Civil Rights

Republican state senator: ‘This is an issue that unites the political spectrum because they see what’s happening and it’s wrong’

Conservative Republicans and progressive law professors don’t often agree on many issues, but one civil rights controversy brewing in the Midwest have joined these strange bedfellows together.

The Saint Louis University Legal Clinic has filed a lawsuit against the city of Ferguson alleging its police department and municipal court system is illegally extracting money out of poor, mostly black residents by locking them in crowded and highly unsanitary jails cells for minor infractions, such as unpaid traffic tickets, until they can find a way to pay off their fines.

It’s one of several suits that city and others nearby face for allegedly running so-called debtors’ prisons and for-profit policing scams.

Meanwhile, reform of the system has become a rallying cry for some conservative politicians and pundits, who see the situation as a prime example of bloated and corrupt big government.

Missouri State Senator and Republican Eric Schmitt was the architect behind a recently passed measure that aims to limit the amount of revenue a municipality may profit from traffic tickets. Currently, municipalities in Missouri can earn 30 percent of their total revenue from traffic tickets. The bill would set a new 10 percent maximum. The legislation is now under debate in the Missouri house.

Indeed Missouri lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican, have offered criticisms and reform suggestions.

Schmitt continues to speak out about the issue, and has labeled the courts as “taxation by citation.” He’s not the only Republican sounding alarm bells. Authors at conservative outlets such as Red State and National Review have recently penned articles about the Ferguson court, suggesting they act as a “debtor’s prison,” and that such courts use citizens as “Virtual ATMs.”

These lawsuits and articles have also been bolstered by the U.S. Department of Justice’s recent report, released earlier this month, which stated Ferguson’s police department and municipal court impose “unnecessary harm, overwhelmingly on African-American individuals” that “exacerbate [d] the harm of Ferguson’s unconstitutional police practices.”

For Saint Louis University law professor John Ammann, the recent developments confirm “everything we’ve been saying for years.”

“Finally now more people understand the problem,” he said in an email to The College Fix.

The scholars’ suit is one of a couple class-action lawsuits filed against Ferguson and nearby cities for allegedly running these so-called debtors’ prisons, where conditions are reportedly so unbearable that the defendants – locked up for not being able to pay fines associated with traffic tickets and other minor ordinance violations – beg and borrow from family and friends to pay their way out.

“This is money that was taken illegally from poor, and often Black defendants, and could have been used to support themselves and their families,” Ammann said, adding illegal fees are “primarily fees to recall (or cancel) warrants and fees to issue letters telling people they missed their court dates.”

“These things cost the cities nothing to do, but they charge folks for it just to make money,” he said, calling the fees “constitutional violations.”

In addition to Ferguson, SLU’s legal clinic is suing seven other municipalities in St. Louis County, according to a press release. The legal clinic has partnered with local non-profit ArchCity Defenders and the St. Louis-based Campbell Law Firm to bring forth the lawsuits, which allege the eight cities have charged citizens illegal fees in their municipal courts.

The lawsuits are still in their beginning phase as each city is in the process of hiring attorneys to represent them, Ammann said. They will soon move into the process of discovery, which allows the attorneys to ask for documents about how the courts have operated and the previous fees they have collected.

The lawsuits are calling for the municipalities to refund any illegal fees charged to citizens over the past five years. Court documents claim citizens were unlawfully jailed in deplorable conditions after non-payment of traffic tickets and were denied the right to an attorney, while also alleging “officers at the jail verbally abuse and degrade those who are being held.”

According to one portion of a lawsuit, as reported in the Los Angeles Times, some Ferguson inmates are “denied toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soap; they are subjected to the constant stench of excrement and refuse in their congested cells; they are surrounded by walls smeared with mucus and blood; they are kept in the same clothes for days and weeks without access to laundry or clean underwear; they step on top of other inmates, whose bodies cover nearly the entire uncleaned cell floor, in order to access a single shared toilet that the city does not clean; they develop untreated illnesses and infections in open wounds that spread to other inmates; they endure days and weeks without being allowed to use the moldy shower …”

The lawsuits seek monetary damages, declaration that the cities infringed on the citizens’ civil rights, and an injunction to stop what the lawsuits deem illegal practices.

An investigative expose on the Huffington Post on the practice, headlined “Fleece Force: How Police And Courts Around Ferguson Bully Residents And Collect Millions,” has gone viral and includes dozens of anecdotes from Ferguson and beyond of people who have fallen prey to the system.

The story called Republican state Sen. Schmitt “the driving force behind the proposed legislation to crack down on municipalities that use their courts to generate revenue.”

“I’m not sure I’ve worked on an issue where there is such intensity of support from the entire political spectrum, from conservatives to liberals,” Schmitt told the Post. “I think that this is an issue that unites the political spectrum because they see what’s happening and it’s wrong.”

College Fix reporter Nathan Rubbelke is a student at Saint Louis University.

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In guest lecture, professor claims America should have heeded Anita Hill; talk also chastises Bill Cosby, suggests many black targets of police shootings result of racism

Rutgers University assistant professor Brittney Cooper on Tuesday gave a guest lecture at the University of Wisconsin titled “The End of Respectability: Black Feminism and Ratchet Politics” during which she said Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has actively hurt civil rights in America.

Saying more than 90 percent of black people supported Justice Thomas when Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment in the 1980s, Cooper opined that was a big mistake.

“There’s a cautionary tale there, that if you don’t listen to the women, none of us do well,” Cooper told the audience. “Real talk. He has been the deciding vote to roll back every piece of civil rights legislation that we have had. There are material costs to our investment in patriarch.”

It was one of many points the Africana and women and gender studies professor at Rutgers told the audience during her one-hour talk to a room full of 75 students and scholars in Madison.

The talk came as the Madison community is still reeling from the police officer shooting-death of Tony Robinson, an unarmed black teenager, over the weekend. The incident has since prompted protests and chants of “no justice, no peace” on campus and City Hall as residents voice frustration.

With that, the room had a sense of sadness in the air while Cooper talked of race relations. Cooper said to the audience that “racism is completely unreasonable in its magnitude, in its severity, in its intensity, in its persistence. It’s unreasonable to kill Tony Robinson.”

Applaud broke out from the crowd as Professor Cooper seemed to make the claim that Robinson was killed due to racism, and not because he allegedly violently assaulted a police officer.

She also said it was unreasonable for the Atlanta police to kill a black man on Tuesday afternoon, and once again drew the conclusion the shooting was race-related, even though the investigation was literally hours old at the time.

“The other thing that’s problematic about the politics of respectability is that it absolves the state of any overt responsibility [to eliminate] racism,” Cooper said.

The structure of the black family was also something Professor Cooper touched on. She talked about shows like “The Cosby Show,” saying they were an example of how – if people did the right things in life, such as got married, had kids, and worked hard – they could be successful.

However, Professor Cooper suggest this wasn’t how society actually works. She cited Beyoncé as an example, arguing the music icon “got married, had a kid, grew up in a two parent home, and people are still telling her she’s wrong.”

The scholar also took this opportunity to discuss the sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby saying, “Cosby disrespects the legacy of all the black males lynched because of false accusations from white women.”

She was also critical of Cosby’s infamous comments about the shortfalls within some black communities, and claimed: “Bill Cosby has gone around the country lecturing to poor black people about our failure to uphold our end of the bargain. The idea that being respectable citizens with good families would pave the path to freedom has proved to be simply untrue. Since ‘The Cosby Show’ came on the air in 1984 and 2007 we have watched the wealth gap grow, so black people have lost wealth in that time period.”

The stereotyping of clothing worn by black males was also briefly discussed. She claimed that graduation gowns worn don’t stop bullets like they didn’t for Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Professor Cooper is scheduled to give another speech on the campus of UW-Madison soon to discuss “Making Black Lives Matter in the 21st Century.” The talks are sponsored by the Havens Center and the UW Gender and Women’s Studies Program.

College Fix reporter David Hookstead is a student at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

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They plan to put ‘our bodies and/or privilege on the line in visible, public solidarity’

Eric Garner’s dying words are comparable to Jesus Christ’s greetings to his disciples, according to a group of Catholic theologians calling for “a serious examination of both policing and racial injustice in the US.”

More than 430 theologians from Catholic universities as diverse as Marquette, DePaul, Santa Clara and Boston College; secular schools including Duke and Yale; and priests, high school teachers and other workers for religious organizations have signed the statement as of Sunday night.

It was written by Tobias Winright, a professor at Saint Louis University and former law enforcement officer, and published three weeks ago at Catholic Moral Theology, a hub for North American theologians who “want to avoid the standard ‘liberal /conservative’ divide that often characterizes contemporary conversation.”

“[T]his Advent, hope for a just peace must face the flagrant failures of a nation still bound by sin, our bondage to and complicity in racial injustice,” the statement opens.

The document criticizes “the failures of the grand jury process to indict some of the police officers involved” in the shootings of not only Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Garner in Staten Island, but also 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones in Detroit four years ago and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland last month.

“As Eric Garner’s dying words ‘I can’t breathe’ are chanted in the streets, and as people of faith, we hear the echo of Jesus’ breathing on his disciples, telling them, ‘Peace be with you,’” the statement reads.

Citing Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the statement says the “cup of endurance runs over” again for African Americans: “Our streets are filled with those exhausted by the need to explain yet again ‘why we can’t wait.’”

Just as King challenged “white moderate” Christians on civil rights , the statement reads, the “challenge to the White Christian community is as relevant today as it was over 50 years ago.”

“The time demands that we leave some mark that US Catholic theologians did not ignore what is happening in our midst – as the vast majority sadly did during the 1960s Civil Rights movement.”

The signatories pledged to take several actions, including fasting from meat on Fridays through “the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany” next month; “placing our bodies and/or privilege on the line in visible, public solidarity” with those protesting “deep-seated racism”; and pressuring their bishops to bring anti-racist teaching “to the forefront” of Catholic action.

Beyond calling for common police reforms, the signatories call for the establishment of “publicly accountable review boards” to act as a check on grand juries and local prosecutors when it comes to police misconduct. They also want a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine race in America,” based on a similar 2004 effort in North Carolina. (Other activists are making the same demand.)

“As part of this commitment, we pledge to continue listening to, praying for, and even joining in our streets with those struggling for justice through nonviolent protests and peaceful acts of civil disobedience,” the statement said.

College Fix reporter Nathan Rubbelke is a student at Saint Louis University.

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Two University of New Mexico football players and another student plan to sue the school for how it investigated sexual-assault allegations against them.

At a press conference last week, the students said the sex with their accuser was consensual, the Albuquerque Journal reported. Their lawyer, George Bleus, said the suit would focus on the university police’s “alarming level of investigation – or lack thereof.”

It’s a double whammy for the university: The Justice Department said Dec. 5 it was investigating how the University of New Mexico handles reported sexual assaults and harassment, in response to “multiple complaints.”

In April, SaQwan Edwards, Crusoe Gongbay and Central New Mexico Community College student Ryan Ruff were accused of kidnapping a female student, identified in legal papers as “CS,” from an off-campus party and sexually assaulting her.

The affidavit for Ruff’s arrest gives the accuser’s account of what occurred that night – that Edwards, Gongbay and Ruff abducted CS and coerced her into performing multiple sexual acts with them.

The district attorney’s office dismissed criminal charges in June without entirely dropping the case, KQRE News 13 reported. The players were allowed to rejoin the team in August, the Journal reported.

The lawsuit against the school concerns the initial stages of the investigation, conducted by the University of New Mexico Police Department, which led to criminal charges.

Lawyer Bleus told The College Fix in a phone interview the university police investigation was “shoddy and deficient.”

In a case that revolves around kidnapping and “criminal sexual penetration” in a vehicle, Bleus said university police made no effort to secure the vehicle and search it for physical evidence. “A total lack of forensic evidence in the vehicle,” said Bleus, “would have cleared my clients.”

The alleged victim also claims Ruff threatened her with a gun while she was in the vehicle. According to Bleus, university police made no effort to find this gun.

On these and other issues where factual disputes would have arisen, Bleus said, university police “just took the victim’s word for it.”

“Civil rights violations” will be among the claims the accused students bring against the university and its police, Bleus said, but couldn’t state exactly what claims they will file.

The university released a statement last week saying it has “received no notice” of the forthcoming lawsuit, but that it “stands by the investigation” by its police. Its police department declined to comment on its handling of the investigation.

Bleus and the accuser’s lawyer, Brad Hall, began publicly squabbling in June after Bleus showed videos to the media that he said exonerated Ruff, whom he represented at the time. Edwards and Gongbay had separate legal representation during the criminal proceedings.

“Publicly branding the victim a ‘liar’ and releasing videos of unconsented sexual activity while the investigation is still ongoing sends a strong message to other rape victims, and deter them from coming forward,” Hall wrote in a statement that called Bleus’ action “unprofessional and morally reprehensible.”

“The video clips apparently shown to the media by a criminal defense attorney are proof of drugged behavior, not consent,” Hall wrote.

Bleus shot back that Hall alleged the use of a “date rape drug” months after the accuser made her initial allegations, as listed in Ruff’s arrest warrant. The defense lawyer suggested that the accuser was only belatedly claiming memory loss when her version of events “was put to the test.”

Bleus told The Fix that he intentionally “tried his case in the media” in June. He decided to “put all his cards on the table” by releasing videos of the incident and allowing the public to come to their own conclusions.

College Fix reporter Stephen Edwards is a student at Furman University.

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Faculty and students from Hood College, as well as local residents, took part in a “March on Frederick (Maryland)” early yesterday.

Supposedly evoking “the same spirit” as the famous 1963 March on Washington, more than 1,200 trekked roughly two miles through the Maryland town.

There was just one … “minor” issue: Attendance at the march for some students was mandatory. The Frederick News-Post reports (emphasis added):

Helena Hammond-DoDoo, a senior at Hood, called the march a great concept that needed better execution. Participation was mandatory for some student groups whether people were truly interested or not, she said.

“If we have absent-minded people sitting here not really listening, what have we really done?” she said.

Many students, like freshman Katie Hippert, said they view civil rights as “freedom for everyone.”

Emilie had a more clear-cut definition: “the right for anyone to go and do whatever they please, as long as it’s lawful.”

Hammond-DoDoo said she believes equality is so broad now that it is difficult to achieve. People should drop preconceived notions and adhere to the basic principle of “treat others the way you want to be treated,” she said.

Walter Olson at Free State Notes offers:

Expecting people to join a cause march whether they are inclined to or not. Expecting them to join a flag salute and pledge of allegiance whether they are inclined to or not. Similarities/differences?

Read the full Frederick News-Post article here.

h/t to Instapundit.

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(Note: This post has been UPDATED. See below.) reports that Sunil Dutta, a professor of homeland security and criminal justice at Colorado Technical University, has faced a great deal of criticism for his recent Washington Post column titled “I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me.”

“Even though it might sound harsh and impolitic, here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you,” he wrote.

Dutta cautions against arguing, insulting, or screaming at officers, “and don’t even think of aggressively walking towards me. Most field stops are complete in minutes. How difficult is it to cooperate for that long?”

If you believe an officer is violating your rights or bullying you, Dutta says, don’t challenge him then — save that for lodging a complaint later. “Do what the officer tells you to and it will end safely for both of you.”

Dutta notes that he doesn’t defend all police, and sides with the ACLU regarding police misconduct. He also makes some popular recommendations, such as cops wearing body cameras.

But some critics are still shaking their heads:

While Dutta comes off as “reasonable,” he is demanding “unresisting submission to police without argument or even legal protest,” J.D. Tuccille writes at “Just how do you ‘refuse consent to search your car or home’ without running afoul of the no-nos Dutta warns may get you ‘shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground?'”

UPDATE: After publication of this article, Colorado Technical University contacted The College Fix to point out that the Washington Post had added an update to the byline of Dutta’s original article:

Sunil Dutta, a professor of homeland security at Colorado Tech University, has been an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department for 17 years. The views presented here are his own and do not represent the LAPD or CTU.

Read the full article here.

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