The police state
August 31, 2015

A Michigan man named John Felton has uploaded to Facebook a video of his interaction with a Dayton, Ohio, police officer who says he pulled Felton over for making "direct eye contact." Earlier in the recording, the cop says he initiated the traffic stop because Felton did not employ his turn signal a full 100 feet in advance of turning, an infraction he claims to have observed after trailing Felton for two miles.

After the officer takes Felton's license back to his car, Felton, who is black, turns to the camera and explains to his friend that he knew he would be pulled over after the police officer began following him for no apparent reason. "I'm keeping this sh-t recording," he adds. "He ain't about to Sandra Bland me."

"A Dayton Police Officer pulled John Felton over on Aug. 15 for not signaling within 100 feet of a turn. During the stop the officer additionally acknowledged that Mr. Felton made sustained direct eye contact prior to being stopped," the City of Dayton said in a statement after Felton's video amassed nearly 50,000 views on Facebook. "The traffic infraction was verified by the video; however making direct eye contact with an officer is not a basis for a traffic stop." Bonnie Kristian

August 19, 2015

Police brutality protesters in New York City may have undercover police in their midst, according to documents obtained by The Intercept following a request made through New York's Freedom of Information Law. The files indicate that from December 2014 through February of this year, NYPD officers disguised themselves as activists to infiltrate #BlackLivesMatter protests, often keeping tabs — including photo documentation — on the movements of specific protesters.

"I think it's just another example of how anyone who is practicing their constitutional rights and speaking against the government is going to be considered a domestic problem," said Jose LaSalle, a police accountability activist who was mentioned in the surveillance documents. "It's sad we have to be targets of surveillance when we're not committing crimes."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has suggested that this undercover spying likely violates New York City's Handschu Decree, the result of a 1985 court ruling which prohibits police from keeping "information gathered from public events unless it's connected to suspected criminal or terrorist activity." The documents repeatedly refer to the #BlackLivesMatter events as "orderly" and "peaceful" while simultaneously claiming the surveillance is "deterring, detecting, and preventing terrorism." Bonnie Kristian

July 16, 2015

Arizona resident Esmeralda Rossi was in the shower when her daughter told her there were police officers at the front door. She grabbed a towel and went to meet them, but soon felt uncomfortable with the pushy attitude of one officer, Doug Rose.

"So I closed the door," Rossi said. "I turn to go into my living room, and I probably get about five steps in; and all of a sudden, I just hear boots running in after me, telling me 'Stop or I’ll arrest you.'" While Rossi and her daughter recorded the incident on their cell phones, Rose arrested and then un-arrested Rossi, who was still clad only in her towel.

A police department investigation concluded Rose entered Rossi's home illegally and attempted to provoke her into breaking the law. His report on the encounter excluded many key details, including Rossi's nudity. Rossi is now suing the city, because "I felt helpless. I felt violated. And honestly, I felt molested." Bonnie Kristian

May 1, 2015

Incoming Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced today that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will spend $20 million to provide body cameras to police, mostly in major cities. Of that sum, $17 million will purchase the equipment, while the remaining $3 million will cover training and effectiveness evaluation programs.

"Body-worn cameras hold tremendous promise for enhancing transparency, promoting accountability, and advancing public safety for law enforcement officers and the communities they serve," said Lynch.

Her view echoes calls from many police misconduct protesters to make body camera use universal among police as an imperfect but important practical reform. Earlier this week, one of the lawyers representing Freddie Gray's family said that cameras could "work to increase civility like nothing you've ever seen," asking, "Can you imagine if a police officer who was otherwise inclined to be violent knows that his behavior is going to be recorded in intimate detail?" Bonnie Kristian

April 30, 2015

Several protesters arrested in New York City while engaged in #BlackLivesMatter activism following the death of Eric Garner allege that the NYPD interrogated them at length about their political beliefs and affiliations.

This sort of questioning is specifically prohibited since a New York district court determined in Handschu v. Special Services Division (1985) that only the Intelligence Division of the NYPD could investigate someone's political activities — and then only if "specific information has been received by the Police Department that a person or group engaged in political activity is engaged in, about to engage in, or has threatened to engage in conduct which constitutes a crime."

The alleged interrogations would not be the first time the NYPD has violated the Handschu rules, and civil liberties advocates argue that they inhibit free speech. "When the police investigate political affiliations and political activities, that poses a serious threat to First Amendment rights," said Christopher Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "The NYPD should stop this immediately." Bonnie Kristian

April 21, 2015

Though Attorney General Eric Holder has frequently criticized police brutality — and his Department of Justice (DOJ) recently released a damning report on police misconduct in Ferguson, Mo. — an investigation by the New York Times finds that during Holder's tenure, the DOJ "has supported police officers every time an excessive-force case has made its way to arguments" at the Supreme Court.

On a broader level, the Holder DOJ has generally made it easier for police to use force at their own discretion and more difficult for citizens to successfully lodge a complaint. This is nothing new, though high profile civil rights inquiries like the Ferguson report have highlighted the contradictions in DOJ approaches to police behavior.

Law professor William R. Yeomans of American University argues that Holder would face immense institutional opposition from federal law enforcement should he attempt to change the DOJ's basic pro-police stance: "The institutional interests in support of law enforcement are very powerful and very real," he said. Bonnie Kristian

March 24, 2015

While the racial bias in New York City's mostly abolished "Stop and Frisk" policing program became well-known, a new report indicates that the Chicago police employ the practice far more often than the NYPD and with similar levels of racial profiling:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois released a report Monday saying it identified more than 250,000 Chicago stop-and-frisk encounters in which there were no arrests from May through August 2014. African-Americans accounted for nearly three-quarters of those stopped, even though they make up about a third of the city's population. On a per capita basis, Chicago police stopped 93.6 people per 1,000 residents, or more than four times New York's peak rate of 22.9 stops per 1,000 residents, which happened during the same four-month period of 2011. [Associated Press]

In most cases, Chicago police either did not list a reason for stopping the people they frisked or listed a reason unrelated to any criminal activity.

Observation of NYC crime rates since the near-end of Stop and Frisk has revealed that the program's effect in limiting crime was nil. Bonnie Kristian

February 27, 2015

In response to evidence that police use of body cameras may reduce officer misconduct, many state and local governments are considering mandating their use. One such state is Minnesota, but there's a catch: The way the body cam legislation is currently written, the footage will be essentially unavailable to the public.

The videos would only be made available, on request, to the people depicted in them — but concealed from the broader public. Officers, by contrast, would have unlimited access. And as Techdirt explains, "[a]lleged misconduct that is cleared by law enforcement oversight will move affected recordings into the 'destroy' pile, which means agencies can start deleting potentially damning footage almost immediately, provided there are no current requests for the recordings."

Should this bill become law, "We believe that use of body cameras would be essentially used against the public as another form of surveillance," said Ben Feist of the Minnesota ACLU. "[W]e would lose the big accountability issue here." Bonnie Kristian

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