Criminal Justice

  • August 29, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Arit John reports for The Wire that six plaintiffs are suing the police forces in Ferguson and St. Louis County for civil rights abuses.

    In The New York Times, Julia Preston writes on a new immigration policy that permits asylum to foreign women who are victims of severe domestic violence.

    The Southern Poverty Law Center reports on its efforts to stop the jailing of those unable to pay probation fees in Alabama.

    Conor Friedersdorf writes in The Atlantic on police harassment in light of a controversial video showing a man arrested while picking up his kids from school.

    In Politico, Maggie Severns explains how a ruling in Los Angeles on Thursday sets up a battle over teacher protections. 

  • August 26, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Matt Ford writes in The Atlantic on a new lawsuit in Oklahoma that seeks to require the state to record every death sentence it carries out.

    Allie Grasgreen raises questions in Politico on the influx of military-grade weapons given to university police.

    Katrina vanden Heuvel argues in The Washington Post against the threats to freedom of the press seen in Ferguson and Justice Department actions.

    In FiveThirtyEight, Ben Casselman profiles Ferguson, arguing that its economic and racial conditions are the norm rather than an outlier.

    Lyle Denniston provides a reading of the Supreme Court’s signals on same-sex marriage for SCOTUSblog

  • August 21, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Atiba R. Ellis, Associate Professor of Law, West Virginia University College of Law, (@atibaellis)

    In a previous post, I discussed the triumph of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Its passage sounded the death knell of legalized white supremacy and promised an era of equal opportunity.  With the shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent civil unrest and siege policing in Ferguson, Mo., we must recognize another reoccurrence reminiscent of fifty years ago -- protest and in response to enduring racial subjugation. 

    The Ferguson situation is about the unjustified death of a Black youth (and the fact that this happens all too often in America). This happened in the context of the reality of structural inequality in America that civil rights policy has failed to address. As I argued in that earlier post, formal equality does not go far enough to remedy the enduring legacies of white supremacy, legacies that keep repeating themselves in police violence, political underrepresentation, and minority economic stagnation. It fosters a de facto second-class society for people of color without the economic wherewithal to navigate the system. 

    This structural reality exists and replicates notwithstanding the good intentions of the law or of people who rely on formal equality as remedy. Daria Roithmayr, Ian Haney Lopez, and Michelle Alexander have provided lucid scholarly explanations of different facets of 21st century racism.  The situation in Ferguson illustrates this reality in a number of ways.

    First, the shooting of Michael Brown offers a view on the reality of the enduring abuse that people of color suffer at the hands of the police. The problems of racial profiling, the use of excessive force by police departments, and the violence suffered by Black men and boys in particular has been well documented.  To take just one source: the ACLU has written numerous accounts about racial profiling in the United States. What their work makes clear is that the police disproportionately target minorities, and particularly minority youth because of their race.  And as a recent post on their blog has made clear, such profiling, and the tragic deaths that accompany it, are all too common in the United States.  And for those minority youth that survive these encounters, they are disproportionately incarcerated. The Sentencing Project has documented not only the 500 percent increase in incarceration rates in U.S. prisons generally over the last century, but the fact that a Black male under 35 has a 1 in 10 chance of being incarcerated.

    Second, as others have noted, Ferguson is two-thirds Black and one-third white, yet its mayor and five of the six members of its city council are white. And the overwhelming majority of its police force is white. And, as The New York Times has reported, this segregated power structure is the product of a long history of racial tension. The patterns of overzealous policing and unrepresentative governance make clear that the authorities in Ferguson are out of touch with the interests of the majority of people in Ferguson. This suggests a failure of competitive politics and a resistance of the government in Ferguson to hear the interests of its people. (Even when activists in Ferguson have sought to register people to vote – presumably to encourage people to use the democratic process rather than self-help violence – this too becomes highly contested.)

  • August 19, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic provides historical perspective on the relationship between African Americans and the police.

    The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund reports that thirteen civil rights groups have issued a call for action and reforms in response to Ferguson.

    Max Fischer writes for Vox on police treatment of journalists in Ferguson, where the ACLU has already sued the city to stop harassing reporters and won.

    The Economist compares the likelihood of being shot by police in the United States to that in other countries, “adjusting for the smaller size of Britain’s population, British citizens are around 100 times less likely to be shot by a police officer than Americans.”

    The Editorial Board of The New York Times advocates for President Obama to more forcefully use his clemency power.  

  • August 18, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Fernanda Santos and Jason Schwartz of The New York Times report that Arizona is loose with its rules for conducting executions.  An ACS podcast from May sheds some light on how courts can prevent execution debacles, and the ACSblog provides in-depth examinations of the state of the death penalty.

    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar writes in Time that Ferguson is about class warfare as much as it is about systemic racism.

    The NAACP Legal Defense Fund calls on the Department of Justice to take “immediate action to end police brutality against unarmed African Americans.”

    The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that the idea that black people are ignoring intra-community violence should be immediately dismissed.

    In New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait asserts that the Founders were not Tea Partiers.

    Robert Barnes of The Washington Post considers whether the question of same-sex marriage was settled in a 1972 Supreme Court case.