4/8/2012 Newsletter

Contents:

  • The Black Robe Mafia: Community Forum on Judicial Accountability
  • Community Forum on Minneapolis CRA
  • March for Immigrant and Worker Rights
  • Minneapolis CRA: Down for the Count?
  • New Law Throws Minneapolis Police Oversight in Turmoil
  • Go to Trial: Crash the Justice System

The Black Robe Mafia: How Incompetent and Corrupt Judges Destroy the Community and What You Can Do About It
Community Forum on Judicial Accountability

Tuesday, April 10 at 6:30 p.m.
All Nations Church
1515 E 23rd Street Minneapolis

The actions of judges can change the course of your life, take away your freedom, and destroy your family. Yet there is little accountability for judges who are corrupt, incompetent or unfair.
Minnesota has the highest rate of overprosecutions and overconvictions of people of color of any state in the country.
Blacks in Minnesota are nine times more likely than whites to be sentenced to prison for the same offense.
The juvenile justice system seems designed to railroad poor youth and youth of color permanently into the criminal justice system. Children are not permitted to receive the assistance of their parents before accepting deals or pleading guilty to offenses they may not even understand and that will affect them for the rest of their lives.
Custody determinations are arbitrary and are based more on the biases of particular judges than facts about the child’s best interest.

The Board of Judicial Standards rarely takes action to address judicial conduct. Complaints from community members are ignored. Lawyers who complain about judicial misconduct face retaliation.
The Bar Association, the Quie Commission, Common Cause, and other forces are working overtime at the legislature to take away the one tool the community has for dealing with bad judges­the right to choose our judges by election.
We don't have to continue to accept bully judges and a lack of accountability. Join us to learn about the issue and what you can do to help.

This forum sponsored by Judicial Election Empowerment Partnership (JEEP), a nonpartisan coalition of organizations and individuals committed to judicial accountability and justice system reform. For more information, contact Communities United Against Police Brutality at 612-874-7867 or Justice in Minnesota (JIM) at www.justiceinmn.org.


COMMUNITY FORUM ON THE MINNEAPOLIS CIVILIAN REVIEW AUTHORITY

Thursday, April 19th
5:30 pm to 7:00 pm
Minneapolis Urban League
2100 Plymouth Ave N, Minneapolis

The Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority (CRA) was formed in 1991­after the tragic police murders of elderly couple Lloyd Smalley and Lillian Weiss­to address complaints against police.

Fast forward to 2012: The Minnesota legislature just stripped away their power to issue rulings on cases. The city has hatched a secret plan to put them under the police department. With all of the attacks on the CRA, the community must ask:

  • Is the Minneapolis CRA still relevant?
  • Can the CRA actually do anything about police brutality?
  • Should the CRA still exist?

The community deserves a properly functioning CRA. Join us for a lively discussion of the past and the future of the Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority. Learn about the legislation and proposed changes and how they will affect the community. Join the conversation about ideas for revising the CRA so that it can actually serve the community.


MARCH FOR IMMIGRANT AND WORKER'S RIGHTS

International Workers Day
May 1 at 3:30 p.m.
Lake Street & Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis

Join with MIRAc and many others for the annual march for immigrant & workers rights on International Workers Day. Gather for this year’s march at 3:30 pm at Lake Street & Nicollet Ave in Minneapolis.

WE NEED YOUR HELP: We are not only sponsoring the event but are providing copwatchers to keep people secure. We need at least 12-14 people to do copwatch at the event. If you can help with copwatch, meet us on May 1 at 2:45 p.m. at Walker Church, 3100 16th Ave S, Minneapolis to carpool together to the intersection. We will do a copwatch/know your rights training at 3 p.m. at the site of the launch of the march.


MINNEAPOLIS CRA BITING THE DUST: But is it down for the count?

On Friday Governor Mark Dayton signed into law SF1981, a really terrible bill that guts community oversight of police. This law was pushed by the Minneapolis Police Federation, ever concerned about the community's access to complaint data and to the potential that a good police chief might actually discipline some of their rogue members. After we won our lawsuit opening up access to the data, they had to figure out another way to shut things down. Damned shame that Dayton helped them. In a statement quoted by the Star Tribune (see article below), Dayton said "...serious concerns have been expressed about the Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority, prompting the city to begin its own review." Too bad this bill, which essentially guts the CRA, does absolutely nothing to improve the situation. The city claims to have opposed the bill but did precious little to stop it.

The "city's review" that Dayton refers to is a secret collusion between civil rights director Velma Korbel, city attorney Susan Segal, and police chief Tim Dolan to fuse the CRA into the police department's internal affairs unit. This is being framed as a "business process improvement" but nothing could be further from reality. No members of the community or the CRA board were involved or consulted in this monstrously disrespectful proposal. In fact, the CRA board and community would have remained in the dark if we hadn't busted out the plan in early March. As a result of our exposure, Korbel was forced to make a presentation to the CRA board at their March 7th meeting, and when Korbel ran out of the room before the community got to comment, the community took over the meeting--we were not going to be ignored. See http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/news/2012/03/08/chaos-erupts-minneapolis-crainternal-affairs-merger-discussion The plan was presented again at the April 4th CRA board meeting--this time by Dolan, Segal and Korbel--and it didn't sound any better the second time around. Again, the presenters beat a fast path out of the room before the community could comment but at least some of the new CRA board members who were seated at the April 4th meeting nailed them with some tough questions.

There are several issues with the city's proposal.

Determination panels would consist of two hand-picked "community members" and two police officers selected by the chief. The so-called community members wouldn't even have a requirement to live in Minneapolis. If these community members are in any way genuine, we would anticipate a number of two-two ties on complaints. At the March meeting, Korbel stated she would be the tie-breaker--a problematic notion for several reasons. This changed at the April presentation, when Dolan stated that any two-two determinations would be forwarded to the chief for discipline. Nothing about this is in writing, of course. He also didn't say it but no doubt he would use the fact of a tie as the excuse for not disciplining.

So-called community members who hear cases would be completely separate from a seven-member "civilian policy and outreach board." Policy proposals would no longer come from those who hear cases that could inform the need for policy changes. How would these policy board members know what to recommend?

The involvement of the civil rights director and the police department representatives in the process not only dismantles community oversight, but destroys the "fire wall" between the CRA and the rest of the city. This barrier was carefully crafted in the 2001 CRA redesign to eliminate the possibility that city attorneys would milk CRA complaints for chargeable offenses. This fire wall creates safety for complainants and without it, people who file complaints face retaliation by a city that is far more interested in covering for brutal cops and avoiding litigation than getting justice for community members harmed by police.

The proposal states that the CRA office would exist "on paper only." Community members with complaints would be required to bring those complaints to the very department responsible for brutalizing them. We have significant documentation of people being retaliated against after bringing complaints to internal affairs, making the merging of CRA into internal affairs dangerous for the community. This was certainly anticipated--perhaps desired--as Korbel pointed out during her presentation that with less complaints, the remaining complaints should be processed faster.

Interestingly, during testimony at the capitol by the Federation and in Korbel's presentation to the CRA board, both advocated for the St. Paul model of civilian review. Here's the problem: the St. Paul model isn't even real civilian review. In that model, board members only examine investigations by internal affairs and offer their opinion on the quality of those investigations. Not only is this hardly community oversight, but complainants still have to report their complaints to the police. We are aware of a number of these complaints that never made it to the point of an actual investigation, having been thrown out by the cops. Further, people are often discouraged from filing complaints in the first place. The bottom line: Our community deserves much better than the ineffectual St. Paul model.

At their April meeting, the new CRA board members formed a working group to develop their own "business process improvement" proposal. We applaud the chutzpah of these new board members, who aren't afraid to jump into the fray and push for what they believe in. We'll be giving them our suggestions and supporting their efforts to snatch back control of the CRA from forces in the city and MPD who are hell-bent on destroying it.

We'll continue to follow this situation closely but encourage you to attend our community forum (see above) and the May 2 CRA board meeting at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall, Room 241.


NEW LAW THROWS MINNEAPOLIS POLICE OVERSIGHT IN TURMOIL

Article by: RANDY FURST
Star Tribune
April 6, 2012
http://www.startribune.com/politics/statelocal/146497655.html

A state law enacted over the opposition of city leaders has significantly reduced the power of the Minneapolis panel that investigates police misconduct, throwing the city's 22-year-old system of civilian police oversight into doubt.

The bill to prohibit the Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority (CRA) from issuing "findings of fact" was introduced at the request of the Minneapolis Police Federation, the politically influential police union, and won overwhelming bipartisan support in the Minnesota Senate and House. Despite appeals from Mayor R.T. Rybak's office and City Council members, Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill into law Thursday.

"I fully share the desire to assure the highest standards of police conduct," Dayton said in a statement Friday. "However, serious concerns have been expressed about the Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority, prompting the city to begin its own review. This will be an opportunity to improve the authority's procedures, so that it can better carry out its important responsibilities."

Civil rights advocates on Friday condemned the measure, saying it will gut the authority and give the public less confidence that their complaints about improper police behavior will be taken seriously.

"It is a waste of a time for anyone to file a complaint against the police," said Kenneth Brown, former chairman of the city's Civil Rights Commission. It "closes the door on an independent examination of police misconduct against citizens of color," said Ron Edwards, a civil rights activist.

"I am very disappointed," said Council Member Cam Gordon. "I think this effectively forces us to re-evaluate the Civilian Review Authority."

The new law will prohibit civilian review boards from making "a finding of fact or determination regarding a complaint against an officer" although a review board could continue to make a nonbinding recommendation to the police chief.

Currently, the authority issues such findings, but the chief decides whether to impose discipline. In December, the authority board declared it had no confidence that Police Chief Tim Dolan would impose discipline when the authority recommended it.

Before the Legislature's action, city officials were already pursuing changes in the Civilian Review Authority that would shift the investigation of complaints to a joint team of police and civilian investigators. Velma Korbel, director of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department, said that civilian oversight of police will continue, but she couldn't say Friday how the new law would affect the city's proposal to change the authority.

Michael Friedman, a former CRA chairman, said because the authority will no longer issue "findings of fact" of officer misconduct, it will be difficult to introduce CRA reports in criminal trials. Defendants have used that information in the past to undermine the credibility of officers testifying against them, he said.

While the CRA can still issue recommendations for discipline, such comments might lack specificity about the officers' conduct and a judge could be more reluctant to admit them as evidence, he said. Police chiefs have a strong incentive to overlook officers' transgressions because they could be used against the department in future cases, he said.

Supporters point to liability

But supporters of the bill say the current powers of the authority go too far in the other direction. Jim Michels, an attorney who represents police officers and who testified at the Legislature on behalf of the bill, said it will give greater protection to the city and officers in civil suits.

He said that until the bill passed, a CRA finding of fact could be introduced in a trial, even though the chief had concluded that the findings were inaccurate and failed to issue discipline. "It has the potential to bind the city to a legal position not held by the chief of police," Michels said.

Also, he said, under the labor agreement between the federation and the city, the officer can file a grievance challenging a finding of fact only if discipline is imposed. If it is not imposed, the CRA finding cannot be challenged, he said.

John Delmonico, Police Federation president, dismissed the idea that the law would kill the watchdog agency.

"There's people who are trying to portray this as ruining the Civilian Review Authority," said Delmonico. "In reality, for the past twenty years, the Civilian Review Authority has been dysfunctional and lacked any real leadership."

Rybak's spokesman, John Stiles, said the mayor, the council, and the lobbying staff worked against the bill, but were unsuccessful.

"We are constantly looking for ways to make the CRA more effective and responsive, as we are with all city departments," said Stiles. "We wish that the Legislature had chosen to work with the city in this process."


Go to Trial: Crash the Justice System

Source: NY Times
March 10, 2012
By MICHELLE ALEXANDER
Columbus, Ohio

AFTER years as a civil rights lawyer, I rarely find myself speechless. But some questions a woman I know posed during a phone conversation one recent evening gave me pause: “What would happen if we organized thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of people charged with crimes to refuse to play the game, to refuse to plea out? What if they all insisted on their Sixth Amendment right to trial? Couldn't we bring the whole system to a halt just like that?”

The woman was Susan Burton, who knows a lot about being processed through the criminal justice system.

Her odyssey began when a Los Angeles police cruiser ran over and killed her 5-year-old son. Consumed with grief and without access to therapy or antidepressant medications, Susan became addicted to crack cocaine. She lived in an impoverished black community under siege in the “war on drugs,” and it was but a matter of time before she was arrested and offered the first of many plea deals that left her behind bars for a series of drug-related offenses. Every time she was released, she found herself trapped in an under-caste, subject to legal discrimination in employment and housing.

Fifteen years after her first arrest, Susan was finally admitted to a private drug treatment facility and given a job. After she was clean she dedicated her life to making sure no other woman would suffer what she had been through. Susan now runs five safe homes for formerly incarcerated women in Los Angeles. Her organization, A New Way of Life, supplies a lifeline for women released from prison. But it does much more: it is also helping to start a movement. With groups like All of Us or None, it is organizing formerly incarcerated people and encouraging them to demand restoration of their basic civil and human rights.

I was stunned by Susan’s question about plea bargains because she ­ of all people ­ knows the risks involved in forcing prosecutors to make cases against people who have been charged with crimes. Could she be serious about organizing people, on a large scale, to refuse to plea-bargain when charged with a crime?

“Yes, I'm serious,” she flatly replied.

I launched, predictably, into a lecture about what prosecutors would do to people if they actually tried to stand up for their rights. The Bill of Rights guarantees the accused basic safeguards, including the right to be informed of charges against them, to an impartial, fair and speedy jury trial, to cross-examine witnesses and to the assistance of counsel.

But in this era of mass incarceration ­ when our nation’s prison population has quintupled in a few decades partly as a result of the war on drugs and the “get tough” movement ­ these rights are, for the overwhelming majority of people hauled into courtrooms across America, theoretical. More than 90 percent of criminal cases are never tried before a jury. Most people charged with crimes forfeit their constitutional rights and plead guilty.

“The truth is that government officials have deliberately engineered the system to assure that the jury trial system established by the Constitution is seldom used,” said Timothy Lynch, director of the criminal justice project at the libertarian Cato Institute. In other words: the system is rigged.

In the race to incarcerate, politicians champion stiff sentences for nearly all crimes, including harsh mandatory minimum sentences and three-strikes laws; the result is a dramatic power shift, from judges to prosecutors.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1978 that threatening someone with life imprisonment for a minor crime in an effort to induce him to forfeit a jury trial did not violate his Sixth Amendment right to trial. Thirteen years later, in Harmelin v. Michigan, the court ruled that life imprisonment for a first-time drug offense did not violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

No wonder, then, that most people waive their rights. Take the case of Erma Faye Stewart, a single African-American mother of two who was arrested at age 30 in a drug sweep in Hearne, Tex., in 2000. In jail, with no one to care for her two young children, she began to panic. Though she maintained her innocence, her court-appointed lawyer told her to plead guilty, since the prosecutor offered probation. Ms. Stewart spent a month in jail, and then relented to a plea. She was sentenced to 10 years’ probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine. Then her real punishment began: upon her release, Ms. Stewart was saddled with a felony record; she was destitute, barred from food stamps and evicted from public housing. Once they were homeless, Ms. Stewart’s children were taken away and placed in foster care. In the end, she lost everything even though she took the deal.

On the phone, Susan said she knew exactly what was involved in asking people who have been charged with crimes to reject plea bargains, and press for trial. “Believe me, I know. I'm asking what we can do. Can we crash the system just by exercising our rights?”

The answer is yes. The system of mass incarceration depends almost entirely on the cooperation of those it seeks to control. If everyone charged with crimes suddenly exercised his constitutional rights, there would not be enough judges, lawyers or prison cells to deal with the ensuing tsunami of litigation. Not everyone would have to join for the revolt to have an impact; as the legal scholar Angela J. Davis noted, “if the number of people exercising their trial rights suddenly doubled or tripled in some jurisdictions, it would create chaos.”

Such chaos would force mass incarceration to the top of the agenda for politicians and policy makers, leaving them only two viable options: sharply scale back the number of criminal cases filed (for drug possession, for example) or amend the Constitution (or eviscerate it by judicial “emergency” fiat). Either action would create a crisis and the system would crash--it could no longer function as it had before. Mass protest would force a public conversation that, to date, we have been content to avoid.

In telling Susan that she was right, I found myself uneasy. “As a mother myself, I don't think there’s anything I wouldn't plead guilty to if a prosecutor told me that accepting a plea was the only way to get home to my children,” I said. “I truly can't imagine risking life imprisonment, so how can I urge others to take that risk ­ even if it would send shock waves through a fundamentally immoral and unjust system?”

Susan, silent for a while, replied: “I'm not saying we should do it. I'm saying we ought to know that it’s an option. People should understand that simply exercising their rights would shake the foundations of our justice system which works only so long as we accept its terms. As you know, another brutal system of racial and social control once prevailed in this country, and it never would have ended if some people weren't willing to risk their lives. It would be nice if reasoned argument would do, but as we've seen that’s just not the case. So maybe, just maybe, if we truly want to end this system, some of us will have to risk our lives.”

Michelle Alexander is the author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”


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