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Tag: black lives matter

FBI Monitored Black Lives Matter Protests Over Fears of Violence

Black Lives Matter poster on a window in Detroit. Photo by Steve Neavling.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The U.S. government has been monitoring Black Lives Matter protests because of fears of potential violence, according to newly released documents from the FBI and Homeland Security.

The surveillance began after a gunman shot and killed five police officers in Dallas, Texas, in July 2016 during a rally against police brutality, Al Jazeera reports

Although the FBI acknowledged the gunman acted alone and was not part of the Black Lives Matter movement, the bureau began warning of “attacks against law enforcement,” using racially charged language, according to a series of emails.

“Due to sensitivities surrounding recent police shootings, the threat of copycat attacks against law enforcement exists,” one email read, adding that “there is a threat of black supremacist extremists attempting to violently co-opt the upcoming DNC/RNC”, referring to the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

The emails refer to “black supremacist extremists attempting to violently co-opt the upcoming” Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

Michael German, a former FBI agent and fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, told Al Jazeera that the report was misleading because it involved the “blending of activities” of protesters.

“If I’m a police officer on the street trying to address the concerns raised in this report, obviously, I’m going to be focusing on black people,” German said.

In August, an FBI report warned of “Black Identity Extremists” targeting police.

“The FBI assesses it is very likely Black Identity Extremists perceptions of police brutality against African Americans spurred an increase in premeditated retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement and will likely serve as justification for such violence,” the report, dated August 3, read.

FBI Terrorism Unit Warns of Potential Violence from Black Activists

Protest in Detroit. Photo by Steve Neavling.

Protest in Detroit. Photo by Steve Neavling.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

A leaked FBI report shows the federal government is worried that “black identity extremists” are a violent threat.

The August 2017 assessment by the FBI’s counter-terrorism division claims that “perceptions of police brutality against African Americans spurred an increase in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement and will very likely serve as justification for such violence.” 

The assessment has raised concerns among civil rights activists that black activists will be targets of surveillance.

“When we talk about enemies of the state and terrorists, with that comes an automatic stripping of those people’s rights to speak and protest,” Mohammad Tajsar, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Guardian. “It marginalizes what are legitimate voices within the political debate that are calling for racial and economic justice.” 

In a statement to Foreign Policy, the FBI said it cannot initiate an investigation based solely on an individual’s race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or the exercise of First Amendment rights.” 

Supreme Court Strengthens Qualified Immunity for Law Enforcement Officers’ Use of Deadly Force

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

It was a tough year for law enforcement officers. Line of duty deaths, especially intentional killings of police, were up dramatically. Several categories of violent crime, including homicides, rose significantly after two decades of steady decline in crime statistics. Recruitment of new officers is becoming difficult, and officers confronting deadly situations are justifiably wary about the public (and media) second-guessing life or death decisions that had to be made under pressure within seconds.

Heather MacDonald, in her recent book The War On Cops, blames these developments on an anti-law enforcement movement led by groups like Black Lives Matter, accentuated by media attention, and facilitated by the policies of the Obama Administration. Whether you buy all of her conclusions, she does make a persuasive case that the current atmosphere in some segments of the public about law enforcement has resulted in officers being less aggressive in discretionary policing and that is a factor in a new crime wave, especially in the nation’s cities.

Into this troubling and dangerous situation, a potential boost in law enforcement confidence came this month from an unlikely source, a per curiam opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Per curiam (Latin: by the Court) decisions are judgments by appellate courts as a whole in which no particular judge or Justice is identified as the author. In the Supreme Court per curiam opinions are almost always unanimous and usually represent brief rulings on non-controversial subjects. They tend to be short. They seldom set an important precedent or alter the rule of law.

But there are exceptions. In 1972 the per curiam opinion by the Court in Furman v. Georgia turned capital punishment upside down when it struck down every death penalty law and practice in the country as arbitrary and capricious under the 8th Amendment. It took four years for the states to re-institute death penalty statutes and, in many ways, the case began to diminish the role of the supreme penalty which continues to this day.

Bush v. Gore

In Bush v. Gore (2000) the Court issued a per curiam opinion in one of the most controversial cases in the Court’s history. The Court upheld the razor-thin Florida vote which gave the presidency to George Bush by a single electoral vote over Al Gore. The 5-4 vote followed party lines with the Republican appointed Justices in the majority, but the ruling was brief and unauthored.  Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz called it the “single most corrupt decision in Supreme Court history,” but others thought it was a profile in courage which preserved the republic.

new_mexico_state_police

Earlier this month the Court decided another per curiam opinion which has gotten much less attention but which could have profound implications, especially to law enforcement officers on the front line. White v. Pauly was an appeal from a civil ruling by a federal district court against New Mexico State Police Officer Ray White, who had shot and killed Samuel Pauley in a police confrontation outside of Santa Fe.

Witnesses had called 911 to report Pauley as a drunk driver. Two police officers went to his residence where he lived with his brother Daniel Pauly in a secluded area to talk with Pauly. They ordered him to open the door.  It was asserted in the complaint that the brothers had not heard the officers identify themselves. The Paulys got their firearms.

A few minutes after the initial confrontation, Officer White arrived at the scene outside of the Pauly residence. The Paulys yelled that they had guns and Daniel fired two shotgun blasts outside the back door. Samuel stuck his handgun outside a window in the front of the house and pointed it in the officers’ direction. All three of the officers took cover, White behind a stone wall. One of the initial two officers fired his gun at Pauly and missed. Officer White fired and killed Samuel Pauly.

In the civil suit the three officers asserted qualified immunity, But the plaintiffs responded that the defense was not available since court opinions in other circumstances had stated that a warning was required before the use of deadly force even under the threat of serious harm. Officer White could not reasonably assume that this warning had taken place before his arrival. The district court agreed and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling and ordered the case to go to trial. Officer White appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Court unanimously vacated this decision without oral argument in a brief per curiam opinion. Officer White had violated no clearly established law requiring a police officer facing an occupant pointing a firearm at him to identify himself and shout a warning before firing his weapon.

The Court pointed out that qualified immunity for law enforcement officers is important to society as a whole. Pre-existing law must give them fair and clear notice of impermissible conduct in order to invalidate the assertion of qualified immunity. Officer White’s conduct under the circumstances, especially his late arrival after the other officers had engaged the subjects, did not violate clearly established law. He could reasonably conclude in an ongoing police action that proper procedures had already been followed.

The case has been criticized as giving police a “license to kill.” But Supreme Court Justices are aware of the issues of the day. They watch TV. Maybe they are sending a signal that the courts should not second-guess law enforcement officers who have to make split second decisions on the use of deadly force by weakening qualified immunity.

Or perhaps they are just tired of the judiciary being asked to make social policy on confrontations between police and potentially dangerous subjects in the context of law suits against police.

Or maybe, like most garden variety per curiam opinions, the case represents a narrow ruling on a unique set of facts with little or no policy-making implications.

Attorneys Sue FBI, Homeland Security for Surveillance Records of Black Lives Matter

Photo by Steve Neavling.

Photo by Steve Neavling.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The FBI and Homeland Security have been sued for documents on the agencies’ surveillance of Black Lives Matter protesters.

The suit was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Milton A.Cramer Center at Case Wester Reserve University School of Law, Salon reports. 

The human rights lawyers said the agencies have failed to release the documents of surveillance.

Federal surveillance of the movement began after Ferguson police killed Michael Brown. In July 2015, an Intercept report revealed that Homeland Security was collecting information on peaceful protests.

The new lawsuit allege police also used a “cell site simulator,” or a “Stingray,” to monitor the protests and individual activists.

The Supreme Court, Police Shootings and Black Lives Matter

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

Have the frenzied media coverage of incidents involving police shootings of African Americans and the protests of Black Lives Matter activists affected the Supreme Court?  The Court has not addressed a case involving race and the criminal justice system in some time, but two such cases are scheduled for oral argument this month.

Coincidence or a legitimate attempt to weigh in on a crisis jeopardizing law enforcement lives and the faith of minority Americans in the fairness of the criminal process?

US_Supreme_Court

The Court exercises discretion in at least three ways: what cases to accept for hearing (only about 1% are heard), the timing of oral argument (these cases were set for the first month of the 2016-2017 term), and in the individual votes and opinions of the Justices). The first two seem to demonstrate a special sensitivity to this subject which is embroiling race relations in America.

However, the other related question is whether the open seat on the Court from the death of Justice Scalia will affect the Court’s ability to decide these cases and to resolve conflicts in the lower courts. A 4-4 vote will mean that the lower court decision will stand. In these two cases the lower courts both rejected the petitions of minority defendants on racial issues.

The first of the two cases is Buck v. Davis, a death penalty appeal which has bounced around the Texas state courts, the federal district court in Houston and the 5th Circuit since Buck’s sentence of death in 1996. Buck was convicted of capital murder of his ex-girlfriend and a man at her house in a jealousy-fueled shooting spree. During the penalty hearing his defense attorney, who had a notoriously bad record in capital cases, called a psychologist to testify on the subject of Buck’s likelihood of posing a danger in the future.

In Texas the jury must unanimously conclude that the defendant poses a danger of violence to warrant the verdict of death. The defense psychologist testified that the fact that he was Black made him statistically more likely to be dangerous. Ultimately, however, the psychologist was of the opinion that he was at a lower probability of being dangerous. His report, which included the race analysis, was admitted as a defense exhibit. The prosecutor reiterated this race opinion in cross-examination and the witness’s conclusion in his closing argument.

On the most recent appeal, the 5th Circuit concluded that, although racial appeals had long been unconstitutional in criminal trials, the defendant had not met the standard of a substantial showing of prejudice to justify a Certificate of Appeal. There had been no proof that the result would have been different without the expert’s testimony in view of the defendant’s callous actions and his lack of remorse. The defense showing on appeal was not extraordinary and the prejudice de minimis.

This particular psychologist had repeated this race-based statistical opinion in six other capital cases, and the Texas Attorney General announced in a press conference that it would not oppose re-sentencing in all of those cases. However, a new Attorney General reneged on this promise as to Buck’s case.

In addition to the race-based issue, the case illustrates the tension in capital cases between two important principles. In cases involving the death penalty errors in the trial are painstakingly reviewed and appellate opinions often reach to achieve due process. On the other hand, there is a need for finality in the resolution of criminal cases. The length of time capital defendants sit on death row today is considered by some to be a failure of finality in the system.

Read more »

Black Lives Matter Activists Claim FBI Agents Urging Not to Protest at RNC

Photo by Steve Neavling.

Photo by Steve Neavling.

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Black Lives Matter activists said FBI agents have been urging them not to protest at this week’s Republican convention in Cleveland.

The Washington Post repots that Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson asked President Obama to instruct the FBI to stop contacting activists ahead of the convention.

The Post reports:

Activists in Cleveland, San Francisco, New York, Minneapolis, and St. Louis have all told The Washington Post that they have been visited by FBI agents in recent days, which the activists consider an intimidation tactic.

One activist with Campaign Zero, the group co-founded by Mckesson, tweeted about a recent encounter he had with an FBI agent.

An activist in New York said an agent visited his home earlier this week.

“I don’t want to talk about particular groups here but there is a concern anytime there’s an event like this that people from across a spectrum of radical groups will be attracted to it,” FBI Director James Comey said during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing.

Homeland Security Secretary Says He’s ‘Concerned’ about Race Relations

Jeh Johnson

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

After numerous rallies nationwide following the police shootings of black people, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said he’s “concerned” about race relations in America.

Trying to speak to both police and protesters, Johnson said, “Violence never solves anything.”

“An eye for an eye leaves everybody blind and at this point, we need to stand with our law enforcement community,” Johnson said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Johnson also was referring tot he sniper attack the killed five officers and injured seven others in Dallas.

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, speaking with Johnson, criticized Black Lives Matter.

“The reality of the Black Lives Matter movement is it is significantly focused, primarily focused on police and their efforts to portray police and the police profession in a very negative way, which is unfortunate,” he said.

Other Stories of Interest

Post-Dispatch: Social Justice Movement in Ferguson Gets Off Track

Ferguson protest.

Ferguson protest.

By Blake Ashby
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Something has gone terribly wrong with the social justice movement. The heavy lifting of making things better is being consumed by a free-floating anger that has little connection to what is actually happening in our country.

Think I’m exaggerating? Some of the angrier members of the social justice community are calling for the recall of Ferguson Councilwoman Ella Jones. She is a very clever political operator who worked her way up, built relationships, accumulated allies and got elected. She is also African-American, as are most of her constituents.

So why are they trying to get Jones kicked out? Because the Department of Justice wants Ferguson to spend an extra $2 million implementing community policing, and Jones and every other council member pushed back and said we can only afford to spend a million. Basically, Jones was voting to spare her constituents $1 million in extra taxes. Activists have concluded that not increasing taxes on the African-Americans who actually vote for her makes Jones a traitor to African-Americans in the rest of the country.

And of course the DOJ sued the city of Ferguson on Feb. 10; the night before, the council had unanimously voted to accept the consent decree the city’s attorneys had negotiated, with a small number of cost-saving modifications. The DOJ used some fairly dramatic language to suggest that Ferguson was somehow fighting progress and clinging to its racist past.

But … did the DOJ even read the proposed changes? Basically, the City Council asked the DOJ to delay implementation for three months while the city looked for a police chief and not require Ferguson give all of its police officers substantial raises. These two changes, along with hiring a local instead of Washington monitor, took the first-year costs down from about $2 million to about $1 million.

The DOJ wants Ferguson to give its mostly white police force a very large raise in hopes the city will be able to recruit more African-American officers. Once the consent decree was publicly released and scrutinized, the city realized the very high cost of the raises.

To read more click here.