January 07, 2009
Police chief Hurtt calls on city to help curb black deaths
A ministers' organization today called on elected officials to form a committee to study ways to combat rapidly increasing violence among Houston's African-American youth.
"We're going to scream from the rooftop" until elected officials respond by forming a committee to study the problem, said the Rev. Robert Jefferson, pastor of Cullen Missionary Baptist Church.
Jefferson, the director of special projects for Houston Ministers Against Crime, spoke at a news conference the group held a day after Police Chief Harold Hurtt called on local churches, schools, businesses and other organizations to join him in developing innovative ways of addressing an alarming increase in the number of Houston's young black men killing each other.
A national study, released last month, found a 139 percent increase in the number of black suspects in Houston homicides between 2000-01 and 2006-07. That was the largest percentage increase among 28 U.S. cities, according to the study by Northeastern University criminologists James Fox and Marc Swatt.
The number of young black men murdered in Houston jumped from 42 to 129 during the study period. Hurtt called the study a "lightning rod" focusing attention on the problem.
"Success doesn't just happen," Hurtt said. "It takes a lot of work and concerted effort."
The report was released as Hurtt's department announced that 2008's preliminary homicide total is 294 — down more than 16 percent from the previous year. Harris County reported 69 killings, up seven from 2007.
Hurtt and Fox suggested killings involving Hurricane Katrina evacuees contributed to the spike in lethal crimes. Although major crimes involving former Louisiana residents have dropped sharply, Hurtt worried that youth violence will escalate during economic hard times.
Noting that youth violence frequently occurs after school, the police chief advocated that schools increase supervised after-school activities.
October 22, 2008
LAPD officers more likely to stop, search and arrest minorities than whites, report says
The report by Yale Law School professor Ian Ayres for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California found that once stopped, African Americans were 29% more likely to be arrested than whites. Latinos were 32% more likely to be arrested in an identical category.
At the same time, the report found that LAPD officers were less likely to find weapons or drugs on blacks or Latinos than whites when they frisked them or subjected them to consensual searches.
Police Chief William J. Bratton said he strongly disagreed with the report's findings. Among other criticisms, Bratton said the study was flawed because it used data collected four years ago and did not reflect the department's current practices.
"Dr. Ayres' conclusions completely misread situations that are not nearly as black and white as he would want them to be," Sands said. "It's an exercise that might work on a spreadsheet at Yale but doesn't work on the streets of Los Angeles."
Union officials noted that the LAPD is a "majority minority" department, mirroring the demographic trends of Los Angeles, and that most officers work in pairs that represent more than one race. [Mark Godsey]
October 21, 2008
If you're arrested for drugs, you're more likely to get a second chance if you're white
Anthony Smith Jr. is black, poor and a native of Cleveland's East Side. So is Dontez Orr. Both are in their early 20s.
Each had a life-altering encounter with police two summers ago that grew from trivial events. Smith was jaywalking on East 65th Street near Fleet Avenue; Orr was driving south on Interstate 71 at night with an unlighted rear license plate.
Neither had a criminal history to speak of, according to court records. But Cleveland police, citing concern for "officer safety," frisked jaywalker Smith and found one rock of crack cocaine in his right front pants' pocket. Linndale police said Orr gave them permission to search his 1993 Ford. They also found a rock of crack, beneath the passenger seat.
Both are now convicted felons -- a fact, in the words of one Cuyahoga County judge, that "can ruin your job prospects forever."
Brian Biddulph is not a convicted felon, even though his offense was more serious and his record worse.
Biddulph, who is white, listed a Westlake address and could afford to hire his own lawyer. He was given a second chance to remain felony-free. [Mark Godsey]
September 24, 2008
Rape reports jump 40% in S.F., police say
Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 7, there have been 130 reported rapes in the city, compared with 94 over the same period last year, according to statistics presented at City Hall this week.
Police officials said they did not know what exactly is driving the numbers, but believe it is an increase in reports of acquaintance rapes, such as date rape.
"We're trying to determine what the issue is," Acting Deputy Chief John Goldberg told a Board of Supervisors committee. He said rape is significantly underreported, and he thinks outreach by the department with advocacy groups may have spurred the increase in reports.
"This is not an increase ... in forced sexual assaults," Goldberg said.
He promised a "more thorough and complete analysis" for the supervisors at the next Public Safety Committee meeting.
Janelle White, executive director of San Francisco Women Against Rape, said she has not seen a dramatic increase in the number of people contacting her organization. She said she would need more specific information about the rape reports before she could speak to what is driving the increase.[Mark Godsey]
September 16, 2008
Suburban police accused of racially profiling of Latinos
But two weeks before the Aug. 15 event, Robinson police detained Mr. Vielma and his brother, Alberto, both undocumented Mexican immigrants. They now face deportation.
The brothers were taken into police custody after an employee at Kohl's department store accused Alberto Vielma of shoplifting. He called Eduardo Vielma, who came to the store with his boss from nearby Pizza Milano.
Robinson officers asked both Vielma brothers for identification, even though Eduardo Vielma hadn't been accused of anything, according to a police report. Officers didn't ask Eduardo Vielma's boss, Ercan Yali, for identification.
The Vielmas admitted to being in the country illegally, the report said. Robinson Officer Matthew Maritz called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and turned the pair over.
Local immigrant advocates describe the case as a blatant example of racial profiling involving some Allegheny County police departments and the region's small but growing Latino community. They argue that local police shouldn't contact federal authorities unless they are doing a background check on a criminal suspect -- and Eduardo Vielma was not a suspect at the time of his arrest.
"Only the brown person was asked for ID," said Jacqueline Martinez, a Downtown immigration attorney who is representing Eduardo Vielma and Ms. Luchuck. "The police have no business asking anyone about immigration status unless they ask everyone." [Mark Godsey]
August 22, 2008
LAPD ordered to mediate race profiling cases
Acknowledging that racial profiling exists among some LAPD officers but is almost impossible to prove, the Los Angeles Police Commission ordered the department on Tuesday to create a mediation process that allows citizens to confront cops they accuse of targeting them because of their race.
The commission also demanded that the independent inspector general audit the department's investigations into complaints of profiling - none of which has ever been found true.
"We are not calling people racists," said commissioner John Mack, the former head of the Los Angeles Urban League. "But what we are saying is there are some occasional acts and instances where people are not getting treated fairly based on the color of their skin. So we have to get a handle on it, as objectively as we can."
The new mediation is an attempt to build a better relationship between officers and a historically distrustful community. Previously, citizens could wait months before hearing back from the LAPD's Internal Affairs Division over a complaint and were often met with a thank-you letter that concluded that the claims were unfounded.
The new process would allow people to sit down with the officers and a supervisor and give their side of the story and maybe even get an apology in return.
The changes are among several that come after months of debate over the department's investigations into citizen complaints of racial profiling. [Mark Godsey]
August 12, 2008
Race sometimes a problem in eyewitness IDs
NEW YORK In the midst of being raped, Jennifer Thompson-Cannino told herself to pay attention to details that would allow her to identify her attacker.
She was able to give police in North Carolina a description that led to a sketch of the suspect. Then she identified a man from photographs, picked him out of a lineup and told jurors she was certain he was the rapist.
That man, Ronald Cotton, received a life sentence and spent more than 10 years in prison before DNA testing cleared him of the crime.
Now victim and the innocent man she helped convict are writing a book together.
Thompson-Cannino, who is white, had mistakenly picked out one black man; another was guilty of the crime.
"Between the composite sketch and the photo identification, I had messed it up," she said, recalling the 1984 rape and its aftermath. "By the time I got to the physical lineup, Ron Cotton had become my attacker and that was that."
And as she came to learn, she was not the only one to make a mistake so devastating that it deprived someone else of his freedom.
Since 1991, 218 people have been exonerated through DNA testing, and in more than three-quarters of the cases, mistaken eyewitness identifications were crucial in the wrongful convictions, according to The Innocence Project, a legal group that has sought genetic testing and led the charge to free innocent inmates.
Of those, nearly half, roughly seven dozen, involved a person of one race wrongly identifying someone of a different color.
Even people with training in law enforcement confront the difficulty of accurate identifications. Boston Police Sgt. Gregory Gallagher, who is white, identified Stephan Cowans, who was black, as the man who shot him twice with Gallagher's own police-issue gun in 1997.
Several years later, testing on a sweat shirt, cap and glass that the suspect wore or touched ruled out Cowans as the shooter. His case was also plagued by misidentification of a fingerprint.
Cowans was released from prison after serving 5 1/2 years. He was found shot to death in his home last year. [Mark Godsey]
August 03, 2008
Judge Removed From 'Jena Six' Case
The judge overseeing the criminal cases for the remaining Jena Six defendants was removed against his will Friday for making questionable remarks about the six black teenagers charged. They're accused of a December 2006 attack on a white high-school classmate in the central Louisiana town of Jena that led to widespread protests.
Judge J.P. Mauffray Jr. had acknowledged calling the teens "troublemakers" and "a violent bunch" but insisted he could be impartial. Judge Thomas M. Yeager, who was asked by defense attorneys to review the case, found there was an appearance of impropriety and took Mauffray off the case.
"The right to a fair and impartial judge is of particular importance in the present cases," Yeager wrote.
Six black teens were arrested and initially charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder in connection with a Dec. 4, 2006, attack on fellow Jena High School student Justin Barker, who is white. The charges were later reduced.
Jesse Ray Beard, Robert Bailey Jr., Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis and Theo Shaw now face aggravated second-degree battery charges. Beard is charged as a juvenile.
Mychal Bell is the only member of the group to have been tried. He originally was charged as an adult with attempted murder. The charge was reduced before a jury convicted him last June of aggravated second-degree battery.
In September, an appeals court overturned the verdict and ordered Bell tried as a juvenile. He pleaded guilty to a juvenile charge of second-degree battery. He now lives with a foster family in Monroe, La., and is attending school.
Bell's attorney, Louis Scott, said he would also ask to have Mauffray removed from Bell's case. Although Bell's plea will remain unchanged, Scott said he did not want Mauffray to oversee the teen's probation. [Mark Godsey]
July 29, 2008
California to Begin Integrating Prisons for Men
LANCASTER, Calif. -- Male prisoners in the nation's largest corrections system, long kept segregated by race in an effort to temper violence, will soon be sharing cells with inmates of other ethnicities.
A program aimed at integrating California's prisons for men will begin in coming weeks at two facilities and will be extended to the state's 28 other penitentiaries over the next year or so, officials said.
Segregating prison housing has long been the system's unwritten policy. But after an inmate's civil rights lawsuit went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, a mediated settlement led the state to reverse course despite many inmates' opposition.
Officials now argue that segregation perpetuated racial divisions and that integration would lessen them.
"We believe that once integrated housing is in place, it will ease those tensions and build that tolerance," said Ken Lewis, spokesman for the California State Prison, Los Angeles County, in Lancaster. "The system has to have something in place to give them a push. One day these guys will get out, and they'll have to learn to live among different people. If he can be tolerant in prison, he can be tolerant on the street." [Mark Godsey]
July 27, 2008
Study sees racial bias in traffic-stop searches
Civil rights groups called Thursday for ending the state police practice of searching vehicles during routine traffic stops, citing new statistics that show black and Hispanic motorists are searched more often even though drugs or other illegal items turn up more frequently among white drivers.
In a letter to Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the groups said the state-funded research shows that minorities are unfairly singled out by police departments around the state. They called on him to order the Illinois State Police to end "consent searches," in which drivers agree to open their cars for inspection.
"Now we have the proof in the pudding and that is that not only are [these searches] occurring with greater frequency among minority drivers, but that they are occurring with dramatically less effectiveness," said Harvey Grossman, legal director for the ACLU of Illinois.
Although similar reports have for the last several years revealed that minorities are stopped and searched at higher rates than whites, last year was the first time police agencies were required to disclose their "hit rate," or how often the searches turn up drugs, weapons, stolen goods or other "contraband."
The Democratic governor said in a statement that he opposed "any unjustified differential treatment of any group," but did not address the request to stop the searches. "I look forward to working with the coalition to further our shared goals," Blagojevich said.
The state police called the proposed ban a "drastic step" and said it was premature given that the latest numbers are part of a yearslong study into potential discrimination that won't end until 2010.
"Biased-based policing is unacceptable and will not be practiced or tolerated by the ISP," Director Larry Trent said in a statement.
The study, required under racial-profiling legislation sponsored by then state Sen. Barack Obama of Chicago, is being conducted by the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety based on numbers reported to the state by police agencies around Illinois. [Mark Godsey]
July 25, 2008
Latino-vs.-black violence drives hate crimes in L.A. County to 5-year high
Hate crimes in Los Angeles County rose to their highest level in five years last year, led by attacks between Latinos and blacks, officials said Thursday.
The annual report by the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission showed hate crimes rose by 28%, to 763, with vandalism and assault leading the way.
In what commission Executive Director Robin Toma called an alarming trend, hate crimes based on race, religion and sexual orientation all rose, increasing against nearly all groups -- including blacks, gays, Jews, Mexicans, whites and Asians -- even as crime in general declined.
The largest number of racial hate crimes involved Latino suspects against black victims, followed by black suspects against Latino victims. Latinos also made up the largest number of suspects in hate crimes based on sexual orientation. Whites were the leading suspects in religion-based incidents. Overall, blacks made up nearly half the hate crime victims, totaling 310.
"What we're seeing is the democratization of hate crimes," said Brian Levin, who directs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. "We're not only seeing a diversification of victims but also increased diversification of offenders."
Police agencies report hate crimes to the county, but because departments vary on when they pursue hate-crime charges, variations in hate-crime numbers can stem from an actual increase in crimes or from changes in reporting. In this case, experts said they believed that hate crimes themselves, not just the reporting of them, are rising.
Levin said other areas of the country have reported similar increases, including a 30% increase in New York last year; a 10-year study published last fall found that hate crimes in New York began to increase two years ago after declining over several years. [Mark Godsey]
May 22, 2008
UN Faults US on Racism
The UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination harshly criticized the US record on race after considering oral and written testimony submitted by the US government. In its conclusions issued today, the committee urged the US to rectify the “stark racial disparities” in criminal justice systems throughout the country.
“The UN is telling the US that it needs to deal with an ugly aspect of its criminal justice system,” said Alison Parker, deputy director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch. “The committee outright rejected the government’s claim that more black kids get life without parole sentences because they commit more crimes.”
The UN committee condemned what it found to be racial disparities in the death penalty and in the sentencing of youth to life without parole for crimes committed when they were under 18, a practice the committee wants stopped. Further, the committee called on authorities to take steps, including a moratorium on the death penalty, to root out racial bias.
The committee also dismissed claims by the US government that it did not have the power to examine the detention of non-citizens at Guantanamo. It urged the US to guarantee “enemy combatants” judicial review of the lawfulness and conditions of their detention.
“Once again, the Bush administration has been told by a major human rights body that it is not above the law when it comes to the war on terrorism,” Parker said. “The US should reverse its decision to deny judicial review to non-citizen enemy combatant detainees.” [Mark Godsey]
May 19, 2008
A Closer Look: Racial Tensions Behind Bars
For more, NPR's Tony Cox speaks with Skipp Townsend — a community intervention specialist at the Los Angeles-based organization Second Chance at Loving Life — and Robert Richardson, program director for Emmanuel Community General Services in Portland, Oregon. [Mark Godsey]
Reports Find Racial Gap in Drug Arrests
More than two decades after President Ronald Reagan escalated the war on drugs, arrests for drug sales or, more often, drug possession are still rising. And despite public debate and limited efforts to reduce them, large disparities persist in the rate at which blacks and whites are arrested and imprisoned for drug offenses, even though the two races use illegal drugs at roughly equal rates.
Two new reports, issued Monday by the Sentencing Project in Washington and by Human Rights Watch in New York, both say the racial disparities reflect, in large part, an overwhelming focus of law enforcement on drug use in low-income urban areas, with arrests and incarceration the main weapon.
But they note that the murderous crack-related urban violence of the 1980s, which spawned the war on drugs, has largely subsided, reducing the rationale for a strategy that has sowed mistrust in the justice system among many blacks.
In 2006, according to federal data, drug-related arrests climbed to 1.89 million, up from 1.85 million in 2005 and 581,000 in 1980.
More than four in five of the arrests were for possession of banned substances, rather than for their sale or manufacture. Four in 10 of all drug arrests were for marijuana possession, according to the latest F.B.I. data. [Mark Godsey]
April 29, 2008
New Study on the Death Penalty & Race
From the New York Times: About 1,100 people have been executed in the United States in the last three decades. Harris County, Tex., which includes Houston, accounts for more than 100 of those executions. Indeed, Harris County has sent more people to the death chamber than any state but Texas itself.
Yet Harris County’s capital justice system has not been the subject of intensive research — until now. A new study to be published in The Houston Law Review this fall has found two sorts of racial disparities in the administration of the death penalty there, one commonplace and one surprising.
The unexceptional finding is that defendants who kill whites are more likely to be sentenced to death than those who kill blacks. More than 20 studies around the nation have come to similar conclusions.
But the new study also detected a more straightforward disparity. It found that the race of the defendant by itself plays a major role in explaining who is sentenced to death.
It has never been conclusively proven that, all else being equal, blacks are more likely to be sentenced to death than whites in the three decades since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Many experts, including some opposed to the death penalty, have said that evidence of that sort of direct discrimination is spotty and equivocal.
But the author of the new study, Scott Phillips, a professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Denver, found a robust relationship between race and the likelihood of being sentenced to death even after the race of the victim and other factors were held constant.
Read Full article here. [Brooks Holland]
September 22, 2007
Jena 6 Protests Similar to Civil Rights Era
From NYTimes.com: In a slow-moving march that filled streets, spilled onto sidewalks and stretched for miles, more than 10,000 demonstrators rallied Thursday in this small town to protest the treatment of six black teenagers arrested in the beating of a white schoolmate last year.
Chanting slogans from the civil rights era and waving signs, protesters from around the nation converged in central Louisiana where the charges have made this otherwise anonymous town of 3,000 people a high-profile arena in the debate on racial bias in the judicial system.
“That’s not prosecution, that’s persecution,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson the founder of the RainbowPUSH Coalition and an organizer of the demonstration, told a crowd in front of the LaSalle Parish Courthouse. “We will not stop marching until justice runs down like waters.”
The Jena High School students, known as the Jena Six, are part of a court case that began in December, when they were accused of beating a white classmate unconscious and kicking him and a prosecutor charged them with attempted murder.
The beating was preceded by racially charged incidents at the high school, including nooses hanging from an oak tree that some students felt was just for white students. The tree has been cut down.
Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
September 16, 2007
Philly's Police Chief calls for 10,000 Black Men to Patrol the Streets
From USATODAY.com: The Philadelphia's embattled police chief, acknowledging that police alone cannot quell a run of deadly violence, has called on 10,000 black men to patrol the streets to reduce crime.
Sylvester Johnson, who is black, says black men have a duty to protect more vulnerable residents. He wants each volunteer to pledge to work three hours a day for at least 90 days.
"It's time for African-American men to stand up," Johnson told the Philadelphia Daily News, which first reported the story Wednesday. "We have an obligation to protect our women, our children and our elderly. We're going to put men on the street. We're going to train them in conflict resolution."
The program's backers include Dennis Muhammad, a former Nation of Islam official who has been hired by police departments in Detroit, Syracuse, N.Y., and other cities to conduct community-sensitivity training.
Philadelphia, the nation's sixth-largest city, has nearly 1.5 million residents, 44 percent of them black. It has notched 294 homicides this year. More than 80 percent of the slayings involve handguns, and most involve young black males. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
September 12, 2007
Authorities Decided not to Pursue Hate Crime Charges against Suspected Torturers
NYTimes.com: Authorities decided Wednesday not to pursue hate crime charges in the kidnapping and weeklong torture of a black woman, instead going after the suspects, who are white, on state charges that carry stiffer penalties.
While federal civil rights or state hate crime charges remain an option, a state kidnapping count that carries a sentence of up to life in prison will provide the best chance for successful prosecution, officials said.
''As a practical matter, sentenced to life, what else can be done?'' U.S. Attorney Charles T. Miller told The Associated Press.
Six people face charges, including kidnapping, sexual assault and lying to police in the torture of Megan Williams, 20, at a remote hillside home in Big Creek.
State hate crime charges, which carry a sentence of 10 years, could come later, prosecutor Brian Abraham said. State sexual assault charges carry a penalty up to 35 years in prison.
The woman's captors forced her to eat rat droppings, choked her with a cable cord and stabbed her in the leg while calling her a racial slur, according to criminal complaints. They also poured hot water over her, made her drink from a toilet, and beat and sexually assaulted her during a span of about a week, the documents say.
Williams was not a random target, prosecutor Brian Abraham said Wednesday. She had a ''social relationship'' with one of the suspects, he said. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
September 08, 2007
NJ Police Department Shows Progress With Concern to Race
From nj.com: A court-appointed team monitoring the New Jersey Police's efforts to end racial profiling found the agency appears "to have reached a watershed moment" by correcting questionable tactics used during motor vehicle stops.
With the monitor's latest report, issued yesterday, Gov. Jon Corzine said "it's very close to the time" when he will ask a federal court to end oversight of the State Police that began in the wake of a 1998 shooting on the New Jersey Turnpike when two state troopers stopped a van carrying four minority men and riddled it with bullets. Three passengers in the van were seriously wounded and the event triggered a national debate on racial profiling. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]
August 14, 2007
Activists Question Race and Media Coverage of Crime Stories
From boston.com: Activists are questioning why violent tragedies in urban centers like Hartford don't get the same media and government attention that has surrounded the recent slayings of a Cheshire mother and her daughters.
The Rev. Cornell Lewis, a Hartford minister, said yesterday that Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell's response to urban violence has been "slow as molasses."
Rell called for a review of the state's criminal justice system soon after the July 23 burglary and arson in suburban Cheshire. The crime left Jennifer Hawke-Petit and daughters Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, dead.
State legislators also called for an investigation of the state's parole system after learning that the two suspects in the Petit killings were parolees. Lewis said similar responses are needed when young people die in Connecticut's inner cities. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]