Tag Archives: brown

Justice Department releases guidelines against profiling by feds

The Obama administration issued guidelines on Dec. 8 that restrict the ability of federal law enforcement agencies to profile on the basis of religion, national origin and other characteristics, protocols the Justice Department hopes could be a model for local departments as the nation tackles questions about the role race plays in policing.

The policy, which replaces decade-old guidelines established under the Bush administration, also will require federal agencies to provide training and to collect data on complaints.

Civil rights advocates said they welcomed the broader protections, but were disappointed that the guidance will exempt security screening in airports and border checkpoints and won’t be binding on local and state police agencies.

“It’s so loosely drafted that its exceptions risk swallowing any rule and permit some of the worst law enforcement policies and practices that have victimized and alienated American Muslim and other minority communities,” Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, said in a statement. “This guidance is not an adequate response to the crisis of racial profiling in America.”

Though the policy – five years in the making – was not drafted in response to recent high-profile cases involving the deaths of black individuals at the hands of white police officers, it’s nonetheless being released amid an ongoing national conversation about standards for police use of force, racial justice and the treatment of minorities by law enforcement.

“Particularly in light of certain recent incidents we’ve seen at the local level – and the widespread concerns about trust in the criminal justice process which so many have raised throughout the nation – it’s imperative that we take every possible action to institute strong and sound policing practices,” said Attorney General Eric Holder, referring to the August shooting by a white police officer of an unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, and the chokehold death weeks earlier of a man in New York City.

Holder, who has made the release of the guidelines a priority before leaving the Justice Department next year, called the guidelines a “major and important step forward to ensure effective policing” by federal law enforcement.

The policy extends a prohibition on routine racial profiling that the Justice Department announced in 2003 under then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. Civil rights groups have long said those rules left open too many loopholes by allowing an exemption for national security and by failing to extend the ban to characteristics beyond race and ethnicity. The new guidelines would end the carve-out on national security investigations and widen the profiling curbs to prohibit the practice on the basis of religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The rules cover federal agencies within the Justice Department, including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. They also extend to local and state officers serving on task forces alongside federal agents. Some activities of the Department of Homeland Security are covered, such as civil immigration enforcement, though border and airport security screening are exempt along with interdictions at ports of entry.

The policy was laid out in a memo that provides concrete examples of law enforcement actions that would and would not be permissible. The memo makes clear that agents may take race, ethnicity and other factors into account during investigations in limited circumstances, such as if they have information linking a person of a particular characteristic to a specific crime.

That means, for instance, that if U.S. Park Police officers are told to be on the lookout for a fleeing bank robbery suspect of a particular race and gender, they’d be permitted to use those factors in deciding which drivers to pull over on a highway.

Still, the policy’s practical impact remains to be seen, especially since local police officers are the ones primarily responsible for traffic stops, 911 calls and day-to-day interactions with the communities they patrol. Though not binding on local agencies, the Obama administration views the guidelines as a roadmap, with Holder encouraging local law enforcement officials to adopt the federal policy.

The administration would welcome “any decision that’s made by local law enforcement to apply these policies at the state and local level as well,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Monday.

Some advocacy groups for minority communities said the new guidelines didn’t go far enough, in part because they don’t cover state and local law enforcement and would still permit circumstances in which religion and national origin can be taken into account. Muslim Advocates, a national organization, noted that federal law enforcement would still be permitted to “map communities based on race, ethnicity or religion” and use that information to recruit informants.

“You can’t be against profiling in some contexts but for it in other contexts,” said Rajdeep Singh, policy director of the Sikh Coalition.

Some also complained about the airport and border exemptions for the Department of Homeland Security, which agency officials attributed to “the unique nature of border and transportation security as compared to traditional law enforcement.”

“This does not mean that officers and agents are free to profile,” the department said in a statement. “To the contrary, DHS’ existing policies make it categorically clear that profiling is prohibited,” while allowing for limited circumstances in which race, ethnicity and other characteristics could be considered.

Cronyism has consequences

Unfortunately, as we saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it’s disastrous when our leaders assign friends or financial supporters to key positions for which they’re wholly unqualified. Remember Michael D. Brown, who served as under secretary of emergency preparedness and response in George W. Bush’s administration? A Bush crony, he wasn’t even prepared to handle a traffic jam. His faltering response to Katrina amplified its devastation. Bush’s frat-boy shoutout to Brown as alligators swam the streets of New Orleans feasting on the bloated corpses of Katrina’s victims  — “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” — ensured Brown a prominent place in crony history. 

Forbes Magazine quoted Ayn Rand about cronyism in an article that blasted the more egregious examples in Barack Obama’s administration. In Atlas Shrugged, Rand warns that your society is in trouble “when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors — when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work.”

Gov. Scott Walker must have missed that passage.

Walker claims to be fiercely opposed to government spending. He’s turned down billions of federal dollars and thousands of good jobs to prove it. He’s willing to make his citizens suffer in order to avoid what he calls government dependency and waste.

Apparently, that doesn’t apply to his friends.

In this issue, we publish yet another story about Walker appointing a longtime associate — one who’s hovered close to some of his worst scandals — to head communications for the University of Wisconsin System. Jim Villa’s professional background is in real estate and in handling messy and questionable campaign shenanigans, not in higher education. The position Walker rewarded him with pays $178,000 a year and did not even exist before Villa was hired. It appears to have been created for a loyal staffer who’s kept his mouth shut through all the Walker investigations.

Walker turned down $4 billion for Medicare expansion to wean Wisconsin residents off what he called “generational dependence on government.” Apparently Walker has no such concerns for Villa’s dependency — or that of the many other cronies he’s rewarded.

Walker appointed the 27-year-old son of a lobbyist to head the Commerce Department’s division that oversees environmental and regulatory matters as well as a staff of dozens. The young man had no college degree and little management experience, but he would have been paid $81,500 if Walker had not been shamed into revoking the decision.

Walker appointed unqualified crony Ryan Murray as chief operating officer of the Wisconsin Economic Development Commission. That agency has not only failed abysmally at creating jobs, but also has lost millions of taxpayer dollars. Millions literally disappeared while Murray was in charge — more than the budget of some of the programs Walker has cut in the name of thrift. No charges have been filed and the mainstream pro-Walker media has forgotten about it, which is odd considering their editorial boards rail about nothing but deficits and government spending.

Walker’s crony list goes on and on. Last year, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit, nonpartisan government watchdog group, named Walker the sixth worst governor in the nation largely due to the audacious extent of his cronyism.

Getting rid of Walker will not end cronyism, which festers like a cancer in both parties. But it’s a virtual crime that all candidates should be held accountable for at the ballot box. 

Prop 8 opponents demand marriages resume

The California attorney general recently called on a federal appeals court to lift a stay and allow same-sex couples in the state to marry.

The stay was imposed following the August 2010 ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker, who declared Proposition 8 a violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment. Voters approved Prop 8, a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, in 2008.

For a period before that vote, same-sex couples legally married in California. Walker, in his decision, said same-sex marriages should resume.

But Prop 8 proponents, challenging the judge’s decision, won a stay of the federal court order from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In late February and early March, a flurry of briefs were filed urging the appeals court to lift the stay because a final decision in the Prop 8 case now may be more than a year away. Before the federal appeals court will rule on the constitutional questions, the California Supreme Court must take up the question of whether Prop 8 proponents have standing to defend a measure that state officials have refused to fight for in court.

In a brief filed with the appeals court March 1, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris argued, “If the stay ever was justified, it is no longer.”

Citing the Obama administration’s decision not to defend aspects of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, Harris said, “Classifications based on sexual orientation cannot survive constitutional scrutiny.”

She further argued that the defendants have not demonstrated they will be injured if the stay is lifted.

“Indeed, because the stay continues in effect a law that has been adjudged to violate the plaintiff’s due process and equal protection rights and therefore perpetuates unconstitutional discrimination, it is plaintiffs who continue to suffer substantial injury,” Harris wrote.

She concluded, “For 846 days, Proposition 8 has denied equality under law to gay and lesbian couples. Each and every one of those days, same-sex couples have been denied their right to convene loved ones and friends to celebrate marriages sanctioned and protected by California law. Each one of those days, loved ones have been lost, moments have been missed, and justice has been denied.”

At least nine other parties – American Foundation for Equal Rights, Human Rights Campaign, Courage Campaign, Equality California, National Center for Lesbian Rights, American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the city and county of San Francisco – filed briefs urging the court to lift the stay.