Saturday, May 31, 2014

Zero Tolerance, Zero Sense






There are 983 miles between the Ohio state capital of Columbus and the predominantly black city of Miami Gardens, Florida   But in one important respect, they are quite close.  In March, CNN reported

Ten-year-old Nathan Entingh doesn’t understand why he got suspended from school for three days.

According to his father, Paul Entingh, one moment the boy was “goofing off” with his friends in fifth-grade science class, and the next the teacher was taking him out of the classroom, invoking Ohio’s zero-tolerance policy.

The offense? Nathan was “making his fingers look like a gun, having the thumb up and the pointed finger sticking out,” said Entingh, describing the February 26 incident.

“He was pointing it at a friend’s head and he said ‘boom.’ The kid didn’t see it. No other kids saw it. But the teacher saw it,” he said. “It wasn’t threatening. It wasn’t hostile. It was a 10-year-old kid playing.”

The next morning Paul Entingh escorted his son Nathan to the principal’s office, where they met with Devonshire Alternative Elementary School Principal Patricia Price.

“She said if it happened again the suspension would be longer, if not permanent,” said Entingh, who also received a letter explaining the reason for Nathan’s suspension as a “level 2 look alike firearm.”

The letter, which Entingh shared with CNN, read, “Nathan put his fingers up to another student’s head, simulating a gun, and said, ‘BOOM,’ “

Price’s office referred CNN’s call to Columbus City Schools spokesman Jeff Warner.

Price “has been warning the students for some weeks,” said Warner. “We’ve had a problem at this school. The boys have gone around fake shooting and making paper guns at class. It’s inappropriate. She has sent notes to parents for the past three weeks alerting them of the problem.”

In the Miami-Dade city of Miami Gardens, a city of 109,000 people long beset by gang violence and other promiscuous street crime, police have stopped and frisked individuals at a rate six times that in New York City, with a far lower arrest rate.  Last September, the Miami-Herald (from which the photo below- store owner Saleh on the left- is taken) explained

Earl Sampson has been stopped and questioned by Miami Gardens police 258 times in four years.

He’s been searched more than 100 times. And arrested and jailed 56 times.

Despite his long rap sheet, Sampson, 28, has never been convicted of anything more serious than possession of marijuana.

Miami Gardens police have arrested Sampson 62 times for one offense: trespassing.

Almost every citation was issued at the same place: the 207 Quickstop, a convenience store on 207th Street in Miami Gardens.

But Sampson isn’t loitering. He works as a clerk at the Quickstop.

So how can he be trespassing when he works there?

It’s a question the store’s owner, Alex Saleh, 36, has been asking for more than a year as he watched Sampson, his other employees and his customers, day after day, being stopped and frisked by Miami Gardens police. Most of them, like Sampson, are poor and black.

And, like Sampson, many of them have been cited for minor infractions, sometimes as often as three times in the same day.

Saleh was so troubled by what he saw that he decided to install video cameras in his store. Not to protect himself from criminals, because he says he has never been robbed. He installed the cameras — 15 of them — he said, to protect him and his customers from police.

Since he installed the cameras in June 2012 he has collected more than two dozen videos, some of which have been obtained by the Miami Herald. Those tapes, and Sampson’s 38-page criminal history — including charges never even pursued by prosecutors — raise some troubling questions about the conduct of the city’s police officers.

The videos show, among other things, cops stopping citizens, questioning them, aggressively searching them and arresting them for trespassing when they have permission to be on the premises; officers conducting searches of Saleh’s business without search warrants or permission; using what appears to be excessive force on subjects who are clearly not resisting arrest and filing inaccurate police reports in connection with the arrests.

“There is just no justifying this kind of behavior,’’ said Chuck Drago, a former police officer and consultant on police policy and the use of force. “Nobody can justify overstepping the constitution to fight crime.”

Repeated phone messages and emails to Miami Gardens Police Chief Matthew Boyd and City Manager Cameron Benson asking for comment on this story were not returned.

Boyd did release a statement, saying that the department is committed to serving and protecting the citizens and businesses in the city.

But Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union Florida, said that’s exactly what Boyd is NOT doing.

“Where is the police chief in all this? In a police department in a city this size, this kind of behavior could not escape his attention. Doesn’t the City Commission know that they are exposing the city to either massive liability for civil rights violations? Either that, or they are going to wake up one day and find the U.S. Department of Justice has taken over its police department.’’

Saleh and his attorney, Steve Lopez, are preparing to file a federal civil rights lawsuit, contending that the police department has routinely, under the direction of the city’s top leaders, directed its officers to conduct racial profiling, illegal stops and searches and other activities to cover up illegal misconduct...

Saleh, whose store is tucked between a public park and working-class neighborhoods, contends that Miami Gardens police officers have repeatedly used racial slurs to refer to his customers and treat most of them like they are hardened criminals.

“Police line them up and tell them to put their hands against the wall. I started asking myself ‘Is this normal?’ I just kept thinking police can’t do this,’’ Saleh said.

Last year, Saleh, armed with a cache of videos, filed an internal affairs complaint about the arrests at his store. From that point, he said, police officers became even more aggressive.

One evening, shortly after he had complained a second time, a squadron of six uniformed Miami Gardens police officers marched into the store, he says. They lined up, shoulder to shoulder, their arms crossed in front of them, blocking two grocery aisles.

“Can I help you?” Saleh recalls asking. It was an entire police detail, known as the department’s Rapid Action Deployment (RAD) squad, whom he had come to know from their frequent arrest sweeps. One went to use the restroom, and five of them stood silently for a full 10 minutes. Then they all marched out.

These situations obviously are cases of overreaction, in one case by law enforcement and in the other, seemingly by school authorities. Additionally, however, they stem from the same policy. The CNN piece continued

Entingh said he never received a notice, but was aware of school authorities telling students, including Nathan, that any gun-related behavior would have serious consequences.

“I don’t know if it’s to the point it happened so much they needed to punish somebody to set an example. I don’t know, it blows my mind,” said Entingh.

Warner acknowledged there was likely no ill-intention in Nathan’s actions. “I know he (Nathan) felt it was funny and in jest, but the teacher felt it was inappropriate given the warnings that were given.”

Warner said Nathan wasn’t singled out as an example, but that his was the first incident after Price gave “her final notice last week.”

Ohio’s “zero-tolerance” rules in public schools came under attack in January when state Sen. Charleta Tavares introduced bill SB 167 to reverse or reform the original 1998 law introduced as part of SB 55.

The 1998 bill mandated schools “adopt a policy of zero tolerance for violent, disruptive, or inappropriate behavior, including excessive truancy.”

The city suffers when over-zealous legislators figure implementing a zero-tolerance policy for whatever is a lay-up.  It sounds so good, and so manly.  The Miami Herald continued

For 17 years, Saleh has owned 207 Quickstop. Saleh has come to know his customers by their first names, and even by their nicknames. He has watched some of them grow from toddlers into young men. He feels for them when loved ones die, and has celebrated with them when their babies were born.

“To me, these people are like family,’’ said Saleh, a native of Venezuela who is of Palestinian descent.

About three years ago, Saleh said police asked him to participate in what they called a “zero-tolerance” program to reduce crime. He gladly signed up, not realizing at the time how much it would impact his business and customers. Under the program, Miami Gardens police are given broad powers to stop and arrest people who appear to be loitering or trespassing at the participating business.

The idea behind the program is based on the “broken window theory,’’ a concept that has been employed by police around the country. The theory holds that a community that rids itself of petty crime, such as shoplifting, vandalism and trespassing, can eradicate more serious crime because criminals won’t have anywhere to hide.

Or maybe police can concentrate on serious crime, rather than trespassing, and improve their relationship with the community.   But then the city fathers (or mothers) couldn't tout zero-tolerance.

Moreover, it's still going on. On Thursday, Gawker's Adam Weinstein wrote

Two Miami Gardens police officers who blew the whistle to Fusion said specific groups were actively being targeted in order to make astronomical quotas. "The target to stop in Miami Gardens: he wants all black males stopped between the ages of 15 and 30 years old," the cop said of his supervisor.

He added that police would frequent "the parks, the apartment complexes in what they consider the projects… just grab people and stop them, pat them down and search them." People were written up for stops even though they were already in jail, just to make numbers. About 1,000 people in the city have been stopped and frisked, without an arrest, more than 10 times. Just over two dozen have been stopped more than 50 times.

That's commonly called a quota, and quotas are very rarely a good thing.  Stop-and-frisk, by contrast, can be constitutional and effective.  But when the fashionable "zero-tolerance" rears its ugly head, things get absurd, as in Columbus and Miami Gardens- and sometimes very ugly, as in Miami Gardens.










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