The U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday that it will begin collecting data on deadly police encounters nationwide, starting early next year, the New York Times reports.
As the report notes, it marks the beginning of the most ambitious effort the federal government has ever made to track police use of force, coming after the nation has been rocked time and time again with the aftermath of such brutal encounters.
As the Times notes, the project will not only collect data on fatal shootings by local, state and federal officers, but will also include data on the deaths that occur in police custody through suicide or natural causes.
“Accurate and comprehensive data on the use of force by law enforcement is essential to an informed and productive discussion about community-police relations,” Attorney General Loretta Lynchsaid in a statement. “In the days ahead, the Department of Justice will continue to work alongside our local, state, tribal and federal partners to ensure that we put in place a system to collect data that is comprehensive, useful and responsive to the needs of the communities we serve.”
The Obama administration is asking schools and colleges to clarify the role of law-enforcement officials who serve campuses, the Washington Post reports.
According to the report, the recommendations come after several violent encounters between school police and students, sparking debate about whether authorities are actually keeping children safe or arresting them for no reason. “The goal here is to give people a resource to do better,” Education Secretary John King told reporters during a call Wednesday, the Post notes.
The departments of Education and Justice sent letters to school nationwide encouraging school districts and colleges to make their expectations for school police explicit and clear by signing memorandums of understanding with local law-enforcement agencies. The departments recommend that the memorandums require training for school officers and also explicitly state that their role should not involve meting out day-to-day discipline, as well as other specifications.
Although the initiative is essentially guidance from the federal government, the Post notes, agencies will be required to follow it in order to qualify for federal grants that pay for the hiring of up to 150 school resource officers a year. The Post also notes, however, that the officers supported by those grants are a minority of the 31,000 school resource officers who work in public schools across the nation.
By now, most have heard about the latest in the incredibly disturbing string of homicides of black citizens at the hands of local police. Alton Sterling was shot and killed after two police officers approached him on Tuesday evening for selling CDs near a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
According to CNN, the state’s governor, John Bel Edwards, announced that the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division will investigate the shooting. Edwards added that the Middle District of Louisiana’s U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI will also assist in the investigation.
Officers say they arrived at the scene when an anonymous 911 caller reported a man threatening him with a gun. A struggle ensued between Sterling and the two officers. Sterling was pinned down, then shot multiple times in the head and chest, eventually succumbing to his injuries.
The encounter was caught on camera and went viral yesterday evening, sparking protests and national media attention. After observing video of the encounter, Edwards said he had “very serious concerns.”
“The video is disturbing to say the least,” he added.
Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden said he is also committed to working with federal investigators.
At a morning press conference, Sterling’s family tearfully condemned the actions of the BRPD officers involved in the shooting, asking for justice while visually broken and dismayed.
(CNN) The Obama administration issued guidance Friday directing public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.
A joint letter from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice went to schools Friday with guidelines to ensure that “transgender students enjoy a supportive and nondiscriminatory school environment,” the Obama administration said Thursday.
The announcement comes amid heated debate over transgender rights in schools and public life, which includes a legal standoff between the administration and North Carolina over its controversial House Bill 2. The guidance goes beyond the bathroom issue, touching upon privacy rights, education records and sex-segregated athletics, all but guaranteeing transgender students the right to identify in school as they choose.
“There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said. “This guidance gives administrators, teachers and parents the tools they need to protect transgender students from peer harassment and to identify and address unjust school policies.”
The letter does not carry the force of law but the message was clear: Fall in line or face loss of federal funding. Justice and Education Department officials have repeatedly made clear that under their interpretation of Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination law in education, schools receiving federal funds may not discriminate based on a student’s sex, including a student’s transgender status.
“The guidance makes clear that both federal agencies treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of enforcing Title IX,” the administration said Thursday.
LGBT groups praised the announcement, calling it a validation of transgender rights and a repudiation of so-called “bathroom bills” that ban people from using public bathrooms that do not correspond with their biological sex.
“These groundbreaking guidelines not only underscore the Obama administration’s position that discriminating against transgender students is flat-out against the law, but they provide public school districts with needed and specific guidance guaranteeing that transgender students should be using facilities consistent with their gender identity,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin.
“This is a truly significant moment not only for transgender young people but for all young people, sending a message that every student deserves to be treated fairly and supported by their teachers and schools.”
The letter emphasizes the departments’ shared position that schools must treat transgender students the way they want to be treated based on their gender identity, regardless of how others may feel about it.
The Justice Department sued North Carolina on Monday to stop what it called discrimination against transgender individuals, raising the stakes in a cultural and legal battle that has ramifications for other states and the 2016 election.
U.S. Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch personally announced the lawsuit, which argues that North Carolina’s so-called bathroom law violates parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal laws, and that the state is engaging in a “pattern or practice of sex discrimination.”
Lynch stepped in hours after North Carolina’s Republican governor, Pat McCrory, had sued the Justice Department to prevent it from blocking implementation of the state law, which requires public agencies to deny transgender people access to multiple-occupancy bathrooms and changing rooms consistent with their gender identity.
At a news conference, Lynch linked the dispute to past civil rights struggles over equal access to housing, water fountains and other facilities. “This action is about a great deal more than just bathrooms,” she said. This is “about the respect we accord our fellow citizens and the laws that we … have enacted to protect them.”
She added, “This is not the first time we have seen discriminatory responses to historic moments of progress for our nation.”
The federal lawsuit names the state of North Carolina, McCrory, the state’s Department of Public Safety, the University of North Carolina system and its Board of Governors as defendants.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama on Wednesday commuted the prison sentences of 61 drug offenders, including more than a third serving life sentences, giving new energy to calls for overhauling the U.S. criminal justice system.
All of the inmates are serving time for drug possession, intent to sell or related crimes. Most are nonviolent offenders, although a few were also charged with firearms violations. Obama’s commutation shortens their sentences, with most of the inmates set to be released on July 28.
Obama has long called for getting rid of strict sentences for drug offenses that critics say lead to excessive punishment and sky-high incarceration rates. With Obama’s support, the Justice Department in recent years has directed prosecutors to rein in the use of harsh mandatory minimums and expanded the criteria for inmates applying for clemency.
Though there’s wide bipartisan support in Congress for overhauling the criminal justice system, momentum has slowed as the chaotic presidential campaign has made cooperation between Republicans and Democrats increasingly difficult.
Obama, in a letter to the inmates, said the presidential power to grant commutations and pardons “embodies the basic belief in our democracy that people deserve a second chance after having made a mistake in their lives that led to a conviction under our laws.”
Obama met for lunch Wednesday with people whose sentences were previously commuted to hear about the challenges of re-entering society.
The latest commutations bring to 248 the total number of inmates whose sentences Obama has commuted, more than the past six presidents combined, the White House said. The pace of commutations and the rarer use of pardons are expected to increase as the end of Obama’s presidency nears.
Nine months after the United States Justice Department released a damning report detailing the racial biased practices of the Ferguson Police Department, the Missouri city and DOJ officials are nearing a reform deal that will likely effect change and overhaul what has been called “unconstitutional” policing.
The report, released earlier this year, was prompted by the death of Michael Brown — a Black Ferguson teenager who was fatally shot by former police officer Darren Wilson. Last November, a grand jury elected not to indict Wilson on criminal charges.
According to the New York Times, the agreement is set to include new training for officers and new-improved record keeping. But the changes won’t come easy or cheap, the Times notes.
Completing the deal, however, will require support from diverse factions of Ferguson’s leadership, which will have to sell residents on the idea of a federal policing monitor and of huge new expenses for a city that is already struggling financially. Some officials said a local tax increase appears unavoidable, which in Missouri requires approval from voters…
The two sides have been negotiating for several months, after a scathing Justice Department report in March described Ferguson as a city where police officers often stop and arrest people without cause, where the court operates as a moneymaking venture, and where officers used excessive force almost exclusively against blacks.
The deal’s anticipated close was confirmed by Mayor James Knowles III, who, in a telephone interview, told the Times the city has made “tremendous progress.”
“We’re at a point where we have addressed any necessary issues, and assuming it is not cost prohibitive, we would like to move forward,” Mr. Knowles said.
“The talks with the city of Ferguson to develop a monitored consent decree have been productive,” Dena Iverson, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said in a statement. “The department believes that in order to remedy the Justice Department’s findings, an agreement needs to be reached without delay.”
The agreement would allow the city to avoid a lawsuit from the Justice Department.
One year after unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by Darren Wilson, a white ex-officer in Ferguson, Mo., family and activists gathered Sunday to commemorate the shooting that touched off a movement against police violence.
Scores gathered Sunday to participate in 4.5 minutes of silence, and a silent march to Greater St. Mark’s church, according to The Associated Press. The march was scheduled to get just before noon at the site where Wilson gunned down Brown on Aug. 9, 2014. “A grand jury and the U.S. Department of Justice declined to prosecute Wilson, who resigned in November,” writes the news outlet.
The events are among several this weekend in Ferguson and nearby St. Louis.
The still grieving Michael Brown Sr., Brown’s father, led a march of about 100 people on Saturday. He called for a nonviolent weekend. “I want to have a peaceful weekend,” said Brown, according to KSDK. “No drama, no stupidity.”
In a recent NPR interview at the White House, part of which aired Sunday, President Obama told Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep that had Ferguson flared up in his first term, he would have addressed it, brushing back criticism that he failed to address issues of race after entering office.
“That I don’t buy,” Obama told NPR.”I think it’s fair to say that if, in my first term, Ferguson had flared up, as president of the United States, I would have been commenting on what was happening in Ferguson.”
HOUSTON — The family of Sandra Bland, the Illinois woman found dead in a Texas jail cell last month, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Houston seeking to hold people involved in her death accountable. “We are looking for Waller County and the individuals involved to take accountability,” said attorney Cannon Lambert Sr., who is representing the family.
The lawsuit is filed against Trooper Brian Encinia, the sheriff of Waller County, Texas, two of the jailers and the Texas Department of Public Safety, Lambert said.
Encinia arrested Bland on July 10 in Waller County, Texas. Three days later, on July 13, she was found dead in a jail cell in Hempstead, Texas. Officials say she used a plastic bag to hang herself.
Many of Bland’s family, friends and others on social media worldwide have questioned that explanation. They say she was about to start a new job at Prairie View A&M University, her alma mater.
The 28-year-old was pulled over for failing to signal while changing lanes. She was arrested for allegedly kicking Encinia during a traffic stop near Prairie View A&M. Dashcam video does not make clear whether or not that happened, but does show the encounter quickly escalating after Encinia tells Bland to put out her cigarette.
The trooper was put on desk duty for violating procedures during the stop. “Mr. Encinia is still employed and it doesn’t make sense that the taxpayers are paying for the type of service that he employed on July 10,” Lambert said.
“This family needs an answer to the principle question of what happened to Sandra Bland. It’s why we filed suit,” he said.
The family would like the Department of Justice to investigate Bland’s death as they said the case requires a fresh set of eyes. Last week, Waller County officials released hours of video of Bland inside the jail to try to disprove claims of foul play.
On July 22, police released a 52-minute long dash camera video from Encinia’s car. The clip showed Encinia yelling for Bland to get out of her car and demanding that she put her phone away. “Step out, or I will remove you,” he said repeatedly, opening the driver’s door as she protested.
The release of the video raised questions on whether the video had been edited. The Texas Department of Public Safety disputed those claims, saying the “glitches” in the video came during the uploading process. The next day, the department released the video without the “glitches.”
“I watched the video once. I will not watch it again,” said Geneva Reed-Veal, Bland’s mother. She said watching the video she felt “anger, disgust, disappointment and sadness. I have chosen to channel those feelings in another way. … I am angry. Justice is going to be served if the justice system does what it’s supposed to do.”
Loretta Lynch will investigate the death of John Crawford III, 22, who was shot last summer as he held an air rifle inside a Walmart in Ohio, according to WLWT TV.
Lynch, who was confirmed as the U.S. Attorney earlier this month, met with Crawford’s family Tuesday during a visit to Cincinnati to discuss police reform, reports the television news station.
Crawford’s parents tell the station that Lynch met with them for about 15 minutes, and pledged to investigate the shooting, which drew protests over the killing of young Black men by police around the country.
The family has filed a suit against the city of Beavercreek, the two Beavercreek officers involved, the police chief, and Walmart Stores Inc., charging negligence and violation of Crawford’s civil rights.
The officer who shot Crawford claims he failed to respond to repeated orders to drop the weapon and allegedly turned towards him in an aggressive manner.
From WLWT TV:
Crawford’s family said they appreciate the support from the community. They said Lynch told them it’s going to take time, but she will investigate their son’s death.
“She was just making sure that we understood that it was a process and we understand that. She said it would move. The process will move and that she will make sure,” John Crawford Jr. said.
Crawford’s mother, Tressa Sherrod, says she appreciated having the opportunity to meet with Lynch privately.
The DOJ launched a preliminary investigation into the shooting last fall to determine whether Crawford’s civil rights were violated, reports say.