Wednesday, August 10, 2016
Baltimore police were able to abuse people of color in the most egregious ways simply by the tried and true tool of denial. But police denial comes in two forms. The first is the expected denial by the accused. But it is the denial of other police department employees that provided the fertilizer that permitted police abuse to grow to outrageous proportions.
Recently, a Baltimore prosecutor blamed poor police investigations for the prosecutors' failure to convict even one police officer in the death of Freddy Gray, despite a coroner's report that Gray's death was a homicide. State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby outlined more shocking malfeasance and resistance in her office's attempts to investigate Mr Gray's death. She said that police interrogations of arrested officers were "light", with difficult questions going unasked. In addition, police failed to respond to valid subpoenae to produce evidence. None of this behavior is unexpected given the nature of the alleged crimes. Using a tactic long known to survivors of intimate partner abuse, five of the accused police officers are suing Attorney Mosby alleging defamation. Those claims are unlikely to be successful given the scathing Justice Department review. But the defamation Plaintiffs knew that already. The point always was intimidation and presenting themselves as victims.
Defense counsel, for their part, accused the prosecutors of withholding important evidence, resulting in judicial sanctions entered against the prosecutors. In short, it is not just the policing system that is a mess in Baltimore.
Justice was denied to Freddy Gray and so many others because police employees, civilian and otherwise, chose to use the cover of denial and silence rather than cooperate with inquiries or report corruption themselves. But by the time Freddy Gray died, denial was a way of life for employees of the police department. Why prosecutors proceeded with cases so poorly prepared and supported is another question.
Sometimes it is difficult to discern the differences between incompetence and corruption.
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Gun control advocates were certain that the slaughter of 20 young children in Newtown, CT would lead to some agreement on gun control. They were wrong.
When gun control advocates speak, or when gun control legislation is introduced into congress, one constituency has been silent. The police have been largely unwilling to support gun limiting legislation, either publicly or privately. Following Newtown, President Obama met with chiefs of police as well as sheriffs, seeking their support for gun legislation reform. Support was not unanimous. Largely, the police chiefs supported President Obama's request for gun control, the sheriffs did not. Without having access to more data, we cannot determine if there are regional or other geographic factors dividing the two law enforcement groups. But even for those chiefs favoring gun limitations, public support is missing.
One sheriff wrote to Vice President Biden that he would not enforce any gun control legislation.
The police are the ones who in the first instance see the bodies of the dead and wounded following a mass slaughter. Now the vulnerability of the police as victims of mass killings was evidenced in Dallas. But will this change police silence on gun issues?
One police observer noted that talking about guns is like talking about race. "These are difficult conversations and people get very polarized on either side of it." Beyond being uncomfortable, it is likely that the two conversations are linked. One wonders if police resistance would be so widespread if President Reagan, who promoted gun control as governor, had been the one proposing gun control. The country is so politically divided, it is difficult to think of any politician who would appeal to conservatives and liberals on this issue.
But, the police could unite us. Police need to get beyond fear of disagreeing with fellow officers as well as beyond any cynicism that gun control will not work. Police lives are on the line as well as others. Their voice would make a difference. We won't know what works until we try.
Monday, November 30, 2015
Advocates, service providers, attorneys, and people working in membership-based organizations were invited to share stories and recommendations regarding policing and domestic violence and sexual assault in response to a nationwide survey that was open for a one-month period in April to May 2015. More than 900 people responded.
Our report, Responses from the Field: Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, and Policing, captures their responses. While respondents told us about promising practices, most of which included significant collaborations between law enforcement and advocates, overall, we heard very discouraging stories. Respondents reported significant police racial and ethnic bias, as well as bias on the basis of sexual orientation and sexual identity, poverty, immigration status, language, and against victims who have a criminal history including sex workers. They described how contact with the police has negative collateral consequences for victims including in immigration, child protective services involvement, and economic consequences. Respondents also reported that a significant number of victims have goals that do not align with those of the criminal justice system including the desire to seek a non-punitive intervention, the need to “move on” coupled with the expectation that criminal justice involvement will be lengthy and (re)traumatizing, and the fear that they would lose control of the process.
For additional information, see the report, at the link above, and the blogpost at Move to End Violence, written by co-authors Sandra Park, ACLU, Donna Coker, University of Miami School of Law, and me. We welcome your feedback, comments, and suggestions for re-thinking the role of the criminal justice system within efforts to end gender-based violence.
Thursday, November 5, 2015
Recently I sat in the main office of a racially-diverse middle school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, waiting to speak with a guidance counselor. I arrived early in the morning, and the school resource office (SRO) assigned to the school from the local police department was one of the few people already there. He amiably interacted with staff, teachers, and students, and he gave me a big smile when he walked past. By all accounts, he couldn’t be a nicer guy. Yet, he is a white man in a uniform, armed with a gun, in a school populated by eleven, twelve and thirteen-year-olds. He can make arrests, and he can refer students for criminal prosecution in juvenile delinquency court. In fact, there are armed police officers who work as SROs in all the public middle and high schools in the district in which I live.
Last week I read about the assault of a 16-year-old African-American student named Shakara by SRO Ben Fields, a white man, at Spring Valley High School in Richland County, South Carolina. I read that Shakara was allegedly being “disruptive” by failing to put away her cell phone during math class and then refusing to leave the classroom because she felt the punishment was unfair. I read that SRO Fields is known as “Officer Slam” because of his brutal treatment of Spring Valley High students. I read that Shakara was charged criminally with the misdemeanor charge of “disturbing schools,” which carries a maximum of ninety days in jail and a $1000 fine. And I read that an 18-year-old classmate, Niya Kenny, was charged as an adult with the same offense for speaking up in support of Shakara during the assault.
There are at least seven other states with “disturbing schools” laws on the books. In North Carolina, for instance, the analogous criminal offense to the one facing Shakara and Niya Kenny is disorderly conduct by disrupting students (NCGS 14-288.4(a)(6)). Yet, the statutory language in North Carolina differs from that of its southern neighbor. Under the NC statute, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person intentionally causes a public disturbance by disrupting, disturbing, or interfering with the teaching of students at an educational institution or by engaging in conduct that disturbs the peace, order, or discipline at an educational institution or on the adjacent grounds.
North Carolina cases in which the evidence was found to be insufficient to support an adjudication of juvenile delinquency for the offense include In re S.M., 190 NC App. 579 (2008), in which a female high school student laughed and ran away with a friend after an administrator asked her to stop in the school hallway; she was then chased by an SRO for 10-15 seconds before he arrested her. The NC Appeals Court found that this was an instance of “ordinary misbehavior or rule-breaking,” which did not rise to the level of criminal activity. In challenging these offenses in North Carolina courts, the defense typically focuses on the element that requires proof of intentional behavior that caused an actual public disturbance, which distinguishes ordinary misbehavior like that of Shakara’s from true instances of disturbing the peace within a school.
In contrast, the South Carolina “disturbing schools” statute is very broad, as it not only criminalizes the willful or unnecessary interference or disturbance of students or teachers but also criminalizes mere loitering on school premises and/or “act[ing] in an obnoxious manner thereon.” Candidly, I can think of dozens of examples of typical adolescent behavior on school grounds that could be deemed “obnoxious” and conceivably fall within the language of this statute. Yet, in 2006 when the statute was challenged as overbroad and vague in violation of the First Amendment, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmedthe lower court’s decision that it was not unconstitutionally overbroad. The decision, however, was quite fact-intensive, involving a boy who had been yelling and cursing in a classroom for over two hours and then took a swing at his teacher as he was escorted down the hall, so there is likely room to bring another appeal based on different facts.
As for the cell phone video of the incident at Spring Valley High, I’ve seen similar videos in the course of representing hundreds of children charged with criminal offenses resulting from school-based “incidents” during my years teaching in the Youth Justice Clinic at UNC Law School. Even so, I wasn’t prepared for this one. The violent and vicious way in which SRO Fields slammed Shakara, still sitting in her desk, onto the classroom floor and then pulled her across the room before restraining her on the ground was horrifying. I’d be outraged to see an animal treated that way, let alone a teenager.
Yet, the SRO’s attack on Shakara is a quintessential example of the school-to-prison pipeline in action, as it illustrates perfectly what the statistics already tell us – that black students are suspended and expelled from schools three times more often than their white peers, and that for black girls, the rate is twice that amount. In fact, in South Carolina black students comprise 60% of those who are suspended from school but only 36% of the state’s student population. A federal civil rights investigation into the incident has been initiated by the Columbia FBI Field Office, the Civil Rights Division, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina.
After more than a decade of juvenile justice advocacy, I’ve concluded that police officers have no legitimate role in our schools. The reality is that SROs are not found in most private, charter, or parochial schools, yet these educational settings manage to maintain safe learning environments for their students. SROs are not typically trained in adolescent development, in diffusing tense situations, in building rapport with students, in advising students, or in mediation, and if these are in fact the skills and qualities that are needed in a particular school setting, qualified school counselors should be hired rather than uniformed and armed police officers. Of course, if an urgent situation requires law enforcement, school administrators—like all citizens—can dial 911 or request assistance from the local police department.
Unfortunately, the school-to-prison pipeline is not unique to South Carolina or to North Carolina or to only a handful of states. There are more than 17,000 police officers assigned to schools across the United States. Data confirms that the presence of uniformed and armed law enforcement in schools has a criminogenic effect. In other words, placing armed police in schools actually increases the physical dangers to youth. Therefore, as long as SROs are in school buildings and classrooms, students—particularly youth of color—are as vulnerable as Shakara, not only to prosecution for typical adolescent misbehavior but to physical assault.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Last week, Martha Davis reported on reparations made by the city of Chicago for human rights abuses resulting from police torture that occurred in the 70's and 80's. The torture occurred under the command of Jon Burge. Burge was fired in 1993. Since then Chicago has paid out $85 million in reparations.
On April 15th, the New York Times reported that Chicago has made a $5,000,000.00 settlement with the family of black teen who was shot and killed by Chicago police officers last fall. Laquan McDonald was only seventeen when a single police officer shot him sixteen times. Laquan's weapon, according to police was a three inch knife. In settling the case, the city was aware of a video made by the mounted police car camera. The Department of Justice is investigating McDonald's death.
In the attention brought by Ferguson, and the frustrating attempts by citizens to seek acknowledgment by municipalities that human rights violations occurred, it is hopeful that Chicago has stepped up and is resolving old and new claims without the political sleight of hand that we have seen in other cases.
We know the power of apology. What is not discussed as often is the power of a swift acknowledgement. In contrast to the three or four decades it has taken Chicago to resolve claims of Burge's victims, the family of Mr. McDonald received swift resolution. A speedy acknowledgment spares the survivors years of additional anguish. While lawyers often advise not admitting liability, when human rights violations are undisputed, swift resolution is not only humane, but is its own human right.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
On March 17 of this year, Florida resident Michael Bigwood drunkenly pounded on his ex-wife’s door and demanded to speak with her, in violation of a domestic violence protective order. On June 7 of last year,Daniel Diaz Deleon fired six gunshots into the walls of his Denver, Colorado home while his wife and children cowered in the bathroom. This past November, George Holcombe threatened to kill his wife in front of their child and two police officers from the Philadelphia police force.
These three men have something in common other than committing acts of domestic violence: all were active duty police officers at the time they committed their crimes.
Police officers are trained how to intimidate and interrogate suspects, conduct surveillance, find people who don’t want to be found, and use force without causing serious injury — all valuable and important skills when used to protect the public. But when used against an intimate partner, such efforts can be devastating. Studies and various academic papers dating as far back as 1991 and continuing through 2006 suggest that police officers commit intimate partner violence two to four times more often than the general population.
This has some stark implications for victims, even beyond the initial abuse they suffer. For one thing, in a society in which the primary response to domestic violence is to call 911 and proceed through the criminal legal system with cops acting as the go-betweens, the partners of police officers often have nowhere to turn when they are victims of domestic violence. Police officers know the locations of domestic violence shelters and often have collaborative relationships with the staff, which means that the partners of police officers suffering from intimate violence don’t see women’s shelters as viable options.
Officers can also appeal to the “blue wall of silence” to protect fellow officers from intervention in domestic violence situations. Few police departments, in fact, have specific policies for responding to intimate partner abuse perpetrated by one of their own. A study by Kimberly Lonsway in 2006 found that only 29% of police departments had any policy at all, despite the efforts of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which, in July 2003, promulgated a model policy that adopts a “zero tolerance” stance on officer-involved intimate partner abuse and sets forth procedures for prevention and training, early warning and intervention, incident response, victim safety and protection, and post-incident administrative and criminal decisions.
There is a significant overlap between police officers who commit intimate partner abuse and officers who commit other forms of violence.In their study of media reports of officer-involved domestic violence between 2005 and 2007, officer-turned-academic Philip Stinson and professor John Liederbach found that almost 22% of the officers accused of domestic violence had also been named as defendants in federal civil rights police misconduct claims.
This is not wholly surprising: Officer-involved domestic abuse arises, in part, out of the hyper-masculinized world of policing, which often not only tolerates, but encourages, the kinds of attitudes and behaviors that undergird intimate partner violence. From the minute they enter the police academy, even when the training is facially gender neutral, police officers are expected to adhere to a form of masculinity that devalues and objectifies women. In their 2002 study of one law enforcement training academy, sociologists Anastasia Prokos and Irina Padavic found that male recruits at this academy regularly belittled and objectified women, adopting the phrase “There outghtta be a law against bitches” as their mantra when joking about female police recruits and women generally.
Male recruits at this academy also downplayed the seriousness of violence against women, ignoring the content of a domestic violence training film in order to rate the attractiveness of the actresses playing roles in that film. (This type of verbal degradation can continue even after officers leave the academy; criminologist Susan Miller, in her 1999 book “Gender and Community Policing: Walking the Talk,” describes how, in a progressive, diverse law enforcement agency, female officers were “still privately classified as ‘bitch,’ ‘whore,’ ‘dyke,’ or ‘prude,’ and never seen as just another officer.”)
Despite the high rates of intimate partner abuse by police officers, incidents of officer-involved abuse are treated as isolated events, rather than part of a systemic problem. Every day, one can find individual news stories about cops who are abusive, but policy makers and domestic violence advocates generally don’t explain how police culture creates an atmosphere in which abuse flourishes. Considering the resounding silence from policymakers, and the lack of any outcry about the fact that most law enforcement agencies don’t have any policy, officers are largely able to act with impunity because of their centrality in the legal and policy solutions to intimate partner abuse in the United States.
Since 1984, federal policy and funding have prioritized law enforcement responses to domestic violence over other types of support. For example, $290 million dollars was allocated in the 2013 reauthorization of theViolence Against Women Act (VAWA) to criminal justice initiatives, versus about $40 million that was set aside for transitional housing, even though housing is regularly cited as the top need by people who have been abused. And because the Violence Against Women Act disproportionately funds law enforcement and incentivizes close collaboration between law enforcement and the non-profit organizations that serve people subjected to abuse, addressing the problem of intimate partner abuse by law enforcement officers could jeopardize the relationships police and anti-violence advocates have developed. (Illuminating the problem also threatens significant funding sources for both non-profits and law enforcement, calling into question the wisdom of continuing to rely on law enforcement as the primary means of addressing domestic violence in the United States.)
The state has a serious stake in this conversation, not only because it trains and arms abusers, but because it depends upon these same abusers to enforce the very laws that they are violating in their own relationships. (There is a growing conversation about decriminalization, but since we can’t get policymakers and practitioners to even acknowledge the problem, finding alternatives isn’t really on the radar.) And without fundamentally changing the cultural context within which police officers do their jobs — environments in which violence against women or against those who are feminized is both tolerated and used to assert one’s own masculinity— intimate partner abuse among officers is unlikely to decrease.
Editor's note This post first appeared on fusion.net
Friday, January 16, 2015
In May, Leigh Goodmark wrote on the heightened dangers and barriers faced by women who are abused by intimate partners who are police officers. Expanding on Leigh's post, I bring to the discussion the powerful tool that abusers who are police have in diminishing the credibility of their victims. Have her arrested!
The matter of Boston Police officer Michael Doherty is a case in point. The case also illustrates how acts of domestic violence can be minimized by police commanders until another violent act or other crime is committed by the abusive partner against someone other than the partner. The Doherty case was nationally reported with the following facts:
Earlier this month , Doherty ordered an Uber car to drive him to his house. This occurred at 3 a.m. While enroute, Doherty accused the driver of taking the wrong route and began assaulting the man, physically and also verbally, with racial epithets. The driver was able to escape the car, whereupon Doherty got out and chased the driver around the car. Doherty then jumped behind the wheel and took off. A passerby stopped to help the driver and the two chased after Doherty. At some point Doherty got out of the Uber car and began assaulting the driver and the other individual. Doherty fled but turned himself in the following morning.
Reported locally was the fact that Doherty was subject to a domestic violence protection order. Two months earlier, his former girlfriend reported that Doherty had dragged her down a flight of stairs and hit her in the face and head. She reported that this was not the first time that Doherty had attacked her. But who was arrested in that incident? The girlfriend.
Doherty claimed that he was the victim. (A defense he repeated when charged with crimes against the Uber driver.) But Doherty's fellow officers arrested the victim on Doherty's claim that she was unlawfully in his residence. The arrest was made despite the fact that at the time of arrest the girlfriend had visible injuries on her face including bleeding and a swollen forehead. Kudos to the courageous judge who entered the protection order after the girlfriend was arrested.
I wish I could report that this is the first time I have experienced a case where the victim of intimate partner abuse was arrested after being abused by a police officer spouse or partner; or by a family member or friend of a police officer. The blue loyalty apparently includes shutting victims up by striking first in the arrest process. This is not a new tactic. Claiming that the vulnerable are criminals, thereby reducing their credibility, is an age old method of quieting critical voices.
According to reports, at the time of his arrest resulting from the Uber attack, Doherty was the subject of two open internal affairs investigations and was restrained by a valid protection order. Were those facts not sufficient to result in Doherty's suspension? The failure of the police chain of command to act until the now-suspended Doherty was involved in a very public crime raises questions of how much police inflicted abuse will be tolerated until commanders respond.
The Doherty case has so much that is rich with lessons: how police frequently arrest victims and routinely use their power to protect colleagues who are abusive toward their partners; the power of courageous witnesses and public reporting to invoke right action. The interconnectedness of racism, misogyny and abuse. But mostly I am sad. If the arrest of victims was limited to rare occurrences this post would not have been written. But arrest of victims is not unusual. It is a powerful and effective tool in silencing the abused.