TIME justice

Feds Seek to Patch Up Relations Between Cops and Communities

Justice Department's $4.5 million program is a response to the crisis in Ferguson

The Justice Department is launching a program to improve relations between communities and the law enforcement officers that police them, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Thursday.

The $4.5 million program is part of the department’s response to the crisis in Ferguson, which shed light on the deep-seated tensions between the police and urban and black communities.

“Each of us has an essential obligation – and a unique opportunity – to ensure fairness, eliminate bias, and build community engagement,” said Attorney General Holder.

Through the program, titled the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, law enforcement agencies will be provided training on “bias reduction and procedural fairness,” according to the Department of Justice.

TIME justice

Local Prosecutors Form Nationwide Alliance Against Gun Violence

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. attends National Night Out on the streets of Manhattan on August 7, 2012 in New York City.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. attends National Night Out on the streets of Manhattan on August 7, 2012 in New York City. D Dipasupil—Getty Images

Homicide rates have improved in the past 20 years, but there's a lot more cities can do, New York City's leading prosecutor Cyrus Vance Jr. tells TIME

Prosecutors from major cities across the United States announced the formation Wednesday of an alliance to combat gun violence, even as national gun control legislation is frozen on Capitol Hill.

An October summit of the prosecutors, which organizers say will be the first of its kind, is notable for both the range of cities represented—Milwaukee’s lead prosecutor will sit side by side with Los Angeles’—and for the cooperation among disparate offices.

“What I want to achieve at the end of the day is to have very smart, dedicated people get together and start to talk about gun violence, and put the voice of prosecutors into this debate,” New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., co-chair of the new Prosecutors Against Gun Violence, told TIME in an interview. “We want to share what’s working for us.”

Vance said American cities are facing an “epidemic” of gun violence that has become a “fact of life.” There were 11,068 firearm homicides in the United States in 2011, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with a homicide rate of 3.6 per 100,000 people. Many of the prosecutors, including Vance and co-chair Mike Feuer, the City Attorney in Los Angeles, have publicly supported stricter gun control. Vance supported the NY SAFE Act, which New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the toughest gun control law in the country.

The October summit comes nearly two years after the Sandy Hook shooting, which briefly sparked a clamor for stricter gun controls but ultimately was not enough to push legislation through Congress. The summit is likely to focus on more manageable prosecutorial strategies rather than a sweeping push at broad gun control legislation, Vance said, but gun policy would be on the agenda. “If you can find something that’s working across the country and it relates to legislation or some broader policy, we’re going to share it,” Vance said.

Despite the sense of urgency among prosecutors, gun violence has fallen significantly in the United States since 1993, with firearm-related homicides dropping 39% by 2011, according to Pew Research. Vance said the decline in gun violence was due to successful policing strategies and the increasing severity with which prosecutors treat gun cases. Community organizations, Vance said, have also put pressure on police and politicians to tamp down on neighborhood crime.

“Thirty years ago, when I was a young assistant DA and murders happened every day, if someone was shot on the stoop people wouldn’t even take the time to clean up the blood,” Vance said. “Now, and not just in New York, when a homicide happens it’s something the community reacts to and wants to see action.”

The Prosecutors Against Gun Violence summit will convene in Atlanta and include 23 prosecutors from jurisdictions including New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Atlanta and Boston.

TIME justice

FLDS Successfully Cites Hobby Lobby Decision in Child Labor Suit

Hobby Lobby
Ed Andrieski—AP

A member of the Mormon offshoot argued that divulging the names of church leadership would infringe upon his religion

A judge ruled that a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is exempted from testifying in a child labor investigation, citing the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision in his ruling.

Judge David Sam ruled last week that forcing FLDS member Vergel Steed to reveal the identity of FLDS church leaders, the organizational structure of the church or information about its internal affairs would be a “substantial burden” on his free exercise of religious beliefs. The decision came down last week, but emerged in widespread public circulation Tuesday.

The decision stems from an investigation into possible labor violations during a harvest at an FLDS pecan ranch in Utah in which children and adults may have worked without pay.

In his ruling, Sam cited the 2014 case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., in which the Supreme Court ruled that a corporation can be exempt from a law—in that case, the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers pay for contraception—that its owners sincerely object to on religious grounds if there is any less restrictive means of achieving the law’s ends. Sam found that prosecutors had other means of getting the information they sought from Steed and thus that he was exempt from testifying.

FLDS, a radical offshoot sect from the mainstream Mormon church, has been under the scrutiny of authorities for years on issues including alleged child labor violations and forced marriages of grown men to underage girls. The church’s former president Warren Jeff’s is serving a life sentence in prison for numerous sex crimes including incest and pedophilia.

TIME justice

U.S. Prison Population Expands For the First Time in 3 Years

Fremont Police Detention Facility Offers Pay Upgrade For Jail Stay
Jail cells sit empty at the Fremont Police Detention Facility on August 1, 2013 in Fremont, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

1,574,700 and counting

The U.S. prison population grew for the first time in three years in 2013, according to a report released Tuesday by the Department of Justice, deflating hopes that a recent batch of minor reforms could put a major dent in the number of people incarcerated. Some 1,574,700 people are currently incarcerated in American prisons.

The growth marks a return to a long-term trend that stretches back to the early 1980s, when the prison population began to steadily expand year after year. That expansion continued until 2009, when the prison population peaked at 1,615,487 inmates. Subsequent declines offered signs that minor reforms, including lighter sentences for low-level offenders, might have begun to whittle away at incarceration rates.

The number of prisoners for every 100,000 Americans continued to fall, however, to 478 inmates, the lowest ratio in 10 years, showing that while the prison population may be growing once again, it still isn’t growing as quickly as the wider population.

The Department of Justice noted that the number of federal prisoners continued to fall in 2013, but those decreases were overwhelmed by a rise in the number of state prisoners.

TIME National Security

Feds to Boost Efforts to Prevent Americans Joining ISIS

Attorney General Eric Holder Announces Civil Rights Investigation Into Michael Brown Death
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announces a Justice Department 'patterns and practice' investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri, police department during a news conference at the department's headquarters Sept. 4, 2014 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

Department of Justice initiative will bring together local community representatives with religious leaders and government officials in several cities across the U.S.

The Department of Justice unveiled a sweeping initiative Monday to combat the threat of Americans joining terror networks like the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in communities across the country.

In a video address released Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the creation of pilot programs bringing local community representatives together with religious leaders and Justice Department officials, in the hope of keeping more Americans from attempting to join terrorist organizations abroad. Hundreds of Americans are suspected to have traveled to the Middle East in attempts to join terror organizations such as ISIS.

The programs are a collaboration between the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Counterterrorism Center. Through the programs, community groups, local officers, and U.S. attorneys will work to “build a broad network of community partnerships to keep our nation safe,” according to the Department of Justice.

“Ultimately, the pilot programs will enable us to develop and more inclusive ways to build a more just, secure and free society that all Americans deserve,” Holder said. “We must be both innovative and aggressive in combating those who would sow intolerance, division and hate.”

The programs were announced just days after extremists beheaded a British aid worker being held captive by ISIS, just one week following the murder of American journalist Steven Sotloff. President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have condemned the killings, promising to “destroy” ISIS and the threat of extremism.

TIME South Africa

Steenkamp Family Slams Pistorius Ruling

South African Paralympian athlete Oscar Pistorius leaves the High Court in Pretoria on Sept. 12, 2014 after the verdict in his murder trial where he was found guilty of culpable homicide.
South African Paralympian athlete Oscar Pistorius leaves the High Court after the verdict in his murder trial where he was found guilty of culpable homicide in Pretoria, South Africa on Sept. 12, 2014. Gianluigi Guercia—AFP/Getty Images

“Justice was not served,” said the victims mother

The family of Reeva Steenkamp, who was shot and killed by South African runner Oscar Pistorius last year, slammed the judge’s decision to acquit Pistorius of murder.

“He shot through the door and I can’t believe that they believe it was an accident,” June Steenkamp, Reeva’s mother, told NBC News. Pistorius was convicted of culpable homicide Friday but cleared of the more serious murder charge. The conviction carriers a minimum 5-year prison sentence but could be served out in the form of house arrest if at the judge’s discretion.

“I don’t really care what happens to Oscar,” June Steenkamp said in an interview with NBC News. “It’s not going to change anything because my daughter is never coming back. He’s still living and breathing and she’s gone, you know, forever.”

Pistorius will be sentenced next month.

[NBC News]

TIME justice

Ferguson Protesters Attempt to Shut Down Highway

Ferguson City Council Holds First Meeting Since Police Shooting Death Of Michael Brown
Residents shout out during the Ferguson city-council meeting on Sept. 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. Scott Olson—Getty Images

Some demonstrators appear to have been arrested by police while attempting to march near I-70 entrance ramp in the St. Louis suburb

Protesters in Ferguson, Mo., attempting to shut down a local highway on Wednesday were reportedly blocked by a phalanx of police officers, in a confrontation that risked turning violent.

The demonstration was planned as an effort to get Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to appoint a special prosecutor in the case against Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot dead unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown last month.

Local reports indicate that protesters were planning to shut down a part of Interstate 70, but were stymied by the large police presence. News station KMOV reports the Missouri Highway Patrol warned protesters, “Attempting to block an interstate highway is unsafe and unacceptable.” Live streams of the protest showed several demonstrators being arrested.

The protest comes just one day after the Ferguson city council held its first meeting since Brown’s shooting. According to CNN, the meeting was met with protests and calls for justice for the dead teenager. One of the agenda items was reportedly to consider creating a citizen-review board that would work directly with local police.

TIME Travel

Advocates for the Blind Accuse Uber of Civil Rights Violations

In this photo illustration, a woman uses the Uber app on an Samsung smartphone on September 2, 2014. Adam Berry—Getty Images

A complaint filed by the National Federation of the Blind in San Francisco federal court alleges that UberX drivers refused service, harassed blind passengers and mishandled dogs

Updated, 6:11 p.m. ET

A chapter of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) claims that Uber drivers have subjected blind customers to “systemic civil rights violations” by repeatedly refusing to transport passengers who use service animals.

A lawsuit filed Tuesday in San Francisco federal court by the NFB’s California chapter focuses on drivers of the company’s UberX service, a travel option that is lower priced than the company’s signature black car service, through which drivers can use their own cars to transport app users. The suit alleges that blind travelers have been refused service by UberX drivers on a total of at least 30 occasions because they had service animals with them.

The complaint also alleges that such riders were sometimes charged cancellation fees or abandoned in the midst of “extreme weather.”

Uber said in a statement to TIME that their practice is to ban such drivers from using their app:

The Uber app is built to expand access to transportation options for all, including users with visual impairments and other disabilities. It is Uber’s policy that any driver partner that refuses to transport a service animal will be deactivated from the Uber platform.

When asked for additional comment about the specific allegations and their policies, an Uber spokesperson responded that “in general, it’s our policy not to comment on pending litigation.”

President of the NFB’s California chapter Mary Willows said that she and counsel met with representatives of Uber months ago in an attempt to avoid litigation, but were unable to work out an agreement for how the company would address the situation. The lawsuit claims that complaints from blind travelers have gone largely unaddressed by the company and that Uber has sometimes responded by simply denying responsibility for the drivers’ behavior.

“The problem is that drivers are independent contractors, so Uber says they have no control over what they do,” Willows tells TIME. “And our argument is, if they’re working for you, you do have control over what they do.”

Willows says that blind people have encountered similar problems with taxis in the past, but that cab companies have been more expedient in remedying the problem.

Uber’s competitors are also taking note of the rift. After the NFB initiated contact with Uber about the issue, Willows says that the car service Lyft reached out to “make sure they develop a good relationship with us.”

In some cases, according to the lawsuit, UberX drivers who did not outright refuse service to riders with guide dogs nonetheless mishandled the animals or harassed the riders, in one case forcing a guide dog into a closed trunk of a sedan without the rider’s knowledge. When the owner of the dog figured out what had happened and asked the driver to pull over, according to the complaint, he refused.

The suit was also filed on behalf of Michael Hingson, a blind author who uses a guide dog and says he has been deterred from using the service because of its reputation among similarly situated travelers.

“Independence is critical in having equal opportunity in life,” Willows says. “And being able to travel independently is key to it. And any transportation system that inhibits equal travel is a problem.” The complaint alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The document can be read in full below.

NFB of California vs. Uber


NFL Commissioner Doesn’t ‘Rule Out’ Ray Rice Playing Again

Green Bay Packers v Seattle Seahawks
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (R) walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. Otto Greule Jr—Getty Images

Roger Goodell insisted the football league didn’t see the video of Rice’s attack on his fiancé before Monday

Updated 9:34 a.m. E.T. on Sept. 10

In his first public comments since a video went viral that showed former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancée, now-wife out unconscious, National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell said he wouldn’t count the currently suspended Rice out of the game forever.

Goodell stipulated that Rice “would have to make sure that we are fully confident he is addressing this issue, clearly he has paid a price for the actions he has already taken,” in order to return to professional football. Goodell spoke to CBS News in an interview that aired Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. He also said the league is giving Rice and his wife the “resources” needed to “help them work through” the issue.

“He’s got a lot of work to do [and] the family got a lot of work to do,” Goodell said.

The NFL suspended Rice indefinitely Monday, hours after a second video of the February incident was released by TMZ Sports. Rice had initially been suspended for just two games after a first video was released showing Rice dragging his now-wife’s body out of an elevator in the same incident. The two game penalty was decried by many for being too lenient.

This week, the NFL and the Ravens came under fire again for reacting too slowly to the violent video.

Goodell said the NFL did not see the video of the punch before the rest of the public on Monday. “We had not seen any videotape of what occurred in the elevator,” he said. “We assumed that there was a video, we asked for the video, we asked for anything that was pertinent, but we were never granted that opportunity.”

[CBS Evening News]

TIME domestic violence

Women Are Most Likely to Be Killed by a Man in These States

A new report list the ten states with the highest rates of male on female homicide

Alaska, South Carolina and Oklahoma were the states where a woman was most likely to be killed by a man in 2012, according to a new report from the Violence Policy Center.

The center’s study looks at the most recent available data from the FBI on instances nationwide in which one woman is killed by one man. Due to substantive policy changes, the number of such attacks have declined in the last 20 years, the report says. Nonetheless, the threat of violence against women remains remarkably high.

“Women are far more likely to be the victims of violent crimes committed by intimate partners than men, especially when a weapon is involved,” the report says. “Moreover, women are much more likely to be victimized at home than in any other place.”

The report notes that the prevalence of deadly violence against black females was particularly high — in 2012, black women were “murdered at a rate nearly two and a half times higher than white females.” Women are more likely to be murdered by someone they know intimately than someone they don’t, according to the study.

The top ten states where, per capita, women were most often killed by men are listed below.

Violence Policy Center, When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2012 Homicide Data.

The report notes that incidents in which women are killed by men have declined sharply since 1996 and credits government policy for spurring on that change. In particular, the report cites Sen. Paul Wellstone’s (D—MN) 1993 amendment to the Violence Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that prohibits people subject to a protective order related to domestic violence from buying a gun. The report also credits Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s (D—NJ) provision that bans people who have misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from buying guns (felons are already banned).

Violence Policy Center, When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2012 Homicide Data.

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