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Police Killed His Son. Prosecutors Charged The Teen’s Friends with His Murder.

It’s been four years since a Phoenix police officer killed Jacob Harris. Records obtained by The Appeal show officials have made inconsistent or false statements about the night police killed him. As Harris's friends grow up behind bars, his father won't stop until he gets justice for his son.

Roland Harris at a memorial to victims of Phoenix police violence.
Photo shared by Poder in Action.

Police Killed His Son. Prosecutors Charged The Teen’s Friends with His Murder.

It’s been four years since a Phoenix police officer killed Jacob Harris. Records obtained by The Appeal show officials have made inconsistent or false statements about the night police killed him. As Harris's friends grow up behind bars, his father won't stop until he gets justice for his son.

This story is published in collaboration with the Phoenix New Times.

Content warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of police violence and footage of police officers killing a 19-year-old.

Roland Harris has watched his son die a hundred times. The final moments of his life, documented in thermal video captured by a police aircraft, are burned into Harris’s mind: His teenage son, Jacob, steps out of a car. He runs from the police. Two seconds later, officers open fire. Bullets pierce his heart, lungs, and intestines. He falls to the ground, bleeding. Police pepper him with rubber bullets, hitting him in the face and backside. He is dying in the dirt. Then officers sic a dog on him.

It has been more than four years since a Phoenix police officer killed Jacob Harris, on January 11, 2019. The police department has since drawn a federal investigation into its use of deadly force. But Roland Harris’s fight for accountability has only left him with more questions: Why did police delete text messages from the night of his son’s shooting? Why are Jacob’s friends the only ones who have been held responsible for his death? How could anyone say his son’s killing was justified?

Harris’s search for answers has come at a significant cost: The cop who killed his son has demanded he pay the officer’s $40,000 attorney fees after a federal court dismissed Harris’s wrongful death suit. Harris and his wife split, in part, he says, because he became so deeply consumed by getting justice for his son.

“I have a void in my life that is never going to be filled,” Harris said. “Even when justice is served. It’s going to hit even harder. Because then I’ll have to focus on him not being here.”

Police have fought Harris every step of the way, refusing to disclose even basic information about his son’s death. It took six months for the department to release its report on the shooting, and even then, it only did so after he threatened to sue, Harris said. Police still have not returned his son’s belongings. But Roland Harris’s memories of Jacob remain fresh.

“He was all about family,” Harris said. “He helped me watch over his little sister, Leilani. He helped me coach little league basketball.”

Jacob had wavy black hair and a big, bright smile, accentuated by the peach fuzz that had grown in above his lip and on his chin. He was on the shorter side—5 feet 4—and he had his dad’s broad shoulders and stocky build. He also had Roland Harris’s brown, almond-shaped eyes.

Harris said that when Jacob found out he was going to be a father at 16 years old, he got a full-time job, finished school, and helped to support his girlfriend and child.

Before long, Jacob and his girlfriend had another child. “Now his daughter will never know him,” Harris said. “His son will never know him. They will grow older. Those memories will fade. And they’re gonna forget him. All because of a trigger happy cop. His kids are never gonna get any father-daughter dances. He’s never gonna get a chance to walk his daughter down the aisle.”

Jacob Harris with his children (left). Harris at his high school graduation (right).
Photo shared by Roland Harris.

Over the last few years, Harris has slowly uncovered more information about his son’s killing and the events that preceded it. But every answer brings new questions.

In an effort to piece together what happened on the night of Jacob Harris’s death, The Appeal reviewed more than 6,000 pages of records from official investigations into the shooting, the county attorney’s prosecution of Harris’s friends, and the civil suit Roland Harris filed against the city of Phoenix. The Appeal interviewed nine people involved with the case and also obtained police personnel records, transcripts of police radio traffic, and aerial surveillance footage of the shooting.

Prior to publication, The Appeal sent the Phoenix Police Department a detailed list of statements that would appear in this story. A spokesperson for the department did not answer any questions and offered only a brief response stating that the court had dismissed Harris’s suit.

“The case is now on appeal to the 9th Circuit court where you can find the court file,” the spokesperson wrote.

Law enforcement officials in Phoenix—including Kristopher Bertz, the officer who killed Jacob Harris—have justified the shooting by saying they feared Harris intended to shoot them. But records obtained by The Appeal show that multiple officials have made inconsistent or false statements about the circumstances surrounding the shooting. Even Bertz’s own accounts of that night have differed slightly. Aerial surveillance footage of the incident shows Harris running away. And a judge in the criminal case against Harris’s friends has stated unequivocally that Harris did not turn toward Bertz.

Police records also raise serious questions about the department’s conduct prior to the shooting. Officers had been surveilling Harris and his friends for over 12 hours at the time, believing them to be connected to a string of store robberies. Though police had many opportunities to stop the group throughout the day, they ultimately chose to sit by and watch a robbery occur. Police didn’t seek to apprehend Harris and his friends until after they drove away. But police never alerted the group to their presence or gave them a chance to pull over. Instead, officers escalated directly to a high-risk maneuver that forced the car to a stop. That’s when Harris ran out and was shot.

Despite these issues, the Phoenix Police Department investigated Bertz and determined that he acted in accordance with department policy in killing Harris. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute, stating that Bertz did not “commit any act that warrants criminal prosecution.”

Instead, prosecutors decided to hold Harris’s three friends responsible for his death. Arizona’s “felony murder” law allows people to be charged with murder if someone dies during the commission of a felony, even if they did not cause the death. Jeremiah Triplett, Sariah Busani, and Johnny Reed—ages 20, 19, and 14 at the time—were in the car with Harris on the night of his death. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office charged them with first-degree murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, and burglary.

Busani and Triplett were held in jail on a $1 million bond for three years before finally being sentenced in the first few months of 2022. Busani was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Triplett was sentenced to 30 years. Reed was held on a $500,000 bond and was ultimately sentenced to 15 years in prison—more years than he had even been alive at the time of his arrest.

“You guys are taking my 14-year-old baby and signing his whole life off,” Reed’s aunt, Shawanna Chambers, said in an interview with The Appeal. Chambers raised Reed and his younger brother since they were babies. “He’s a young Black boy. And we’re in poverty,” Chambers said. “They were never going to hold the police accountable for Jacob’s murder. It was going to be us.”

Reed, who was in his first year of high school at the time of his arrest, has been incarcerated with adults for the last four years because of the seriousness of the charges against him, Chambers said. According to his aunt, he has spent some of that time in solitary confinement in an attempt to separate him from the rest of the prison population because of his age. For the last year, Reed’s family has been unable to talk to him except through email. Chambers said she applied to visit in person, but the department of corrections told her they never received her application. The Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry did not respond when contacted for this story.

“I honestly want people to know we made a mistake, but that should never define who our characters are,” said Reed in an email. “We ain’t kill Jacob, we watched Jacob die before our eyes, that was our friend.”

Prison has been a painful adjustment, Reed said. “I’ve had to overcome depression and all kinds of things. I’ve been locked up in Solitary Confinement a few times, and that takes a whole different toll on your conscience,” he said. “I really miss my family.”

Johnny Reed and his aunt, Shawanna Chambers, celebrating his eighth grade graduation.
Photo provided by Chambers.

Allowing a Robbery to Happen


Johnny Reed didn’t know police were watching him on the afternoon of January 10 as he stood outside his grandmother’s house with a group of friends. It was a warm, dry day in Glendale, a Phoenix suburb where the temperature rarely dips below 40 degrees. Reed was wearing navy jeans and a blue polo shirt buttoned all the way to the top. He had just finished the eighth grade the year before, but he’d grown lanky—already 5 feet 7 inches and very slight, just over 100 pounds. Police officers in unmarked vehicles snapped photos of Reed and his friends in front of the graying stucco walls of the Crystal Springs apartment complex. Ten thousand feet above him, a Phoenix police officer in a small airplane watched as the 14-year-old posed with an airsoft gun.

Reed had been spending a lot of time at his grandmother’s house after she was diagnosed with kidney failure. Reed was her first grandchild, and when she got sick, Reed would “never let her lift a finger,” said Chambers. His sweet and charming tendencies earned him the nickname “Butter” from his grandmother. It was a fitting term of endearment for a teenage boy who loved to bake. Chambers laughed over the phone as she recalled the many nights Reed and his brother spent in the kitchen, baking cookies and cakes. “I’d go to Goodwill and buy all this stuff that you could bake with,” Chambers said. “He couldn’t wait to get home and use them.”

To Chambers, Reed was a smart, easygoing kid who loved going to school and playing sports and had a positive influence on the people around him. “I want him home,” Chambers said over the phone, her voice breaking as she discussed what it had been like to see the child she had raised imprisoned for the last four years—with at least eight more to go. “We need him. They threw him away, he doesn’t mean anything to them. He means so much to us,” she said through tears.

Police were watching Reed and his friends because they believed that at least one of them—Jeremiah Triplett—was involved in a string of armed robberies that had taken place at fast food restaurants and convenience stores across the county over the previous two months. As is standard procedure in robbery investigations, Detective Jacob Rasmussen reviewed armed robbery reports, looking for patterns. Eventually he strung together several reports involving young Black males of similar builds, with hoodies cinched up around their faces. According to Rasmussen, these robberies often occurred at places like Whataburger fast food restaurants and Circle K convenience stores, and they often involved suspects who brandished a gun and took money from the cash register. Sometimes they took cigarettes. Some reports mentioned a red or maroon vehicle. But police didn’t have names or license plates.

Rasmussen asked other police departments in Maricopa County to look for similar robbery cases. On January 9, 2019, the Glendale Police Department passed one along. Four months earlier, Triplett had been arrested in connection with two robberies at Circle Ks. A Glendale patrol officer spotted Triplett in the parking lot of another Circle K on September 8, 2018, and recognized him from surveillance footage of the robberies that had occurred two days prior. Triplett left the parking lot driving a car with expired plates. Police pulled Triplett over and found Newport cigarettes and a bottle of Hennessy liquor in the car, the same items taken in the recent robbery. Triplett was arrested and pleaded guilty to solicitation of robbery. He was ordered to pay restitution and sentenced to 30 days in jail and three years of probation.

The Glendale police report shows why Phoenix police thought Triplett might be connected to the string of robberies Rasmussen had identified. But the thousands of pages of records The Appeal reviewed for this story do not explicitly state why surveillance began, or who, if anyone, police surveilled besides Triplett.

Neither the Phoenix Police Department nor Rasmussen responded when asked why they started surveilling the group on January 10.

Despite having at least nine police reports and surveillance videos of similar robberies, some of which involved a red or maroon SUV, police say they had no choice but to watch a robbery unfold in order to make an arrest.

A decision was made “to allow a robbery to happen,” Bertz said during a 2021 deposition for the civil case Roland Harris filed against the city. “That planning aspect was deemed, to my understanding, based on the fact that we did not have probable cause or sufficient evidence at the moment before the robbery to effect an actual arrest.”

Two other officers also said in depositions that the police department’s plan that evening was to allow a robbery to occur because “the investigators felt they didn’t have enough probable cause to make an arrest” for any of the more than two dozen prior robberies police believed the group had been involved in.

But during the 12 hours police spent surveilling Triplett and others, officers witnessed multiple crimes take place long before the group robbed a Whataburger. Police saw Triplett, who they knew already had a felony conviction, in possession of a gun—an offense he was later charged with. They saw Reed, a child, in possession of what they believed at the time was a deadly weapon. (It was an airsoft gun.) And they saw Triplett, who police knew was just 20 years old, drinking alcohol. Police surveillance photos of Triplett show a tall young man with dark hair and the beginnings of a beard. He was wearing a black, long-sleeve Champion shirt and a gold chain when officers secretly photographed him outside his mother’s house.

There were plenty of other opportunities to make an arrest, said Triplett’s mother, Theresa Greene, who lived in the same apartment complex as Reed’s grandmother. “I don’t know what was going through their heads, but now it’s cost a person their life.”

Instead, just after midnight on January 11, police watched and waited as a 14-year-old boy crawled through the drive-thru window of a burger restaurant and brandished an airsoft gun at the employees inside.

Sariah Busani (right), her mother, Christina Gonzales (center), and her brother (left) in Parker, Arizona.
Photo provided by Gonzales.

“Let People See What Police Really Did to Him.”


Two minutes after entering the Whataburger, Triplett, Reed, and Harris ran out of the restaurant and jumped into a red 2001 Honda Passport SUV driven by Sariah Busani. Busani had just turned 19. She had moved back to Phoenix a few months earlier after spending the summer with her mother, Christina Gonzales, in Parker, a town of about 3,000 people a few hours northwest of Phoenix, along the Colorado River. Busani had always been striking, her mother said, with a mane of long, dark hair, bright hazel eyes, and a petite frame. “She’s a beautiful person,” Gonzales said. “She’s the center of attention. Everybody loves Sariah. People are just drawn to her.”

Gonzales missed much of her youngest daughter’s childhood because she was struggling with substance use at the time and gave her parents custody of her children. Busani’s father had been in prison when she was a baby and was deported back to Mexico when he was released. To Gonzales, it was a dream to spend that much time with her daughter after all they had been through.

“We’d wake up in the morning and go down to the river,” Gonzales recalled. “We’d walk to this little market in the mornings. We’d always get the same thing—hot Cheetos and a soda. She’d talk to me about boys. One time in the living room we were just being goofy, rolling around tickling each other. We were laughing so hard, we couldn’t stop laughing. She was getting me, I was getting her. That’s my best memory,” Gonzales said as she began to cry. “I didn’t want her to leave.”

Gonzales wonders if she could have stopped what happened to her daughter if she hadn’t let her return to Phoenix. “Maybe if I would have done it differently,” Gonzales paused, choking back tears. “She would be here, you know?”

On January 11, Busani pulled out of the Whataburger parking lot with Triplett, Reed, and Harris in tow, unaware of the police surveillance plane tracking them from above. Footage taken from the aircraft shows unmarked police cars following Busani’s vehicle for nine minutes as the group drove down 10 miles of desert highway. There are no lights or sirens. At no point do police officers identify themselves or give Busani an opportunity to pull over.

Busani stops at a red light. The light turns green, and she accelerates. That’s when Officer David Norman pulls up to the rear of the Passport and deploys a device known as The Grappler to seize the back left tire of the vehicle. The department had recently acquired the tool, a heavy-duty nylon tether that latches onto a car’s axle. It was Norman’s first time using it outside of training.

The SUV jerks to a stop, turning slightly left from the force. A wall of unmarked police cars close in on the incapacitated vehicle. Officer Bertz puts his cruiser into park, opens the door, and throws a flashbang toward the passenger side of the Passport. It explodes and covers the area with a blinding light.

In the chaos, Jacob Harris opens the rear passenger door of the Passport and takes off running away from police. Within two seconds, officers gun him down. In total, Bertz, armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle and Norman, armed with a handgun, fire 11 shots at Harris. He is struck twice in the back. The first bullet penetrates his heart and his right lung and fractures his ribs, according to the medical examiner’s report, which would rule Harris’s death a homicide. The second tears through his gallbladder and intestines. Bertz fired both of the fatal shots.

The aerial surveillance footage shows Harris fall to the ground as he is shot, his arms extended above his head. A small object flies from his hands as he falls. Police would later report finding a gun on the side of the road where Harris was shot. Triplett and the two teenagers remain in the vehicle while other officers shoot out the windows of the Passport with rubber bullets. Terrified, Busani curls into a ball on the car’s floor with her hands held above her head.

“It all happened so quick,” Busani said. “Honestly it could have been any of us that night. I thank God every day because anything bad could have happened. We could have crashed, we could have all died.”

Content warning: The following paragraphs contain a graphic description of police violence and the death of a teenage boy. We are publishing video footage of Jacob Harris’s death at his father’s request. Click here if you would like to skip the section that contains graphic details.

A still from the Phoenix Police Department's aerial footage showing Jacob Harris on the ground after Kristopher Bertz shot him.

As Harris lies bleeding face down on the ground, police shout commands at him. Harris puts his hands to his head. Police tell him not to move. Harris, who at this point is mortally wounded, can be seen in the aerial footage wiggling his legs. Moments later, a Phoenix police officer shoots Harris in the backside with a rubber bullet. Harris recoils from the blow but remains on the ground.

Some officers stay trained on Harris, while others order Triplett and the teenagers out of the vehicle one at a time and forcefully detain them. Officers shoot Harris with another rubber bullet, this time in the face. The force of it flips Harris onto his side. He clutches at his chest and curls into the fetal position. Then police sic a dog on him.

The dog bites Harris’s leg, thrashing its head from side to side as it drags Harris back toward the officers. They handcuff the dying teenager. At least 10 minutes pass from the time police shoot Harris to when officers render aid.

The Phoenix police report on the shooting states that two officers cut off Harris’s clothing and put pressure on his wounds. Harris kicked his feet and tossed his head in pain. The fire department came and transported Harris to a hospital nine miles away.

At 1:05 a.m.—43 minutes after Bertz and Norman opened fire—Harris was pronounced dead.

Phoenix police charged Harris with aggravated assault on a police officer. In the report on Harris’s death, Bertz and Norman are listed as “aggravated assault victim[s].” The charges were later dropped in light of Harris’s death.

“A Black 19-year-old child’s life is worth nothing to the city of Phoenix,” said Roland Harris, Jacob’s father. “Let people see what police really did to him. It was murder. It was a shooting and then they tortured Jacob afterwards.”

The city of Phoenix has long maintained that Harris’s death was justified, but multiple law enforcement officials have made inconsistent or false statements about the circumstances surrounding his death. In a press release sent to reporters shortly after the shooting, a spokesperson for the Phoenix Police Department said Harris “pointed his gun in the direction of officers.” But in an interview with the department’s professional standards bureau following the incident, Bertz himself said this did not happen.

When introducing the case against Harris’s friends to a grand jury, Heather Kirka, a prosecutor with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, said Harris “exchanged gunfire” with police. But Phoenix police officers who investigated the crime scene after the shooting found no rounds in the chamber of the handgun that was said to belong to Harris and no casings matching that firearm.

Bertz and Norman have said Harris turned toward Bertz while holding a gun, though Bertz’s statements about that night have not been consistent.

In an interview immediately after the shooting, Bertz told police investigators that he saw Harris get out of the car with a gun in his right hand. According to Bertz, Harris looks at him, starts running, then “turns back towards me just slightly, kinda makes a deliberate movement with that gun.” Then he shoots Harris.

Almost a month later, during an interview with the department’s professional standards bureau, Bertz described it differently. He said Harris exited the vehicle with a gun in his hand, then stopped. “He had a gun, stopped his motion of fleeing, made a deliberate movement with his arm looking back in my direction,” Bertz said. Later in that same interview, Bertz said it was just Harris’s arm that stopped moving, and that what he actually meant was that Harris was running with his arm held still against his chest. When asked about this apparent discrepancy during his deposition in the civil case brought by Harris’s father, Bertz said, “I was not trying to describe that he, Jacob Harris, the entirety of his person stopped, but that my focus being that the gun, the arm, and the hand holding the gun was not simply trying to—to run at that moment.”

During the professional standards bureau interview, Bertz was asked directly if the gun was ever pointed at him. “No it never got fully up on me,” he responded. But during his deposition, Bertz said: “When that back rear passenger door opens, the first thing that presents itself from that door is a semiautomatic firearm being held in the right hand of the occupant seated or now exiting the backseat of that vehicle. That firearm comes out of the vehicle and swings back towards my direction where I’m at, which is again off to the south and west of where their final stop location was … As that subject gets out and I identify that weapon being pointed back towards me, I raised my rifle.”

Of the eight officers who were present at the time of the shooting and provided official statements, only two—Norman and Bertz—said they saw Harris holding a gun. They are also the only ones who reported seeing Harris turn toward Bertz. In Norman’s deposition and his interview with police investigators immediately after the shooting, he said Harris was running away from them, but turned back toward Bertz twice—all in the matter of two seconds. Another officer, Charles Holton, said he only saw Harris run and couldn’t see his hands.

Video of the killing taken from the police aircraft shows Harris running away. He does not stop. He does not turn. He does not extend his arm toward police. And he never exchanges gunfire with the police, as prosecutors first told the public. Police and prosecutors have said the footage shows Harris as a “white blob,” and that the thermal camera inside the airplane does not capture “individualized movements.”

But the footage itself clearly shows the delineation of Harris’s arms and hands. The video appears to show Harris fleeing for two seconds, before he is felled by a hail of gunfire. His arms and hands extend in front of him when he is shot.

“You can’t justify shooting my son twice in the back while he was running away,” Roland Harris said. “Justify why you shot my son in his ass with a beanbag gun after he had already been shot through the lung and the heart. Justify that to me. Justify you telling my son to obey a lawful command and get up and then you shoot him in his fucking face with a beanbag gun, and then sic a dog on him. Justify why your other officers on the scene allowed that to happen.”

Busani’s Honda Passport with The Grappler attached after police officers shot out the windows.
Photo from the Phoenix Police Department.

Nothing to Hide


Roland Harris has been given plenty of reason to be suspicious about the official narrative that night. Police and prosecutors have repeatedly made inconsistent or misleading statements about his son’s death. His attorneys were never able to depose the crime scene analyst from that night, Jennifer DiPonzio, though they had plenty of questions only she could answer. And transcripts of police radio traffic show that officers were communicating on an encrypted messaging platform on the night Jacob Harris was killed—but those messages have since been deleted.

In his deposition, Bertz confirmed that he and other members of his squad had used the messaging platform WhatsApp to share updates and information that night.

Communications between government employees are public records, and they are required by law to be preserved and disclosed in lawsuits or public records requests. But Bertz said he deleted his WhatsApp communications from that night.

“Do I possess them or did I possess them at this time, no,” Bertz said of the messages during his deposition. He said that after lead investigators took their notes on the case, he did not believe he was required to save the messages.

Bertz said he deleted the records before being notified of Roland Harris’s intention to sue, as a matter of standard practice to clear clutter from his phone. “My basis for understanding was that we weren’t responsible for maintaining those [messages] in the immediate aftermath,” he added.

Bertz said the messages would have contained surveillance photos that police were sharing or dropped pins to share vehicle locations. He said the messages were not an ongoing dialogue about the plan of action for that evening, as those conversations would have happened over the radio, on the phone, or in person.

Harris’s attorneys filed a motion in court asking Bertz to produce all documents in his possession related to the shooting of his son, including any text messages. But in his deposition, Bertz said he deleted the messages months before.

“If they had nothing to hide, why did they delete the WhatsApp messages?” Harris said.

Harris says the messages could have contained crucial evidence pertaining to his son’s death.

“They could have been coordinating their stories,” Harris said. Or maybe they were “talking about what they’re gonna do, what the game plan is. If somebody gets out, shoot ’em. We’ll never know.”

Norman, Bertz, and the attorney representing Bertz and the city of Phoenix in Harris’s lawsuit were all provided with a detailed list of statements that would appear in this story and requests for comment prior to publication. None responded.

In his deposition, Norman, who was not a member of the squad that was using WhatsApp that night, said he did not talk to Bertz in the aftermath of the shooting. After a police shooting, the officers involved “are now sort of sequestered,” Norman said. “We know not to start talking about the incident. We have to wait for investigators and wait for union reps and all that stuff.”

On the night of the shooting, command staff on the scene immediately asked to see the footage captured by aircraft surveillance—something that Brent Bundy, one of the officers in the aircraft, said was unusual.

During his deposition in Roland Harris’s civil suit against the city, Bundy is asked how many times in his 20-year career supervisors have asked to see aerial video at the scene. “Off the top of my head, two to three, three or four times, maybe, at most,” Bundy responds, “It’s a very, very small number. It’s a very rare circumstance where they would request the video actually immediately at that time.” Bundy later said the air surveillance unit “may have sent them a copy” of the footage that evening.

In a different deposition, Anthony Winter, the Phoenix police officer responsible for investigating the Jacob Harris shooting, confirmed that a copy of the footage was brought to the scene.

The lack of transparency has made Harris question whether his son was actually armed at the time of his shooting, or whether “the object that flew out of Jacob’s hand was a cell phone,” he said. In the police report on Jacob Harris’s death, several officers stated that they saw a gun on the ground a short distance away from the area where he was shot.

Ultimately, the Phoenix Police Department’s investigation into its own officers determined that Bertz and Norman had acted in accordance with department policy when they shot at and killed Harris. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office declined to bring charges against either officer, stating that “the officers did not commit any act that warrants criminal prosecution.”

Instead, the county attorney’s office determined that it was Harris’s friends who should be punished for his murder.

Jeremiah Triplett and his son, J.J., asleep on a couch in 2018.
Photo provided by Theresa Greene.

“I cry at night just thinking about it all.”


Reed, Busani, and Triplett have been behind bars since the night of Harris’s killing. Unable to afford the high bails set for them, they spent three years in jail before pleading guilty and being sentenced to prison last year.

On January 17, 2019, six days after police killed Harris, prosecutor Heather Kirka presented the case to a grand jury, seeking to indict the teens and Triplett for first-degree murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, and burglary. Prosecutors brought in Rasmussen, the lead investigator on the robbery case, as their only witness. Neither Kirka nor Rasmussen responded when contacted for this story.

Rasmussen is not mentioned in official reports as being present at the time of Harris’s shooting. But he nonetheless told jurors that as Harris ran, he “turns, points the gun at [Bertz and Norman], at which time both of these officers discharge their weapons.” Later, when Rasmussen was asked how many shots were fired from the officers’ weapon, Rasmussen responded, “there were two shots fired from a handgun and a rifle by officers.” The Phoenix Police Department’s own investigation shows that Norman and Bertz fired 11 shots at Harris.

Based on Rasmussen’s statements, the grand jury indicted Reed, Triplett, and Busani on all charges. But Judge Suzanne Cohen sent the case back to a grand jury six months later because of a “factual discrepancy” in Rasmussen’s testimony, according to transcripts obtained by The Appeal.

“[T]he detective does testify [Harris] has a gun in his hand as he gets out and as he is running he turns and points the gun at them,” Cohen says in the transcripts.

“That did not happen,” Cohen concludes. “He did not turn as he was running and point the gun. His body is going in one direction and one direction only.”

In July 2019, prosecutor Joshua Maxwell presented the case to a grand jury for the second time. Busani’s defense attorney, Adrian Little, argued that the second grand jury proceedings were also misleading because Maxwell and Rasmussen repeatedly told jurors that Harris turned back toward Bertz as he ran away, despite the fact that the court had already rejected this characterization.

Ultimately, Cohen decided that Maxwell and Rasmussen “did not intentionally present false or misleading testimony to the Grand Jury.” She concluded that Rasmussen had simply told jurors what officers Bertz and Norman said they saw. Furthermore, prosecutors allowed jurors to view the aerial surveillance footage during the second presentation. Maxwell did not respond when contacted for this story.

On July 16, a grand jury again indicted Busani, Reed, and Triplett on all charges, including first-degree murder. The vote was 9-5.

As the cases against the trio moved forward, prosecutors took steps to ensure that they faced the most severe consequences possible. The charges against Busani, Reed, and Triplett were treated as dangerous felonies because, prosecutors said, they “involved the discharge, use, or threatening exhibition of a handgun, a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument.” Arizona law requires harsher penalties and more prison time for felonies classified as dangerous.

Prosecutors also alleged nine aggravating circumstances against Busani, 16 against Triplett, and 10 against Reed, including calling the 14-year-old a “danger to society.” Aggravating circumstances, such as involving an accomplice, damaging property, or having prior convictions, also lead to harsher criminal penalties and longer prison sentences under Arizona law.

At one point, another prosecutor on the case, Mitch Rand, stated that Busani was facing 75 years in prison if convicted. But Rand also argued that should the case go to trial, the jury should not be allowed to know the possible sentences Busani, Reed, and Triplett faced, because that could make jurors less willing to convict them. Rand did not respond when contacted for this story.

In October 2019, while Triplett was in jail awaiting trial, his 2-year-old son wandered into a pond near his mother’s apartment complex and drowned. After learning that his child had died, the jail placed Triplett on suicide watch. While incarcerated, Triplett also missed the birth of his second child.

“I cry at night just thinking about it all,” Triplett said. “I am away from my family, my daughter like I never got to hold her. I didn’t get the chance to see her be born.”

Then, in December 2019, prosecutors brought a separate 128-count indictment against the trio for their alleged involvement in a string of robberies that took place from November 2018 through January 2019.

Prosecutors charged Busani with conspiracy to commit robbery, illegal control of an enterprise, and theft. They hit Reed with the same charges, plus eight counts of armed robbery, 22 counts of kidnapping, and 16 counts of aggravated assault. Prosecutors alleged that each person who was inside the establishments when the robberies occurred was kidnapped. The “aggravated assault” charges stem from Reed or Triplett “using a simulated handgun, a simulated deadly weapon” to place store employees “in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury.” Busani, Reed, and Triplett were not accused of actually physically harming people, though victims did tell the court they feared for their lives and suffered from anxiety and panic attacks after being held at gunpoint. Triplett was charged with conspiracy to commit armed robbery, theft, and eight counts of illegal control of an enterprise, 37 counts of armed robbery, 37 counts of kidnapping, and 40 counts of aggravated assault.

In a statement shared with The Appeal, a spokesperson for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office said prosecutors had “carefully considered the mitigating and aggravating factors for each defendant’s plea agreement” and “acted with integrity to seek justice for the more than 50 individuals and 25 business victims in these matters.”

In his testimony to a grand jury regarding the robbery case, Detective Rasmussen explained that he had reviewed reports of armed robberies at fast food restaurants and convenience stores for similarities. Eventually he found several cases that involved people of color with similar builds wearing hoodies cinched up around their faces using a gun to take money from Circle Ks and Whataburgers.

Officers Kristopher Bertz (left) and David Norman (right).
Photo taken from the Phoenix Police Department’s internal investigation of Bertz regarding the shooting of Jacob Harris.

On January 11, hours after police killed Jacob Harris, officers served search warrants on the homes of Harris, Reed, and Triplett, where they said they found clothing, shoes, and accessories that matched what suspects in the other robberies were seen wearing on surveillance footage.

Theresa Greene, Triplett’s mother; Shawanna Chambers, Reed’s aunt; and Roland Harris all say that the searches were conducted while the families were not home, and before police had informed them of the shooting and the arrests of their children.

When Roland Harris walked out of his apartment that morning to drop his daughter off at school, he said he saw police cars blocking in his son’s Mazda. Though his son had already been dead for several hours, police did not say anything to Harris at that time. Instead, while Harris went to work, police raided his home, where he lived with Jacob. They took his son’s shoes, his clothes, his IDs, and his jewelry. They also took Roland Harris’s laptop, two watches, and $800 in cash. And they took Roland’s daughter’s iPads and a shoebox with her name on it that she stored money in.

Only after that did police go to Roland Harris’s workplace to tell him his son was dead. Harris said Rasmussen first made it sound like Jacob’s friends had killed him.

“I lost it,” Harris said. “He was like, ‘Rest assured and find solace that they’re gonna pay for his murder.’”

A short time later, a different detective told Harris that his son had been involved in armed robberies, and said he was shot after pointing a gun at police officers.

“I told him he was a liar, you guys murdered my son,” Harris said.

Greene was in physical therapy that morning when she got a call from a friend telling her that someone had broken into her home and that her door was wide open. “I called the police,” she recounted. “The Glendale police came out, said Phoenix police had raided my house. I said why didn’t they just knock on the door? They really had to break the door in? All they had to do was ask for the keys from management, they had a warrant. They completely ransacked my whole house. They turned off all of my surveillance cameras. I felt so violated and angry.”

When police showed up to search Reed’s grandmother’s home, Reed had already been in custody for hours. Officers made no attempt to obtain consent before conducting a raid, according to Chambers. With her terminally ill mother still inside and in a wheelchair, officers threw a smoke bomb into the home, tore the door off, and pillaged the house, Chambers said.

“My mom died a few months later,” Chambers said. “Johnny was her favorite. She couldn’t last any longer.”

Roland Harris at a memorial to victims of Phoenix police violence in 2020.
Photo shared by Poder in Action.

“I wasn’t able to protect him.”


With Reed, Triplett, and Busani already facing the possibility of decades in prison for Harris’s murder, prosecutors leveraged the robbery indictment to extract a plea.

“We were all backed into a corner,” said Chambers. “Do we take 15 years or do we take life? The prosecutors said this is the only plea deal we’re going to give you. If you go to trial with this you’re going to get life.”

In the end, all three pleaded guilty, rather than risk life in prison. Busani was sentenced to a total of 10 years in prison, Reed to 15 years, and Triplett to 30 years. Triplett’s long incarceration is especially risky because he has a serious brain condition that will most likely require future surgeries—and prison healthcare in Arizona is notoriously bad.

Triplett has had at least six brain surgeries to treat hydrocephalus—a buildup of cerebrospinal fluids that exerts pressure on the brain, which can cause brain damage, vomiting, changes in personality, and severe headaches. Triplett had a shunt implanted in his brain to drain the excess fluid when he was a baby, Greene said. The shunt runs down his body and drains into his stomach, where the cerebrospinal fluid is absorbed.

“He has really bad migraines,” Greene said, adding that she has tried to get her son medical help in prison but has been unable to. “It was to the point where he’d be vomiting, he can’t eat, can’t be around light or sound.”

While Triplett, Reed, and Busani were being prosecuted for Harris’s death, his father advocated on their behalf.

“We all lost our children,” Chambers said. “But Roland will never see his son again. He pleaded for each and every one of them for the judge to give them leniency.”

Harris attended “every single one of Sariah’s court dates,” said Christina Gonzales, Busani’s mother, calling him “a godsend.”

Harris believes the officer who killed his son should have been prosecuted—not Reed, Triplett, and Busani. Bertz, 37, is still working for the Phoenix Police Department collecting about $90,000 a year from taxpayers.

Norman, 50, has retired, but he still draws more than $5,000 each month from his pension from the city and now runs a law enforcement training company called TruKinetics. He is also a contractor with the Department of Defense, according to his deposition.

“They’re sitting there, going on with their lives, opening up businesses,” Harris said. “They don’t think about the wreckage that they left behind. Father’s Days are never the same. I don’t even celebrate it. It hurts so much.”

Jacob Harris is not the only person Bertz has killed. According to a database of statewide police shootings created by The Arizona Republic, Bertz shot and killed 38-year-old Erik Pamias in 2017. In 2021, two years after killing Harris, Bertz shot another person, 34-year-old Dustin Weaver. Bertz said Weaver pointed a gun at him, though his body-worn camera wasn’t activated until after he shot Weaver. Weaver survived and was sentenced to seven years in prison for aggravated assault.

Bertz did not respond to emails from The Appeal regarding his involvement in the Jacob Harris killing or his other on-duty shootings.

Norman also has a history of violence. In 2014, he killed 26-year-old Craig Uran. According to police, Uran had stolen a truck and pointed a gun at officers. Uran’s girlfriend, 23-year-old Jessica Hicks, was in the passenger seat. Norman shot Uran in the head with an assault rifle as he attempted to flee. Uran’s girlfriend was charged with his murder. She spent two years in jail awaiting trial before ultimately pleading guilty to auto theft and armed robbery. She was sentenced to five years in prison.

Before retiring, Norman shot at so many people in a single year that it prompted an automatic alert to his supervisor. In March 2018, Norman shot and killed 44-year-old Stephen Hudak after Hudak shot another officer. Three months later, he shot at 30-year-old Stephen Harris, who survived.

“I was a fucking savage. I really sought these events. I wanted these experiences. I was super aggressive,” Norman said on a July 2021 episode of “Blue Line Millennial,” a law enforcement podcast. “The majority of my career, you get an officer-involved shooting and get three days off … So you kind of hope it’s on your Friday.”

Norman did not respond to emails from The Appeal regarding his involvement in the Harris shooting or his statements on the podcast.

Roland Harris is still fighting to get justice for his son. A federal judge ultimately dismissed his civil lawsuit against Bertz, because Arizona law allows police officers to use deadly force when they believe it is necessary to prevent the escape of a person who the officer believes had committed a felony with a deadly weapon. After the judge dismissed the case, Bertz filed a motion in court attempting to force Harris to pay for his attorney’s fees.

Harris is appealing the judge’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit. He has also met with Department of Justice officials investigating the Phoenix Police Department and shared with them the video of his son being killed. Harris said the investigators were emotional when they watched the footage and told him they would pass the information along to the DOJ’s criminal division.

Phoenix police officers have killed at least 142 people since 2013, according to Mapping Police Violence’s database. None of those officers were charged.

As Harris enters his fifth year of fighting, he is still exasperated by the refusal of police, prosecutors, or any official, to acknowledge what he sees as the basic truth: “They didn’t have to shoot my son down like a dog in the street.”

He also acknowledges that the ordeal has changed him.

“I am definitely not the same person anymore. A lot of my friends notice that. I’ve got a lot of anger in me,” he said. “You’re a father, you’re supposed to be your child’s protector, and I wasn’t able to protect him.”

But Harris is determined to keep going. He couldn’t sleep at night, he says, if he knew he wasn’t doing everything he could for Jacob.

“I don’t want another parent to feel what I feel,” Harris said. “I will not stop. For the rest of my life, as long as I’m breathing air, I will stay on them. There is no statute of limitations on murder. Until the day I die. I will not stop until my son gets justice.”

Here’s What LA County is Doing—And Not Doing—to Move People With Mental Illness Out of Jail

America’s largest county has launched numerous initiatives to shrink its jail population and divert people with mental illness from jail entirely. Here’s an explainer on what the major initiatives are and what, if any, progress has been made.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

Here’s What LA County is Doing—And Not Doing—to Move People With Mental Illness Out of Jail

America’s largest county has launched numerous initiatives to shrink its jail population and divert people with mental illness from jail entirely. Here’s an explainer on what the major initiatives are and what, if any, progress has been made.

This piece is part of a series of stories on the increasing number of people with mental illness imprisoned in Los Angeles County jails. To read the others, click here.

In recent years, Los Angeles County has voted to close one of its largest jails and invested in alternatives to incarceration, including diverting people with mental health needs out of jail and into treatment. The county is well aware of the problems inside its jails, yet conditions in the jails remain an ongoing crisis and the number of people with mental illnesses inside the jails has surged.

Advocates, mental health professionals, and attorneys who spoke with The Appeal said they were frustrated at the lack of progress and questioned the county’s commitment to change.

“We know the solutions,” said Brian Kaneda, deputy director of Californians United for a Responsible Budget, an advocacy organization pushing the state to move prison funding to social services. “The solution to homelessness is permanent supportive housing. We know harm reduction strategies must be fully embraced and implemented to address substance use disorders. We know we must build out a community-based care system capable of supporting the needs of LA County residents. And we know you can’t get well in a jail cell.”

In an effort to provide clarity on the county’s various commitments over the years to improve jail conditions and reduce the number of people the county incarcerates, The Appeal put together a guide highlighting some of the county’s initiatives—and noting how they have or haven’t been implemented.

Mandates From the Department of Justice

In 2015, the Department of Justice (DOJ) put the Los Angeles jail system under a legal settlement intended to address inadequate mental health care and excessive force by guards inside the jails. The agreement requires the county to implement a variety of reforms under the supervision of the DOJ and submit to independent monitoring.

The most recent report from the person overseeing the DOJ reforms stated that the county has successfully implemented some of the required reforms, but it has failed to implement others.

The county is required to provide people incarcerated in the jail system’s high-observation housing with 10 hours of out-of-cell time per week and 10 hours of therapeutic programming per week. High-observation housing is reserved for people who are considered so significantly mentally ill that they must be checked on every 15 minutes and are given suicide-resistant blankets and gowns. The monitor stated in September 2022 that the county was not providing meaningful group therapy and that people were not getting required out-of-cell time.

In February, the county asked to push deadlines for meeting these requirements to 2026. A federal judge has not yet decided whether to grant that request.

In a statement previously shared with The Appeal, spokespeople for Los Angeles County said that officials are committed to reducing the jail population, improving conditions inside the jails, and providing a higher quality of care for incarcerated people.

The Office of Diversion and Reentry

Los Angeles County created an Office of Diversion and Reentry (ODR) in 2015 to keep people with mental and physical health needs out of the county’s jails. One of ODR’s programs connects pretrial defendants who are experiencing homelessness and mental illness with permanent supportive housing, case management services, and treatment. Other programs move people who have been found incompetent to stand trial out of jail and into community-based care, which can include acute inpatient treatment or open residential services.

In October of last year, ODR said it has diverted more than 8,500 people from jail since 2015. Community members who spoke with The Appeal said ODR has been extremely successful, but diversion needs to be expanded. Despite this success, the average daily number of people with mental illness incarcerated in county jails has increased significantly—from more than 3,700 in 2015 to nearly 5,700 in 2022.

The office’s housing program filled to its maximum capacity of 2,200 beds in 2021. Since then, the county agreed to fund an additional 750 beds—significantly less than the 3,700 beds the county itself said it needs in order to comply with DOJ mandates.

“ODR has yet to be funded at the rate of the issue,” said Megan Castillo, a manager of policy and advocacy with La Defensa, an intersectional feminist organization pushing the county to divert funding from prisons to social services. Castillo is also a coalition coordinator with the Re-Imagine L.A. Coalition, which in 2020 helped pass a measure to reallocate money from jails and prisons to community-based care and alternatives to incarceration.

“We’ve been pushing for full funding so they can scale up the permanent supportive housing programs,” Castillo said. “The county refuses to do so.” She added: “Rather than address the root causes, they’d rather turn a blind eye and disappear people from their communities.”

A spokesperson for Los Angeles County previously told The Appeal the county has invested significant resources in ODR and increased the office’s budget by nearly $110 million last year.

Alternatives to Incarceration

In an attempt to reduce its reliance on jails, the county adopted a “care first, jail last” approach to public safety in 2019. That year, the county established the Alternatives to Incarceration Work Group, which was tasked with brainstorming ways to reduce the county’s reliance on the criminal legal system. In 2020, the group published a report with 114 recommendations.

That report recommended that the county expand community-based care—such as violence prevention efforts, family reunification services, safe consumption sites, and supportive housing—to reduce the number of people who come into contact with the criminal legal system. The group also recommended that the county send behavioral health responders to people experiencing mental health crises, substance use disorders, or homelessness. Those experts would connect people with the care they need, rather than arresting or imprisoning them.

To assist people who do end up being arrested, the report recommended that the county institute meaningful pretrial release and diversion services. According to a 2022 report from the sheriff’s department, almost half of all people incarcerated in Los Angeles County jails are held pretrial. The report also recommended diverting more people from jail and into treatment programs, reevaluating the county’s release program for people with medical needs, and identifying alternative forms of community supervision that may not rely on the probation department.

In 2020, the county established an Alternatives to Incarceration Office (ATI) to carry out its “care first, jail last” plans. According to ATI’s first impact report from 2021, the county made significant investments in youth development, including in mentoring, housing, and job services. The county is also using the national 988 hotline to connect residents with non-police help for behavioral health emergencies.

In a written statement shared with The Appeal, the county stated that since the Work Group report was submitted in March 2020, the Board of Supervisors has passed a motion to create the the ATI office, “adopted ATI’s five overarching strategies, and directed the CEO to hire an executive to lead this work.”

The ATI office has since been tasked with analyzing the 114 recommendations from the Work Group report and assessing how—or if—the recommendations could be implemented.

According to the county, ATI determined 43 of the Work Group’s recommendations were currently feasible, 56 were partially feasible, and 15 were not feasible.

“Three years after the LA County Board of Supervisors adopted ATI, most of the work group’s recommendations have yet to be fully implemented,” said Kaneda. “This lack of progress has hindered the County’s care first agenda and contributed to the ongoing failures to close Men’s Central Jail.”

Megan Castillo with hands raised in the air alongside other Black Lives Matter activists in May 2020.
La Defensa

Measure J

In 2020, Los Angeles County voters passed Measure J, a ballot initiative requiring the county to invest 10 percent of its unrestricted revenues—estimated in November 2020 to be between $360 million and $900 million—in community-based care. That can include housing, career programs, and health services. The measure also prohibited those funds from being used for jails, prisons, and policing.

But in the years since, that funding stream has been gutted.

In 2021, a county judge ruled that Measure J was unconstitutional because it limited the county’s budget-setting abilities. But there is nothing preventing the county from simply choosing to reallocate its resources on its own. So far, the county has allocated nearly $300 million to programs that Measure J was meant to fund.

To replace Measure J, the county created a Care First Community Investment (CFCI) Budget Policy and advisory committee. The policy sets aside 10 percent of locally generated unrestricted revenues from the general fund annually for alternatives to incarceration. In a September press release, the county said it had apportioned a total of $287.7 million to CFCI initiatives in 2021 and 2022, with plans to allocate more in 2023. Additionally, the county said it allocated $300 million from the federal American Rescue Plan COVID relief program to numerous community based care programs, including $87.7 million directly invested through CFCI.

But community members say they are frustrated the county has not embraced the spirit of Measure J more fully.

“We thought we were going to receive upwards of $900 million to fund these programs,” Castillo said. “The county continues to pass this status quo budget that prioritizes funding law enforcement over what our communities need.”

Los Angeles County’s most recent adopted budget was $44.6 billion. The county allocated more than $3.6 billion to the sheriff’s department—about 8 percent of the entire budget.

In March of last year, the county also created a new department—the Justice, Care, and Opportunities Department (JCOD)—to “centralize the administration of non-clinical services and programs for those who are justice impacted or vulnerable to justice system involvement,” the county said in an email. JCOD began operating in November 2022.

Closing Men’s Central Jail

In June 2021, the county’s board of supervisors voted to close the decrepit and overcrowded Men’s Central Jail (MCJ). The county formed the Jail Closure Implementation Team to develop a plan for how to do so.

The county says closing MCJ requires cutting the total jail population in half—from around 14,000 to 7,160 people. Since the motion to close the jail passed, the county has reduced the total jail population by only about 800 people.

In 2020, the number of people incarcerated in Los Angeles county jails decreased due to multiple factors. But since then, that number has climbed back up, in part because a local judge last year terminated the county’s Emergency Bail Schedule, which set most bail amounts to $0 in order to limit the spread of COVD-19 in jails.

“Since the ending of the Emergency Bail Schedule, the County’s in-custody jail population has increased significantly,” the county said in an email to The Appeal. “Decisions to release individuals from custody (while cases are pending, or as an alternative to serving an entire sentence in jail) to community-based treatment are not made by the County, but by judges, prosecutors and, in some cases, the Sheriff.”

For judges to send people to treatment instead of jail, programs must have space to accept new people. One of the county’s biggest diversion efforts, ODR, reached its capacity in 2021, limiting the number of people judges could send to treatment instead of jail. In 2022, the county increased ODR’s budget and raised its capacity by 750 beds. The county has previously found that it needs at least 3,600 mental health treatment beds to close MCJ. In a statement, the county said it is in the process of building up a robust network of community care to provide alternatives to incarceration.

Mark-Anthony Clayton-Johnson, the executive director of Dignity and Power Now, an organization that supports incarcerated people and their loved ones, told The Appeal that he was frustrated that numerous county agencies submitted a plan to close the jail in 2021, but little action has been taken since.

“We have a commitment from the Board of Supervisors to close our largest jail, Men’s Central Jail, and there’s just been a lack of committing to a timeline to actually get it done,” he said. “There was a plan that was proposed to the Board of Supervisors by county entities, stating that we need $237 million to fund community treatment beds to get enough people out to close MCJ. And that hasn’t happened.”

This story was produced in collaboration with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.

Without Political Change, Police Brutality Footage Has Become Trauma Porn

Photo by Colin Lloyd via Unsplash

Without Political Change, Police Brutality Footage Has Become Trauma Porn

Photo by Colin Lloyd via Unsplash

Without Political Change, Police Brutality Footage Has Become Trauma Porn

by Nneka Ewulonu

American law enforcement, with its roots in slave patrols, has historically been a tool used by the white and majoritarian society to oppress marginalized communities—especially Black people. In recent years, many of those who believe that we can fight this violent history by regulating and training police departments have pitched video surveillance technology, such as body cameras, as a potential way to hold officers accountable and prevent brutality from occurring.

But that violence has not stopped, and footage of anti-Black violence at the hands of law enforcement now floods news channels and social media feeds regularly. Most notably as of late, the Memphis Police Department released a video of its officers savagely beating 29-year-old Tyre Nichols to death at the end of January.

As Nichols’ murder and its aftermath have shown, the public continuously consumes this media under the misguided belief that simply bringing awareness to police brutality and anti-Black racism will stop these horrors from occurring. In reality, the mass consumption of Black trauma and death is itself another example of white supremacy’s stranglehold on American society. While body-worn cameras and cellphone footage may seem like new inventions, the public has been “raising awareness” about police violence for the majority of the last century. History shows us that no amount of media consumption will diminish the amount of violence, often at the hands of the state, that Black Americans experience.

In contemporary America, the fact that police officers disproportionately target, harass, and kill Black people is known to all except those who chose not to see it. More grotesque depictions of anti-Black violence will not change the state of affairs on their own. Absent structural organizing and actual political change, societal consumption of anti-Black violence instead reinforces the dehumanization of Black people that is central to white supremacy.

Trauma porn—defined by Black Public Media as “media stories depicting the inhumane and often exploitative treatment of BIPOC individuals by police and/or White civilians”—perpetuates Black people’s victimhood, rather than diminishing it. Violence should not occur in silence; outlets do have a journalistic duty to inform the public of instances where those in power abuse the marginalized. But detailed, thorough reporting is a far cry from directly watching the torture, abuse, or murder of a Black person captured on video.

Anti-Blackness as a spectacle is nothing new. White people have long intentionally and joyfully consumed Black misery. Lynchings were common in 19th and 20th century America and were explicitly public occurrences—even family entertainment, with parents and children attending and bringing food and drink. Local newspapers would detail the murders, including graphic photos of the victims. Perpetrators and onlookers often took souvenirs from the victims. Prominent white lynchers were lauded by local newspapers and posed with their children near the deceased for photos.

One of the most well-known civilian attacks on a Black person in American history began on August 20, 1955, when 14-year-old Emmett Till, a Black boy, was accused of flirting with a white woman while visiting family in Mississippi. Four days later, the woman’s husband and his brother brutally beat, shot, and dismembered Till, then threw his body into a river.

His mother, Mamie Till Mobley, rejected a mortician’s offer to “touch up” Till’s body. Instead, she chose to have an open casket funeral exposing her son’s grotesquely mangled form to illuminate the horrors of Jim Crow segregation and anti-Black racism in America. An estimated 50,000 people saw Till’s body during his funeral in Chicago. The national magazine Jet subsequently published photos of his corpse.

While Till’s death was at the hands of civilians rather than police, Till’s killers felt empowered to murder the boy because of state-sanctioned segregation and anti-Blackness. But simply publicizing images of Till’s body was not enough to spark meaningful societal change on its own—it took nearly a decade of concerted, direct political organizing to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. To this day, despite Till’s story and photos being taught in school, memorials for Till are routinely defaced and vandalized. The gruesomeness of his murder is mirrored by the callousness with which society objectified Till’s corpse and memory.

Civilian footage started proliferating almost 40 years later. On March 3, 1991, a bystander named George Holliday filmed from his apartment balcony with a home video camera while a Black man named Rodney King was beaten by police during his arrest. Officer Lawrence Powell swung his baton, hitting King in the head and causing him to fall to the ground. Officers Powell and Timothy Wind continued to viciously beat King. Holliday sold the video to a local TV station, which then sold it to CNN. The video became international news and provided explicit, recorded evidence of anti-Black police brutality. The public wondered once again whether this footage would be enough to change law enforcement permanently. But in the decades since, the cycle has only repeated itself. Footage of police officers killing Eric Garner and George Floyd within the last decade sparked international protests but little, if any, structural changes to law enforcement.

Earlier this year, on January 7, 2023, Nichols was pulled over by Memphis police during a traffic stop. Officers dragged Nichols from his car, attempted to tase him, and then chased him on foot. When the police reached Nichols, five officers pummeled him in the head and body. The officers left Nichols on the ground for 20 minutes before emergency responders began treating him. He died three days later. Shortly before the Memphis Police Department released the footage, Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said the officers showed a “disregard of basic human rights.” But in the weeks since, the department has done next to nothing to structurally change the way it polices Memphis, aside from abolishing the small strike-force-style unit that killed Nichols. While that one team in one locality may be gone, many similar units still exist around the country.

These incidents, spanning more than 70 years, each feature the public supposedly coming face to face with the horrors of anti-Black violence. In theory, the visualization of violence against Black people should force viewers to reckon with racism, spurring awareness and change. But these examples instead make clear that no amount of visual reckoning with trauma porn can create change on its own. The nation must dispose of the idea that “activism” means simply sharing videos of police brutality online, as opposed to actual involvement in political organizing or community aid.

The consistent portrayal of anti-Black violence not only solidifies Black people as victims in the minds of white Americans, but also exposes Black Americans to repeated depictions of their own dehumanization. In 2016, clinical psychologist Monnica Williams told PBS that police brutality videos can trigger PTSD-like symptoms in Black Americans. In 2018, a Harvard University-led study found that, when police kill an unarmed Black person, it negatively impacts the mental health of nearby Black residents for months afterward. Combined with the fact that this footage has so far done little, if anything, to change American policing, trauma porn is ineffective at best and immoral at worst.

The only thing that will stop anti-Black violence is rooting out the anti-Blackness present throughout American culture. In the words of abolitionist Angela Y. Davis, “in a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” We must intentionally uplift Black experiences and address Black people’s needs. There is no need to subject ourselves to the assault or murder of Black Americans in the interim.


In the news


A Republican lawmaker in Tennessee was forced to apologize after he suggested bringing back “hanging by tree”—i.e. lynching—as a state-sanctioned method of execution. A measure to approve executions by firing squad is still under consideration. [Craig Shoup & Kirsten Fiscus / Nashville Tennessean]

It is the responsibility of journalists to “resist industry-typical copaganda and instead produce reporting that focuses on transformative and reparative practices and informs readers how to keep their communities whole, safe, and accountable,” Tina Vazquez writes in an editorial. [Tina Vazquez / Prism]

Police in South Carolina arrested and charged a woman last month for allegedly taking abortion pills to end her pregnancy. The incident took place in October 2021, before the fall of Roe, but South Carolina is among the few states that ban self-managed abortion. [Susan Rinkunas / Jezebel]

Progressives and advocates for D.C. statehood are fuming after Biden announced he would sign into a law a GOP-led effort in Congress that could override changes to the city’s criminal code, recently passed by the city council. In a statement, Biden claimed he supported “home rule” for D.C., even as he supported efforts to overrule changes “such as lowering penalties for carjackings.” [Kyle Feldscher, Maegan Vazquez & Manu Raju / CNN] MORE: Critics of D.C.’s crime bill are misleading the public about its actual effect on penalties for offenses like carjacking. [Mark Joseph Stern / Slate]

“The pen became my sword and a way to stand up for myself and the many around me who didn’t have a voice loud enough to reach to the outside world.” Christopher Blackwell, a contributing editor to The Appeal, talks about how he got interested in writing and journalism while in prison. [Famous Writing Routines]

ICYMI — from The Appeal

Why are New York courts and the Manhattan DA fighting an HIV activist’s efforts to get removed from the sex offender registry over a nearly 15-year-old conviction in Louisiana for “illegal HIV exposure”? Adam Rhodes has the latest on the legal battle.

In 2015, Los Angeles County created a new department to help divert people with mental health needs out of jail. But since then, the number of people with mental illness incarcerated in the county jail system has only gone up, Meg O’Connor reports.

Nearly 200 New Orleans police officers were accused of sexual misconduct, intimate partner violence, or harassment from 2014-2020, Meg O’Connor reports. The NOPD investigated itself and sustained only 3 percent of complaints involving sexual or intimate partner violence.

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, donate here.

Report: Nearly 200 New Orleans Cops Were Accused Of Sexual Misconduct, Domestic Violence, or Harassment

A judge ruled the report can be used as evidence in the civil case against an ex-NOPD officer who sexually assaulted a teenage rape victim.

Infrogmation of New Orleans via Wikimedia Commons

Report: Nearly 200 New Orleans Cops Were Accused Of Sexual Misconduct, Domestic Violence, or Harassment

A judge ruled the report can be used as evidence in the civil case against an ex-NOPD officer who sexually assaulted a teenage rape victim.

Between 2014 and 2020, a complaint of sexual misconduct, intimate partner violence, or harassment was made against New Orleans police officers about every 10 days, according to a report published late last year by the Umbrella Coalition, a coalition of 13 local and national nonprofit and civil rights organizations. According to the report, nearly 190 of New Orleans’ police officers had complaints of this nature filed against them with the department’s public integrity unit. But, in that time, the department sustained only three percent of complaints involving sexual or intimate partner violence, according to a spokesperson for the New Orleans Police Department.

The Umbrella Coalition found that, among other claims, officers were accused of watching pornography at work, sexually assaulting arrestees, stalking former partners, sexually harassing a restaurant server while drinking alcohol on duty, posting revenge porn of a woman, threatening a former partner with a gun, sexually harassing fellow employees, beating a child, punching a woman in the jaw, and numerous other allegations of domestic battery and rape, including one incident in which an officer allegedly sexually assaulted someone while another officer watched. The department currently employs about 950 officers, but that number fluctuated during the years the Umbrella Coalition studied, and at least 500 officers who worked for NOPD during those years have since resigned or retired.

In 2011, the Department of Justice found the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) had engaged in patterns of discriminatory policing, illegal searches, and excessive force. The DOJ then placed the department under a federal monitoring program known as a consent decree, which requires the department to adopt reforms, submit to independent monitoring, and make certain information publicly available. The Umbrella Coalition report, which was published in November, compiled reports on officer misconduct published by the NOPD as part of the DOJ’s monitoring process, as well as misconduct data published by the Louisiana Law Enforcement Accountability Database (LLEAD), an open-source database created by the Innocence Project New Orleans and the design firm Public Data Works. LLEAD collects public data from across the state of Louisiana, including data from police departments, sheriff’s offices, civil service commissions, courts, and public records requests.

“Cops are legally authorized to violate your bodily autonomy all the time,” a researcher of the Umbrella Coalition report said in an interview with The Appeal. The researcher requested anonymity for fear of retaliation. “You can’t give people that degree of control of people’s bodily autonomy and expect to curtail it with reform and training. This is what you’re signing up for when you pay for cops.”

The report’s findings are now being used in the civil case brought against ex-NOPD officer Rodney Vicknair, who was accused in a 2021 civil lawsuit of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old rape victim the previous year.

The NOPD fired Vicknair in 2021, and in September 2022, federal prosecutors criminally charged Vicknair with violating the girl’s civil rights. He pleaded guilty in November and is set to be sentenced on March 8.

The mother of the teenage rape victim sued Vicknair and the city of New Orleans for keeping Vicknair on the force despite numerous complaints against him prior to the 2020 assault. In February, a federal judge allowed the girl’s mother to use the findings from the Umbrella Coalition’s report to allege that the city of New Orleans has a pattern and practice of failing to take officer misconduct seriously.

In a statement emailed to The Appeal, Reese Harper, a spokesperson for the NOPD, said the department takes allegations of sexual misconduct seriously. Harper said that the Umbrella Coalition report was a “misrepresentation of data” that harms the department’s recruiting efforts and has an adverse effect on officer morale.

Harper said that between 2014-2020, NOPD records “indicate that 97 percent of complaints alleging sexual or intimate violence were either unfounded, exonerated, or not sustained.”

Complaints of misconduct committed by NOPD officers are investigated by the NOPD. When NOPD’s Public Integrity Unit lists a case as “exonerated,” it means the department says an internal investigation found that the alleged event did occur, but didn’t violate NOPD policies. When complaints are “not sustained,” investigators say they did not find evidence to prove that the alleged misconduct occurred. When complaints are “unfounded,” it means that investigators say they found evidence proving the misconduct did not occur or did not involve the accused officer.

During the period that the Umbrella Coalition studied, Harper said that seven officers were “charged with various infractions from simple battery to sexual misconduct, which either resulted in termination or the officer resigning under investigation.”

The Appeal also contacted New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and seven New Orleans City Council members about the Umbrella Coalition’s report—and the fact that it is now being used in the civil case against Vicknair. None responded.

“This is just the latest slap in the face,” said Katie Hunter-Lowrey, an organizer with Louisiana Survivors for Reform, a coalition of crime survivors, homicide victims’ families, and organizations working to change the criminal legal system. “Policymakers don’t care about crime victims. If they did, they wouldn’t continue to allocate resources to an entity that doesn’t solve these problems and actually perpetuates sexual violence.”

“Police don’t prevent violence,” said Hunter-Lowrey, noting that Louisiana has one of the highest homicide rates in the country. “And the NOPD isn’t solving cases.”

According to data collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 712 rapes were reported to the NOPD in 2020. The NOPD cleared 67 of them. Clearance rates measure how many cases are closed through arrest or exceptional means, like the death of a suspect or when a survivor stops cooperating with law enforcement. Overall, only 39 people were arrested for rape in New Orleans in 2020.

The complaints include a wide variety of sexual misconduct claims, including allegations that one NOPD employee created fake social media accounts under a woman’s name and posted inappropriate pictures, including a photo of her in her underwear. Multiple complainants alleged being hit on by officers or being groped or sexually assaulted while detained. One officer was accused of having sex with a woman and later having her involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution. Other instances included officers allegedly patronizing strip clubs while on duty and soliciting sex workers.

“The mundane, routine way that cops engage in sexual terror matters too, not just when they’re convicted of rape,” said one of the researchers who authored the report. “It’s still violence, it still affects your sense of safety, it still matters. Having sex with people as a police officer, tricking them, or not paying sex workers is sexual violence.”

It’s possible that reports of sexual misconduct by NOPD are actually undercounted, since few survivors of sexual violence come forward to report what happened to them. Victims of sexual misconduct by law enforcement are likely to be especially discouraged when they are asked to report their stories to the police department itself.

In one instance reported in 2014, a police officer obtained the phone number of a child who had run away from home from the child’s grandmother. Once the underage girl had returned home, the cop continued to text her and later sent her a friend request on a social media site, which made the child feel uncomfortable. The girl told police she did not wish to be contacted by the officer.

Many cases involve domestic disputes, harassment, or outright violence. In one 2015 incident, a woman reported that she was being harassed by an NOPD recruit who was dating the civilian’s ex-boyfriend. Another complainant reported that her husband, an NOPD officer, had shoved her into a kitchen countertop. In one instance, an officer was accused of swinging a police baton during a domestic disturbance “on the interstate.” In another incident, a woman reported that the father of her three children, an NOPD cop, showed up at her door holding a gun during an apparent custody dispute.

In February 2021, the mother of Rodney Vicknair’s teenage victim filed a lawsuit against the city of New Orleans in federal court. The complaint alleged that Vicknair, the city of New Orleans, and others violated the child’s civil rights, committed assault and battery, and inflicted emotional distress.

The mother also alleged that the city of New Orleans should be held liable for violating her daughter’s civil rights because the city created conditions that led to Vicknair sexually assaulting her daughter. According to the lawsuit, the city let Vicknair respond to a child sexual assault survivor even though he had a history of prior complaints.

According to the civil suit filed by the victim’s mother, Vicknair joined NOPD in 2007 and had complaints filed against him by either citizens or fellow officers in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, and 2016. The complaints involved allegations of excessive force, unprofessionalism, intimidation, neglect of duty, and failure to follow NOPD policy. In 2009, the lawsuit says Vicknair was accused of using a woman’s license plate to look up her name and call her over to him while he was sitting in a parking lot on a lunch break. The suit states that Vicknair was suspended for five days over the incident.

The Appeal reached out to both Vicknair’s criminal and civil attorneys. Neither responded.

In June 2021, a judge dismissed the mother’s claim that the city enacted policies and practices that allowed the assault to happen but otherwise allowed the lawsuit to proceed.

But in January of this year, the victim’s mother requested that the court reconsider its order and allow her to include the findings from the Umbrella Coalition report, since the documents allege that the city has a pattern of failing to take sexual misconduct committed by officers seriously.

In a January 30 response, attorneys for the city of New Orleans argued that the report was simply a “rehashed editorialization of old evidence” and didn’t merit reintroducing the municipal liability claim because the “social activists” who published the report “have an obvious pro-plaintiff / anti-police agenda.”

On February 16, a federal judge granted the woman’s motion and let her argue the city’s policies and practices directly contributed to her daughter’s assault.

“The Court previously dismissed Plaintiff’s municipal liability claims against City Defendants in part for failure to allege a pattern of similar constitutional violations—in this case, a pattern of sexual abuse by NOPD officers,” wrote judge Carl J. Barbier. But Upton’s amended complaint “alleges that NOPD routinely fails to impose consequences on officers who commit sexual violence, because of the 189 officers with formal complaints of sexual violence, only 38 have resigned and 6 were terminated or resigned under investigation.”

The city of New Orleans has denied the victim’s allegations in court. But advocates are demanding the city take further action.

“The data has been put into clear terms, and still, the city council, the mayor, New Orleans media have not addressed it,” said Hunter-Lowrey from the Promise of Justice Initiative. “It’s inaction like that that allows there to be a pattern and practice of NOPD sexual violence. How bad do things have to get before something is changed to protect the residents of New Orleans from terror instilled by the police?”

Injustice, Inc.: How America’s Justice System Commodifies Children and the Poor

Jernej Furman via Flickr

Injustice, Inc.: How America’s Justice System Commodifies Children and the Poor

Jernej Furman via Flickr

Injustice, Inc.: How America’s Justice System Commodifies Children and the Poor

by Daniel L. Hatcher

As Daniel L. Hatcher explains in his new book, Injustice, Inc., the more beds filled in detention facilities, the more children taken from their parents, the more evictions carried out, the more money for juvenile, family, and criminal courts and their corporate partners. In short, greater misery means greater profit. In this week’s newsletter, we’re publishing an excerpt from Hatcher’s book, which reveals the profit motives behind the harms we routinely cover and that many readers have experienced firsthand. 

Juvenile courts in multiple states are entering into contracts to generate revenue when removing children from their homes or by pulling children into the juvenile justice system under constant threat of removal. Increasingly embracing a businesslike focus in their search for funds, some courts have carried out this practice for years, tucked away in little-known interagency contracts. Courts are trading away their impartiality and independence, and violating the Constitution and judicial ethics, to monetize harm to children.

The juvenile court revenue strategies target children from poor families and disproportionately impact Black children and other children of color. The children’s parents face endless barriers to economic stability and do not receive adequate services to help their families stay intact. After enduring the pain and confusion of being removed from their homes, children face further difficulties in the “system” from overworked social workers and probation officers, poorly monitored foster placements, unsafe group homes and juvenile facilities, and overcrowded juvenile courts. The children have struggled with the trauma of poverty and now face even greater trauma after being removed from their homes. And as they leave the foster care and juvenile justice systems, the statistics are even more daunting.

I should pause. As I write with concern for vulnerable youth and seek to shed light on funding mechanisms that threaten the foundations of equal and impartial justice, I should disclose more of my own background.

During my first day in court in my first legal aid job, I was assigned to represent several foster children in one afternoon. The processing of their cases started in the basement of a historic Baltimore courthouse, constructed in 1896. After walking with a fleeting feeling of grandeur through the imposing entrance of granite and marble, towering columns, and carved lions, I abruptly encountered a line of mostly Black children shackled in chains as they were shuffled to delinquency proceedings. And then I descended into a small, dank room with flickering fluorescent light encased in broken yellow plastic over stained flooring, crowded with worn metal tables and mismatched office chairs with torn vinyl—the “stip” room.

The court directed all the attorneys for the children, parents, and the foster care agency to this room, along with the social workers, to reach “stipulated agreements” that would be presented the same day to judicial masters to avoid the time needed for actual court hearings. If no agreement was reached, one of the attorneys had to request a “contest” before a judge, a step that was disfavored by the court system.

The room smelled of jaded apathy, packed with bodies sluggishly struggling over access to the chairs or a few inches of wall space on which to lean. A handful of outdated DOS-based computer terminals were surrounded by attorneys haggling over agreements while typing out sparse summaries of the lives of children with blinking cursors over green text. I learned that day that some of the foster care agency attorneys engaged in a sort of hazing practice of purposeful delay with new lawyers for the children. Then, one of the judicial masters sent a message demanding our immediate presence to quickly dispose of the cases because the Baltimore Orioles game was scheduled to start soon. Priorities.

The routine replayed itself, as I would also scramble to find times and locations to meet with my child clients, occasionally in my office when social workers would bring them, sometimes at their schools that felt more like prisons, or in their often dilapidated and constantly changing foster care or group homes, and sometimes left with no option but to meet with the children on benches in the chaotic courthouse halls. As I sat next to child-clients on oak benches worn by decades of the grasping fear of those who had sat there before us, I did not feel the presence of justice.

Much of that experience is now a blur of memories, mixed with specific moments and images seared into my mind. I was overwhelmed. I feel that I tried my best, but I simultaneously feel that I should have done more. I have even thought about trying to file an attorney-grievance complaint against myself, years later, for attempting to juggle more cases than ethically possible—to help draw attention to the failing system in which I worked. So, as my research has uncovered structural concerns that further undermine the possibility of equal and impartial justice for vulnerable children and adults, I feel driven to provide accurate and detailed facts paired with legal analysis to expose the structural failings so that the systems can hopefully improve. 

Excerpted from Injustice, Inc.: How America’s Justice System Commodifies Children and the Poor by Daniel Hatcher, published by the University of California Press. © 2023. 

Daniel Hatcher is Professor of Law in the University of Baltimore’s Civil Advocacy Clinic in which law students represent low-income clients.  He is author of Injustice, Inc.: How America’s Justice System Commodifies Children and the Poor (UC Press) and The Poverty Industry: The Exploitation of America’s Most Vulnerable Citizens. 


In the news


Piper French interviewed law professor Joanna Schwartz about her new book Shielded: How the Police Became Untouchable. [Piper French / Bolts]

Already overworked and underfunded, public defenders are having to quickly learn about new surveillance technologies—like geofence warrants—in order to effectively defend their clients. [Johana Bhuiyan / The Guardian]

If re-elected, former President Donald Trump plans to expand methods of execution to hanging and guillotine. Rolling Stone reported that Trump also “mused about the possibility of creating a flashy, government-backed video-ad campaign that would accompany a federal revival of these execution methods.” [Asawin Suebsaeng and Patrick Reis / Rolling Stone]

Edwin Rubis is serving 40 years for a nonviolent marijuana crime. “And while President Joe Biden pardoned 6,500 people for simple possession, and pardoned six more before 2022 came to a close, he need not forget about us — the ones in confinement,” writes Rubis. [Edwin Rubis / Truthout]

ICYMI — from The Appeal

Despite the fact that politicians and the media often vilify “violent offenders,” Tana Ganeva reports that the label can often be misleading and prevent people from escaping their pasts or moving on. A “violent crime,” for example, could mean a murder—or something as simple as verbal threats or a package theft.

The Appeal workers stand in solidarity with the more than 1,200 New York Times contributors who signed a letter calling out the publication’s anti-trans coverage. We share their concern about Times pieces that have “treated gender diversity with an eerily familiar mix of pseudoscience and euphemistic, charged language, while publishing reporting on trans children that omits relevant information about its sources.”

We believe this coverage is deeply harmful and betrays the journalistic ethics the paper purports to uphold. A mea culpa is in order, but instead, the Times has doubled down. Management has rebuked the Times writers who signed the letter, and the day after the Times received the letter, they published a defense of billionaire J.K. Rowling, who has made numerous anti-trans statements.

As Jack Mirkinson wrote in The Nation, the Times has a long history of dehumanizing queer people, from banning the word “gay” from its pages to refusing to cover the early days of the AIDS crisis. And now, with lives once again on the line, they are repeating the mistakes of their not-so-distant past. It is never too late to do better.

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, donate here.

Mass incarceration is slavery. Abolition is a vision for the future.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Mass incarceration is slavery. Abolition is a vision for the future.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Mass incarceration is slavery. Abolition is a vision for the future.

by Olayemi Olurin

Yes, when abolitionists say abolition, we do really mean abolish prisons, policing, and America’s entire criminal system as it exists. Yes, going as far as abolishing it is necessary. No, it’s not radical. And yes, we know it’s a process.

Before we can understand how we get to abolition and why it’s necessary, we first must understand why mass incarceration and prisons aren’t, and exactly what they’re meant to accomplish.

When you say you want to abolish the prison industrial complex, or more specifically police and prisons, one of the first things people ask is, ‘How will we address crime?’  The premise that underlies that question—that our existing system actually does address crime—is wrong. Our criminal system does not address crime or stop harm from occurring, because that’s not what it’s intended to do. In fact, it’s meant to reproduce it. America’s criminal system is a vehicle for maintaining racial, social, and economic inequality by criminalizing poor Black and brown communities, using them for labor, and saddling them with debt, trauma, and rap sheets whose lifelong collateral consequences can rarely be outrun. It’s not a coincidence that the same communities dubbed “high-crime areas” are those most historically and perpetually under-resourced, generation after generation.

Understanding why abolition isn’t about depriving us of the means to stop crime or address harm—it’s actually allowing us to design a system where we do those things for the very first time—requires reckoning with the true purpose and goal of our criminal system. Our current criminal legal system perpetuates harm. Mass incarceration is slavery— a fact that the thirteenth amendment explicitly acknowledges by abolishing slavery except for anyone convicted of a crime. In the same breath that the U.S. government purported to abolish slavery, they established the means to continue the practice. 

And the criminal legal system’s slavery business is expanding. America makes over $11 billion yearly in goods produced by prison labor. Incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people owe at least $27.6 billion in fines and fees nationwide. Their families spend over $2.9 billion in commissaries each year. This is on top of another $14.8 billion in costs associated with moving, eviction, and homelessness brought on by these cases

No system designed to make money by subjugating specific populations for allegedly committing certain harms actually intends to rid us of those harms. If slavery is a system of bondage where a person is treated as property, deprived of their freedom and personal liberty, and forced to perform labor for another’s gain, mass incarceration is slavery. And it’s making the rich richer but absolutely no one safer.

When we plainly state what mass incarceration is, it’s clear abolition is neither radical nor unnecessary. Still, we recognize that though the right thing to do would be to end it all now in one move, that will not happen.  

Abolition is a vision for the future, a world where we’ve divested from police, courts, and prisons; because instead of pumping money into the criminalization of the most disenfranchised among us, we’ve put that money into addressing the root causes of crime, like poverty, unemployment, poor housing, starved school systems, and mental health issues.

The idea is that by divesting from this system bit by bit—and instead investing in the people and communities the system has enslaved—we will eventually do away with the system altogether. That’s why defunding the police, ending cash bail, and other efforts to decarcerate and take power away from the state are central to building a world without policing and prisons. 

Right now, fear is standing in the way. Fear is what keeps 2 million people locked behind bars while the social ills that led them there rage on, unaddressed. It’s not fear of the people we’ve locked away, it’s fear of reckoning with the fact that despite incarcerating more people than anywhere else in the world and spending more money on some local police departments than other countries spend on their militaries, we aren’t and don’t feel any safer. The fear is in starting over, in the daunting task of what it would mean to start from scratch. The fear of trying to create something new and possibly failing. The fear of admitting that all the harm mass incarceration has caused was for naught and knowing that what’s been done to people, communities, generations, cannot be made right. Fear, just like guilt and defensiveness, cannot create— but it does keep us stuck in place, hiding our problems behind bars.

ICYMI — from The Appeal

As cities look to make new investments in non-police responses to gun violence, Durham, North Carolina’s Bull City United program shows the importance of stable funding and sustained commitment to community-based alternatives, reports Rebekah Barber.

Hollywood depictions of psychopathy have helped fuel harmful criminal legal system responses, write Arielle Baskin-Sommers and Jorge Camacho. Psychopathy is not a moral deficiency, and people with this sort of impairment are not inherently violent or evil.

Chris Blackwell reports that Washington prison officials failed to monitor a court e-filing inbox, leading to serious consequences. One prisoner received documents months after they’d been sent, informing him his appeal had been dismissed without his knowledge. 

Cordell Miller was sentenced to life in prison at 17. After more than 30 years behind bars, he earned a second chance under a youth resentencing law, only to be deported by ICE. Read the final part of Sylvia A. Harvey’s series, published with The Imprint. 

Recently filed complaints allege that guards at New Jersey’s South Woods State Prison are running a “fight club” in a specialized housing unit, Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg reports. The allegations follow a troubling pattern of violence by NJ prison staff.

For the past year, the Texas Jail Project has been investigating abuses faced by pregnant people in Houston’s Harris County Jail. These tragedies are just one part of a broader crisis faced by people detained in Harris County Jail, where at least 28 people died last year alone, write Krish Gundu, Elizabeth Rossi, and Eric Reinhart.

Officials in New York City say they must eliminate physical mail at Rikers in order to prevent contraband from entering the jail. As David Campbell writes, the small amount of drugs that do enter via mail likely pales in comparison to what guards bring in.

When it comes to COVID restrictions at San Quentin Prison, “the people with the least power are being held the most accountable,” writes Rashaan Thomas. Meanwhile, officials “let staff come in untested and then test us and lock us down for getting sick.”

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, donate here.

The Romantic Comedies Convincing You To Fall In Love With The Police

The Romantic Comedies Convincing You To Fall In Love With The Police

The romantic comedies convincing you to fall in love with the police

by Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg

This story is published in collaboration with Scalawag. For more reporting that explores the intersection of popular culture and justice, sign up for Scalawag’s pop justice newsletter.

There is nothing romantic about the police state. 

And yet, in some of the biggest hits of the rom-com world, white cops are the underdogs, just looking for the right person to love who loves them back. “Rom-cops,” if you will, are designed to signify respectability, trustworthiness, and working-class bona fides—and to persuade the audience to cheer them on as they try to find someone to protect and serve after hours.

These portrayals from a suite of white actors erase the reality that police are and always have been an occupying force that terrorizes people of color day after day, with near absolute impunity.  When their brutality makes a cameo appearance, it’s in the form of a joke or framed as a necessary use of force, or, often, both. 

Whether a sitcom, hourlong drama, or movie, almost all scripted media about cops promulgates the lie that law enforcement is a fundamentally decent institution that exists to keep us safe, cared for, and even loved. In these mostly white romantic comedy worlds, cops are goofballs-turned-love interests or the reliable buddy waiting in the wings. Without a hint of irony, their white partners are safe with them. And these depictions aren’t too far removed from the experiences of the industry’s target audience, white women like me, who, by and large, don’t have to worry that a cop is going to frame us, kill us, or brutalize our kids (as long as they appear white).

In rom-coms, there’s certainly no hint of the institution’s unrelenting terror and brutality, primarily directed against Black people—from a child playing in a park to a photographer driving home. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people. 2022 was the deadliest year for police killings in at least a decade, according to Mapping Police Violence, and less than two months into 2023, we’re already off to a violent start. 

Last month, Los Angeles police officers killed high school teacher Keenan Anderson, a Black man, after he was in a car accident and asked them for help. On January 7, Memphis police officers stopped photographer and skateboarder Tyre Nichols, also a Black man, while he was driving home. Less than 300 feet from the home he shared with his mother and stepfather, at least six officers mercilessly attacked him. He died from his injuries three days later.

Rom-coms don’t need to promote the police state; in fact, copaganda detracts from what makes rom-coms so, well, lovable—their predictability, their montages, their love letters to crushes and first kisses. They’re a cozy blanket on a rainy night. (And yes, they’re also full of cliches.) Ahead of Valentine’s Day, I went on a copaganda rom-com binge, granting me the unique authority to induct these classics into the entirely unofficial and not-yet-trademarked Copaganda Hall of Fame. 

All nominees must meet my criteria:

  • venerated cops as working-class heroes, 
  • copaganda subtly slipped into their storylines, 
  • and/or minimized police brutality. 

Extra points for those that accomplished all of the above.

Scalawag is a journalism and storytelling organization that works in solidarity with oppressed communities in the South to disrupt and shift the narratives that keep power and wealth in the hands of the few.

Flickr via DaPuglet

1. Bridesmaids (2011) 

Annie Walker’s (Kristen Wiig, who also co-wrote the screenplay) life is in rom-com shambles. Her best friend is getting married. She’s sleeping with a man she wants to date, but he’s only interested in hook-ups. Her bakery has gone out of business. 

But it looks like her luck may change when Wisconsin State Patrol Officer Nathan Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd) stops Annie for suspected drunk driving. She insists she’s sober and dances to prove it to him. 

He says he’s going to give her a ticket for broken brake lights but decides not to after they chat and, instead, refers her to a mechanic. She drives off. She wasn’t fatally shot, beaten, left paralyzed, or arrested

Last year, most police killings of civilians began with traffic stops, mental health checks, and other incidents where there was no allegation of violence, according to Mapping Police Violence.

Instead, Annie, who is white, and Nathan, who is white and from Ireland, meet up again and fall for each other. He buys healthy snacks at the convenience store (baby carrots) and detests littering. He encourages her to start baking again. 

Annie ends up rejecting him because she’s annoyed by his efforts to “fix” her.

Before they reconcile, Annie attempts to enlist Nathan’s help to find her best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), who has gone missing on her wedding day. 

Annie drives up to Nathan’s police car. Still angry, he ignores her. 

To get his attention, she races past his car yelling, “Reckless driving!” And then, “I’m speeding! You better pull me over!”

She tosses trash on the road and pretends to drink a beer. Then she drives past slowly, listening to Natural Born Killaz, her body low down in her seat, in what can only be described as an impersonation of her idea of a young Black man. 

Annie isn’t the only one to fall for a member of law enforcement. Another member of the bridal party Megan Price (Melissa McCarthy, who later starred with Sandra Bullock in the copaganda movie The Heat) becomes smitten with Air Marshal Jon after sitting next to him on a flight while he’s undercover.

Bridesmaids was set in Milwaukee and released in 2011. That year, 22-year-old Derek Williams, a Black man, spent the last moments of his life handcuffed in the back of a police car, pleading for help, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. 

Squad car video shows that for more than seven minutes, Williams gasped for breath and begged Milwaukee police officers for help, according to the paper, which requested, received, and reviewed the video. One rolled down a window. Williams fell unconscious. For at least 15 minutes between his arrest and death, he repeatedly told officers he could not breathe, according to the paper. 

Despite being ruled a homicide, no officers were criminally charged for Williams’ death.

Photo by Laura Ockel on Unsplash

2. Miss Congeniality (2000) 

Sandra Bullock plays Gracie Hart, an FBI agent who goes undercover at the Miss United States beauty pageant. She ends up saving the pageant, falling in love with another agent, and getting crowned as first runner-up. 

The movie opens with Gracie as a kid standing up for a boy who’s being bullied. Fast forward to her as an adult: She’s an FBI agent with unkempt hair and food stains on her rumpled suit. She loves guns and carries several on her at all times. 

In one of the movie’s first scenes, she puts a siren on top of her car and speeds through the streets. She parks, walks into a Starbucks, and pushes through the crowd of customers. When someone challenges her, she flashes her badge. At the counter, she places an order for her law enforcement colleagues, much to the disdain of the long line behind her.

Later in the movie, when she’s gone undercover at the beauty pageant as Gracie Lou Freebush, the host asks the contestants, “What is the one most important thing our society needs?” Each dutifully answers, “World peace.” Until Angie (undercover as Gracie). 

“That would be harsher punishment for parole violators.”


“And, world peace.”

Photo by Jill Wellington

3. Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous (2005)

The sequel picks up shortly after the first movie ends. It’s more buddy comedy than rom-com. FBI Agent Hart is now a celebrity, a role model for little girls, and an inspiration for women. An early working title of the sequel was America’s Next Top Carceral Feminist. (This is a joke, as far as I know.)

In this cinematic universe, the FBI is a band of scrappy misfits. It’s a racially integrated workforce committed to ridding the world of bad guys, like the bougie housewives who rob banks or the bumbling Las Vegas loan sharks (all played by white-presenting actors).

Agent Sam Fuller, played by Regina Watkins, who is Black, is assigned to be Gracie’s bodyguard. She had been transferred into the unit from Chicago because of “anger management problems,” Sam’s boss, who is also Black, tells her. (So you see, it’s not racist.) While Angie is a charming, gun-toting underdog who snorts when she laughs, her Black counterpart’s primary character trait is angry. 

The two start as enemies and become friends, and eventually crime-solving partners. 

Sam tells a fellow agent that when she doesn’t want to answer a question she’ll say, “I’m dizzy from smashing a suspect’s head into a wall and I can’t remember anything.” 

Later, Sam asks Gracie what they should do if a suspect won’t “cooperate” with their interrogation.

“Violence,” says Gracie, who’s been out of the field for months. “I have some catching up to do.”

Photo by Melissa Walker Horn on Unsplash

4. It Could Happen to You (1994)

Nicolas Cage plays big-hearted NYPD officer Charlie Lang. When he can’t afford to tip his waitress, Yvonne Biasi (Bridget Fonda), he tells her if he wins the lottery, he’ll share the fortune with her. He wins the next day and makes good on his promise. 

The movie, loosely based on a true story, came out the same year that NYPD Officer Francis Livoti put Anthony Baez in a chokehold, killing him. Baez had been playing football with his brothers when the football accidentally hit Livoti’s police cruiser. 

Photo by Christina Branco on Unsplash

Honorable TV Mentions:

Will & Grace (1998-2006, 2017-2020)

For several seasons of the nearly all-white NBC sitcom set in Manhattan, Will Truman (Eric James McCormack) dated NYPD cop (and eventual detective) Vince D’Angelo (Bobby Cannavale.) In 2005, during the “Partners ‘n Crime” episode in season 8, Jack (Sean Hayes), their friend and actor, announces he’s been cast in a role as a police officer who pistol whips people. 

“Maybe I can help,” Vincent tells him. “When I was addicted to painkillers, I used to pistol whip people for jaywalking.”

Audience laughter. 

In the same episode, Vincent tells Will, “We finally caught that subway killer today.”

“I thought you said you arrested somebody yesterday.” 

“Oh yeah,” Vince says. “Turns out he was the wrong guy. Worked him over pretty good.”

Audience laughter. 

“Well, at least now he has a funny story,” says Will. 

More laughter. 

About six months after the episode aired, in the early morning hours of Nov. 25, 2006, undercover NYPD officers shot about 50 bullets at Sean Bell’s car, with Bell and his two friends inside, all of whom were unarmed. 

Bell, a 23-year-old Black man, was killed, just hours before his wedding. His friends were shot multiple times but survived. Three officers were charged with Bell’s death and acquitted. Two of them didn’t even lose their pension. 

Mike and Molly (2010-2016)

The CBS sitcom centered around the romantic relationship between Molly (Melissa McCarthy) and Chicago police officer Mike (Billy Gardell), a shy, gentle, every(white)man who loves aquariums

Outside the sitcom world, the Chicago Police Department is notorious for its brutality. From 1972 to 1991, Detective Jon Burge either directly tortured or ordered the torture of more than 100 Black men and women at the department’s Area 2 headquarters. 

In 2010, the year Mike and Molly premiered, Burge was convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury. Five years into the show’s six-year run, the Chicago Tribune published an investigation into every time an officer fired their weapon between 2010 and 2015. During that time police killed almost 100 people, and about four out of every five people shot were Black males. One of those people was 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times while the teenager was walking away.  

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, donate here.

Paper Mail Gave me Hope on Rikers Island. Don’t Take it Away from Imprisoned People.

Photo by Ireland Rogers on Unsplash

Paper Mail Gave me Hope on Rikers Island. Don’t Take it Away from Imprisoned People.

Photo by Ireland Rogers on Unsplash

Paper Mail Gave me Hope on Rikers Island. Don’t Take it Away from Imprisoned People.

by David Campbell

I was lucky enough to get a lot of mail while imprisoned on Rikers Island. There was a ton of variety: Graph paper, notebook paper, and fingerpaintings from my friends’ toddler. Tiny, delicate pages from a Muji notebook, studded with a grid of little gray dots. Sky-blue stationery trimmed with an ornate, gleaming floral motif. Cream-colored sheets, almost cardstock-thick, that felt like wicker beneath my fingers. One friend sent me near-weekly vintage Halloween postcards with exquisite holographic stamps to match. Another friend sent a campy promotional scratch-and-sniff card for the 1981 John Waters film Polyester. I once got a piece of “junk mail” from the Arbor Day Foundation; I kept it just because I found its full-color high-definition photos of trees and woodlands so beautiful. I saved every letter I received, and took them home with me in a 33-gallon trash bag upon release. Because that is how much paper mail means to a prisoner. Its value is second only to a hug on a visit.

The New York City Department of Correction is currently seeking a “variance,” or permission not to meet certain minimum standards of care, from the Board of Correction, its nominally independent oversight body, in order to eliminate nearly all paper mail for imprisoned people. Instead of distributing physical mail, nearly every card, letter, and postcard would be scanned by the for-profit corporation Securus and delivered on tablets. The tablets currently in use at Rikers were rolled out during my time there. The device, in its clear plastic shell reading “American Prison Data Systems,” had to be checked out from the guards in the morning and turned in to them at night. It is an implicit reminder of your inmate status.

Numerous studies covering everything from e-books to e-signatures have confirmed that people prefer paper texts. There is something about the physicality of paper that matters. When you’re a prisoner starved for stimuli, your senses are heightened, and these distinctions are so real they leap out of the envelope at you.

It is well known that strong ties with the outside world induce better recovery from incarceration and reduce recidivism. Paper mail, which may well be “the most common form of family contact,” is one of the most fundamental ways of keeping those ties strong. A letter’s tangibility is an essential link with the outside world, rather than a reinforcement of a person’s institutional identity.

When you are incarcerated, a physical letter is a small marvel, a message in a bottle, a reminder of who you are, where you came from, who still cares about you, and why you should stay out of trouble and come home soon.

In facilities that have implemented mail-scan policies, letters often come out blurry, poorly scanned, and barely legible. There are also serious privacy issues that mail digitization raises. And while the efficacy of paper mail bans is questionable, they indisputably leave prisoners angry, upset, and distressed. Assault rates are documented to rise when in-person visits are banned in jails and prisons, and I can confirm firsthand that when services are cut, tempers flare. If real mail is replaced with a pale copy of itself, increased violence at Rikers is all but assured.

I can also confirm firsthand that the vast majority of any prisoner’s time there is spent doing absolutely nothing, simply because there is nothing to do. The DOC could easily invest in more and better programming and health services to counter the boredom that drives many to drug-induced escapism and mental despair. There were a staggering 19 deaths in DOC custody last year, many from overdoses. 

Prison systems have typically claimed they must move to digital mail in order to prevent contraband from entering facilities, but this is a red herring. While some guys I was incarcerated with did talk about receiving drugs in the mail, these small amounts paled in comparison to what was rumored to be trafficked by guards. After visits at Rikers were banned during the first wave of the pandemic, the amount of drugs found at the facility doubled. Since 2017, 25 city jail officers have been arrested in connection with smuggling contraband. DOC Commissioner Louis Molina has countered those statistics using the “few bad apples” argument—he reportedly stated last month that “twenty-five is not a majority of the people at the Department of Corrections.” To add insult to injury, Molina last year tried to rescind a rule banning jail officers from wearing cargo pants—a prohibition that had been put in place because guards had been using them to smuggle contraband.

The BOC has formed a commission to investigate the proposal before its next meeting on February 14— Valentine’s Day. 

“There is a long history of DOC using variances to get around providing the bare minimum jail conditions guaranteed by the Constitution,” Jarrod Shanahan, author of Captives: How Rikers Island Took New York City Hostage, told The Appeal. One thing is certain: the BOC cannot grant this variance and continue to claim it is making NYC’s jail more humane. Paper mail is one of the few things that keeps prisoners feeling human.


In the news


“All too often, hiring more Black and brown officers just provides us with the privilege of being brutalized by people who look like us,” writes movement lawyer and commentator Olayemi Olurin. [Olayemi Olurin / Teen Vogue]

Ali Winston and Appeal writer Darwin BondGraham have published a new book on the Oakland Police Department, “The Riders Come Out at Night: Brutality, Corruption, and Cover-up in Oakland.” [Darwin BondGraham / Twitter]

Massachusetts Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation to offer prisoners time off their sentence if they donate their organs or bone marrow. [Matthew Cunningham-Cook / The Lever] 

On January 18, Georgia State Patrol shot and killed a forest defender named Tortuguita—a 26-year-old whose birth name was Manuel Teran—during a raid. “No one would have been killed had Atlanta’s leadership not rammed through the unpopular project known as Cop City,” write Michah Herskind and Hannah Riley. [Michah Herskind and Hannah Riley / Teen Vogue] From The Appeal: Organizers are calling on national support for their continued efforts to halt the construction of a police militarization facility in the Atlanta forest, Aja Arnold reports.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, a recently launched community-safety department is responding to calls for service involving nonviolent crises, primarily pertaining to mental health, homelessness, and substance use. In years past, these duties would have fallen primarily to officers with the city’s police department, which has one of the nation’s highest fatal shooting rates. [Murat Oztaskin / The New Yorker]

ICYMI — from The Appeal

After decades in prison, should adults convicted as teens get a second chance? In part two of this series, Sylvia A. Harvey covers one man’s fight for resentencing in D.C. under recently enacted youth justice legislation. Published with The Imprint

Georgia prisons are in the midst of two Department of Justice investigations, but conditions seem to keep getting worse, report Aja Arnold and C. Dreams. Violent assaults and homicides in these facilities continued at a near-record pace in 2022, and suicides reached a new high.

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, donate here.

Police Surveillance Firms Are Just Data-Brokers by Another Name

Jonathan McIntosh via Flickr

Police Surveillance Firms Are Just Data-Brokers by Another Name

Jonathan McIntosh via Flickr

Police Surveillance Firms Are Just Data-Brokers by Another Name

by Edward Vogel

As a Detroit City Council meeting dragged on in late September 2022, Detroit’s chief of police, James E. White, grew exasperated. City council members, police officials, and residents had for weeks debated allocating $7 million of Detroit’s funds from the American Rescue Plan—the $1.9 trillion federal COVID-19 relief stimulus passed in 2021—to pay for an expansion of the city’s contract with ShotSpotter, a company that claims to reduce gun violence by installing gunshot-detection microphones in typically low-income neighborhoods. 

Frustrated by the prolonged blowback, White eventually spoke up at the meeting and described ShotSpotter as “nothing but an investigative lead. It has no video. It has no voice recordings. It responds to the percussion of a gunshot, period.” While Chief White thought he was proving that ShotSpotter is not a tool for mass surveillance, his testimony revealed what many had been saying for weeks: that the company’s microphones do little other than record entire—often Black, brown, and poor—neighborhoods on the police’s behalf.

In other words, while companies like ShotSpotter, license-plate-reader operator Flock Safety, and cell-phone tracker Fog Data Science pitch themselves as third-party public-safety platforms, what they really are are “data brokers”—companies that do little other than profit by selling bulk information to others. And they’re taking local governments for a ride. 

Data-brokerage firms have proliferated since the dawn of the internet and social media. These companies—often without a person’s knowledge—harvest identifying information from the internet and other sources in order to sell it to companies or businesses. Critics have called the practice invasive and rife with possibilities for abuse, and some states have begun to regulate the practice. Vermont and California have each created registries for all brokers operating in those states and passed some rudimentary restrictions on how brokers can operate. Law enforcement agents have also begun working heavily with data firms—so much so that when the U.S. Congress considered a data privacy bill last year, brokerage firms claimed the bill would harm their ability to work with police.

But in many cases, these companies do little for law enforcement other than aggregate raw data. ShotSpotter, for example, covers neighborhoods with microphones that detect all sounds over 120 decibels. If a computer and a person believe that a sound could possibly be a gunshot, a police officer is typically deployed to the area. The company makes money by collecting information about loud sounds and selling it to police departments. 

Similarly, Flock Safety, an Atlanta-based startup founded in 2017, sells automatic license plate reader (ALPR) cameras to police departments and homeowners associations. Flock uses their cameras to track and trace anyone who happens to be driving through designated areas.

Like ShotSpotter, Flock has raised millions by arguing that its style of always-on surveillance can help solve crime even though there is little evidence proving this is true. According to Vallejo, CA’s Flock Safety Transparency portal, there were more than 400,000  vehicles identified by the company’s cameras in the first 30 days of 2023. Of these, only 4,490—only about 1 percent—lit up the “hot list” of numbers to watch. This data is also murky: police typically provide little transparency as to why plates are added to a “hot list,” and there are few stories of crimes solved due to data collected by these cameras. Flock is building a privately-owned map of millions of drivers’ locations without demonstrating that this data does much but pad their bottom line.

Another firm, Fog Data Science, acts as a broker for cell phone data. As documented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Fog Data Science purchases cell phone location data, which the company then packages for sale to police and homeland security agencies. This data can be searched and specific phones can be traced and geolocated through a user-friendly interface. In its marketing materials, the company states it has billions of data points from over 250 million devices dating back to 2017.

Profitability requires dragnet surveillance to build larger datasets, and there is no business incentive for these companies to dam their profit stream. And the people best positioned to reel these companies in rarely do so. Police and elected officials who are considering contracts rarely request evidence that the technologies actually deliver on the marketing promises made by the companies and seldom inquire if the tools can address the systemic causes of violence and crime. When pressed, the best that pro-surveillance technology advocates like Chief White can often do is fearmonger about what will happen if police do not have access to these tools while offering scant concrete evidence that they actually improve community safety. Law enforcement data brokers are not able to address the root causes of crime, only to profit from mass data collection. These firms deserve to be treated like the brokers they are—and communities impacted by violence deserve better than to have their trauma turned into profit.


In the news


On Jan. 7, Memphis police officers stopped Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, while he was driving home. He lived with his stepfather and mother, who was making sesame seed chicken for dinner. 

Less than 300 feet from home, several police officers mercilessly attacked him. He died from his injuries three days later. 

Five Black officersTadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith—have been fired and charged with, among other offenses, second-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping.   

The officers were a part of the SCORPION unit, which stands for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods. 

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Nichols’s family, told the New York Times that shortly before Nichols’s death, officers with the unit had beaten a 66-year-old man and pointed a gun at another man who was driving to pick up a pizza.

After video footage of the attack on Nichols was made public, Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis disbanded the unit.

A sixth officer, Preston Hemphill, who is white, has been “relieved of duty,” but not criminally charged or terminated, according to news reports. He used his taser and twice said, “I hope they stomp his ass,” ABC News reported. 

Last July, Hemphill completed 40 hours of training to join the Memphis Police Crisis Intervention Team, the Daily Beast reported. 

A seventh officer was “relieved of duty,” but has not been publicly named. 

Nichols was a photographer, skateboarder, and father. On the day the police attacked him, he was coming home after taking photographs of the sky. 

“Photography helps me look at the world in a more creative way,” he had written on his photography website. “It expresses me in ways i cannot write down for people… I hope to one day let people see what i see.”

ICYMI — from The Appeal

Sentenced as a teen to die in prison, Cordell Miller earned a second chance under a DC sentencing reform law. In Part 1 of this three-part series, Sylvia A. Harvey tracks Miller’s path from Jamaica, to New York City, to the nation’s capital. Co-published with The Imprint News.

Adam Rhodes was on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show to discuss their recent reporting about New Jersey’s rollback of protections for incarcerated trans people. Adam’s story breaks down the transphobia and tabloid coverage that helped prompt the prison policy change.

Tyre Nichols case has everything to do with race, writes Ieshaah Murphy. That Black officers can also be the face of police brutality against Black people doesn’t disprove the racism at the institution’s core. It only reveals a system of policing so deeply defined by anti-Black racism that even Black officers can find themselves actively perpetuating it.

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, donate here.

California Politicians are Disguising Homeless Sweeps as “Care”

California Governor Gavin Newsom
Gage Skidmore via Flickr

California Politicians are Disguising Homeless Sweeps as “Care”

California Governor Gavin Newsom
Gage Skidmore via Flickr

California Politicians are Disguising Homeless Sweeps as “Care”

by Jerry Iannelli

California is experiencing the worst affordable housing shortage in the nation—and, not coincidentally, the country’s largest and most visible homelessness crisis as well. But rather than address the root of this crisis, the landed gentry and other special interest groups who largely run state politics have demanded aggressive action to sweep aside its most conspicuous symptoms. Some conservative-leaning elected officials have responded by proposing acts of outright cruelty, like shipping the unhoused out of town entirely.

But two of the state’s most powerful Democrats—Gov. Gavin Newsom and newly elected Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass—have gone to greater lengths to disguise their homeless removal efforts as “caring” and “compassionate,” rather than favors for the local real estate and business owners who control state and local politics. 

Over the past year, Newsom and Bass have each launched their own programs designed to get people off the streets—humanely, of course.  Under legislation championed by Newsom and passed by the state legislature last year, local officials will soon be empowered to force certain unhoused individuals into psychiatric treatment, a plan that numerous mental health advocates and civil rights groups oppose. And, in the last month, Bass has begun pressuring unhoused Angelenos to move into city-provided motels. While the measure is intended to be temporary, it carries only a vague promise of a permanent home, tied to yet-to-be-constructed affordable housing units.

Both plans carry significant risks: Advocates for the unhoused fear that Newsom’s will further traumatize vulnerable people by using police and the courts to force them into medication regimens or therapy. Bass’s program, meanwhile, hinges on pushing developers to build thousands of as-yet-unannounced affordable housing units, a process historically mired in construction delays, angry homeowner’s groups, and red tape. 

Despite these major shortcomings, Newsom and Bass have succeeded in convincing large swaths of the media and public that their proposals are acts of care for the unhoused.

Newsom’s measure—called “CARE Court”—paves the way for family members, state officials, and first responders to force more unhoused people into court-ordered treatment programs for a period of up to two years.

The proposal passed through the state legislature last year, despite pushback from mental health professionals who argue that court-ordered treatment programs are actively harmful. In June, as Newsom was pushing lawmakers to adopt his proposal, the ACLU of California’s lobbying group begged legislators to spike the idea, stating that it would “unravel decades of hard-won progress by the disability rights movement to secure self-determination, equality, and dignity for people with disabilities.” 

Critics have also panned the bill for failing to guarantee housing to CARE Court participants and for doing nothing to mandate the building of new, affordable homes. While Newsom’s administration has separately funded the creation of new housing units for the needy, the CARE Act signed into law last year only states that someone funneled into CARE Court “may” be given housing resources afterward, which means people could be forced to adhere to medication regimens or other requirements while still living on the street.

The basic contours of Newsom’s plan bear a striking resemblance to an initiative New York City Mayor Eric Adams unveiled late last year. As advocates told The Appeal then, forced treatment can leave people with lifelong trauma and economic consequences. Individuals hospitalized for mental health issues can be barred from obtaining a host of professional licenses, denied access to higher education, or prohibited from getting a commercial driver’s license. In some cases, they can even lose the right to parent their own children. Studies have also found that young people involuntarily hospitalized are less likely to seek medical help if they feel suicidal and, overall, say they are far less trusting of the medical system.

Newsom has done little to address or even acknowledge these concerns. In fact, to hear it from the governor—or the news outlets that have credulously parroted his descriptions of CARE Courts—he is responsible for a kindness befitting a modern-day Mother Teresa.

“CARE Court is about meeting people where they are and acting with compassion to support the thousands of Californians living on our streets with severe mental health and substance use disorders,” Newsom stated in a press release last year.

While the state’s first CARE Court programs are set to begin operating later this year—including in Los Angeles County by Dec. 1—Mayor Bass isn’t waiting to start sweeping LA’s unhoused out of sight. In December, she announced “Inside Safe,” a program that offers to move people from the streets into city-provided motel rooms. Bass has promised the initiative will give participants a shot at obtaining permanent housing. 

Worryingly, however, Bass has begun displacing people—starting with a longstanding homeless encampment in Venice—without announcing concrete plans to build affordable homes. So far, Bass has offered little more than a pledge to vastly speed up the permitting process for new construction projects

While it’s possible Bass does make good on such an offer, the odds are not in her favor: Los Angeles real estate is prohibitively expensive and local homeowners and business groups tend to fight similar projects with the fervor of religious fanatics. The last local attempt at a “housing first” homeless policy, a federally funded program called Project Roomkey, only housed one-third of the people it had initially planned due to a lack of resources. (Helpfully, however, Bass’s administration will start receiving an influx of cash on April 1 thanks to Measure ULA, a 2022 ballot petition that levied a new tax on the ultra-wealthy in order to fund affordable-housing and rental assistance.) 

Participants of Inside Safe have reportedly been pressured to throw away tents and other belongings as a condition of the program. If they eventually lose access to their new housing, they will likely be left with less than they started with. And, while Bass has claimed Inside Safe will only “voluntarily” move people into motels, the city’s outreach comes with an implicit threat. Those who remain on the street may later be forcibly moved, fined, or even arrested as part of the city’s draconian outdoor-camping ban, a law that Bass has said she supports. (Bass has also taken flak from advocates for the unhoused after the city cleared homeless encampments near Los Angeles City Hall days before her inauguration last month.)

As with the CARE Act, Inside Safe has holes that carry the serious potential to cause harm. The attempts to market these approaches as “compassionate” reek of political gamesmanship, hasty planning, and a focus on optics rather than substance. Despite being pitched as transformational acts of healing, the only thing either plan fully guarantees is that the unhoused, at least for the time being, will be moved out of public sight.


In the news


Los Angeles police killed a 31-year-old Black high school teacher who had gotten into a traffic accident and asked them for help. The victim, Keenan Anderson, was the cousin of Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors. [Sam Levin / The Guardian]

Police killed over 1,100 people in 2022
, the highest number in a single year since Mapping Police Violence began collecting data ten years ago. Nearly 1 in 4 victims were Black, even though Black people make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population. [Sharon Zhang / Truthout]

Eteng Ettah takes a look at “how the carceral system showed up—and was dismantled—in the most popular shows of 2022.” [Eteng Ettah / Scalawag]

Last August, Larry Price, who had paranoid schizophrenia and a developmental disability, died in his cell at the Sebastian County Jail in Arkansas. His cause of death was dehydration and malnutrition. Earlier this month, his estate filed suit against the county and the jail’s healthcare provider. [Tesfaye Negussie / ABC News]

Appeal Board member Josie Duffy Rice’s premiered a new podcast, UNREFORMED: the Story of the Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children, where thousands of Black children were subjected to physical and sexual violence and forced to work in the fields surrounding the school. [Josie Duffy Rice / Twitter]

ICYMI — from The Appeal

The police killing of Tortuguita, a protester in the Atlanta forest, follows months of escalations by law enforcement against the Stop Cop City movement. Aja Arnold reports on the fallout and questions swirling around the official narrative of the shooting.

A recent policy change in New Jersey was just the latest result of a debate that often frames the humane treatment of trans prisoners as a threat to the security of the rest of the population—especially in the case of trans women, writes Adam Rhodes

Proposed legislation in New York would amend the state constitution to end the nearly 200-year-old practice of felony disenfranchisement. The bill’s sponsors write that it would be one way to honor MLK’s legacy on voting rights.

Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg reports that ​​kids at Angola have been locked in their cells for days at a time, only allowed to leave to shower, according to a teen who was held at the former death row unit. The power often goes out when it rains. When it’s cold, there’s no hot water. Weill-Greenberg discussed her reporting on KPFA’s Law and Disorder with Cat Brooks.

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, donate here.

Some Good News and Ways to Give Back

Some Good News and Ways to Give Back

Some Good News and Ways to Give Back

For millions of families, this time of year is yet another reminder of all that is missed when a loved one is incarcerated. As 2022 ends, there are close to 2 million people locked up in the United States. Many of them live in unbearably inhumane conditions that will remain just as miserable on Christmas day as the days and weeks before. Some are on death row, wondering if their execution date will come next year. All are separated from their loved ones on the outside.  

Below are some ways to help support incarcerated people and their families during the holiday season and throughout the year. (If you have an effort that you’d like highlighted, please email The Appeal at

We also want to say thank you. Thank you for sticking with us this year as we rebuilt The Appeal into a worker-led newsroom that exposes injustice. We’re so proud of the impact our work has had and on that note, are excited to share an update with you on one story we’ve been covering. In July, Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg reported on the moldy and spoiled food served at a women’s prison in Virginia, which caught the attention of Delegate Patrick Hope, who demanded action. Just last week, an incarcerated advocate wrote to Elizabeth and shared that the women have been told that improvements will finally be made. 

“While this is just promises at this point, I have hope, as it is the closest thing to change I have seen since I have been here,” she wrote to Elizabeth. “I attribute this to your work and the work of Delegate Hope. I cannot thank you and him enough for what you have done.”

This will be our last newsletter for 2022—we need to recharge and close our laptops for a bit, and we hope you’re able to do the same.

See you when we reopen in 2023.

In solidarity and with hope!

— The Appeal workers  

The following organizations provide support to currently or formerly incarcerated people:

  • Root and Rebound assists currently and formerly incarcerated people to reenter the community and access services.
  • Volunteers with Survived and Punished correspond with criminalized survivors. 
  • The Appeal is proud to work with Empowerment Avenue, an organization dedicated to uplifting and compensating incarcerated writers.
  • Through El Refugio, volunteers provide companionship through letters and calls with people imprisoned at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, a private prison that primarily houses immigrant detainees. Speakers of language(s) other than English are needed.


In the news


Five “Cop City” protesters were arrested and held without bond on domestic terrorism charges. As Aja Arnold wrote in The Appeal last year, Georgia’s “Cop City” is a $90 million police militarization training facility and has faced fierce community opposition. [Associated Press]

At an Illinois public school for children with disabilities, administrators call the police on students every other school day. [Jennifer Smith Richards, and Jodi S. Cohen / Chicago Tribune and ProPublica]

Theodore Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa, replaced police with restorative justice practices.[Andy Kopsa / In These Times]

Ballot initiatives that ban prison slavery may benefit incarcerated pregnant people—in particular women of color—who can be forced to work immediately before and after they give birth. Incarcerated women of color are more likely to be made to perform manual labor (such as picking cotton or corn) while white women are more likely to be assigned desk jobs. [Katherine Gilyard / The 19th]

The United States voted against a United Nations resolution supporting a worldwide death penalty moratorium. The resolution passed in a vote of 125-37 with 22 abstentions. [Julia Conley / Common Dreams]

ICYMI — from The Appeal

Police have arrested thousands in “proactive” online sex stings, using officers posing as children. The operations draw splashy headlines and big federal grants, but as Steven Yoder reports, they also risk entrapping people with no criminal intent.

New York City prosecutors recently dropped murder charges against Tracy McCarter, a domestic violence survivor who killed her estranged husband in an act of self-defense. “There are too many women sitting behind bars simply because they were trying to survive,” writes Caryn York

We thought it was time to bring out a few stories from the archives in honor of the Mayor’s Retail Theft Summit in New York City:

  • Big retail chains are manufacturing a shoplifting crisis, wrote Jerry Iannelli.
  • Reporters who parrot corporate claims of out-of-control theft play into a narrative that benefits big business and perpetuates carceral policies, wrote Kyle C. Barry
  • 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, wrote Nick Wing. 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.

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 Appeal will be closed from December 23 through January 8 for a much-needed rest and recharge. We’re wishing everyone a happy holidays, and looking forward to doing big things together in the new year.

Over-Reliance on Plea Deals is Damaging the Criminal Legal System

gorodenkoff / iStock by Getty Images

Over-Reliance on Plea Deals is Damaging the Criminal Legal System

gorodenkoff / iStock by Getty Images

Over-Reliance on Plea Deals is Damaging the Criminal Legal System

by Nneka Ewulonu

It’s easy for the average American to envision a courtroom trial. Shows like “Law and Order” inundate us with fictional depictions of trials—from the thud of a gavel to the inquisitive eyes of a jury—with an underlying assumption that these depictions reflect reality to some degree. Unfortunately, however, trials are largely a myth in the criminal legal system. Most criminal defendants never experience the constitutional right-turned-luxury of a trial by jury: 94 percent of federal criminal convictions and 97 percent of state criminal convictions are the result of guilty plea deals.

Plea deals certainly can have benefits. They can be an opportunity for the defendant to receive a more favorable sentence than they would receive if found guilty through trial. And by forgoing trial, the resolution of the case often comes much faster than it otherwise would. But the over-reliance on plea deals does far more harm than good by making it unlikely that defendants ever face a real trial by their peers.

This reality falls short of the rights and protections defendants are constitutionally owed. The Sixth Amendment states that criminal defendants have the right to a speedy and public trial, an impartial jury, and assistance of counsel, among other rights. In the 1963 case Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court unanimously held that the Sixth Amendment requires states to provide a defense to criminal defendants who cannot afford their own counsel. Clarence Earl Gideon was accused of robbing a Florida poolroom of wine and cash but was too poor to afford a lawyer. When Gideon requested that the state appoint him one, a local judge told him that the state only appointed public defenders in death-penalty cases and denied his request. 

When Gideon’s case made it to the Supreme Court, his appointed lawyer gave a legendary argument, reasoning that even criminal defense attorneys hire lawyers to represent them, despite having far more institutional knowledge than the average defendant. By ruling in Gideon’s favor, the Court created new and expanded pre-existing public defender programs throughout the country.

But, since then, plea deals have become the backbone of criminal defense. Despite the constitutional requirement to provide indigent defendants  proper legal representation, public defense offices across the country are wildly underfunded and understaffed. One 2017 study in Louisiana found that public defenders caseloads were five times higher than the recommended workload. Similarly, public defenders in Colorado, Rhode Island, and Missouri have two to three times the recommended caseload. A report released in January 2022 by the American Bar Association suggested that Oregon only has one third the public defenders it needs. As a result, public defenders at times only have minutes to spend with each client, far less time than necessary to prepare a case for trial.

Like most of the criminal legal system, plea deals are plagued with racism and other forms of bigotry. Because the prosecution makes the first offer of a plea deal, implicit racial bias impacts the kinds of pleas offered to white defendants and defendants of color. A 2017 study by researchers at Loyola Law School Los Angeles found that white defendants charged with misdemeanors are 74 percent more likely than Black defendants to have the most serious charges—those with the risk of incarceration—dropped. Gender inequality also intersects with racial bigotry: white women tend to receive the most lenient plea treatment, according to a 2020 report by the Vera Institute of Justice.

But public defenders are often too overworked to overcome the system’s bigotry. A lawsuit recently filed in Oregon alleges that the state’s public defender crisis disproportionately hurts Black defendants, who are more likely to need court-appointed defense counsel. Oregon’s issues are not unique. 

An over-reliance on plea deals means the old adage of “innocent until proven guilty” has effectively been replaced with “innocent until pleading guilty.” In fact, innocent people regularly plead guilty—different studies have estimated that at least 11 percent of criminal exonerations since 1989 came from innocent people pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit. 

Perhaps the most obvious solution to this issue is prison abolition. Black and Hispanic defendants can’t be at a higher risk of facing incarceration if jails and prisons did not exist. But while prison abolition remains a far-off hope, a more tangible and immediate solution starts with hiring more public defenders, reducing public defenders’ caseloads, and allowing them the chance to work more intimately with their clients. Unless changes are made, bad plea deals will continue to plague our legal system, to the detriment of all of our constitutional rights.

In the news

People incarcerated in New York state prisons were forced to perform dangerous jobs for penny wages during the height of the pandemic, including asbestos abatement and removal of lead paint, according to New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision data obtained by The Intercept. [Akela Lacy / The Intercept]

The Daily News reports that Edgardo Mejias, 39, has become the 19th person to die in New York City jails this year. Mejias had been arrested for allegedly stealing perfume, and had been at Rikers Island since Oct. 2. [Graham Rayman / New York Daily News]

A Michigan judge ordered a lower court to dismiss the misdemeanor charges filed against the state’s former governor, Rick Snyder, for his role in the Flint water crisis. Snyder had been charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty by a public official. [Arpan Lobo / Detroit Free Press]

Jamal Crummel developed hypothermia while detained in Pennsylvania’s Dauphin County Prison. He was hospitalized for nearly a month and then returned to the same jail. Crummel developed hypothermia again and died. [Joshua Vaughn / PennLive]

The Floresville Police Department in Texas hired disgraced former San Antonio police officer Matthew Luckhurst as a reserve officer. While working in San Antonio, Luckhurst gave a homeless person a sandwich filled with dog feces. [Eric Dexheimer / San Antonio Express-News]

ICYMI — from The Appeal

Christina Lynch is trying to survive on the sex offender registry. As Lynch writes, it’s nearly impossible: “Sex offender registries are debt traps that cause mass homelessness and mass incarceration.”

Fourteen people detained by the Fulton County Sheriff in Georgia have died this year—more than four times the number of people who died in custody all of last year. But local leaders are considering cutting funding to a program that helps keep people out of jail.

Pieper Lewis—a teenage sex-trafficking survivor who stabbed her abuser to death in self-defense—got the “compassionate” sentence of community supervision. But, as writer Mon Mohapatra argues, “Simply being ‘better than prison’ is not an effective measure of justice, and it is even less so when we recognize that ‘alternatives’ are leading millions—like Pieper Lewis—back toward incarceration.”

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.

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:


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!

From now until December 31, all donations to The Appeal will be tripled! Thanks to generous matching grants through the NewsMatch program, the first $15,000 we raise from supporters before the end of the year will unlock an extra $30,000 for us. We know we can count on you.

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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.


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 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.


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.

If you become a sustaining monthly donor at $25 or more, we’ll send you our brand new “Fire Your Bosses” t-shirt!

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.”


  • 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
  • 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 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,, 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 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

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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 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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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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.

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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

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

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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.

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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]

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