Daily Inspo The Latina judge who fought back against the establishment…and won
In late April, Lina Hidalgo stood at a microphone in the Harris County emergency operations center in Houston and pushed up the teal fabric face mask that had slipped off her nose. Her voice was slightly muffled as she spoke. Next to her, an American Sign Language interpreter translated for an audience that couldn’t see her lips. But there was no need to worry her message would be lost. Soon it would become the subject of debate across the country—and so would she.
Hidalgo, the county judge of Harris County—the top elected official in the nation’s third-largest county—announced that millions of people in the Houston area would be required to wear a face covering in public to slow the spread of the coronavirus. People who didn’t comply would risk a fine of up to $1,000. Behind her, charts and graphs told the statistical story that had led Hidalgo to this moment. Since early March, when the state’s first case of Covid-19 had been identified in Houston, the urban heart of Harris County, the number of infected people in the county had climbed to 3,800. That day, the death toll stood at 79 and Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, warned that number could “exponentially increase.”
Hidalgo had been bracing for the disease for weeks. She had sought advice from officials in King County in Washington state, the nation’s first hot spot. Armed with their insight, she rallied her own emergency management and public health officials to prepare a response and on March 16 ordered the closure of bars and restaurant dining rooms. Initially, state officials followed suit. Three days after Hidalgo’s order, Gov. Greg Abbott declared a public health disaster for the first time in more than a century. Texans huddled indoors. But by early April, pressure was mounting on Abbott to end the lockdown. Hidalgo was pulling the other way.
What has transpired over the past several months in Texas is more than an object lesson in public health. The larger battle over the response to the coronavirus—epitomized by the policy disputes between Hidalgo and Abbott—has revealed rifts in a once deeply red state where Republicans have long ruled statewide elections but where demographic shifts in its big cities have offered Democrats reason to think they can compete in the most important races. Hidalgo’s forceful if controversial handling of the pandemic in the state’s largest metro area has provided Democrats with an example of what the youthful progressive wing of their party can do when it has the power to make decisions on the ground in a life-and-death situation.
Read the story on Politico
More of This We’re Black, we’re female, and we’re prosecutors. We are gatekeepers of a flawed system
Diana Becton is district attorney of Contra Costa County, Calif. Satana Deberry is district attorney of Durham County, N.C. Kim Gardner is circuit attorney for St. Louis, Mo. Kim Foxx is state’s attorney for Cook County, Ill. Rachael Rollins is district attorney for Suffolk County, Ma.
Our criminal legal system was constructed to control Black people and people of color. Its injustices are not new but are deeply rooted in our country’s shameful history of slavery and legacy of racial violence. The system is acting exactly as it was intended to, and that is the problem.
We should know: We’re Black, we’re female, and we’re prosecutors. We work as the gatekeepers in this flawed system. And we have some ideas for how to fix it.
We met through shared ideas and values, through associates and at conferences. As colleagues, we talk frequently about the challenges we face from entrenched powers determined to safeguard the unjust status quo in too many cities. While each community requires its own unique set of policies and practices, we’ve determined a number of crucial steps every elected prosecutor should commit to in order to transform the broader criminal legal system.
Much of the focus of public debate (and righteous anger) has been on police officers, but we know that prosecutors are not exempt from criticism. As members of law enforcement, we strive to bring justice to victims and make our communities safer for all. The decisions that prosecutors make can either work to rectify the inherent harms in the legal system or perpetuate them. Part of our responsibility, as elected public servants, is to be self-aware and recognize that we are part of the problem. It is our moral and ethical duty to start advancing racial equity-minded policies—and community advocates and voters should hold us accountable for doing so.
Read the story on Politico
Speaking Of… What happens when progressive prosecutors fail to charge police officers
WHEN WESLEY BELL was elected as St. Louis County’s first Black prosecutor two years ago, he ousted a tough-on-crime, old-school incumbent who had held on to his seat mostly unchallenged for nearly three decades. The police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, had rocked the region and made Bob McCulloch, Bell’s predecessor, a pariah and a symbol of prosecutors’ long-standing failure to hold police accountable. For months, thousands of people took to the streets to demand justice for Brown, inspiring a nationwide movement that, among other battles, sought to transform the country’s racist justice system by electing reform-minded prosecutors.
Bell rode that momentum into office, promising to overhaul the way justice was administered in a place that had become synonymous with police abuse and local governments funding themselves by criminalizing poor residents through a Dickensian system of fines, fees, and jail. Bell never promised to reopen the investigation into Brown’s killing by police officer Darren Wilson — which had ended without charges after a much criticized grand jury process — but that is what many in the region expected. Then last month, as a new wave of protests upended the country, Bell announced that he had quietly reinvestigated the case. And that, once again, there would be no justice for Michael Brown.
“This is one of the most difficult things I have had to do as an elected official,” Bell said at a surprise press conference just days shy of the sixth anniversary of Brown’s August 2014 killing. “Although this case represents one of the most significant moments in St. Louis’s history, the question for this office was a simple one: Could we prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that when Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, he committed murder or manslaughter under Missouri law? After an independent and in-depth review of the evidence, we cannot prove that he did.”
Bell noted that the investigation did not exonerate Wilson, arguing that “the question of whether we can prove a case at trial is different than clearing him of any and all wrongdoing.”
“If there was more we could do, we absolutely would do it,” Bell told me in an interview. “There are some people who don’t like the decision I made, and my response to them is, I don’t like the decision that I made. But I took an oath to follow the law, and in a case like this, as tough as it is, we have to follow those rules of ethics, we have to follow that law, even when it doesn’t taste good.”
Read the story on The Intercept
Say it Louder Want better prosecutors? Start by putting a stop to police union money.
Buta Biberaj is the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Loudoun County, Virginia. Miriam Aroni Krinsky is Executive Director of Fair and Just Prosecution and a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles.
As millions march, calling for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others, the responsibility for holding their killers accountable lies squarely in the hands of prosecutors. The will of the people is to have accountability for all criminal acts, regardless of who the actor is or their profession. That is the duty of a prosecutor. But all too often, prosecutors have failed to fulfill that duty, often declining to pursue charges against law enforcement, let alone securing a conviction. Those failures have struck deep blows to public trust in the justice system. Rebuilding that trust will require not simply policing reform, but also greater confidence in prosecutorial independence and the integrity of investigating and charging of police misconduct. And that confidence, as well as independence, can only be achieved through an end to financial ties between prosecutors and police unions.
A growing number of reform-minded prosecutors recognize this inherent conflict and have pledged to reject contributions and endorsements from law enforcement leaders and unions. To ensure systemic change, more prosecutors around the nation must join this pledge and the fight for police accountability, just as national and state bar associations – the entities that define the ethical standards that govern all lawyers – can propel reform by banning prosecutors from accepting contributions that erode both public trust and public safety.
Over the past 50 years, as the influence of most unions shrank with their membership, police unions grew and developed increasingly deep pockets. Police unions act as insurance for their members if they’re sued or prosecuted for misconduct – typically footing the legal bills to defend their members. But that insurance takes another form: lobbying for local laws that make it challenging if not impossible to hold their members accountable, and doling out significant donations to DA candidates in an effort to curry favor from local prosecutors who will be charged with holding police accountable once in office.
These contributions, spread across thousands of elections, are challenging to track, but they are pervasive. A recent investigation found that in the last two decades, police unions have engaged in at least $87 million in local and state spending, including $64.8 million in Los Angeles, $19.2 million in New York City and $3.5 million in Chicago. Most recently, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey benefited from over $2.2 million in expenditures by police unions, and the LAPD union donated another $1 million to a PAC dedicated to defeating her challenger, George Gascón, who has promised to toughen standards around police use of force.
Read the story on The Appeal
Less of This Shot by cops, thwarted by judges
When David Collie slipped off his shirt as he set out one sultry night to visit some friends, he didn't know he was putting himself in grave danger. But he was.
He now fit the description: shirtless, Black, male.
Moments later, Collie lay face down on the pavement, gunned down as a possible suspect in a crime he didn’t commit.
The shooter was Fort Worth, Texas, police officer Hugo Barron. He and his partner had been looking for two shirtless Black men wanted for an armed robbery involving tennis shoes. When the cops spotted David Collie, they pulled into the apartment complex, got out of the squad car and started shouting commands at him.
Police dashboard camera video shows that Collie was walking away from the two cops as he pulled his hand out of his pocket and raised his arm. That’s when Barron fired his gun. A hollow-point bullet slammed into Collie’s back, punctured a lung and severed his spine, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
In the four years since then, Collie, now 37 years old, has lived in nursing homes, afflicted with infections, pressure sores, and bouts of crushing depression. As he talked about the July 2016 shooting and what it took from him, wails from an elderly patient echoed down the corridor. The odors of urine and excrement wafted in from the hall. Collie closed his eyes and exhaled. “Paralyzed over some tennis shoes? Come on, man,” he said. “You’re playing with a human life here.”
Read the story on Reuters
Less of This Too His tribe objected. But the US Government still executed a Navajo man.
MATTHEW L.M. FLETCHER is professor of law at Michigan State University College of Law and director of the Indigenous Law and Policy Center. TAMERA BEGAY is an assistant prosecutor for the Puyallup Tribe. She is a citizen of the Navajo Nation.
Imagine you live in a state where the death penalty for serious crimes is prohibited. Imagine you are accused of a serious crime against another resident of your state, but your trial is moved to a state where the government can seek the death penalty. Over your objections, the objections of the victim’s family, the objections of your home state, and even the objections of the original prosecutor, you are tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by the foreign jurisdiction.
This would plainly be an inappropriate act by any government, but the federal government is doing this with a Native American offender.
Lezmond Mitchell is a citizen of the Navajo Nation who is scheduled for execution by the United States on August 26. He and a juvenile accomplice were convicted of killing two other Navajo Nation citizens during a carjacking in October 2001. Normally, the federal government prosecutes Indian Country murders under the Major Crimes Act, an 1885 law that grants the United States exclusive criminal jurisdiction over serious felonies committed in Indian Country by American Indians. But if the government had charged Mitchell with murder under the Major Crimes Act, it could not have pursued the death penalty against him without the consent of the Navajo Nation. The tribe opposed the death penalty for Mitchell, as did members of the victims’ family. Yet he faces federal execution anyway. How this came to pass is a story about the federal government’s rampant disrespect for tribal sovereignty, a story all too familiar in American history.
In 1994, Congress amended federal law to prohibit the death penalty for crimes on tribal land that are prosecuted under the Major Crimes Act unless the affected tribe has decided to allow it. The amendment was designed to prevent federal prosecutors from seeking the death penalty over tribal objections. As the Ninth Circuit pointed out in a recent decision in Mitchell’s case, the law served to place tribes on the same footing as states, whose residents cannot be put to death without their state’s consent. Federal prosecutors traditionally do not disrespect a state’s policy choices when it comes to crimes committed within that state’s jurisdiction. But in Mitchell’s case, the government did exactly that—circumventing and disrespecting tribal sovereignty at will.
Read the story on The Atlantic
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