Saturday, May 09, 2015

Videos Concealed

Buried in this Politico story is one potentially radical development: "During a recent speech, Grassley also floated a pitch to require states to give those charged with a misdemeanor counsel in court." A few months ago, NPR had reported

To understand some of the distrust of police that has fueled protests in Ferguson, Mo., consider this: In 2013, the municipal court in Ferguson — a city of 21,135 people — issued 32,975 arrest warrants for nonviolent offenses, mostly driving violations.

A new report released the week after 18-year old Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson helps explain why. ArchCity Defenders, a St. Louis-area public defender group, says in itsreport that more than half the courts in St. Louis County engage in the "illegal and harmful practices" of charging high court fines and fees on nonviolent offenses like traffic violations — and then arresting people when they don't pay. The report singles out courts in three communities, including Ferguson.

No detail was given, and so goes the saying, "God is in the details." So, too, "the devil is in the details," which must provide quite an intriguing confrontation. Still, give these (alleged) offenders an attorney, the practice of filling municipal coffers with fines would end pretty quickly. Police officers don't want to spend their workweek in court; so, too, are towns uninterested in paying for counsel, nor in having to defend arrests on petty charges.  It would help deal a blow to "broken windows" policing, which can exist only because the right to counsel is limited.

So it will not happen. Momentum for reform seems focused on other elements of the system, such that

The Congressional Black Caucus has been pushing for decades to reform the criminal justice system, including doing away with laws that force mandatory minimums for certain drug offenses or requiring police department to retrain and adopt body cameras.

Last week, Paul introduced legislation with Rep. Keith Ellison, a liberal Democrat from Minnesota, that seeks to reclassify some nonviolent drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.

Again, God/the devil is in the details and a full assessment should await those details being flushed out (in what is called the "RESET" Act). However, an AP article the past week points the way toward reform that would be revolutionary if enacted.  In Delaware

A police dashcam video released Thursday shows a black suspect being kicked in the face by a white police officer who was charged this week with assault.

The video, recorded in August 2013, was released by Dover police after a federal judge ruled last week that it was no longer considered confidential. The judge's ruling came in a lawsuit filed on behalf of the suspect by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Recorded by another officer's dashboard camera, the video shows Dover Cpl. Thomas Webster IV kicking Lateef Dickerson after Dickerson gets down on his hands and knees in response to commands to get on the ground.

Dickerson, 30, was knocked unconscious and suffered a broken jaw, police said in a news release Monday after Webster was charged.

Webster, 41, was arrested Monday and placed on unpaid leave after a grand jury indicted him for second-degree assault. A previous grand jury declined to indict Webster in March 2014, and the U.S. Attorney's Office, after reviewing the case, found no violation of Dickerson's civil rights.

Yet, Officer Webster was arrested only Monday, soon after the video (below) of the incident was released. Blogging on Daily Kos, Shaun King remarks

.... it's clear that the video is the only reason new charges were filed and Webster was arrested.

What national standards need to be in place concerning law enforcement videos such that departments are not able to conceal them for years at a time? Had this video been released immediately, the officer would've likely been arrested immediately.

This is an insight from a leftist blogger. Notably- and not surprisingly- it didn't come from the likes of Rand Paul, Cory Booker, Mike Lee,or any of the other Senators (or Representatives) leading the crime reform bandwagon.  Until an idea like King's becomes mainstream, or one such as Grassley's catches the attention of his colleagues, change to the criminal justice system ought (as another saying goes) be taken with a grain of salt.

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