TIME Ferguson

Holder ‘Prepared’ to Dismantle the Ferguson Police Department

Attorney General Eric Holder talks with media as he arrives on Air Force One in Andrews Air Force Base, Md. on March 6, 2015, with President Barack Obama, from Columbia, S.C.
Carolyn Kaster—AP Attorney General Eric Holder talks with media as he arrives on Air Force One in Andrews Air Force Base, Md. on March 6, 2015, with President Barack Obama, from Columbia, S.C.

'We are prepared to use all the powers that we have,' the Attorney General said Friday

Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday that he’s “prepared” to dismantle the Ferguson, Mo., police department after a Wednesday Department of Justice report revealed numerous instances of racial discrimination and constitutional violations within the force.

“We are prepared to use all the powers that we have, all the power that we have, to ensure that the situation changes there,” Holder said. “That means everything from working with them to coming up with an entirely new structure … If [dismantling is] what’s necessary, we’re prepared to do that.”

Holder called Ferguson an “anomoly” but hopes other departments around the country are paying close attention to the contents of the Wednesday report, which stated that the Ferguson police valued “revenue rather than public safety needs.”

“The notion that you would use a law enforcement agency or law enforcement generally to generate revenue, and then the callous way in which that was done and the impact that it had on the lives of the ordinary citizens of that municipality, was just appalling,” Holder told reporters at Andrews Air Force Base. “And that is not something that we’re going to tolerate.”

[Washington Post]

TIME Supreme Court

Super Bowl Champions Back Gay Marriage At Court

Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates after defeating the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on in Glendale, Ariz. on Feb. 1, 2015.
Tom Pennington—Getty Images Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates after defeating the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on in Glendale, Ariz. on Feb. 1, 2015.

"Our players have traditionally been supportive of these kinds of things," said Rays president.

WASHINGTON — The New England Patriots are for same-sex marriage. So are the San Francisco Giants.

The reigning baseball and football champions, along with baseball’s small-market Tampa Bay Rays, are among the thousands of businesses, religious groups, advocacy organizations and politicians who are filing legal briefs at the Supreme Court in support of gay marriage.

The cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee will be argued April 28, and a decision is expected by early summer.

Roughly six dozen briefs backing pro-gay rights plaintiffs in the four states are expected by the Friday deadline. Included is a “people’s brief” filed by the Human Rights Campaign with the signatures of 207,551 people.

The Super Bowl champion Patriots, the World Series-winning Giants and the Rays are part of a brief from hundreds of U.S. businesses.

The Patriots play in Massachusetts, the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry, and the Giants represent a city that is notable for its gay and lesbian community.

Rays president Brian Auld said it was important that his team stand up, as well.

“We’re a small but visible business and I actually think it’s important that we send this signal of inclusion to the entire region,” Auld said in a telephone interview Thursday as he watched the Rays’ first spring training game in Port Charlotte, Florida.

The team also has participated in the “It Gets Better” project to encourage gay and lesbian teenagers who’ve been bullied.

“Our players have traditionally been supportive of these kinds of things,” Auld said.

Mayors of 226 U.S. cities also are expressing their support for same-sex marriage. Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley says he is not sure how his constituents feel about the issue, but said it wouldn’t affect his view either way. “I don’t think constitutional rights are subject to public opinion,” Cranley said.

Four couples from California and Virginia who had wanted the court to use their cases to settle the issue of same-sex marriage nationwide also are calling on the justices to strike down state gay-marriage bans everywhere.

TIME justice

Attorney General Says Report on Ferguson Police Is ‘Searing’

Attorney General Eric Holder delivers remarks about the Justice DepartmentÕs findings related to two investigations in Ferguson, Missouri, at the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building March 4, 2015 in Washington, DC. Holder delivered the remarks for an audience of department employees who worked on the investigations after a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, sparking weeks of demonstrations and violent clashes.
Chip Somodevilla—2015 Getty Images Attorney General Eric Holder delivers remarks about the Justice Department's findings related to two investigations in Ferguson, Missouri, at the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building March 4, 2015 in Washington, DC.

"Some of those protesters were right"

Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that even though the Justice Department will not charge a Ferguson, Mo., police officer with civil rights violations in last year’s shooting death of Michael Brown, it will guarantee the city takes “immediate, wholesale and structural corrective action” after a report found a pattern of racial bias.

Earlier in the day, the Justice Department released a report Holder described as “searing” that detailed that bias, noting instances of bigoted emails, unjustified arrests and excessive force. In a separate report, investigators found officer Darren Wilson was not at fault for Brown’s death, which set off sometimes violent protests in Ferguson and across the country.

“Michael Brown’s death though tragic did not involve prosecutable conduct by Officer Wilson,” Holder said. “These findings may not be consistent with some people’s expectations.”

Holder cited several damning statistics about how the police routinely discriminated against black residents: almost 90% of unnecessary force was directed at African Americans; the use of police dogs was exclusively reserved for African Americans; and 90% of stops and arrests for “manner of walking in roadway” involved African Americans.

“Members of the community may not have been responding to a single isolated confrontation but also to a pervasive, coercive and deep lack of trust,” he said. “Some of those protesters were right.”

Holder recommended several concrete changes and said the Justice Department reserves the right to “force compliance and implement basic change.”

Among the recommendations, Holder continued, are the implementation of a “robust system of true community policing”; a review and analysis of the Ferguson police department’s stop, search, ticketing and arrest practices; more civilian involvement in law-enforcement’s decisionmaking; as well as new ways to more effectively respond to claims of officer misconduct.

The report also suggests changes to the municipal court system, which include modifying bond amounts and procedures for detention, an end to the practice of using arrest warrants to collect owed dues, among others.

Read more: U.S. Faults Ferguson Police for Racial Bias

TIME Civil Rights

Feds Clear Ferguson Cop Darren Wilson of Civil Rights Violations

Prosecutors cannot disprove that the officer who shot Michael Brown "feared for his safety”

The Department of Justice has cleared Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., of committing civil rights violations in the August confrontation that sparked sometimes violent local and national protests.

A separate report from the Justice Department did find, however, that the Ferguson Police Department was in frequent violation of several provisions of the Constitution.

The report, one of two released on Wednesday, broadly corroborates Wilson’s account of what happened in the St. Louis suburb on Aug.9. The officer said he spotted Brown and a friend walking in the middle of the street. Wilson told prosecutors and investigators he suspected the pair in the theft of cigarillos from a nearby convenience store, and called for backup before pulling to a stop near them.

The officer and some witnesses said Brown reached into Wilson’s police car to punch and grab him. Even though other witnesses stated that Wilson had reached out of his vehicle to grab Brown by the neck, prosecutors said their accounts were “inconsistent with physical and forensic evidence.”

Wilson said he took out his weapon while still in his vehicle and shot Brown in the hand as the teenager attempted to gain control of the gun. The report found “no credible evidence to disprove Wilson’s account” of what happened inside the vehicle.

Brown then ran away and Wilson gave chase, the report said. Autopsy results found that Brown had not been shot in the back as he was running away, as some witnesses reported. Instead, the report found, Brown was approaching Wilson in a manner that “appeared to pose a physical threat” when he was shot. The shooting death led to weeks of often-violent protests in the city.

Witnesses said that “Wilson fired at Brown in what appeared to be self-defense and stopped firing once Brown fell to the ground.” Though a number of witnesses claimed Brown held his hands up in a surrender position before Wilson fired, the report found that they were not credible.

“Some of those accounts are inaccurate because they are inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence; some of those accounts are materially inconsistent with that witnesses’ own prior statements with no explanation,” the Wilson report concluded. A state grand jury declined to indict Wilson in November; he resigned from the Ferguson Police Department that same month.

A separate Justice Department investigation opened after Brown’s shooting has found routine patterns and practices of racism in Ferguson, including the excessive use of force and unjustified arrests.

“Our investigation showed that Ferguson police officers routinely violate the Fourth Amendment in stopping people without reasonable suspicion, arresting them without probable cause, and using unreasonable force against them,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement accompanying the release of the reports. “Now that our investigation has reached its conclusion, it is time for Ferguson’s leaders to take immediate, wholesale and structural corrective action.”

Brown’s parents said they were “saddened” by the decision to clear Wilson, but said they were encouraged by the DOJ’s findings about the Ferguson police. “It is our hope that through this action, true change will come not only in Ferguson, but around the country,” Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr. said in a statement. “If that change happens, our son’s death will not have been in vain.”

TIME justice

Ferguson Reviewing Federal Report on Police Force

Police are deployed to keep peace along Florissant Avenue on Aug. 16, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.
Scott Olson—Getty Images Police are deployed to keep peace along Florissant Avenue on Aug. 16, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.

Report culminates probe after Michael Brown shooting last summer

(FERGUSON, Mo.) — The St. Louis suburb of Ferguson says it’s received a copy of the Justice Department report on its investigation into the police force.

The city issued a statement Tuesday saying it would wait to comment about the investigation that law enforcement officials say found sweeping patterns of racial bias.

The report culminates a probe into a police department that commanded national attention after an officer shot and killed an unarmed black 18-year-old, Michael Brown, last summer.

The city says Justice Department officials supplied a copy of the report to the mayor, city manager, police chief and city attorney during a meeting Tuesday in downtown St. Louis.

The city’s statement offered no details. The city says it’s reviewing the report and will comment Wednesday after the Justice Department makes it public.

TIME justice

U.S. Faults Ferguson Police for Racial Bias

Protesters drop a mirrored casket in front of a line of police officers in front of the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Mo. on Oct. 10, 2014.
Robert Cohen—St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Getty Images Protesters drop a mirrored casket in front of a line of police officers in front of the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Mo., on Oct. 10, 2014

The report is scathing, but the big question is what comes next

The violent protests in Ferguson last August were driven by the indelible image of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, lying in the street after a white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot him dead. But the outrage in Ferguson, and the national debate that accompanied it, were also about something harder to see: racism, and the allegation that Ferguson’s largely white cops were deeply, systematically and violently prejudiced against black residents.

Now, as one of his last acts as U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder has painted a picture of Ferguson’s entrenched racism that is clear and unmistakable. A Justice Department investigation opened after Brown’s shooting has found routine patterns and practices of racism in Ferguson, including the excessive use of force and unjustified arrests, officials said Tuesday. The findings are scathing in their detail:

In 88 percent of the cases in which the department used force, it was against African Americans. In all of the 14 canine-bite incidents for which racial information was available, the person bitten was African American.

In Ferguson court cases, African Americans are 68 percent less likely than others to have their cases dismissed by a municipal judge, according to the Justice review. In 2013, African Americans accounted for 92 percent of cases in which an arrest warrant was issued.

The investigation also turned up bigoted emails, like one from November 2008 that reportedly said President Obama wouldn’t complete his first term as President because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported another racist message, from May 2011, reading: “An African-American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $5,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said, ‘Crimestoppers.'”

The Justice Department spent 100 days in Ferguson collecting such details, and the report is an end in itself, putting an official stamp on the town’s problems that some had found easy to dismiss. But when it comes to fixing the harsh reality of racism in Ferguson, it’s not clear transparency will be enough.

The question now is whether the report will deliver reform in the beleaguered St. Louis suburb. The Justice Department under Holder has significantly increased the number of pattern or practice investigations, and some past settlements with police departments have led to dramatic improvements. But others say the department’s lack of enforcement powers mean reform depends on local politicians, and worry Ferguson’s leaders won’t bring change.

Under the 1994 law authorizing such “pattern or practice” investigations, the Justice Department has little enforcement power to fix the problems it finds. As a rule, it enters into contracts with the offending force, which agrees to increase transparency and data collection and to provide better training and supervision.

Police officials and their unions often resist reform, several studies have shown. The Justice Department has “very few sticks they can use,” to get past such obstacles, says Elliot Harvey Schatmeier, a lawyer at the New York City office of Kirkland & Ellis and the author of one such study.

Others say that in many cases, the attention brought by the investigations is enough. In Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Los Angeles, Justice Department investigations led to successful reforms, says Chris Stone, president of the Open Society Foundations and a criminal-justice scholar. More important, Stone says, “They’ve established a national standard for what good policing looks like.”

Holder’s Ferguson findings, Stone says, have the potential to lead to a similar blueprint for smaller, suburban police forces around the country, which have typically been hard to reform.

By the same token, though, a failure in the high-profile Ferguson case could set back the effort to reform small police departments. Holder has established with clarity the problem in Ferguson. But without local political buy-in, the town that came to symbolize 21st century police racism in America could end up symbolizing its resistance to reform too.

TIME justice

U.S. Report Finds Racial Bias in Ferguson Police, Official Says

Protesters drop a mirrored casket in front of a line of police officers in front of the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Mo. on Oct. 10, 2014.
Robert Cohen—St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Getty Images Protesters drop a mirrored casket in front of a line of police officers in front of the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Mo., on Oct. 10, 2014

(WASHINGTON) — A Justice Department investigation will allege sweeping patterns of discrimination within the Ferguson, Missouri, police department and at the municipal jail and court, a law enforcement official familiar with the report said Tuesday.

The report, which could be released as soon as Wednesday, will charge that police disproportionately use excessive force against blacks and that black drivers are stopped and searched far more often than white motorists, even though they’re less likely to be carrying contraband.

The Justice Department also found that blacks were 68 percent less likely than others to have their cases dismissed by a municipal court judge, and that from April to September of last year, 95 percent of people kept at the city jail for more than two days were black, according to the official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak on the record before the report is made public.

The Justice Department began the civil rights investigation following the August shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, by a white police officer. That killing set off weeks of protests.

The official says the report will allege direct evidence of racial bias among police officers and court workers and detail a criminal justice system that prioritizes generating revenue over public safety.

Among the findings of the report was a racially tinged 2008 message in a municipal email account stating that President Barack Obama would not be president for very long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.”

The department has conducted roughly 20 broad civil rights investigations of police departments during the tenure of Attorney General Eric Holder, including Cleveland, Newark, New Jersey and Albuquerque. Most of those investigations end with the police department agreeing to changes its practices.

TIME

L.A. Police Say Homeless Man Tried to Grab Gun Before Fatal Shooting

Charlie Beck
Damian Dovarganes—AP Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck comments on the shooting of a homeless man on Skid Row of Los Angeles, at a news conference at police headquarters on March 2, 2015.

But a bystander who caught the incident on video says otherwise

Los Angeles’ police chief said Monday there was evidence that a homeless man shot and killed by officers on Sunday had struggled over one of their guns, but a bystander who captured a viral video of the deadly incident says he never saw the man reach for a weapon.

Police Chief Charlie Beck said during a news conference that the slide of the weapon had been “partially engaged,” which is “indicative of a struggle over a weapon,” according to the Los Angeles Times, which has reviewed a second video of the deadly altercation.

Police were responding to a suspected robbery call and pursued a man known by some as “Africa” in the Skid Row area, home to one of the largest populations of homeless people in the country. After officers made contact, the department said in a statement, the man apparently began to fight back and resist being taken into custody.

“The officers attempted to use a Taser to subdue him but the suspect continued to fight and resist the officers and fell to the ground,” the statement continues. “While on the ground, the suspect and officers struggled over one of the officer’s handguns and then an officer-involved shooting occurred.”

Sunday’s encounter was recorded by at least one officer’s body camera and caught on a video that was circulated widely on Facebook. The bystander who recorded the footage, Anthony Blackburn, told CNN on Monday that he hadn’t seen the man reach for a weapon.

Beck said the officers involved in the shooting had received training about working with mentally ill people. The man reportedly spent the past few months living in a tent after previously residing at a mental-health facility.

Police said the shooting is being investigated by a number of law-enforcement offices, including the Office of Inspector General and Los Angeles Country District Attorney’s Justice System, to determine if the man’s death was another case of excessive force by police, as some witnesses and local activists claim.

TIME justice

White House Task Force Calls for Better Data on Police Shootings

Barack Obama
Jacquelyn Martin—AP President Barack Obama, flanked by former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson, left, and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, speaks during a meeting with members of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing

Group calls for minimizing the use of military level equipment during demonstrations, but shies away from suggesting more body cameras

A task force established by President Obama after high-profile shootings of black men by police is calling for the federal government to keep better records on officer-involved shootings.

After 90 days of hearings and meetings with a wide range of civil rights groups and local police agencies, the Task Force on 21st Century Policing included the recommendation in its first report Monday.

It notes that a 1994 law requires the Department of Justice to gather data about excessive force by police officers and publish an annual summary but notes that has never been done in a “serious and sustained” way.

The report also suggests that local agencies adopt more of a community policing approach, minimize the use of military equipment at protests and rallies and have outside investigators look into police shootings. But it stopped short of endorsing widespread adoption of body cameras, an idea which first came up after a shooting in Ferguson, Mo.

Task force members said that body cameras could be helpful but that privacy concerns need to be considered first.

“Any technology we apply, we need to understand its usefulness,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, the co-chair of the task force, on a call with reporters Monday. “But we also need to make sure we’re working within a constitutional framework.”

“Today we’re talking about body cameras, but tomorrow it will be something else,” Ramsey added.

Marc Morial, president of the civil rights organization National Urban League, which called for more body cameras in testimony to the task force, praised the recommendations for independent investigators, but said that not coming down hard in favor of body and dashboard cameras a “missed opportunity.”

“Privacy concerns that might be there are not enough to put the breaks on an idea whose time has come,” Morial tells TIME.

Aside from the specific recommendations, the report stresses the need for police to establish trust and demonstrate transparency to the communities they serve.

The task force makes some evergreen calls to action like engaging with community members and better addressing prejudice, while also calling on the federal government to take a hard look at criminal justice policies such as sentencing and reentry and societal issues like poverty and education that can further exacerbate police distrust.

Many of the federal task force’s recommendations align with similar calls made by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which released a report on community-police relations in January. Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson of Gary, Ind., says that the report rightfully acknowledges that the federal government’s role in improving police-community relations is limited.

“It acknowledges that while there can be guidance and training and technical assistance that can be provided at the federal level, there really has to be a local approach and a local commitment to addressing those concerns,” she said.

Gene Voegtlin, a spokesman for the International Association of Chiefs of Police says, “This is more than just a police issue,” says “It’s a criminal justice system issue, and honestly probably a societal issue.”

TIME Marijuana

D.C.’s Weird New Free Weed Economy

Can a marijuana market that prohibits the sale of the drug work?

Stoners, rejoice: at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, stodgy Washington, D.C., became the latest and strangest frontier in the marijuana legalization movement. It’s now okay for adult residents of the District to possess two ounces of pot, grow up to six plants in their homes and share their bounty with others.

Here’s the wrinkle: there’s still no way to legally buy the drug.

Welcome to Washington’s weird new weed economy. A clash between the capital’s citizens and Congress has left the District without a system dictating how weed can be bought and sold, unlike the first four states that have legalized the drug. Washington has set up a marijuana marketplace without ironing out how the money part will work.

“What we have here is legalization without commercialization,” says Adam Eidinger, who ran the campaign to legalize weed in the nation’s capital. “We have more work to do.”

The missing link in the cannabis supply chain means the capital’s budding ganjapreneurs are about to get creative. Sure, smokers can take advantage of free seed giveaways and start growing at home. But in the meantime, unless you’re among the .003% of DC residents with a license to patronize one of the capital’s three medical dispensaries, there’s still no way to stroll into a shop and buy pot products. In the absence of traditional commerce, a social marijuana economy is apt to flower.

According to interviews with industry observers and participants, that may mean the formation of cannabis social clubs, where organizers charge admission to private event spaces where growers freely exchange their greenery. Corporations are discussing the viability of organizing sponsored weed swaps. Weed co-ops and farmer’s markets may sprout, just the ones where you get your monthly supply of organic kale or collards.

Entrepreneurs might skirt the sales prohibition by offering health seminars, massages or other services for a fee—and then hand out “free” greenery as a perk. If you’re a black-market pot dealer trawling for new clients, there’s nothing that prevents you from posting up at a bar or a concert and giving away gratis grams with a phone number on the back of the bag. All an enterprising businessman has to do is plausibly skirt the restriction against directly exchanging pot for money, goods or services.

“People are going to rush into the breach here and try to take advantage,” says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “And some will not do it right.”

All this haziness is partly the product of a clash between D.C. residents and their killjoy overlords. Last November, voters in the District overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71, a ballot measure that legalized pot use. But because of a rule that bars the city from spending money to implement ballot measures, it couldn’t set up a regulatory system. That was supposed to come later, and the city council was ready to proceed, says Eidinger. During the lame-duck session, however, a small cadre of Congressmen intervened, preventing the capital from establishing rules to govern the sale and taxation of the drug.

As legalization loomed this week, members of Congress appeared to dangle the threat of jail time over Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser. Republicans Jason Chaffetz and Mark Meadows of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform fired off a letter to Bowser calling D.C.’s decision to proceed with legalization in defiance of Congress a “knowing and willful violation of the law.”

Bowser dug in, announcing at a Wednesday afternoon press conference that the city would move ahead on schedule. The legislative branch’s attempt to overrule the will of the city is “offensive to the American value of self-governance and … disrespectful to the 650,000 taxpaying Americans living in the District,” says D.C. council member Brianne Nadeau. “If they lock up the mayor, they better take me too.”

Rep. Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican who helped lead the fight against the initiative, says Congress doesn’t “take lightly interfering in D.C. home rule” and did so only because the District is “making a clearly bad decision.”

Harris urged the Department of Justice to intervene to stop the law from taking effect. But he notes lawmakers have little recourse in the matter if that doesn’t happen. “I don’t know,” Harris says. “We’re unclear what the next step could be.”

Meanwhile, the green rush is on. Over the weekend, more than 1,000 people are expected to descend on a Holiday Inn near the U.S. Capitol for a cannabis convention that includes a trade show, job fair, growing seminar and marketing instruction. The event, which costs up to $149 for attendees who want to learn to grow their own bud, is being put on by ComfyTree, a business based in Benton Harbor, Mich.

“This is something that will have a dramatic impact on D.C.,” predicts Tiffany Bowden, the co-founder and chief happiness officer of ComfyTree. “It’s going to be a significant amount of money—not just in terms of your direct transfer of goods, because you’re not technically allowed to sell cannabis, but there’s also going to be a boom in the hydroponics sector because of the new inspiration for home growing. There’s going to be a boom for head shops…There’s going to be a boom in peripheral areas—bakeries, edibles, cooking classes.”

All that’s missing in the Washington pot economy are traditional stores and sellers.

With reporting by Alex Rogers

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