Tag Archives: Ferguson

Justice Dept. urged to collect, report data on police shootings

Ninety-six organizations sent a letter on Oct. 3 pressing the Department of Justice on the need for states and law enforcement to collect and report data on fatal police shootings as part of the implementation of the Death In Custody Reporting Act.

“It is unacceptable that two years after Ferguson and the enactment of the Death In Custody Reporting Act, the federal government is not properly collecting data on fatal police shootings,” said Kanya Bennett, legislative counsel for the ACLU. “We have reached a state of crisis with our police-community relations, and solutions can only come once we have solid data.”

Bennett added, “When the Department of Justice disregards DICRA so that states do not have to be the primary entity collecting and reporting data, the federal government sends the message that it is not serious about changing the status quo in policing. These circumstances are likely to create future situations like we saw in Ferguson and other cities, unless the federal government provides real oversight and accountability of the state and local law enforcement that it provides millions of dollars to annually.”

ACLU affiliates and local organizations in these  states also sent letters to the Department of Justice calling for the need of information on deaths in police custody:

California
Connecticut
Illinois
Kentucky
Maryland
Minnesota
Missouri
North Carolina
Nebraska
New Jersey
New York
Ohio
South Dakota
Tennessee
Virginia
Wisconsin

On the Web

The coalition letter is here.

Clinton: Too much violence, too much hate, too much senseless killing

Hillary Clinton delivered the following remarks at the African Methodist Episcopal Church National Convention in Philadelphia.

Giving all praise and honor to God.

Thank you for that welcome, and for letting me be a part of this anniversary celebration for the AME Church. I want to thank Bishop Green as well as Bishop Bryant, Bishop White, Bishop Ingram, Bishop Young, Bishop McKenzie, Bishop Jackson, Dr. Richard Allen Lewis, Sr., Reverend Dr. Jeffery B. Cooper, Sr., Bishop Snorton, Reverend Vincent and the AME General Conference Choir, which I had the great pleasure of hearing from backstage.

There is no better place to mark this milestone for the AME Church than right here in Philadelphia, the city where this church was founded by a former slave 200 years ago.

Today, we join to celebrate your esteemed history, the leaders and congregants who built this community and kept it strong, and your legacy of service. You seek to meet what the Book of Micah tells us are the Lord’s requirements for each of us: “To do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

As President Obama has said, the church is the “beating heart” of the African American community. This is the place where people worship, study, grieve and rejoice without fear of persecution or mistreatment. That is a precious thing, my friends, in this world. I know that, from my experience as a lifelong Methodist, how important my own church community has been to me.

So I come here today, first and foremost, to say thank you. Thank you for being part of this historic institution, and for carrying its work forward, as Bishop Green said. I also come tonight as a mother, and a grandmother to two beautiful little children. And like so many parents and grandparents across America, I have been following the news of the past few days with horror and grief.

On Tuesday, Alton Sterling, father of five, was killed in Baton Rouge — approached by the police for selling CDs outside a convenience store. On Wednesday, Philando Castile, 32 years old, was killed outside St. Paul — pulled over by the police for a broken tail light. And last night in Dallas, during a peaceful protest related to those killings, there was a vicious, appalling attack. A sniper targeted police officers. He said he wanted to hurt white people. Twelve officers were shot, along with two civilians. Five — five — officers have died. We now know all their names: Brent Thompson, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens, and Patrick Zamarripa. And as I was on my way here today, we heard reports of another shooting yesterday morning in Tennessee.

What can one say about events like these? What can people and leaders of faith say about events like these? It’s hard, isn’t it, even to know where to start. But let’s start here — let’s take a moment to pray for all the families and the loved ones suffering today. For Alton’s grieving children. For the four-year-old girl who bravely comforted her mother while Philando died in front of them. For the families of those police officers who lived every day with the fear that something like this could happen, and will always be proud of their service and sacrifice.

We pray for those families, and for the souls of everyone we lost this week and in all weeks preceding. May they rest in God’s peace.

Now, there are many unanswered questions about each of these incidents. We will learn more in the days ahead. And when we know as much as we can, there must be a just accounting.

For now, let’s focus on what we already know — deep in our hearts. We know there is something wrong with our country. There is too much violence, too much hate, too much senseless killing, too many people dead who shouldn’t be. And we know there is clear evidence that African Americans are much more likely to be killed in police incidents than any other group of Americans.

And we know there is too little trust in too many places between police and the communities they are sworn to protect. With so little common ground, it can feel impossible to have the conversations we need to have, to begin fixing what’s broken. We owe our children better than this. We owe ourselves better than this.

No one has all the answers. We need to find them together. Indeed, that is the only way we can find them. Those are the truest things I can offer today. We must do better, together. Let’s begin with something simple but vital: listening to each other. For Scripture tells us to “incline our ears to wisdom and apply our hearts to understanding.”

The deaths of Alton and Philando are the latest in a long and painful litany of African Americans killed in police incidents — 123 so far this year alone. We know the names of other victims, too:

Tamir Rice.

Sandra Bland.

Walter Scott.

Dontre Hamilton.

Laquan McDonald.

Eric Garner.

Michael Brown.

Freddie Gray.

Brandon Tate-Brown, whose mother Tanya is here today, and who was killed not far from here a year and a half ago.

Tragically, we could go on and on, couldn’t we. The families of the lost are trying to tell us. We need to listen. People are crying out for criminal justice reform. Families are being torn apart by excessive incarceration. Young people are being threatened and humiliated by racial profiling. Children are growing up in homes shattered by prison and poverty.

They’re trying to tell us. We need to listen.

Brave police officers are working hard every day to inspire trust and confidence. As we mourn the Dallas police officers who died and pray for those wounded, let’s not forget how the Dallas Police Department in particular has earned a reputation for excellence. They’ve worked hard for years to improve policing and strengthen their bonds with the community. And they’ve gotten results.

Police officers across the country are pouring their hearts into this work, because they know how vital it is to the peace, tranquility, justice, and equality of America. They’re trying to tell us. And we need to listen.

People are crying out for relief from gun violence. We remember Reverend Clementa Pinckney, eight congregants at Mother Emanuel in Charleston — and thousands more killed every year by guns across our nation. Things have become so broken in Washington that to just try to get a vote on compromise gun safety reforms, John Lewis himself had to stage a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Gun violence is ripping apart people’s lives. They’re trying to tell us. And we need to listen.

I know that, just by saying all these things together, I may upset some people. I’m talking about criminal justice reform the day after a horrific attack on police officers. I’m talking about courageous, honorable police officers just a few days after officer-involved killings in Louisiana and Minnesota. I’m bringing up guns in a country where merely talking about comprehensive background checks and getting assault weapons off our streets gets you demonized.

But all these things can be true at once. We do need police and criminal justice reforms, to save lives and make sure all Americans are treated equally in rights and dignity. We do need to support police departments and stand up for the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect us. And we do need to reduce gun violence. We may disagree about how to do all these things, but surely we can all agree with those basic premises. Surely this week showed us how true they are.

Now, I have set forth plans for over a year to reduce excessive violence, reform our sentencing laws, support police departments that are doing things right, make it harder for the wrong people to get their hands on guns. For example, there are two important steps that I will take as president.

First, I will bring law enforcement and communities together to develop national guidelines on the use of force by police officers. We will make it clear for everyone to see when deadly force is warranted, and when it isn’t. And we will emphasize proven methods for de-escalating situations before they reach that point.

And second, let’s be honest — let’s acknowledge that implicit bias still exists across our society and even in the best police departments. We have to tackle it together, which is why in my first budget, I will commit $1 billion to find and fund the best training programs, support new research, and make this a national policing priority. Let’s learn from those police departments like Dallas that have been making progress, apply their lessons nationwide.

Now, plans like these are important. But we have to acknowledge that — on their own — they won’t be enough. On their own, our thoughts and prayers aren’t enough, either. We need to do some hard work inside ourselves, too.

Today, there are people all across America sick over what happened in Dallas, and fearful that the murders of these police officers will mean that vital questions raised by Alton’s and Philando’s deaths will go unanswered. That is a reasonable fear. Today, there are people all across America who watched what happened in Dallas last night and are thinking, no frustration with the police could ever justify this bloodshed. How did we get here? And is there more to come? That’s a reasonable fear, too..

It is up to all of us to make sure those fears don’t come true. We cannot, we must not vilify police officers. Remember what those officers were doing when they died. They were protecting a peaceful march. They were people in authority, making sure their fellow citizens had the right to protest authority. And there is nothing more vital to our democracy than that. And they died for it.

Ending the systemic racism that plagues our country — and rebuilding our communities where the police and citizens all see themselves as being on the same side — will require contributions from all of us. White Americans need to do a better job of listening when African Americans talk— talk about the seen and unseen barriers you face every day. We need to try, as best we can, to walk in one another’s shoes — to imagine what it would be like if people followed us around stores, or locked their car doors when we walked past. Or if every time our children went to play in the park, or went for a ride, or just to the store to buy iced tea and Skittles, we said a prayer — “Please, God — please, God — don’t let anything happen to my baby.”

And let’s put ourselves in the shoes of police officers, kissing their kids and spouses goodbye every day and heading off to a dangerous job we need them to do. When gunfire broke out yesterday night, and everyone ran to safety, the police officers ran the other way — into the gunfire. That’s the kind of courage our police and first responders show every single day somewhere across America. And let’s remember — let’s think about what Dallas Police Chief David Brown said this morning. He said, “Please join me in applauding these brave men and women, who do this job under great scrutiny, under great vulnerability, who literally risk their lives to protect our democracy.” He went on to say, “We don’t feel much support most days. Let’s not make today most days.”

Let’s remember that — not just today but every day.

Let’s ask ourselves, what can I do? What can I personally do to stop violence and promote justice? How can I show that your life matters to me? That I have a stake in your safety and wellbeing?

Elie Wiesel, who died last week, once clarified for us that “the opposite of love is not hate — it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death — it’s indifference.” None of us can afford to be indifferent toward each other — not now, not ever. And I’m going to keep talking about these issues with every audience. And if I’m elected, I’ll start working on this on day one — and keep at it every single day after that.

I want you to know the 24-hour news cycle moves on — I won’t. This is so important to who we are, what kind of nation we are making for our children and our grandchildren. As President Obama said yesterday, and as we all know in our hearts to be true: We are better than this. And if we push hard enough, and long enough, we can bend the arc of history toward justice. We can avoid that choice that Dr. King posed for us between chaos and community.

So yes, this is about our country. It’s also about our kids. There’s nothing more important than that. And I think it’s about our faith. We have a lot of work to do. We don’t have a moment to lose. But I would not be here tonight if I did not believe we can come together with a sense of shared purpose and belief in our shared humanity, and if I did not know we must, because truly we are stronger together. Not separated into factions or sides; not shouting over each other about who matters more or who has more cause to be upset; but together, facing these challenges together. And if we do this right and have the hard conversations we need to have, we will become even stronger — like steel tempered by fire.

Fierce debates are part of who we are — just like freedom and order, justice and security — complementary values of American life. They are not easy. They challenge us to dig deep, and constantly seek the right balance. But in the end, if we do that work, we will become a better nation. If we stand with each other now, we can build a future where no one is left out or left behind, and everyone can share in the promise of America — which is big enough for everyone, not to be reserved for a few.

But we know something — we know that work is hard, don’t we? I’m calling on this historic church, and all of our churches, to think hard about what special role you can play. Every day, you teach and show us about the Golden Rule and so much else. Why can’t we really believe in and act on it? To treat others as we would want to be treated.

In the 13th chapter of First Corinthians, St. Paul extols the virtues of faith, hope, and love for our fellow human beings. He says we need them all in this life, because of our imperfections: we “see through a glass darkly” and only “know in part.” He proclaims love the greatest virtue, necessary to keep faith and hope alive and to give us direction.

I’ve tried to say for some time now that our country needs more love and kindness. I know it’s not the kind of thing presidential candidates usually say. But we have to find ways to repair these wounds and close these divides. The great genius and salvation of the United States is our capacity to do and to be better. And we must answer the call to do that again. It’s critical to everything else we want to achieve — more jobs with rising income; good education no matter what ZIP code a child lives in; affordable college; paying back debts; health care for everyone. We must never give up on the dream of this nation.

I want to close with a favorite passage — a passage that you all know — that means a great deal to me and I’m sure to many of you, from Galatians. “Let us not grow weary in doing good” — “for in due season, we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.”

My friends, let us not grow weary. Let us plan the path forward for all of God’s children. There are lost lives to redeem, bright futures to claim. Let us go forth — go forward, Bishop — with a sense of heartfelt love and commitment. And may the memory of those we’ve lost light our way toward the future our children and grandchildren deserve.

Thank you, AME, and God bless you.

Year in Review: Uprisings confront racism, Black Lives Matter movement matures

Murders at a historically black church in the South.

Arsons at temples, mosques and chapels.

Police killings of unarmed black men and teens.

Citizens pledging allegiance to a Confederate flag.

Politicians seeking to build a wall to the south and proposing to ban people of an entire faith from entering the country.

Courts and lawmakers rolling back voting rights. 

And even the revelation that a fictional civil rights legend to many was first a racist.

In 2015, there were celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and tributes to the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, but racism overran the nation — and no one could claim it was a hidden factor of American life.

In 2015, the path to Martin Luther King’s dream was littered with barriers and Black Lives Matter proved to be more than a fleeting campaign.

In January, President Barack Obama delivered the State of the Union to the nation: “We may go at it in campaign season, but surely we can agree that the right to vote is sacred; that it’s being denied to too many and that on this 50th anniversary of the great march from Selma to Montgomery and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we can come together, Democrats and Republicans, to make voting easier for every single American.

“We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York. But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed.”

But the events of 2015 would reveal that Americans don’t agree that the right to vote is sacred or entirely understand a father who fears for his son’s safety on the streets.

Obama, in the State of the Union address, looked back to an earlier speech in which he said there is no liberal or conservative America, no black or white America, but a United States. But the United States was not united in 2015 and all the signs suggested greater division to come, as polarization in the two parties deepened.

In February, the U.S. Justice Department released its report on the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson in August 2014 and complaints of race-based bias against the police department. Shortly afterward, the president, commemorating the anniversary of the Selma march, said it would be a mistake is “to suggest that Ferguson is an isolated incident; that racism is banished. … We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true. We just need to open our eyes, and our ears, and our hearts to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us.”

Open ears heard Donald Trump officially enter the presidential race and ride to the top of the polls in his party largely on the popularity of racist rants.

Open hearts ached after a white supremacist killed nine people attending a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and the mourning was followed with a serious feud, mostly in the South, over the appropriateness of public institutions flying the Confederate flag.

Open eyes read news of each development in police killings of black men and black teenagers in Baltimore, Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland and also in Madison, where there were no charges brought against the white officer who killed 19-year-old Tony Robinson Jr., and in Milwaukee, where a white officer was fired but not charged in the shooting of Dontre Hamilton in April 2014. In fact, the latter officer was granted disability pay.

The year ended with a focus on Chicago, where a white police officer was indicted for first-degree murder more than a year after he fatally shot a black teen 16 times. Protesters marched on city hall, the courthouse, the state center and the Magnificent Mile to demand the ouster of the police chief, Cook County’s chief prosecutor and the resignation of Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel after the release of a dashcam video showing the teenager moving away from the officer as he was shot.

In mid-December, the U.S. Justice Department announced it would investigate patterns of racial disparity in the use of force by Chicago police officers. The wide-ranging probe could lead to calls for sweeping changes at one of the country’s largest police departments and elsewhere in 2016.

Or not. 

Number of police officers charged with murder or manslaughter triples in 2015

The number of U.S. police officers charged with murder or manslaughter for on-duty shootings has tripled this year — a sharp increase that at least one expert says could be the result of more video evidence.

In the past, the annual average was fewer than five officers charged. In the final weeks of 2015, that number has climbed to 15, with 10 of the cases involving video.

“If you take the cases with the video away, you are left with what we would expect to see over the past 10 years – about five cases,” said Philip Stinson, the Bowling Green State University criminologist who compiled the statistics from across the nation. “You have to wonder if there would have been charges if there wasn’t video evidence.”

The importance of video was highlighted last week with the release of footage showing a Chicago officer fatally shooting a teenager 16 times. The officer said he feared for his life from the teen, who was suspected of damaging cars using a small knife. He also had a powerful hallucinogen in his bloodstream.

“This had all the trappings of a life-threatening situation for a law-enforcement officer – PCP-laced juvenile who had been wreaking havoc on cars with a knife,” said Joseph Tacopina, a prominent New York defense attorney and former prosecutor who has represented several police officers. “Except you have the video that shows a straight-out execution.”

When he was charged with first-degree murder last week, officer Jason Van Dyke became the 15th officer in the country to face such charges in 2015.

Over the last decade, law-enforcement agencies have recorded roughly 1,000 fatal shootings each year by on-duty police. An average of fewer than five each year resulted in murder or manslaughter charges against officers, Stinson found.

The cases are often difficult to prove. Of the 47 officers charged from the beginning of 2005 through the end of last year, about 23 percent were convicted, Stinson found.

“For forever, police have owned the narrative of what happened between any encounter between a police officer and a civilian,” said David A. Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who has written extensively on police misconduct. “What video does is it takes that power of the narrative away from the police to some extent. And that shift in power of control over the narrative is incredibly significant.”

In case after case, that is exactly what has happened this year.

Stinson said Van Dyke would “never, ever” have been charged without the video. He said the same is true for Ray Tensing, the white University of Cincinnati police officer who is charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter in the July 19 death of Samuel DuBose, a black motorist whom Tensing shot to death after pulling him over for a missing front license plate.

Tensing’s attorney said the officer feared he would be dragged under the car as Dubose tried to drive away. But, Stinson said, the video from the officer’s body camera shows that his explanation “doesn’t add up.”

Other cases around the country also reveal just how important the video is.

In Marksville, Louisiana, for example, two deputy city marshals were charged with second-degree murder after authorities reviewed video from one of the officers’ body cameras, which showed a man with his hands in the air inside a vehicle when the marshals opened fire. The man was severely wounded and his 6-year-old autistic son killed.

Just how dramatically a video can shift the balance of power was apparent in North Charleston, South Carolina, when officer Michael Slager shot and killed Walter Scott, an unarmed black man as he ran away after a traffic stop.

Slager told investigators that Scott had tried to grab his gun and Taser. But after a video from a cellphone showed Slager taking careful aim at Scott as he ran away and then picking up his Taser and dropping it near Scott’s body, Slager was charged with murder.

“If not for the recording, I have no doubt that the officer in the Walter Scott case would be out on patrol today,” Harris said.

Videos have also played a key role in cases in which the victims were, in fact, armed – something that Tacopina said typically brings to a halt any thought of charging officers.

Chicago prosecutors concluded that McDonald did not pose a threat to Van Dyke, despite the small knife that he was carrying.

Likewise, prosecutors in Albuquerque, New Mexico, charged two officers with second-degree murder of a mentally ill homeless man who was holding two knives when he was shot to death. Defense attorneys have said the officers shot James Boyd out of concern for their lives, but Boyd appears to be turning away from the officers when the shots were fired.

In another case, an officer may owe her freedom to the camera that was attached to her stun gun.

Lisa Mearkle, a police officer in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, was charged with third-degree murder, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter after shooting an unarmed man twice in the back as he laid face-down in the snow. But after watching a video that showed the man’s hands repeatedly disappear under his body as Mearkle shouted at him to keep his hands where she could see them, the jury acquitted Mearkle. 

White Chicago officer charged with murder in killing of black teenager

A white Chicago police officer who shot a black teenager 16 times was charged with murder on Nov. 24, just a day before the deadline a judge set for the city to release a squad-car video of the killing that officials fear will spark unrest.

The state’s attorney’s office said in a statement that Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder in the Oct. 20, 2014, killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

City officials and community leaders have been bracing for the release of the video, fearing an outbreak of unrest and demonstrations similar to those that occurred in cities including Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, after young black men were slain by police or died in police custody. The judge ordered the dash-cam recording to be released by Wednesday after city officials had argued for months it couldn’t be made public until the conclusion of several investigations.

The Cook County state’s attorney, Anita Alvarez, defended the amount of time it took to charge Van Dyke at a news conference. Alvarez said cases involving police officers present “highly complex” legal issues and she would rather take the time to get it right than “rush to judgment.”

She said the impending release of the video prompted her to move up the announcement of the charge out of concern the footage would spark violence.

“I have absolutely no doubt that this video will tear at the hearts of Chicagoans,” Alvarez said.

However, she insisted that she made a decision “weeks ago” to charge the officer and the video’s ordered release did not influence that.

Some community leaders said there was no doubt that Alvarez only brought charges because of the order to release the video.

“This is a panicky reaction to an institutional crisis within the criminal justice system,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who said he hoped to see “massive” but peaceful demonstrations.

The city’s hurried attempts to defuse tensions also included a community meeting, official statements of outrage at the officer’s conduct and an abrupt announcement Monday night that another officer who’s been the subject of protests for months might now be fired.

Activists and journalists have long pressed for the video’s release only to be told that it had to be kept private as long as the shooting was under investigation. After the judge’s order to release it, the investigation was quickly wrapped up and a charge announced.

“You had this tape for a year and you are only talking to us now because you need our help keeping things calm,” the Rev. Corey Brooks said of Monday night’s community gathering with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Several people who have seen the video say it shows the teenager armed with a small knife and walking away from several officers. They say Van Dyke opened fire from about 15 feet and kept shooting after the teen fell to the ground. An autopsy report says McDonald was shot at least twice in his back. It also said PCP, a hallucinogenic drug, was found in the teen’s system.

Police were responding to complaints about someone breaking into cars and stealing radios.

Van Dyke was the only officer on the scene to open fire. He emptied his 9 mm pistol, shooting all 16 rounds from just feet away, Assistant State’s Attorney Bill Delaney said at Tuesday’s hearing.

He said the shooting lasted 14 to 15 seconds and that McDonald was on the ground for 13 of those seconds.

Witnesses said McDonald was moving away from the officer and never threatened him, Delaney said. Police say the teen had a knife, and Delaney said a 3-inch knife was recovered from the scene.

Van Dyke’s attorney, Dan Herbert, maintains his client feared for his life and acted lawfully and that the video about to be released doesn’t tell the whole story.

Herbert said the case needs to be tried in a courtroom and “can’t be tried in the streets, can’t be tried on social media and can’t be tried on Facebook.”

Chicago police also moved late Monday to discipline a second officer who had shot and killed an unarmed black woman in 2012 in another incident causing tensions between the department and minority communities. Superintendent Garry McCarthy recommended firing Officer Dante Servin for the shooting of 22-year-old Rekia Boyd, saying Servin showed “incredibly poor judgment.” A judge acquitted Servin of involuntary manslaughter and other charges last April, and Alvarez was accused of having not prosecuted the case properly.

Jackson said a special prosecutor should oversee the Van Dyke case instead of Alvarez’s office.

None of the city’s outreach will be able to stop protests once the video is released, said Jedidiah Brown, another of the pastors who attended the meeting with Emanuel. Emotions are running too high, he added.

The fears of unrest stem from long-standing tensions between the Chicago police and minority communities, partly due to the department’s dogged reputation for brutality, particularly involving blacks. Dozens of men, mostly African American, said they were subjected to torture at the hands of a Chicago police squad headed by former commander Jon Burge during the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s, and many spent years in prison. Burge was eventually convicted of lying about the torture and served 4½ years in prison.

Ministers who met with Emanuel said blacks in the city are upset because Van Dyke, though stripped of his police powers, has been assigned to desk duty and not fired.

The Police Department said placing an officer on desk duty after a shooting is standard procedure and that it is prohibited from doing anything more during the investigations. 

Family of man killed by Madison police officer files federal lawsuit

The family of a biracial man who was shot and killed by a Wisconsin police officer filed a federal civil rights lawsuit this week, alleging the officer’s actions were unconstitutional.

The lawsuit contends that Madison Police Officer Matt Kenny’s decision to shoot 19-year-old Tony Robinson Jr. in March violated Robinson’s equal protection rights and right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. It also argues that the city enables such misconduct by failing to adequately train, supervise and control its officers, amounting to indifference to the use of deadly force.

“Despite the cries of a grieving community, the authorities, including the City of Madison, have endorsed Defendant Kenny’s actions,” the lawsuit said. “Those actions have left a family and community irreparably harmed, and without other recourse.”

Wisconsin Professional Police Association executive director Jim Palmer is serving as Kenny’s attorney. He said in an email to The Associated Press that Kenny was exonerated following an exhaustive investigation. Prosecutors earlier this year declined to press charges against Kenny and Police Chief Mike Koval concluded Kenny didn’t violate any departmental policies.

“While the death of Tony Robinson was tragic and has helped spark a constructive dialogue in Wisconsin on the relationship between law enforcement and the people it serves, Officer Kenny’s actions were completely justified,” Palmer said.

Deputy City Attorney Patricia Lauten said she hadn’t seen the lawsuit but promised the city would mount a vigorous defense.

“The issue will go to a jury to decide,” she said. “We don’t believe the officer did anything illegal.”

Robinson’s mother, Andrea Irwin, said at a news conference that the lawsuit was her last resort to get justice for her son.

“We have sat back and tried to let the justice system work for itself but at the end of the day there has been no justice,” Irwin said, surrounded at the state Capitol by her attorneys and supporters who held a banner that said “Black Lives Matter.”

Irwin, who wore a T-shirt that said “In loving memory of #tonyrobinson,” said she did not want her son to be forgotten.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages from both Kenny and the city, comes a day after attorneys announced they had reached a $2.3 million settlement with Madison in a separate federal action that accused former Officer Stephen Heimsness of using excessive force when he shot and killed a local musician in 2012. Heimsness, like Kenny, was cleared of any wrongdoing. Lauten said Tuesday that the city agreed to the settlement to end what could be years of expensive litigation.

The Robinson family’s lawsuit called both shootings “strikingly similar” and said they demonstrate city officials don’t care about police using deadly force against unarmed citizens. Asked about the timing of the Robinson filing, Lauten said every case is decided on its own merits.

Kenny shot Robinson on March 6 in an apartment stairwell after responding to calls that Robinson had been running in traffic and assaulted two people. The officer heard sounds of a struggle in an upstairs apartment so he drew his pistol and started up, Kenny told investigators. Robinson appeared at the top of the stairs and started punching him so he fired seven rounds, Kenny said.

Another officer searched the apartment but found no one, leading investigators to conclude Robinson was talking to himself. Witnesses told investigators later that Robinson was high on mushrooms.

The shooting prompted a series of peaceful street protests.

The lawsuit alleges that Robinson never posed a threat that would justify deadly force. It also accuses Kenny of lying about the incident, saying Kenny’s story about how Robinson kept charging him even after he opened fire is implausible.

Investigators also improperly allowed him to examine the scene and review police dashcam videos before making a statement, the lawsuit maintains.

Obama ends long-running transfer of military gear to police

President Barack Obama ended long-running federal transfers of some combat-style gear to local law enforcement on May 18 in an attempt to ease tensions between police and minority communities, saying equipment made for the battlefield should not be a tool of American criminal justice.

Grenade launchers, bayonets, tracked armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft and vehicles, firearms and ammunition of .50-caliber or higher will no longer be provided to state and local police agencies by the federal government under Obama’s order.

“It can alienate and intimidate local residents and send the wrong message,” he said.

Obama made his announcement in Camden, New Jersey, where he praised efforts by the police department to improve their relationship with a poor community struggling with violence.

With police under increased scrutiny over highly publicized deaths of black suspects nationwide, Obama also unveiled the final report of a task force he created to help build confidence between police and minority communities. And he issued a broader appeal for Americans to address racial disparities and the needs of poor communities before they erupt into disorder.

He also reiterated his call for overhauling sentencing practices for nonviolent drug crimes.

“We can’t ask the police to be the ones to solve the problem when there are no able-bodied men in the community or kids are growing up without intact households,” he said.

In Camden, Obama visited the police Real-Time Tactical Operational Intelligence Center and watched live video displays of city neighborhoods being monitored by officers. He also stopped by a community center where he met with young people and local police officers.

Ahead of his Camden remarks, Obama stopped briefly in nearby Philadelphia to praise its police and fire officials for their quick response to last week’s deadly Amtrak wreck.

In addition to the prohibitions in his order, Obama also is placing a longer list of military equipment under tighter control, including wheeled armored vehicles like Humvees, manned aircraft, drones, specialized firearms, explosives, battering rams and riot batons, helmets and shields. Starting in October, police will have to get approval from their city council, mayor or some other local governing body to obtain such equipment, provide a persuasive explanation of why it is needed and have more training and data collection on its use.

Programs that transfer surplus military-style equipment from the Pentagon and other federal agencies have been around for decades, but Congress increased spending to help departments acquire the gear in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks.

The issue of police militarization rose to prominence last year after a white police officer in Ferguson fatally shot unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown, sparking protests. Critics questioned why police in full body armor with armored trucks responded to dispel demonstrators, and Obama seemed to sympathize when ordering a review of the programs that provide the equipment.

“There is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don’t want those lines blurred,” Obama said in August.

The review, published in December, showed five federal agencies spent $18 billion on programs that provided equipment, including 92,442 small arms, 44,275 night-vision devices, 5,235 Humvees, 617 mine-resistant vehicles and 616 aircraft. At the time, the White House defended the programs as proving to be useful in many cases, such as the response to the Boston Marathon bombing. Instead of repealing the programs, Obama issued an executive order that required federal agencies that run the programs to consult with law enforcement and civil rights and civil liberties organizations to recommend changes that make sure they are accountable and transparent.

The report from the 21st Century Policing task force has a long list of recommendations to improve trust in police, including encouraging more transparency about interactions with the public. The White House said 21 police agencies nationwide, including Camden and Philadelphia, have agreed to start putting out never-before released data on citizen interactions, like use of force, stops, citations and officer-involved shootings. The administration also is launching an online toolkit to encourage the use of body cameras to record police interactions. And the Justice Department is giving $163 million in grants to incentivize police departments to adopt the report’s recommendations.

Sacramento, California, Mayor Kevin Johnson, the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, praised Obama’s actions, saying they “show how serious he is about doing this now and doing this right.”

Witness to Michael Brown shooting arrested

The man who was with Michael Brown when he was shot by a Ferguson police officer last summer was charged with misdemeanor resisting arrest during a new confrontation with police.

St. Louis city prosecutors charged Dorian Johnson, 23, with resisting arrest or interfering with a lawful stop or detention, on May 7, one day after St. Louis police arrested him with two other people, including his younger brother, Demonte Johnson. The criminal complaint alleges Johnson tried to hinder his brother’s arrest “by using or threatening the use of violence, physical force or physical interference.”

Each brother’s bond was set May 7 at $1,000 cash-only.

Dorian Johnson was a prominent witness of the shooting death in August of Brown, a black, unarmed 18-year-old who was killed by white Ferguson officer Darren Wilson during a confrontation in a street. Brown’s death led to at times violent protests in Ferguson and other U.S. cities, spawning a national “Black Lives Matter” movement seeking changes in how police deal with minorities.

A St. Louis County grand jury and the U.S. Justice Department declined to charge Wilson, who later resigned. But the Justice Department later released a scathing report that cited racial bias and racial profiling in Ferguson policing and in a profit-driven municipal court system that frequently targeted blacks.

Dorian Johnson’s arrest came exactly a week after he sued Ferguson, Wilson and the city’s former police chief.

One of Johnson’s attorneys, James Williams, declined to comment on the May 7 charge, saying he didn’t yet have any details.

“Dorian has this target on his back,” his grandmother, Brenda Johnson, told KMOV.com.

She said that she thinks police have been on the lookout for Dorian because he spoke out about what happened the day Mike Brown was shot.

Dorian Johnson claims he was just trying to help his brothers during the May 6 skirmish with police.

“I have injuries on my body, Dorian Johnson told KMOV.com. “I have injuries and scars from 9when the officer) slammed my face down on the concrete. (They) hit me on the cruiser, put me in the cruiser, raised up all the windows, and put it on high heat.”

In a probable-cause statement attached to the criminal complaint against Dorian Johnson, a law enforcer, identified only as “E.B.,” wrote police encountered Johnson while fielding a report of a possible disturbance involving a group possibly armed with guns or knives.

E.B. wrote that he noticed a person identified only as “O.M.” with a bulging waistband that he suspected might be a concealed gun and moved in to investigate. The officer wrote that Demonte Johnson then grabbed him by an arm and told him to release the man, saying that the officer “was not going to take O.M. to jail.”

As another officer grabbed Demonte, Johnson to pull him away, Dorian Johnson “ran toward” that officer and demanded that his brother be released, the probable-cause statement read.

“Dorian Johnson further stated that the police could not arrest any of them,” the affidavit continued, adding that Dorian Johnson “then struggled with me and tried to pry himself away from me.”

“I had to physically struggle with Dorian Johnson until I was able take him to the ground and get handcuffs on him,” the affidavit read.

Demonte Johnson, 21, was charged May 7 with resisting arrest and with a misdemeanor account of assault on a law enforcement officer, according to online court records. The records did not say whether he had an attorney who could comment on the charges.

Dane County Executive Parisi statement on death of Tony Robinson

My prayers are with Tony Robinson’s family.

As we mourn the loss of a young man’s life and recognize the inequities that exist within our community and our nation — disparities in employment, education, and the criminal justice system, we must vigorously focus our efforts to insure that every resident of our community has access to all our community has to offer- the opportunity to succeed. 

Every member of our community has a role to play in the solution, and as we move forward, we must do so with renewed vigor on behalf of all young people in our community who want and deserve a fair chance to succeed and thrive.”

Justice Department: Extensive discrimination by Ferguson police

A Justice Department investigation found sweeping patterns of racial bias within the Ferguson, Missouri, police department — with officers routinely discriminating against blacks by using excessive force, issuing petty citations and making baseless traffic stops, according to law enforcement officials familiar with the report.

The report marks the culmination of a months-long investigation into a police department that federal officials have described as troubled and that commanded national attention after one of its officers shot and killed an unarmed black man, 18-year-old Michael Brown, last summer.

It chronicles discriminatory practices across the city’s criminal justice system, detailing problems from initial encounters with patrol officers to treatment in the municipal court and jail.

The full report could serve as a roadmap for significant changes by the department, if city officials accept its findings.

The Justice Department investigation found that black motorists from 2012 to 2014 were more than twice as likely to be stopped and searched as whites, even though they were less likely to be found carrying contraband, according to a summary of the findings.

The review also found that blacks were 68 percent less likely than others to have their cases dismissed by a municipal court judge. And from April to September of last year, 95 percent of people kept at the city jail for more than two days were black, it found. Of the cases in which the police department documented the use of force, 88 percent involved blacks.

Overall, African Americans make up 67 percent of Ferguson’s population.

The Justice Department began the civil rights investigation following the August 2014 killing of Brown, which set off weeks of protests. A separate report to be issued soon is expected to clear the officer, Darren Wilson, of federal civil rights charges.

The report provides direct evidence of racial bias among police officers and court workers, and details a criminal justice system that through the issuance of petty citations for infractions such as walking in the middle of the street, prioritizes generating revenue from fines over public safety.

The practice hits poor people especially hard, sometimes leading to jail time when they can’t pay, the report says, and has contributed to a cynicism about the police on the part of citizens.

Among the report’s findings was a racially tinged 2008 message in a municipal email account stating that President Barack Obama would not be president for very long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.”

The department has conducted roughly 20 broad civil rights investigations of police departments during the six-year tenure of Attorney General Eric Holder, including Cleveland, Newark, New Jersey and Albuquerque. Most such investigations end with police departments agreeing to change their practices.

Justice Department officials were in St. Louis on March 3 to brief Ferguson leaders about the findings, a city official said.

Ben Crump, the attorney for the Brown family, said that if the reports about the findings are true, they “confirm what Michael Brown’s family has believed all along, and that is that the tragic killing of an unarmed 18-year-old black teenager was part of a systemic pattern of inappropriate policing of African-American citizens in the Ferguson community.”