Baltimore riots

  • May 4, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    At The New York Times, Jesse Wegman considers the lethal injection case before the Supreme Court and how “both the logic and the practice of the death penalty begin to collapse inward on themselves.”

    Nina Totenberg of NPR discusses the ruling in Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar and its implications.

    David Savage reports in the Los Angeles Times on the oral arguments in the same-sex marriage cases and how opponents of marriage equality are arguing that marriage is not centrally about love or fedelity.

    At Hamilton and Griffin on Rights, Marci A. Hamilton reviews the history of the marriage equality movement and the religious freedom questions it raises.

    At Salon, Joanna Rothkopf profiles Marilyn Mosby, the Baltimore City state’s attorney that recently deemed Freddie Gray’s death a homicide.

  • May 1, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Atiba R. Ellis, Professor of Law, West Virginia University College of Law. Follow him on Twitter @atibaellis.

    The New York Times recently published a story entitled, “1.5 Million Missing Black Men.” The graphic portrayed how the war on drugs, American policies of mass incarceration and other structural forces, have left these African American men and their communities oppressed in the United States because these men are incarcerated, disabled from full citizenry or deceased.

    A purely academic discussion of this data and its meaning was what this blog post was supposed to be about.  But over the past weekend, we saw the city of Baltimore, Md. react to the fact that Freddie Gray is now missing forever.  Gray’s fatal injuries, inflicted during his custody of the Baltimore Police Department, provide us a specific case of an African American man going missing. Mr. Gray’s death puts into relief how one person loses his life due to the policies and structures of inequality, and the Baltimore police officers involved have now been charged in Mr. Gray’s death.

    Yet it isn’t simply Gray’s death that teaches us something about structural racism. The uprising that occurred in reaction to Gray’s funeral, the reaction to opinion leaders and the Internet opinion-sphere all teach us something about how our language regarding racism falls prey to a gap of misunderstanding and misperception. This is a multilayered problem reflective of the complicated tableau of race in America.

    On one level, Gray’s death is one more tragedy that we can add to the long list of tragedies that seem to target African American men. Gray is forever missing, along with Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and many more. And, as Professor Elwood Watson points out, black women like Dr. Ersula Ore or Kathryn Johnston similarly suffer violence, abuse and death due to this same system of oppression.

    Though the factual circumstances vary, it appears that all these people I’ve named are the casualties of either the war on drugs, the effects of declaring poor minority neighborhoods “high crime neighborhoods,” police bias against people of color or all of the above.  This results in their individual and communal struggles against siege policing and its short and long-term effects. Because of these factors, these men and women lose their lives or their livelihoods in a manner not subject to due process. 

  • May 1, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    Matt Ford of The Atlantic discusses the oral arguments in Glossip v. Gross, the first lethal injection challenge before the Supreme Court in nearly a decade.

    Mark Berman reports in The Washington Post on a state Supreme Court justice who stepped down in protest of the death penalty. 

    At the New Republic, Brianne Gorod considers how recent decisions show that Chief Justice John Roberts may be unexpectedly drifting to the left.

    Sasha Abramsky writes at The Nation that the MacArthur Foundation’s $75 million pledge to criminal justice reform shows the strength of the political momentum behind reform efforts.

    At Jacobin Magazine, Shawn Gude argues that “grinding poverty and neglect wrought by capital” explains the unrest in Baltimore.

    On the Docket, the blog of the George Washington Law Review, features insight into recent Supreme Court cases. Alan Morrison discusses how equity trumps jurisdiction in United States v. Wong. Stephen A. Saltzburg considers Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s opinion in Rodriguez v. United States. And Emily Hammond writes on Oneok v. Learjet

  • April 29, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Tom Nolan, Associate Professor of Criminology at Merrimack College and 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Department

    Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the “bad old days” of policing, we called them “screen tests” in the Boston police department—slamming the vehicle brakes suddenly to force a handcuffed prisoner’s head into the Plexiglas (or screen) barrier that separated the rear prisoner transport area from the front of the police vehicle.  Prisoners who flunked the “attitude test” were often administered these “screen tests.”  Apparently the equivalent referent in Baltimore is “rough ride” and in Philadelphia the “nickel ride.”  It appears as though Freddie Gray may have been subjected to a Baltimore PD “rough ride” that led to his spine being severed and to his subsequent death on April 19.

    After years of settling excessive force lawsuits against the police in Boston that resulted in significant payouts in tax dollars to plaintiffs, the Boston police department in the late 1980s and early 1990s instituted a training regimen that emphasized constitutional protections and respect for civil rights and civil liberties.  Even more importantly, police administrators conveyed the severity with which they took allegations of excessive force and police brutality in imposing unprecedented sanctions against officers found to have engaged in such practices.  Officers received suspensions without pay for months at a time; some were terminated and even sent to federal prison.  The message went out to officers in the Boston police department: Engage in excessive force practices and brutality at tangible risk to your career, your future and maybe even your liberty.  So-called “screen tests” became largely a relic of the past.

    The message apparently never made it to Baltimore (or New York City, or Cleveland, or North Charleston, or Albuquerque or Ferguson).  Although the Boston police have had their share of excessive force allegations in recent years, strict accountability and a robust disciplinary process have seen the sustention of excessive force allegations sharply curtailed.

  • April 29, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    Mark Walsh of SCOTUSblog provides a view of the oral arguments for the consolidated same-sex marriage cases. Among the commentary on the arguments comes are Jess Bravin and Brent Kendall in The Wall Street Journal, Adam Liptak in The New York Times, and Robert Barnes and Fred Barbash in The Washington Post.

    Elias Isquith argues at Salon that the Baltimore riots should help Attorney General Loretta Lynch as she shapes her agenda.

    Also at Salon, Jay Driskell discusses how the influence of respectability politics means that the important questions and lessons of the Baltimore riots are being ignored.

    Peter Baker of The New York Times reports that 2016 presidential candidates have all declared their interest in reforming the criminal justice system and tackling mass incarceration.

    The Brennan Center for Justice publicizes a new book on mass incarceration from American political leaders on both sides of the political spectrum.