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Like during the Civil Rights Movement, peaceful NFL protesters have exposed the mean-spirited bigotry of America

Like during the Civil Rights Movement, peaceful NFL protesters have exposed the mean-spirited bigotry of America

The American Civil Rights Movement had many aims, but one of the central goals of peaceful, non-violent marches and demonstrations was to expose those who opposed equality and freedom for what they truly were — hateful, mean-spirited bigots. The strategy of non-violence in the face of racist taunts, death threats, police dogs, water hoses, and even violent physical confrontations was rooted in ancient theologies and philosophies, but its practical, immediate goal was to help show the world that the fight for equality had sides — good and evil, right and wrong.

When young Freedom Riders had their bus bombed and burned as they neared Anniston, Alabama it exposed those who opposed them. When Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor turned high pressure hoses on peaceful protesters, it exposed him for what he truly was. When milkshakes and sodas were poured onto the heads of peaceful people aiming to integrate lunch counters, it exposed just how cruel segregationists were willing to be to make their point. When churches were bombed and little girls were blown to bits, when peaceful leaders were shot and killed on balconies and doorsteps, when sweet little black girls were booed and hissed at by grown women as they walked into their newly integrated schools — the world was watching — and what they saw ultimately provided the public pressure and momentum needed for the passage of the groundbreaking legislation known as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

Peaceful protestors and demonstrators, who are simply asking for reasonable, meaningful reforms on issues of police brutality and continued racial inequality, are being cruelly demonized, ridiculed, and harassed.

It’s hard to fully recognize and understand a moment of history when you are in it, but right here, right now, we are in a moment that is painfully similar to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. Peaceful protestors and demonstrators, who are simply asking for reasonable, meaningful reforms on issues of police brutality and continued racial inequality, are being cruelly demonized, ridiculed, and harassed.

Last week, in Saint Louis, hundreds of protesters took to the street after a judge issued a not guilty verdict in a case where Jason Stockley, a white police officer, shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith, a 24-year-old black man. During a brief car chase, Stockley can be heard on a recording saying, “We’re going to kill this mother fucker, don’t you know it.” Stockley also instructed another officer to ram the police car into Smith’s vehicle. Moments later, Stockley exited the vehicle and shortly thereafter killed Smith.

As the St. Louis police broke up the protests and ordered people to disperse, some officers could be heard shouting, “Whose streets? Our streets,” which is as an appropriation of a well-known Black Lives Matter chant. Interim St. Louis Police Chief Lawrence O’Toole said later that evening that the over 80 people arrested that evening (which included an AP journalist) are “criminals,” and he told the press that his officers “owned the night.”

As Carimah Townes reported earlier today for In Justice Today, a few miles away, at the Saint Louis Galleria mall, which is across the city boundary into Saint Louis County, a group of people gathered to protest the verdict in the Stockley case, as well. Here, too, the police deployed overly aggressive tactics in the process of arresting 22 people. When officers roughly detained the 13-year-old grandson of Karla Frye, a 56-year-old black woman who serves as an elder in church and runs a non-profit organization, Frye apparently tried to jump on the officer’s back to stop him.

The officer is seen moments later choking Ms. Frye. You know what Robert “Bob” McCulloch, the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney did? As Townes reported, he charged Ms. Frye, an elderly black woman, with assaulting a police office, rioting, and resisting arrest. She was arrested and held on a $10,000 bond.

If Saint Louis County and Bob McCulloch sound familiar to you, it is because he failed to secure a grand jury indictment against former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in 2014. During the unrest that followed both the shooting and failure to indict Wilson, law enforcement used military-grade vehicles and riot gear to patrol the protests that erupted.

Saint Louis isn’t alone. In the wake of videos emerging of police shootings and excessive force from around the country — in some ways, the modern analogue to the photos of Bull Connor and the high pressure fire hose — protests have erupted in Baltimore, Chicago, Minneapolis, and other cities, large and small, across the country. Through these videos, and the protests they have inspired, Americans are becoming awakened to the extreme callousness with which officers police mostly poor, mostly black and brown, communities.

Indeed, the desire to bring attention to police brutality led NFL players like Colin Kaepernick to take a knee during the national anthem. This form of peaceful protest, which respects and reflects the best of our country’s traditions of civil rights driven dissent, created an opportunity to amplify the already bubbling national conversation about brutality and discrimination in policing.

And, then, Donald Trump happened. Last Friday, Trump, at a political rally in Alabama, called peaceful non-violent protesters in the NFL “sons of bitches” who should be fired for kneeling during the national anthem. Never in modern American history has the President of the United States spoken so openly with such cruel vulgarity about peaceful protesters. Yet, since then, Trump has apologized for neither the sentiment nor the language. That’s because Trump’s failed presidency needs to mainstream, as a form of distraction, the horrible bigotry often exhibited by anonymous white supremacists and trolls on the Internet.

Trump’s hate-filled stump speech is purifying, though. When it comes to police shootings or the use of excessive force, we know that race drives outcomes in the same way we know that gravity exists. What Trump’s speech did, though, is to lay bare the racism that hides just under the surface in America. The President gives permission to people like Paul Smith, the Pennsylvania fire chief who posted on Facebook that he was putting Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on a list of “no-good niggers.” How racist do you have to be, and how racist must you assume your Facebook friends to be, to post something so horrible on social media?

Trump’s words also gives cover to people like Colonel Kriste Kibbey Etue, the Director of the Michigan State Police, who posted a message on Facebookcalling the athletes who took a knee against injustice this past weekend “ingrates” and “anti-American degenerates.” She later issued a half-hearted apology in which she basically said she was sorry she posted it on Facebook, but failed to acknowledge the fact that it is deeply disturbing for one of the highest ranking law-enforcement officers in the state of Michigan to think what we now know she thinks about these peaceful protesters.

Her actions are not without troubling context, though. In 2013, two black cops with the Michigan State Police won a huge lawsuit against their department for racial discrimination. In the years since, those same officers have said they have faced mistreatment and retaliation from within the department. The recent comments from their own Director only serve as more evidence that all people are not seen as equal there — from the top down. If the Etue sees peaceful NFL players who demonstrate as less than fully human, how must she and the officers under her command feel about the everyday people they are paid to serve across the state? How must it affect criminal investigations when a leading member of an essential law enforcement agency has such demeaning thoughts about people?

Just yesterday it was revealed that the owner of a very popular, upscale Wisconsin restaurant publicly called for protesting NFL players to be killed.

Over 200 NFL players took a knee or a seat during the National Anthem this past weekend. Hundreds more demonstrated in other ways. The harsh, demeaning backlash we are seeing from many white people in power only confirms the need for people to protest in the first place. The hope is that this ugliness gives salience to the underlying fight for a fair and humane justice system in the same way the lunch counter provided a window for empathy and attention during the Civil Rights Movement. Trump, the fire chief, and the director of the state police have each exposed that what’s really in their hearts isn’t patriotism and love of country, but bigotry and plain old meanness. It’s up to us to convert that hatred into the fuel we need to transform the justice system.

In spite of policy change, Minneapolis body camera program falls short

In spite of policy change, Minneapolis body camera program falls short

The fatal shooting of Minneapolis resident Justine Damond, a white Australian native, by police officer Mohamed Noor in July reignited a local debate about the use of body-mounted cameras. Noor and fellow officer Matthew Harrity didn’t have their body cameras on when Damand was killed, a revelation that spurred interim Police Chief Medaria Arradondo to immediately require city police officers activate their cameras during all civilian interactions. Before Damand’s death, officers were required to use these cameras during traffic stops and when the potential for criminal activity was present, but not necessarily for all encounters with civilians, City Pagesreports.

Yet two months after the new policy went into effect, an audit reveals that many Minneapolis officers still struggle with proper use of the technology. While the amount of footage recorded by officers has more than doubled since Damond’s death, officers frequently did not check to see if the cameras were working properly, or turned them off prematurely. Many officers also failed to correctly categorize video, making it more difficult to locate for review and in some cases, causing footage to be inappropriately deleted. As a result, the audit found that 7 percent of use of force video and 29 percent of general video was either missing or lost.

The audit’s most damning conclusion concerned the lack of oversight of the program. It found that supervisors are not reviewing footage to ensure officers are using the cameras correctly. “There’s some people who never have it on,” said City Councilmember Linea Palmisano at a news conference last week. “This is a very expensive program, and there isn’t oversight of this, and there isn’t governance.”

Chief Arradondo conceded that “there’s still a lot of work to be done, and we’re still learning.”

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman recently told NPR that the existence of video documenting Noor’s encounter with Damond would have provided “more concrete evidence” for him to assess whether to charge Noor. Earlier this month, the County Attorney told community members he was “saddened by the death of this fine young woman,” adding that it “shouldn’t have happened.” He was criticized for these comments by Mayoral candidate Nekima Levy-Pounds in a Facebook post, who called the statement a prime example of “why many people of color feel that there is a double standard in how the system, and decision-makers within the system, treat people differently on the basis of race and socio-economic status.”

The Minneapolis audit, along with the responses of public officials, highlight broader problems local police departments across the country are experiencing with newly-adopted body camera programs. As Brooklyn College Professor Alex Vitale recently observed for In Justice Today, the increased use of cameras seems to create as many problems as it solves, including controversy over who controls the footage, and when cameras should be turned on and off. Despite the hopes of many, these programs appear to be falling short when it comes to increased transparency and rebuilt trust between officers and the communities they serve.

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Underage teenager faces life as registered sex offender for having sex with underage girlfriend

Harris County Courthouse
Wikimedia Commons

Underage teenager faces life as registered sex offender for having sex with underage girlfriend

A 14-year-old Houston teenager may be a registered sex offender for the rest of his life after he was charged with having sex with his 12-year-old girlfriend.

The seventh grader, whose name has not been revealed, has been charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child. His girlfriend is in the sixth grade, the Houston Chronicle said.

“He had consensual sex with his little girlfriend and he loved her. They were boyfriend-girlfriend,” the teen’s mother said.

Texas law has the “Romeo and Juliet” exception, which means that having sex with a juvenile under the age of consent is not illegal, if you’re less than three years older than the person who is under the age of consent.

But that law only applies if both sexual partners are at least 14. If you’re 13 or younger, the Romeo and Juliet exception isn’t valid.

“The idea that a 14-year-old who has sex with a person just a little bit younger than him or her would be treated as the worst of the worst in our society and placed on the sex offender registry is really sick,” said the teenager’s attorney, Joseph Gutheinz. “If he has sex with someone who is younger by just days but is still 13 years old, he could be charged with one of the most serious offenses we have. It just blows my mind.”

The arrest occurred in May but Gutheinz confirmed to In Justice Today that the case was still pending. He expressed frustration that the case had not been resolved.

“This is a good kid,” Gutheinz said. “He shouldn’t have to go through this.”

Gutheinz told In Justice Today that children in this situation have no idea they’re committing a crime until after the fact.

“These kids don’t understand the law,” he said. “They’re only really worried about mom and dad finding out.”

Gutheinz said he was seeking to resolve the case in a way that ensured that the teenager would not have to be a registered sex offender.

The office of Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg has not commented on the case.

Jackie Stewart Gravois, an attorney with the Harris County Public Defender’s Office, told the Houston Chronicle that judges don’t usually make juveniles register as sex offenders in cases like this. Judges have the final say in whether someone will be a registered sex offenders.

“Very rarely do the juvenile judges in Harris County force anyone to register,” she said. “They usually delay it and send them to sex offender treatment and then make a decision.”

But Ira Ellman, a professor at the UC–Berkeley School of Law, told In Justice Today it’s not unusual to see 14-year-olds charged as sex offenders and facing life on the sex offender registry.

Some reports, including one from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, have found that the age with the highest number of people arrested for a sex offense is 14, Ellman said.

The Marshall Project recently reported that more than 800,000 people were on sex offender registry lists nationwide.

“And contrary to popular belief, violent serial pedophiles do not fill the ranks of the registered,” wrote David Feige, who did the report. “Rather, a wide swath of sexual thoughts and actions can lead to the lifetime of stigmatization that being on the sex offender registry entails.”

Thanks to Jake Sussman and Josie Duffy Rice.

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