Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Elusive Justice

Imagine not being charged with a crime yet receiving a letter (beginning "Greetings" and continuing

We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected to participate in a Prolific Offender Program run by the Pasco Sheriff's Office in cooperation with the Department of Justice Strategies for Policing Innovation Initiative. This program provides you with an opportunity to receive assistance from the Pasco Sheriff's Office and several community partners who will work with you to identify and overcome barriers that have hindered you in your life's journey. Ultimately, the goal of this program is to empower you to live a lawful, productive and fulfilled life.

Research indicates that barriers to successful living may involve struggles with mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, finding a job, or several other challenges many people face on a daily basis. It is possible you have struggled with some of these issues. If so, please know the Pasco Sheriff's Office is committed to support you in overcoming these challenges through this program.

You may wonder why you were enrolled in this program. You were selected as a result of an evaluation of your recent criminal behavior using an unbiased, evidence-based risk assessment designed to identify prolific offenders in our community. As a result of this designation, we will go to great efforts to encourage change in your life through enhanced support and increased accountability.

The Justice Department's Justice Strategies for Policing Innovation Initiative is a grant-based program begun in 2009 (great job, Barack!).. An investigative report in the Tampa Bay Times, which recently published the letter above, found last September that 

First the Sheriff's Office generates lists of people it considers likely to break the law, based on arrest histories, unspecified intelligence and arbitrary decisions by police analysts.

Then it sends deputies to find and interrogate anyone whose name appears, often without probable cause, a search warrant or evidence of a specific crime.

They swarm homes in the middle of the night, waking families and embarrassing people in front of their neighbors. They write tickets for missing mailbox numbers and overgrown grass, saddling residents with court dates and fines. They come again and again, making arrests for any reason they can.

The list of problems with this program is a long one, including use of police officers as enforcers of the zoning code, tying up courts for minor infractions, violation of due process, and beyond. But, hey, that's a local jurisdiction (county) in Florida perverting a program intended by the Justice Department in Washington to encourage innovation. Surely nothing untoward is currently happening in that department, now headed by former President Obama's nominee for the US Supreme Court. It was no doubt in error that The Washington Post reported n late May that lawyers for the Department had asked a federal judge

to dismiss lawsuits against former president Donald Trump, former attorney general William P. Barr and other officials for last June’s violent clearing of demonstrators from Lafayette Square by U.S. military and police.

Trump and other U.S. officials are immune from civil lawsuits over police actions taken to protect a president and to secure his movements, government lawyers said of the actions taken ahead of a photo op of Trump holding a Bible in front of the historic St. John’s Church. A crowd of more than 1,000 largely peaceful demonstrators were protesting the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis before the park was cleared.

A year to the week after Floyd’s death, Justice Department lawyers argued that the lawsuits should also be tossed because last November’s presidential election made future violations unlikely. The government said the square has been reopened, and President Biden’s administration does not share Trump’s stated hostility toward Floyd and the racial justice movement.

Evidently, we can let bygones be bygones as long as we decry "white privilege" long and hard enough.  The Post continued

The American Civil Liberties Union of D.C., Black Lives Matter, other civil liberties groups and individual protesters accuse Trump and senior officials of driving the June 1 events. Military, federal and local police forcibly cleared the square using batons, clubs, horses, pepper spray, smoke and fired projectiles 30 minutes before a citywide curfew began. Images of violence drew a national backlash against Trump’s calls for “overwhelming force” to put down those he called “THUGS” and domestic terrorists. The nation’s top military official later apologized for walking with Trump before television cameras that day.

Lawyers for the ACLU said that despite legal precedents, the government’s defense would “authorize brutality with impunity” in the heart of Washington at one of the most symbolic spaces within the seat of the federal government.

If their defense was upheld, U.S. authorities “could have used live ammunition to clear the park, and nobody would have a claim against that as an assault on their constitutional rights,” said Scott Michelman, legal director for ACLU-D.C.

Of course the authorities could have done so. As that famous civil libertarian Richard M. Nixon remarked a few years after leaving office, "Well, when the president does it … that means that it is not illegal."

That spirit still  prevails as

In response, Justice Department attorneys for current and former U.S. officials and Park Police officers in their official and individual capacities, called presidential security a “paramount” government interest.

Police acted lawfully to protect the president while he moved a block from the White House through an unscreened crowd at a time of civil unrest, Justice Department trial attorney David G. Cutler said....

U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich of Washington held nearly three hours of joint oral arguments over several motions to dismiss four overlapping lawsuits on behalf of more than 100 U.S., D.C. and Arlington County defendants. She promised rulings “in the near future.”

In questioning, Friedrich appeared open to the government’s request.

“How do I get over the clear national security concern over the president’s safety?” the judge asked the plaintiffs at one point. Earlier she asked, “It seems to me you have to clear the square before he [Trump] walks to the church. Why is that not reasonable?”

Common sense would suggest a) clearing the park was unnecessary to protect the President; b) the President's stroll was taken entirely as a photo-op and obviously served no policy purpose but only a political one; c) even as a political event, the President's act, including awkwardly holding and ostentatiously displaying a Bible outside a church whose leaders were unaware of his plans, was particularly egregious.

Lafayette Park was cleared not to prevent violence, but to provoke violence. With abuses by Pasco County Sheriff's Department, other local police agencies, and the federal Department of Justice, this country clearly needs massive demonstrations protesting overreaction by police departments and policies abusive of civil liberties. Maybe thousands, even millions of protestors should pack the streets.

Oh, yea. That was done already.... truly a rousing success.


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