according to a study published last month in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances. 

“It’s a quiet war of attrition,” Shearod McFarland told The Appeal in a phone call from a Michigan prison. McFarland was sentenced to 25 to 40 years when he was 18, for a crime that occurred three days before his 18th birthday. For 11 years, from 1995 to 2006 — from the ages of 25 to 36 — he was held in solitary confinement. 

“It’s a way the institution has of wearing you down, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, physically,” he said. “It’s like a slow war, like a slow burn. Like a slow, quiet form of torture.”

McFarland, now 52, is the founder of The Capstone Group, a revolutionary cadre of political thinkers, in and outside of prison. His group worked with the advocacy organizations Open MI Door Campaign, Zealous, the Unlock the Box Campaign, and the American Friends Service Committee to create a digital archive that includes handwritten letters, audio, and artwork from people held in solitary confinement. (Disclosure: Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg previously worked for the Unlock the Box Campaign.)
 
McFarland is the narrator of “Silenced,” a short film on solitary confinement in Michigan. Last month, the film was screened at a virtual event on solitary confinement. 
 
The Appeal spoke with McFarland about his time in solitary and why he’s working to end the torturous practice. Below is an excerpt of the conversation, which has been edited for clarity and length. This interview was published in partnership with Solitary Watch.
 
“If my experience in those 11 years can help anyone else out and can help challenge this very destructive, oppressive form of institutional control, I’ll do that in whatever way I can,” McFarland told The Appeal.


Q: If you feel comfortable, can you tell me about your time in solitary? 

A: I had been to segregation before, but for that extra long period of time, 11 years, I was 25 when I went in and I was 36 when I was finally released from segregation. 

It all stemmed from an incident on a prison yard where myself and a few other individuals got into a big clash with some other prisoners, and the situation kind of spins out of control, and some officers ended up getting injured as well. I want to make it clear — I don’t want to make it seem like I’m a victim.

In truth at that time, I think I needed to be punished and the institution had to exercise some kind of control over me because I was rebelling against my incarceration. My issue is not that the Michigan Department of Corrections sought to exercise some sort of control over my behavior. My issue is the form of that control.

I think that solitary confinement can be extremely — I don’t think, I know that it can be extremely destructive to people.

During my 11 years in solitary, I’ve literally seen people go from being fairly healthy normal mental functions to madmen. People just going crazy. Playing with their feces, yelling and screaming all day, banging on walls all day. 

It literally reminds you of the images of insane asylums back in the 1800s. It’s madness all around you, and that in itself — that madness — works on your mind, on your psyche outside of the fact that the facility itself imposed a certain level of constraint on you that produces the madness in the first place.

Q: When you were in solitary all those years, did it feel like you weren’t going to get out? 

A: That is kind of difficult to explain, not talk about, but it’s — I mean, I used to despair all the time. I used to always think about suicide. I’ve actually never attempted suicide, but I used to just imagine myself dying.

And I just think for me, just the thought of it almost gave me a sense or a feeling of relief. Just from the pain and hardship of being so separated from free society — so separated from everything. 

The loneliness of being in solitary for a long period of time. That in itself is enough to really cause a person’s personality to unravel. It’s the fact that you are completely vulnerable. You are really at the mercy of an institution, a system that really doesn’t care about you.
 
When I went into segregation, I didn’t have any problems with my eyesight. When I left, my distance sight, my ability to see long distances, it had really deteriorated from being in segregation all those years. You’d never use those muscles or those nerves that are responsible for your long distance sight so they kind of deteriorate after a while. They atrophy. And so to this day, I can see great close-up, but long distances I don’t see very well.

Q: If you could sit down with the governor of Michigan or the state legislators in Michigan and tell them what needs to be done about solitary confinement, what would you say?

A: I do understand there has to be levels of accountability. All levels of society, there has to be accountability. I get that. But the government should not come up with forms of accountability that only perpetuate the problems that they’re seeking to hold people accountable for in the first place.

I don’t have a model in my mind for what should replace segregation, but I do know that segregation is very harmful to people. If human beings can find a way to land men on the moon, I’m sure we can come up with some healthy way to replace administrative segregation, a.k.a. solitary confinement.

Q: Is there anything I didn’t ask about that is important for people to know?

A: I would just say don’t give up on people in prison. There’s a lot of potential in prison. A lot of talented people. There are also a lot of people who have been severely traumatized, and segregation just perpetuates that trauma. 

America’s idea of prison is based on a 500-year-old model of accountability. That model no longer fits with what we know about human nature and human development and human mental health. So putting people in here, it just makes people worse. So that’s just what comes to me right off the top of my head.


IN THE NEWS

Contact us at newsletter@theappeal.org so we can feature your work here!

A new federal lawsuit alleges that Pennsylvania’s Schuylkill County Prison and its for-profit medical provider, PrimeCare Medical Inc., are responsible for the death of Jonathan Merced, who died while awaiting trial at the facility in 2019. Merced’s mother alleges that the jail “failed to give proper medical care for an existing heart problem,” allowing Merced to “wither away, without treatment, until his condition deteriorated to the point that death was inevitable.” Joshua Vaughn, formerly of The Appeal, reports that PrimeCare has been named defendant in 18 federal lawsuits filed in Pennsylvania this year alone. [Joshua Vaughn / PennLive]

Although thousands of clemency petitions are pending, President Biden has only granted clemency to two turkeys since he has been in office. The Department of Justice’s clemency process, which was designed in part by former President Ronald Reagan, has to change, said law professor Mark Osler, who has advocated for clemency reform. Under the current system, the Department of Justice does the first four reviews (out of seven levels of review), which Osler notes  “is conflicted because they’re the ones who sought the sentence in the first place.” However, at any time, Biden could choose to bypass this process and unilaterally grant clemency. [Charles Davis / Business Insider]

Women transferred to state prison from the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City have been beaten and strip searched, according to a lawyer who plans to file a suit on behalf of the victims. The lawyer says male guards have also threatened them with violence and watched them shower. In addition, they’re also farther from their families and attorneys. The women had been held pretrial at Rikers, but transferred to Bedford Hills Correctional Facility due to staffing shortages at Rikers. [Graham Rayman / Daily News]

Prosecutors told jurors that former Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, police officer Kim Potter, who fatally shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop, was reckless, negligent, and flouted departmental policy. Potter says she intended to shoot Wright with a Taser, but mistakenly used her gun. She’s charged with manslaughter. Officer Anthony Luckey, who Potter was training, testified that he pulled over Wright because he had air freshener hanging from his mirror. [Carma Hassan, Amir Vera, Holly Yan, and Brad Parks / CNN]

A dozen Torrance, California, police officers are being investigated for exchanging racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-LGBTQ text messages. They joked about “gassing” Jewish people, assaulting members of the LGBTQ community, using violence against suspects and lying during an investigation into a police shooting, according to district attorney’s office records reviewed by the Los Angeles Times. They called Black men “savages,” shared instructions on how to tie a noose, and shared a picture of a stuffed animal being lynched inside Torrance’s police headquarters, according to the documents. The exchanges have led to the dismissal of at least 85 criminal cases involving the officers implicated, and many more criminal cases could be impacted. [James Queally / Los Angeles Times]

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins to be U.S. attorney for Massachusetts. She will be the first Black woman to hold the office. [Jim Puzzanghera / Boston Globe] Considered a member of the so-called progressive prosecutors movement, Rollins’s record on criminal justice reform has been mixed. Last year, The Appeal reported on her efforts to detain a man with leukemia, during the COVID-19 pandemic, as he awaited trial.


That’s all for this week. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to support our official relaunch, please donate here. Until next time, the work continues.

“Woman of the Year” Mariska Hargitay Should Quit “SVU”

Illustration by Natalie Pryor, photo by Felix Koutchinski at Unsplash

“Woman of the Year” Mariska Hargitay Should Quit “SVU”


Since launching our NewsMatch campaign in November, we’ve almost hit our $30,000 goal, with the help of generous contributions and matching funds.

Now we’ve raised our target to $40,000 by the end of the year.

If you love this newsletter and The Appeal’s reporting, donate today and help us make major headway toward funding more vital journalism in 2022.


Illustration by Natalie Pryor, photo by Felix Koutchinski at Unsplash

“Woman of the Year” Mariska Hargitay Should Quit “SVU”

by Jerry Iannelli and Meg O’Connor, The Appeal

Last month, Glamour magazine featured “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” star Mariska Hargitay on the cover of its “Women of the Year” issue. On Nov. 8, an avalanche of A-list celebrities — including “SVU” co-stars Christopher Meloni and Ice-T, actress Melissa McCarthy, and #MeToo co-founder Tarana Burke — honored Hargitay at the Women of the Year Awards which was held at the Rainbow Room, a ballroom that serves as one of the epicenters of New York City high-society.

But Hargitay’s selection as one of the magazine’s “women of the year” is an unfortunate one, given that she and everyone else involved with “SVU” are complicit in what is likely the single worst piece of pro-police propaganda produced over the last few decades. “SVU” — the longest-running scripted primetime live-action show in U.S. television history — has spent more than 500 episodes laundering the reputation of the NYPD and its sex crimes division. In reality, the NYPD has notoriously neglected its sex crimes unit for years, leading to miserable outcomes for victims. In recent years, detectives with New York City’s Special Victims Division have repeatedly discouraged victims from moving forward with their cases, failed to collect basic video and DNA evidence, and have, on more than one occasion, bungled a rape case so badly that alleged attackers went on to attack several more women.

The Appeal spoke with five women who sought help from the NYPD after being sexually assaulted. All of the women had shockingly bad interactions with the special victims detectives assigned to their cases. Several said that the “SVU” show itself does a disservice to survivors of sexual assault: through its patently false depiction of police interactions with rape victims, SVU has helped create a public perception that police are necessary and good at responding to sex crimes. This fraudulent image makes it more difficult to change the way police handle sex crimes. 

“‘Law & Order: SVU’ gave me the false impression that this squad cared deeply about victims and their jobs,” said Gina Tron, a writer who reported a sexual assault to the NYPD in 2010. “The show is nothing more than a fantasy, as an accurate dramatization of the unit would depict detectives sitting around the station disparaging rape victims in front of their peers and pressuring them to drop their cases so they could avoid doing work.”

Others said the same. “In reality, it’s cops who are causing the most harm to victims and survivors,” said Alison Turkos, a survivor and activist who is suing the NYPD and Lyft over their handling of the kidnapping and assault she suffered in 2017. Turkos called “SVU” “copaganda.” “The show is more hurtful than helpful, and it needs to be taken off the air. Survivors deserve better.” 

Racheal Stirling told The Appeal that she had not seen an episode of “SVU” before she was assaulted, but she did know the show mostly featured extreme acts of sexual violence. So when her case was ignored by the NYPD Special Victims Division — despite having a full confession from the man who attacked her — she assumed her case must have “dwarfed in comparison to their other cases.” She later learned that the detective assigned to her case simply did not bother to investigate it. Stirling, who was violently assaulted, said the NYPD gaslit her into believing nothing had happened to her. For weeks, the police neglected to arrest the man who assaulted her and made an arrest only after he assaulted other women. Stirling later found out that the detective assigned to her case had himself been accused of groping another rape victim whose case he was assigned to. 

“If I had a dollar for every time I heard, ‘This can’t be true. Olivia Benson would never let this happen!’ I would have enough to cover my hospital bills and therapy for my trauma,” Stirling said, referring to Hargitay’s “SVU” character.

“SVU” posits a world where cops like Hargitay’s Benson help survivors heal, where detectives follow leads and meticulously collect evidence, and where sexual assault investigators are knowledgable, well-trained, and speak with empathy. 

These attributes, as seemingly basic and integral to policing as they sound, are few and far between at the NYPD (and other police departments across the country). At the Special Victims Division, training has dropped precipitously last year. According to a 2020 survey of 20 anti-violence organizations and rape crisis programs that work directly with over 5,000 survivors of sexual assault across New York City, a strong majority of providers said the division is not doing a good job responding to survivors. Nearly all providers agreed that survivors feel ignored by police. 

In 2020, the NYPD cleared (or “solved” through arrest or exceptional means) less than 30 percent of all rape cases citywide — a smaller percentage than the year before. That already awful number may be artificially inflated, since the department has historically labeled an unusually high number of rape cases as “unfounded” (false or baseless), meaning those cases would not be included in the overall statistics.

The NYPD is not an anomaly: Local police departments around the country are routinely sued or criticized for failing to investigate rape cases and retraumatizing survivors.

Anny Crane, an activist and artist, reported her sexual assault to the NYPD the night that it happened in 2012. “The night was a blur, so I can’t say what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t being mocked by NYPD officers during a panic attack and left in the dark while navigating the system after reporting, down to my court hearing and medical bills,” she said. “I have joked that there was no Olivia Benson to hold my hand, but it’s true. Not only does she not exist, everything I encountered was the antithesis of how ‘SVU’ portrays victim advocacy. I needed someone but I never felt more alone.”

The show also infamously steals plots directly from rape survivors without their consent. Last year, ballerina Alexandra Waterbury recounted in Marie Claire that the show fictionalized her assault without consulting her at all. “This felt like they took advantage of me, which is a hell of a thing to do to a survivor of sexual violence,” she wrote.

Hargitay’s issues extend to her off-screen persona as well.  Her Joyful Heart Foundation claims to fight to “end the backlog” of untested rape kits sitting in police departments nationwide. But Joyful Heart propagates the false narrative that the so-called backlog exists because law enforcement needs more funding to test rape kits. While it’s true that there are many untested rape kits across the United States, they are mostly untested because police did not send the DNA kits to a lab for testing. Money isn’t the issue — police choosing not to test crucial DNA evidence is. The term “backlog,” as former Appeal contributors Meaghan Ybos and Heather Marlowe have noted, implies that untested rape kits stacked up for reasons out of the department’s control, when that is simply not the case. 

“Mariska Hargitay has built a great career from ‘Law and Order: SVU,’ and built a sterling reputation as a sexual assault advocate from her organization, the Joyful Heart Foundation,” said JL, who asked to be referred to by her initials. JL reported a sexual assault to the NYPD in 2012. “Unfortunately, the actual sexual assault advocacy community has had the misfortune of seeing what lies beneath the Hollywood veneer of the Joyful Heart Foundation, its consultants, and its founder.”
 
In a softball interview with Glamour last month, Hargitay choked up with pride when she told the magazine that she enjoys being “of service” and helping “people heal.” It seems, however, that the greatest service she could provide is quitting ‘SVU’ for good.


IN THE NEWS

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People incarcerated in Florida will no longer be able to receive physical prints of photos from the outside, and all incoming paper mail will be scanned into an electronic format to be viewed on a tablet or via a kiosk. “I can think of many nights that I slept with a photograph of my family,” Laurette Philipsen, Florida Cares’ communications director and a formerly incarcerated person, told Miami New Times. “You can’t do that with a tablet.”  [Alex DeLuca / Miami New Times]

Nearly 1,500 unhoused people died on the streets of Los Angeles between March 2020 and July 2021, according to a new report published by UCLA, in conjunction with researchers from the unhoused community. County coroner’s records reveal that the most common cause of death was accidental overdose. This number is likely an undercount, because the records did not include individuals who died in shelters or cars, or while receiving medical care. [Sam Levin / The Guardian]

Two supervised injection sites officially opened in New York City last week. The centers allow people to use drugs under the care of medical professionals, who are on hand to reverse overdoses and offer access to addiction treatment and other services. Although these resources have been operating for decades in other countries around the world, they are the first such spaces in the U.S. Officials say the staff reversed nine overdoses since opening. [Caroline Lewis / Gothamist]

A Tucson police officer will likely be fired after the release of body camera footage showing him fatally shooting a man in a motorized wheelchair. The man had allegedly brandished a knife after stealing a toolbox from Walmart. The police chief said he decided to terminate the officer because his use of deadly force constituted a “clear violation of department policy and directly contradicts multiple aspects of our use of force training.” The officer was off duty and working a special detail at Walmart.  [Amy Simonson / CNN] See also: The Nov. 9 newsletter, which looks at the potential consequences of a crackdown on retail theft

The Florida Supreme Court last week upheld a judge’s decision to impose a maximum prison sentence for a defendant who maintained his innocence after being convicted in a firearm case. The judge cited the man’s failure to take “responsibility” as a reason for the harsh sentence. In a dissenting opinion, one justice wrote that “punishing someone unless they confess guilt of a crime is a violation of due process and the right against self-incrimination.” The conservative majority disagreed. [Jim Saunders / NSF via Orlando Weekly]


That’s all for this week. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to support our official relaunch, please donate here. Until next time, the work continues.

Police Disinformation Is Still Disinformation

Photo by Joseph Ngabo at Unsplash

Police Disinformation Is Still Disinformation


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Photo by Joseph Ngabo at Unsplash

Police Disinformation Is Still Disinformation

by Jerry Iannelli, The Appeal

On Nov. 8, KRON4, a local TV news station in San Francisco, ran a startling story. A 23-month-old child named Jasper Wu had been killed amid a shootout that occurred on I-880 in Oakland, California. The station quoted the local cop union, the Oakland Police Officers’ Association (OPOA), as stating that the child’s death was the direct result of the city “defunding the police.”

“This reality was created by the ‘Defund The Police’ majority on the City Council, who have abandoned public safety in Oakland,” OPOA President Barry Donelan said.

The story was, of course, tragic. But there was one major flaw in Donelan’s argument: Oakland did not defund the police last year. In fact, while some positions were frozen in 2021 and beyond, other positions were added. Altogether, the City Council actually increased the police budget compared to the previous year.

While other local news outlets mildly pushed back on Donelan’s outright falsehoods, the reaction overall was predictably timid. Not one outlet plainly stated what Donelan was doing: spreading misinformation.

In recent years, media outlets have increasingly taken steps to call out politicians — like former President Donald Trump — when they lie, yet reporters have largely neglected to do the same to police chiefs, spokespeople, and union officials. There is certainly some debate over the best way to handle politicians who regularly lie for self-gain. But there are seemingly no penalties for a police chief or union boss who, in the course of trying to get more funding, claims crime is up when it’s down or says their cash-rich department has been “defunded.” (It also goes without saying that police departments wantonly lie in order to protect themselves from allegations of wrongdoing.)

To be blunt: Cops are using the press and social media to knowingly lie and spread misinformation all the time. Police officials wield lies just like Trump and others have. But unlike Trump, who was banned from Twitter and most other social media sites after the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, police are still mostly getting away with it. 

For as long as police have existed in this country, they have used their power to lie and hurt people all while evading any accountability for it. Last year, the murder of George Floyd (which Minneapolis police initially lied about) triggered national uprisings over the role of police in American society. It is beyond time for the press to acknowledge that U.S. cops are just as much a source of misinformation as the Facebook groups, 4Chan threads, and TheDonald message board posts that are now doggedly tracked by reporters across the country. It is certainly frightening to acknowledge that armed agents of the state are also trafficking in conspiracy theories and lying for personal gain. But, much like the worrying numbers of cops who are members of white supremacist organizations or who attended the Capitol riot, these are dark facts about the heart of this country that can only be dealt with head-on. 

Of course, police issues are just one item in a seemingly endless list of things that are still OK to lie about in the American media. (A few of those things: The necessity of U.S. wars overseas, the wisdom of trickle-down economics, America’s supposedly superior system of for-profit health-care, U.S. support for despots overseas, the grand benevolence of America’s slave-owning Founding Fathers, the necessity of billionaires, and so on.)

But even compared to those other issues mentioned above, lies by cops are particularly easy to spot and refute. Numerous police officials have spent the last year claiming that shoplifting is rising in San Francisco, for example, when reported shoplifting rates are actually at record lows. Likewise, police officials in numerous states have blamed bail-reform laws for a spike in murders last year, despite the fact that murders rose last year in areas that lessened bail restrictions and areas that didn’t.

Once published, police misinformation is shoveled into the same amplification machines that push out vaccine myths, QAnon nonsense, racist conspiracies, and voter fraud pablum. On Nov. 12, Jason Rantz, a conservative talk-radio host in Seattle, reported that an unnamed 13-year-old boy watched his also unnamed 45-year-old father die after police “failed” to respond to the teen’s 911 call in time. Rantz reported that the delay was due to the city’s Democratic mayor, Jenny Durkan, who allegedly decimated the department’s staffing levels by enacting a vaccine mandate and forcing “more than 100” officers (in a force of more than 1,000) to quit their jobs rather than inoculate themselves. (Importantly, SPD said in October that only six department employees had actually been terminated for refusing to get vaccinated, while another 103 had only been placed on temporary leave.) But Rantz allowed anonymous police sources to instead pin the man’s death on the mayor’s vaccine mandate.

Rantz’s story was slanted in ways that absolved local police and fire officials of wrongdoing in a father’s death. Rantz admitted later in his own story that police and fire officials failed to respond to the 911 call because the apartment’s previous tenant had been labeled a “danger” to first responders, but the label was never removed when the teen and his father moved in. In reality, a paperwork error by a first responder caused the delay in care. (And since Rantz didn’t name the man, it’s impossible to double-check what happened here or know if paramedics could have even saved him.)

That didn’t stop Fox News from blasting the story all over America. Rantz appeared on Tucker Carlson’s eponymous TV show — one of the most-watched shows in the history of U.S. cable news — to blame Durkan for the man’s death. 

“Due to the vaccine mandate crippling police and fire departments, there was a significant delay in response,” Rantz stated in a pained tone as Carlson appeared to struggle to make his face display an iota of empathy.

It isn’t an accident that similarly disprovable claims from police departments regularly wind up on Fox or other conservative news sites. It’s part of a coordinated campaign to absolve police of guilt, spread misinformation, gin up new reasons to avoid cutting police funding, and feed the ever-present culture-war on the Right. Cops know how this game works, but it’s time the rest of the press stopped playing along.


IN THE NEWS

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The New York Times falsely reported that murders “doubled” in New York City this year, before retracting that point in the face of harsh criticism over the piece’s reliance on police sources. (Murders increased in 2020, but are actually down 1 percent in 2021.) Critics have have also noted the piece contains other dubious or false statements, such as the claim that the NYPD solved “nearly 90 percent” of murders in 2019. The Times itself had previously reported the NYPD only solved 67 percent of murders that year, according to data published by the NYPD. [Alec Karakatsanis / Twitter]

A new study found that approximately 11 percent of all Black men in Pennsylvania, born 1986 to 1989, experienced solitary confinement by age 32. [Hannah Pullen-Blasnik, Jessica T. Simes, and Bruce Western / Science Advances] 

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department fired Deputy Angel Reinosa after saying he lied about being shot by a sniper. But according to Reinosa, he’s being targeted for attempting to blow the whistle on a fellow deputy. [Cerise Castle / Knock LA]  

Anthony J. Broadwater has been exonerated in New York after being falsely convicted of a 1981 rape, for which he spent 16 years in prison. The victim, Alice Sebold, later wrote about the assault in her book, “Lucky.” Although Broadwater was released from prison in 1998, he says he faced years of stigma and isolation due to his record and subsequent placement on the sex offender registry. He says the weight of the false conviction led him and his wife to decide not to have children. [Karen Zraick and Alexandra Alter / New York Times]

A murder case set to go to trial in Georgia next year raises questions of the effectiveness of self-defense claims when the defendant isn’t white. Marc Wilson, who is Black, is charged with felony murder and aggravated assault for the death of Haley Hutcheson, who was white. Wilson says a group of teenagers in a pick-up yelled racial epithets at Wilson and tried to run his car off the road. Wilson says he fired a shot in self-defense. [Albert Samaha, Jamilah King, and Caroline O’Donovan / BuzzFeed]

Kevin Strickland was released days before Thanksgiving after serving 43 years in a Missouri prison for crimes he did not commit. Because he was exonerated without DNA evidence, he’s ineligible for compensation under state law, which only provides compensation for people cleared by DNA testing. His attorneys with the Midwest Innocence Project have organized an online fundraiser for him; it’s already raised more than $1.5 million. [Alisha Ebrahimji / CNN]


That’s all for this week. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to support our official relaunch, please donate here. Until next time, the work continues.

Lots to be thankful for. Plus a reality check.

Lots to be thankful for. Plus a reality check.


The Appeal team has a lot to be thankful for this year, including the fact that we can spend time with our families again. We know not everyone is as fortunate, and we’re thinking of community members, especially those behind bars, who can’t be with their loved ones. 

In the midst of Thanksgiving travel and weird schedules, we figured we’d use this week’s newsletter to update you on our progress. (Don’t worry, you can still find our roundup of justice news below.) 

First, make sure to check out Meg O’Connor’s story, which was published today. It’s a deep dive into the culture of impunity and abuse at the Rochester Police Department in New York, and it will probably make you mad. Read it now so you have time to process before Thanksgiving.

There’s more good news on our end: We recently secured a $250,000 grant from FWD.us, a bipartisan organization working for criminal justice reform. This is our first major grant, and it’s a big deal. It dramatically expands our runway and provides us with critical resources to cover operating costs. We’re so grateful for FWD’s support. But here’s the reality: To get fully back up and running, we need to raise at least half of our $3 million annual budget, which is why we continue to ask for your help.

Now is an especially great time to donate. When you sign up to support The Appeal with a recurring monthly donation today, NewsMatch will match the amount at 12 times the value. And they’ll double one-time donations.

We have a steep hill to climb. Some of you might be wondering why we’re trying so hard to make it in a challenging media environment. When it comes down to it, we’re working to relaunch The Appeal because we truly believe that journalism is a powerful tool for change. This is a pivotal moment for the future of criminal justice reform. And if we don’t continue to shine a light on this deeply flawed system and the people it affects, the progress we’ve seen may get lost to the tough-on-crime backlash.

This isn’t an exaggeration. We’re not using police fear mongering tactics. The threat to the movement is real, and we feel that the best way for us to fight back is to keep telling the truth. Jody Armour, a renowned law professor at the University of Southern California and a member of The Appeal’s advisory board, recently explained why he feels this work is so important.

“To change the system, we must unify around a common purpose,” Jody says. “But that depends on a shared common truth — one rooted in careful investigations, reliable sources, and rigorous analyses. The Appeal’s work helps voters, lawmakers, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, activists, and other agents of change establish an evidence-based common truth, which guides us in the fight against racialized mass incarceration.”

We have a lot more stories coming out over the next five weeks, but the first slate of pieces we’ve published has focused on elevating voices silenced by the system, and speaking truth to power. If you haven’t read them yet, you can find them here, here, and here.

These are the sorts of eye-opening and enraging stories we’re committed to investing in. But as a worker-led nonprofit, The Appeal depends on the support of readers to be able to bring you ambitious, high-quality journalism that makes an impact. We’d be so thankful for any contribution you can make.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Until next week,
The Appeal Workers


IN THE NEWS

Contact us at newsletter@theappeal.org so we can feature your work here!

Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal last week likely left many of us struggling to articulate our thoughts. In a Twitter thread, Appeal advisory board member Josie Duffy Rice captured both the frustrations and the continued hope for change. “The idea that, regardless of the outcome, there was peace or fairness or reckoning to be found in a courtroom, was always a farce,” she wrote. [Josie Duffy Rice / Twitter]

Samuel Scott Jr., a Black man, is suing Miami and five of the city’s police officers for arresting him in 2018 after he reported his car had been stolen. Police claimed Scott “matched the description” of the suspect seen driving his vehicle, and determined he had “stolen” his own car, crashed it, and then made a false report. The Miami Police Department has a history of brutalizing and harassing Black residents. [Alex DeLuca / Miami New Times]

Ju’zema Goldring was kept in Georgia’s Fulton County jail for almost six months after Atlanta police officers Vladimir Henry and Juan Restrepo arrested her for trafficking cocaine. The substance was actually sand inside a stress ball. Goldring is suing the officers, and her judicial path may have gotten easier after the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled this month that the officers are not entitled to qualified immunity. [C.J. Ciaramella / Reason]

The San Francisco Chronicle published a story last week examining how police are responding to a recent increase in burglaries. Turns out, they’re not doing a good job. The San Francisco Police Department cleared just 10.2 percent of the burglary cases presented this year, and victims report that cops have shown a lack of interest in solving cases, even when presented with clear evidence. One officer was said to have showed up to take a report five days after a burglary, and told the woman who called the cops that the crime had happened “because San Francisco is too progressive.” [Rachel Swan / San Francisco Chronicle]

Henry Montgomery was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in Louisiana for a crime he committed when he was 17. Last week, Montgomery, now 75, was granted parole and freed from prison. While incarcerated, Montgomery filed suit, arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 decision banning mandatory life sentences for children should be applied retroactively. The Court sided with Montgomery in 2016, paving the way for hundreds of people to be released. The Louisiana Parole Project has started a GoFundMe to help Montgomery build his life on the outside. [Rebecca Santana / Associated Press]

Since the start of 2019, more than 100 federal prison workers have been arrested, convicted, or sentenced for crimes. Their offenses took place both on and off the job, and include things like stalking and harassing fellow employees,  molesting an incarcerated person, and taking thousands of dollars in bribes to bring Suboxone, marijuana, tobacco, and cell phones into prison. [Michael Balsamo and Michael R. Sisak / Associated Press] Also from AP: “White supremacist prison guards work with impunity in Fla.”

Muhammad A. Aziz and Khalil Islam have been exonerated more than 50 years after being wrongfully convicted in the assassination of Malcolm X. The FBI and the New York Police Department withheld exculpatory evidence that undermined the prosecution’s case, according to the Manhattan district attorney’s office and attorneys for Aziz and Islam. Aziz is now 83; he was released in 1985. Islam was released in 1987 and died in 2009. [Ashley Southall and Jonah E. Bromwich / New York Times]

In August, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the Illinois Way Forward Act, which banned cities and counties in the state from using their jails to hold immigrants detained by ICE. According to the most recent data, ICE detains more than 20,000 immigrants in over 100 jails and private detention facilities across the United States, but immigration rights advocates have successfully pressured state and local governments to end ICE contracts in recent years. Two Illinois counties, McHenry and Kankakee, have sued the state, arguing that the Way Forward Act is unconstitutional and will deprive the counties of crucial revenue. Illinois has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which is before a federal judge for the Northern District of Illinois. [Carlos Ballesteros / Injustice Watch]


That’s all for this week. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to support our official relaunch, please donate here. Until next time, the work continues.

One Rochester Cop’s Abuses Reveal A Culture of Police Impunity

If Officer Matthew Drake had faced serious discipline for his misconduct, he might not have been on duty the night of Tyshon Jones’s death.

Lee Chinyema | Pexels

One Rochester Cop’s Abuses Reveal A Culture of Police Impunity

If Officer Matthew Drake had faced serious discipline for his misconduct, he might not have been on duty the night of Tyshon Jones’s death.


In March, Rochester, New York, police officer Matthew Drake shot and killed Tyshon Jones, a Black man who was in the midst of a mental health crisis when police found him walking down the street while holding a knife. Drake, who is white, has since been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing and appears to have faced no departmental consequences for the shooting. But the incident followed a pattern in his career.

In the eight years before he killed Jones, Drake drove his police cruiser into a crowd of people, was involved in the brutal beating and prosecution of another Black man, David Vann, allegedly beat a police brutality protester with a baton, and drove an inebriated young woman around in his personal vehicle for 40 minutes in violation of department policy. He was issued minor reprimands for some of these incidents and kept his job.

The fact that Drake has remained on the force long enough to kill a man is indicative of the Rochester Police Department’s systemic failure to appropriately discipline officers, said Elliot Dolby Shields, an attorney who represents the family of Daniel Prude, who Rochester police killed last year. Dolby Shields represents many people who say they have suffered violence at the hands of Rochester police, including Vann, and the multiple plaintiffs in a sweeping civil rights lawsuit filed against the city in April.

The lawsuit alleges that by covering up officer misconduct and failing to discipline officers who use excessive force over a 40-year period, Rochester has cultivated a culture of violence and impunity in its police department.

“It’s not just Drake,” said Dolby Shields. “It says a lot about the city that there are multiple officers that have serious misconduct histories who are never appropriately disciplined. It creates a culture within the department that says not only is it OK, it encourages these officers to act like this.”

Drake did not respond when contacted for this story. A spokesperson for the Rochester Police Department also did not respond. In response to the class action lawsuit, the city of Rochester denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

According to an analysis of data released by the Rochester Police Department (RPD), from 2001 to 2016, the RPD’s Professional Standards Section investigated 923 civilian-generated allegations of excessive force by officers. The department’s chiefs sustained only 16 (1.7 percent) of those complaints. And even when allegations of force or misconduct were sustained, the discipline was minimal. The harshest penalties given were six suspensions, most of which ranged from one to 20 days.

In the last two years alone, police in Rochester have handcuffed a 10-year-old girl during a traffic stop, pepper-sprayed a distressed 9-year-old girl, and tackled and pepper-sprayed a woman with her 3-year-old child. Two convictions have been dismissed — and hundreds more could follow — after the Monroe County district attorney’s office notified the public defender’s office of serious credibility issues with two Rochester police officers who had previously lied under oath. Two current officers were arrested in the past few months in unrelated cases for grand larceny and driving while intoxicated. Both have pleaded not guilty.

And in March 2020, Rochester police officers laughed and joked as they pushed Daniel Prude’s naked body into the snow-covered pavement until he was brain dead. The response to his killing became emblematic of Rochester’s handling of police violence.

Body camera footage shows Prude kneeling in handcuffs while wearing only a spit hood shortly before his death.

City officials suppressed footage of Prude’s killing for several months. None of the officers involved in his death were criminally charged, and all of the officers remain on the force. Only one, Mark Vaughn, faced any departmental charges. Vaughn, who can be seen mocking Prude and pushing his head into the pavement until he stopped breathing, was charged with unnecessary or excessive force and discourteous or unprofessional conduct.

After footage of Prude’s killing was made public in September 2020, Rochester police chief La’Ron Singletary was fired and his command staff resigned. Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan became interim chief.

In March of this year, a six-month fact-finding investigation commissioned by the Rochester City Council found that Singletary and departing Mayor Lovely Warren had knowingly concealed information from the public and taken deliberate steps to avoid disclosing the truth about what happened to Prude. In June’s Democratic primary, Warren lost her reelection bid to City Council member Malik Evans. (Evans was unopposed in this month’s general election and will assume office in January.)

Last month, Warren took a plea deal to resolve felony campaign finance and gun charges she faced and resigned from office, effective Dec. 1. Herriott-Sullivan resigned two days later (Herriott-Sullivan’s resignation was not related to Warren’s criminal case.)

In the year since Prude’s death became public, the movement to end police violence in Rochester has notched some victories, including the election of an abolitionist, Stanley Martin, to the City Council. But real, systemic change has still not arrived at the RPD, and tensions between politicians, police, and the community that both serve have only worsened.

Now, at a time when scrutiny of the role of police in American society is at its peak, Rochester will soon have a new mayor and a new police chief. It’s a pivotal moment for the city, but it’s unknown whether the new leaders will commit to transformative change.

The true sign of change would be if the city shifts from treating violent police officers with impunity — and officers like Matthew Drake begin to face consequences for their actions.


Security cameras from the convenience store filmed officers Drake, Mitchell, and Kester as they forcibly arrested David Vann in Sept. 2015.

In the last decade, Rochester has been named as a defendant in at least 40 federal lawsuits accusing police officers of using violent excessive force. Those lawsuits have cost the city millions of dollars in settlements and legal fees. Yet many officers accused of severely injuring civilians remain on the force. One of them is Matthew Drake.

“Absent external enforcement, the system will not change itself,” the class action lawsuit filed in April states. “If the Rochester Police Department had a functioning system of supervision and discipline, Drake would not have been employed that night, let alone on the streets interacting with civilians — and Tyshon Jones may still be alive.”

Rochester hired Drake in July 2007. Within the first six years of his career, he was involved in four avoidable car accidents, according to Drake’s publicly available disciplinary records and the city’s leading newspaper, the Democrat and Chronicle.

In 2011, according to reports, Drake drove his car through a vacant lot and hit a tree stump, damaging his vehicle. The department gave him a letter of reprimand. In 2013, Drake responded to a call about a crowd engaged in a fight. According to his supervisors, he drove his patrol car “in an unsafe manner in a crowd of people,” ultimately injuring one man. For that, Drake was also given a letter of reprimand. (Further details on the other two car accidents, both in 2009, are not included in Drake’s disciplinary file.)

Then came the 2015 beating and prosecution of David Vann. Shortly before midnight on Sept. 4, three Rochester police officers — Drake, Steven Mitchell, and Jeffrey Kester — arrived at A&Z Market on South Avenue in response to a call about a dispute.

Inside the store, the owner was arguing with a customer, 23-year-old Vann. In a lawsuit he later filed against the city, Vann says he told the officers that the owner had shortchanged him. (Like Daniel Prude’s family, Vann is being represented by Elliot Dolby Shields.) Surveillance footage shows Vann, dressed in a gray hoodie, a black jacket, and shorts, calmly speaking with officers at the front of the store.

The suit alleges that the officers did nothing to follow up on Vann’s claim that the owner had shortchanged him. Instead, the suit says, Drake asked Vann to leave the store. Vann can be seen on video slowly walking outside, then stopping and turning to face all three officers. Two of the officers approach Vann, pull his arms behind his back, and handcuff him. Vann appears to comply with the officers throughout the encounter.

For reasons that are unclear from the footage, which has no audio, officers Kester and Mitchell suddenly swing Vann’s head and body into a metal bench, causing Vann and the officers to lose their balance and fall to the ground. One of the officers wrote in an incident report that Vann had tried to pull his right arm away from the officers, forcing them to “bring [him] to the ground for stabilization,” though the footage of the incident contradicts this.

For the next minute, Vann and the officers can no longer be seen on the security camera. In his lawsuit, Vann says Mitchell fell on top of him and seriously injured him, and that Vann in turn fell on Kester, breaking the officer’s leg. Vann alleges that Drake and the other officers beat him in retaliation for Kester’s injury. The city has denied Vann’s allegations.

When the officers and Vann reappear on camera, Mitchell can be seen leading a handcuffed and disheveled Vann to a police cruiser parked outside the store. Mitchell pushes Vann against the vehicle, then grabs him by the neck. Mitchell tries to throw him to the ground, but Vann doesn’t fall. The officer then punches Vann in the face.

At that point, Drake runs over, grabs Vann, and helps Mitchell slam him against the pavement. Mitchell punches Vann in the head again, then flips the 23-year-old over and pepper sprays him in the eyes at close range. Sometime during the scuffle, Drake injures his shoulder.

Three more officers arrive on the scene and pin Vann to the ground. After several seconds, they pick Vann up and drag him to the police cruiser. Officers yank Vann’s arms over his head and frisk him. Then the video ends.

Local news footage from that evening shows Vann seemingly unconscious in the back of a police car, with his head lolling to the side as a paramedic examines him. Vann asserts in his lawsuit that EMS told officers he needed to be brought to a hospital for treatment.

But he was not brought to a hospital and did not receive treatment. Instead, police brought Vann to Monroe County Jail, where he was placed in solitary confinement for a month.

Police told the Monroe County district attorney’s office that Vann had assaulted them. So prosecutors charged Vann with two counts of assault in the second degree, one count of assault in the third degree, resisting arrest, and trespassing.

The lawsuit says that while Vann was in solitary confinement, the jail staff did not give him his prescribed medications. As a result, his medical conditions worsened, and after a month Vann was transferred to a medical treatment facility and held against his will for an additional four months, the lawsuit states.

Five months after his initial encounter at A&Z Market, Vann was able to make bail and was released from custody.

But the ordeal didn’t end there. According to Vann’s lawsuit, the grand jury was not made aware that video of the incident existed. “The mere existence of the video was material because it depicts the objective facts of the incident,” Dolby Shields wrote. That video “contradicted the allegations contained in the arrest, incident, use of force and other reports drafted and signed by” Drake and others.

A spokesperson for the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office told The Appeal the office does not comment on grand jury evidence, as it is a confidential proceeding. In court, an attorney for the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office admitted that the grand jury was not informed that footage of Vann’s arrest existed. But a judge ultimately decided that the district attorney and prosecutor in this case were entitled to absolute immunity and dismissed them as defendants.

In April 2016, a Monroe County grand jury indicted Vann on two counts of assaulting a police officer. Nearly a year later, in February 2017, the case against Vann went to trial. After viewing the video, the lawsuit says, the jury found Vann not guilty of all charges.

But the incident left Vann with lasting physical, emotional, and psychological damage, said Dolby Shields. Vann spent five months in jail for charges he was ultimately acquitted of — not to mention the amount of time and money he spent fighting the prosecution against him.

Drake, Mitchell, and Kester do not appear to have been disciplined for this incident, given that no records regarding their interaction with Vann appear in their publicly available disciplinary files. “Drake and the other officers in that incident lied in their reports, lied in the grand jury, and took it all the way to trial,” said Dolby Shields. “The Rochester Police Department should have stopped him ages ago.”

Lawyers for the city of Rochester and the officers named in the lawsuit have denied all allegations of wrongdoing in court. The lawsuit between Vann and the city remains unresolved.


Excerpts from Officer Matthew Drake’s disciplinary records

In the early morning hours of Jan. 27, 2019, officer Drake spotted 22-year-old Rachel Coons outside a bar called Murphy’s Law in central Rochester.

Coons, her friend, and a man from the bar walked outside to wait for a car they’d ordered. Drake, who was alone, saw the group and offered to give them a ride, disciplinary records show.

The trio agreed. Drake dropped off the man first, then brought Coons’s friend home.

Had Drake continued heading down East Avenue for another mile or so, he would have arrived at Coons’s home, about five minutes away from her friend’s house. Instead, Drake drove to a police parking garage.

In a complaint filed against Drake, Coons said the officer had told her he needed to return his police vehicle and would not be able to drive her directly home. She assumed another officer was going to bring her home instead. But when they entered the garage, Drake pulled up next to a black Chevy Tahoe and told her to get out. He told her to get into his personal vehicle, the Tahoe, and wait for him while he returned his police car. Coons felt uneasy, but complied.

“At this point, I was very cold and scared,” Coons said in her complaint. She decided to call her friend, who ordered a car for her.

Coons stayed on the phone with her friend. She got out of Drake’s car. She tried to leave the garage, but found that the exits were blocked by gates. So she took the stairs to another floor. Then she ran into Drake.

“I was surprised to see him again and I tried to avoid him,” Coons said in the complaint. By this point, Drake appeared to have returned his police car and was speaking with a female officer. When Drake saw her, Coons said he told the female officer he had “offered to bring this girl home to try to be nice” but was now “regretting it.”

Coons openly expressed her misgivings, but ultimately followed Drake back to his car, thinking it was the only way she could get out of the garage. Coons said she asked Drake to drop her off on her street, but didn’t give him her full address out of fear for her safety. Though Coons’s home was only about 1.5 miles away from the garage, Drake drove around with the 22-year-old for roughly 40 minutes.

At some point, they passed a pizzeria Coons recognized. She told him she knew where she was. Coons said that around that time, Drake noticed she was using her phone. When Drake asked if she was on the phone with someone, she told him she had been on the phone with her friend ever since they got to the garage.

He asked to speak with her. Coons gave him the phone. Her friend told Drake her full address and said that they lived together. Drake then drove Coons home and dropped her off.

Coons walked in her door and started sobbing, she said during a deposition.

“I believe Officer Drake was intentionally avoiding my request to take me home,” Coons said in her complaint. “I was fearful that I would never make it home. … I do not believe Officer Drake would have driven me home had I not been on the phone.”

“It is of my opinion that Officer Drake intended to harm me and I was in fear for my safety immediately after entering the parking garage,” Coons added. Coons called the Rochester Police Department and made the complaint by phone later on that same day. She did not respond when contacted for this article.

In response to questions from the department’s professional standards bureau, Drake said he drove back to the parking lot because his shift was ending and he wanted to find another officer to take Coons home. Drake said he couldn’t find anyone to do it, so he did it himself. He said Coons didn’t give him her exact address and he was unfamiliar with the area, and that’s why he drove around for so long with a young woman in his personal vehicle.

Police investigated Coons’s complaint and determined that Drake had violated department policy in several ways that night. Drake failed to notify his supervisor or dispatch when he drove Coons and her friends home. He didn’t record his beginning and ending mileage. He didn’t create a job card for the transports. He failed to take the most direct route to his destination, and he failed to notify dispatch when his destination changed.

“Drake could have easily dropped the complainant off at her home address in his patrol vehicle (on-duty), and arrived back at the Central Section Office before the end of his tour,” a summary of the investigation into Drake’s conduct states. “Instead, Drake made the decision to drive past the victim’s neighborhood in his patrol vehicle only to extend the complainant’s transport by approximately 45-50 minutes.”

“Drake’s decision to transport the complainant home in his personal vehicle was improper and dubious,” the disciplinary investigation concluded.

The department gave Drake a training handout and proposed a seven-day suspension for his conduct violations. But the department ultimately settled on docking Drake three days of vacation and suspending him for four days. On July 22, 2020, Drake was suspended. By July 26, he returned to work.

Less than eight months later, he shot and killed Tyshon Jones.


Tyshon Jones’s mother, Kennetha Short, speaks at a press conference in March 2021.

Friends and family described Jones as a kind, respectful, and curious person who was deeply religious and valued helping others. They also said Jones struggled with mental illness.

“His struggle became a death sentence, and it never should have been,” Jones’s cousin, Rev. Myra Brown of Spiritus Christi Church, said at a press conference held by the family outside the church shortly after his death.

Brown said the police did not come up with a plan to safely disarm Jones. They chose not to use pepper spray or wait for a stun gun. “He instead was gunned down, like an animal in the streets, only viewed as Black and dangerous, instead of sick and needing of mental health services.”

At the time of his death, Jones was grieving his great-grandmother and grandmother, who died within a few months of each other. Jones’s grandmother had just been buried when he was killed, said his mother, Kennetha Short.

Sometime during the afternoon of March 9, Jones left his home in Gates, near Rochester, where he lived with his mother, police said. He walked to a store, where a man bought him food. Jones, who wasn’t wearing any shoes, followed the man back to his apartment. Someone called the police to kick Jones off the premises.

Body camera video shows that Jones and the man he followed were waiting calmly outside an apartment building when police arrived. Jones said he was homeless, and police offered to give him a ride to a shelter. Jones, who was holding cookies and a bag from Family Dollar, said he liked the man he followed. He asked the officers to take him to jail and said he was “ready for y’all to take me to heaven.”

Jones soon agreed to go with the officers to a shelter and allowed them to pat him down. He got in the back of a police car with one of the Gates officers and made small talk with him. Jones asked the officer if he had a favorite song.

When they arrived at the shelter, an employee told Jones he wasn’t allowed in without shoes. In the video, Jones appears unwell, but still calm and friendly. He can be seen speaking incoherently and repeatedly referencing God and Jesus, but he is also laughing with an officer and following his directions.

The officer, Mike Furia, saw a pair of shoes in front of the building, so he picked them up and gave them to Jones. After some encouragement from Furia, Jones put them on and the shelter staff allowed him in. Furia wished Jones good luck and walked away.

Nearly 12 hours later, someone called the police about Jones again. Rochester police say that around 3 a.m., an employee from a different homeless shelter, Open Door Mission, alerted them that Jones had taken knives from the kitchen and was harming himself. The officer who responded was Matthew Drake. Drake was likely unaware of Jones’s earlier interaction with a different police department.

When Drake arrived, Jones was cutting himself with a large butcher knife while walking down Main Street. Body camera footage shows Drake telling Jones to drop the knife several times, but Jones kept walking with the knife held out in front of him. Jones said he was dangerous and told police to shoot him. After a few tense minutes, Jones began walking quickly toward Drake.

Drake then shot Jones five times, killing him.

Police say Jones was shot before nonlethal resources could arrive on the scene. The Rochester Police Department did not respond to The Appeal when asked why Drake and other officers did not have nonlethal weapons like Tasers or bean bag guns with them. Drake did not respond when asked whether he had any nonlethal weapons he could have used, like pepper spray, with him at the time of the shooting. In January, Rochester began sending social workers and mental health professionals to calls involving people who are experiencing mental health crises. But under its current mandate, the Person in Crisis team does not respond to calls involving weapons, so it would not have been dispatched to the call involving Jones.

“You killed him,” Jones’s grandmother, who did not give her name, said at the family press conference. “You shot him five times. Was it necessary? If it had been a white boy, if it had been a white girl, what would you have done? Would you have talked them down? Would you have waited for the medical people to come and tend to him? But it was my Black grandson, who you assumed was a bum. Who you assumed was a nobody.”


Rochester has plenty of police officers who, like Drake, have been a part of multiple incidents involving excessive force or serious misconduct, yet remain on the force, as the class action lawsuit against the city details.

“I think [Drake is] a perfect example of the problems with the Rochester Police Department,” said Dolby Shields. “He used excessive force, he lied about it, he wasn’t disciplined, and he went out and killed Tyshon Jones.”

Since the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Daniel Prude, Rochester has made changes, both incremental and significant, to the way the police department functions. But police killings — and the lack of accountability for them — have continued.

Rochester has agreed to fully fund the city’s Police Accountability Board (PAB), expand its mental health response team from 14 people to 40, and cut some money from the police budget. Yet the PAB has been stripped of its disciplinary powers thanks to a lawsuit from the city’s powerful police union, the Locust Club. And while a slight reduction in RPD’s funding was finally made after the department’s budget rose continuously for years, much of the cut came from shifting oversight of animal services to the Department of Recreation and Human Services.

Evans, the incoming mayor, and the Rochester City Council face enormous pressure from the people who elected them to put an end to state-sanctioned violence and change the RPD. At the same time, shootings and homicides have risen in Rochester in the last two years, as they have elsewhere in the United States, as social and economic stresses have been exacerbated by the pandemic. While calls to change RPD have been mounting, so too have demands to stop the violence and keep Rochesterians safe.

In July, after over 200 shootings in the first six months of 2021, local law enforcement partnered with federal agencies to create a targeted policing task force, the Violence Prevention and Elimination Response team or VIPER. By the end of the 60-day operation, the task force made 101 gun arrests in Monroe County.

Some, like incoming City Council member Stanley Martin, have been critical of this carceral response to violence in Rochester. “We strongly believe if we can create environments where people can access living wages, sustainable jobs, safe education, safe secure housing, it is really going to impact their likelihood of engaging in violence,” Martin told WHAM, a local ABC affiliate.

Recently, the city did just that by signing a five-year agreement with Advance Peace, a nonprofit organization that pioneered a successful violence interruption program in Richmond, California, and has since expanded it to other cities. The Advance Peace model offers a “Peacemaker Fellowship” or monthly stipend of up to $1,000 a month to people at high risk of committing gun violence. People who enroll in the program will receive support and guidance from community mentors. They will also get help creating a “life map” to outline their goals and plans for the future and how to achieve them. The program will be housed under the newly created Office of Neighborhood Safety and will not partner with law enforcement.

“The thing I want to be very careful about is there’s a long history of cities like Rochester of backing solutions that sound nice but don’t work,” said Conor Dwyer Reynolds, executive director of Rochester’s Police Accountability Board. “I have hopes for Advance Peace, but those hopes also rest on appropriate funding.” Reynolds noted that while the city rolled out its Person in Crisis team earlier this year, versions of such a team have come and gone for years.

“What happens is someone gets killed, you fund these programs for a few years, there’s a crime wave, the programs get defunded, then it happens again,” Reynolds told The Appeal. “Is there long term commitment? Is there financial commitment? And have we learned the lessons of the past, or are we doomed to repeat them?”

Evans ran for mayor on a platform of criminal justice reform. He told The Appeal in May that as mayor he would work to identify officers who have a pattern of excessive force and egregious misconduct and “look to see what we can do to fix that.” He also said that if he were elected mayor, he would “look at functions that shouldn’t be with the police department” and consider shifting the responsibility for some of those functions, like responding to mental health calls, elsewhere. And he said he would prioritize investing in violence prevention programs and improving social services as a way to prevent more people from coming into contact with police.

“Reform is not enough,” Evans said. “We need a complete culture change. We need to have a conversation around what it is that we need our police department to do.”

Since then, Evans has frequently sounded like what he is: a politician who is working assiduously to keep all sides of a fraught debate happy. He has said he is supportive of collaborating with state, local, and federal law enforcement officials to “stem the flow of illegal guns” into Rochester. After the latest police shooting in Rochester, Evans offered condolences to the family of the man accused of robbing a dollar store whom police killed, but also said the incident “serves as a reminder of the dangers front-line workers face in our community daily,” adding that his “thoughts are with the store employees and officers who stepped into a violent situation.”

Earlier this month, Evans said he supports investing in violence prevention programs. He was one of the council members who voted to approve the city’s contract with Advance Peace.

Evans will assume power in less than two months, and the people of Rochester will then be able to see where he ultimately stands. Faced with the deaths of Daniel Prude, Tyshon Jones, and many others, as well as the repeated high-profile incidents of misconduct and brutality, the sweeping federal civil rights lawsuits against Rochester, and the community’s persistent demands for change, the issue will be unavoidable.

“For the police officer who chose to use excessive force, not only my son’s life was taken from me, my life has been taken from me,” Kennetha Short said at a press conference days after Jones’s death.

“I am dead inside,” she said.

Police Threats Over Vaccine Mandates Are Proving Empty

Police Threats Over Vaccine Mandates Are Proving Empty


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Police Threats Over Vaccine Mandates Are Proving Empty

by Nick Wing, The Appeal

For the last few months, police across the U.S. have been threatening severe consequences if they’re not exempted from COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The virus has killed over 750,000 people nationwide, including at least 500 law enforcement officers. Yet police officials have said these public health measures will drive cops to quit, triggering an exodus that would endanger communities.

“Homicide rates will continue to rise, response times will increase, solve rates will diminish, arrests will decline, patrol services will significantly decline, and patrol stations will close,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva wrote in a social media post last month, claiming his department could lose up to 30 percent of its workforce.

But early reports suggest this doom and gloom narrative has been greatly exaggerated. Vaccine mandates appear to be moving many cops into compliance. And if these policies prove effective, it could be a sign that cities can be more aggressive in their efforts to change police behaviors, without having to worry about threats of widespread upheaval.

In New York City, police union officials had warned that as many as 10,000 employees could be pulled off duty. Instead, more than 8,000 officers got their first dose of the vaccine in the week before the mandate went into effect, and only a few dozen have so far been placed on unpaid leave over their refusal to comply. At least 86 percent of the force is now vaccinated.

In Chicago, where a vaccine mandate for police is on hold pending arbitration, just 35 officers were on unpaid leave last week after refusing to report their vaccination status. Union officials there, with the media’s help, had told the public that as many as half of the department’s 12,000 employees could be placed on unpaid leave. Last week, the department reported that 77.6 percent of employees who reported their vaccination status had received at least one dose.

And in San Jose, California, only six city employees overall have opted to forfeit pay after resisting the mandate, despite police union claims that as many as 100 officers were prepared to quit. The city hasn’t clarified how many of those six are police employees, if any, but more than 92 percent of the department’s officers are vaccinated.

The situation remains more uncertain with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, where deputies have until mid-December to comply with the mandate. More than half of the department’s 16,084 employees have reported being fully vaccinated, though around 20 percent of staffers have not yet registered their vaccination status at all. Elsewhere in Los Angeles, nearly 75 percent of Los Angeles Police Department employees report having received at least one dose of the vaccine.

The alarmist rhetoric of union officials in many cities has overshadowed data showing that the vast majority of public and police employees have been vaccinated, and that vaccination rates have generally risen after shots were mandated. Just look at San Francisco, Seattle, or Denver, where over 90 percent of officers have complied with vaccine mandates.  

Mandates are working to encourage inoculation, even as police unions do everything they can to undermine them.

In the end, the unions’ efforts may prove to be nothing more than empty threats. But even if they are, we can’t ignore the fact that unions were willing to resort to these tactics in the first place. This standoff has provided yet another example of police engaging in a scorched earth campaign to shield officers from any degree of oversight or accountability. Union officials have argued defiantly that police are above the law, even when the law exists to protect officers — and the broader public — from a threat that has killed more cops than any other cause of death over the last two years.

The media, for its part, must also confront its own role in amplifying these police union threats. Many outlets have given union officials a platform to make cynical arguments in service of the dangerous belief that police must be allowed to do whatever they want — or else. Early news reports about vaccine resistance in law enforcement credulously accepted union claims about the potential scope of backlash to mandates. And until recently, few stories had bothered to criticize unions for their stance.
 
There’s no excuse for this. By now, news outlets should know to exercise caution when quoting law enforcement officials. This is especially true regarding union representatives, who are notoriously adept at manipulating the media through fear mongering and hyperbole. 

Even if we don’t believe what these union officials are saying, the narrative they’ve chosen to embrace is revealing. They’ve spent months telling us that many cops would gladly let communities descend into chaos before getting an FDA-approved vaccine that so far has been given to more than 4 billion people worldwide. For a profession that prides itself on qualities of bravery, service, and sacrifice, it’s strange to see spokespeople embracing portrayals that make some officers seem selfish and petulant.

But initial numbers suggest hardline vaccine resistance is mostly a fringe position in law enforcement, which should be a positive sign for cities still negotiating with unions over mandates. While some police officials are still holding their communities hostage — insisting that officers are prepared to compromise public health and safety if their demands aren’t met — reports like these could make cities feel a bit more comfortable calling their bluff.


IN THE NEWS

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In August, three Pennsylvania police officers fired at a car after hearing gunshots a block away, killing 8-year-old Fanta Bility and wounding her older sister and two others. Last week, the Delaware County district attorney’s office charged two teenagers who allegedly fired the nearby shots (which struck no one) with the young girl’s murder. [Vinny Vella / Philadelphia Inquirer] See also: “Felony murder” rules are designed to punish people for crimes they do not intend or commit. 

Virginia Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares has said he plans to pursue legislation that would let him file charges when a local prosecutor’s office declines to prosecute. The initiative is designed to undercut local legal-system reforms, but some local prosecutors are pushing back. [Rory Fleming / Filter]

In the wake of the deadly crush on Nov. 5 at the Astroworld music festival, the Houston police chief and several mainstream media outlets repeated the rumor that the crush could have been triggered by an unknown assailant injecting people with drugs. At the event, where eight people died and hundreds were injured, more than 500 Houston police officers were working security. One concertgoer said he begged a group of officers to help. “I was basically told to fuck off,” he said. Two more people died in the last week. [Zachary Siegel / Slate and EJ Dickson, Daniel Kreps, Nancy Dillon, and Bryan C. Parker / Rolling Stone]

Whistleblowers in police departments across the country are routinely harassed, jailed, and fired, according to an investigation by USA Today. Those who stay silent get promotions, overtime, and accolades. USA Today reporter Brett Murphy’s  Twitter thread breaks down some of the findings. [Brett Murphy / Twitter]

Incarcerated patients in Arizona’s prisons alleged in court last week that the healthcare they receive constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. People with serious mentally illness testified that corrections officers and healthcare staff encourage them to harm themselves, reported The Arizona Republic’s Jimmy Jenkins. [Jimmy Jenkins / Twitter]

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who’s up for reelection, has no plans to provide free phone calls for people incarcerated in the New Orleans Jail. That’s because, he said, their phone calls — which cost 21 cents a minute — help provide the sheriff’s office with needed revenue. [Matt Sledge / NOLA.com]


That’s all for this week. Feel free to leave us some feedback, and if you want to support our official relaunch, please donate here. Until next time, the work continues.

Big Retail Chains Are Manufacturing a Shoplifting ‘Crisis’

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