Starbucks Arrestees Settle With Philadelphia For $1

The chief executive officer of Starbucks will mentor the two black men who were arrested at the coffee chain’s location in downtown Philadelphia last month, after the men reached a settlement with the company and the city. Starbucks didn’t disclose how much it will pay the men, but the company’s CEO will mentor them.

The chief executive officer of Starbucks will mentor the two black men who were arrested at the coffee chain’s location in downtown Philadelphia last month, after the men reached a settlement with the company and the city, ABC News reports.  Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson will now “have a seat at the table,” their attorney, Stewart Cohen, told “Good Morning America.” The mentorship with Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson comes as Philadelphia agreed to create a $200,000 fund for a pilot program that, through the help of a nonprofit, will assist Philadelphia public high school students who aspire to be entrepreneurs.

“We took a negative and turned it into a positive,” Robinson said. The 23-year-old entrepreneurs went to the Starbucks in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square neighborhood to meet with a potential business partner on April 12. Nelson asked to use a restroom but was told it was only for paying customers. When the pair declined to order anything, they were arrested and taken handcuffed to a police station. The men decided not to pursue a lawsuit against Philadelphia and released the city from all claims for a payment of $1 each. The dollar amount that Starbucks settled for was not disclosed.


Memorial to Lynching Victims Opens in Alabama

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened on a six-acre site overlooking the Alabama State Capitol.  It is dedicated to the victims of American white supremacy, marking the lynching of thousands of black people in a decades-long campaign of racist terror. Civil-rights lawyers have documented nearly 4,400 killings.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice opens Thursday on a six-acre site overlooking the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, the New York Times reports. It is dedicated to the victims of American white supremacy, marking the lynching of thousands of black people in a decades-long campaign of racist terror. At the center is a grim cloister, a walkway with 800 weathered steel columns, all hanging from a roof. Etched on each column is the name of a county and the people who were lynched there, most listed by name, many simply as “unknown.” The circumstances of individual lynchings are described in brief summaries along the walk. Among them are Parks Banks, lynched in Mississippi in 1922 for carrying a photograph of a white woman; Caleb Gadly, hanged in Kentucky in 1894 for “walking behind the wife of his white employer,” and Mary Turner, who after denouncing her husband’s lynching by a white mob, was hung upside down, burned and sliced open so that her unborn child fell to the ground.

Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, the nonprofit organization behind the memorial, said that many of the victims “have never been named in public.” Stevenson and a small group of lawyers spent years immersing themselves in archives and county libraries to document the thousands of racial terror lynchings across the South. They have cataloged nearly 4,400. Inspired by the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, Stevenson decided that a single memorial was the most powerful way to give a sense of the scale of the bloodshed. Also at the site are duplicates of each steel column, lined up in rows like coffins, intended to be sent to the counties where lynchings were carried out


Police, Waffle House Defend Arrest of Alabama Woman

Police were called early Sunday by restaurant employees because a black customer, Chikesia Clemons, appeared drunk and had been asked to leave. A video of her arrest has gone viral. Police say they feared she was armed, and Waffle House said “police intervention was appropriate.”

Police and Waffle House corporate executives are defending police intervention at a Saraland, Ala., restaurant where a black woman’s arrest, captured on video, raised questions about mistreatment, reports the Associated Press. Police in the Mobile suburb said they responded when restaurant employees called to report that the woman, Chikesia Clemons, appeared drunk and had been asked to leave for bringing in what employees believed to be alcohol. When they arrived, witnesses told them that Clemons had indicated she might have a gun and might shoot people. A video shows three police officers wrestling her to the floor and arresting her while she and a friend complain.

In the video, one officer is heard telling Clemons he is going to break her arm. Police say the dispute began when Clemons and a friend disputed the company’s policy of charging an extra 50 cents for using plastic utensils to eat inside the restaurant. Clemons is charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. She’s free on $1,000 bail. The NAACP has called the arrest troubling. Some has likened the incident to the recent arrest of two black men for trespassing at a Philadelphia Starbucks. In a statement, Georgia-based Waffle House said it had information that “differs significantly” from claims by the woman. “After reviewing our security video of the incident and eye witness accounts, police intervention was appropriate,” the statement said. The company didn’t provide any details.


Three Centuries of ‘Extreme Violence and Trauma’ at New Orleans Jail

A new report finds continued ‘horrific violence’ and racial disparity in New Orleans’ parish jail despite a 2013 DOJ consent decree. It argues the city’s racial inequities will not change without systemic reform in jail operation.

Improving conditions at New Orleans’ jail, recently renamed and rehoused in a new facility, the Orleans Justice Center, is a “prerequisite for eradicating inequity in the city,” according to a new report.

For three centuries, African Americans in have been detained in unsanitary cells, refused medical and dental care,” have been subjected to “extreme violence and trauma,” and have been exploited as a source of cheap labor, says the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law research paper, published in the March 2018 edition of The New Orleans Prosperity Index: Tricentennial Edition.

According to the paper, very little has changed—despite a 2013 consent decree between New Orleans and the Department of Justice that called for 173 reforms in jail conditions and administration.

Only 17 of those reforms had been enacted as of May 2017, the paper said, noting that the mortality rate for the Orleans Parish jail in 2017 was four times the national average. It added that many inmates “experience horrific violence by both other inmates and staff.”

Noting that in the first year of operating a new jail facility,  from 2015-2016, the paper cites figures showing at least 14 allegations of sexual assault, 412 inmate on inmate assaults, and 52 inmate assaults on staff.

“Violence is pervasive throughout the facility,” and the reform efforts have done little to meet the challenges of “operating a safe, humane, and constitutional jail” or address the extent to which jail conditions have contributed to racial inequality in the city, according to the report.

In 2005, African Americans comprised 90 percent of the jail population, despite constituting only 66 percent of the city’s population.  By May of 2016 the percentage of African Americans had only dropped to 81 percent.

“Improving jail conditions is a prerequisite for addressing inequality in New Orleans,” says the report by Andrea Armstrong, a law professor at Loyola.

The report, calls for a “systemic” strategy that gives the community a “direct role in the administration of the jail.”

The author focuses on one example of such an approach that she argues has had promising results.

The Community Advisory Group (CAG), created in 2017 after the MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge grant was awarded to the City of New Orleans, comprises 28 people from different neighborhoods around the city, including law enforcement professionals, the formerly incarcerated, and teachers.

The CAG’s mission is to pressure city officials to increase public safety “through reducing the jail population and reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the New Orleans criminal legal system.”

Although the group’s mission is focused on devising strategies to reduce prison populations, the conditions of jails affect communities, and therefore public safety.

Independent oversight of jails and prisons is considered critical to effect lasting change in the jail, writes the author.

While community organizations such as the Orleans Parish Prison Coalition, Women with a Vision, and Voice of the Experienced have scored some achievements in pursuing New Orleans jail reform, no mechanism exists for them to hold city officials and the Sheriff accountable.

The CAG also has a platform to achieve its goals through “its three voting seats on the Jail Population Management Sub-committee of the New Orleans Criminal Justice Council.” The committee is chaired by the Mayor.

To succeed in reforming the New Orleans jail, leaders in the city government and criminal justice groups must strongly support the CAG and community engagement in the jail, writes the author.

Support of this kind could mean improved transparency of jail operations and data, and help develop a “public oversight entity staffed by the community.”

Reviewing the jail’s history, the report noted that inhumane conditions in the jail have existed since its original construction as Orleans Parish Prison in 1721.

In the 18th century, “the prison categorized, housed, and exploited suspected runaways; inflicted corporal punishment on recalcitrant slaves at their master’s request…and exploited slave and inmate labor to build the city.” The 1807 Regulations for the Police Prison provided financial incentive for the abuse of slaves, offering payment to jailers anytime they beat an enslaved prisoner.

The 20th century brought no real improvements. In the 1950’s, complaints of beatings by jail staff were reported in the dozens. From the 1960s to the 1990s, sexual assaults were rampant and the threat of attack unremitting. In the 1990s, the use of stun belts delivering 50,000 volts of electricity developed.

Many of New Orleans’ African American neighborhoods contain some of the highest concentrated incarceration rates, which can damage social and economic network, by contributing to, among other things, single-parent households and poverty.

Yet the parish jail is still violating the civil rights of citizens: in 2017, the Orleans Parish jail “housed an average of 1,586 people on a given day, of which 91 percent had not had a judge determine their guilt or innocence.”

The collateral consequences of jail detention on family relationships is felt more acutely in Louisiana than in other communities, the paper said.

Many of New Orleans’ African American neighborhoods contain some of the highest concentrated incarceration rates, which can damage social and economic networks by contributing to, among other things, single-parent households and poverty.


Yet the parish jail is still violating the civil rights of citizens: in 2017, the Orleans Parish jail “housed an average of 1,586 people on a given day, of which 91 percent had not had a judge determine their guilt or innocence.”

The full study, entitled “The Impact of 300 Years of Jail Conditions,” can be downloaded here.

This summary was prepared with notes from TCR news intern John Ramsey. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Starbucks Issue: Who Decides Among Patrons, Trespassers?

As Starbucks plans to close 8,000 stores for an afternoon of training on racial bias, the Philadelphia case raises questions about how businesses and police are supposed to distinguish between customers and illegal interlopers.

Public outrage over the arrest of two African-American men at a Philadelphia Starbucks prompted a corporate crisis that led the company to take the unprecedented step of closing more than 8,000 stores for an afternoon in May to train baristas on how to recognize their racial biases. The scene of two black men in handcuffs being led out of the coffee shop by police delivered an uncomfortable reminder of the country’s racial disparities, the Washington Post reports. The incident illustrates a pervasive bias that can affect even the most mundane activities in U.S. public spaces. The two men were waiting for a business associate when the manager called the police.

Nowhere else in Philadelphia are African Americans more disproportionately stopped by police than in the neighborhood surrounding the Starbucks, two blocks from ritzy Rittenhouse Square, where luxury apartment rents can run $10,000 a month. While African Americans make up three percent of the area’s residents, they account for 67 percent of pedestrian police stops, found a 2017 analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has monitored racial disparity in Philadelphia policing for eight years. Businesses in Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown area operated a private messaging app that allowed retailers to alert police officers about people they considered suspicious. Most suspicions in the wealthy, predominantly white community were about blacks. The service was suspended in 2015 amid concerns about racial profiling. “It raises all kinds of questions. How long can you be on a property? Can you not browse at these stores now? Who gets to determine whether you’re acting as a patron or as a trespasser?” asked the ACLU’s Jason Williamson.


Officials Probe Arrest of Blacks at Phila. Starbucks

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross says officers acted appropriately when they took two men into custody for asking to use a restroom without making a purchase. Critics said the incident was racially motivated; Starbucks apologized.

Philadelphia’s mayor’s office and police department are investigating the arrest of two African-American men waiting to meet an acquaintance at a Starbucks on Thursday after a video of the incident was widely shared on social media, triggering national outrage, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Mayor Jim Kenney said the city’s Commission on Human Relations has been asked to examine Starbucks’ procedures, including whether its training includes safeguards against “implicit bias,” or unconscious stereotyping. A police spokesman said the department’s internal affairs unit is probing the incident. Police Commissioner Richard Ross said officers had acted appropriately.

The video was posted by author Melissa DePino shows at least six Philadelphia police officers taking the two men into custody. By 5 p.m. Saturday, the video had gathered nearly 4.3 million views. The two men can be seen being escorted from a table in handcuffs while a white man, real estate investor Andrew Yaffe, asks why officers were called and attempts to explain to police that the two men were waiting for him. “What did they get called for, because there were two black guys sitting here, meeting me?” Yaffe asks in the video. “What did they do?” Police responded to a 911 call reporting a disturbance. The men had refused to leave after asking to use the restroom without placing an order, which violated Starbucks policy, staff members told police. The men were detained after they refused officers’ requests to leave as well, Ross said. As the video spread, Starbucks was accused by some of tolerating racism by its staff. Many on social media asserted that the men would not have been treated similarly if they had been white. “Waiting in a Starbucks while black is a crime?” asked one tweet. Starbucks later apologized for the incident.


Will Sessions’ New Justice Strategy Turn the Clock Back on Civil Rights?

Fifty years after the Kerner Commission set in motion a national effort to fix racial inequities in the justice system, a draft strategic plan crafted by the Attorney General threatens to reopen all our old wounds—and perhaps create new ones, say two reform advocates.

It has been difficult to keep track of an administration that cut its teeth on reality TV—an administration that seems to have an endless supply of daily distractions and made-for-TV scandals.

In addition to degrading the office of the president, these distractions draw our attention away from misguided, consequential policy that can impact millions. A draft version of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ five-year strategic plan for the Department of Justice (DOJ), obtained by the Huffington Post, is one example.

Pivoting away from civil rights, human rights and criminal justice reform, all of which were central to former Attorney General Eric Holder’s previous plan, the DOJ under Sessions will focus on aggressive counterterrorism, securing the borders and enhancing immigration enforcement, and promoting respect for First Amendment rights.

Sessions’ strategy is based on the false premises that violent crime is rising, that conservatives aren’t allowed to freely peddle hate speech on college campuses, and that immigrants are dangerous.

His plan would force federal prosecutors to seek maximum penalties for non-violent drug offenses, unnecessarily increase the federal prison population, and lead to increased criminalization of immigrants and more deportations.

These are all strategies that tear families apart. They won’t do anything to make our communities safer.

And they will inevitably lead to people of color being even more disproportionately harmed by the criminal justice system.

In order to compensate for the inevitable increases of mass incarceration, one of the very first orders of business for Sessions’ DOJ was repealing a directive by then-President Barack Obama to decrease the Bureau of Prisons’ reliance on privately run prisons.

In many ways Sessions’ wish list is already being carried out. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests of immigrants with no previous criminal conviction increased by 146 percent last year.

Moreover, Sessions is trumpeting a blatantly misleading narrative that claims undocumented immigrants are causing a so-called ‘spike’ in violent crime.

It is a painful historic irony that Sessions is leading a contemporary assault on civil rights on the 50th anniversary of the Kerner Commission, which President Lyndon Baines Johnson established in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination to examine and provide recommendations for addressing the discrimination and violence facing black Americans.

Upon Sessions’ nomination to a federal judgeship in 1986, Coretta Scott King warned Congress:

The appointment of Jefferson Sessions to the federal bench would irreparably damage the work of my husband…and countless others who risked their lives and freedom over the past twenty years to ensure equal participation in our democratic system.

Sessions was rightfully kept off the bench back then, but is now threatening to undo the critical and hard-fought civil rights progress achieved over the last 50 years, and particularly the gains made under the Obama administration.

On this anniversary of the Kerner Commission, we should be reminded that black men in our country receive sentences that are 20 percent longer than white men for the same exact crimes. Put simply, our country has failed to provide African Americans equal protection under the law.

Brent Cohen

Brent Cohen

As a result, the share of blacks in U.S. prisons or jails has almost tripled since 1968, and there are more black men behind bars or under the watch of the criminal justice system than were enslaved in 1850.

After decades of advocacy, including by people directly impacted by the justice system, the federal prison population fell under Obama for the first time since Jimmy Carter was in office.

Marc Schindler

Marc Schindler

Under Sessions’ directives, the federal prison population will certainly begin to grow again.

Americans concerned about justice and fairness must cut through the noise to protect the civil rights advances of recent years—and not let this administration turn back the clock by pressing forward this type of strategic plan under the radar.

Brent Cohen is Interim CEO and Vice President of JustLeadershipUSA. He previously served as Senior Advisor to the Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Justice Programs at the U.S. Department of Justice. Marc Schindler is Executive Director of the Justice Policy Institute. He previously served as General Counsel and Interim Director of the DC Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. They welcome readers’ comments.


Black Students Get More Suspensions, GAO Says

Black students, boys, and students with disabilities are disproportionately disciplined in K-12 schools across the U.S., says a new report from the Government Accountability Office. Some 15.5 percent of public school students are black but they make up 39 percent of those suspended.

Black students, boys, and students with disabilities are disproportionately disciplined in K-12 schools across the U.S., says a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), reports NPR. Those disparities were consistent, “regardless of the type of disciplinary action, regardless of the level of school poverty, and regardless of the type of public school attended,” says the GAO’s Jacqueline Nowicki. Nowicki and her team interviewed administrators, visited schools, and used 2013-2014 data from the Civil Rights Data Collection, which includes disciplinary actions in more than 95,000 schools across the U.S. Those numbers include suspensions, expulsions and referrals to law enforcement.

The numbers are stark: Black students represent 15.5 percent of all public school students, but make up about 39 percent of students suspended from school, according to the report. And it starts early: in preschool. Though Nowicki says her team did not specifically explore the role of unconscious bias in these disparities, “research shows it’s clearly a factor,” she says. The report builds on previous research about bias and the ways in which students of color receive harsher punishments than their peers. The GAO report also adds a new layer: Researchers found that these disparities cannot be explained by poverty levels — they existed regardless of the poverty level of schools studied. The GAO report arrives in the middle of a fiery debate about discipline in schools. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met Wednesday with educators as she considers whether she will pull back Obama-era guidance to school districts. In that guidance the administration made clear to schools that the disparities in discipline violate civil rights law and will not be tolerated.


LA Non-Unanimous Jury Law Biased Against Blacks

One reason Louisiana leads the nation in sentences of life without parole is that it allows 10 of 12 jurors to agree on a conviction. If two blacks make it onto a jury, their votes don’t matter, The Advocate reports.

Louisiana is the only state that allows non-unanimous verdicts in felony cases, and the result discriminates against black defendants, reports The Advocate.  The unique law did not happen by accident. The drafters of the state constitution adopted in 1898 aimed to “perpetuate the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race in Louisiana,” primarily by scrubbing from the rolls nearly all of the 130,000 black people then registered to vote. Dates knew they couldn’t ban black people from without running afoul of the 14th and 15th amendments. So the jury laws allowed for convictions with only nine of 12 jurors agreeing, meaning that if one, two or even three black people made it onto a jury, their votes wouldn’t matter. These days, 10 votes are required for conviction, and defenders of split verdicts say Louisiana’s law now stands not for racism but for efficiency, by limiting hung juries and retrials.

The Advocate reviewed 3,000 felony trials over six years, turning up 993 convictions rendered by 12-member Louisiana juries in which the newspaper was able to document the jury votes. Although the majority-verdict law disadvantages all defendants, its effects on black people are especially profound. It acts as a capstone to a trial system that becomes more tilted against black defendants at each stage: when jurors are summoned, when they’re picked for juries, and in deliberation rooms where voices of dissent can be ignored. Black people make up one-third of Louisiana’s population, but they comprise two-thirds of state prisoners and three-fourths of inmates serving life without parole. Louisiana, the U.S.incarceration capital, leads the nation by far in these life sentences, nearly all of them the result of jury verdicts. Forty percent of trial convictions came over the objections of one or two holdouts. When the defendant was black, the proportion went up to 43 percent, versus 33 percent for white defendants.


Black Incarceration Rates Defy Income Differences

Black men who are raised in the nation’s top one percent of families economically were as likely to be incarcerated as white men raised in households earning $36,000, a study finds.

Even when children grow up next to each other with parents who earn similar incomes, black boys fare worse than white boys in 99 percent of the U.S., finds a study led by researchers at Stanford, Harvard and the Census Bureau, the New York Times reports. The study primarily concerned economic issues but it included some findings on crime and justice. The data showed that 21 percent of black men raised at the very bottom economically were incarcerated, according to a snapshot of a single day during the 2010 census. Black men raised in the top 1 percent — by millionaires — were as likely to be incarcerated as white men raised in households earning about $36,000.

“Simply because you’re in an area that is more affluent, it’s still hard for black boys to present themselves as independent from the stereotype of black criminality,” said Khiara Bridges, a professor of law and anthropology at Boston University. Noelle Hurd, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, said, “It’s not just being black but being male that has been hyper-stereotyped in this negative way, in which we’ve made black men scary, intimidating, with a propensity toward violence.”