Get Informed

Subscribe to our newsletters for regular updates, analysis and context straight to your email.

Close Newsletter Signup

NYPD Unit That Monitored Proud Boys Event Has Troubled History

The Strategic Response Group was created for counter-terrorism but it's involved in everything from Broken Windows policing to suppressing protest.

Officers from the NYPD's Strategic Response Group at a January 2016 ICE protest in downtown Manhattan.
Ashoka Jegroo

NYPD Unit That Monitored Proud Boys Event Has Troubled History

The Strategic Response Group was created for counter-terrorism but it's involved in everything from Broken Windows policing to suppressing protest.

Video depicting members of the far-right group Proud Boys assaulting three protesters while yelling homophobic slurs near 82nd Street and Park Avenue in Manhattan after a recent group event generated outrage from New York politicians, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, and police promises to pursue the perpetrators. Last night, the NYPD made its first arrest of a Proud Boy for his alleged role in the assault.

Law enforcement, politicians, and the media have focused significant attention on the Proud Boys, who held an event Oct. 12 at the Metropolitan Republican Club. But there has been far less scrutiny of the conduct of the officers assigned to the venue from the NYPD’s 19th Precinct and the department’s Strategic Response Group (SRG).

“The SRG seemed to be entirely focused on the anti-fascists,” said photojournalist Shay Horse, whose videos and photos documenting the Proud Boys event were used in publications like the Huffington Post and the New York Times, and were spread widely on social media. “The NYPD allowed the Proud Boys and the 211 Bootboys to march without an escort. Both of these decisions on the NYPD/SRG’s part made the attack possible. By totally ignoring the Proud Boys the police pretty much allowed them to assault people on the streets of New York.”

(The NYPD has defended its handling of the event, saying that participants in the assault dispersed “as soon as they [the NYPD] pulled up.”)

Activists say they are not surprised that the SRG appeared to back off when Proud Boys assaulted protesters because of the unit’s troubled history of suppressing protests, particularly those that call for justice for Black victims of police violence. Indeed, the SRG’s handling of the Proud Boys mirrors the police’s hands-off approach to the violence surrounding the far-right protests in Charlottesville in August 2017 that left one woman dead and many others seriously injured. A report on the tragedy from a former federal prosecutor concluded that the UVA Police Department’s “lack of intervention was obvious to everyone present.”

The SRG was established in early 2015 by then NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, who said that the 350-officer unit would be dedicated to “disorder control and counterterrorism protection capabilities.” In his announcement of the SRG, Bratton specifically cited terrorism incidents such as coordinated attacks by Islamic radicals in Mumbai in 2008 that claimed nearly 200 casualties and a January 2015 attack in Paris on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that left 17 dead. Notably, Bratton also said that the SRG would deal with “events like our recent protests,” referring to the massive protests in New York that began in the summer of 2014 after the police murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. One march in December 2014 drew approximately 25,000 protesters.

The day after Bratton’s announcement, however, in what the New York Daily News described as a “walked back” statement, James O’Neill, who is now the NYPD’s commissioner, assured the public that the SRG “will not be involved in handling protests and demonstrations. They’ll have no role in protests. Their response is single-fold. They’ll be doing counterterror work.”

But such assurances did not assuage activists or attorneys from the civil rights and public defense communities. In March 2015, attorneys with the New York chapter of the National Lawyers Guild called the SRG “unjustifiably massive, dangerous in its approach, and wasteful” and demanded that the City Council “reject the Strategic Response Group proposal.”

Their skepticism of the SRG has proved to be well founded. Since it was established, the group has expanded into a nearly 800-officer unit that handles protests along with much more mundane policing tasks such as ticketing and animal rescue. (Even Bratton once noted that the SRG had “multiple missions.”) Indeed, in October 2015, an activist spotted members of the SRG policing homeless people in the subways. When the activist confronted one officer and said he thought the unit was supposed to be handling terrorism and protests, the officer said, “That’s not what we’re here for.” In January 2016, a reporter from the New York Times described SRG officers saving a kitten trapped underneath a car on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. A few months later, the unit was deployed with bloodhounds to hunt down a Black 16-year-old boy who escaped police custody after an arrest for turnstile jumping. By September 2018, even SRG officers themselves complained about mission creep: Whistleblowers from the unit complained to the New York Post that their bosses pressured them to meet ticket quotas. “We feel that we’re not as sharp on our tactics,” one officer said, “because they are pulling us away from tactical training to grab numbers.”

Why Accountability, an abolitionist group led by Black women, has observed SRG conduct the ‘new stop and frisk’—traffic stops—in the Bronx,” Shannon Jones, a co-founder of the group, told The Appeal. “SRG is another tentacle of white supremacy seeking to wrap and squeeze Black freedom.”

Jones’s organization and with other grassroots activist groups that engage in street protest have experienced the SRG’s repressive tactics, particularly Black Lives Matter and pro-immigrant protests. The SRG has become a regular fixture at abolitionist group NYC Shut It Down’s weekly #PeoplesMonday protests, where activists highlight stories of people killed by police. The SRG showed up at this week’s #PeoplesMonday, just days after the Proud Boys event.

In addition to violently arresting pro-immigrant protesters in February 2017 and routinely harassing and intimidating Occupy ICE NYC protesters in Foley Square in July, the SRG also helped ICE detain immigrant activist Ravi Ragbir in January. When protesters attempted to stop ICE from taking Ragbir, the SRG pushed, choked, and arrested protesters, some of whom were local politicians. Later, when Ragbir was taken to a hospital, he said there were about 20 people watching him, half of whom were part of the SRG.

The SRG’s ever-expanding power and focus has also led to deadly consequences for Black and brown people.

In December 2017, the SRG initiated a low-level drug-and-gun investigation that led to police raiding a Bronx apartment and killing 69-year-old Mario Sanabria. Officers claimed that he swung a machete at cops, but Sanabria’s family and his roommate, a 92 year-old-man, insisted that he never wielded the sword against the cops. The police said they were acting on a “legitimate search warrant” but Sanabria’s family insisted that they acted on a bad tip from a confidential informant and were searching for a relative named “Daniel Conde.” “We have nobody in our family named Daniel,” one family member said.

In April, four officers, including two from the SRG, shot and killed 34-year-old Saheed Vassell on a Brooklyn street corner. The cops said that they had received calls about a man with a gun and that the pipe that Vassell was holding when he was killed resembled a weapon. “Why were SRG, a militarized strategic force, responding to a 911 call?” asked his brother Andwele Vassell. Days later, during a large march in Brooklyn demanding justice for Vassell, the SRG showed up to try to intimidate protesters. This week, Vassell’s father Eric met with New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood to discuss possible charges against the officers involved in his son’s death. “This is the tactics of the NYPD to just [let] the families suffer for years and years and years,”  he said Tuesday. “I’ve seen them do that. They do all types of things to cause us to break down. It’s a game that they keep on playing with us over and over, wanting us to believe they’ll do good. But when it comes to people of color, they see us as minorities and because we do not have no power, they keep on spinning us over and over.”

Unlike Vassell and Sanabria, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes wasn’t shot when he left the group’s Oct. 12  event waving a samurai sword he had just used to re-enact the 1960 assassination of Japanese socialist Inejiro Asanuma by an ultranationalist who has since become an icon in far right movements. Instead, SRG officers escorted him to his car and then tried to arrest anti-fascists who appeared to throw objects, like a plastic bottle, in his direction. When confronted with this fact, an NYPD spokesman tweeted that “the ‘sword’ was plastic” to which a Twitter user responded, “Oh so now police can distinguish between real weapons and toy weapons?”

Activists with the Committee to Stop FBI Repression-NYC have recently demanded the disbanding of the SRG, a call that resonates with Horse after witnessing the unit’s conduct at the Proud Boys event. “The SRG has no business policing protests with such heavy-handed tactics, acting like an occupying army more so than a police force,” he said.

Jones of Why Accountability, like many other Black and brown activists in NYC, says she isn’t surprised by what she sees as the SRG’s laissez-faire treatment of the Proud Boys. She views the SRG’s mission as similar to general police functions, which she describes as “social control, the protection of private property, and repression of the Black liberation movements in New York City.”

“We ain’t having it,” Jones said. “Black freedom now. Abolition Now.”

Four states could legalize marijuana, and other initiatives on the ballot next month

Four states could legalize marijuana, and other initiatives on the ballot next month

In This Edition of the Political Report

October 18, 2018: 14 states hold referendums in which voters will weigh in directly on measures relevant to the criminal justice system and law enforcement practices.

  • Florida: Will voters open the door to retroactively applying criminal justice reforms?

  • Florida: State could overhaul its regime of mass disenfranchisement

  • Louisiana: Amendment 2 would require unanimous jury verdicts, as in 48 other states

  • Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, Utah: Four states vote on legalizing marijuana

  • Ohio: Reform package would make drug possession a misdemeanor—retroactively

  • Oregon: State’s 30-year-old ‘sanctuary’ law is under threat

  • Quick links: Morgan County, Alabama, debates food funds, and six states vote on ‘Marsy’s Law’

We are excited to introduce The Appeal: Political Report, a website that brings this newsletter’s focus on the local politics of criminal justice reform and mass incarceration to a new medium. It features stories and tools to explore local developments nationwide. It also highlights key elections that will shape criminal justice, law enforcement, and immigration policy.

Florida: Will voters open the door to retroactively applying criminal justice reforms?

Florida’s “Savings Clause” bars the legislature from reducing people’s existing sentences. This provision is an obstacle to meaningful decarceration since it significantly limits the reach of prospective criminal justice or sentencing reforms, as the Florida Times-Union’s Andrew Pantazi has laid out. Florida is the state that goes furthest in barring new legislation from applying retroactively, according to the state’s Constitution Revision Commission.

On Nov. 6, Floridians will weigh in on Amendment 11, a measure to repeal the “Savings Clause” and allow reforms to apply retroactively. It needs 60 percent to pass. It was placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission, which cites as a motivating inequity the fact that people who committed certain drug offenses before Florida modified its sentencing statutes in 2014 are serving far longer sentences than people convicted of the same offense today.

Some Florida newspapers, including the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times, have endorsed the “no” vote because they worry that the National Rifle Association might push for making the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law retroactive. Melba Pearson, deputy director of the ACLU of Florida, which supports Amendment 11, argues that this concern is “valid” but “outweighed” by the positive changes the measure would enable.

“Amendment 11 would be a great vehicle for reducing mass incarceration,” Pearson told me. As examples of reforms that could be made retroactive, she mentions revising mandatory minimum guidelines, ending the suspension of driver’s licenses and the use of a “career criminal” designation, and legalizing marijuana.

Florida: Voters could overhaul the Sunshine State’s regime of mass disenfranchisement

No state disenfranchises as many of its residents as Florida. A staggering 10 percent of its voting-age population is stripped of the right to vote because of a felony conviction, according to a report the Sentencing Project released in 2016. More than 20 percent of Black adults are affected, an unsurprising racial disparity given the Jim Crow roots of the state’s statutes.

Florida is one of four states that disenfranchise people even after they complete a felony sentence. Floridians must wait for at least five years after the completion of their sentence to even apply for their voting rights to be restored. The application process itself takes many more years, and culminates in a hearing in front of the governor and other statewide officials. The board enjoys full discretion as to what and how to decide, including over what questions to ask applicants, and it only hears a few hundred cases a year. Under Governor Rick Scott’s tenure, which began in 2011, Florida has restored the voting rights of approximately only 3,000 people.

Amendment 4 would overhaul this system. It would enfranchise an estimated 1.5 million people by automatically restoring people’s voting rights once they complete a felony sentence, except for people convicted of murder or a sexual offense. The amendment needs the support of 60 percent of voters, a threshold that polls suggests is realistic. But of course a significant share of Floridians—the very people whose rights are being decided—are barred from participating.

This referendum is the culmination of organizing efforts led by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and its president Desmond Meade, who is himself disenfranchised. Mother Jones and the New York Times Magazine recently published in-depth profiles of the coalition’s work.

Louisiana: Amendment 2 would require unanimous jury verdicts, as in 48 other states

The writers of Louisiana’s 1898 Constitution couldn’t outright ban African Americans from serving on a jury, but they circumvented that limitation by enabling juries to convict over the objections of holdouts. Today, Louisianans can be convicted of any felony (including murder) by non-unanimous juries; 10 out of 12 jurors need to convict. This has made trials likelier to end in a guilty verdict in Louisiana than elsewhere, which contributes to the state’s high incarceration rate and may increase the pressure defendants face to accept a plea deal.

Amendment 2, if adopted in November, would revise the Constitution and require unanimous jury verdicts for all felony convictions.

The measure enjoys an unusually broad array of support, including endorsements from both the Democratic and Republican parties. Its most prominent opponent is Attorney General Jeff Landry, who is preparing to challenge Governor John Bel Edwards in 2019. The Louisiana District Attorneys Association is staying neutral, and some of the state’s most prominent DAs have even endorsed it.

Louisiana’s non-unanimous juries have disproportionately harmed African Americans, as the New Orleans Advocate documented in a series of investigations this year. First, Black Louisianans are likelier to have been convicted over at least one holdout’s objections. Of the trials reviewed by the newspaper, 33 percent of those that ended in a white defendant’s conviction were non-unanimous compared to 43 percent that ended in a Black defendant’s conviction. Second, holdout jurors whose opinion is disregarded are likelier to be African Americans—and African Americans are underrepresented on juries to start with. “Maybe my life experience is a little different than some of the white people,” a Black juror told the Advocate after serving in a case in which a Black defendant was convicted of murder over the dissent of two Black holdouts.

Oregon is the only other state that allows non-unanimous verdicts. It would find itself isolated if Louisianans adopt Amendment 2 next month.

Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, Utah: Four states vote on legalizing marijuana

North Dakota has the nation’s second-highest rate of arrest per marijuana user, and it issues harsher than average punishments, according to a Washington Post analysis. But on Nov. 6, North Dakotans—alongside Michiganders—could legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

There are two significant differences between the states’ initiatives.

First, Michigan’s is more specific and leaves less room for legislative amendment. It would allow people to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, set up a taxed system of commercial businesses, and enable municipalities to regulate these businesses more harshly within their borders. The legislature would need a supermajority to revise these specifications if voters adopt the measure. North Dakota’s measure is less detailed. Writing in Pot Network, Meg Ellis calls it “vague regarding laying a legal foundation for a recreational pot program.”

“This essentially is a bill asking voters, ‘Do you believe that we should end this failed prohibition of marijuana or not?’” Cole Haymond, an adviser for the Legalize ND campaign, told me. He added that the campaign is open to discussing possible amendments with lawmakers before the measure’s implementation, if it is adopted. “We welcome having a seat at the table to cast aside any concern, if they want to add any taxes, regulation, licensing,” he said.

Second, North Dakota’s initiative (unlike Michigan’s) would expunge the records of people already convicted of many marijuana offenses. However, it would not reduce sentences that people are still serving, even if it’s for an act that is no longer illegal.

Missouri and Utah are also voting on whether to legalize marijuana—but this time for medical use. (Oklahoma just took this step via referendum in June.)

Missouri’s ballot somehow contains three separate referendums to legalize medical marijuana. Each enables patients to acquire marijuana if they suffer from a qualifying condition, but they propose different tax structures and only one allows home-grown marijuana. If more than one passes, the one with the most votes becomes law. The Springfield News-Leader provides a useful overview of these measures’ specifications and differences.

Utahns get to vote on only one measure. According to the Deseret News, Proposition 2 would enable people who meet certain conditions to buy two ounces of marijuana over a two-week period; it would also provide for 15 dispensaries across the state, and enable some people to grow marijuana for personal use at home.

Ohio: Reform package would make drug possession a misdemeanor—retroactively

Issue 1 would overhaul Ohio’s sentencing guidelines and probation system, cutting incarceration through a multipronged approach.

First, it would make possessing any drug a misdemeanor rather than a felony—at least for one’s first two convictions. This would decrease incarceration over new offenses since people arrested for possession would generally no longer face prison terms. Five states have already reclassified drug possession as a misdemeanor, all since 2014 (California and Oklahoma via referendum). Second, it would bar reincarceration over minor probation violations that aren’t themselves a crime. Third, it would enable existing sentences to be reduced. It would do so by increasing the maximum reduction one can obtain for participating in rehabilitation programs to 25 percent from 8 percent, and also by making the new drug statutes retroactive: People currently incarcerated for drug offenses could petition for new sentences. Of the five states with corresponding reforms, only California allowed retroactive revisions, according to the Urban Institute.

Policy Matters Ohio, a group that backs Issue 1, estimates that these provisions combined would decrease the prison population by approximately 10,000. The Urban Institute finds that the first alone (making drug possession into a misdemeanor) would cut it by 3,400.

“Mass incarceration of drug addicts who should be in treatment is unwise,” Richard Cordray, Democrats’ candidate for governor, has argued. Critics have responded that Issue 1 represents a threat to public health and safety. “We could easily become a magnet for substance abuse activity because there will be, in effect, very little consequence to engaging in such behavior,” Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, wrote in a statement. (Fault lines have been largely partisan, with Democratic politicians generally supportive and GOP ones generally opposed; a prominent exception is Steven Dettelbach, the Democratic nominee for attorney general, who opposes the measure.)

The warnings about the safety risks of reclassifying drug possession as a misdemeanor are not supported by a new Urban Institute study about the impact that doing so has had in five states. “Reducing incarceration for drug offenses can produce significant public safety benefits when paired with investments in drug treatment and crime prevention strategies,” the authors write.

Oregon: State’s 30-year-old ‘sanctuary’ law is under threat

President Trump’s aggressive approach toward immigration enforcement is echoing in Oregon. On November’s ballot is Measure 105, a referendum that would repeal the state’s “sanctuary” law (ORS 181A.820).

Oregon adopted its sanctuary law in 1987 to prohibit local law enforcement from “detecting or apprehending” individuals over their immigration status. An impetus behind the law was to bar deputies from profiling people based on who they suspect might be undocumented. Repealing this law would expand local law enforcement’s ability to help federal immigration authorities arrest undocumented immigrants. Measure 105 is championed by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that favors severe immigration restrictions.

The sheriffs of Oregon’s three largest counties (Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas) all oppose Measure 105; Washington’s sheriff, Pat Garrett, co-wrote an op-ed defending the “sanctuary” law in August. A group of sheriffs representing smaller, more rural counties endorsed repeal in August through a statement that ties illegal immigration to criminality; they write that immigration law-violations are “precursors to other crimes illegal immigrants routinely commit in their efforts to conceal their illegal presence.” Numerous studies contradict such a connection.

What is striking about this repeal push is that Oregon’s sanctuary law does not even affect local law enforcement’s ability to partner with federal authorities when it comes to people already jailed on grounds others than immigration. Oregon’s sheriffs can notify ICE when they detain foreign-born individuals—and Garrett himself engages in this practice daily, The Oregonian reported.

Many of the recent debates about how to restrict local cooperation with ICE (for instance in Minneapolis or Orange County, California) have focused on going an extra step and restricting local officials’ cooperation with ICE even within jails.

Quick hits: Morgan County, Alabama, debates food funds, and six states vote on ‘Marsy’s Law’

Morgan County, Alabama: Alabama sheriffs are allowed to personally pocket money leftover from jail food funds. Governor Kay Ivey curtailed—but did not abolish—this practice in July. Morgan County, which has been a prime example of the abuses to which this rule opens the door, is holding a local referendum on barring it. I wrote about this issue in more detail in July.

Florida, Georgia. Kentucky, North Carolina, Nevada, and Oklahoma: An initiative organized by a California billionaire to enshrine victims’ rights in state constitutions, “Marsy’s Law” has already passed via referendum in six states since 2008 and it is being considered by six more in November. These measures, which are broadly but not entirely similar, strengthen victims’ ability to testify at hearings, mandate that they be notified of certain developments, and often empower them to refuse to speak with defense attorneys; they also broaden who is classified as a victim. Critics argue that these measures promote punitive outcomes and harm defendants’ right and due process, as Meaghan Ybos reported for The Appeal in March and Sophie Quinton for Stateline in October. For instance, they have extended pretrial detentions because of the mandate that victims be notified prior to a release; they have empowered prosecutors to target investigators who seek to get in contact with victims, rendering it more arduous to mount a defense; and they have constrained appeals within time limits. Past Marsy’s Laws have occasioned legal battles, most notably in California over a provision that lengthens the time between parole hearings, and Montana, whose Supreme Court overturned the law in 2017 for doing too many things at once.

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you next week.

More in Explainers

Why many aren’t cheering for officers who don’t shoot civilians

Why many aren’t cheering for officers who don’t shoot civilians

What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: Why many aren’t cheering for officers who don’t shoot civilians

  • Man convicted of obstruction for refusing to open his door to police

  • Mother’s lawsuit says Oklahoma prison failed to prevent her daughter’s death

  • New York prosecutors sue to prevent oversight

  • Recent police killing hits close to home for Silicon Valley

  • Unprecedented and possibly unnecessary security’ measures at Pennsylvania prisons

In the Spotlight

Why many aren’t cheering for officers who don’t shoot civilians

This week, various police officers have been celebrated for not shooting civilians. Over the weekend in Columbus, Ohio, Officer Peter Casuccio, who is white, approached two Black boys, 11 and 13, suspected of having a gun. He drew his gun and ordered them to stop, turn around, and show him their hands. One of the boys pulled a gun from his waist and tossed it. When the gun broke into pieces on the sidewalk, Casuccio realized that it was a BB gun. CNN reported that “the officer showed restraint in the encounter” because he didn’t fire his gun. Casuccio, who is a father, said he went into “dad mode” and used the situation to teach the boys a lesson. “This is getting kids killed all over the country,” Casuccio chided them, in body camera footage released by the police department. “You should be sorry, and you should be scared.” He later added, “Regardless of what people say about the dudes wearing this uniform, OK, we care.” [Darran Simon / CNN]

Also this week, two Pittsburgh police officers approached a man they were told might be trying to commit “suicide by cop.” They started talking to him. “He told us that he wanted to die,” said one of the officers. “My partner saw that he had his hand in his pocket. Asked him to remove his hand from his pocket. At that time, he pointed a gun at us.” The officers could tell the gun was not real. When they told him they knew it was fake, he threw it to the ground and the officers took him in for a mental health evaluation. “They rolled into a situation that [was] tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving,” gushed their commanding officer. “In many cases, we would have seen this play out very differently, but thanks to their training and expertise, they were able to identify the weapon the young man had in his hand was not in fact real and ended the situation peacefully.” Social media is now “blowing up with praise for the two heroes,” according to Pittsburgh’s CBS affiliate. [Julie Grant / KDKA]

But the reaction has not been all cheers. For one thing, the Columbus officer’s body camera footage captured his lecture to the boys, which took a decidedly (and admittedly) paternalistic tone. He asked, “How old are you, boy?” At another moment, he said, “You should be sorry, and you should be scared.” When the 11-year-old began to walk home, the officer chided him for what he considered to be an attempt to evade punishment from his family, or, as the officer put it, his “mama.” The officer recalled telling the child, “You’ve got to go answer for your sins to mama.” And there was no escaping the racialized tone of the entire encounter, beginning with the haunting compliance the boys showed as they immediately dropped to their knees and slowly, carefully put their hands in the air, obeying the officer’s every order. And the officer’s lecture begins with the call he received on the radio describing “two young male blacks.” He chided, “You can’t do that, dude. In today’s world, that thing looks real, bro.” The officer said, “I pride myself on being a pretty bad hombre, because I gotta be. Don’t make me.” He seemed to put the onus on the children, saying they were making him into a killer. [Darran Simon / CNN]

These are not mere quibbles, and this is not a one-off encounter. A systematic analysis of police body camera footage last year by Stanford professors Jennifer Eberhardt and Dan Jurafsky showed that officers consistently use less respectful language with Black community members than with white community members. The study, published last year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that the racial disparities in respectful speech remained even after the researchers controlled for the race of the officer, the severity of the infraction, and the location and outcome of the stop. For the study, a team from Stanford’s psychology, linguistics, and computer science departments developed an artificial intelligence technique for measuring levels of respect in officers’ language and applied it to the transcripts from 981 traffic stops that the Oakland Police Department made in a single month. They found that white residents were 57 percent more likely than Black residents to hear a police officer say the most respectful utterances, such as apologies and expressions of gratitude like “thank you.” Black community members were 61 percent more likely than white residents to hear an officer say the least respectful utterances, such as informal titles like “dude” and “bro”––as the Columbus officer said to the children. [Alex Shashkevich / Stanford News]

“I’m not an anomaly,” the Columbus officer told CNN. “The overwhelming majority of police officers feel the same way. They do the same thing.” It is pretty hard to believe that officers are being lauded as heroes for not shooting children. That said, it’s a vast improvement from firing or disciplining officers who do not shoot. Last year, when a West Virginia man attempted a “suicide by cop,” the first officer to respond, Stephen Mader, who is white, began to talk Williams down calmly. But when two other officers, also white, showed up and saw a Black man with a gun, one of them shot him in the back of the head within “mere seconds.” Instead of praising Mader’s bravery and arresting the shooter, the police department fired Mader, accused him of freezing up, and one officer called him a “coward.” [Kristine Phillips / Washington Post]

Stories From The Appeal

John Moore/Getty Images

Man Convicted of Obstruction for Refusing to Open His Door to Police. The conviction could criminalize people who refuse to do things like unlock their phones or garages at police request. [Levi Pulkkinen]

Mother’s Lawsuit Says Oklahoma Prison Failed to Prevent Her Daughter’s Death. New development in a high-profile case comes as advocates question the state’s prison conditions and sentencing practices. [Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg]

Stories From Around the Country

New York prosecutors sue to prevent oversight: New York prosecutors yesterday filed a lawsuit to block a new law that made the state the first in the country to install an oversight panel for its district attorneys. Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the creation of the Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct to investigate the thousands of allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, which is rarely done. “When Governor Cuomo signed the bill into law on Aug. 21, somewhat reluctantly, he included the requirement that the next legislative session will take up amendments to it,” reports Courthouse News Service. “The commission’s findings will be sent to the governor and available to the public, a detail over which Cuomo has expressed concern, saying it could open the door for people to meddle with criminal cases. In its present form, the commission’s opponents contend, the body is ‘riddled with fatal constitutional defects.’” In an open letter to Cuomo that backed the legislation, Human Rights Watch wrote, “New York’s court-run disciplinary system operates in secret and does not appear to be any kind of deterrent to prosecutors who bend and break rules to obtain convictions.” [Amanda Ottaway and Adam Klasfeld / Courthouse News Service]

Recent police killing hits close to home for Silicon Valley: Ebele Okobi, Facebook’s public policy director for Africa, decided to move to London because she couldn’t “raise a Black son in America,” she said. “I don’t have that kind of fortitude.” Two weeks ago, her fears were validated when her brother, Chinedu Valentine Okobi, 36, was killed after a struggle with police in the San Francisco Bay Area. He appears to have been killed after two officers discharged their Tasers at him, twice each. “There was something about that call that felt inevitable, because it was something that I was running away from,” Ms. Okobi said. “In the wake of her brother’s killing, every senior leader at the company, including Mark Zuckerberg, has reached out to her to show support,” according to the New York Times. “[T]he case is drawing attention not only because it is yet another instance of a black man dying at the hands of the police, but also for its proximity to the Silicon Valley tech bubble.” [John Eligon / New York Times]

Unprecedented and possibly unnecessary ‘security’ measures at Pennsylvania prisons: A month ago, Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John Wetzel implemented stringent security measures with no precedent in a state prison system, and he now says they are working. “The measures were necessary, he said, to protect staff from sicknesses related to exposure to synthetic cannabinoids, or K2,” reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. “But the policies—including barring book donations and providing inmates photocopies of their mail rather than the originals—are unpopular with families and, lawyers argue, may even be unconstitutional.” Experts in medical toxicology doubted that K2 was the cause of officer symptoms and instead blamed “mass psychogenic illness.” The new legal mail procedure, in which a prison staffer opens legal mail in front of the prisoner and photocopies it, setting aside the originals to be destroyed after 45 days—has been called a clear violation of attorney-client privilege. To guard against K2, the department stopped allowing donations from programs like Books Through Bars, or even direct orders from stores like Amazon, which makes little sense. And new ion scanners—meant to detect trace amounts of narcotics––are keeping families separated. Two women married to men in Phoenix state prison are facing six-month bans on visiting their husbands. [Samantha Melamed / Philadelphia Inquirer]

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.

Have a tip for The Appeal? Write to us at A good tip is a clear description of newsworthy information that is supported by documented evidence.

More in Podcasts