Should Race be the Only Factor in Promoting Police Diversity?

Better racial representation in our police forces is important, but a would-be officer’s residence can also have a major impact on making on improving a department’s legitimacy in a community, argue two researchers.

Racial representation that reflects the diversity of a community is a key ingredient in improving relations between police and the communities they serve. This was one of the key recommendations in the final report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, released in 2015.

The rationale is simple: Officers whose demographic characteristics reflect the communities in which they serve are more likely to have an interest in promoting equity, and to understand the racial perspectives and dynamics, within those communities. But does a racially representative force actually lead to better policing outcomes?

Arthur Rad

Abdul Rad

In a review of James Forman Jr.’s “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America,” Devon Carbado and L. Song Richardson highlight a surprising finding: Over-policing in black neighborhoods implicates not only white officers, but black officers as well. Due to racial anxiety induced by their white peers, black officers “may experience stronger incentives” than their white counterparts to over-police and employ violence in order to avoid looking “soft” on crime.

Thus, while diversifying the racial makeup of our police forces is a critical dimension of reform, it is not the only step we need to take. In addition to creating departments that are more racially reflective of the communities they serve, we need to properly conceptualize what a truly “reflective” police force should look like.

It may be the case that, when it comes to policing outcomes, fair geographic representation is just as important as fair racial representation.

It is no secret that police forces across the nation are predominantly white. Using Department of Justice survey data, one study found that this is the case even in majority black jurisdictions. Given this reality, some departments have doubled down on efforts to reform their recruitment practices so that their officers are more racially representative of the communities they serve.

While improving racial representation in our police forces is an important goal, we must also consider whether problems will persist if we designate race as the only necessary consideration when creating a force that reflects community demographics.

One element frequently neglected by departments that hire minority officers is residency.

Arthur Rizer

Arthur Rizer

Officers from outside jurisdictions — regardless of whether their race matches that of those they are sworn to protect — may not have a vested interest in policing equitably. On the other hand, recruits of any race who live inside the jurisdiction of a given department have an immediate connection in the communities they serve, which may help offset the pressure to over-police that some black officers experience.

Racial and geographic disparities in officer hiring are inextricably linked, meaning that solving one disparity could exacerbate the other. For instance, it may be the case that trying to recruit from a wider pool of racially underrepresented populations could result in the hiring of more recruits from areas outside a given department’s jurisdiction.

Departments thus need to be cognizant of both elements simultaneously. In other words, if the goal is to create not only a more representative police force, but a more effective one, departments need to consider race along with place of residence when recruiting new officers.

We should ensure that the individuals joining the police force have a stake in promoting equity and understand the communities within which they work, something that is not necessarily the case if race is the only factor considered.

The locales from which officers are hired represent a critical dimension that departments need to consider in the recruitment reform process. Otherwise, we may see “racially reflective” police forces that continue or exacerbate the problems we already have.

Abdul Rad is an associate fellow with the R Street Institute. Arthur Rizer, a former police officer and Department of Justice prosecutor, and a retired U.S. Army officer, is the Director of Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties at R Street. They welcome comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

The Groveland Four: Racism, ‘Miscarriage of Justice’ and the Press

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pardon of four young black men wrongly accused in 1949 of raping a white woman recalls the insidious role played by the media at the time.

Belated mea culpas were issued last week to the Groveland Four, young black men subjected to racist vigilantism following a dubious rape allegation 70 years ago in Florida.

On Friday, the Florida Board of Executive Clemency pardoned the men, two years after their descendants received an official apology from the state legislature.

“I don’t know that there’s any way you can look at this case and think that those ideals of justice were satisfied,”  said Florida Gov. DeSantis.

“Indeed, they were perverted time and time again, and I think the way this was carried out was a miscarriage of justice.”

The Orlando Sentinel, whose vitriolic owner was the spearhead of inciteful press coverage, weighed in with an apology of its own:

“We’re sorry for the Orlando Sentinel’s role in this injustice. We’re sorry that the newspaper at the time did between little and nothing to seek the truth. We’re sorry that our coverage of the event and its aftermath lent credibility to the cover-up and the official, racist narrative.”

The pardon came after a dramatic, hour-long meeting  during which the families of the men accused of the assault told DeSantis and his three-member Cabinet – meeting as the clemency board – that there is overwhelming evidence the men were innocent and there was no rape, reported USA Today.

The woman, who was 17 when she said she was raped, sat in a wheelchair and later told Gov. DeSantis and the Cabinet the rape did indeed happen, saying she was dragged from a car, had a gun put to her head and was told not to scream or they would “blow your brains out.”

At one point, the two sides briefly clashed. Beverly Robinson, a niece of one of the Groveland Four, was speaking to the governor and the Cabinet when she turned to the woman and her sons.

“It never happened. You all are liars,” Robinson said.

“That’s enough out of you,” the woman said.

“I know it’s enough out of me. It’s always enough when you’re telling the truth,” Robinson replied.

Five years ago, TCR’s David J. Krajicek looked into journalism’s role in the case—both the rabid local coverage and the crucial attention from northern newspapers that shed light on the scandal.

His report, part of a series of case studies commissioned by John Jay’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice, examining “how ‘mob journalism’ and media ‘tunnel vision’ turn journalists into tools of the prosecution,” was published in February 2014.

A full copy of the report can be downloaded here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Diverse Neighborhoods Could Reduce Police Shootings of Blacks, Hispanics: Study

Researchers studying nearly 1,700 fatal interactions with police between 2013 and 2015 concluded that desegregation dramatically reduces the risks of black males being killed by police officers. Higher levels of segregation increased the odds for Hispanic males.

Desegregation of America’s neighborhoods can save blacks and Hispanics from being killed by police officers, according to a study published in the Social Science & Medicine journal.

The researchers, led by Odis Johnson Jr., a sociology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, analyzed a database that included details on nearly 1,700 fatal interactions with police (FIP) that occurred across the U.S. from May 2013 to January 2015.

The researchers concluded that low levels of racial segregation dramatically reduce the risks of black males being killed by police officers. higher levels of segregation increased the odds for Hispanic males.

“Black males’ odds of a FIP were dramatically lowered in neighborhoods with a relatively low percentage of black residents,” the researchers write. “This suggests that racially mixed neighborhoods to some degree shield black males from police homicides.”

Furthermore, in neighborhoods with high levels of income inequality, such as poor areas undergoing gentrification, males of color face a higher risk of being killed during interactions with police; Hispanic men face the highest risk.

“Our results concerning Hispanic males are perhaps the most important that we offer, since one could argue the majority of media and public attention about FIPs have concerned black males,” the researchers write.

“This analysis in contrast suggest that we should give careful consideration to the geospatial and institutional circumstances in which the odds of having FIPs becomes greatest for particular race-gender classifications, rather than assuming black males are placed at greatest risk in all contexts.”

The findings support the work of historian Richard Rothstein, a distinguished fellow of the Economic Policy Institute.

In his latest book, “The Color of Law,” Rothstein chronicles the history of racial segregation in the U.S., pinpointing President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s as the start of a deliberate government plan to create and enforce residential segregation.

Rothstein contends that systemic residential segregation continues to champion inequality and injustice in all areas.

Although America’s demographics  have been gradually changing, with one study predicting that whites in the U.S. will become a “minority” by 2045, an investigation by the Washington Post shows that neighborhoods are still deeply segregated.

A full copy of the current study can be downloaded here.

J. Gabriel Ware is a contributing writer for The Crime Report.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Racial Inequity Hinders Juvenile Probation Reform: Study

Increasing family and community engagement with probation authorities, and addressing the system’s racial disparities are critical to keeping young people from becoming repeat offenders, according to an Urban Institute study of reforms in Ohio and Washington State.

Courts must address racial disparities in juvenile probation practices and the alienation of many families and communities from the “system,” in order to achieve a transformation of U.S. juvenile probation practices, according to an Urban Institute study.

The disproportional treatment of minority youth is a significant barrier to efforts aimed at keeping young people from becoming repeat offenders, researchers concluded in a three-year study of reforms instituted in Ohio’s Lucas County and Washington’s Pierce County.

The reforms, supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Probation Transformation Initiative, resulted in noteworthy reductions in the number of young people who re-offended. But researchers said that even in the two counties they studied, authorities were hamstrung by deep-seated resentment and distrust on the part of young people, their parents, and community leaders—many of whom felt the system treated minority youth differently.

“Neighborhood isolation and residential racism makes (things) difficult,” said one community representative quoted in the study. “There’s no outlet or jobs for these kids and there’s no hope…I think we need to look at our neighborhood investment and what’s happening [there].”

The authors of the study concurred.

“Developing ways to build trust can be hard, since families impacted by the juvenile justice system often see probation staff as representing ‘the system,’ which can inhibit progress on designing case plans for youth,” they wrote, noting that judges, probation officers and other stakeholders “must be prepared to have difficult conversations about race and equity.”

They added: “Even in Lucas and Pierce Counties, both of which have sizably reduced their placement populations, these successful reform efforts have not automatically resulted in reduced (racial) disparities.”

Lessons Learned

Nevertheless, the study also concluded that in the short time the programs had been implemented, key lessons learned about how to transform the juvenile probation system could help to inform other jurisdictions around the country.

Pierce County, for example, developed an approach called Opportunity-Based Probation (OBP), which offered incentives for youth to get off probation early. It reported that the first cohort of youth completing OBP had low re-offense rates.

Another program called Pathways to Success, described as a “family, team-based approach including a care coordinator, a probation officer, a mentoring component, and parent support,” was adapted by county authorities to improve outcomes for African-American youth.

“We try to get them as early in our system as possible, so they need to have at least one other contact with our system,” one probation supervisor told researchers.

Lucas County created a “misdemeanor services unit” that was used to divert juveniles who committed minor offenses from probation.

Both counties’ efforts emphasized greater engagement with families, and collaborative partnerships with community groups as crucial steps to help young people avoid further entanglement with the justice system.

“We can work with the youth all day, but then the youth has to go home,” said a Lucas County probation officer. “If they’re not supported there, or the family doesn’t know about the work, it’s not effective …. I’ve learned that the families love it—they love to be involved, feel included, see the changes.”

A Pierce County officer added: “We can’t sustain long-term change with these kids without the support of parents… they need to carry on the work with the kids once we step away.”

Probation is the most commonly used disposition in U.S. juvenile courts. Nearly 63 percent of delinquency cases in 2014 resulted in probation, and the number of such dispositions has been rising steadily. Between 1984 and 2014, the use of probation for young people adjudicated delinquent increased by over 5 percent.

And that has only sharpened racial disparities.

In Lucas County, for example, 37 percent of black youth with felony cases received “out-of-home placement,” such as detention facilities or group homes, compared with 7 percent of white youth.

Adolescent Development

Experts in adolescent development have found that many youth fall afoul of the rules imposed by probation because the neural networks responsible for “self-regulation and reward motivation” aren’t fully developed until age 24.

The Annie E. Casey Probation Transformation Initiative was developed in response to these findings, with the aim of finding “developmentally appropriate” means of working with troubled juveniles.

The Initiative’s twin goals were to “divert at least 60 percent of referrals including all youth with low-level offenses and lower-risk levels,” and to “use probation only as a purposeful intervention to support behavior change and long-term success for youth with serious and repeat offenses.”

The study was prepared by Sino Esthappan of the Urban Institute, Johanna Lacoe of Mathematica Policy Research, and Douglas Young of the University of Maryland.

Additional Reading: “Europe’s Rehabilitative Approach to Young Adults Worth Examining by U.S.”

A complete copy can be downloaded here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

The ‘Environmental Factor’: When Criminals Are Also Victims

In a 1968 murder case, the defendant claimed systemic racism and poverty were mitigating circumstances in his crime. An appeals court rejected the argument, but is the relationship between the “environment” and criminal behavior worth examining today?

On June 5, 1968, at about 3 a.m., Murdock Benjamin and a couple of friends were in a hamburger joint in Washington D.C. when a group of six walked in to order takeout—five men, all U.S. Marines in uniform, and a woman. All were white.

A few minutes later, as Benjamin and his friends were leaving the restaurant, there was a confrontation by the door. At trial, each side said the other started it, and the details remained unresolved.

Benjamin was already outside when he heard one of the Marines say, “Get out, you black bastards.”

Benjamin reentered, pulled his gun, and started shooting. He killed two of the Marines, and seriously wounded another and the woman. He was charged with murder.

At trial, Benjamin’s lawyer admitted there was blood on his client’s hands. But he argued that Benjamin wasn’t criminally responsible for what he’d done. He had a mental condition born of the deprivations he endured as a poor black person, the lawyer argued, adding that his experiences primed him to explode the moment he heard that racial slur.

The defense was a long shot because Benjamin, by all accounts, was a sane young man. But Benjamin’s mind was in the grip of the ugly social forces that had shaped his life, according to his lawyer. After all, racism and poverty might not make a man hallucinate, but they still inflict real harm on both body and brain.

The trial judge, Gerhard Gesell, didn’t buy it.

“We are not concerned with a question of whether or not a man had a rotten social background,” Gesell said. “We are concerned with the question of his criminal responsibility.”

The jury convicted him of second degree murder. He was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison. He was about 20 years old.

But did Benjamin’s defense have any validity?

A closer look at Benjamin’s background suggests how someone’s environment carves out their destiny.

He was raised in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. His father was a construction worker and his mother stayed home to take care of him and his siblings—he had 12. They were poor, but there was always enough for clothes and food. But then his father left the family, and life grew more difficult.

In the summer of 1965, a few years after his father left, Benjamin was one of hundreds of people arrested and jailed following what has been called the Watts Rebellion—one of many uprisings by black Americans in the 1960s that were rooted in systemic oppression. Watts’ residents suffered bad policing, bad schools and few opportunities for work, according to one contemporary report.

Benjamin recalled the experience as the start of his political awakening.

“It was like striking out at something, not caring whether you win or lose, as long as you strike back at it—because it had struck at you long enough,” Benjamin said in a 1970 interview with Malaika Lumumba for an oral history of the civil rights movement.

“They’d blew up four young girls in Alabama not more than two years prior to that,” he added. “[During Watts] we were only paying them back for the slavery and sufferings of our people.”

When he got out of jail, Benjamin found work and moved in activist circles, but his politics wavered. He had a new, promising job as an apprentice machinist, and he wanted to make good; but a year after he was hired, the company laid off all the black and Mexican apprentices.

“I realized that I couldn‘t get away from racism within the United States,” he told Lumumba. “I’d sold my people out by thinking that I could ever make it within the system.”

After he lost the job, Benjamin dealt drugs for a couple of months to get by, before he soured on it. He figured he was helping the white man, hurting his community. He was arrested for a couple of other crimes he said he didn’t commit.

Then Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, in April, 1968. Benjamin had now come to believe a race war was coming—a belief his lawyer would later use to argue that Benjamin had a “mental condition.”

Shortly after King’s assassination, he decided to leave Los Angeles to join the Poor People’s March on Washington. A few weeks later, on the other side of the country, Benjamin shot four people.

Benjamin’s lawyers appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial judge shouldn’t have excluded the broader context of Benjamin’s life—his “rotten social background,” as one lawyer termed it—from the question of his guilt.

Shouldn’t a person’s circumstances affect responsibility for his or her actions?

David Bazelon, one of the appeals court judges, struggled so earnestly to answer that question that he made the case famous in academic circles. Bazelon began by conceding that it probably wasn’t fair to convict Murdock Benjamin, because forces beyond his control were responsible for the shooting, more than Benjamin himself.

But if Benjamin wasn’t responsible for his actions, that only made things more complicated, because he wasn’t insane and he was likely still dangerous.

Society doesn’t know what to do with someone who’s sane, violent and, hypothetically, innocent.

Sane people can’t be locked up in an asylum, harm demands a response, and innocence precludes prison. Bazelon’s ruling offered up “social reconstruction.

Systemic equality, he suggested, might prevent more violence than any punishment.

Bazelon seemed to want to convict America itself.

But the other two judges outvoted Bazelon. In that 1973 appeal, they reaffirmed Benjamin’s conviction and kept him in prison.

“The ultimate responsibility for [the marines’] deaths reaches far beyond [Murdock Benjamin],” agreed Judge Carl McGowan.

But he added: “As courts, however, we administer a system of justice which is limited in its reach.”

In the decades since, judges have continued to wave off “environmental” defenses like Benjamin’s, often with good reason.

Lawyers sometimes cooked up farcical excuses for their clients, like Super Bowl Sunday Syndrome, trying to spin an individual’s misconduct into a mass phenomenon in which they had no control.

Judges are probably also wary of arguments grounded in society’s inequities because they would be so powerful.

Black people aren’t the only ones overrepresented in the justice system. The poor, the young, and the queer—among many other demographic groups—are all disproportionately likely to be arrested for a crime.

Researchers have also found that people who have a certain genetic attribute, and who also suffered abuse as children, are more than nine times more likely than the average person to behave criminally.

Benjamin’s case highlights the tension at the core of modern American justice.

Courts try people, not inequality. Judges reliably exclude big-picture phenomena—like genetics, or the ravages of white supremacy—from the question of someone’s guilt. They only consider it at sentencing, where the standard for evidence is lower.

But even then, it seldom makes much of a difference. A 2012 study polled judges on how they’d sentence a man, diagnosed with psychopathy, who committed terrible violence. Overall, the judges ruled the man’s mental condition made him less responsible for his crime.

But they also ruled that the same mental condition made him more of a menace.

FT Green

F.T. Green

“Psychopathy may make the defendant less morally culpable, but it increases his future dangerousness to society,” one of the judges explained to the researchers. “In my mind, these factors balance out.”

Still, the question from Murdock Benjamin’s case still hovers on the edges of every courtroom today.

Should the victims of racism be held solely responsible for its inevitable consequences?

F.T. Green is a reporter in Toronto. His website is ftgreen.xyz. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trump Considers Far-Reaching Civil Rights Rollback

The Trump administration signaled its hostility to the “disparate impact” approach to civil rights enforcement in its recent school safety report. The Justice Department is studying a similar, governmentwide shift. A civil rights advocate calls disparate impact a “bedrock principle.”

The Trump administration is considering a far-reaching rollback of civil rights law that would dilute federal rules against discrimination in many aspects of American life, the Washington Post reports. An internal Justice Department memo directs civil rights officials to examine how decades-old “disparate impact” regulations might be changed or removed in their areas of expertise, and what the impact might be. Under disparate impact, actions can amount to discrimination if they have an uneven effect even if that was not the intent, and rolling back this approach has been a longtime goal of conservative legal thinkers. Past Republican administrations have done little to erode the concept’s application, partly out of concerns that the Supreme Court might disagree, or that such changes would be unpopular and viewed as racist.

Civil rights advocates said diminishing this tool could have sweeping consequences. “Disparate impact is a bedrock principle,” said Kristen Clarke of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Through the courts, we’ve been able to marshal data and use the disparate-impact doctrine as a robust tool for ferreting out discrimination.” in 2014, the Obama administration advised school systems they may be guilty of racial discrimination if students of color are punished at higher rates. The Trump administration signaled its hostility to this approach in a report by the Federal Commission on School Safety, which recommended rescinding the school discipline guidance. The report said the validity of disparate impact analysis “cannot be squared with the Supreme Court’s holdings.” The administration revoked the guidance a few days later. The school safety report argued that earlier administrations had adopted the disparate impact concept without regard for what the underlying statute said. It said that interpretation was of “questionable validity” and “dubious, at best.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Black Women Victimized by Workplace Sex Harassment: Study

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that African-American women filed 27 percent of complaints about sexual harassment between 2012-2016, even though they account for just 7 percent of the labor force.

Black women account for a disproportionate number of sexual harassment charges in U.S. workplaces, a new research study reveals.

The study examined 46,210 claims filed under  Title VII sexual harassment discrimination charges between 2012-2016 with the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and state Fair Employment Practices Agencies (FEPAs).

According to the analysis, released this month by the Center for Employment Equity at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst , African-American women filed 27 percent of  complaints about sexual harassment during that period, even though they account for just 7 percent of the labor force.

The study also found that the majority of individuals who report sexual harassment experience experience retaliation from their employers.

Almost two-thirds—or 64 percent—of those filing sexual harassment charges report losing their jobs as a result of their complaint, said the study, adding that “high instances of job loss and retaliation are present across race and sex categories.”

“Sexual harassment remains a persistent and serious threat to women and men in American workplaces,” the researchers wrote. “While the vast majority of those who experience sexual harassment in the workplace never report this harassment internally nor file a formal discrimination charge, those who do are typically confronted by harsh outcomes.”

The results should come as a wakeup call to corporations and other businesses to take more proactive efforts to discipline managers, the study authors said.

“Sexual harassment, and perhaps discrimination of all types, should be addressed proactively and affirmatively as managerial responsibilities, rather than leaving it to the targets of discrimination to pursue legal remedies as individuals,” said the authors, Carly McCann, Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, and M.V. Lee Badgett—all of them researchers at the UMass Amherst Center.

The harassment complaints represent just the tip of the glacier.

According to the research study, about five million employees are sexually harassed at work every year, but 99.8 percent of them never file formal charges.

“Of those who file formal charges, very few—we estimate less than 1,500 per year—go to court,” the authors said.

Sexual harassment charges filed by women are least common in government, health care and social assistance and finance, the study found. They are most common in mining, warehousing, and transportation. In general female sexual harassment charges are higher in male dominated industries.

The analysis is one of many recent studies published in the wake of the #Metoo and #TimesUp movements. The researchers said they hoped the current wave of activism regarding sexual harassment in the workplace to lead to reforms that promote respectful treatment in workplaces, prevent sexual harassment and create safer, less abusive, workplaces.

Several large companies have already taken action.

CBS is now surveying its employees about workplace culture and implementing new programs to address workplace harassment in the wake of sexual harassment accusations against former CBS host Charlie Rose and former CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, Business Insider reports.

Though a recent study found that men underestimate the level of sexual harassment women face, the researchers in the present study found that almost 20 percent of all sexual harassment accusers are men.

The full report can be found here.

J. Gabriel Ware is a TCR contributing writer.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Federal Judge Charges Racial Bias in TN Crime Cases

U.S. District Judge John Fowlkes has raised questions of racial discrimination in at least three Memphis cases in recent weeks. The U.S. Attorney denies discriminating based on race.

A federal judge in Memphis is challenging the federal prosecutor’s office saying the prosecutors are bringing harsher charges against African-American defendants than white defendants for similar crimes, reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal. U.S. District Judge John Fowlkes has raised questions of racial discrimination in at least three cases in recent weeks. The U.S. Attorney denies discriminating based on race. One case  involves two drug dealers, one white, one African American. Last year, the men traveled together to a Wendy’s parking lot sell a man 100 ecstasy pills for $800. The white man got into the buyer’s vehicle to sell the drugs while the black man stayed in a vehicle with a gun between his legs.

The supposed ecstasy buyer was an undercover Memphis police officer. Police arrested the two dealers and a woman traveling with them. All three pleaded guilty. The black man got a 15-year term due to prior convictions. The white man, with a limited criminal record, got one year in prison. Fowlkes asked why prosecutors didn’t charge the white man with a gun crime, too, because he worked with the armed black man to complete the drug deal. “This is another situation where a white defendant appears to have been treated differently than African-Americans,” the judge said. Prosecutor J. William Crow, said he didn’t think he could prove the five-year-minimum gun charge against the other people in the car. “I apologize to the court if you’ve ever thought that I or anyone in our office is taking race into account in what we charge because that’s just not the truth,” he said.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Federal Judge Charges Racial Bias in TN Crime Cases

U.S. District Judge John Fowlkes has raised questions of racial discrimination in at least three Memphis cases in recent weeks. The U.S. Attorney denies discriminating based on race.

A federal judge in Memphis is challenging the federal prosecutor’s office saying the prosecutors are bringing harsher charges against African-American defendants than white defendants for similar crimes, reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal. U.S. District Judge John Fowlkes has raised questions of racial discrimination in at least three cases in recent weeks. The U.S. Attorney denies discriminating based on race. One case  involves two drug dealers, one white, one African American. Last year, the men traveled together to a Wendy’s parking lot sell a man 100 ecstasy pills for $800. The white man got into the buyer’s vehicle to sell the drugs while the black man stayed in a vehicle with a gun between his legs.

The supposed ecstasy buyer was an undercover Memphis police officer. Police arrested the two dealers and a woman traveling with them. All three pleaded guilty. The black man got a 15-year term due to prior convictions. The white man, with a limited criminal record, got one year in prison. Fowlkes asked why prosecutors didn’t charge the white man with a gun crime, too, because he worked with the armed black man to complete the drug deal. “This is another situation where a white defendant appears to have been treated differently than African-Americans,” the judge said. Prosecutor J. William Crow, said he didn’t think he could prove the five-year-minimum gun charge against the other people in the car. “I apologize to the court if you’ve ever thought that I or anyone in our office is taking race into account in what we charge because that’s just not the truth,” he said.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Young, Black and Charged as Adults

African-American teens in Pennsylvania’s second-most populous county were 20 times more likely than their white peers to be arrested and charged as adults in 2016 and 2017, according to a newspaper investigation.

Denzel Glover was 16 when he was arrested and taken to Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County Jail for shooting another teen in September 2016. Kiyon Swindle was 17 when he was arrested in March 2017 for leading Allegheny County police on a high-speed chase that ended with Swindle crashing a stolen vehicle into another vehicle, injuring several people.

Tomichael Sherrell was just 15 when he was arrested and charged with robbery, and 16 when he was sentenced to five years of probation after pleading guilty to felony robbery. He spent nearly a year in county jail because he could not pay cash bail.

From the moment Sherrell, Swindle, and Glover were charged, they were treated as adults, held in adult jail, and then prosecuted by the Allegheny district attorney’s office and convicted as adults.

Pennsylvania law requires that people who are accused of serious felony offenses like murder, robbery and aggravated assault, and are at least 15 years old, be charged as adults if the case involves the use of a weapon during the crime or if the person has a history of using a weapon.

But these cases can be diverted to the juvenile system by prosecutors after defendants are charged. Despite numerous opportunities, the district attorney’s office never moved Sherrell, Swindle or Glover from adult court to the juvenile system.

Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel at the Juvenile Law Center, a Philadelphia-based non-profit that advocates for juveniles, told The Appeal that “nothing good” comes from incarcerating and prosecuting children as adults.

“You’re removing kids from their communities,” she said. “That’s strike one.”

Swindle, Glover, and Sherrell have something in common with majority of children charged and tried as adults in Allegheny, Pennsylvania’s second-most populous county with over 1.2 million residents.

They are African American.

Allegheny County Jail

Allegheny County Jail. Photo via Flickr

The Appeal reviewed all charging dockets filed in magisterial district judge offices in Allegheny County in 2016 and 2017 and found nearly 200 cases where teens were charged as adults by the district attorney’s office. In more than 80 percent of those cases, the defendant was African American.

The review only tracked cases where the defendant was under the age of 18, both when the offense occurred and at the time charges were filed.

Black youth only account for about 20 percent of the total youth population age 14-17 in Allegheny County, according to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. But African-American teens in the county were 20 times more likely than their white peers to be arrested and charged as adults in 2016 and 2017, The Appeal found.

The Appeal made multiple attempts to reach Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s office for comment but received no response.

*“There’s all of this implicit, and sometimes explicit, bias that drives law enforcement into [minority] communities and that drives these kids into our justice system,” Levick said.

And that racial disparity only grew as cases moved through Allegheny County’s system.

In 2016 and 2017, Black teens in the county accounted for about 85 percent of children charged in adult court, 91 percent of those referred for prosecution, nearly 97 percent of those who received an adjudication, and 100 percent of all children sentenced to either jail or prison, according to The Appeal’s review of court records. Black teens were also 85 times more likely to be prosecuted in adult court than their white peers.

The Appeal also found that prosecutors were less likely to withdraw cases against Black teens early in the proceedings, before those cases reached the trial court. And in Pennsylvania, withdrawing can often indicate that a case might move from adult to juvenile court.

Of the six cases involving a white teen sent to Zappala’s office, The Appeal found only two criminal dockets in the higher court. In one case, the defendant died before trial; the other was still active at the time of The Appeal‘s review.

Conversely, about 70 cases involving Black teens were sent to Zappala for prosecution. From those cases, The Appeal found that Zappala’s office created 46 adult criminal dockets—28 of those cases have ended in a prison, jail or probation sentence; in three, Zappala’s office dropped all charges; and 15 are still awaiting adjudication.

Recent research suggests that sending teens through the adult justice system and incarcerating youth with adults can have grave consequences.

Youth held in adult prisons and jails are twice as likely to die by suicide  than their adult counterparts, and roughly 36 times more likely to die by suicide than their peers held in juvenile facilities.

Research has also found that young people sent through the adult justice system are more likely to commit new offenses, and commit them more quickly than similarly charged youth who went through the juvenile system.

As such statistics have come to light, courts and states have begun rethinking how they punish children.  Four U.S. Supreme Court decisions have held that the death penalty and mandatory life without parole sentences for children are unconstitutional. In one such ruling, the high court noted that “adolescent brain anatomy can cause transient rashness, proclivity for risk, and inability to assess consequences.”

States have also moved away from the “adult time for adult crime” and “superpredator” narratives of the 1980s and 1990s. In 2016, the Vermont legislature passed a law allowing people 21 and younger, and charged with certain nonviolent offenses, youthful offender status and adjudication through the juvenile system.

Last year, New York raised its age of adult criminal liability from 16 to 18; in October, Washington State’s Supreme Court held that life without parole sentences were unconstitutional for individuals convicted of offenses they committed as children.

The American Bar Association now recommends that children “be treated as juveniles in the court justice system, with a focus on rehabilitating rather than simply punishing.”

But there’s movement in Pennsylvania, too.

In 2014, the state Supreme Court determined that lifetime sexual offender registration for individuals who committed offenses when they were children was unconstitutional and a violation of state law. The lower court cited a growing body of research regarding youth brain development and delinquent behavior, noting that “lifetime registration is also contrary to the rehabilitative goals of our juvenile justice system, as a court of second chances.”

And the conservative columnist George F. Will recently urged the U.S. Supreme Court to take a juvenile life without parole case out of Mississippi to force the state to take seriously its rulings granting parole eligibility to youth who are not “permanently incorrigible.”

The attorney for Joey Chandler, the lifer in the case, argued that he has been incarcerated “virtually without disciplinary blemish and that he excelled in job training programs offered at the prison.”

“Accountability matters,” Levick of the Juvenile Law Center said. “But accountability in developmentally appropriate ways is what we should be focused on.”

Joshua Vaughn is a 2018 John Jay/Tow Juvenile Justice Reporting Fellow. This is a condensed and slightly edited version of a story that appeared this week in The Appeal. The full version can be accessed here.

from https://thecrimereport.org