I first became aware of Equal Justice Initiative when I read Just Mercy. I had heard other activists speak reverently about this book by Bryan Stevenson. The book chronicles his move to Alabama to start an organization to defend poor people battling a racist justice system and free those who have been wrongfully convicted. It’s a searing indictment of our criminal justice system and a beautiful meditation on the concept of mercy and how it should infuse our culture and our approach to criminal justice. Continue reading “Organization of the month: Equal Justice Initiative”
This week, Kalief Browder’s all too brief life came to an end when he committed suicide. If I had greater faith in this country’s position as a moral bastion, I wouldn’t be able to believe his tragic story. Kalief, just 22 when he died, was held in jail for three years without trial starting at the age of 16 for stealing a backpack, a charge he vigorously denied. He suffered in jail all that time partly because his family could not afford bail, and after all that his case was dismissed. He spent about two of those years in solitary confinement, a practice that most reasonable people recognize as torture. The conditions he faced were reprehensible: Continue reading “Kalief Browder, Timothy Tyrone Foster and the failures of the criminal justice system”
Despite the fact that we’re more than a year away from the 2016 presidential election, we’re already getting inundated with horse race coverage. For candidates and likely candidates, every single moved is parsed for political impact. Every policy statement is assessed for what it signals about a candidates’ intentions or desire to woo a particular demographic.
When Hillary Clinton made a statement about criminal justice reform, a couple of Washington Post columnists attacked her for committing political suicide (apparently confronting a glaring reality turns you into Michael Dukakis). Radley Balko responded by tearing apart their claims that this is not a politically viable position, but then gets to the heart of the matter: Continue reading “Talk about the people, not just the politics”
It’s midterm election season, which means an onslaught of frantic emails and late night TV jokes about how no one cares about the midterm elections. Without a presidential race at the top of the ticket (though frighteningly we’re already having the 2016 conversation), a lot of people are content to let this one pass them by. As with most elections, there’s a lot at stake, and the results will directly impact our lives. I could go on about control of the Senate, extremely close gubernatorial races and state legislatures that have passed everything from Stand Your Ground to draconian voter ID laws. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to focus on some of the issues on the ballot around the country, and opportunities we have to beat back offensive laws or proactively be more bold than our governments are willing to be on their own.
The tragic fates of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others have increased scrutiny of horrendous police practices. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver took advantage of this spotlight to turn their invaluable form of comedic long-form journalism to the practice of civil asset forfeiture.
The New Yorker featured an essential piece on the practice and people who are affected by this flagrant abuse of power last year. Dara Lind at Vox offers a helpful overview of the practice. On what police departments are doing with the money:
In its ongoing investigation of civil asset forfeiture, the Washington Post analyzed several years of reports from state and local law enforcement to determine what they’d done with the money the federal government had returned to them. They found that the most common use of asset funds was for “communications and computers,” with “building and improvements” coming in second. But even “communications and computers” was dwarfed by the amount of money that police marked as “other” — 44 percent of the money that police got back from the federal government went to “other.”
The Post investigation noticed some particularly frivolous spending, like a $600 coffeemaker or $225 for the face-painting services of Sparkles the Clown. But at least the money spent on Sparkles went to community outreach, which is generally cops’ lowest priority when it comes to asset money. Less than 1 percent of all federally returned money went to community outreach — five times less money than any other category.
The above video is well worth your sixteen minutes, running the gamut from the ridiculous justifications police offer for running off with people’s money and possessions, to systems that incentivizing robbing innocent people of their stuff, to the near impossibility of regaining the stolen property. And yes, I would totally watch Law and Order: Civil Forfeiture Unit.