Archive for the ‘Law and Justice’ Category

The heroism of Chelsea Manning

May 19, 2017

Chelsea Manning was recently released from Fort Leavenworth military prison after serving seven years of a 35-year sentence for revealing classified information on U.S. war crimes in Iraq and elsewhere.

Glenn Greenwald wrote a fine tribute to her in The Intercept.

In sum, though Manning was largely scorned and rejected in most mainstream Washington circles, she did everything one wants a whistleblower to do: tried to ensure that the public learns of concealed corruption and criminality, with the intent of fostering debate and empowering the citizenry with knowledge that should never have been concealed from them.

Chelsea Manning

And she did it all, knowing that she was risking prison to do so, but followed the dictates of her conscience rather than her self-interest.

But as courageous as that original whistle-blowing was, Manning’s heroism has only multiplied since then, become more multifaceted and consequential. As a result, she has inspired countless people around the world.

At this point, one could almost say that her 2010 leaking to WikiLeaks has faded into the background when assessing her true impact as a human being.

Her bravery and sense of conviction wasn’t a one-time outburst: It was the sustained basis for her last seven years of imprisonment that she somehow filled with purpose, dignity, and inspiration.

The overarching fact of Manning’s imprisonment was its enduring harshness. In 2010, during the first months of her detention in a U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia, I began hearing reports from her handful of approved visitors about the vindictive and abusive conditions of her confinement: prolonged solitary confinement, being kept in her cell alone for virtually the entire day, gratuitous, ubiquitous surveillance, and worse.

When I called the brig to investigate these claims, I was startled when a brig official confirmed to me, in the most blasé tones, their accuracy.

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The perilous precedent of impeachment

May 18, 2017

With the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel, we may get answers to the nature of the Trump-Russia relationship based on facts rather than evidence-free leaks based on anonymous sources with their own agendas.

Robert Mueller

Mueller by all accounts is an honest person and a dogged prosecutor, not committed to either political party.   He has a difficult dual mission.

One is to determine the precise natural of the relationship between Donald Trump and his minions with Russia and Russians.

The other is to determine whether any laws have been broken. These are related, but separate.

Conversations between Trump supporters and Russian diplomats are not, in and of themselves, illegal, but we the American people have an interest in knowing what they are.

Conversations between Donald Trump and former FBI Director James Comey about the investigation may have amounted to an obstruction of justice on the part of Trump, which would be an impeachable offense, but this does not throw any light on the alleged Trump-Russia relationship.

I oppose President Trump, but I am not willing to see him removed from office by any means necessary.

For one thing, his replacement will be Vice President Mike Pence, a person of greater maturity and emotional balance than Trump, but just as committed to war and Wall Street.

For another, any justification for removing Trump from office will be a precedent for getting rid of any future radical reformer who threatens the status quo.

The secret agencies of government, the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties and the Washington press corps would be out to get a Bernie Sanders-type reformer even more than they are out to get Trump.

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The FBI never was chartered by law

May 16, 2017

I hadn’t known until today that the Federal Bureau of Investigation never was established by law.

President Theodore Roosevelt wanted to create a Bureau of Investigation within the Department of Justice, but Congress refused to act.  So Roosevelt just went ahead and established it by executive order.

So would President Donald Trump not only have the authority to fire the FBI director, but to abolish the FBI itself?

I would guess not, because Congress has appropriated money to fund the FBI and the President doesn’t have a line item budget veto.   And, as a practical matter, the FBI is too powerful and entrenched to be gotten rid of, even though its legal basis is shaky.

I learned about the FBI’s origins by reading an article by Mark Ames, editor of two on-line journals, Pando Daily and The eXiled.   In the article, Ames went on to review the FBI’s history of mass surveillance, suppression of radicals and political blackmail—well worth remembering.

There was a bill in the late 1970s to define—and thereby limit—the FBI’s powers, but it died in Congress.

LINK

The FBI Has No Legal Charter, But Lots of Kompromat by Mark Ames for The eXiled.

The real reason James Comey was fired

May 11, 2017

∞∞∞

The official reason given by President Donald Trump for the firing of FBI Director James Comey was his mishandling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information—a reason which, as I wrote in the previous post, was justified.

But most people take his real motive to be that fact that Comey is pressing forward with his investigation of ties of Trump and his supporters with Russia and Russians.

You can see this in Trump’s firing letter.  He wrote: While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless …

What would come logically after “I nevertheless…”?   Probably something like this: I nevertheless am under a cloud because of the FBI’s ongoing investigation of possible connections of my people with Russia.

Of course he wouldn’t and didn’t write this, but why mention the investigation at all if that wasn’t what was on his mind?

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Why James Comey should have been fired

May 10, 2017

The stated reason for President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey is that Comey bungled the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton.

This is true.  Comey did bungle the investigation.

Comey’s FBI also is investigating possible Trump-Russia ties, and his firing smacks of President Nixon’s Saturday night massacre during the Watergate investigation.

James Comey

But the thing is, Comey is just as unfit as Trump says he is.

Trump said he acted on the recommendations of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  Rosenstein said Comey acted improperly last July by announcing the FBI had decided Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be prosecuted for having classified information on her private e-mail server.  Sessions said he agreed with Rosenstein.

Comey’s troubles began last June when ex-President Bill Clinton and Attorney-General Loretta Lynch spent an hour in conversation at an Arizona airport.   They were suspected of discussing the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, especially when Hillary Clinton, a short time later, said that, if elected, she would reappoint Lynch.

Soon thereafter Lynch said she would abide by the recommendations of the FBI and federal prosecutors, no matter what they were.   Comey evidently took this as a green light to announce the results of his investigation, which was a departure from standard FBI practice.

His worse blunder came shortly before the election when he reported he had discovered new Clinton e-mails on the server of her aide, Huma Abedin.  Although he later said this didn’t amount to anything, the negative publicity may have been a deciding factor in the election.

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The best way to sift the Trump-Russia allegations

March 7, 2017

The best way to deal with the suspicions and charges that the Trump election campaign colluded with Russians is to appoint a bi-partisan commission of respected individuals to investigate.

This commission should have full authority to read secret transcripts collected by U.S. intelligence agencies and any other classified information relevant to the case, and authority to publish such information as can be done with jeopardizing sources and agents.

It should have full authority to subpoena witnesses and require  testimony under penalty of perjury.

It is a federal crime for a foreign national to contribute to a candidate in a U.S. election, or for anyone to solicit or accept such a contribution.   This would most definitely include the contribution of secret intelligence information.

If a Presidential candidate knowingly accept foreign help, I would say it is an impeachable offense.

The charter of the bi-partisan commission should be to determine whether there is any evidence that the Trump administration violated federal election law.

Evidence would include transcripts of communications of Russian agents and testimony by Americans regarding secret meetings of Trump operatives and Russian agents, or documents and records in the Trump campaign acknowledging Russian help, or testimony of Trump campaign operatives.

Routine contacts between Trump supporters and Russian diplomats or business people, especially if in public or in front of witnesses, would not be evidence of violation of election laws.

Even past business relationships of Trump operatives or even Trump himself with corrupt Russian oligarchs or business operations would not be such evidence—although very interesting to know.

I think it important that such an investigation be carried out by respected individuals in a bipartisan commission, and not by a special prosecutor who would consider himself or herself a failure if they didn’t find grounds to indict somebody.

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Black parents hold ‘the conversation’

February 23, 2017

Hat tip to kottke.org.

I think this video speaks for itself.

Manning to be freed—in exchange for Assange?

January 17, 2017

Five days ago Julian Assange stated on Twitter that he would agree to be extradited to the United States if President Obama freed Chelsea Manning.   Today President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence, effective May 17.

Manning is the former U.S. Army Pvt. Bradley Manning who provided information to Wikileaks about military coverups.   He has served nearly seven years of a 35-year sentence, the longest term any American has served for leaking information to the public.

Among the information that he revealed were reports that civilian casualties in Iraq were higher than reported.  He also gave Wikileaks the video footage used below..

I don’t have any way of knowing whether President Obama’s decision to commute Manning’s sentence was done out of humanitarian feeling, or whether it was result of negotiations with Assange.

If it was Obama’s unconditional decision, he deserves credit for doing the right thing.

If it is part of an agreement to trade Assange for Manning, then all I can say is that Assange is a brave and honorable man, and Obama is not.

We’ll see what happens in May.  If Assange does surrender, we’ll see what President Trump does.

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Why the Electoral College result should stand

December 15, 2016

 The original idea of the Electoral College (Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution) was that Americans would not choose a President ourselves, but instead choose the leading citizens from our communities, and delegate the decision to them.

In that way, we supposedly would avoid self-seeking politicians and only choose individuals devoted to the public good.

This idea lasted through precisely one administration, that of George Washington.  From then on we had political parties and electors pledged to particular candidates—precisely what the Founders hoped to avoid.   This reality was reflected in the Twelfth Amendment.

Now certain opponents of Donald Trump, who claim to be followers of Alexander Hamilton, say that electors should ignore their pledges and exercise independent judgment.  This is a terrible idea.

I would be perfectly happy to delegate decision-making to someone I considered to be wise and good, but that is not what I did when I voted in the recent presidential election.   Most American voters don’t know the names of the electors they voted for.  I don’t.  If you do, you’re a rare exception.

I don’t think most Americans who voted for Donald Trump (or, for that matter, for Hillary Clinton) would be willing to see their decisions over-ridden by people they’d never heard of.   This is very different from the original idea of the Electoral College.  I think that Alexander Hamilton and the other Founders would think so, too.

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Rev. William J. Barber II on peace and justice

October 19, 2016

The Rev. William J. Barber II is pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C., president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and leader of a non-violent social justice movement called Historic Thousands on Jones Street.

The video above is his response on July 8 to the killings of black men by police in Baton Rouge and in St. Anthony,, MN, within a 24-hour period, followed by the killings of five police officers in Dallas.   The video below is from his address to the Democratic National Convention on July 28.

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Black voters matter

October 11, 2016

blackamericansfatalpoliceshootings1132x600-oba-7

Fatal police shootings of black people are fewer in states where black voter registration is higher.

Statistically, the higher the percentage of an eligible black voters are actually registered to vote in any state, the less likely it is that a black person in that state will be shot and killed by police.

LINK

An Intriguing Link Between Police Shootings and Black Voter Registration by Maimuna Majumder for Wired.

How the power of money was unleashed

October 8, 2016

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In a way, the enormous amounts of money that are spent in U.S. elections reflects the democratic nature of American institutions.

If the political process were controlled by a few party leaders, as during the Gilded Age of the late 19th century and other times in the past, it wouldn’t cost so much to control the process.

Many reforms were enacted in the 20th century to limit corporate power and make the government more democratic.  The Tillman Act of 1907 forbid corporations to contribute to political candidates or elections.  The Constitution was amended in 1913 so that Senators would be elected by the public instead of chosen by state legislators.

Over time limits were placed on campaign spending, and the Democratic and Republican parties began to nominate their candidates through primary elections rather than party conventions.

These reforms made possible the legislation of the Progressive era and the New Deal, which subjected corporations to unprecedentedly strict regulation and rich people to taxation at top rates reaching 90 percent, while providing Social Security, unemployment insurance and extensive public works.

Business leaders made a concerted and successful effort to turn things around.  They altered the climate of opinion, both among educated people and the public.   They supported candidates committed not only to the interests of particular businesses, but support of unrestricted capitalism in general.

And they worked through the courts, just as liberals had, to change the limits of what was legally permissible.

What follows is a (very incomplete) list of milestones in their progress, with an emphasis on the legal milestones.

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Do black people have Second Amendment rights?

September 28, 2016

Bruce Webb posted an article on the Angry Bear web site asking whether Second Amendment rights apply to black people.

Supporters of Open Carry and ‘Must Issue’ Concealed Carry insist that no one should be afraid of someone exercising his or her 2nd Amendment Rights whether that be in some public park or the aisles of your local Wal-Mart.

Yet right along side that we have a doctrine that everyone should comply with every request made by a Peace Officer without question and without hesitation and if refusal to comply ends up with the application of force up to and including deadly force, then a sufficient defense is “I feared for my life”.

[snip]  North Carolina is an Open Carry State.  Anyone has the right to carry a handgun in or out of a holster as long as they are not actively threatening someone.  Which you think at a minimum would mean pointing the weapon at someone with some apparent hostile intent.

But instead a man who was NOT the subject of the particular police search action stepped out of his car while visibly armed and after a disputed set of events was gunned down.  Because police “feared for their lives”.

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U.S. to end contracts with private prisons

August 19, 2016

The U.S. Justice Department yesterday ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons to end or “substantially reduce” all of its contracts with private prison operators.

Abuses in privately-operated prisons are widespread because the economic incentive is to spend as little as possible on salaries, food, upkeep and other expenses.

This decision by the Obama administration is good news, despite the ambiguity of the phrase “substantially reduce.”   Unfortunately most private prison operations are for state governments.

LINKS

Justice Department says it will end use of private prisons by Mark Zapotosky and Chico Harlan for the Washington Post.

Federal Officials Ignored Years of Internal Warnings About Deaths at Private Prisons by Seth Freed Wessler for The Nation.

My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard by Shane Bauer for Mother Jones.

The Justice Department Is Done With Private Prisons | Will ICE Drop Them Too? by Alice Speri for The Intercept.

Is it 1968 all over again?

July 9, 2016

I’m old enough to remember the late 1960s, when it seemed like almost every time I turned on the TV, there was a new report of rioting and burning by black people in an American city.

Almost every one was touched off by a real or imaginary report of police abuse of a black person.

The divisions in American society today are bad enough, but, believe me, they were nothing compared to the division back then.

Could we return to that era?  Eric Hoffer in The True Believer wrote that violent revolutions happen when downtrodden people are offered hope, and then that hope is taken away from them.  I think this feeling exists today among all kinds of people, not just racial minorities.

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For what it’s worth, the homicide rate is falling

July 9, 2016

homicide_51yr

For what it’s worth, the homicide rate in the United States has been falling for the past 25 years.  Specifically the number of killings of police officers has been falling, too.

Evidently there was an increase in the murder rate in certain American cities last year and early this year, but it’s too early to tell if this will reverse the long-range trend.

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How Trump used Judge Curiel as a red herring

June 13, 2016

Donald Trump’s Trump University scam was despicable.  He scammed 7,611 people who trusted in his same into giving him thousands of dollars for something he knew was worthless.

He’s being sued on behalf of students, and his attack on the impartiality of Judge Gonzalo Curiel, one of the judges in the case, based on Curiel’s Mexican ancestry, has created an uproar among both liberals and conservatives.

Actually the knee-jerk reaction to Trump’s attack on Curiel serves Trump’s purpose, because it shifts attention away from the major issue, which is the Trump University scam.

Donald Trump in 2005

Donald Trump in 2005

Trump University, which operated from 2005 to 2010, recruited students by offering free 90-minute real estate seminars in 700 cities from 2005 to 2010.  The purpose of the seminars was to sell them on signing up for $1,495 three-day seminars.  From there the next step was to sign up students for a $9,995 “silver” or $34,995 “gold” program.

Even after that, students were asked to spend more for books, additional courses and other materials.

Donald Trump said students who enrolled at Trump University would learn the secrets of getting rich in real estate from hand-picked instructors.

None of these things were true.  The instructors had no qualifications or expertise in real estate.  Trump himself barely knew them.  They were chosen for their ability to sell students on signing up for more expensive courses.

Their employee manual, which has been leaked to The Atlantic and other publications, gave extensive instructions on how to do that.  Students were encouraged to dip into retirement funds, and told how to apply for increases in the limits on their credit cards.

At least one was a high school student.  Many were veterans, retired police officers and teachers.  In return, they got little more than motivational speeches.

Trump claimed that Trump University received more than 10,000 testimonials from students—which means a lot of them must either be fake or be signed by attendees at the free seminars.

What he doesn’t have is a testimonial from anyone who attended Trump University, succeeded in real estate and attributed it to Trump U’s instruction.

Steven Brill reported that legal records show that Trump University took in more than $40 million, of which Trump himself received $5 million.

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Election fraud charged in Democratic primaries

May 13, 2016

lawsuit-book-and-paperAn organization called Election Justice USA has filed a lawsuit charging election fraud in New York state’s primary election.  A reporter for Counterpunch obtained the complaint and the exhibits.  Here is what was charged:

According to Stewart McCauley, who helped collect the data and analyzed it by affidavit for Exhibit I, EJUSA has found that “[t]here are four broad methodologies that were used” to disenfranchise New York voters, the first two of which were also present in Arizona.

“Two by hackers (possibly), and two that had to have been carried out by BoE [Board of Elections] officials and/or employees:

1) Logging in (most likely after identifying the voter’s candidate of choice) to the BoE database remotely and tampering with registration records, including back-dating of changes

2) Crudely forged hand signatures to alter party affiliation via paper forms

3) BoE “nuclear” approach: actively purging eligible voters through a variety of methods, including intentional bouncing of maintenance letters (but note that the majority of our respondents/plaintiffs could not legally be removed as it has been less than five years since they registered)

4) BoE officials and employees actively neglecting to register new voters.”

Source: Counterpunch.

The whole U.S. civil order rests on public acceptance of the outcomes of elections as legitimate.   It is possible for a reform candidate to mobilize people power to overcome the built-in advantages that the rich and powerful have in the electoral process.  But that is only true if citizens can register to vote and the votes are counted.

The right to vote, and have your right counted, is the only way you have of ensuring your other rights are respected—short of revolution.

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Should Apple decrypt the i-Phone for the FBI?

March 3, 2016

The FBI demands Apple Computer to figure out a way to read encrypted files on an i-Phone owned by an alleged terrorist.  Apple Computer’s management says there is no way to do this without opening up all i-Phone files to the FBI.  The case is likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Suppose the FBI wins its case.  Suppose a year later the national police in Russia, China or Iran, arrest an elleged terrrorist and demand that Appple create a similar tool for them?  Do the Russian, Chinese or Iranian security services automatically get access to all i-Phones?

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What is an unjust law?

February 22, 2016

An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself.

Source: Martin Luther King Jr.

Could the Supreme Court be un-packed?

February 15, 2016

The death of Justice Antonin Scalia has left the U.S. Supreme Court with an even number of justices.  If they divide four-four on any case, the decision of the lower court stands, but it does not become settled law.

 As things stand now, a divided court would not be the worst thing from the standpoint of liberals.  They mostly like existing precedents and mostly oppose have them overturned.

My friend Bill Elwell wonders what would happen if President Obama or President Hillary Clinton simply refused to nominate someone to fill a Supreme Court vacancy.

Franklin D. Roosevelt failed to pack the Supreme Court with nominees of his liking.  Bill asks: Would this be un-packing the Court?.

I don’t see how this would be any different, or any more obstructive, than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying that Republicans will automatically reject any Obama nominee, no matter who the person is.

Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution grants the President the power to appoint Supreme Court justices, with the advice and consent of the Senate, but I find no wording requiring him to do so in a timely manner.

President Obama has already said that he intends to nominate someone to fill Scalia’s vacancy, but does he have a responsibility to nominate a second person or a third if the Senate rejects his first nominee?  Of course this is a moot question if the Republicans are going to reject any nominee.

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The police’s troublesome 1 percent

February 4, 2016

Out of 12,000 Chicago police, 124 are responsible for one-third police of misconduct lawsuits, costing the city $34 million.  Just five police officers were subject of a combined 16 lawsuits, costing the city $1.5 million.

That’s not typical. Of 1,100 lawsuits settled since 2009, only 5 percent paid plaintiffs more than $100,000.

moskosinthehoodPeter Moskos, a former Baltimore street policeman who now teaches criminal justice at NYU, quoted these statistics, which are from a pay-wallled Chicago Tribune article, on his blog.

I’ve been struck by how many of the shooters in high-profile police killings of unarmed civilians have long records of misconduct, which nobody cared about.

My friend Bill Hickok would say this an example of instance of the “power law”, which, when applied to human affairs, indicates that the vast majority of the accomplishments and failures of any group of people is due to a small fraction of people within the group.

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Saudi be-headings and Iranian hangings

January 13, 2016

The fundamental fallacy which is committed by almost everyone is this: “A and B hate each other, therefore one is good and the other is bad.”         ==Bertrand Russell, in 1956

Execution in Saudi Arabia

Execution in Saudi Arabia

One thing to remember about the escalating Saudi-Iran conflict is that the two sides are more alike than they are different.   Both are countries in which you can be executed for expressing forbidden political or religious opinions.

The Iranian government has denounced Saudi Arabia for its execution of the dissident Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, along with 46 other opponents of the regime.  But the Iranian government in fact executes more people in any given year than the Saudi government.

Execution in Iran

Execution in Iran

The world death penalty leader is China, followed by Iran as No. 2 and Saudi Arabia as No. 3.

The Saudi government executes people by be-headings, which is gruesome but, if done by a skilled headsman, is relatively quick, even compared to U.S. electrocutions and chemical injections.

The main Iranian method of execution is by slow strangulation, which can take as long as 20 minutes.

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Justice and Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy”

January 9, 2016

Bryan Stevenson’s  JUST MERCY: A Story of Justice and Redemption (2014) tells of a broken criminal justice system with little justice and less mercy for poor people, juveniles, minorities and the mentally ill and the mentally retarded.

He is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, Alabama, which provides lawyers to indigents and to people who have been denied adequate legal representation.

Stevenson and the other EJI lawyers have freed people who have been convicted of crimes they did not commit.  They also have argued for mercy for abused children, the mentally ill and the mentally retarded who have been tried and punished, sometimes with death sentences or life sentences, as if there were no mitigating circumstances.

We are all broken people in one way or another, Stevenson wrote.  None of us deserves to be judged on the basis of the worst thing we have ever done.  All of us, not just poor and abused people, are in need of mercy and mitigation.

Just Mercy weaves together three themes.  One is the story of Walter McMillan, a black man sentenced to die for a crime he obviously could not have committed, and Stevenson’s six-year struggle to prevent his execution and prove his innocence.

Another is the story of the EJI and the other individuals, both black and white, whom Stevenson has defended, not always successfully.

The third theme consists of facts and figures on the flaws in the U.S. criminal justice system—racial disparities, lack of adequate legal representation of poor people, sentencing of juveniles as adult offenders, harsh treatment of the mentally ill and mentally retarded, punishment of poor mothers who suffer miscarriages and are treated as murderesses.

Stevenson successfully argued before the Supreme Court that it is “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution for a juvenile to be sentenced to death or to life imprisonment without parole.  Yet, he said, the intent of this decision is often thwarted by judges sentencing juvenile as adults to a term of imprisonment equal to their life expectancy.

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25 percent of fatal police encounters

December 21, 2015

About 2 percent of Americans have untreated severe mental illness.

Those 2 percent of people account for 10 percent of police responses, 20 percent of those behind bars, and 25 percent of fatal police encounters.

Source: Cop in the Hood