Ferguson making ‘good progress’ as St. Louis struggles

A federal judge in St. Louis says Ferguson is making “good progress” in revamping its police procedures, even as St. Louis struggles with the aftermath of a white former police officer being found not guilty of killing a black man in 2011. U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry is overseeing the federal consent decree between Ferguson and the Justice Department. The decree is the result of unconstitutional police practices by Ferguson police after the 2014 killing of Micheal Brown by a white police officer. Read more about the contrast between the two Missouri municipalities at HuffPost.

Las Vegas police strike back at Michael Bennett

police lightsNFL star Michael Bennett criticized Las Vegas police who detained him in August, accusing them of excessive force and racial profiling. Now, Las Vegas police are striking back, accusing the Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman of being a liar, a publicity hound and a potential criminal, according to Slate. Bennett’s attorney says he’s considering a lawsuit alleging that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated. Attorney John Burris says police illegally detained Bennett and used excessive force by pointing a gun at his head. Meanwhile, Las Vegas police have yet to offer an account of what happened in the incident. Bennett has received support from a number of civil rights leaders and athletes after going public with his accusations of police brutality.

St. Louis police chant ‘whose streets, our streets’ amid protests

racial justiceAt the end of the third day of protests in St. Louis following the acquittal of a former police officer accused of murdering a black man in 2011, officers were heard chanting “whose streets, our streets,” after making more arrests. Police arrested more than 80 protestors Sunday in downtown St. Louis who the mayor accused of “breaking windows and destroying property.” Some protestors say police were being unnecessarily aggressive in their tactics. A jury found former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley not guilty of charges that he murdered Anthony Lamar Smith following a police chase. Prosecutors suggested Stockley planted a gun in Smith’s vehicle because the gun had Stockley’s DNA on it, but not Smith’s. The Washington Post and Slate have more on the St. Louis protests.

ESPN host may have legal defense for Trump comments

Donald TrumpEven though the White House suggested that ESPN host Jemele Hill be fired for her comments about President Trump, the sports network may not have legal grounds for dismissing her, according to lawyers quoted by The New York Times. ESPN, which is based in Connecticut, could be affected by a state law protecting free speech beyond what the First Amendment guarantees. Hill is facing criticism for calling Trump a white supremacist on social media. ESPN released a statement saying Hill’s comments do not reflect the views of the company. The Times reports that Connecticut…has General Statute 31-51q, which reads in part that any employer, including private employers, “who subjects any employee to discipline or discharge on account of the exercise by such employee of rights guaranteed by the first amendment to the United States Constitution” is liable for damages caused “by such discipline or discharge.”

Tips to Avoid A DUI Arrest

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To be honest, there’s only one foolproof way to avoid a DUI arrest: Don’t drink and drive. However, there have been instances where people have been arrested for DUI even without a drop of alcohol in their system. If you don’t want to be arrested for DUI for any reason, here are some tips that might help.

Don’t drive if you’re drowsy or exhausted

Never get behind the wheel if you’re feeling the slightest bit sleepy or tired. When you’re in such a physical state, you are likely to have difficulty focusing on the road, and your driving will be erratic. Cops will notice this, and they will pull you over on suspicion of DUI. Then again, there is a laundry list of serious reasons why you shouldn’t drive drowsy and tired. Far too many people have died because someone fell asleep at the wheel, and a DUI arrest would be the least of your problems.

Don’t give cops any reason to stop your car

To be able to take any action against you, the police will need probable cause, which could be several things. Busted lights and turn indicators, shattered windows, and other outward signs that there is something wrong with your car could be reasons enough for cops to stop your vehicle. If you’re driving a car with an expired license plate, that would be probable cause as well. If you run a red light or commit any kind of traffic violation, you’re likely to be pulled over by officers. Never give the police any reason to stop your car.

Be polite to cops

If an officer pulls you over, don’t forget to be polite and cooperative the entire time. Do the opposite, and you will only escalate things, and you could end up being handcuffed and booked for a DUI and a number of other charges, regardless of whether or not you were actually intoxicated.

Invoke the Fifth

Let’s say that you did have one drink, and you were pulled over. The officer will ask you several questions, including some about drinking. If you’re concerned about incriminating yourself, you can always invoke your Fifth Amendment rights and refuse to answer the question. But don’t lie, because that can be used against you in court if ever you’re arrested.

Still, if you get arrested for DUI, keep calm, and remember that there are things that you must refrain from doing to improve your chances of beating the charge. Check them out in the infographic below.

Infographic provided by Law Office of Michelle Bell

Holding police accountable

police lights

By Melanie Bates

“Mere access to the courthouse doors does not by itself assure a proper functioning of the adversary process.” This profound quote by Thurgood Marshall succinctly illustrates the importance of knowing your rights when encountering the justice system, especially if you are African American. It is undisputed that African Americans are racially profiled and discriminated against consistently by law enforcement, due to implicit bias stemming from the horrendous history of this nation.

African Americans are pulled over by police, searched, and arrested at tremendously higher rates than whites. In Washington, D.C., between 2009 and 2011, more than 8 out of 10 residents arrested were African American. The inmate population at the D.C. jail is 89.1% African American, but African Americans only make up 48.3% of the city’s population! These figures are shocking and demonstrate how African Americans must always be prepared to demand equal treatment under the law. Unfortunately, I recently found myself in a situation where I would need to do so.

A few months ago, my friends and I were passengers in my friend’s vehicle, a newer model Maserati, when we were pulled over by D.C. police for no apparent reason. We were followed by this officer for at least .25 miles prior to being stopped. We were told the reason for the stop was due to a call about a woman in distress. The officer also stated that my friend failed to use his turn signal. Both of these statements appeared to be unfounded. After the officer collected my friend’s license and registration and returned to the vehicle, he stated that sometimes foxes are mistaken for a woman’s scream. He then issued a warning for failure to signal. My friends and I were outraged. The stop seemed to be an obvious act of racial profiling and a clear abuse of discretion. We were four young African Americans in a luxury vehicle, driving in an upper class neighborhood in the early morning hours. I shudder to imagine how this incident would have ended had my friend not indicated he lived in the neighborhood.

Fortunately, the District of Columbia established a mechanism for residents to hold law enforcement accountable. The agency was opened in 2001 and is called the Office of Police Complaints (OPC). The stated mission of OPC is to increase community trust in the District of Columbia police forces by providing a fair, thorough, and independent system of civilian oversight of law enforcement. Residents can file complaints against the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and D.C. Housing Authority Office of Public Safety within 90 days of an incident. Since OPC opened, it has received approximately 15,830 total contacts with potential complainants and has handled 6,968 formal complaints.

I submitted my complaint to OPC via the online form. A few weeks later, I was interviewed by an OPC investigator. My case was then referred to mediation. In mediation, the mediator guides you and the officer through a dialogue about the incident that led to the complaint with the goal of reaching a common understanding. My mediation went surprisingly well. The officer was very cordial. He provided an extensive history of his background and thought process for the stop. He said hindsight is 20/20 and described what he would have done differently. He was clearly briefed and his statements seemed a bit rehearsed, but I think he was genuinely concerned and empathetic about my frustrations as an African American woman in America. The officer’s body worn camera footage did not capture the alleged failure to signal so it was essentially his word against mine. In the end, I agreed to resolve the complaint. It was a transformative learning experience. I was able to hear directly from the officer about his perspective of the incident and he was able to identify what he could have done differently, hopefully leading him to make better choices in the future.

I strongly encourage all residents to take advantage of the services OPC has to offer. While it can be an extensive process, the results are invaluable. You will feel empowered and motivated to help others fight for their rights. We must come together and join forces to hold our government accountable to its citizens. Our collective action will effectuate movement towards a more fair and balanced justice system.

Whites killing black men more likely to be ruled ‘justifiable’

racial justiceWhen a black man is killed by a white person in America, the crime is statistically more likely to be ruled ‘justifiable,’ according to a report by The Marshall Project. The organization examined more than 400,000 homicides between 1980 and 2014, and found that in one out of six of these killings, no charges were filed. That works out to 17% of cases where a black man was killed by a non-Hispanic white civilian. Details on the study are available at The Marshall Project website.

Attorney says evidence clears Missouri man facing death penalty

UPDATE: The Washington Post reports that Missouri Governor Eric Greitens has stayed Marcellus Williams’ execution, and will appoint a board to investigate the DNA evidence that Williams’ attorneys say clears him.

Marcellus Williams is scheduled to be executed this evening in Missouri, but his attorney says Williams’ DNA is not on the murder weapon and is fighting to stop the execution. Williams’ attorney is asking the Supreme Court to halt the execution and consider the new evidence. However, prosecutors say the DNA evidence doesn’t overcome other evidence connecting Williams to the crime. A jury convicted Williams of the stabbing death of 42-year-old newspaper reporter Felicia Gayle, who was stabbed 43 times in her home in August 1998. CNN has details on Williams’ fight to stay alive.


10 ways to fight hate

racial justiceHow should someone take steps to fight hate in their own hometown? The Southern Poverty Law Center has published “Ten Ways to Fight Hate,” a list of ways that communities can peacefully challenge bias, bigotry and hate crimes. While about 6,000 hate crimes are reported to the FBI each year, many more go unreported. Learn more about how the SPLC recommends fighting hate in your community here.

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