Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Joint Statement From the Federal Defenders on the Killing of George Floyd

The moral arc of the universe, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, bends towards justice. And yet, we all saw that arc snap again under a police officer’s white knee on George Floyd’s Black neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. That knee has been placed on too many Black necks before and too often without repercussions.

This time must be different. While we can kneel in solidarity with Mr. Floyd, we also must stand up and demand that racism, overt and implicit, be acknowledged and confronted.

As federal public and community defenders, we represent the overwhelming majority of those charged with crimes in federal court, most of whom are minorities, of all colors and orientations. We have witnessed “wars” on drugs and crime become dog whistles for hate and racism. Intentions to make communities safe are hijacked by other insidious agendas. The war on crime is a new Jim Crow that permeates our criminal justice system. Daily, we see charges that are too harsh, sentences that are too long, and a system that turns a blind eye to oppressive structural racism because it seems to fear “too much justice.”

George Floyd died face down, gasping and begging to breathe. It is well beyond time for us all to say, “Enough.”

We are better than this; we can be just and empathetic. We can do what is right and what is moral. We can keep communities safe by holding out our hand to help, aware of our own failings and biases.

And in this crucible of anger, we take a breath, and begin to repair the moral arc and bend it back towards justice.

As federal defenders, we stand with many like George Floyd who have been held down and denied their humanity. It is our job, our calling. It is our privilege. For George Floyd and all of our clients, we renew our longstanding commitment to fight daily for equal justice.

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Read the statement with signatures on fd.org here.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

One-third of all Americans killed by strangers are killed by police

Last month, George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer. The criminal complaint filed late last week against the officer states that the officer "had his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in total. Two minutes and 53 seconds of this was after Mr. Floyd was non-responsive. Police are trained that this type of restraint with a subject in a prone position is inherently dangerous."

Police kill all the time. Indeed, there were only 27 days in 2019 when police did not kill someone. And law enforcement’s victims are much more likely to be black.

Horrific, and likely underestimated. Statistician Patrick Ball, who has tracked state killings in 30 countries, points out that when a police killing occurs on video, as Mr. Floyd’s did, “police are very likely to report this case to the FBI because they know the FBI will hear about it.” But “conversely, if a person is killed by police without the presence of witnesses,” the killing “is unlikely to be reported at all.” So unless the killing was recorded on camera, it is unlikely to be reported in national statistics.

Using advanced statistics to account for unreported police killings, Mr. Ball’s research concludes that “eight to ten per cent of all American homicide victims are killed by the police. Of all American homicide victims killed by people they don’t know, approximately one-third of them are victims of the police.” While national statistics may not accurately record police killings, local communities know. Justin Feldman, a social epidemiologist at the NYU School of Medicine, explains that “if it’s not you being killed by police, it’s someone you know or someone in your community.”

Police have recently killed black men for suspected forgery, selling cigarettes, reaching for a driver’s license, and sitting at home. These killings have a profound effect on the communities they traumatize. 

In a rare departure from the norm, the officer who killed Mr. Floyhas now been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. But the charges may not represent a full-throated prosecutorial response. And they are certainly not enough to alleviate the effects of centuries of state-sponsored violence.

And so. The next time a judge wonders why your client ran from the police, explain that your client knew that his life was in danger, and that the police would not be held accountable for what might happen.

Some courts have recognized this reality. See, e.g., United States v. Brown, 925 F.3d 1150, 1156 (9th Cir. 2019) (“flight can be a problematic factor in the reasonable suspicion analysis because some citizens may flee from police for their safety”; “[t]here is little doubt that uneven policing may reasonably affect the reaction of certain individuals—including those who are innocent—to law enforcement”) (citing Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 126-40 (2000) (Stevens, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part)); Miles v. United States, 181 A.3d 633, 641-42 (D.C. App. 2018) (discussing reasons people might flee, including fear in the face of police shootings of African Americans); Commonwealth v. Warren, 58 N.E.3d 333, 342 (Mass. 2016) (“the finding that black males in Boston are disproportionately and repeatedly targeted for [police] encounters suggests a reason for flight totally unrelated to consciousness of guilt”); Dancy v. McGinley, 843 F.3d 93, 110 (2d Cir. 2016) (“Indeed, it is natural for people to take an interest in police activity nearby out of a desire to avoid some minor misstep, such as a minor traffic violation, which would involve them unnecessarily with the police.”). Help your court understand it as well.

--From Kirk Redmond