Last month, Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act to encourage states to reform their bail systems. Beyond shrinking our overly expanded incarcerated population, bail reform would boost the United States’ stagnating income mobility by reforming a system that traps the poor in poverty.
Of the 646,000 people in local jails, 70% have not yet been convicted of a crime.
Upward mobility has stalled. According to Stanford Professor of Economics Raj Chetty, “social mobility is low and has been for at least thirty or forty years.” Of those born into the bottom income quintile, more than a third remain there as adults. However, progressives who blame the free market misdiagnose the problem.
A 50-state analysis found that in more economically free states – those with fewer labor regulations and smaller governments – the wealth of the poor rises more quickly than the wealth of the rich because freer markets produce more opportunity for everyone. The problem is that government policies like steep bail hamstring low-income individuals’ efforts to advance.
When low-income Americans can’t pay their bail, they go to jail. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, of the 646,000 people in local jails, 70 percent have not yet been convicted of a crime. Most are awaiting their trial. In 2002, those jailed had a median income of $15,109 prior to incarceration. Many inmates are there due to low-level crimes, like not paying a traffic ticket or driving without a license.
Jail Time Is a Huge Economic Hurdle
Being jailed reduces earnings. Jailed individuals often lose their jobs when they don’t show up to work the next day. Many individuals even plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit in order to avoid the weeks or months of jail time associated with a bail they can’t afford. The Journal of Legal Studies found that when judges assigned a money bail, suspects were 12 percent more likely to be convicted, in part because they were more likely to plead guilty to avoid jail and in part because they had less access to their public defenders.
This can have profound future implications, as many employers are leery of hiring people with a criminal record. Jailed individuals are even likely to become repeat criminals: the same study found that pretrial detention caused a 6-9 percent increase in recidivism.
Jail hurts poor people twice, first by depriving them of income behind bars and then by stigmatizing them once they are free.
These factors add up to lower earnings: a Pew study found incarceration reduced individuals’ yearly earnings by 40 percent. Formerly incarcerated Americans are hit even harder over the course of a lifetime: according to the same study, “By age 48, the typical former inmate will have earned $179,000 less than if he had never been incarcerated.” This doesn’t factor in the loss of income jailed individuals suffer while waiting for their trial.
When individuals are prevented from working and pushed into scenarios that encourage recidivism, they’re less able to escape poverty.
Jail hurts poor people twice: once by depriving them of income behind bars and once by stigmatizing them once they are free. The end result is less income mobility. Formerly incarcerated men in the bottom earnings quintile were twice as likely to still be there 20 years later, compared to men who were never sent to jail or prison. While part of this is due to the fact that incarcerated individuals are more likely to be frequent criminals, part is due to the negative effects of even one jail stretch.
Jail Time Hurts People Who Aren’t Criminals
Jail time also hurts the children of the incarcerated, creating inter-generational poverty. According to a meta-study on the subject, children with incarcerated parents are three times more likely to end up incarcerated themselves. Having an incarcerated parent can leave children with psychological scars such as depression, and can even aggravate learning disabilities.
Even when individuals can make bail and remain free until trial, they often require a bail bond to do so. A bail bond is a payment an insurance company makes on the accused’s behalf, but these companies often charge a payment of 10 percent of bail. The average bail for a felony is $10,000, and even misdemeanors often have four-figure bail amounts. Bail bonds often amount to a substantial fine that the working poor are ill-equipped to pay.
Bail bonds often amount to a substantial fine that the working poor are ill-equipped to pay.
Even individuals who can pull together the money for bail on their own may find that it wipes out their savings. While bail money is refunded at trial, going without thousands of dollars for several weeks can leave people, especially poor people, in danger of financial ruin.
Economic mobility is relatively strong for non-incarcerated individuals. Pew notes that 15 percent of never-incarcerated Americans who start in the bottom economic quintile end up in the top quintile. Our bail systems force poor individuals to choose between unfeasible short-term fees that can spell financial ruin, or the long-term earning potential loss that comes with jail time. For these people, upward mobility is a broken promise.
Julian Adorney Julian Adorney is a Young Voices Advocate. His work has been featured in dozens of outlets, including National Review, Fox News’ Nation, and Lawrence Reed’s best-selling economics anthology Excuse Me, Professor.
Four of New York City’s district attorneys say they will file motions in coming weeks to toss out 700,000 old warrants issued for low-level offenses like drinking in public and riding a bicycle on a sidewalk, reports the New York Law Journal. Prosecutors in Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan will move to dismiss warrants that are 10 years old or older that stem from NYPD summonses. The mass clearance will dismiss a significant portion of the city’s roughly 1.5 million outstanding warrants.
When warrants aren’t cleared, those who have them are subject to automatic arrest for years and decades to come, even if they come in contact with police because they were involved in a minor traffic accident or while reporting a crime. Bronx DA Darcel Clark said the motions for clearance should not be viewed as mass amnesty. “We’re not telling everyone it’s OK to get a summons and not show up,” Clark said. But she said many of the cases are unprosecutable because of legal sufficiency issues.
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat, has introduced bipartisan legislation to prod states to reform their bail systems, reports the San Jose Mercury News. The new bill, which Harris co-wrote with Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, and was introduced yesterday, would spend $10 million annually for three years on grants for states that reform their bail systems.
Most courts in the U.S. require money bail, holding defendants in jail before trial until they pay. Advocates say cash bail is unfair to poor defendants who haven’t been convicted of a crime.
Under Harris’ bill — her first major bipartisan legislation — states would be eligible for a grant if they enact reforms such as replacing money bail with systems based on assessing a defendant’s risk to the community, releasing inmates before trial in most cases, or appointing public defenders at the earliest stages of pretrial detention.
In a New York Times commentary, Harris and Paul wrote, “Our justice system was designed with a promise: to treat all people equally. Yet that doesn’t happen for many of the 450,000 Americans who sit in jail today awaiting trial because they cannot afford to pay bail.” They said their proposal encourages better data collection, empowers states to build on best practices, and holds them accountable.
Some states have already moved to change their approach to bail. New Jersey, for example, is shifting away from “money-based” pretrial justice through pretrial risk assessment in a system NPR describes in the latest episode of its “Planet Money” podcasts as a “model” for the nation.
The fired Balch Springs cop who fatally shot 15-year-old Jordan Edwards was indicted Monday on a murder charge by a Dallas County grand jury.
Jordan’s family and their attorney said they were “cautiously optimistic” after Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson announced the indictment against 37-year-old Roy Oliver.
Oliver was also indicted on four counts of aggravated assault by a public servant for firing his rifle into a car full of teenagers leaving a party April 29. Jordan, who sat in the front passenger seat, was struck in the head. His two brothers and two friends were also in the car.
Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber originally said the Chevrolet Impala was aggressively reversing toward Oliver and Officer Tyler Gross, but body camera footage contradicted that story. Oliver was fired and arrested on the murder charge in May.
Johnson said prosecuting Oliver is not a “political statement” but rather the right thing to do, something she believes most police officers would agree with.
“I think our police officers would stand with us and say, ‘We do not condone bad behavior,'” she said. “Hopefully, it is a message we are sending to the bad police officers. If you do wrong, we will prosecute you.”
Oliver’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
Lee Merritt, the family’s attorney, said he was pleased to see Johnson go forward with plans to prosecute Oliver, something that other district attorneys might not do in similar police shootings.
“Far too often we see cases where there’s been a lack of comparable effort in cases that are equally deserving,” Merritt said after the announcement. “We are satisfied with this step.”
That case was investigated more thoroughly after Jordan’s death. Originally Dallas police said no crime occurred.
The attorneys for Jordan’s family have been critical of how Dallas police handled the road-rage incident.
“Had Dallas taken some action on that particular night when they knew that this officer placed a gun to someone’s head, Jordan would be with us here today,” said attorney Daryl Washington, who also represents the family.
Oliver faces up to life in prison for each of the seven felony charges against him. Although no date has been set for Oliver’s trial, Johnson said prosecutors will first pursue the murder charge against Oliver.
Johnson declined to elaborate on the details of the case, but said she is dedicated to “seeking justice for Jordan.”
“We believe we have a very strong case,” Johnson said. “We’re planning to win this case.”
Many who have been strongly advocating that prosecutors move forward with the case have questioned whether the district attorney’s office could win a conviction after so many officers nationwide have been acquitted in shootings of unarmed black men.
But another attorney for Jordan’s family, Jasmine Crockett, said she is no longer one of them.
“There’s no question now in my mind whether he’s going to be locked up,” she said.
In the meantime, Oliver is free on a $700,000 bond related to the murder charge and aggravated assault charges stemming from the road-rage incident. A judge did not increase that bond for the four new aggravated assault charges.
Two black female students attending a charter school in Massachusetts were recently kicked off their sports teams and prohibited from attending prom all because they wore their hair in braids. The Mystic Valley Charter School in Malden, about nine miles away from Boston, enforces a strict dress code preventing students from wearing their hair in any unnatural way, which includes braids.
Twin students Maya and Deanna Cook, African-American sophomores at the school, told local news outlets they were first told to take their braids out two weeks ago by school officials. The girls’ adoptive mother, Colleen Cook, told Boston’s 25 News that she received a call from the school informing her that students weren’t allowed to wear “anything artificial or unnatural in their hair.”
“We told them there’s nothing wrong with their hair the way it is. Their hair is beautiful, there’s no correcting that needs to be done,” Colleen Cook said, adding that the hair policy seems to only target students of color, who wear their hair in braids or extensions symbolic of their African-American culture.
The dress code policy listed on the school’s website says students can not wear “drastic or unnatural hair colors or styles such as shaved lines or shaved sides or have a hairstyle that could be distracting to other students (extra-long hair or hair more than 2 inch in thickness or height is not allowed). This means no coloring, dying, lightening (sun-in) or streaking of any sort. Hair extensions are not allowed. Hair elastics must be worn in the hair and not on the wrist.”
The Cook girls are just two of many black and biracial students that have been subjected to daily detention because of dress code violations at the school. Other parents told 25 News that their children had also been suspended for wearing braids, and following the Cook sisters’ latest incident, black students were singled out for a hair inspection.
“All the little black children were marched down for a hair inspection, whether they had braids or not, and asked, ‘are those extensions’ ‘are your braids real or not?’” Colleen Cook said.
Alexander J. Dan, the school’s interim director, said in a statement the dress code policy aims to serve a “diverse student population” that fosters “a culture that emphasizes education rather than style, fashion or materialism. Our policy on hair extensions, which tend to be very expensive, is consistent with, and a part of, the educational environment that we believe is so important to our students’ success.”
The dress code policy is also enforced at Mystic Valley Charter Schools in Everett and Medford.
The Mystic Valley Charter School is just one of many that have come under fire for enforcing dress code policies that prohibit braids and other hairstyles representative of African-American culture. In 2016, Butler Traditional High school in Louisville, Kentucky was accused of purporting a racist dress code policy after it banned students from wearing dreadlocks, cornrows and braids. The school amended the controversial hair policy following a flood of outraged parents, including state Representative Attica Scott, a Democrat, who took to social media to condemn the school.
The U.S. military faced severe backlash in 2014 after banning natural hairstyles like dreadlocks and twists.
Kitia Harris is a single mother raising her eight-year-old daughter in Detroit. Recently, she picked up a minor traffic ticket for “impeding traffic” totaling $276 in court fines and fees. Living off just $1,200 a month in disability payments—not enough to cover rent, utilities, food, clothing, and other basic needs—she was unable to pay her traffic fines.
Because she cannot afford her outstanding court debt, Michigan suspended her license.
Kitia has never committed a crime, and for many years she worked hard in low-wage jobs to support herself and her daughter. In 2014, she was diagnosed with interstitial cystitis, a painful condition with no cure that prevents her from working.
Without a driver’s license, everything is more expensive. Kitia’s disability requires regular medical treatments. Now, instead of driving herself to her appointments, she must pay others to drive her. And because Detroit has the worst public transportation system of any major city in the country, she must also pay for rides for daily tasks like grocery shopping, or picking up her daughter. By forcing her to pay more just to get around, Michigan has trapped her in a cycle of poverty.
This is not fair, and it’s not justice.
Like Kitia, hundreds of thousands of Michiganders have lost their driver’s licenses simply because they are poor. In 2010 alone, Michigan suspended 397,826 licenses for failure to pay court debt or failure to appear.
These residents have not been judged too dangerous to drive; they are not a threat behind the wheel; they have not caused serious injuries while driving. In the vast majority of cases, their only “crime” is that they are too poor to pay.
Michigan’s model creates two different justice systems based on wealth status. For the rich, a minor infraction (like changing lanes without a turn signal) would result in a fine of maybe $135. For those who are poor and unable to pay, the same infraction could eventually lead to a license suspension. This suspension scheme violates our commonly held standards of justice: States should not dole out punishment simply based on wealth status.
But perhaps more importantly: Michigan’s scheme is terrible public policy.
These suspensions laws are trapping productive residents in a cycle of poverty. It’s crushing for Kitia and her daughter, and it is especially bad for Michigan. As a state famous for its poorly managed fiscal situation, Michigan should help its residents pay back their court debt. Instead, the state is making it much harder for them to do so.
On May 4, Equal Justice Under Law filed a class-action lawsuit against the state of Michigan for this wealth-based suspension scheme. Our lawsuit seeks to return licenses to the hundreds of thousands of drivers who have had their licenses suspended solely for the inability to pay court debt, and it asks the state to cease poverty-based suspensions in the future. We are not asking Michigan to change the way it treats drivers who are truly a threat on the road. Nothing we’re asking would allow a driver to commit reckless driving offenses.
We’re only asking that the state stop punishing people for being poor.
We are also asking that Michigan consider alternatives that many other states successfully employ. There should be an ability-to-pay hearing before any license is suspended. If someone is unable to pay due to poverty status, they should be given alternatives, like community service or payment plans. Some states offer payment plans as low as $5 per month.
Some supporters of Michigan’s suspension law claim that those who cannot afford to pay traffic tickets should drive more carefully. But this argument is exactly the kind of unequal justice we must fight against. Our justice system should not be premised on the notion that the rich get to buy their way out of trouble while the poor live under a sword of Damocles for not using a turn signal.
Others say that it’s unfair for poor people to get out of fines just because they’re unable to pay. What I ask of those folks is empathy. For many people—including Kitia Harris—poverty is not a choice. Kitia was raised without a mother or father, spending the majority of her childhood in foster care.
Now 25, she has never had a reliable, supportive adult in her life. She has lived her life in poverty. Calling it “unfair” that Kitia keep her driver’s license even though she cannot pay her court debt misses the fact that Kitia is doing everything in her power to make ends meet.
If she could pay her court debt, she would.
Instead of punishing someone who cannot pay their court debt, Michigan—and every other state—would be better off if people like Kitia were helped to break the cycle of poverty and repay the debt they owe.
Rather than making life harder and more expensive for Kitia, Michigan could provide her with the tools she needs to get back on her feet. Especially in a place like Detroit, which offers no meaningful public transportation option, Kitia needs a way to get around.
She needs empathy from us, and justice from our justice system.
Phil Telfeyan is founding director of Equal Justice Under Law a Washington, DC based nonprofit that challenges “wealth-based discrimination.” He served as a trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice for five years, where he specialized in employment discrimination and immigrants’ rights. He welcomes comments from readers.
In violation of a longstanding legal mandate, scores of federal law enforcement agencies are failing to submit statistics to the FBI’s national hate crimes database, ProPublica has learned.
The lack of participation by federal law enforcement represents a significant and largely unknown flaw in the database, which is supposed to be the nation’s most comprehensive source of information on hate crimes. The database is maintained by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, which uses it to tabulate the number of alleged hate crimes occurring around the nation each year.
The FBI has identified at least 120 federal agencies that aren’t uploading information to the database, according to Amy Blasher, a unit chief at the CJIS Division, an arm of the bureau that is overseeing the modernization of its information systems.
The federal government operates a vast array of law enforcement agencies — ranging from Customs and Border Protection to the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Amtrak Police — employing more than 120,000 law enforcement officers with arrest powers. The FBI would not say which agencies have declined to participate in the program, but the bureau’s annual tally of hate crimes statistics does not include any offenses handled by federal law enforcement. Indeed, the problem is so widespread that the FBI itself isn’t submitting the hate crimes it investigates to its own database.
“We truly don’t understand what’s happening with crime in the U.S. without the federal component,” Blasher said in an interview.
At present, the bulk of the information in the database is supplied by state and local police departments. In 2015, the database tracked more than 5,580 alleged hate crime incidents, including 257 targeting Muslims, an upward surge of 67 percent from the previous year. (The Bureau hasn’t released 2016 or 2017 statistics yet.)
But it’s long been clear that hundreds of local police departments don’t send data to the FBI, and so given the added lack of participation by federal law enforcement, the true numbers for 2015 are likely to be significantly higher.
A federal law, the 1988 Uniform Federal Crime Reporting Act, requires all U.S. government law enforcement agencies to send a wide variety of crime data to the FBI. Two years later, after the passage of another law, the bureau began collecting data about “crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.” That was later expanded to include gender and gender identity.
The federal agencies that are not submitting data are violating the law, Blasher told us. She said she’s in contact with about 20 agencies and is hopeful that some will start participating, but added that there is no firm timeline for that to happen.
“Honestly, we don’t know how long it will take,”Blasher said of the effort to get federal agencies on board.
The issue goes far beyond hate crimes — federal agencies are failing to report a whole range of crime statistics, Blasher conceded. But hate crimes, and the lack of reliable data concerning them have been of intense interest amid the country’s highly polarized and volatile political environment.
ProPublica contacted several federal agencies seeking an explanation. A spokesperson for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, which handles close to 50,000 offenses annually, said the service is adhering to Defense Department rules regarding crime data and is using a digital crime tracking system linked to the FBI’s database. But the Army declined to say whether its statistics are actually being sent to the FBI, referring that question up the chain of command to the Department of Defense.
In 2014, an internal probe conducted by Defense Department investigators found that the “DoD is not reporting criminal incident data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for inclusion in the annual Uniform Crime Reports.”
ProPublica contacted the Defense Department for clarification and shared with a department spokesman a copy of the 2014 reports acknowledging the failure to send data to the FBI.
“We have no additional information at this time,” said Christopher Sherwood, the spokesman.
Federal agencies are hardly the only ones to skip out on reporting hate crimes. An Associated Press investigation last year found at least 2,700 city police and county sheriff’s departments that repeatedly failed to report hate crimes to the FBI.
In the case of the FBI itself, Blasher said the issue is largely technological: Agents have long collected huge amounts of information about alleged hate crimes, but don’t have a digital system to easily input that information to the database, which is administered by staff at an FBI complex in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
Since Blasher began pushing to modernize the FBI’s data systems, the Bureau has made some progress. It began compiling some limited hate crimes statistics for 2014 and 2015, though that information didn’t go into the national hate crimes database.
In Washington, lawmakers were surprised to learn about the failure by federal agencies to abide by the law.
“It’s fascinating and very disturbing,” said Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., who said he wanted to speak about the matter with the FBI’s government affairs team. He wants to see federal agencies “reporting hate crimes as soon as possible.”
Beyer and other lawmakers have been working in recent years to improve the numbers of local police agencies participating in voluntary hate crime reporting efforts. Bills pending in Congress would give out grants to police forces to upgrade their computer systems; in exchange, the departments would begin uploading hate crime data to the FBI.
“The federal government needs to lead by example. It’s not easy to ask local and state governments to submit their data if these 120 federal agencies aren’t even submitting hate crimes data to the database,” Beyer said.
In the Senate, Democrat Al Franken of Minnesota said the federal agencies need to do better. “I’ve long urged the FBI and the Department of Justice to improve the tracking and reporting of hate crimes by state and local law enforcement agencies,” Franken told ProPublica. “But in order to make sure we understand the full scope of the problem, the federal government must also do its part to ensure that we have accurate and trustworthy data.”
Virginia’s Barbara Comstock, a House Republican who authored a resolution in April urging the “Department of Justice (DOJ) and other federal agencies to work to improve the reporting of hate crimes,” did not respond to requests for comment.
Black homicide defendants in Louisiana are more likely than whites to face charges making them eligible for the death sentence in cases in which their victims are white, according to a Northeastern University study.
The findings add more evidence of the “stark racial imbalances” researchers have already found in the administration of the death penalty in that state—where the odds that African Americans who kill whites will receive the death sentence are 11 times greater than for a “black-on-black” homicide—according to study author Tim Lyman.
Lyman, of the Institute for Security and Public Policy at Northeastern’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, concluded that the “systemic” inequality actually begins with prosecutors’ initial charging decisions.
He examined 1,356 cases where first-degree murder charges were filed and found that the race of the victim and accused made a critical difference.
“Yes, prosecutors pursue severe punishment more often in all white victim cases,” Lyman concluded. “But no, they do not round up and overcharge white suspects in these cases the way they do black suspects.
“To the contrary, they overcharge fewer (white on white) cases than they do the across-the-board under-represented (black on black) cases.”
An abstract and a downloadable version of Lyman’s study, “Race and the Death Penalty in Louisiana: An Actuarial Analysis,” are available here.
ATLANTA — Gen. Robert E. Lee stood erect, arms crossed over his chest, as workers in masks and protective vests gathered with power tools Friday to oust the statue from its prominent 133-year perch in the heart of New Orleans.
Just after dawn, a removal crew had converged around Lee Circle, a traffic roundabout between the city’s bustling central business district and the wealthy Garden District neighborhood of antebellum mansions.
Slowly, they prepared to dismantle the 16 ½ -foot bronze statue of the icon of the “Lost Cause of the Confederacy” from its lofty 60-foot tall marble column.
Before long, the event took on the aura of a block party as residents settled in with lawn chairs, parasols, even mimosas. Some strutted and shimmied as a boombox blasted James Brown’s 1968 classic “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” and Public Enemy’s 1990 anthem “Fight the Power.”
The sculpture of Lee, dedicated with great fanfare in 1884, was one of the first Confederate monuments erected in the South and the last of four contentious Civil War-related structures targeted for removal by the historic Southern city.
“For me, this landmark has always been a symbol of exploitation and oppression and white supremacy,” said Malcolm Suber, an adjunct professor at Southern University at New Orleans and organizer of Take ’Em Down NOLA. “Today is a sign that we are forcing New Orleans to have a conversation about race and economics and politics that has honestly not happened here in the city before.”
Not everyone agrees the monuments should be removed, which opponents say are part of history.
More than 150 years after the end of the Civil War — as fringe white nationalist groups have gained newfound prominence and activists with Black Lives Matter and other groups have stepped up to protest injustice — New Orleans is one of a string of Deep South cities and institutions moving to purge their public squares and streets of Confederate monuments.
About 700 Confederate-inspired monuments and statues remain on public property across the nation, with the majority dedicated or built before 1950, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. While public scrutiny of such memorials has intensified since white supremacist Dylann Roof’s June 2015 massacre of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., the act of removing them is fraught with logistical, legal and ideological hurdles.
Relocating massive marble, bronze and granite monuments can cost tens and even hundreds of thousand dollars, money that some communities can ill afford. In many cases, cities and counties also face bitter resistance and lawsuits from historical groups and descendants of soldiers who accuse them of erasing history and disrespecting those who lost their lives fighting for the Confederacy.
Bitter disputes have erupted on New Orleans streets in recent weeks as the city has proceeded with its deeply contested plan to take down an equestrian statue of Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard and a bronze sculpture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The Battle of Liberty Place obelisk, a marble monument that celebrates the 1874 uprising of a white supremacist militia against Louisiana’s Reconstruction state government, came down in April.
“It’s a sad day for Louisiana history,” Republican state Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser said in an interview Friday. “People come to Louisiana for our rich culture and our history. Some of it is unpleasant, but it is history. You’re not going to right a wrong by taking down a monument.”
Many Louisianans, Nungesser said, would prefer to put up plaques offering a fuller, more contextualized history of the sculptures, many of which still feature plaques that glorify white supremacist interpretations of history, or erect alternative statues paying tribute to historical black leaders.
“Do we take down the Washington monument because he had slaves? Do we tear down the White House? It was built with slaves!” Nungesser said. “No one believes this will help race relations.”
Many Southern communities that have wanted to take down controversial monuments in recent years have found their efforts stall as they’ve struggled to find final resting places for symbols that many condemn as offensive.
Officials in Gainesville, Fla., and St. Louis have resolved to remove public Confederate monuments only to fail to find museums willing to house them. Officials in St. Louis this week set up a GoFundMe page to raise $25,000 to remove a monument and place it in storage.
New Orleans’ removal of four of its prominent sculptures marks a significant moment in the South’s history, a determination to challenge long-standing white supremacist symbols, said Martin Blatt, director of public history at Northeastern University and a former president of the National Council on Public History.
“All this debate and the controversy points to a history that we still badly need to confront and unearth and interrogate,” Blatt said.
He said he favored the idea of grouping the monuments at a new site, away from highly visible public space, and offering new context and interpretation.
The New Orleans movement to relocate some of the city’s most visible Confederate monuments began in earnest in 2015, shortly after the Charleston massacre, when Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the City Council declared they were “public nuisances” that did not reflect the city’s diversity or full history.
The process was delayed for nearly two years by a succession of lawsuits from historic preservation groups and monument supporters. The original contractor hired by the city backed out after his employees received death threats and his car was set on fire. Workers dismantled the last three monuments in the cover of darkness, protecting themselves with masks and protective vests.
In contrast, the city announced the removal of the fourth statue, of Lee, in advance, with Landrieu planning an afternoon address at a nearby historic building.
Throughout the years, the Lee monument has served as a focal point for Civil War reunions and a host of civic celebrations. In 1891, it was a gathering spot for the mob responsible for the largest mass lynching in American history: the killing of 11 Italian American men for their alleged role in the murder of the city’s police chief, David Hennessy.
The ultimate fate of the Jim Crow-era sculptures is uncertain. The city has stated the monuments will remain in storage until officials find a museum or facility where they can be displayed in proper context.
On Thursday, Landrieu’s office said in a statement that it had received offers from public and private institutions to take individual monuments and would solicit proposals only from governmental entities and nonprofit groups.
“This should guarantee that wherever the statues end up, they are interpreted as they should be: as historical artifacts from a time when white Southerners believed it was acceptable to memorialize a lost-cause interpretation of the Civil War and ignore the historical record,” said Blain Roberts, a professor of history at Fresno State, who is working on a book about the memory of slavery.
Yet questions linger about how far New Orleans and other Southern cities will go to memorialize the Civil War and the historic legacy of slavery.
New Orleans officials have announced that Lee’s statue will be replaced by a water feature and public art, while a U.S. flag will be placed at the site of the Davis statue. The City Park Improvement Assn. will help decide what replaces the Beauregard statue.
“Putting the American flag in the spot where the Davis statue stood is fine, but I would urge the city to do more,” Roberts said. “Whatever replaces the removed statues should acknowledge the historical facts that those statues were designed to suppress: that enslaved labor generated the wealth of white New Orleanians, and that defending slavery was the reason they and other white Southerners seceded from the Union and fought the Civil War.”
Twenty-three years after the fact, incontrovertible evidence that officers at both the street and command levels allowed their professionalism to be compromised by the cavalier treatment of evidence at the scene of a murder is on the brink of being put on the public record as the result of a lawsuit brought by two current members of the Fontana Police Department.
The mishandling of evidence – the body of the deceased – was the product of, at best, a racially insensitive moment of jest on the part of one or more officers and, at worst, a manifestation of racism that may have allowed the perpetrator of murder to escape being brought to justice.
The larger implication of the incident, now nearly a quarter of a century in the past, is that not only the members of the department who were involved, many of whom are now retired but the department’s administration and now by extension the city’s municipal management, political leaders and its attorneys have been brought in on what amounts to 23-year running cover-up, which they are seeking to perpetuate into the future.
What all this comes down to at this point is whether Superior Court Judge Wilfred J. Schneider, Jr. will permit the evidence that will establish the tampering with evidence took place, delineating the Fontana Police Department as a bastion of racism that is devoted more to perpetuating a culture of prejudice than to ensuring equal protection under the law.
On June 30, 2016, David J. Moore Sr. & Andrew Anderson, represented by attorneys Bradley C. Gage and Milad Sadr, filed a lawsuit in San Bernardino Superior Court against the City of Fontana, alleging discrimination, retaliation and failure to take corrective action.
According to the suit, the 189-member Fontana Police Department is comprised of sworn officers who are predominantly white, such that it has never had more than four African American officers on the force at any given time, despite African Americans comprising more than 10 percent of the city’s population, while employing fewer than thirty Latino officers – roughly 15 percent – even though Hispanics comprise nearly 70 percent of the city’s population. According to the suit, the police department’s administration is even more lopsidedly out of step with the city’s demographics, which has perpetuated an atmosphere in which the department has condoned the mistreatment of minorities.
Manifestations of the culture include, according to the suit, officers referring to African Americans as “niggers, “silverbacks” and “wild monkeys” and to Hispanics using derogatory terms such as “wetbacks and beaners and pink panties.”
The suit maintains that because of the general dearth of minority officers on the force and because of the growing reluctance of the department’s white officers to engage in certain enforcement activities involving blacks and Latinos, Moore, who is African-American, has been detailed to an overwhelming number of calls involving Fontana’s minority community. Among those are what the lawsuit designates as difficult and politically sensitive cases such as those referred to by department members as Acute Political Emergency (“APE”) cases. It is alleged that several of these APE cases are racially charged. If these cases are not handled properly and with the utmost care and correctness, it could cost the investigator his or her career. Other corporals in the department are not assigned to these cases. This has led to the perception that the department’s upper chain of command is engaging in some “strategic planning” to better the chances of Corporal Moore making a mistake and being terminated, according to the suit.
Anderson, who is of mixed background but self-identifies as a Latino, has sought to become a field training officer with the department. Those efforts have met with rejection, based upon the department’s assertion he lacks the requisite experience. Several Caucasian officers with less experience than Anderson have been given field training officer assignments.
Moreover, according to the lawsuit, the Fontana’s Police Department’s administration has reserved plum assignments and its most prestigious positions for white officers, with just a few token promotions of Hispanics. One such example cited in the suit is that of the Special Enforcement Detail (SED), the most hallowed of the department’s divisions and from the ranks of which all, or nearly all, of the department’s commanders, are promoted. Currently, in the SED, there are 19 white members and one Hispanic. There are no African American Members.
The suit alleges that in 2006, upon receiving an electronic Martin Luther King doll which played the “I have a dream” speech as a retirement gift, Lieutenant Tim Newsome mutilated the doll’s speaking mechanism and Lieutenant Bob Morris tied a noose around the doll’s neck and then lynched it in effigy from a ceiling rafter inside the department’s crime prevention unit.
Moving beyond atmospherics, one element of the case Gage and Sadr are attempting to present is how the ingrained racist policies in the department endangered public safety by interfering with a murder investigation. According to the suit, in 1994 an African American male murder victim, Jimmy Earl Burleson, was discovered behind the Kentucky Fried Chicken eatery on Sierra Ave in Fontana. A cop while at the scene of the murder thought it would be funny to place a piece of chicken in the Burleson’s hand, to make it look like he was stealing a chicken from the restaurant before he was killed. A photograph was taken, and then circulated around the department for years.
This behavior by a Fontana Police Department officer or officers would potentially have been prosecutable as a felony under PC 141, which pertains to the planting or tampering of evidence, which is an obstruction of justice crime. In the specific instance of the deceased man at KFC, the manipulating of his body could be viewed as tampering with evidence.
In this case, the tampering with evidence was done as some order of a joke or prank, intended to be taken in a comical spirit among police officers. This action on the part of a police department member or members was also potentially prosecutable as a violation of the California Health and Safety Code Section 7070.5, which states that every person who knowingly mutilates, disinters, wantonly disturbs, or willfully removes any human remains in or from any location is in violation of the law.
Best Best & Krieger attorneys Howard B. Golds and Joseph Ortiz, who are seeking to defend the City of Fontana and the police department in the face of the Anderson/Moore lawsuit, will be filing court papers, referred to as motions in Limine, seeking to exclude certain evidence from being considered at the trial. One of those items of evidence for which exclusion will almost certainly be sought is the photo of the deceased Burleson, Kentucky Fried Chicken leg in hand.
Coming as it does at this time, the Anderson/Moore suit has even greater implication than it might at another point. In April, a date for the trail will be determined. The case will go before a jury in April, even as advocates of removing Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren from office will be turning what is anticipated to be the final corner in attempting to obtain a sufficient number of signatures of Fontana voters to put a recall question against her on the ballot.
In most city governments, municipal departments work hand in hand with one another to ensure the safety of the city and its citizens. The fire department and the police department usually function as a well oiled machine under the ultimate control of municipal administration and in unison with the other city divisions to make sure this happens. The fire and police departments, along with the city government, work collaboratively and with the best interest of the other departments in mind. In Fontana this is no different. Fontana’s mayor, Acquanetta Warren, as commander and chief of the city, works with the city council, the city manager, Ken Hunt, the police department, fire department, as well as other entities to make sure that the city is protected, prospering and, as the mayor is often quoted as saying, on the, “up and up.”
Ethics in any type of government is a pillar of its success. When the people in the important positions like mayor, city manager, city council, and police chief have a sense of duty and ethics in the way they conduct themselves, it shows in their productivity. At all stages of government, there is an occasional occurrence of unethical behavior. The philosopher David Hume stated that the mental faculties, secret propensities and animal passions of man are so interwoven, it is sometimes difficult from his actions to detect the impulses, or nominate the emotions, by which he is incited or induced to act; and he often acts under a combination of influences. Because there are so many different forces and factors that encompass a person and weigh on him, such as societal, social, and behavioral elements, making the rightful and honest choice in any decision is difficult.
Hume also stated that man is naturally selfish and this quality of human nature is dangerous to society and seems on a cursory view incapable of remedy; and there is no element in human nature which causes more fatal conduct than that which leads us to prefer what is present to the distant, which makes humans desire objects more according to their immediate situation than their intrinsic value. Because of this, men will falsify reports, steal, be negligent, or engage in a host of other wrong actions to do anything that assures their continuity in the present. The problem with this is that they are not worried about the important intrinsic fundamental values that are overall more important than one individual, especially in the community sense. Those values are honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage.
Some see in the Anderson/Moore lawsuit an attempt to hold government officials accountable, to register in the public record that the leaders of a city government – in this case Fontana – have been presented with information about a systemic problem – racism – within the city. Whether Judge Schneider will permit Gage and Sadr to paint as stark of a picture of that systemic problem as they intend is a yet outstanding question. Whether Mayor Warren and other city officials such as city manager Ken Hunt will choose to close their eyes and look the other way is another question that is pending. Given the current accusations of negligence lodged against her as a consequence of the recall, Warren is in the position of being perceived as an accessory after the fact to the activity in the police department that is now about to go under a microscope.
Penal Code 32 states the definition of accessory: When a person not actually or constructively present but contributing as an assistant or instigator to the commission of an offense —called also accessory before the fact. Second, a person who knowing that a crime has been committed aids or shelters the offender with intent to defeat justice —called also accessory after the fact.
Gage and Sadr are looking to make a case that police department supervisors knew a crime occurred but failed to act, or failed to report the illegal actions of the racist officer who altered a crime scene. Later they aided in the crime by demanding or otherwise arranging that the evidence of the altered evidence – the photos of Burelson – be removed from booking, Gage and Sadr allege. They maintain this cover-up formed into a major conspiracy to obstruct justice. California Penal Code Section 182 PC makes it illegal to be part of a criminal conspiracy. Conspiracy is a felony-level offense that can carry severe consequences for those convicted.
The Sentinel has confirmed that the photo of Burleson, with a chicken bone in his hand, does in fact exist. The half-eaten chicken leg was visible in the decedent’s hand as the autopsy was being performed. One photo taken during the autopsy clearly depicts an African American man cut open on the coroner’s table, while the chicken bone remained in his hand. According to witnesses at the time, the bone was placed in Burleson’s hand as a cruel, racist joke.
The photos in question were brought to the attention of, and submitted to, Fontana Police officials. Once this information reached the command level, there was no investigation of the incident. Instead, the offending photos were removed from the compendium of photos which were to be booked into evidence. This was the first attempt to cover-up the crime of tampering with a corpse and police evidence. Nevertheless, the photos were allowed to circulate within the department and many cops passed the photos around and made fun of the horrible crime. This showed, according to Gage and Sadr, the openly racist environment of the Fontana Police Department during that time. The supervisors who covered up the crime rose in ranks and were promoted at the Fontana Police Department, composing what is today the police department’s top administration.
Moreover, the incident has implication beyond the confines of the Fontana Police Department. In one picture, the deceased, an African American with the partially eaten chicken bone clenched in his hand, is shown lying filleted on an autopsy table at the San Bernardino County Morgue. The photo shows the corpse on the examiner’s table and that an autopsy was conducted or is in the process of being conducted. The photo was taken from behind his head while he was lying on the autopsy table.
This crime occurred while those who perpetuated it were on duty, during the time, while, as agents of the law, they were sworn to professionally investigate the Burleson’s violent death. Unknown, precisely, was when the chicken bone was placed into the deceased’s hand, whether it was prior to or after arrival at the morgue, where a licensed doctor was present.
One Fontana police officer would go on record, or at least attempt to do so, protesting the desecration of a human corpse and the tampering with evidence. Former police Corporal Ray Schneiders did bring the incident to the attention of his supervisors, but he was ignored. Later he found himself targeted for retaliation for speaking up.
Schneiders was ostracized and harassed for years. Ultimately, he filed a civil lawsuit against the department and was subsequently granted a medical retirement. Using taxpayer money, the city used its hired legal guns – the law firms of Best Best and Krieger and the Jones and Mayer – to keep the word of the alteration/destruction of evidence relating to a homicide under wraps. Burleson’s murder was never solved.
According to sources inside and outside of the Fontana P.D, information pertaining to the police department’s alteration of evidence impacting a homicide investigation and the racist motivation behind it was provided to Mayor Acquanetta Warren, city manager Ken Hunt, the city council, former chiefs of police Larry Clark and Rodney Jones and other police officials.
Warren finds herself in a dilemma. She stands at a political crossroads, with a growing number of her constituents seeking to remove her from office. At the same time, she has wedded herself to the city’s establishment, which includes the police department. It is unclear what political, personal and ethical calculations she will make. She can maintain her alliance with the establishment, which might offer her support against the grass roots organizations looking to dislodge her. At the same time, she lives in a city where 81 percent of the population is either Hispanic or African American. If, on behalf of Anderson and Moore, Gage And Sadr succeed in pushing into the public consciousness the details about how the police department has operated, political expedience and her own desire for political survival may persuade Warren to join the chorus seeking reform in the Fontana Police Department and show, in her own words, that she really is on the “up and up.”
Written by Carlos Avalos
Carlos is an Investigative Journalist focusing on Police Corruption. A graduate of Cal State San Bernardino-B.A Political Science/ International Relations. California Democratic Delegate 47th District 2012-2016 Arizona State University- Masters in Public Policy.