TIME justice

Supreme Court Allows Texas Voter ID Law to Stand Ahead of Midterms

Voter ID Test
A voter shows his photo identification to an election official at an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas on Feb. 26, 2014. Eric Gay—AP

Three justices issued a dissent calling the law "purposefully discriminatory"

The Supreme Court decided Saturday that Texas can enforce its controversial voter identification law in November’s midterm elections, despite recently blocking several similar laws in other states.

The law, which requires Texas voters to show photo identification like a driver’s or gun license, a military ID or a passport, is championed by some who argue that it reduces voter fraud. However, critics say it’s a means of disenfranchising voters, particularly minority groups and the poor, who can be less likely to have the government-issued identification required by the law.

While the Court left its decision over the law unexplained, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a dissent criticizing the voter ID rules, calling them “a purposefully discriminatory law” that undermines “public confidence in elections.” Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined Ginsburg’s dissent, the New York Times reports.

A report released this month by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office showed that voter ID laws similar to those in Texas contributed to lower voter turnouts in two states in 2012—between about 2.2 and 3.2 percentage points in Tennessee and 2 percentage points in Kansas. Those declines were greater among younger and black voters.

Critics of the Texas law say it would disenfranchise 600,000 registered voters in Texas, disproportionately affecting blacks and Hispanic or Latino voters. Texas officials have countered by saying that estimates of the number of people who could be deterred from voting by the law are unfounded.

After many months of legal wrangling, the Texas law, first passed in 2011, was blocked earlier this month by Texas Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of the Federal District Court in Corpus Christi. The Supreme Court’s decision overturns Gonzales’ injunction against the law, allowing it to be applied.

In the absence of an official explanation of the Court’s decision, some observers are speculating the justices allowed the law to stand to prevent confusion so close to the November’s elections. Those observers feel that reluctance to disturb the status quo as voting looms near has been the single common thread tying together several of the Court’s seemingly discordant decisions regarding voter ID laws in recent weeks.

[New York Times]

TIME justice

Conservative, Liberal Groups Try—and Fail—to Make Peace on Voting Laws

“I’m still waiting for the focus on how we get people to vote," said Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund

What would it take to find common ground between the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which is fighting restrictive voting laws in many states, and the Heritage Foundation, which supports the same laws?

At the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, representatives of the two groups discussed the battles over voting rights that they and others are fighting in courts and legislatures nationwide ahead of this fall’s midterm elections. But any hope of agreement on the issue faded quickly.

“I would be willing to partner if there were some ideas about how we open up the process, not how we restrict the process,” said LDF head, Sherrilyn Ifill, “I’m still waiting for the focus on how we get people to vote.”

Hans von Spakovsky, who heads the election law reform initiative at Heritage, said he is very concerned about what keeps people away from the polls, but argues they stay away for different reasons than voting rights advocates would have people believe. “What keeps people away is not procedural issues,” Spakovsky said. “If we want to increase turnout that is a cultural issue.”

The debate so far has produced mixed results. In North Carolina, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Texas courts have both upheld and blocked voting laws ahead of the midterm election.

 

 

TIME justice

Obama Nominates Vanita Gupta to Be Civil Rights Chief

Vanita Gupta.
Vanita Gupta. AP

Gupta has been praised for her ability to bring opposing parties together in matters of criminal justice and civil rights.

President Obama has tapped the deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Vanita Gupta, to head the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Wednesday. In a statement, Holder praised Gupta’s “trailblazing work” as a civil rights lawyer, and said she “has spent her entire career working to ensure that our nation lives up to its promise of equal justice for all.”

Strongly supported by the left, Gupta has also won unexpected praise from conservatives normally critical of the Obama administration and Holder’s leadership of the Justice Department. Conservatives including Grover Norquist and former president of the National Rifle Association David Keene are among her supporters.

“We come from a different side of spectrum than ACLU,” says Marc Levin, policy director for the conservative criminal justice reform organization Right on Crime which has an informal relationship with the ACLU. “But, I’ve found her interested in identifying areas where we can work together.”

Gupta started her career at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), where she won a challenge to reverse the convictions of a group of black men who were wrongfully convicted of selling drugs in Texas. In 2003, Gov. Rick Perry pardoned the defendants. At the ACLU she led a lawsuit against a Texas immigration detention facility that led to widespread detention policy reform.

As outrage has erupted in Ferguson, Mo. over the killing of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer, Gupta and the ACLU have been among the loudest voices calling for accountability and transparency from the police department. Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of LDF, said Wednesday that Gupta has “expertise in bringing law enforcement and communities of color to the same table, in pursuit of common goals of fairness and accountability.

Former U.S. Pardon Attorney Margaret Love says Gupta’s appointment is a “happy confirmation of the Obama Administration’s appreciation of the relationship between civil rights and the criminal justice system.”

Gupta may prove a less divisive choice than Obama’s prior nominee for the civil rights post, Debo Adegbile. His nomination was blocked in Congress because he once represented death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer. The Obama administration stood by their nomination of Adegbile, but he later withdrew and returned to private practice.

Gupta has her own legal history, however. She made her name in part by fighting to reform the nation’s drug laws, including embracing broad decriminalization of some drugs. In an opinion piece for the New York Times last September, she called for the elimination of the mandatory minimum sentences that have left many first-time offenders locked up for life. She supports of decriminalizing marijuana, the criminalization of which she has said has contributed to our nation’s overcrowded prison system.

“Those who seek a fairer criminal justice system, unclouded by racial bias, must at a minimum demand that the government eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, which tie judges’ hands; rescind three-strikes laws, which often make no distinction between, say, armed assault and auto theft; amend ‘truth in sentencing’ statutes, which prohibit early release for good behavior; and recalibrate drug policies, starting with decriminalization of marijuana possession and investment in substance-abuse prevention and treatment,” Gupta wrote in the New York Times.

TIME justice

John Grisham Says Sentences Often Too Harsh for Child-Porn Watchers

John Grisham speaks during a television interview in New York in 2012.
John Grisham speaks during a television interview in New York in 2012. Scott Eells—Bloomberg/Getty Images

“These are people who haven’t hurt anybody. They deserve some type of punishment, whatever, but 10 years in prison?”

Best-selling author John Grisham blasted the harsh punishment that people who watch child pornography face upon conviction, saying the prison system has “gone nuts.”

“We have prisons now filled with guys my age — 60-year-old white men in prison who’ve never harmed anybody,” Grisham said in a recent interview. Grisham said there are men in prison who “got online one night” who “probably had too much to drink” and ended up on child-pornography websites, a crime he said a friend had committed.

The writer of legal thrillers The Pelican Brief, The Firm and A Time to Kill took the controversial stance in a recent interview with Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, in which he spoke at length about issues he believes face the American criminal-justice system today. During the interview, Grisham shared the story of a friend from law school who served time in prison for downloading child pornography.

“These are people who haven’t hurt anybody. They deserve some type of punishment, whatever, but 10 years in prison?” Grisham queried.

There is wide consensus in the U.S. that the distribution and possession of child pornography is a federal offense that should be punished, but there is controversy surrounding the one-size-fits-all approach to punishment, particularly at a time when sexting and online porn are so prevalent. Over the past 15 years, according to the advocacy organization Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the length of federal sentences for child pornography have increased 500%.

In 2013, the U.S. Sentencing Commission began reviewing the sentencing policy surrounding child pornography, given the complexity of the issue in the Internet age. “Because of changes in the use of Internet-based technologies, the existing penalty structure is in need of revision. Child-pornography offenders engage in a variety of behaviors reflecting different degrees of culpability and sexual dangerousness that are not currently accounted for in the guidelines,” the commission’s chair Judge Patti Saris said in 2013.

Grisham stopped short of defending all convicted sex offenders, adding that he has “no sympathy” for pedophiles. “God, please lock those people up,” he said. “But so many of these guys do not deserve harsh prison sentences, but that’s what they get.”

[Telegraph]

Read next: John Grisham Apologizes for Child Porn Remarks

TIME justice

Supreme Court Halts Some Texas Abortion Restrictions

A group from Texas display their flags during a rally on the Mall for the March for Life anti-abortion demonstration on Jan. 22, 2014.
A group from Texas display their flags during a rally on the Mall for the March for Life anti-abortion demonstration on Jan. 22, 2014. Tom Williams—Roll Call/Getty Images

Justices suspended key parts of a law that has closed all but eight facilities providing abortions in the Lone Star state

The Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked key parts of a 2013 law in Texas that had closed all but eight facilities providing abortions in America’s second most-populous state.

In an unsigned order, the justices sided with abortion rights advocates and health care providers in suspending an Oct. 2 ruling by a panel of the New Orleans-based U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that Texas could immediately apply a rule making abortion clinics statewide spend millions of dollars on hospital-level upgrades.

The court also put on hold a separate provision of the law only as it applies to clinics in McAllen and El Paso that requires doctors at the facilities to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The admitting privileges remains in effect elsewhere in Texas.

Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas said they would have ruled against the clinics in all respects.

The 5th Circuit is still considering the overall constitutionality of the sweeping measure overwhelmingly passed by the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry last year.

But even as it weighs the merits of the law, the appeals court said that it can be enforced in the meantime — opening the door for the emergency appeal to the Supreme Court.

The 5th Circuit decision had blocked an August ruling by Austin-based U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel, who had found that requiring hospital-style upgrades was less about safety than making access to abortion difficult. Yeakel’s ruling temporarily suspended the upgrade rules before they could go into effect Sept. 1 — and the order from the Supreme Court means they are on hold again.

Allowing the rules on hospital-level upgrades to be enforced — including mandatory operating rooms and air filtration systems — shuttered more than a dozen clinics across Texas.

Until the nation’s highest court intervened, only abortion facilities in the Houston, Austin, San Antonio and the Dallas-Fort Worth areas remained open. And none was left along the Texas-Mexico border or outside any of the state’s largest urban areas.

Some other clinics, meanwhile, had closed even earlier amid enforcement of the rule on admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. That portion has already been upheld twice by the appeals court.

The fight over the Texas law is the latest over tough new abortion restrictions that have been enacted across the country. The office of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican who is the favorite in next month’s governor’s race, is leading the defense of the law.

Critics call the measure a backdoor effort to outlaw abortions.

Attorneys for the state have denied that Texas women would be burdened by fewer abortion facilities, saying nearly 9 in 10 would still live within 150 miles of a provider. The law’s opponents, however, note that still leaves nearly a million Texas women embarking on drives longer than three hours to get an abortion.

Democrat Wendy Davis launched her campaign for governor behind the celebrity she achieved through a nearly 13-hour filibuster last summer that temporarily blocked the law in the state Senate.Justices stop parts of Texas abortion law

TIME justice

Obama to Wait Until After Election to Nominate Next Attorney General

Senate Democrats feared a confirmation vote right before Election Day

President Barack Obama will wait until after the midterm elections to nominate his next Attorney General, a White House official confirmed Tuesday.

Obama has been weighing whether to nominate a replacement for departing Attorney General Eric Holder before November’s election, after the White House announced last month that Obama’s longtime confidant decided to step down. But nominating a candidate before the midterm elections would have complicated the reelection campaigns of vulnerable Senate Democrats who are trying to separate themselves from the unpopular president, with lawmakers being called to state their support for or opposition to Obama’s selection before voters determine the balance of control in the Senate.

Obama is expected to unveil his selection shortly after the election. Among those up for consideration for the post, according to Democrats, are White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez.

TIME Thailand

The Investigation Into Thailand’s Backpacker Slayings Is Officially a Farce

Two workers from Myanmar, suspected of killing two British tourists on the island of Koh Tao last month, stand during a re-enactment of the alleged crime, on the island
Two Burmese workers, wearing helmets and handcuffs, suspected of killing two British tourists on the Thai island of Koh Tao last month, stand near Thai police officers during a re-enactment of the alleged crime on Oct. 3, 2014, on the spot where the bodies of the tourists were found on the island Reuters

Allegations of torture, procedural irregularities and wild speculation in the press: Thai authorities are botching a high-profile murder probe

Murdered British backpacker Hannah Witheridge was finally laid to rest in England on Friday. But 6,000 miles away in Thailand, the investigation into her tragic death, and that of her friend David Miller, whose funeral took place Oct. 3, spiraled further into farce.

The main suspects in the killings, which took place on the Thai Gulf island of Koh Tao, have reportedly claimed that they were tortured into a confession, and public prosecutors rejecting the police report.

“The two victims and their families deserve justice, which will only be possible if there is a fair and transparent process,” says Kingsley Abbott, Bangkok-based adviser for the International Commission of Jurists. Above all, he adds, “the burden of proof rests on the prosecution,” as the “two men must be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

On Sept. 15, the bloodied bodies of Witheridge, 23, and Miller, 24, were discovered on the island that is famous among scuba divers and sandal-clad tourists for its pristine beaches and coral reefs.

Burmese nationals Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 21, were arrested last Friday and quickly confessed to the double murder. They had apparently worked illegally on the island for a number of years and were driven, say police, by a desire to rape Witheridge after seeing the young British couple canoodling on the white sand.

The Thai authorities then dragged the two suspects to the rocky outcrop where the tourists’ bodies were found for a grisly re-enactment. Wearing helmets and body armor, they demonstrated for assembled media how the bludgeoning, using a garden hoe and wooden stake, took place and prayed for forgiveness. Both could face a death sentence if convicted.

Yet a litany of questions and inconsistencies hang over the investigation. Other than the apparent retraction, proffered by an official at the Burmese embassy, there has been a rejection of the police’s investigation report, with public prosecutors on Wednesday asking the authors to supply “more crucial information,” “fix certain flaws” and make the 850-page document “more succinct.”

Numerous character witnesses have come out to defend Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun and they have no criminal record. Essentially, the case against them hinges on five strands of evidence:

  1. Their Confessions. The most damning evidence in any case is a confession. However, reports have since emerged that Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun were beaten and threatened with electrocution during interrogation. (Other irregular workers questioned have alleged they were alternately offered bribes and doused with boiling water.) It also emerged that the translator used was a Rohingya — a member of a distinct Burmese ethnicity that suffers periodic pogroms at the hands of west Burma’s Rakhine majority, to which the accused both belong. There are unconfirmed rumors that the interpreter, who has since even given interviews, actually participated in the beatings. In addition, upon initially being picked up, neither the accused were apparently provided with a lawyer as they were being questioned under the Immigration Act rather than as part of a murder inquiry. (It is unclear at what stage a legal counsel was eventually provided.)
  2. Three DNA Samples. These were found on two cigarette butts close to the crime scene, two of which — from Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun — are purportedly matches for samples recovered from Witheridge’s body. The third is apparently that of Maung Maung, a friend of the accused who says he was with them drinking beer and playing guitar on the beach shortly before the attack. However, Dr. Pornthip Rojanasunan, director general of the Central Institute of Forensic Science and the country’s leading forensics authority, on Thursday decried the collection of evidence as a “weak point” and said the police committed a major error when they failed to involve a forensic pathologist.
  3. Maung Maung’s Testimony. This forms the third strand of evidence, although it is no slam dunk. He admits being with his two friends on the beach but leaving them at around 1 a.m. They wanted to keep on drinking, he said, so he went to see his girlfriend. He claims not to have seen any evidence of a crime, according to media reports.
  4. CCTV Footage. This shows the three Burmese riding a motorbike by a convenience store, where they apparently bought cigarettes and three bottles of beer. It corroborates Maung Maung’s version of events, but is circumstantial at best.
  5. Miller’s Cell Phone. It was discovered at lodgings of Zaw Lin, according to police. The device, a black iPhone 4, was apparently smashed and discarded as it did not work inside Thailand. But why would Zaw Lin do that when he could have sold it for at least a month’s salary? And if he was concerned about possible incrimination, why keep it at home?

But there are numerous other threads to tug. Given that Burmese migrants were in the spotlight from the outset, and this pair were well-known on the island and frequently seen in the vicinity of the crime scene, why were they not hauled in for DNA tests and questioning sooner?

In addition, there have been significant procedural irregularities, including allowing tourists into the crime scene before all evidence was collected. CCTV footage has been produced, but with significant gaps, and only from a selection of the many sources available. The defense team will want to examine this all. There is also no complete, undisputed timeline of Witheridge and Miller’s movements prior to the attack. Considering the notoriety of the case, and the victims’ sociable nature in this small community, that is very odd.

Finally, there has been rampant press coverage of the unsubstantiated remarks made by local officials. In the latest, the chief of the prison where the suspects are being held told a reporter Thursday he “is afraid they may commit suicide” because they are “feeling guilty for the crime.”

Thailand does not have jury trials and so the press has free reign to report on ongoing investigations, with the presumption that the sitting judge will be able to discount all speculation and concentrate on the evidence in hand. Even so, it is clearly prejudicial to the suspects to have individuals from such diverse sources as Burmese embassy, the Myanmar Migrant Labour Association and the Thai police, among others, talking openly to the media about what the suspects supposedly think and feel.

“That all these people are coming out and making these statements is incredibly detrimental to a fair trial,” says British labor-rights activist Andy Hall, who, as part of a monitoring mission, has met with the accused, the police, the prosecution team and British Ambassador Mark Kent.

Abbott agrees that normal procedure for a defense counsel would be to stop any further comment. “Our primary concern at this stage is to ensure the two suspects are provided with the assistance of a competent lawyer of their choosing,” he says, adding that whoever is chosen must have “adequate time and facilities to review the evidence.”

Otherwise, we may have to mourn not two, but four lives senselessly lost that night on Koh Tao.

TIME justice

Suspicious Prison Deaths Put a Spotlight on Florida

Latandra Ellington Florida Department of Corrections

Several deaths while in prison custody are under investigation

On Oct. 1, Latandra Ellington was found dead inside the Lowell Correction Institution in Ocala, Fla., apparently from repeated blows to her stomach. About a week and a half before, the 36-year-old inmate had written a letter to her aunt, saying she was concerned for her safety in prison and claimed that an officer named “Sgt. Q” was threatening to kill her.

According to attorneys representing Ellington’s family, an independent autopsy shows blunt force trauma and hemorrhaging to her body from what appeared to be punches or kicks. The attorneys, along with several organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International, are calling for a federal investigation into her death.

The Ellington case is one of several suspicious deaths in state prisons that have made headlines in Florida, including a deadly incident in 2010 involving Randall Jordan-Aparo, who reportedly died while being gassed in his cell, and Darren Rainey, who died in 2012 after being forced to take a scalding hot shower that caused his skin to separate from his body.

Ellington’s death is the third fatality in custody at Lowell this year. Two others at the prison are under review by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

While the inmate mortality rate in Florida and across the country has remained relatively steady over the last decade, Florida outpaces most states in terms of mortality rate per 100,000 inmates, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Florida Department of Corrections. In 2001, 182 prisoners died in Florida compared with 297 in 2011, but the population also grew at a similar rate over that same time period. The mortality rate per 100,000 prisoners slightly increased from 253 in 2001 to 294 in 2011.

Part of that may be due to the rapidly aging prison population in Florida, which mirrors the state’s population generally. From 2001 to 2008, the number of Florida inmates who were 55 and older increased by 161%, says Bill Bales, a criminology professor at Florida State University. And the number of federal and state prisoners in the U.S. who were 55 and older increased 94% in the same time period, according to Pew Research.

Overall and nationwide, the largest share of prisoner deaths—almost 90%—are due to illness. But the share of state prisoner deaths due to homicide—which includes homicide committed by other inmates, prison staff or those resulting from assaults prior to incarceration—have increased from 1.4% in 2001 to 2.1% in 2011 around the country, according to BJS.

This year in Florida, there have been three homicides and one suicide in state prisons. Investigations into 99 other deaths are currently pending.

Dan Mears, a criminal justice professor at the University of Florida, says prisons with increases in suspicious inmate deaths often have problems that start at the top and work their way down. Florida’s Department of Corrections, for example, has gone through four leadership changes in the last five years.

“At the end of the day, when you’re asking why some prisons have higher rates of suicide or higher rates of suspicious deaths and why they increase over time, it’s often because they’re being poorly administered—and oftentimes they’ve hired new officers who aren’t as highly trained,” Mears says. “That could potentially fuel those deaths.”

Mears adds that badly run prisons often have inadequate training for officers and don’t properly teach them how to handle conflicts with inmates, which can often lead to fatal consequences.

In September, the Florida DOC fired dozens of employees, many of whom have been involved in deaths that are currently under investigation, including that of Jordan-Aparo, who was gassed in his cell. Their dismissal letters said they were fired for participating “in a force incident that resulted in the death of an inmate.”

A Lowell prison official, Sgt. Patrick Quercioli, is now being investigated in Ellington’s death, according to the Miami Herald, and has been arrested twice while tallying 22 use-of-force filings while working for the DOC.

“Our department should be held to the highest standards, and I have zero tolerance for anything,” DOC Secretary Michael Crews said in a statement.

As the state reviews the case, attorneys for Ellington’s family, who also represent the family of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teen shot and killed by George Zimmerman in February 2012, are calling for the Department of Justice to investigate.

“She was not sentenced to the death sentence,” said civil rights attorney Daryl Parks, according to the Herald. “The Department of Corrections certainly owed her far greater protection.”

TIME 2014 Election

Supreme Court Allows North Carolina Voting Law to Stand in Midterm

A voter displays their "I Voted" sticker on their lapel after voting as others wait in line for the first day of Early Voting on October 18, 2012 in Wilson, North Carolina.
A voter displays an "I Voted" sticker on her lapel after voting as others wait in line for the first day of early voting on Oct. 18, 2012, in Wilson, N.C. Sara D. Davis—Getty Images

Same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting are prohibited in the Tar Heel state this November

Voters in North Carolina will not have access to same-day registration or out-of-precinct voting in this midterm election, after the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked an appellant court order to stay parts of a sweeping voting law that voting-rights advocates say could leave many voters disenfranchised come November.

“We are disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling today,” the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, said in a statement. Tens of thousands of North Carolina voters, especially African-American voters, have relied on same-day registration, as well as the counting of ballots that were cast out of precinct, for years.”

The North Carolina State Board of Elections said that in 2010, over 21,000 voters registered and voted on the same day during the early voting period, and just over 6,000 voters were able to have their ballots counted even though they voted in the wrong precinct. During May’s 2014 primary, over 400 voters didn’t have their votes counted because these provisions were removed, Durham-based organization Democracy NC reports.

These measures are just two of many that the heavily GOP-backed law eliminated in 2013, in what supporters called an effort to prevent voting fraud in the Tar Heel state. Several organizations have filed a suit against the voting law in the hope of blocking it before this year’s election.

Critics of the law had cause for hope when an appellant court ruled last week that parts of the law should be blocked in November, but the state quickly appealed to the Supreme Court.

In an interview with TIME on Monday, Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project which is representing the North Carolina NAACP in the case against HB 589, said they would “continue to fight this case” which goes to full trial next summer.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure voters do get registered and do get to the right precinct,” Hair said. “But, the problem is issues sometimes slip through.”

Early voting begins Oct. 23 in North Carolina. The voter registration deadline is Friday, Oct. 10.

TIME Crime

Boston Police Show Racial Bias in Stops and Searches, Report Finds

A police officer salutes during the National Anthem before the first game of a doubleheader between the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on July 5, 2014 in Boston.
A police officer salutes during the National Anthem before the first game of a doubleheader between the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on July 5, 2014 in Boston. Jim Rogash—Getty Images

The ACLU found that police gave little-to-no justification for 75% of more than 200,000 encounters

The Boston Police Department has engaged in racially biased policing, often stopping black civilians in the city with little justification, a new report by the Massachusetts branch of the American Civil Liberties Union shows.

About 63% of the Boston Police Department’s encounters with civilians between 2007 and 2010 targeted African-Americans, according to the ACLU’s Black, Brown, and Targeted report released Wednesday. The data is based off a preliminary analysis of 204,000 of the BPD’s “Field Interrogation, Observation, Frisk and/or Search” reports between 2007 and 2010.

The report found that police gave little-to-no justification for 75% of more than 200,000 encounters examined by the ACLU—listing the cause as “investigative person” most of the time. These encounters involved stop-and-frisk, searches, interrogations, and observations, the ACLU said, but most did not result in an arrest and only in about 2.5% of the total cases did officers seize contraband.

According to data provided by the Boston Police Department, about 23% of the police department is black, a number close to 2010 Census data on the black population of Boston (24.4%). The police department released its own preliminary findings on Wednesday and said in an emailed statement that the data released by the ACLU doesn’t paint the whole picture.

“When the final report is complete, the BPD will seek the advice of an outside consultant to advise on whether there are further steps the Department can take to ensure officers are appropriately conducting FIO’s,” the BPD statement said. “Until then it would be irresponsible and inflammatory to promulgate study findings out of context.”

The report comes on the heels of civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, one of several tumultuous events over the summer that highlighted tensions between urban and African-American communities and the officers that police them.

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