Tag Archives: justice

Obama Lays Out Plans in His First Post-Presidency Public Appearance

Mother Jones

In his first public appearance since leaving the White House, former President Barack Obama said that empowering young people to take on leadership roles would be the “single most important” issue in his post-presidency life.

“What I’m convinced of is that although there are all kinds of issues I care about, and all kinds of issues I can work on, the single most important thing I can do is to help prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton and to take their own crack at changing the world,” Obama said at a panel discussion on civic engagement that he led at the University of Chicago on Monday.

Obama made no direct mention of President Donald Trump or the 2016 presidential election, but he pointed to the divisive nature of US politics as the most significant barrier to progress on a host of problems, from flaws in the criminal justice system to climate change.

Obama’s return to Chicago marked his reemergence in public life following a three-month vacation. His remarks echoed previous statements in which he’s hinted at focusing on community organizing efforts as a private citizen.

The free-form panel discussion featured several moments of levity from the former president, including an acknowledgement that panel members were given questions ahead of the event—a subtle reference to Trump’s complaints that Hillary Clinton had an unfair advantage during the presidential debates.

Aside from a brief statement in support of protesters against Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, Obama has avoided publicly criticizing his successor. Trump, on the other hand, has frequently lashed out at his predecessor. Most notably, in March, he accused Obama of ordering illegal surveillance of him and his associates.

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Obama Lays Out Plans in His First Post-Presidency Public Appearance

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Gerrymandering Is Headed Back to the Supreme Court

Mother Jones

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The New York Times reports that gerrymandering is headed to the Supreme Court again:

A bipartisan group of voting rights advocates says the lower house of the Wisconsin Legislature, the State Assembly, was gerrymandered by its Republican majority before the 2012 election — so artfully, in fact, that Democrats won a third fewer Assembly seats than Republicans despite prevailing in the popular vote. In November, in a 2-to-1 ruling, a panel of federal judges agreed.

….In Supreme Court cases in 1986, 2004 and 2006, justices variously called partisan gerrymanders illegitimate, seriously harmful, incompatible with democratic principles and “manipulation of the electorate.” But they have never struck one down….One participant in the 2004 decision, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, may prove the fulcrum in the court’s deliberations….“The ordered working of our Republic, and of the democratic process, depends on a sense of decorum and restraint in all branches of government, and in the citizenry itself,” he wrote then.

At a time of soaring concern over hyperpartisanship, those words could resonate. That sentence “is the most important line” in the court’s decision, said Edward B. Foley, director of the Election Law Project at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. “He’s going to look at what’s going on in North Carolina as the complete absence of that. I think that helps the plaintiffs in any of these cases.”

Today’s gerrymandering is not your grandfather’s gerrymandering. It’s a practice that’s been around for a long time, but back when it depended on humans it was necessarily limited. There were a few legislative geniuses who could wreak real havoc, and anyone could gerrymander well enough to gain a seat or two. But computers have changed the game fundamentally. Every legislature is now a supergenius at gerrymandering, which is why estimates of the number of congressional seats attributable to gerrymandering have been going up for years.

There’s a point, I think, where the Supreme Court has to recognize that quantitative changes over time have finally produced a qualitative change. Modern gerrymandering is just too good. The silver lining here is that if computers can revolutionize gerrymandering, they also hold out hope of revolutionizing the detection of gerrymandering. You can no longer say that there’s no possible standard for ruling that a particular district map is unconstitutional. In fact, there are several plausible candidates. Hopefully the court will finally recognize this.

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Gerrymandering Is Headed Back to the Supreme Court

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LAPD Adopts New Policy: De-Escalate First, Shoot Later

Mother Jones

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This is from the LA Times yesterday:

The Los Angeles Police Commission voted Tuesday to require officers to try, whenever possible, to defuse tense encounters before firing their guns — a policy shift that marks a significant milestone in the board’s attempts to curb shootings by police.

Wait. This is new? This hasn’t always been LAPD policy? Apparently not, and apparently not much of anywhere else, either:

As criticism of policing flared across the country, particularly after deadly shootings by officers, law enforcement agencies looked to de-escalation as a way to help restore public trust. Like the LAPD, other departments have emphasized the approach in training and policies.

The Seattle Police Department requires officers to attempt de-escalation strategies, such as trying to calm someone down verbally or calling a mental health unit to the scene. Santa Monica police have similar rules in place, telling officers to try to “slow down, reduce the intensity or stabilize the situation” to minimize the need to use force.

….The focus on de-escalation represents a broader shift in law enforcement, said Samuel Walker, a retired criminal justice professor and expert in police accountability. Now, he said, there’s an understanding that officers can shape how an encounter plays out. “This is absolutely the right thing to do,” he added.

This is especially important in Los Angeles:

African Americans continue to represent a disproportionate number of the people shot at by officers. Nearly a third of the people shot at last year were black — a 7% increase from 2015. Black people make up about 9% of the city’s population but 40% of homicide victims and 43% of violent crime suspects, the report noted.

The LAPD also topped a list of big-city agencies with the highest number of deadly shootings by officers. Police in Los Angeles fatally shot more people than officers in Chicago, New York, Houston and Philadelphia did, the report said. The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department came in second, with 15 deadly shootings.

Go ahead and call me naive, but I would have figured that de-escalation was standard protocol everywhere. Not always followed in practice, of course, but at least theoretically what cops are supposed to do. But apparently not. It sounds like it started to catch on after Ferguson, and is only now being adopted as official policy in a few places.

Better late than never, I suppose, but I wonder what’s stopping this from being universally adopted? What’s the downside?

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LAPD Adopts New Policy: De-Escalate First, Shoot Later

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A Federal Judge Just Ignored Jeff Sessions and Approved Baltimore’s Police Reforms

Mother Jones

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Despite the opposition of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a federal judge in Baltimore on Friday locked in place a consent decree between the city’s police force and the Department of Justice. While local officials cheered the order, which seeks to reform the troubled Baltimore Police Department after the Obama Justice Department found widespread unconstitutional and discriminatory practices, Sessions issued a blistering statement predicting that crime would rise as a result.

“I have grave concerns that some provisions of this decree will reduce the lawful powers of the police department and result in a less safe city,” Sessions said. “Make no mistake, Baltimore is facing a violent crime crisis.”

The Justice Department opened an investigation into the Baltimore Police Department in 2014 after the Baltimore Sun revealed that the city had paid out millions in more than 100 civil suits alleging police misconduct and brutality. That investigation expanded the following year after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.

Under Sessions, the Department of Justice has begun to walk back its commitment to federal oversight of police departments with discriminatory patterns or practices, a priority of the Obama administration. Earlier this week, Sessions ordered a review of all consent decrees between police departments and the Justice Department. Department lawyers asked the US district court in Baltimore to put off approving the consent decree for at least 30 days so the new administration could review it.

But in his opinion Friday, US District Judge James Bredar said the time for reviewing the agreement had passed. “The case is no longer in a phase where any party is unilaterally entitled to reconsider the terms of the settlement; the parties are bound to each other by their prior agreement,” Bredar wrote. “The time for negotiating the agreement is over. The only question now is whether the Court needs more time to consider the proposed decree. It does not.” The 227-page consent decree, which places new rules and limits on how officers can interact with the public and mandates training in de-escalation tactics, among other areas of training, will take effect immediately.

Sessions’ statement suggests he is wary of the comprehensive oversight of the city’s police department mandated by the decree. He even appeared to question the allocation of resources for what he described as a “highly paid monitor,” who will ensure the decree’s provisions are met. This puts Sessions at odds with the Baltimore Police Commissioner and the city’s mayor, both of whom are highly supportive of the consent decree and spoke out against a possible delay in implementing it. The decree “will support and, in fact, accelerate many needed reforms in the areas of training, technology, and internal accountability systems,” Commissioner Kevin Davis said in a statement Friday. Despite Sessions fears, as Mother Jones previously reported, a recent study by police reform expert Samuel Walker at the University of Nebraska in Omaha found that consent decrees are largely effective in achieving long-term reforms.

Sessions claimed the agreement had been hastily put together in the final days of the Obama administration—and indeed it was finalized shortly before President Donald Trump was inaugurated. The Justice Department had issued its final report last summer, but Baltimore officials reportedly hurried the final agreement after Trump’s election. This ultimately prevented Sessions from halting its progress.

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A Federal Judge Just Ignored Jeff Sessions and Approved Baltimore’s Police Reforms

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A coal museum in Kentucky is switching to solar power.

Catherine Flowers has been an environmental justice fighter for as long as she can remember. “I grew up an Alabama country girl,” she says, “so I was part of the environmental movement before I even knew what it was. The natural world was my world.”

In 2001, raw sewage leaked into the yards of poor residents in Lowndes County, Alabama, because they had no access to municipal sewer systems. Local government added insult to injury by threatening 37 families with eviction or arrest because they couldn’t afford septic systems. Flowers, who is from Lowndes County, fought back: She negotiated with state government, including then-Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, to end unfair enforcement policies, and she enlisted the Environmental Protection Agency’s help to fund septic systems. The effort earned her the nickname “The Erin Brockovich of Sewage.”

Flowers was continuing the long tradition of residents fighting for justice in Lowndes County, an epicenter for the civil rights movement. “My own parents had a rich legacy of fighting for civil rights, which to this day informs my work,” she says. “Even today, people share stories about my parents’ acts of kindness or help, and I feel it’s my duty to carry on their work.”

Years later, untreated and leaking sewage remains a persistent problem in much of Alabama. Flowers advocates for sanitation and environmental rights through the organization she founded, the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise Community Development Corporation (ACRE, for short). She’s working with the EPA and other federal agencies to design affordable septic systems that will one day eliminate the developing-world conditions that Flowers calls Alabama’s “dirty secret.”

Former Vice President Al Gore counts himself as a big fan of Flowers’ work, calling her “a firm advocate for the poor, who recognizes that the climate crisis disproportionately affects the least wealthy and powerful among us.” Flowers says a soon-to-be-published study, based on evidence she helped collect, suggests that tropical parasites are emerging in Alabama due to poverty, poor sanitation, and climate change. “Our residents can have a bigger voice,” she said, “if the media began reporting how climate change is affecting people living in poor rural communities in 2017.” Assignment editors, pay attention.


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.

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A coal museum in Kentucky is switching to solar power.

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