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Month: September 2016

Joint Hennepin/Ramsey juvenile facility—Our youth deserve better

Joint Hennepin/Ramsey juvenile facility—Our youth deserve better

by Jason Sole and Rachel Wannarka, Minneapolis NAACP

As we are demanding accountability of law enforcement officials, it is just as critical to demand accountability of the professionals who are tasked with helping youth transition into adulthood. Community members are meeting tonight for a “community engagement session” at the Minneapolis Urban League to discuss just that. Ramsey and Hennepin counties contend that it is in the best interest of youth to spend millions of dollars to build a new secure juvenile facility, but many community members believe that it will be just another prison. It is extremely difficult to believe that with all of the negative publicity Minnesota facilities have received, that another secure placement center is in the best interests of the counties. What happened to the juveniles that went to Mesabi Academy for treatment but were sexually abused? What happened to the youth sexually assaulted by a Boys Totem Town therapist in February? Will these youth return to our communities better or bitter?

The recidivism rate of juveniles in Minnesota is 45%. This is unacceptable. Nearly half of the juveniles released from an out-of-home placement will return to the system. Why would we trust the decision-makers to have the answers at this stage? “Juveniles who are processed into the juvenile justice system, rather than diverted, experience increased recidivism” (Seave, 2011). Our youth need to have opportunities, not imprisonment. We should be utilizing restorative justice practices so that harms can be repaired, rather than sending youth away to experience further trauma. Research shows that the majority of people serving an adult sentence experienced the juvenile justice system during adolescence.

According to the Council on Crime and Justice (2009) report: “Thousands of Minnesota youth are adversely impacted by juvenile delinquency records, and a disproportionate number are youth of color due to the racial disparities in our juvenile justice system. Minnesota’s greatest asset is at risk: we depend upon our youth for a thriving and diverse citizenry and leadership; juvenile delinquency records diminish that potential.” We shouldn’t be investing in facilities based on risk factors and a deficit approach that ignores the skill sets possessed by many of our youth. We should be investing in opportunities based on resiliency factors and a strength approach. Resiliency factors have more predictive power than risk factors. Most of these youth need love, support, and caring relationships with adults.

While our key decision-makers seek to relegate youth to facilities, we’d like to offer a few suggestions:

  1. Provide adequate housing for youth contending with homelessness: The National Council of State Legislatures (2011) reported that between 44 and 46 percent of youth released from confinement were released into unstable housing situations. The Wilder Research Center (2011) found that 46 percent of juveniles between ages 10 and 17 who are currently homeless have previously been in a correctional facility.
  2. Seal juvenile records: The Council on Crime and Justice (2014) reported that juvenile records in Minnesota can be accessed by employers, making it more difficult for youth who have been adjudicated delinquent to find employment.
  3. Invest in prevention strategies: “Youth of color and their communities are often pathologized in a way that creates a narrative about their past, current status, and likelihood of success.” (Lacey, 2013, p. 4). Invest more funds in youth learning their true history! When you know who you are, you can better determine where you are going!!
  4. Invest in people who love children to serve children: “The strengths perspective integrates concepts related to resilience, empowerment, hope, healing, and meaning construction. Rather than focusing on deficits, disease, labels, and problems, social workers acting from the strengths perspective are concerned with resources, connections, skills, and gifts” (Gleason, 2007, p. 52).
  5. End the school-to-prison pipeline: “For many young people, our schools are increasingly a gateway to the criminal justice system. This phenomenon is a consequence of a culture of zero tolerance that is widespread in our schools and is depriving many children of their fundamental right to an education” (Elias, 2013).
     

    The community will continue to offer solutions while demanding this project be stopped. Our children will not have a future if we allow them to be warehoused in facilities. “When people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it matters—first and foremost—how they behave” (Malcolm Gladwell, David & Goliath). The people spearheading this project are using a crime control model on children who they consider expendable. Come to the Minneapolis Urban League (2100 Plymouth Ave N) tonight from 6-8pm to contribute to the conversation.

The 36-hour hold: Metro law enforcement’s newest scare tactic

The 36-hour hold: Metro law enforcement’s newest scare tactic

This week the Twin Cities saw a disturbing escalation in tactics used by law enforcement against protesters. It has been common practice for protesters who were arrested (often on charges that later failed to hold up in court) to be processed and quickly released, but we are now seeing specific activists explicitly targeted by police and detained for discretionary 36-hour holds. This is a troubling trend in the way law enforcement interacts with people exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech and public protest.

An example of when a 36 hour hold is commonly and properly utilized is felony level domestic violence crimes. The city of Minneapolis provides this information for victims of domestic abuse:

If the offender was arrested for a felony level crime, the person will be booked into the Hennepin County jail. A probable cause hold will be placed on this person. This hold is usually for about 36 to 48 hours depending on the day and time the person was arrested. An investigator from the Domestic Assault Unit will try to contact you. […] The attorney will decide if the evidence merits charging the offender with a crime. The attorney will also look at the past history of the offender. All of this will occur in the 36 hour probable cause hold time. If charged, the offender will see a judge and bail will be set. If the offender was arrested for a misdemeanor crime, the person will be booked into the Hennepin County jail. Usually the next day, the offender will go in front of a judge and the city attorney will request either release or bail.

So we see that some protesters are being treated with the same level of severity that is also applied in felony domestic violence cases, and are being held longer than domestic abusers arrested on misdemeanor charges.

 

September 6th marked two months since Philando Castile was shot and killed at a traffic stop by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez. Protesters marked the tragic anniversary by calling on Ramsey County Attorney John Choi to prosecute Yanez. St. Paul police responded in riot gear, bizarrely threatened to arrest everyone standing on the sidewalk, and called out, targeted, and then arrested Eli Lartey. Lartey, who is a member of the group “Justice Occupation for Philando,” was the first protester arrested on July 26 when police shut down the occupation and demonstration in front of the Governor’s mansion, and at that earlier event police ripped him out from a crowd of protesters linking arms by a memorial to Castile. Evidence that Lartey was specifically targeted at the September 6 protest is provided in the livestream by independent media Unicorn Riot. Lartey was placed on a 36 hour hold on probable cause of felony terroristic threats allegedly against drivers (though protesters have more to fear from cars than vice versa), but then only charged with misdemeanors. His targeted arrest and the inflated and apparently false claims (per the amended charges) made against him seem to be designed to intimidate protesters. Eli shared his view with us: “On September 6th, I was racially and politically profiled by the St. Paul police department. While dispersing from them in front of city hall, I was called out by name and detained on accusations of ‘terrorist threats.’ I was held on FALSE charges for over a day. This was a clear attempt by armed officers to take away organization and cause fear and chaos in the nonviolent crowd.”

The charge of “terroristic threats” is a serious one and should not be imposed lightly, or with a goal of intimidating or silencing protesters. But sometimes what appear to be actual terroristic threats are not even charged – for example, when made by an officer against protesters. Former SPPD Sgt. Jeffrey Rothecker, who was also the 2nd Vice President of the Minnesota Order of Fraternal Police, wrote on facebook that drivers encountering a planned Black Lives Matter protest should “Run them over. Keep traffic flowing and don’t slow down for any of these idiots who try and block the street. Here is the deal, you continue to drive and if you hit someone make sure you call 911 to report the accident and meet the cops a block or two away and you can justify stopping further away because you feared for your safety since in the past people in this group has shown a propensity towards violence.” Rothecker provided detailed advice and encouragement for drivers to commit a dangerous and criminal vehicular assault against non-violent protesters, and directly threatened the safety of demonstrators. While he was forced to apologize and chose to resign, the St. Paul city attorney declined to charge him, and in fact St. Paul paid Rothecker $7,500 in exchange for his agreement to waive any claims.

 

On September 7th, activists from the Minneapolis NAACP and the Black Coalition attended a Park Board meeting to express their concern about longstanding disparities in the hiring, promotion, and treatment of workers of color and the inequitable allocation of public resources, as they have done for months now. At this meeting they were specifically opposed to a proposed agreement with the Loppet Foundation to take over management of the North Minneapolis Theodore Wirth Park. Park Board President Anita Tabb demanded protesters stop talking and found them in violation of meeting rules that had not yet been passed or adopted, and police arrested four women including a teenager, an elder Rosemary Nevils, and Raeisha Williams (communications director with the Minneapolis NAACP). The new approach by the Minneapolis Park Board seems designed to silence black community members who are advocating for necessary improvements.

 

Finally, on Saturday September 10th, Somali youth were protesting a planned new HBO series “Minneapolis to Mogadishu” that will perpetuate harmful stereotypes and stigmatize their community. One of the founders of the Black Liberation Project was thrown off a stage and injured, then arrested trying to protect a youth who had been maced by Minneapolis police. The BLP member is on a 36 hour hold that will keep her in jail until Tuesday, including through the important Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha which is celebrated today, Monday September 12. The law enforcement and judicial branches have a special responsibility to protect the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, but here they are specifically targeting Somali youth and unnecessarily and punitively holding a practicing Muslim over a major holy day. Anti-Muslim bigotry flared in the United State after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and is now again on the rise with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump calling for a ban on the immigration of Muslims. Only a couple months ago, Dinkytown near the University of Minnesota was the site of a hate crime: a group of Somali men were harassed with anti-Muslim comments and then two of them were shot.

It is here instructive to compare how the system handles serious crimes committed by police. Since 2000, over 150 Minnesotans have been killed by police, and not a single officer has been even indicted and charged with a crime for those deaths. Rather than being arrested and held in jail, police who shoot someone are given paid administrative leave and then their actions are rubber stamped as justified – even in cases where the city later pays out a large civil settlement. There have been a few officers convicted of violent crimes when the evidence of guilt was overwhelming. In 2012, Sgt. David Clifford, an executive officer with the Minneapolis SWAT team, was off duty at a bar when he went to confront another patron; as the man stood up, Clifford punched him in the face, and the victim fell backwards and required multiple brain surgeries. Clifford was also arrested on a Saturday and released on bail on a Tuesday, initially charged only with third degree assult – even while his victim remained in the hospital in critical condition. The wife of the victim “wondered why Clifford was released, why he wasn’t charged with a harsher crime and why he allegedly ran after punching her husband.” When Clifford went to trial on upgraded first degree assault charges, he and his attorney Fred Bruno (who also recently represented Dustin Schwarze, the MPD shooter of Jamar Clark) argued that Clifford had acted in self defense. Security camera video footage shows this claim to be false, as established by the jury that convicted Clifford; the judge imposed a sentence of half the prison time recommended under state guidelines. Why is a woman protesting an Islamophobic TV series being held for the same Saturday-to-Tuesday interval as a cop who violently assaulted a bar patron? Why are protesters being initially overcharged (as can be seen from their cases being settled on lesser charges or dismissed) even while that violent cop was initially undercharged?

BLP has shared that people wishing to help can donate to the bail fund and legal team through PayPal at thesystemisguilty@gmail.com and can also call and ask that any and all protestors arrested at West Bank during this action be released. The number to the Hennepin County Attorney’s office is (612) 348-5550 and the one to the jail is (612) 348-5112. Update 9pm: the remaining person held from the West Bank action has been released. Donations still welcome for legal expenses.

We are seeing a trend emerging to protect the status quo; police continue to use excessive force but also apply excessive holds. Law enforcement tactics are seeking to deter protesters but it won’t work. We will be heard and we will get justice.

No Grand Jury, Redux

No Grand Jury, Redux

It has now been nearly two months since Philando Castile was killed near the State Fair grounds by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez. Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds livestreamed the immediate aftermath of the shooting and described how Castile had just told Yanez he had a legally registered gun and how Castile was reaching for his ID, as ordered, when Yanez shot him. This Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit demanding the public release of squad car dashcam video covering the Castile traffic stop, which the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is withholding while it continues to investigate. As record numbers of Minnesotans enjoy the State Fair mere blocks from where Castile died, this week his family is bringing his body back to St. Louis, where he was born. His mother says she “brought him here to Minnesota to better his life… but unfortunately he was murdered by St. Anthony Police and this is the last part of the ordeal.”

Police in Minnesota have killed at least 150 people since 2000 with zero criminal indictments (let alone convictions), even as many millions of dollars have been paid out in civil settlements. While people of color are 16 percent of the state population, they comprise 45 percent of police-involved deaths. St. Anthony police records show that they disproportionately stop and arrest black citizens. Castile experienced years of harassment and racial profiling, including on the night of his death when police scanner audio reveals he was pulled over for supposedly looking similar to a robbery suspect “because of the wide-set nose.” Across the country, we know that black people of all genders may be treated as more threatening due to bias: for example, in 2015 unarmed black men were twice as likely as unarmed white men to be shot and killed by police, after accounting for all other relevant factors. To echo Governor Dayton, would Castile have been shot if he had been white?

Grand juries return indictments in nearly all cases they are presented by prosecutors, but almost never indict when police kill the citizens they swore to serve and protect. Across Minnesota, the County Attorneys who are responsible for selecting and presenting the evidence a grand jury considers in police killings also rely extensively on police cooperation and assistance in almost every aspect of prosecuting their other cases, which represents an unavoidable conflict of interest. Now Ramsey County Attorney John Choi must decide whether to use a grand jury in the Castile case. Ramsey County includes St. Paul, and over the last seven years the St. Paul police department has used deadly force more often than any other law enforcement agency in the entire state, disproportionately killing people of color – all without facing any criminal consequences. Last December, Phil Quinn was killed while experiencing an episode of mental illness and holding a screwdriver, and Choi announced this February that a grand jury had (predictably) declined to indict the shooting officer.

After Jamar Clark was shot in Minneapolis last November, activists demanded an end to the practice of grand juries rubber-stamping police killings as justified. Protesters peacefully occupied the Fourth Precinct and marched to city hall, and thousands signed a petition for no grand jury. As Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds put it, “We do not trust the system to produce justice.” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman listened to the voices of activists and announced this March that he would no longer use grand juries in police shootings. Freeman explained his decision: “Others dislike the grand jury process because under law and practice, its proceedings are essentially private and the basis for the grand jury’s decision is confidential… Secrecy, lack of transparency and no direct accountability strikes us as very problematic in a democratic society… I concluded that the accountability and transparency limitations of a grand jury are too high a hurdle to overcome.” The same concerns that caused Freeman to forgo grand juries in police shootings should lead Choi to do likewise.

Declining to use a grand jury in the Castile case would not be enough. Even when County Attorneys take the responsibility for making charging decisions rather than using a grand jury, as Freeman did, there remains an inherent conflict of interest due to their working relationship with police. A state-level independent and unbiased special prosecutor should ideally handle all police shootings, but this common sense reform is not practiced in Minnesota. County Attorney Choi’s addition of Don Lewis as a so-called “special prosecutor” to his team does not actually cede any of his authority, and in addition Lewis has a troubling history of favoring those in power.

If Choi bypasses the grand jury while retaining control over the case, he must fulfill his obligation to thoroughly and impartially consider all the available evidence when deciding whether probable cause exists to charge Yanez. Here Choi must do better than Freeman. In personally declining to charge the officers who shot Jamar Clark, Freeman disregarded the testimony of numerous black witnesses, misrepresented the significance of DNA and other forensic evidence, falsely characterized Clark’s relationship with Rayann Hayes and behavior that night, and uncritically parroted a constructed and dubious police narrative. Choi and Freeman both have an obligation under their office to seek justice for the victims of violence, including violence committed by the police with whom they work so closely. Freeman chose to shield the officers who killed Clark from criminal accountability for their actions, and now we will see whether Choi will deliver justice for Philando.

Hundreds of community members will be meeting Saturday at 11:00 where Philando was killed, on Larpenteur and Fry, to honor him and other victims of police brutality. Philando Castile deserves justice and we who believe in freedom will not rest until it comes.