Tag Archives: Police Profiling

Harris County Officer Escapes Indictment in Death of Ashtian Barnes

The numbers are startling, the similarities are haunting, and the frequency… incomprehensible.  As citizens across this country continue to be unlawfully detained, arrested and even killed by police under circumstances that are questionable at best, the grieving families of these victims are left with little peace or consolation.

Such is the case for the family of Ashtian Barnes, 24, who was killed by Harris County Police Officer Roberto Felix on April 28th.  Today, Officer Roberto Felix was No-Billed by a Harris County Grand Jury, which means he will not be indicted or face charges for the death of Barnes.  Here’s more from Fox 26 Houston

– After two sessions, a grand jury has not indicted a Harris County Precinct 5 deputy constable in the April 28 deadly shooting of Ashtian Barnes.

“What we can say is that the presentation was comprehensive and responsive to the needs of the grand jury,” said Harris County District Attorney’s Office Civil Rights Division Chief Julian Ramirez. “The 183rd Grand Jury handled this case with great care.” The grand jury of twelve people included three African Americans and three Hispanics.

[…]

At least nine of the 12 grand jurors needed to find probable cause to indict the deputy constable. DA Anderson said that the panel’s decision shows there was not enough evidence for a charge.

But the newly released video via Black Lives Matter- Houston has many people seeing the outcome differently.  The video, which seems to counter the officer’s account of the incident, is leading many viewers to cry foul with the Grand Jury’s decision.  As one may recall from earlier this summer, those standards to find Probable Cause against policemen were significantly toughened when a Supreme Court decision decimated the Fourth Amendment, giving police virtual right to profile and suspect any citizen that they want. As seen and heard from the video, the officer seems to be looking for reasons to conduct a search of Barnes’ vehicle. Beyond the lack of probable cause, BLM members also stated that officers and lawyers for Felix were “laughing in the face” of activists outside the trial.

At this moment, BLM members are gathering for a protest in front of the Harris County courthouse, calling for Justice for Ashtian Barnes.  The protest begins at 6pm.  Texas Leftist will be following the developments.

Do you agree with the Grand Jury’s assessment??  Leave your feedback in the comments.

Ashtian Barnes

‘Civil Death’: SCOTUS Eviscerates Fourth Amendment, Validates Police Profiling

The Supreme Court may not be complete, but that doesn’t mean they are any less capable of causing a firestorm.  In what seems to be an incredibly short-sighted decision, a major pillar of the United States Constitution has been all but gutted.  Here’s the information from the New York Times editorial board…

The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government — or that’s how it works in theory, anyway.

In practice, though, court decisions over several decades have created so many exceptions to this constitutional principle as to render it effectively meaningless in many real-world situations.

On Monday, the Supreme Court further weakened the Fourth Amendment by making it even easier for law enforcement to evade its requirement that stops be based on reasonable suspicion. The justices ruled 5 to 3 that a police officer’s illegal stop of a man on the street did not prevent evidence obtained from a search connected to that stop to be used against him.

The case, Utah v. Strieff, started when the police in Salt Lake City got an anonymous tip of drug activity at a house. An officer monitoring the house became suspicious at the number of people he saw entering and leaving. When one of those people, Edward Strieff, left to walk to a nearby convenience store, the officer stopped him and asked for his identification. A routine check revealed that Mr. Strieff had an outstanding “small traffic warrant.” The officer arrested him based on that earlier warrant, searched him and found drugs in his pockets.

The State of Utah agreed that the initial stop was illegal, because it was not based on reasonable, individual suspicion that Mr. Strieff was doing anything wrong. Instead, the state argued that the discovery of the valid warrant — after the illegal stop — got around the Fourth amendment violation.

The Utah Supreme Court rightly rejected this argument, but that decision was overturned in a majority opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas. The officer’s lack of any specific suspicion of Mr. Strieff, Justice Thomas wrote, was a result of “good-faith mistakes.” The illegal stop was, at worst, “an isolated instance of negligence.”

So basically, police can suspect anything they want about an individual, and use that information as an excuse to detain them, check for warrants, and then quite possibly disrupt the entirety of their life.  And I suppose if one has never been profiled by the police, and never had any reason to think that they would be, this judgement seems rather sensible.  It’s not like police officers ever make mistakes, or use their judgement in an unfair way, right?

It’s important to note here that this was a 5 to 3 decision by the court, with Justices Clarence Thomas (who wrote the majority opinion), Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, and Samuel Alito in the majority.  The three dissenters?  Justices Elena Kagen, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

So at least on the face of it, gender appears to be a factor.  But let’s spend a brief moment to also discuss the court’s only true racial minority, Justice Sonia Sotomayor.  Remember during her confirmation, the whole firestorm around being “Wise Latina“?  In her dissenting opinion to this case, that wisdom shines through like never before.  Directly from Justice Sotomayor’s dissent

The Court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants—even if you are doing nothing wrong. If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant. Because the Fourth Amendment should prohibit, not permit, such misconduct, I dissent.

[…]

The officer’s control over you does not end with the stop. If the officer chooses, he may handcuff you and take you to jail for doing nothing more than speeding, jaywalking, or “driving [your] pickup truck . . . with [your] 3-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter . . . without [your] seatbelt fastened.” Atwater v. Lago Vista, 532 U. S. 318, 323–324 (2001). At the jail, he can fingerprint you, swab DNA from the inside of your mouth, and force you to “shower with a delousing agent” while you “lift [your] tongue, hold out [your] arms, turn around, and lift [your] genitals.” Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington, 566 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2012) (slip op., at 2–3); Maryland v. King, 569 U. S. ___, ___ (2013) (slip op., at 28). Even if you are innocent, you will now join the 65 million Americans with an arrest record and experience the “civil death” of discrimination by employers, landlords, and whoever else conducts a background check.

By legitimizing the conduct that produces this double consciousness, this case tells everyone, white and black, guilty and innocent, that an officer can verify your legal status at any time. It says that your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights. It implies that you are not a citizen of a democracy but the subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be cataloged. We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are “isolated.” They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. See L. Guinier & G. Torres, The Miner’s Canary 274–283 (2002). They are the ones who recognize that unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives. Until their voices matter too, our justice system will continue to be anything but.

What Justice Sotomayor says here can hardly be improved upon.  It’s a shame that our nation’s Supreme Court has cleared the way for the “Civil Death” of millions of Americans, and the 4th Amendment of our Constitution.  Sadly, the only ones who can affect this ruling are Congress, and it is far from a major election issue.  Let’s hope others learn the truth of this ruling, and soon.  But in the midst of such an atrocious oversight, at least those Americans most prone to police profiling had a few voices on the court to speak the truth.

Sotomayor

The Unjust System

There are some days when The Huffington Post really nails their front page.  Today would be one of them…

HuffPo For Real

Across the United States, many communities have already erupted in protest following the recent decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson after the death of young Michael Brown Jr.

Shortly before the grand jury decision was even issued in the Darren Wilson case, the city of Cleveland Ohio lost 12 year old Tamir Rice to the actions of yet another police officer… all because the boy was playing with a toy gun.  Evidence has already emerged from Cleveland.com that Tim Loehmann– the policeman responsible for Rice’s death, was previously found unfit to even be wielding a firearm in the first place by his former Deputy police chief in 2012.

And just yesterday, the country learned of yet more shocking news… police officers responsible for the death of 42 year old Eric Garner, taken down in a lethal choke hold after the unarmed man resisted arrest, will also not face a proper trial.  Learning of the decision, New York City immediately erupted in protests, with more across the country sure to follow.

Garner’s tragic death was captured on video.  His last words as a living being on this planet captured for all of the world to see.

“I Can’t Breathe.”  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1ka4oKu1jo

Even the person who filmed this viral footage, Ramsey Orta, was indicted on two felony counts… ones he claimed he was framed for by the officers involved.

Every minute of my life, I have had to wonder if I would ever be in a situation like that of Michael Brown Jr., Tamir Rice or Eric Garner.

Four times in my life, in two different states, I have been improperly and unjustifiably detained by police officers.  Each time, I was unarmed.  Each time, they were armed.  Each time, they had the ability to take my life.

Whatever the facts of any one particular case, these experiences are simply too much a commonality for certain segments of the American population. There is no other way to say it… the fear is real. Our friends, our neighbors are being profiled and unlawfully detained.  They are being beaten.  They are being killed at the hands of officers across this country.  Since 9/11, police forces have become increasingly militarized with unprecedented access to weaponry and training that would only be seen in the theater of war.   This is not normal, and it is not how you treat American citizens.

I pray for these families.  I also pray for our police officers.  For all of the ones that get up, work hard and risk their lives everyday to keep people safe, I pray for them and I thank them.

But among the vast majority of good, hard-working public servants, there are too many doing wrong to simply ignore.  These people are hiding in plain sight, and getting away with murder.  They may be protecting some communities, but if they are allowed to profile, harass and even kill people without consequence, then they deserve to not only be removed from the force, but brought to justice. Of course, doing so requires having a justice system that is not skewed in their favor.

The time for change is now.  We can’t stop with police body cameras.  We can’t condone profiling.  We can’t stop by a massive reexamination of our nation’s justice system.  We can’t allow police militarization to continue.  We can’t stop by simply asking police forces to return to a more community-centered structure.  We can’t stop by simply reforming police use-of-force practices.  We also can’t afford to keep sitting out on critical elections where we have the power to put people in office that truly listen to community concerns.  The struggle has to incorporate change at all levels.

So please… march. Protest. Blog. Vote. Support our officers that are doing their jobs.  Demand justice against those are abusing their immense privilege and responsibility.  Demand justice for those slain.

We need a new system.  We can’t breathe.

 

 

 

 

HPD Just Not Investigating Some Crimes… At All!

HPD is coming under intense scrutiny after a recent report showed that the department is way under-staffed to handle a mounting case load.  But after Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland’s statements this week, that’s clearly NOT the only problem.  Here’s the story from Mike Morris of the Houston Chronicle

Defending his department’s failure to investigate thousands of crimes last year, Police Chief Charles McClelland on Thursday said the understaffed Houston Police Department does not and should not have a goal of aggressively probing every crime reported to it.

“We work violent crimes first. If someone steals your trash can or your lawn mower out of your garage, there are no witnesses, there’s no evidence, there’s nothing for a detective to follow up on, it’s not assigned,” McClelland, a 37-year veteran of HPD, told City Council members during a budget hearing. “There has never been a time that I have been employed there that the Houston Police Department has had the capacity to investigate every crime that’s been reported to the agency.”

It was the chief’s first public comment since a city-commissioned study showed the department did not investigate 20,000 crimes with workable leads in 2013. The vast majority of the cases were burglaries and thefts, but also included 3,000 assaults and nearly 3,000 hit-and-runs.

 

Basically, Chief McClelland just admitted some cases will NEVER get investigated.  The way he talks here, HPD could care less about a person’s apartment break-in and stolen TV, because apparently they’ve got more important things to do.

Sorry Chief, but this is unacceptable.  All the time that our officers spend setting up speed traps around town, and sitting in one spot for hours to catch a couple of lead foot drivers?  All the time they spend patrolling the same 5 blocks in Montrose to profile bar patrons or nab a petty drug bust, while cars and homes are getting robbed a couple of streets away?  Surely there is a better way.

As a victim of police profiling myself, I simply have to call on HPD, Houston City Council and Mayor Annise Parker to not accept this answer.  Of course no department will be perfect… as fellow blogger Off the Kuff states, we all understand that the realities of police work call for prioritization.  But one would hope the police would always strive is to leave no stone unturned for the safety of all Houstonians.  It’s a shame that the city’s top law enforcement officer doesn’t seem to agree.  Houston deserves better than lowered expectations.  I hope the police chief figures that out, or can devise a better way to explain what’s going on in the department. His current job and any future positions may depend on it.

 

Houston Police Profile, Detain Innocent Man (Again)

How many times is this going to happen before there are some changes at HPD??

From RawStory.com

Police in Houston, Texas handcuffed, detained and searched the vehicle of an innocent man for over an hour this week, all because he gave change to a homeless person. According to Houston’s Channel 2 News, police wrongfully accused Greg Snider of giving drugs to the man who approached him and asked for change.

Snider said that he was pulling out of a parking deck and talking on his cell phone when a homeless man asked if he could spare any change. Snider rolled down his window, gave the man 75 cents and drove away.

Minutes later, a Houston police cruiser appeared in his rear-view mirror, blue lights blazing. He pulled over and was astonished to find himself face-to-face with a violently agitated officer.

“He’s screaming. He’s yelling. He’s telling me to get out of the car. He’s telling me to put my hands on the hood,” Snider recounted. “They’re like, ‘We saw you downtown. We saw what you did.’ And I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? I gave a homeless man 75 cents.’”

Officers dragged Snider from his car and cuffed him on the side of the road. At least 10 other police cruisers arrived at the scene and the officers spent an hour with drug-sniffing dogs, ripping apart the interior of Snider’s car and looking for drugs that weren’t there.

Finally, the police were forced to admit their mistake and let Snider go. He is considering legal action and was particularly put off that the cops seemed to find the whole thing funny.

This is precisely the problem with our current drug laws and enforcement culture. Instead of our police spending their time on solving serious crimes, they have been trained to devote most of it to an endless pursuit of minor offenders… so much so that they are willing to make mistakes like the arrest and detention of innocent citizens in the hopes of uncovering a major drug deal. And for the cop to witness the interaction in downtown Houston, and follow him onto the interstate instead of confronting him at the scene? Well, let’s just say it’s not only a waste of Mr. Snider’s time, but it’s also a complete waste of our tax money.

I too have been detained unfairly because an HPD cop thought I had drugs in my vehicle. Though unlike Mr. Snider, I was too scared to file a complaint, fearing possible retribution. Kudos to him for standing up against this atrocity.

Thankfully for Mr. Snider, the police owned up to their mistake on site. But what would’ve happened had they decided to formally arrest him and throw him in jail? For many people, an arrest record means that they are immediately at risk for losing their job. Once detained, that puts them at risk for eviction or foreclosure because they are unable to pay any of their bills on time. Just one unlucky encounter with a cop’s poor judgment can change the course of someone’s life for a long time.

Back before the election, I asked the Mayor about situations involving police mistreatment and brutality. She answered sincerely that steps have been taken to make filing a complaint against the department easier. But beyond changes outside of HPD, Mr. Snider’s incident reveals that much more work is still needed within to stop these abuses of power. I hope this becomes a priority in Parker’s third and final term.

The Drug War: Another Excuse For Racial Profiling

As an African-American male that grew up in the Deep South, I was taught at an early age to steer clear of the police. I never recall my family members happily greeting officers at a coffee shop, or stopping to ask them for directions. If you asked most people in my community what the first word they thought of when you say “cop”, they would probably respond with “dangerous”. In my small-town, most of the police were white men, and unfortunately, almost everyone I know has had a negative experience with them.

That everyone includes me. The first time it happened, I was 17, working at Sonic restaurant on a late Saturday night. It was about 1 am, past curfew for teenagers in our town, but there was still a group of kids that were just hanging around at the drive-in stalls. By now the only two people in the store was myself and Wes, the manager. As I got ready to clock out, Wes went outside to tell the kids to go home. I opened the door at the back of the restaurant, walked out and headed for my car. Then suddenly I heard the blare of a police siren, and a cop car pulled right in front of me.

“Excuse me young man… do you know what time it is?”

–“Yes sir, which is why I’m headed home right now”

“Well what are you doing out this time of night?” (He asks this after seeing me leave the store, in work clothes and wreaking of fryer grease)

–“Sir I’m just leaving work. But there’s several teenagers at the front of the store that are loitering.”

“Are you trying to be smart with me?”

And then my manager comes out…

—“Hello officer is there anything I can help you with? This young man has just worked a very long six-hour shift, and he needs to get home and get some rest. If you’re looking for some kids to discourage, they’re right there at the front of the store.”

“Well I’ll leave you to get back over to the Hill then. But you better go straight home.” (the Hill is where all the black people lived in our town, and yes at this time it really was ALL of them).

And that was my very first experience with Racial Profiling. Sadly, it’s not been my last. Even since moving to Houston, I have been wrongfully stopped by an HPD policeman, handcuffed and detained in a vehicle while my car was searched for drugs, only to be let go when the officers didn’t find anything. Out of pure fear, I simply drove away, wrists still scarred from the tight handcuffs. I didn’t have the good sense to file a report of the incident at the time. But knowing how often this situation happens to others, I really wish I had filed that report.

Which is why I am sharing this in the blog… to put yet another face to the statistics. For all of the hard-working police that are out there risking their lives to keep us safe, there are still too many that take advantage of citizens when they see an opportunity to do so. And even in 2013, African-Americans are still some of the most vulnerable. According to a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union and independently reviewed by the New York Times, African-Americans are nearly four times more likely to get arrested for marijuana possession than whites, whether they actually have any drugs or not. This is despite the fact that reported usage of marijuana is virtually even among blacks and whites. The reason that the arrests are so much higher for black citizens? Because those citizens are targeted by the police, even when they’ve done nothing wrong. You can look at the reports, or you can learn from personal experience, but racial profiling continues to be a sad fact of life in the United States.

Racial profiling has a long and well-documented history. In Houston, the Chad Holley case is a recent example, where a teenager was savagely beaten by a gang of rabid HPD officers. It’s important to note that none of these officers currently work for the Houston Police Department, and each of them have either been put to trial or currently on trial for the case. But from the brutality in this tape, it’s a shame that they were hired in the first place.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lvy976QKuS4]

Our nation’s misguided drug laws only add fuel to the fire of racial profiling. It gives those “bad apples” in law enforcement a powerful tool to harass citizens that THEY assume to be suspicious. And more often than not, suspicion turns out to be black and brown. As a result, we continue to misuse our community resources on nonviolent offenders, while the true, dangerous criminals roam the streets. But if someone is wrongfully arrested, and put in jail, that creates an arrest record. The once nonviolent offender is now marked for life, and set up for failure by being regulated to limited educational and economic advancement. It’s a vicious cycle that promotes discrimination, and that’s why it has to stop. Hopefully our nation will learn from states like Washington and Colorado that decriminalizing drug possession helps to save lives, discourage racial profiling, and save money for their taxpayers.