Hundreds of Protesters Attempt to Surrender in Durham

Sheriff’s deputies decline to arrest volunteers who turned themselves in to express solidarity with four people who were charged with felonies for helping to topple a Confederate monument.

Four people turned themselves in to authorities in Durham, N.C., yesterday, to face charges for their role in toppling a Confederate monument on Monday. Joining them outside the Durham County courthouse were hundreds of other protesters, many of whom attempted to turn themselves in as well, reports the Huffington Post. “There were far more people there when the statue came down than have been charged,” said Durham City Council member Jillian Johnson. “They’re targeting specific people.”

Deputies declined to arrest any of the volunteers and blocked the crowd from entering the jail. The Durham County sheriff’s office said the fire marshal deemed the crowd a fire hazard due to its size and the capacity of the courtroom, and so protesters weren’t allowed in. Prosecutors say Monday’s protest was a riot, and say the statue was worth more than $1,500, thus justifying felony charges against four people initially charged.


‘Riot’ Charges Filed In Fall of NC Confederate Statue

Sheriff Mike Andrews of Durham, N.C., filed felony riot charges against activists who toppled a Confederate memorial this week. A City Councilman and a law professor questioned the severity of the felony charge.

A University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill law professor and a Durham, N.C., City Councilman question whether those arrested in connection with the toppling of the Durham County Confederate memorial should face felony charges, reports the Durham Herald-Sun. City Councilman Charlie Reece  asked Sheriff Mike Andrews not to press felony charges against the accused and law Prof. Joseph Kennedy questions the basis of the felony charges. Andrews said he would pursue felony charges and added, “Let me be clear, no one is getting away with what happened.”

The four activists arrested as of yesterday have been charged with two misdemeanors – disorderly conduct by injury of a statue, damage to real property – and two felonies – participation in a riot with property damage in excess of $1,500 and inciting others to riot where there is property demand in excess of $1,500. Reece questioned whether the statue, which he called a “hunk of junk metal,” was worth $1,500. The decision on the charges is up to District Attorney Roger Echols. Kennedy said North Carolina law defines a riot as requiring both disorderly conduct and violence. He questions what acts of violence, if any, the protesters committed.


17% Of Whites’ Killings of Blacks Termed Justifiable

An analysis of 400,000 homicides committed by civilians between 1980 and 2014 finds the rate of whites killing blacks with no criminal charges filed far higher than in other combinations of races.

In one in six cases when a white person kills a black man in the U.S., there is no criminal sanction, reports the New York Times and The Marshall Project based on an examination of 400,000 homicides committed by civilians between 1980 and 2014. That rate is far higher than ones for homicides involving other combinations of races. In almost 17 percent of cases when a black man was killed by a non-Hispanic white civilian over three decades, the killing was categorized as justifiable, the term used when a police officer or a civilian kills someone committing a crime or in self-defense. Police classify fewer than 2 percent of homicides committed by civilians as justifiable.

The Marshall Project obtained dozens of data sets from the FBI and looked at various combinations of killer and victim. Two types of “justifiable homicide” are noted: “felon killed by private citizen” or “felon killed by police officer.” (The person killed is classified as a felon, because the homicide could be justified only if a life was threatened, which is a crime.) The data were processed to standardize key variables and exclude more than 200,000 cases that lacked essential information or were homicides by the police. The resulting data detail the circumstances of each death: any weapons used; information on the killer’s and victim’s race, age, ethnicity and sex; and how police investigators classify each type of killing.


Rap on Trial: Do Violent Lyrics Prove a Crime?

Rap music isn’t the only musical genre that employs violent or misogynist lyrics, but it’s uniquely presented as evidence for criminal intent or confession in trials. The co-author of a study on the practice warns that it invariably—and unfairly—creates jury bias.

Rap music was created, in large part, as a response to social marginalization and police oppression, and it has had a contentious relationship with the legal system— perhaps more than any other music genre.

Although during its early years, rap music’s distribution was limited by legal sanctions and police disruption due to the perceived threatening nature of the music, today we see a shift from censoring rap to using rap lyrics as evidence in criminal cases across the country.

In these cases, rap lyrics—especially gangsta rap lyrics—are treated as autobiographical confessions rather than art or entertainment. Cases where lyrics are introduced typically involve aspiring rappers—mostly young black men from impoverished backgrounds—who are seeking commercial success by mimicking the lyrical style and content of more famous rappers.

For example, in one recent case, university student and aspiring rapper, Olutosin Oduwole, was charged with making a terrorist threat because of scribbled rap lyrics found in his car. In another case, prosecutors introduced rap lyrics to prove that Clyde Smith was illegally selling prescription medicine. Both young men explained that their lyrics were fictional, but were convicted.

Similar outcomes have occurred in cases where the defendant was accused of murder and participating in gang activities.

Other music genres frequently feature violent and misogynistic lyrics, but the practice of introducing lyrics as evidence of criminal intent or as confession evidence is virtually unheard of for any other genre except rap.

More: Criminologist Says Rap Music Shouldn’t Be Used To Incriminate Defendants

This practice raises questions about whether prosecutors, judges and jurors may be relying on stereotypes about rap music to inform their evaluations of the lyrics and those who write them, which may affect trial outcomes.

Only a handful of studies have empirically examined concerns about this practice. One, for example, examined the public reaction to violent rap lyrics such as Ice T’s “Cop Killer.” Another looked at gangsta rap lyrics written by a defendant in a murder trial.

But such studies are methodologically limited and becoming increasingly outdated. My research addresses these limitations, and builds upon this small but important line of research.

One of my studies, entitled “The Threatening Nature of ‘Rap’ Music,” published in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, addresses the question of whether, in fact, violent lyrics are perceived as more threatening, dangerous and literal when they are described as rap compared to country music.

In a set of experiments conducted with my co-authors Dr. Charis Kubrin and Dr. Nicholas Scurich, we examined the impact of genre-specific stereotypes on the evaluation of violent song lyrics. Participants, who were predominantly white, read lyrics from an existing folk song, but were randomly assigned to learn that the lyrics were rap or country. Folk lyrics were selected to isolate the effect of genre label and remove confounds such as the lyrics’ style or content.

Study 1 found that participants deemed identical lyrics more literal, offensive, and in greater need of regulation when they were characterized as rap compared to country. Study 2 used a different set of lyrics and again detected this effect, revealing the robustness of this finding.

Study 3 used the same approach but experimentally manipulated whether the songwriter was described as white or black. Consistent with the two previous studies, lyrics were evaluated more negatively when they were categorized as rap compared to when they were categorized as country.

However, the race of the songwriter did not significantly affect how the lyrics were evaluated, suggesting that cultural stereotypes might be driving the effect.

Collectively, these findings highlight the possibility that rap lyrics could inappropriately influence jurors when admitted as evidence to prove guilt. In particular, the findings suggest that rap lyrics might influence jurors’ decisions independent of their actual content.

In other words, the mere label of “rap” is sufficient to induce negative evaluations, even when holding constant the actual lyrics.

This has direct implications for judges who must consider and weigh potential prejudicial impact against probative value when deciding whether to admit rap lyrics as evidence. More to the point, the findings suggest that judges might underappreciate the extent to which the label of lyrics – and not the substantive lyrics themselves – impact jurors’ decisions.

Our research suggests that judges should consider limiting the introduction of rap lyrics to instances in which the lyrics are highly probative of some relevant legal issue.

The findings also raise other questions that merit attention.

For example, there is a concern that jurors might make negative inferences about the author of rap lyrics, in large part, because of rap-specific stereotypes. If jurors use rap lyrics to determine whether a defendant is the “type of person” who would commit a crime—assumptions jurors are not allowed to make—the lyrics are potentially excludable evidence.

In fact, results from ongoing research reveal that when violent lyrics are described as rap, individuals, on average, are more likely to view the songwriter as being in a gang and having a criminal disposition, compared to when identical lyrics are described as country, punk, or heavy metal.

Adam Dunbar

In other ongoing research I am exploring the specific adjudicative consequences of using rap lyrics as evidence in a criminal trial.

This research comes at a time when scholars are attempting to understand continued racial disparities in criminal justice outcomes in spite of declines in reported overt racism. This research offers one example of a novel way that race and the criminal justice system may interact.

As my studies reveal, it is important to expand research to explore how other cognitive processes shape inferences of criminality, especially those that disproportionately impact people and communities of color.

See also: Criminologist Says Rap Music Shouldn’t Be Used To Incriminate Defendants, (TCR December 31, 2015).

Adam Dunbar is a professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Delaware. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Slavery and the Right to Bear Arms

A recent Federal Appeals Court decision rejecting the District of Columbia’s efforts to restrict carrying handguns in public was based on a narrow view of precedents created by pro-slavery judges in the antebellum South, says Fordham University legal historian Saul Cornell.

In an apparent gain for Second Amendment activists, the District of Columbia Federal Appeals court last week rejected the District government’s efforts to restrict the right to carry a firearm, ruling that handgun-carry licenses must be issued to D.C. residents under the same regulations for carry permits issued in other states.

But according to one legal historian, the decision rested on a distorted view of both U.S. legal tradition and common law.

In a report for the legal blog Take Care, historian Saul Cornell of Fordham University writes that the court’s decision in Wrenn v. District of Columbia is “riddled with errors,” and was justified by a “highly selective culling of historical evidence”– notably, a series of cases from the antebellum south, where the “permissive vision of a broad right to carry” was reified over time by pro-slavery judges.

In fact, the only non-southern case cited in Wren was Thompkins v. Johnson, and it pertains to fugitive slave law. In that case, the court decided in favor of the right to travel armed because “the law of the land recognizes the right of one man to hold another in bondage, and that right must be protected.”

Saul Cornell. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

According to Cornell, U.S. courts have historically favored limitations on the public right to travel armed, and the idea that any restrictions on that right are incompatible with the Second Amendment is a “modern invention.”

“The permissive Southern view that Wrenn takes as normative was always a minority tradition in America, at least until recently,” Cornell writes.

“Outside of the South, with a few exceptions, Anglo-American law favored a narrowly tailored right to carry firearms that was limited to a range of long standing exceptions to the general prohibition on traveling armed in public.”

This summary was prepared by Victoria Mckenzie, deputy editor of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.


NAACP Issues a Travel Advisory–for State of Missouri

It was the first time the group issued a warning about a particular state. It cited longtime racial disparities in traffic enforcement and a spate of recent incidents that resulted in harm to minority residents and visitors.

NAACP officials say their recent travel advisory for Missouri is the first that the civil rights group has issued for any state, reports the Kansas City Star. But the warning follows a recent trend of similar alerts issued by other groups for vulnerable people around the United States. The travel advisory, circulated in June by the Missouri NAACP and recently taken up by the national organization, comes after travel alerts began appearing in recent years following police shootings in the U.S. and ahead of immigration legislation in Texas and Arizona.

The Missouri advisory is the first time an NAACP conference has made one state the subject of a warning about discrimination and racist attacks, a spokesman said. The group cited longtime racial disparities in traffic enforcement, a spate of incidents resulting in harm to minority residents and visitors, and recent legislation making discrimination lawsuits harder to win there.


Two MN Police Shootings Viewed Through Racial Lens

The Washington Post says reaction by both police and the community to the shooting of Justine Damond by a black Minneapolis cop has been much different than when Philando Castile was killed by an officer last year.

The Washington Post examines the differing reactions of police and the community to recent shootings by police officers in the Twin Cities. In one, a cop shot a black man. In another, a black cop shot a white woman. In the second case, Officer Mohamed Noor’s fatal shooting of Justine Damond two weeks ago has strained Minneapolis, forcing new alliances and revealing fissures. The police union has been largely silent in defending one of its own. The city’s white, female mayor — facing a difficult reelection bid in which policing has become a primary issue — demanded and received the resignation of the white, female police chief.

Local Somali American leaders have distanced their community from Noor, expressing dismay about news coverage and public chatter that tied the Somali American officer’s actions to the entire community and culture. And while some white residents long have been engaged in calls for police reforms, advocates say their numbers have suddenly grown. The newspaper contrasts those reactions with those that followed the contentious death of Philando Castile, who was shot by police during a traffic stop in a St. Paul suburb in July 2016. Some say the race of the victim prompted different reactions.


The ‘Criminal Justice Tax’ on America’s Troubled Neighborhoods

Does aggressive policing of high-crime, mostly minority, neighborhoods reinforce patterns of racial segregation? In papers published this month by New York University, four of America’s leading criminologists debate whether it does—and what should be done about it.

Does aggressive policing of high-crime, mostly minority, neighborhoods reinforce patterns of racial segregation in America?

Four of the nation’s top criminologists argue that municipal and police authorities should acknowledge the economic and social impact of strategies such as “stop, question and frisk” on African Americans and Latinos—and make sure that their efforts to make communities safer don’t at the same time widen racial inequalities.

The criminologists made their arguments in separate papers published simultaneously by New York University’s Furman Center as part of its “Dream Revisited” series examining issues related to racial and economic segregation in the U.S.

Although the papers differed slightly in emphasis, three of the authors—Jeffrey A. Fagan of Columbia Law School; Monica Bell of Yale Law School; and Anthony A. Braga of Northeastern University—presented a scathing analysis of what has generally been called “New Policing,” which has combined frequent police stops in high-crime neighborhoods with aggressive enforcement of quality-of-life violations on the theory that such methods will deter violent offenders and prevent more serious crime.

More: Want to Reform Policing in Your City? Here’s How

The fourth author, Philip J. Cook of Duke University, suggested that the public safety benefits of aggressive policing should be weighed against the costs, and might even make some neighborhoods more attractive for investors and employers.

Fagan, in his introductory essay to the debate, argued that such policing has effectively created a hidden “criminal justice tax” on the law-abiding residents of troubled minority neighborhoods, and further adds to the already daunting economic burdens they face.

“(It) reinforces segregation by imposing a criminal justice tax on everyday movements and activities,” he wrote. “In places as disparate as Ferguson and the South Bronx, the threat of police contacts or criminal sanctions, with both monetary costs and the threat of jailing, raises the transactions costs for Black and Latino persons to move freely within their neighborhoods, and as well as when they cross racial boundaries.”

Monica Bell

Bell takes the point one step further by noting that the expectation of harsher policing prevents many middle-class and higher-income African Americans and Latinos from moving to neighborhoods that are predominantly white.

“While policing does not singlehandedly cause segregation, the presence and reputation of police in certain neighborhoods sends a message to would-be residents who have choices: Stay away,” she wrote.

In his contribution, Braga argues that these models of policing also contained “desirable” elements that encouraged law enforcement agencies to engage community residents and develop greater confidence and trust. But many of these elements—known as “community policing”—were at best partially implemented, and at worst ignored.

Anthony Braga

“It is perhaps not surprising that even though community policing has been widely adopted, at least in principle, substantial conflict between police and the communities they serve continues to occur,” he wrote.

Efforts to strike the correct balance between public safety and community engagement have been muddied by tough-on-crime political rhetoric, observed Cook, but he added that should not deter police and communities from building on crime reductions that have already occurred in many cities.

“While campaigning for president, Donald Trump touted SQF (stop, question and frisk strategies) as an effective crime control tactic, citing the extraordinary crime drop in New York City under Mayor Giuliani (1994-2001),” he wrote.

“But in fact there is no obvious correlation between the ramp-up of SQF and the drop in murder and other violence in New York.”

Philip J. Cook

Nevertheless, he noted, studies in cities such as Philadelphia and St. Louis found “substantial reductions in crime” using versions of this strategy.

He conceded that the frequent police stops in certain neighborhoods experienced by “young minority men,” even if they were not carrying weapons, gave them “every reason to feel abused.”

But he added: “If high-volume stops can make a high-crime neighborhood safer, as appears to be the case, then that benefits the residents both by making them safer and quite possibly by making the neighborhood more attractive for employers and other investors.”

All the same, Fagan, whose study of the impact of SQF on minority populations in New York City was instrumental in the federal judicial ruling that curtailed the practice on the ground that it violated Constitutional guarantees, argued the drop in crime did not absolve police of their role in perpetuating racial segregation.

“The good news is that in many places, crime rates remain relatively low compared to earlier decades,” he wrote. “The bad news…is that policing has become further disconnected from crime, or from judging guilt and innocence, and more closely tied to the racial composition and economic position of neighborhoods.

“That is indeed bad news.”

The papers in the NYU discussion brief are available here.

This summary was prepared by Stephen Handelman, executive editor of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Concerns Over Profiling as MO Troopers Police St. Louis

About 25 Missouri Highway Patrol troopers will be policing the interstate highways in St. Louis as part of Gov. Eric Greitens’ initiatives to combat crime in the city. Civil rights groups worry about racial profiling by the troopers, a persistent problem in the state.

A new pilot program that assigns 20 to 30 Missouri Highway Patrol troopers to police the interstate highways in St. Louis has sparked fear that the influx could lead to increased racial profiling, reports the Post-Dispatch. Gov. Eric Greitens announced a series of initiatives this month to combat crime in St. Louis, including collaborative efforts with the FBI, DEA, and the state Departments of Corrections, Social Services and Mental Health. But the 90-day program putting troopers along Interstates 55 and 70 has raised questions for civil rights groups, including the ACLU of Missouri, which wants to know how decisions are being made about trooper placement.

The ACLU’s Jeffrey Mittman points to state data showing that black motorists in Missouri are stopped at a rate 75 percent higher than white drivers. The same report also found that roughly 7 percent of traffic stops of black or Hispanic drivers resulted in arrests, compared with about 4 percent of white motorists. “We know communities of color are overpoliced,” Mittman said. “Any attempt that doesn’t acknowledge that we’ve been doing it wrong is a step backwards.” At the end of the 90 days, the governor will assess the success of the program and continue elements of the safety plan that are getting results.


Familiar Narrative in Profile of ‘a South-Central Statistic’

Michael A. Allen went to prison in California as a teenager in the 1990s. He failed to build a conventional life after parole and was shot to death in 2009. His cousin, a Harvard political scientist, tries to make sense of his life.

Danielle Allen, a Harvard political scientist, examines the troubling life and early death of her Los Angeles cousin, Michael A. Allen, in a lyrical New Yorker profile, “The Life of a South-Central Statistic.” The cousin went to prison as a teenager in the 1990s, amid California’s three-strikes frenzy. He was paroled after a decade but failed in his attempts to build a conventional life. In 2009, he was shot to death by his lover.

Danielle Allen calls the narrative “familiar.” She writes, “A kid from a troubled home, trapped in poverty, without a stable world of adults coordinating care for him, starts pilfering, mostly out of an impatience to have things. In Michael’s first 14 years, his story includes not a single incidence of violence, aside from the usual wrestling matches with siblings. It could have had any number of possible endings. But events unfold along a single track. As we make decisions, and decisions are made for us, we shed the lives that might have been. In Michael’s 15th year, his life accelerated, like a cylinder in one of those pneumatic tubes, whisking off your deposit at a drive-through bank.”