Police in riot gear on Nov. 29, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri.
The US Department of Justice may have passed on filing federal charges against former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson after he shot and killed Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb last summer, but the department isn't letting the city's police force totally off the hook. According to the New York Times, the DOJ is about to release a report that accuses the Ferguson Police Department—and the city itself—of systemically mistreating the community's African American population with discriminatory traffic stops; disproportionate ticketing, arrests, and court fines; and physical abuse at the hands of police officers.
According to the Times' Matt Apuzzo, the DOJ will recommend a series of changes at the department. If the city doesn't agree, the DOJ could sue to force reforms. The DOJ has court-backed agreements with nearly two dozen police departments around the country (including the island-wide force in Puerto Rico), and is fighting four other departments in court over proposed changes.
If the Times is right, the report will bolster and likely add to information that has been documented in the past by activists, advocates, and at least one state-level agency in Missouri. As Mother Jones reported in September 2014, fines and court fees are Ferguson's second-larges revenue source, and warrants were issued in 2013 at a rate of three per household (25,000 in a city of 21,000 people).
Another Mother Jones report—based off findings from the Missouri Attorney General's office—noted that in 2013 in Ferguson, 86 percent of traffic stops and 92 percent of searches of individuals involved African American. That's in a city that's around 60% black (and one that had, at the time of Brown's death, just three black police officers). Despite the cops' focus on Ferguson's black residents, just one in five black people police searched were found to be carrying contraband. For white people, that number was one in three.
Two students are detained by Puerto Rico Police Department officers at a 2011 protest at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan.
On the evening of August 11, 2007, several members of the Punta Santiago Scooter Club volunteered to serve as escorts for a 15-year-old girl celebrating her quinceañera. The yellow-shirted club members' parked scooters partially blocked traffic on Highway 3, a two-lane road outside the eastern Puerto Rican town of Humacao. Miguel Cáceres Cruz, a 43-year-old member of the club and a father of three, was helping to direct traffic when a police car tried to pass. According to witnesses and police, the cops exchanged rude words with Cáceres, after which three officers got out of the car.
In a shaky hand-held video, Cáceres can be seen backing away from the officers as they quickly approach him. He walks backward onto a sidewalk, where he backs into a wall. One of the officers, Javier Pagán Cruz, lunges toward Cáceres. The two tussle and Cáceres falls to the ground. The video briefly pans away, but when it comes back to the scene, Cáceres is beneath Pagán, holding on to the officer's leg, possibly trying to keep him from pulling his gun out of the holster.
As the two men struggle, shouts from a large crowd of onlookers can be heard. Then a gunshot rings out, startling the person with the camera and the officer standing next to Pagán. Another shot is fired, followed by three more. Cáceres lies face down on the sidewalk, motionless. Pagán, leaning against the wall, fires one more shot, into the back of Cáceres' head.
After barely two weeks on the job, new Defense Secretary Ashton Carter issued an unexpected order to commanders preparing to brief him: ditch the PowerPoint. The request, which broke with the Pentagon's tradition of slide deck-driven presentations, only applied to a meeting in Kuwait on anti-ISIS efforts. Carter was seeking "thoughtful analysis and discussion, not fixed briefings," a spokesman told Military Times.
We've all sat through PowerPoint presentations that suffocate any chance for deep thought, let alone comprehension. But defense and intelligence agencies are in their own league when it comes to slide-based warfare. In honor of Carter's small step toward less terrible meetings, here are some of the worst military and intel slides to ever see the light of day.
Many slides from the NSA, released by Edward Snowden, deserve to be on this list. Here are a few (via the Washington Post):
Honorable mention: The Pentagon's guide to "Integrated Defense Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Life Cycle Management System." While not exactly a PowerPoint slide, this wall chart, found by Wired, shows just how crazy military graphics can get.
On Sunday, HBO's John Oliver took aim at one of American politics' biggest—and least talked about—problems: judicial elections. As the Last Week Tonight host points out, putting judges in the position of soliciting campaign donations—often from people who may appear in their courtrooms—greatly reduces the appearance of impartiality (at best), and stacks the deck in favor of those with more money (at worst).
The prison problem also extends to jails, which hold defendants awaiting trial and prisoners sentenced for minor offenses. A new report from the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit focused on justice policy, reports that America's local jails, which hold roughly 731,000 people on any given day, are holding more people even though the crime rate is going down. Jails disproportionately detain people of color longer and for lesser crimes. The report also finds that jails are less likely to give inmates the rehabilitation and mental-health support that could keep them out of prison.
"I observe injustice routinely. Nonetheless even I—as this report came together—was jolted by the extent to which unconvicted people in this country are held in jail simply because they are too poor to pay what it costs to get out," writes Vera president and director Nicholas Turner. He described poor detention practices in which the mentally ill, homeless, and substance abusers are routinely jailed for bad behavior and described the practice as "destructive to individuals, their families, and entire communities."
The 46-page report paints a devastating portrait of American jails. Here are a few quick takeaways:
1. The number of people going to jail is going up while crime rates are falling: In 1983, roughly 6 million people were admitted to a local jail. That number grew to roughly 11.7 million in 2013. Meanwhile, crime rates have been dropping. See Vera's chart:
Jail admissions rates include people who've gone to jail more than once—recidivism is a separate, but related issue—but even factoring that in, more people are going to jail. The report speculates that this is tied to arrests for drug crimes: In 1983, drug defendants and inmates made up less than 10 percent of local jail populations but by 2002 they accounted for 25 percent.
2. Jail time is getting longer: Once people land in jail, their average stay has increased nearly 65 percent, from 14 days to 23. This statistic doesn't distinguish between pretrial detention and those serving actual jail terms, but, as the report notes, "the proportion of jail inmates that are being held pretrial has grown substantially in the last thirty years—from about 40 to 62 percent—it is highly likely that the increase in the average length of stay is largely driven by longer stays in jails by people who are unconvicted of any crime."
3. People who go to jail often work less and earn less after getting out: Spending any time in jail can, and usually does, significantly alter someone's ability to lead a normal life upon release. Plus, many jail inmates have to pay fees for laundry service, room and board, and even booking fees. Even if they're later found innocent, they still must pay those bills, leaving many former defendants indebted to the system.
Consider Kevin Thompson, a Georgia man who had been jailed once and was jailed again for not paying $838 in traffic fines, court fees, and probation fees to a private probation company.
4. Lack of money is the main reason defendants sit in jail: The report comes to a depressing, if not surprising, conclusion: "Money, or the lack thereof, is now the most important factor in determining whether someone is held in jail pretrail. Almost everyone is offered monetary bail, but the majority of defendants cannot raise the money quickly or, in some cases, at all." This leads to situations where people are stuck in jail for minor offenses. A 2010 Human Rights Watch report found that in about 19,000 criminal cases in New York City, many people couldn't afford bail set at $1,000 or less. In some cases, the accused pled guilty early to get out of jail, even if they were innocent.
5. Society's race problems are amplified by the local jail dynamic: The Vera report notes that about 38 percent of felony defendants will spend their entire pretrial periods in jail, but only one in 10 were denied bail in the first place. The rest, many of whom are African American men, simply can't afford to post bail: "Black men appear to be caught in a cycle of disadvantage: incarcerated at higher rates and, therefore, more likely to be unemployed and/or in debt, they have more trouble posting bail."