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When Bail Is Set, the Rich Walk and the Poor Go to Jail

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Lael Henterley reports in the Seattle Times:

Cedric Smith learned that a warrant for his arrest had been issued when he was turned down for an apartment.

The warrant connected back to a pending low-level assault charge stemming from a complaint made after a drunk woman tried to barge into his apartment but was blocked by the door, and he was confident the case would be dropped as soon as he explained the circumstances. Smith took a day off work at K2 Sports and headed to Seattle Municipal Court to resolve the warrant. He expected he’d be given another court date—after all, he’d shown up to take care of this on his own free will.

The judge set Smith’s bail at $10,000; he went from the courtroom to the ninth floor of the King County Detention Center to await his next court date. Smith, who was employed and had some money saved, thought he’d be able to put up $1,000 and bond out. But the bail-bond agency said he lacked the collateral to secure his release. After 10 days the court offered Smith time served in exchange for a guilty plea, but he refused. He sat in jail and waited until, 41 days later, his case was dismissed.

When Smith went into court at the beginning of the ordeal, his life was as stable as it had ever been. He had a full-time job, a stable place to live, and the means to support himself. After his release, he found himself back on food stamps and struggling just to make it to the next day.

Smith isn’t the only low-level defendant whose life has been turned upside down because he was accused of a crime. A 2015 study by the Seattle Municipal Court’s Research, Planning and Evaluation Group found that in 2014, 31 percent of in-custody defendants charged with misdemeanors in Seattle Municipal Court—the busiest court in Washington—ended up waiting for their next court date in jail because they couldn’t come up with the cash to secure the freedom they’re supposedly entitled to until found guilty. While there, they lose jobs, homes, children, and dignity.

Every Monday morning Judge Willie Gregory oversees the new-arrest court calendar in the municipal courtroom inside the King County jail. On Monday, August 8, the list of new arrests is so long that one court personnel quips that it’s a good day for the bail-bond agencies.

The defendants file in one by one, clad in red jail scrubs, and look up at Justice Gregory as he decides their future. The city attorney serving as prosecutor requests that bail be set in most cases; often in staggering amounts. A woman stands beside her public defender as the prosecutor rattles off the reasons he doesn’t think she’ll show up to court: She’s missed court several times in the past two years, he says, and has a poor history of complying with the conditions of release set by the court. The woman’s public defender counters that things are different now: Her client just started methadone treatment and signed up for social services. Gregory, who declined to comment for this article, weighs the arguments and sets bail at $25,000. It’s a sum the defendant couldn’t possibly raise; she’ll be sleeping in jail that night.

This isn’t how bail is supposed to work in Washington. State law mandates a presumption of release in all but capital cases. All pretrial defendants should be released on their promise to show up for court unless a judge determines a person is likely to fail to appear in court, commit a violent crime, tamper with witnesses, or obstruct justice. When conditions are imposed to guarantee appearance at future court dates, the law says they should be the least restrictive conditions necessary. Electronic home monitoring, day reporting, and community court are all far less restrictive than incarceration, but only 11 percent of those arraigned in custody at Seattle Municipal Court are assigned to specialty courts or less-restrictive supervision. Instead, judges are quick to assign bail, even in cases where defendants don’t have the means to pay $50, let alone $10,000, creating a two-tiered justice system.

“The system is flawed when people with money can afford to bail out who might actually be a danger to the community and poor people can’t afford to get out on a simple misdemeanor trespass charge,” says Twyla Carter of the King County Department of Public Defense. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 August 2016 at 7:44 pm

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood defends discredited forensic experts, harasses defense attorneys instead

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Radley Balko describes a very bad situation in Mississippi:

Yesterday, I posted about a crazy deposition from last April in which longtime Mississippi forensic expert Michael West went wildly off the rails. West was profane, belligerent, and openly contemptuous of the fact that anyone would dare question his expertise. The remarkable thing is that this was a deposition for a post-conviction hearing in a death penalty case. And in that case, West is the star witness. His testimony was the only physical evidence putting defendant Eddie Lee Howard at the crime scene.

Once in post-conviction, these cases are handled by the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office. You might think that the Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood would be embarrassed by West’s antics. The actions from his office after the deposition indicate that that you’d be wrong.

The deposition occurred on April 16. On April 25th, in anticipation of the evidentiary hearing that followed in May (that hearing went down about the same way as the deposition — the judge has yet to rule on the matter), Tucker Carrington of the Mississippi Innocence Project sent a letter to assistant attorney general Jason Davis. In it, Carrington again pointed out that since Howard’s trials West has been widely discredited. He pointed out that in the deposition itself, West contradicted his testimony at trial. And he pointed out West’s wholesale failure to take any of this seriously — he failed to prepare for the deposition, his failed to produce the appropriate documents and records, and he of course showed an appalling lack of professionalism and reverence, particularly given that a man’s life is at stake. Carrington again requested that the AG’s office drop the charges.

The next day, Davis and Hood filed a motion requesting a hearing to assess the competency of Howard’s legal team. It’s an astonishingly brazen reaction. Faced with an embarrassing performance in which the state’s already-discredited primary witness in a death penalty case came completely unhinged, Hood chose instead to attack the credibility of Eddie Lee Howard’s lawyers.

My sources in Mississippi tell me that Hood’s office has using this tactic for a while now. The motion was based on Rule 22 of the Mississippi’s Rules of Appellate Procedure. The intent behind that rule is sound: It gives the state’s courts a mechanism to ensure that defendants in capital cases are getting adequate legal representation in their appeals. These are complicated and consequential cases. You don’t want death penalty appeals and post-conviction petitions handled by fresh law school grads or washed up schlubs.

The problem is that the rule as originally written was vague and sloppily drafted. For example, it required anyone handling a death penalty appeal to have taken a new felony case within the last three years. That may sound reasonable, but many attorneys work solely on post-conviction cases, which can draw on for years. They can handle multiple cases for years on end without ever taking on a new client. These of course are some of the most qualified attorneys to handle capital cases. Yet under the rule, they could potentially be disqualified.

Sources in Mississippi say that Hood’s office has been using the rule as a weapon. While Hood and his subordinates will claim in briefs that they’re merely fulfilling their obligation to protect the rights of criminal defendants, they aren’t filing these motions as a matter of course in every capital case. The sense in Mississippi is that they haven’t been using the rule to hassle out-of-state law firms and nonprofit legal aid groups taking Mississippi capital cases on a pro-bono basis. The attorneys at these firms and aid groups have extensive experience in capital cases. In other words, Hood’s office has been using the rule to attack the most qualified capital defense attorneys, not the least. In one recent example, Hood’s office tried to disqualify a well-respected Virginia attorney with significant death penalty experience because he hadn’t paid the $350 fee necessary to be barred by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit — one of the requirements under the rule as it was previously written.

In an affidavit filed last November, Emily Olsen-Gault, the director and chief counsel for the American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Representation Project, voiced the ABA’s concerns about what Hood was doing: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 August 2016 at 4:22 pm

After Legal Defeat, US Mayors Vow to Continue Municipal Broadband Fight

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Sam Gustin reports in Motherboard:

Two weeks after a federal court dealt a major blow to municipal broadband advocates, dozens of US mayors and city leaders vowed on Wednesday to continue the fight for local control of next-generation communications networks.

These community leaders are speaking out after the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that the Federal Communications Commission lacks the authority to preempt state laws that pose barriers to municipal broadband development.

In a letter to the mayors of Chattanooga, TN and Wilson, NC—the two cities that had asked the FCC to preempt such state laws—forty-two US mayors and local leaders expressed their “support and solidarity with your efforts advocating for the ability of all communities to choose the broadband solutions that are right for each of our communities.”

“We believe in aligning broadband options with community needs, instead of being hindered by restrictive, one-size-fits-all barriers sometimes put up at the state level,” the city leaders wrote. “While our paths vary, we are united by our commitment to competition and the right of self-determination for all our communities, free from interference.”

The letter, which was organized by Next Century Cities, a nonprofit group that advocates for community broadband efforts, was signed by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, and dozens of other local leaders from around the country.

The letter is the latest salvo in a multi-year battle that echoes one of the great debates in American history—the fight over federalism and the balance of power between the national government and the states. Supporters of the FCC maintained that Congress gave the agency the power the preempt restrictive state broadband laws. Opponents argued, successfully, that the federal government was interfering with states’ rights.

This battle is far from over. Cities across the country recognize that affordable, high-speed internet access is a powerful tool for economic growth, equal opportunity, and citizen empowerment. That’s why scores of cities are racing to develop faster, cheaper alternatives to services offered by corporate giants like Comcast that wield monopoly power in many markets.

But these forward-thinking municipalities are frequently stymied by roadblocks in the form of state laws that thwart community broadband efforts—laws that were often pushed by lobbyists working at the behest of the nation’s largest telecom companies, including Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T.

It’s no surprise that these corporate giants are opposed to local efforts aimed at delivering faster, cheaper internet service. After all, what business likes to be confronted by a competitor offering superior service at lower prices? . . .

Continue reading.

There’s a lot more. Corporations want profits, not progress, and if profits can be increased by halting progress, they’ll go for it every time. And despite their lip service to the virtues of free enterprise and competition, corporations hate competition because it impacts profits.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 August 2016 at 3:45 pm

Taking a Stand at Standing Rock

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David Archambault II writes in the NY Times:

It is a spectacular sight: thousands of Indians camped on the banks of the Cannonball River, on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota. Our elders of the Seven Council Fires, as the Oceti Sakowin, or Great Sioux Nation, is known, sit in deliberation and prayer, awaiting a federal court decision on whether construction of a $3.7 billion oil pipeline from the Bakken region to Southern Illinois will be halted.

The Sioux tribes have come together to oppose this project, which was approved by the State of North Dakota and the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The nearly 1,200-mile pipeline, owned by a Texas oil company named Energy Transfer Partners, would snake across our treaty lands and through our ancestral burial grounds. Just a half-mile from our reservation boundary, the proposed route crosses the Missouri River, which provides drinking water for millions of Americans and irrigation water for thousands of acres of farming and ranching lands.

Our tribe has opposed the Dakota Access pipeline since we first learned about it in 2014. Although federal law requires the Corps of Engineers to consult with the tribe about its sovereign interests, permits for the project were approved and construction began without meaningful consultation. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior and the National Advisory Council on Historic Preservation supported more protection of the tribe’s cultural heritage, but the Corps of Engineers and Energy Transfer Partners turned a blind eye to our rights. The first draft of the company’s assessment of the planned route through our treaty and ancestral lands did not even mention our tribe.

The Dakota Access pipeline was fast-tracked from Day 1 using the Nationwide Permit No. 12 process, which grants exemption from environmental reviews required by the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act by treating the pipeline as a series of small construction sites. And unlike the better-known Keystone XL project, which was finally canceled by the Obama administration last year, the Dakota Access project does not cross an international border — the condition that mandated the more rigorous federal assessment of the Keystone pipeline’s economic justification and environmental impacts.

The Dakota Access route is only a few miles shorter than what was proposed for the Keystone project, yet the government’s environmental assessment addressed only the portion of the pipeline route that traverses federal land. Domestic projects of this magnitude should clearly be evaluated in their totality — but without closer scrutiny, the proposal breezed through the four state processes.

Perhaps only in North Dakota, where oil tycoons wine and dine elected officials, and where the governor, Jack Dalrymple, serves as an adviser to the Trump campaign, would state and county governments act as the armed enforcement for corporate interests. In recent weeks, the state has militarized my reservation, with road blocks and license-plate checks, low-flying aircraft and racial profiling of Indians. The local sheriff and the pipeline company have both called our protest “unlawful,” and Gov. Dalrymple has declared a state of emergency.

It’s a familiar story in Indian Country. This is the third time that the Sioux Nation’s lands and resources have been taken without regard for tribal interests. The Sioux peoples signed treaties in 1851 and 1868. The government broke them before the ink was dry.

When the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Missouri River in 1958, it took our riverfront forests, fruit orchards and most fertile farmland to create Lake Oahe. Now the Corps is taking our clean water and sacred places by approving this river crossing. Whether it’s gold from the Black Hills or hydropower from the Missouri or oil pipelines that threaten our ancestral inheritance, the tribes have always paid the price for America’s prosperity.

Protecting water and our sacred places has always been at the center of our cause. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 August 2016 at 3:18 pm

A Canadian Court Might Jail Woman for Giving Pigs Water

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Industrialized farming operations are extremely sensitive to the danger that the way they treat animals will be exposed to the public, since quite often the animals are treat inhumanely—sometimes very inhumanely. In the US, agribusiness has worked at the state level to make it illegal to reveal anything about how they treat animals: no videos, for example, and not even published criticism. This is an industry that does it best to hide what it does because it knows most people will not like it.

Kaleigh Rogers reports at Motherboard:

For the past few days, a trial unfolding in a sleepy Toronto suburb has drawn international attention. It’s not the trial of a celebrity, or a high-profile criminal like a serial killer: it’s a mischief trial, for a woman who gave some pigs a drink of water.

Anita Krajnc, a 49-year-old animal rights activist, was arrested last summer for dribbling some water into the mouth of a pig inside a transport truck on its way to slaughter. Krajnc now faces up to $5,000 in fines or even jail time for this mischief charge, which she caught on tape after the driver confronted her:

Krajnc is a founding member of Toronto Pig Save, an animal rights group that holds weekly “vigils” on the side of the road for pigs on their way to slaughter. It isn’t the first time they’ve given pigs water through the slats of transportation trucks, but on this occasion the driver of the truck, Jeffrey Veldjesgraaf, grew alarmed. He tried to stop Krajnc, then phoned his boss, hog farmer Eric Van Boekel, who called the police.

At court this week, Van Boekel testified that he was worried the water could have had contaminants that would have made the 190 pigs—worth about $45,000—sick or unfit for slaughter. He also said he was concerned for activists’ safety.“One of my biggest fears—and it’s not if it’s going to happen, it’s when it’s going to happen—is one of the protesters has their arm in the slat, and the driver pulls away, they’ll get [pulled] under the truck,” Van Boekel testified.

Despite the potential jail time, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 August 2016 at 2:33 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Law

Is Germany protecting its neo-Nazis?

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Matthew Schofield reports in McClatchy:

For more than a decade, German police refused to consider the possibility that neo-Nazis were killing Turkish immigrants, even after the FBI suggested that was the obvious answer to a string of murders. Then the plotters, tired of being ignored, outed themselves, revealing something beyond incompetence – the killers appear to have been subsidized by the German police themselves.

* * *

BERLIN “Richard Goerlitz” walked into Day 290 of the most sensational hate crime trial in Germany since the aftermath of World War II with his gray hoodie pulled down low over his face, and a black and white scarf covering his mouth.

It was the German domestic intelligence officer’s fourth appearance in the Munich courtroom. In previous visits, he’d worn fat suits or a mask to disguise his identity. This time, in addition to hiding under his clothing, he also wore a wig. The name is a fake. His memory is spotty, at best. One German newspaper has even dubbed him “a Teddy bear with memory lapses.”

But he’s also central to understanding the importance of this trial, which already has lasted three years and is expected to go at least a year more. It’s through his testimony that a troubling question has emerged: Did German domestic intelligence agencies – in the name of protecting informants – allow the murders of 10 immigrants over 11 years by staying silent about what they knew of the plotters?

Critics say 17 state and national domestic intelligence agencies, often described as the German equivalent of the FBI, could have ended the string of killings earlier by telling police investigating the crimes that their theory about the murders was wrong.

That, the critics allege, is proof that institutional racism permeates much of German officialdom, including its justice policies – no light charge in a country where Nazism led to the murder of millions of Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals and where the government is officially aghast at anti-immigrant violence against the hundreds of thousands of refugees who’ve arrived in the past year.

The case being dissected in the Munich courtroom involves a group of neo-Nazis who systematically hunted Turkish immigrants and killed them. The two people believed to have actually committed the murders are dead, apparently a murder-suicide as the police were closing in.

A third suspect, Beate Zschäpe, is charged as an accessory to murder for acting as their primary supporter and for producing what amounts to a DVD confession to the crimes. She turned herself in shortly after the first suspects’ deaths.

Four other men, known members of German neo-Nazi organizations, are charged as accomplices for providing money and weapons and for helping hide the core members of what they called the National Socialist Underground, or the NSU.

The controversy surrounding the case comes largely from the fact that German police had dismissed the idea that the murders were related to right-wing hate groups until the confessions surfaced.

“Goerlitz,” however, has testified that he’d received a tip in 1998 – two years before the first murders – that the three accused core members were trying to get their hands on weapons and enough money to vanish underground, and that other neo-Nazis around the country were planning ways to supply and support them.

It would be 13 years after that tip before the NSU made a film to brag about their rampage, which included murders, bombings and robberies, in a DVD delivered to media and rights advocates.

Goerlitz was the domestic intelligence agent tasked with running confidential informants inside the neo-Nazi movement. He’s testified he can’t remember whether he passed the tip to the police.

Even just by the numbers, the case seems unforgettable.

Twelve bodies. Nine immigrant shopkeeper victims. One dead cop. Two weapons identified, one of which, a rare Ceská 7.65 mm pistol with a silencer, was used in every killing. Fifteen robberies. More than $600,000 stolen. Three bomb attacks that left 33 wounded and led to a miscarriage. Seven years between the first murder and the last. Twelve years between the first bank robbery and the last.

And, finally, 15 slickly produced DVD confessions mailed to media and various groups, exposing the serial killings to be the work of a neo-Nazi cell.

To many in Germany, that’s when the case became truly disturbing. Not only had Goerlitz perhaps not told police what he knew 18 years ago, but the police work once the murders started was woefully inept.

German police had only a single investigative theory: that the victims, and their killers, were involved in Turkish organized crime.

A 2007 analysis of the case by one of the state domestic security agencies showed how blind investigators were to the crimes: No German, it concluded, could possibly commit such heinous murders. That would be a laughable conclusion – in a country where aberrant behavior such as cannibalism is not unknown – if it weren’t so tragic.

“In light of the fact that the killing of people is held as highly taboo in our cultural sphere, one can deduce that the perpetrator is located far outside the local system of norms and values with regard to his behavioral system,” it said.

Later, the report made the point again: No German could be responsible.

“An explanation for such an irrational element in the structure of the perpetrator’s motive can be at most found in the Code of Honor and/or an internal Code that is of great importance for the perpetrators,” the report suggested. “The rigid Code of Honor that characterizes the group rather points to a group in the East and/or South-East European region (not a West European background).”

Never mind that witnesses had identified the perpetrator of the first murder on Sept. 9, 2000, as a white man who fired into the van from which Enver Simsek was selling flowers. The witnesses said they saw two white men leave the scene by bicycle.

The theory quickly became that the Turkish mob, working through organized crime in the Netherlands, had killed Simsek, who, police deduced, was likely to have been involved in the crime organizations that killed him. Beyond the fact that the victim was Turkish and had been selling flowers which commonly come from the Netherlands, it’s unclear what evidence led to the theory.

On June 13 the following year, just miles away, Turkish-immigrant tailor Abdurrahim Özüdogru, 49, was shot to death in his shop. Two weeks after that, on June 27, Tasköprü Suleiman, 31, was shot to death in his father’s vegetable shop in Hamburg. On Aug. 29 in Munich, Habil Kiliç, 38, was killed in the family grocery shop.

Police determined then that the same weapon had been used in the killings, and relatives of the victims spoke of their fears of neo-Nazis. But police instead surmised that Turkish organized crime was rampant in Germany and that the relatives were uncommunicative and unhelpful.

The official investigation was named “Bosphorus” after the strait that divides Istanbul into Europe and Asia, but the crimes became known popularly as the “döner murders” after Yunus Turgut, 25, on Feb. 25, 2004, and Ismail Yasar, 50, on June 9, 2005, were killed in their shops where they sold döner, a Turkish sandwich that is Germany’s most popular fast food. It was essentially a racial slur, döner being shorthand for outsider, or Turk.

In 2007, German investigators, frustrated by their inability to break the case, asked the FBI for help in building a profile of the killers. The FBI report, which relied entirely on German investigative materials, reached a rather obvious conclusion: the killers “were motivated by hatred against people of Turkish background.” An earlier profile of the case by police in the German state of Bavaria had reached a similar conclusion: racism.

German investigators, however, remained steadfast that the spree smacked of organized crime. The official German police reaction was written in the margins of the FBI report: “Not very helpful.”

Indeed, the very lack of evidence of a link to organized crime was being seen by the official investigation as proof that the victims must be high-ranking members of the Turkish mob.

That didn’t change until Nov. 4, 2011, when German police tracked a pair of bank robbers to an RV in a central German town of Eisenach. Witnesses said they had seen the robbers loading bikes into the RV. When the police approached they heard gunshots inside the RV, which then burst into flames. Inside, the police found two bodies, one belonging to Uwe Mundlos and the other to Uwe Böhnhardt. It appears that Mundlos had shot Böhnhardt, then himself.

Meanwhile, 120 miles miles away in Zwickau, near the Czech Republic border, Zschäpe set fire to the small apartment the three had shared, then left to start mailing copies of a DVD confession the three had produced. The DVD used a voice-over on a Pink Panther cartoon to make light of the crimes and to relate Nazi propaganda. Occasionally, the DVD would cut away from the cartoon to show television footage of the crime scenes.

Zschäpe also left behind the murder weapon, which was found in the debris. Four days later, she walked into a police station in Jena, Germany, saying, “I’m the one you are looking for.”

By May 14, 2013, when a federal prosecutor finally read the indictment aloud in court, the charges against Zschäpe and her co-conspirators covered 35 pages and took just more than an hour to read. They ran from complicity in 10 murders to arson to illegally procuring weapons and aiding and abetting in 15 bank robberies.

As the trial continued though, Germans became deeply concerned about their domestic intelligence agencies – what they knew and when they knew it – and about whether in investigating a web of neo-Nazi hate groups, they actually ended up hiding the hate groups’ crimes, and even supporting them.

Several heads of state intelligence organizations have since been forced to resign. The president of the national office of Germany’s Verfassungsschutz, literally, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which is commonly referred to as domestic intelligence, resigned after the trial revealed that his offices had destroyed files showing the ties between his office and neo-Nazi groups.

Mehmet Daimagüler, the attorney for the family of two victims, shakes his head when he discusses the FBI report. Clearly, it represents a missed opportunity in the investigation. But it is far from the most puzzling issue raised by the trial.

He recalls a neo-Nazi witness appearing to testify. As is the right of someone called to court, he arrived with an attorney. But the attorney wasn’t from the man’s hometown, or even a nearby town.

“We asked him why he had this attorney and not a local one, and he said the German domestic intelligence had suggested him,” he recalled. “We pushed and he admitted they were also paying for the attorney.”

He paused: “Is German domestic intelligence involved in supporting neo-Nazis in this case? Yes, at least in the aftermath. They are paying for the attorney of a Nazi called to court to testify. The question is why, but we don’t know and aren’t being told that answer.”

There are other sign of domestic intelligence’s involvement in the murders. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 August 2016 at 8:39 am

‘Blunt discrimination’ by police and ‘crisis levels’ of racism: A senior U.N. official reflects on America

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Nations as well as individuals can profit from learning how others view them. Jaweed Kaleem in the LA Times reports on what the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association saw in his visit to the US:

It’s not every day that a senior United Nations official reprimands the U.S. for its race relations, saying the country is “struggling to live up to its ideals” on equality, that “blunt discrimination” by police against black Americans has reached “crisis levels,” and that Congress is “dysfunctional” in how it responds to problems.

But after a 17-day visit that included cities that have become flashpoints in police and race relations, such as Ferguson, Mo.; Baton Rouge, La.; and Baltimore, that’s what Maina Kiai concluded.

A Kenyan human rights lawyer, Kiai is the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and his trip last month was meant to examine how Americans handle protests.

He had planned his visit with the State Department for months and expected he’d have to search hard for demonstrations when he arrived. Instead, Kiai stepped into a country reeling from back-to-back police shootings of black men and attacks on police in Baton Rouge and Dallas where controversy over race and policing was front and center.

Kiai recently released a letter about his travels in which he credited the U.S. for its “resilience” despite difficulties, and wrote at length about workers’ rights, immigration law debates, counter-terrorism, policing and how each relates to 1st Amendment rights.

“The focus of my mission was not race or discrimination,” he said in his statement, a prelude to a fuller report expected next year. “But it is impossible to discuss these rights without issues of racism pervading the discussions.”

He said he saw such issues first-hand during meetings with police departments in New York, Phoenix, Washington, D.C., and Jackson, Miss. At the federal level, Kiai met with officials at the White House — though the schedule did not include President Obama  — and the departments of State, Labor, Homeland Security and Justice. He also went to New Orleans and to the sites of the major political conventions  — Cleveland and Philadelphia.

“People have good reason to be angry and frustrated at the moment. And it is at times like these when robust promotion of assembly and association rights are needed most,” Kiai wrote in his initial report.

“I was pleased to observe that police in the states I visited have a good understanding of the best practices of managing assemblies, and that they have the capacity to implement them, which they often do,” he later added. “But they also sometimes ignore these best practices, preferring intimidatory and discriminative tactics.”

The Times spoke to Kiai, who has been the first special rapporteur — an independent, volunteer expert — on freedom of assembly since 2011, and has made similar visits to Britain, Rwanda, Georgia, Oman, Kazakhstan, Chile and South Korea.

Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

The U.S. doesn’t rank high on lists of countries with human rights issues, unlike some of the others you’ve visited. Why here?

I only go where I am given access. I have tried to go to other countries, like Russia, but they have not allowed me in. Meanwhile, the U.S. made it very easy for me to come. There’s an openness and willingness to improve.

That said, there’s no perfect society. There is no country anywhere that’s got a perfect human rights record. There are always concerns and issues. So we try not to make comparisons. It’s not about who is better. What is important is really talking to people who are living there who feel their rights are being violated. You will get people who say, “Why look as us? We are not the worst in the world.” But we need to look.

What stood out in your travels?

Police who work with the community are incredible, and they are out there. If they don’t, there is trouble, and some have at times become oppositional. If a person takes a community approach to policing, there is much more comfort between police and the community.

The other thing that stuck out is the role of the civil rights division of the Department of Justice. It can play a tremendously effective role when it comes in and looks at a police department. The mayor of New Orleans invited the Justice Department in, and it has borne fruit. On the other hand, you have a police force like in Ferguson that had a lot of work to do.

On the civil society side, I have been thoroughly impressed by the doggedness of activists.

Is there a problem with race and policing? . . .

Continue reading.

The sidebar to the article is worth looking at.

There’s a deep divide in how blacks and whites see race. These numbers prove it. »

Whites tend not to actually know the daily experience of what it’s like to be black and how a black person is treated.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 August 2016 at 8:31 am


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