The non-verdict of the police officer who killed Walter Scott is a national embarrassment – Dec 5, 2016, 3:45pm EST

We have video of Scott posing no threat when a cop killed him — yet a jury didn’t convict.

The video in the North Charleston, South Carolina, police shooting of Walter Scott couldn’t be any clearer: Scott posed no threat to police officer Michael Slager when Slager shot at least eight times at Scott’s back. Scott was fleeing, but the 50-year-old was barely running — he was moving so slowly that Slager could have caught up to him with a brisk walk. And the encounter began after Scott ran from a traffic stop over a broken brake light — hardly a matter of grave public concern.

And yet.

On Monday, a jury concluded that it will not be able to reach a verdict in Slager’s murder trial, leading a judge to declare a mistrial. The police officer who shot and killed Scott now looks a little more likely to go free if the local prosecutor decides not to retry the case and if the federal civil rights charges also don’t stick.

There have been ambiguous police killing cases in the past. We didn’t have video for the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The video of the police shooting of Tamir Rice in Cleveland was a bit blurry, but it showed that Rice really did have a toy gun that officers could have mistaken for a real firearm. Other police killing cases had similar ambiguities.


One year after Michael Brown’s killing, his mother vows to ‘never forgive’ – by Tony Harris — August 5, 2015 9:45AM ET Updated 5:26PM ET & Philip J. Victor

Al Jazeera’s exclusive interview with Michael Brown’s mother 8:12

Al Jazeera’s exclusive interview with Michael Brown’s mother 8:12

The mother of Michael Brown says she will “never forgive” the “cold and malicious” police officer who shot and killed her son nearly one year ago in Ferguson, Missouri.

“He wouldn’t even admit what he did was wrong. He wouldn’t admit he had no reason to do what he did,” Lezley McSpadden said of former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. “I’ll never forgive him.”

McSpadden said of Wilson: “He’s evil, his acts were devilish.”

Wilson killed Brown on Aug. 9, 2014, after stopping him because he was walking in the street, not on the sidewalk. The killing of Brown, an unarmed black teen who, according to some accounts, had his hands in the air at the time of his death, by a white police officer sparked widespread protest and renewed debate over police targeting of black men.

McSpadden’s comments to Al Jazeera followed an interview with Wilson published by The New Yorker, in which he admitted that, aside from ongoing litigation brought by the Brown family, he seldom thought of the 18-year-old Brown.

“Do I think about who he was as a person? Not really, because it doesn’t matter at this point,” Wilson said, before adding that he believed Brown didn’t have a proper “upbringing.”

McSpadden responded to Wilson’s comments by saying the officer was the one who “didn’t have the right upbringing.”

“Because those are words that you just don’t use, especially after you took somebody’s life and you know you had no reason to,” she said. “But he can’t hurt me with his words. What he did last year hurt me really bad, so his words mean nothing to me.”

Wilson, who scuffled with Brown before the shooting, told authorities that he feared for his life during the confrontation and fired his gun in self-defense. Witnesses, however, contend that Brown was in a nonthreatening position when Wilson fired the fatal shots.

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The Ferguson Effect – By Mark Joseph Stern APRIL 21 2015 5:16 PM

Chief Justice Roberts rules against police abuse at the Supreme Court. Maybe he finally gets it.

A man is handcuffed in south Los Angeles on April 25, 2012. (This photograph is not intended to depict police abuse.) Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

A man is handcuffed in south Los Angeles on April 25, 2012. (This photograph is not intended to depict police abuse.)
Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Dennys Rodriguez knew his rights—and he planned to use them. Just after midnight in March of 2012, a police officer pulled Rodriguez over for briefly veering onto the shoulder of the highway, and wrote Rodriguez a warning. The stop should have ended there. Instead, the officer asked Rodriguez for permission to walk his dog around Rodriguez’s Mercury Mountaineer. Rodriguez declined. The officer called for backup and, eight minutes later, did it anyway. On its second pass, the dog alerted the officer to the presence of drugs. He searched the car and found a bag of methamphetamine.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruledthat the drugs are inadmissible in court, because the officer had violated Rodriguez’s Fourth Amendment rights by prolonging the traffic stop without reasonable suspicion. (In Fourth Amendment terms, the eight-minute period during which the officer detained Rodriguez—after writing his warning—was an “unreasonable seizure.”) From a purely constitutional perspective, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s majority opinion is so obviously correct that it’s a little disturbing to see only six justices endorse it. But it’s still encouraging to watch this court grapple with the realities of police overreach and, occasionally, put the kibosh on law enforcement’s worst excesses.

Rodriguez v. United States is this term’s second big criminal-law decision, after the deeply misguided Heien v. North Carolina. In Heien, the court considered a traffic stop conducted by a cop who misunderstood state law. Although the driver he stopped actually did nothing wrong, eight justices decided the stop was still “reasonable” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. In other words, ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking the law—unless you’re a police officer. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a perceptive, finger-wagging dissent, wondering how law-abiding citizens could now avoid “these invasive, frightening, and humiliating encounters.” (Unspoken by any justice was the fact that officers can easily feign misunderstanding of the law as a pretext for a stop.)

Trigger happy – The Economist Apr 11th 2015 | ATLANTA

A new study finds that 9% of Americans are armed and impulsive

ON A grassy strip in South Carolina, a black man turns and runs from a police officer. The cop fires eight bullets at him, leaving him dead. Michael Slager said he shot Walter Scott in self-defence after Mr Scott took his taser. But after a video of the killing went viral—which showed that Mr Scott was perhaps 20 feet away when Mr Slager started shooting at him—the policeman was charged with murder on April 7th. Peaceful demonstrations erupted in the streets.

Mr Scott had been stopped for driving a car with a broken tail light. Relatives speculated that he might have run away from the policeman because he owed child support and did not wish to be jailed for failing to pay it. Many were astounded that he should have died over something so trivial. However, the fact that bystanders nearly always have cameras in their smartphones means that police are finding it harder than ever to commit abuses without consequence.

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Grand Juries Are Medieval – By Joel Cohen FEB. 19 2015 4:34 PM

The system needs to be reformed. This is a first step.

As it stands now, judges are never present during grand jury proceedings, and a grand jury transcript is virtually never available to the public. Photo by Thinkstock/VladimirCetinski

As it stands now, judges are never present during grand jury proceedings, and a grand jury transcript is virtually never available to the public.
Photo by Thinkstock/VladimirCetinski

This week, Jonathan Lippman, chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, took bold action. During his State of the Judiciary speech, he addressed “the crisis emanating from deadly police-civilian encounters” and proposed legislation that would dramatically change the grand jury system in New York state.

Lippman’s proposed legislation addresses cases in which a police officer kills a civilian. During a grand jury investigation of such a killing, not only would a judge be present throughout the proceedings, but if the officer is exonerated, the judge would be empowered to release the entire grand jury transcript to the public. This would bring about two major changes to our present system: As it stands now, judges are never present during grand jury proceedings, and a grand jury transcript is virtually never available to the public. (The grand jury investigation into the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, is an aberrant exception).

Our current process insures that prosecutors are in a “no-win” situation in these incendiary circumstances, as Lippman puts it. Prosecutors ask a grand jury to consider bringing charges against a police officer, but let’s face it, they have a close working relationship with the police. The result? If the officer under investigation is not indicted, the public is suspicious that the prosecutor subliminally (or not so subliminally) told the grand jury how to decide, or simply didn’t present the evidence as diligently as she might have in another circumstance. These suspicions are heightened when the police officer is white and the killed civilian is black.

Given the medieval nature of how the grand jury still operates (grand juries do, in fact, trace back to Henry II), Lippman’s proposal is not only fair, but it brings an antiquated system into the 21st century. Sadly, the public, press, and prosecutors have to figure out how to deal with a situation that has repeated itself all too often: A police officer kills a civilian; a decision is made to present evidence to a grand jury as to whether the police officer committed a crime; the grand jury votes a “no true bill,” meaning a “no indictment”; and—in the eyes of many—the police officer “gets away with murder.”

How Low Income New Yorkers Are Benefiting From The NYPD’s Work Stoppage BY KIRA LERNER & IGOR VOLSKY POSTED ON JANUARY 2, 2015 AT 12:07 PM UPDATED: JANUARY 2, 2015 AT 2:34 PM

In response to growing tensions between the New York Police Department and the city, police unions encouraged officers last week to not make arrests “unless absolutely necessary,” resulting in a 66 percent drop from the same period last year. While the protests have drawn scrutiny for “squandering the department’s credibility” and leaving the city’s streets virtually unattended, they have also had the unintended effect of benefitting New York’s low income residents who are usually the target of the city’s tough-on-crime practices.

From right, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton smile in conversation during a New York Police Academy graduation ceremony, Monday Dec. 29, 2014.

From right, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton smile in conversation during a New York Police Academy graduation ceremony, Monday Dec. 29, 2014. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JOHN MINCHILLO

The work stoppage is a result of outrage by police officers — led by union chief Patrick Lynch — over how Mayor Bill de Blasio responded to a grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer who killed Eric Garner, an unarmed African American man. The brutal murders of two New York city officers by a troubled man from Maryland in an apparent retaliation for the Garner killing has only inflamed tensions, leading Lynch to blame de Blasio for the killing and scores of police officers to engage in protest actions against the mayor.

The signs of tension first became apparent when some police officers turned their backs to de Blasio when he spoke in the hospital following the assassinations and then engaged in a mass back-turning when the mayor spoke at the funeral of Officer Rafael Ramos. Last week, the police went a step further and stopped arresting New Yorkers for small crimes or ticketing people for minor offenses like parking violations, carrying open containers of alcohol or public urination.

As a result of what the New York Post is calling a “virtual work stoppage,” tickets and summonses for minor offenses have plummeted by 94 percent and overall arrests have fallen 66 percent. Theoretically, the practice will strain police budgets, which rely on fines from tickets to make-up for funding shortfalls. ​

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Photos: Thousands march in DC and New York to protest police violence – Updated by Amanda Taub on December 13, 2014, 7:00 p.m. ET

Kena Betancur/Getty Images

Thousands of demonstrators gathered in New York and Washington, DC, today for “Justice For All” marches to protest police violence.

The marches were organized in response to the recent grand jury decisions not to indict the police officers responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York. Their deaths prompted protests around the country in recent months, as have other police killings, such as the recent shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Riceby a police officer in Cleveland, Ohio.

However, the focus of the protests was much broader than those individual cases, with marchers calling for an end to racism, discrimination, and violent policing.

Berkeley protesters block traffic, stop train – December 9, 2014 3:43AM ET

Hundreds of people marched through Berkeley for a third night a row, blocking a major highway and stopping a train as activists protested grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers in the deaths of two unarmed black men.

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at Dec 9, 2014 3.33

People blocked traffic on both sides of Interstate 80 in Berkeley. Another group of more than 50 people blocked an Amtrak train. Some lay on the tracks, while others sat on a sofa on the rails.

A large group of people began peacefully marching earlier Monday through downtown Berkeley. The first stop for demonstrators shouting, “Who do you protect? Peaceful protest” was the Berkeley Police Department. A line of officers in riot gear blocked them from getting close to the building. The group then headed to a Bay Area Rapid Transit train station and sat outside, prompting authorities to briefly shut down the station.

But as the night went on, the protesters divided into smaller groups that disrupted traffic and train passengers.

The California Highway Patrol said in a tweet that some in the crowd tore down fencing to enter the freeway.

It was not immediately known if protesters were arrested Monday night, although the San Francisco Chronicle reported “scores” of protesters were arrested in Emeryville, a city that borders Berkeley. Five people were arrested Sunday, police said.

The protests started after a Nov. 24 decision by the grand jury not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. A New York grand jury on Dec. 3 declined to prosecute a police officer captured on video applying a fatal chokehold on Eric Garner. That decision set off another series of demonstrations nationwide.

On Monday, merchants in downtown Berkeley cleaned up broken glass and took stock of the previous night’s looting after a protest turned that turned violent Sunday night.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said a tiny fraction of protesters are obscuring the wider message calling for reform of policing policies nationwide.

“The people in the Bay Area are sensitive to worldwide issues,” Bates said. “Unfortunately, there is a small element that uses violence at times to make their point.”

In keeping with the city’s history of protests, Berkeley leaders have put limits on their police. Officers cannot have search dogs, stun guns or helicopters and are restricted in the type of gear they can wear, said Berkeley police union President Sgt. Chris Stines. At least three officers suffered have minor injuries.

Police in nearby Oakland have arrested about 200 people since the protests started.

Elsewhere on Monday night, In downtown Phoenix, about 200 protesters marched to Phoenix police headquarters over the killing of an unarmed black man by a white officer in what authorities described as a struggle last week.

Protesters demanded that police release the name of the officer involved in the fatal shooting of 34-year-old Rumain Brisbon, a man police suspected of selling drugs.

Wire services

Protests against police violence flare again in Berkeley – December 7, 2014 12:30PM ET Updated December 8, 2014 1:15AM ET

Demonstrations against police violence continued nationwide for a fifth night with protestors in Berkeley turning unruly again on Sunday.

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at Dec 8, 2014 12.59

On Saturday, protesters in the Bay Area city clashed with police, hurling objects and smashing store windows.

Berkeley police Officer Jennifer Coats said Sunday evening’s protest began peacefully. Then someone smashed the window of a Radio Shack. She said when a protester tried to stop the vandalism he was struck with a hammer.

Some of the marchers made their way to a freeway on ramp in Oakland and blocked traffic. There are no immediate reports of arrests or injuries but the California Highway Patrol (CHP) tweeted that rocks and bottles were thrown at officers. Stressing that the violence was committed by a small group of people, the CHP added that protesters attempted to set one patrol vehilce on fire, and smashed the windows of two others.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that CHP officers in riot gear released tear gas and began herding protesters off a freeway about 9 p.m. CHP arrested people but there was no total as of early Monday morning.

In Philadelphia about 200 people staged a silent “die in.” They lay in the street for four minutes and 30 seconds to symbolize the 4 hours and 30 minutes that the body of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri lay on the street after he was shot by a white police officer.

A Missouri grand jury chose not to indict indict Officer Darren Wilson sparked violence akin to that after he killed Brown in August. That decision, coupled with a New York grand jury’s decision to bring no charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo, a New York City police officer, in the July chokehold death of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old father of six, has spurred protests nationwide since Wednesday.

The killings and subsequent decisions by grand juries have rekindled a national debate over race relations in the United States.

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Protests resume in NYC as judge releases Garner grand jury details – by Al Jazeera Staff December 4, 2014 4:12PM ET Updated December 5, 2014 2:45AM ET

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at Dec 5, 2014 4.55

Protests resumed in New York City for a second night and spread nationwide from Boston to San Francisco Thursday over a grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer over the chokehold death of Eric Garner. People took to the streets just hours after a judge released limited details of the case.

Judge Stephen Rooney made public the material after Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan asked if he could speak on the secret proceeding.

In the four-page document, the judge says that the grand jury was in session for a period of nine weeks and heard from fifty witnesses. Twenty-two of the witnesses were civilians, while others included police officers, emergency medical personnel and doctors.

The judge also said that the grand jury reviewed 60 pieces of evidence, including four videos as well as records regarding the New York Police Department’s policies and procedures. Jury members also viewed Garner’s medical records, photos of the scene, autopsy photos and NYPD training records.

Rooney said the grand jury’s secrecy needed to be “jealously guarded” and that the “confidentiality of its proceedings must be insured if it is to continue to be effective.”

Rooney said that the uniqueness of the case made it necessary to release a limited amount of details.

“The maintenance of trust in our criminal justice system lies at the heart of these proceedings, with the implications affecting the continuing vitality of our core beliefs in fairness, impartiality, at a crucial moment in the nation’s history, where public confidence in the even-handed application of these core values among a diverse citizenry is being questioned,” Rooney said.

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