Action Alert

Consent Decrees: A Promising Pathway to Police Reform - Part Two

Consent Decrees: A Promising Pathway to Police Reform - Part Two

Why Police Reform Is Needed
Women and Police Abuse
Consent Decrees
Families Impacted by Mass Incarceration

Why Police Reform Is Needed

In order to see improvements in equality, racial discrimination and police brutality, police reform is essential. Citizen activism and police reform are critical elements to enforcing justice. Mass incarceration is defined by comparatively and historically extreme rates of imprisonment and by the concentration of imprisonment among young, African-American and Latino men living in neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage.

Six U.S. states that have the lowest incarceration rates are Utah, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts, and Vermont and Massachusetts incarcerate the least. Systemic racial bias keeps more people of color in prisons and on probation than ever before.

According in Care2, an important change that officers should take into consideration is anti-racial training. These trainings can mitigate some of the deadliest impacts of conscious and unconscious bias. In order for the job of a police officer to be done correctly, they must understand their personal biases so their actions are not predetermined by their judgement. Ideally, police officers should use their judgement in situations where they might be dealing with someone who is disabled, elderly or a minor. Even though police officers are trained to rely on verbal and body language to manage situations and attempt to reach a calm, peaceful resolution without resorting to force, they must be trained to view force as a last resort, and to use it in moderation.

Women and Police Abuse

Data from the Baltimore Police Department reflects arrests of black women make up 71 percent of the total number of women's arrests in a city that is 62 percent black — a rate of racial disparity similar to that for all arrests, including among arrests of men. According to the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, women make up 20 percent of unarmed people of color killed by police between 1999 and 2014. In 2012, Rekia Boyd was shot in the head by Dante Servin, who shot into a crowd over his shoulder. While he was on trial for manslaughter, he served no jail time for Rekia’s murder. On April 20, 2015, he was cleared of all charges.

On May 16, 2010, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, a 7-year-old girl, was shot in the head during a police raid while she was sleeping. Officer Joseph Weekley was charged with Aiyana’s death but his two trials resulted in a mistrial. Weekley was only charged with recklessly discharging a firearm. Other Black women’s lives, including Janet Wilson, Jessica Williams, Laronda Sweatt, Kisha Arrone, Kisha Michael, India Beaty, Sahlah Ridgeway and Deresha Armstrong have been ended due to being fatally shot by police this year, but their stories have not reached the media.

In 2015, a 14-year-old teenage girl, Dajerria Becton, was severely assaulted by Officer Eric Casebolt in McKinley, Texas. He repeatedly slammed her face on the ground, forcefully straddled her while thrusting his knees into her back and neck, as seen on a YouTube, where the footage of his actions has been posted. In the video, you can also see footage of Officer Casebolt cursing at several black teenagers and upholstering his gun. Officer Casebolt was sent on administrative leave and resigned as a corporal from the police department in McKinney shortly after. He was not indicted on any criminal charges. 

“People don’t care about black women, they just don’t. We’re in the way in the case of Rekia Boyd. We’re angry black women. Or we’re just too angry, too black, and too womanly in the case of Sandra Bland. We’re either too x or we’re invisible. At best, we’re taken for granted, at worst we’re abused. And we see the manifestation of that on the mainstream, in the erasure of our deaths, our suffering, and of our resistance,” said Page May of Assata’s Daughters, a Chicago grassroots organization.

Black women are usually the ones to be at the front lines of fighting police brutality, and just like black men, black women are also victims of police brutality and wrongful deaths. It is rare for the murder of black women and girls to be prominently featured in the media. The hashtags #SayHerName, #BlackGirlsMatter and #BlackWomensLivesMatter were created to bring awareness and to remember black women killed by police violence. Unfortunately, not only are police officers using lethal force towards women, but they are also abusing their authority. "Our collective focus on police shootings overshadows the reality of what is going on for women on a daily basis," said Jacqueline Robarge of Power Inside. "The way the police engage women, especially Black women and sex workers, creates a culture of violence. The police use a variety of tactics, including harassment, physical and sexual violence, medical neglect in police custody, and ignoring violence committed by family and community members." According to Robarge, a 2014 study by Johns Hopkins University found that 6 percent of study participants involved in prostitution in Baltimore had been coerced to have sex with a police officer within a given month. It is crucial that Black women are not removed from the conversation about law enforcement and the Black community. Additionally, Native Americans are the racial group most likely to be killed by law enforcement.

Citizens organizations are presenting proposals to their city council leadership to bring about real change within police departments. In Providence, Rhode Island, the Electronic Frontier Foundation proposed a Community Safety Act to their city council members, requesting support of this act. The act aims to advance civil liberties and restore trust in law enforcement by placing sensible limits on agencies to protect constitutional rights. As a tool for reducing conflict between law enforcement and communities, and for helping officers establish connections with the people in their neighborhoods, community policing has been shown to achieve modest gains. This approach can allow officers and citizens to establish more just and effective working relationships. These relationships could possibly lead to a sense of security and trust within the community. This puts the focus on creating a safer environment and encouraging a safer community for everyone, rather than criminalize whole groups of people.

Consent Decrees

Consent Decrees were created as part of the 1994 crime bill to address situations in which a “pattern or practice” of the police violated citizens’ rights. They are a significant component of police reform because police departments that have engaged violations within the department (higher authorities) can step in and establish regulatory practices that restore order where police departments have misused their authority.

The Justice Department has also conducted investigations into Ferguson, Missouri, Cleveland, Ohio, Newark, NJ, and Chicago, Illinois. In Ferguson, Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown in August 2014, which sparked days of protests and riots in Ferguson. The Justice Department and Ferguson agreed to a court-enforceable consent decree to overhaul municipal court and police department practices in March 2016. The federal investigation into police in Cleveland began after several use-of-force incidents, including one in which police officers fired 137 rounds at two people in a car after a high-speed chase in 2012. The consent decree was agreed to in May 2015.

The Chicago Police Department was investigated shortly after police released video of Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times. As one of the final acts of Obama's administration, the Justice Department issued a report of the Chicago Police Department after a 13-month review. Police and Justice Department earlier this year agreed in principle to negotiate on reforms of police mechanisms. Newly appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions indicated he would not make law-enforcement reform a priority. He raises concerns for “officer safety, office morale and public respect” and says that local control is paramount: “It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.” Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said any pullback from consent decrees would be “devastating” to departments and communities.

open consent cases
Courtesy of Prison Policy Initiative

Director of Public Safety in Newark, N.J, Anthony Ambrose stated, “Our internal affairs complaints are down. We've done numerous things to build trust with the community. We started a Citizen/Clergy Academy. We did the surveys. We have a web page where body-worn camera policy or anything to do with the consent decree we put on. We get input from the community. We start block watches. We have community Comstat where we bring the commanders to their neighborhoods and let them hear us talk about issues and areas, and they can talk to us.” Investigations have prompted consent decrees with major cities including Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and New Orleans, which remain in effect.

Freddie Gray

Freddie Gray was a 25-year-old African-American male who was arrested for possessing an illegal switchblade on April 12, 2015. During his arrest, Baltimore Police used excessive force and improper safety precautions during transporting Gray to the police station. Gray was placed into a police van on his stomach face first and was not seat belted while riding in the moving vehicle. In addition, throughout his arrest Gray asked for his inhaler and repeated multiple times, “I can’t breathe.” Gray did not receive medical treatment even though he requested it multiple times. Upon arrival at the police station, officers finally requested paramedics take Gray to the hospital. He had suffered a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody that led to his death days later. His death sparked protests and riots in Baltimore.

The Justice Department opened a formal investigation of the department’s patterns and practices after the death in police custody of Freddie Gray. The report found that officers routinely used excessive force, discriminated against African-Americans and made unlawful arrests. It found that officers stop large numbers of people, mostly in poor, black neighborhoods. In addition, the report found that physical force was often used unnecessarily, including against the mentally disabled, and that black pedestrians and drivers were searched more often than people of other races were. This report led to the City of Baltimore agreeing to enter into a binding consent decree.

On January 12, 2017, Baltimore City Mayor Catherine E. Pugh and United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced an agreement on a consent decree concerning practices by the Baltimore City Police Department. The consent decree was approved by U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar. On April 7, 2017, the City of Baltimore and the Department of Justice (DOJ) entered into a consent decree, a court enforceable agreement to resolve DOJ's findings that it believed the Baltimore City Police Department engaged in a pattern and practice of conduct that violates the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and certain provisions of federal statutory law. The purpose of the consent decree is to protect the individuals’ statutory and constitutional rights, fair treatment, and promote public safety.

On August 10, 2016, the United States Department of Justice issued a report detailing the findings of its investigation. The report showed the Baltimore Police Department to be in violation of the constitution and federal law. The report states that the department was using enforcement strategies that produce severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches and arrests of African-Americans as well as using excessive force, and retaliating against people engaging in constitutionally protected expression.

Women in Law Enforcement

Consent decrees can have a dramatic and positive effect on increasing the number of women in sworn law enforcement. For each type of law enforcement agency — city, county, and state — the pattern of results was identical. In 2001, the representation of sworn women in agencies with a consent decree was substantially higher than the percentage in agencies without a consent decree, and higher than the national average for that type of agency. This study documents the clear positive effect that consent decrees have on the representation of women within sworn law enforcement. In sum, consent decrees remain one of the most effective tools for increasing the representation of women in sworn law enforcement.

Families Impacted by Mass Incarceration

More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some point in their lives. Discrimination in school discipline contributes to disparities in incarceration rates, with African-Americans comprising only 13 percent of the U.S. population, but 40 percent of its incarcerated population, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

And those who are imprisoned are cut off from families, friends, and neighbors. Responsibilities as husbands and fathers are key factors in a child’s life and father figures are just as important as mother figures. Research shows that it is more common for children of incarcerated parents to drop out of school than it is for children of non-incarcerated parents, and is especially true for young teenage boys with a mother behind bars.

In an interview with KQED News on “How Mass Incarceration Shapes the Lives of Black Women,” women spoke about how their lives have changed by having an incarcerated family member. Twenty-two-year-old Terryon Cross has a father in prison and she is constantly fighting to get him out. Ever since she was a little girl, she had to keep the secret of where her father was and why he was not home with them. She feels a great sense of loss and pain because of the absence of her father. She expressed how he has missed some of the most important events in her life, such as her prom, the birth of her son, and most of her life. “No matter who it is that’s missing right now — you feeling exactly what I’m feeling, and we need each other. Because if we try to do this separately, we might fill that hole with alcohol, toxic people, drugs, or just let that hole get bigger,” said Cross. Incarceration affects everyone, especially close loved ones because,it’s not just men who are incarcerated. The women on the outside, they are doing time, too.”

incarceration rates
Courtesy of Prison Policy Initiative

Click Here.Read Part One of the Consent Decrees Action Alert

Posted or updated: 7/28/2017 12:00:00 AM

Click Here.Read Part One of the Consent Decrees Action Alert

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*Action Alerts

*Racial Justice

Take Action:

  • Contact your local congressional representative at the Capital Switchboard (202-224-3121) or in their district office to voice your support for:
    • H. R. 1055 - This bill establishes a commission to examine and report on: the disparate incarceration and the institution of forced prison labor within the African-American community, government and private sector support for and profit from mass incarceration, discriminatory laws and other forms of discrimination in the public and private sectors, and the lingering negative effects of mass incarceration.
    • S. 1258 - This bill requires states to report to the Attorney General certain information regarding use of force incidents involving law enforcement officers and civilians, and for other purposes.  

Learn More:

Criminal Justice Fact Sheet

Prison In America Facts

  • From 1980 to 2008, the number of people incarcerated in America quadrupled-from roughly 500,000 to 2.3 million people.
  • African-Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population.
  • Native Americans are incarcerated at a rate 38 percent higher than the national average, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  • Together, African-Americans and Hispanics comprised 58 percent of all prisoners in 2008, even though African-Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the U.S. population.
  • Nationwide, African-Americans represent 26 percent of juvenile arrests, 44 percent of youth who are detained, 46 percent of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58 percent of the youth admitted to state prisons.
  • African-Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African-Americans for drug charges is almost six times that of whites.
  • Native American women are incarcerated at six times the rate of white women, according to a report compiled by the Lakota People’s Law Project.
  • More facts at NAACP