TIME Crime

NYPD Confrontation With Pregnant Woman is Latest Police Video to Go Viral

The recording of an NYPD officer shoving a pregnant woman to the ground belly first is part of a shift in the relationship between the public and police

It was another disturbing video of a heated police encounter: As New York Police Department officers attempted to arrest a suspect, a pregnant woman is taken down by one of them, her swollen stomach hitting the pavement. And like an increasing number of police incidents, it was recorded by bystanders and widely shared on social media.

This one began early in the morning on Sept. 20 in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn, when police tried to arrest 17-year-old Jhohan Lemos for carrying a knife. The footage shows his mother, Sandra Amezquita, trying to intervene, then getting shoved to the ground belly first by an NYPD officer and later given a summons for disorderly conduct.

“The first thing I thought was they killed my baby and they’re going to kill my wife,” Ronel Lemos, Amezquita’s husband, told The New York Daily News.

Amezquita filed an excessive force complaint, prompting an investigation by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau. Her lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein, said in a news conference Wednesday that Amezquita was suffering from vaginal bleeding.

The significance of the footage goes far beyond the borders of this Brooklyn neighborhood. The video from Sunset Park is the latest in a string of recorded confrontations between the police and the public that have fundamentally changed the relationship between the two.

Since a bystander captured Los Angeles Police Department officers assaulting Rodney King on a camcorder in 1991, ever-more-accessible recording devices have added layers of eyes and evidence to encounters with law enforcement that were once unthinkable. The fatal shooting of Oscar Grant by Oakland police in 2009 was documented by commuters at the train station where it happened. The death of Eric Garner during an arrest on Staten Island, N.Y. launched a national debate on the use of force by police after cell phone video of the confrontation went viral. And in the tense aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson, Mo., an organization called We Copwatch has provided citizens with cameras to document the actions of local police.

“The police are often the only people at a scene without cameras,” says John DeCarlo, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

That, too, is changing. Dozens of police departments are now testing or considering adopting body-worn cameras for officers. Police in Ferguson are now using cameras and the NYPD is testing two types of officer recording devices. Law enforcement agencies in Miami Beach, Washington, D.C., and Colorado Springs all plan to start wearing cameras by October.

The effect of all this surveillance can make it seem like the police are increasingly heavy-handed, but the numbers say otherwise. “There may be fewer incidents of abuse of force nowadays than there had been during the 1960s and ‘70s and earlier than that, but because we see them more commonly now because of the advent of cameras, people think they’re going up,” says DeCarlo.

Earlier this month, New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton released statistics showing that only 2% of the 400,000 arrests last year involved use of force by officers, a decrease of 8.5% from 20 years ago. The figures have been challenged by city council members who questioned the way the police department defined use of force, but the drop mirrors a similar decline in departments around the nation. In 2008, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 1.4% of people who had contact with police reported that an officer had used force or threatened to do so, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, down from 1.5% in 2002 and 1.6% in 2005.

But there is no doubt that recordings can elevate local incidents into national issues. And for many of the people behind the cameras, that’s just the point. The video of Amezquita was released by El Grito de Sunset Park, a community watch group. Its leader, Dennis Flores, has his own history with the NYPD: After filming police arresting a teenager in the neighborhood in 2002, Flores says the cops destroyed his camera, assaulted and arrested him. He says he later received a six-figure settlement that allowed him to form the group and buy dozens of cameras for neighborhood citizens to record officer incidents. One of those cameras, he says, was used to film Saturday’s altercation.

“We don’t interfere or obstruct,” Flores says. “We’re just trying to help prevent abuse. Citizens now with their cell phones are able to document and upload these videos for all the world to see. They’re balancing power.”

TIME poverty

Parking Meters Aren’t Going to Fix Homelessness

Real Change Movement
An example of one of the Real Change Movement's meters Real Change Movement

The converted parking meters have mixed results around the U.S.

It’s an eye-catching way to raise money and awareness about homelessness: 14 parking meters around Pasadena, Calif., all converted to collect change for those living on the streets.

In the last few weeks, Pasadena has joined several large cities around the U.S. that have set up what are essentially “homelessness meters.” They’re retrofitted parking meters that allow passersby to donate money by depositing coins or even swipe debit or credit cards. That money then goes to homelessness charities and organizations rather than directly to the homeless themselves.

“This is a clear alternative where people contributing know that all the money will go to effective services,” Bill Huang, the Pasadena housing director, told The Los Angeles Times.

Supporters say the money goes to organizations like the United Way or local homeless groups that know how to effectively use the funds for food, support and shelter and get around the possibility of that money going to drugs or alcohol. Two of Pasadena’s meters, painted bright orange and affixed with smiley faces, have reportedly raised $270 in their first three weeks. But elsewhere around the U.S., the meters have decidedly mixed results. In Orlando, for example, 15 homelessness meters have brought in just $2,027 in three years, and that was after the city spent $2,000 getting them up and running.

“I don’t know that these meters have been very effective anywhere, certainly not in Orlando,” says Jim Wright, a University of Central Florida professor who studies homelessness. “The concept was, I believe, oversold by the advocates and too rapidly embraced by politicos trying to create the impression that they were doing something significant about the homeless problem.”

Andrae Bailey, chief executive officer of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, which collects the money from Orlando’s meters, says they were installed in 2011 without a comprehensive homeless strategy focusing primarily on housing those in need.

“We tried to do meters without having a plan to house veterans and those with mental illness and disabilities,” Bailey says. “Anything other than a housing solution for the chronic homeless is a recipe for disaster.”

In Denver, 50 homeless meters bring in around $3,000 to $6,500 total each year, according to Denver’s Road Home, which launched the Donation Meter Program in 2007. The money goes to support services like housing, shelter, mental health and support services, says Denver’s Road Home executive director Bennie Milliner.

But some housing advocates criticize the meters as merely an attempt to reduce panhandling. Paul Boden, director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, a collective of various West Coast homeless organizations, says that the installation of meters is often in conjunction with either increased enforcement of panhandling laws or additional legislation. Both Denver and Atlanta, which installed meters several years ago, have also worked to crack down on panhandlers.

“It’s a way to possibly reduce panhandling,” says Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania psychiatry professor who studies homelessness, adding that he doesn’t see much substantive impact from the meters on truly solving the problem of homelessness in those cities.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 29

1. We must confront the vast gulf between white and black America if we want to secure racial justice after Ferguson.

By the Editors of the Nation

2. As ISIS recruits more western acolytes, it’s clear military might alone can’t defeat it. We must overcome radical Islam on the battleground of ideas.

By Maajid Nawaz in the Catholic Herald

3. Kids spend hours playing the game Minecraft. Now they can learn to code while doing it.

By Klint Finley in Wired

4. One powerful way to raise the quality of America’s workforce: Make community colleges free.

By the Editors of Scientific American

5. Restrictions on where sex offenders can live after prison is pure politics. They do nothing to prevent future offenses.

By Jesse Singal in New York Magazine’s Science of Us

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Laws

Why It’s Legal for a 9-Year-Old to Fire an Uzi

Gun Show Held At Pima County Fairgrounds
People shoot their guns at the Southwest Regional Park shooting range near the Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the Pima County Fairgrounds in Tucson, Ariz. Kevork Djansezian—Getty Images

Questions after the death of a shooting instructor

The deadly shooting in which a nine-year-old girl accidentally killed her firing range instructor with an Uzi on Monday is the kind of incident that seems almost inconceivable. How can someone so young be allowed to fire such a high-powered weapon? The answer: Because she was accompanied by an adult.

“I think you’ll find that state laws provide for those under a certain age, usually 18, to shoot when under adult supervision or instruction,” says Michael Bazinet, a spokesperson for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. “Youth shooting sports are generally extremely safe activities, enjoyed by millions of Americans.”

Bazinet says he knows of no federal legislation that restricts minors from shooting range activities, leaving it up to the states and the ranges themselves to determine who’s too young to shoot.

Bullets and Burgers, a shooting range in the Arizona’s Mojave Desert where the incident took place Monday morning, allows children as young as eight to shoot as long as they’re accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Under Arizona law, minors as young as 14 can shoot at a range without adult supervision.

The fatal shooting occurred about 10 a.m. Monday morning when Charles Vacca, a 39-year-old firearms instructor, was demonstrating how to fire the gun. The nine-year-old, whose name hasn’t been released but was accompanied by her parents, can be seen taking an initial shot in a video released by authorities. Vacca then appears to switch the gun to automatic. The video shows the gun recoiling as it points toward Vacca, who was shot in the head according to the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office. (That portion is not seen in the video.)

Vacca was pronounced dead Monday evening.

Below is the video released by police, and while it does not depict the moment of the shooting, it may still be disturbing to some viewers; caution is advised.

TIME justice

Two Killed in Georgia Rampage, Including Shooter

Authorities are still trying to piece together why a man shot up a house before stealing and car

A man in northwest Georgia went on a shooting rampage, killing two people including himself.

The man, whose name has not been released by police, is accused of shooting three people at a house in Cartersville, about 40 miles outside Atlanta. One victim was declared dead at the scene and the other two were transported to a nearby hospital. Police say the shooter then fled in a car, which he crashed into a house, the Associated Press reports.

He then broke into the house, shot occupant in the hand, carjacked a vehicle from an elderly man and his grandson and crashed into a truck, police said. The collision caused a fire, whereupon police say the shooter turned the gun on himself. Neither the elderly man nor his grandson were injured in the incident.

Bartow County Sherriff Clark Millsap said the shooter knew his victims and police are investigating the cause of the shootings.

[AP]

TIME politics

Colorado Tightening Regulations on Marijuana Edibles

Colorado officials are tightening the rules governing marijuana edibles in an effort to reduce the risk of accidental overdoses. Regulators were not only concerned about overdoses, but also wanted products to have more child resistant packaging.

Officials drafted an emergency rule on Thursday making it easier to tell how much THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, would be in the edibles for sale. The result of this action will be weaker edible products and new packaging.

Similar regulations have been implemented in Washington, the only other state where edible sales are legal.

TIME Culture

What Do Kansas and Nebraska Have Against Small Libraries?

Little Library Evicted
A newly built Little Free Library stands on an area between the sidewalk and the street near Southminster United Methodist Church in the Indian Village neighborhood of Lincoln, Neb., July 8. The city of Lincoln says it can'’t sit in a public right of way. Matt Ryerson—Journal-Star/AP

These birdhouse-size book bins are causing unexpected controversy

The tiny library started out innocently enough. Built outside a church in Lincoln, Neb., it was one of about 25 free, barely-bigger-than-a-birdhouse-size book dispensaries that have sprung up in this Great Plains city. But that was before public officials said this particular library was a public hazard that violated a city ordinance. The city’s verdict: get rid of the library or we’ll do it for you.

“We were all envisioning the mayor pulling up in a Subaru and taking an axe to it,” says Barbara Arendt, who spearheaded the library’s construction. “We didn’t realize we were behaving egregiously.”

Mini libraries have been popping up around the country since 2009, when Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisc., built a model of a one-room schoolhouse and filled it with books to honor his mother, a former teacher. Rick Brooks, a former manager of continuing studies programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, saw the tiny library and teamed up with Bol to build more of them as a way to promote literacy. Their mission was to build 2,509 of what they called Little Free Libraries, the same as the number of normal-sized libraries endowed by the book-minded philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The small libraries typically offer about two dozen titles, ranging from kids’ books to science texts. The only rule is that you can’t take a book without leaving one.

The project took off. As of January, the Little Free Library organization estimated there are some 15,000 tiny libraries around the nation. But as the seeds of this homegrown movement have sprouted, local red tape has become an obstacle.

In Leawood, Kan., 9-year-old Spencer Collins addressed city council members July 7 after the city determined that his little library violated a decade-old city ordinance prohibiting tiny structures in front yards.

“I like checking the little library to see what books have been taken and what new books are left,” Collins told the city council, according to Fox4KC. “I think free little libraries are good for Leawood and I hope you will change the code.”

(One resident called the libraries “eyesores” and said that changing the city’s codes and bylaws would “destroy Leawood.” The city council issued a moratorium until Oct. 20 to reevaluate the ordinance, and Collins has reopened his library.)

In November 2012, Whitefish Bay, a village outside Milwaukee, banned the tiny libraries because of a similar prohibition on front yard structures. After several months of criticism, the village board reversed its decision.

Most of the tiny libraries pop up without incident and Bol says the occasional zoning controversy tends to generate the sort of public outrage that benefits his cause.

In Lincoln, Arendt and the city appear to have reached a middle ground. Arendt has agreed to move the library away from a public right-of-way, defined as the grassy strip between the street and the sidewalk and typically off-limits for private structures. That area is generally left free for mailboxes and utility crews to access underground cables and pipes. In exchange, the city has said it won’t levy what could have been a $500 fine.

Miki Esposito, Lincoln’s director of public works and utilities, says the concern was over liability. Would the city be responsible if the library was damaged by utility workers or snowplows, which are known to knock down mailboxes in winter.

“We love these little libraries,” she says. “We think they’re adorable. We just want them to be placed properly.”

Esposito says the city has given Arendt a couple weeks to move the library. When that happens, she says city officials will have their shovels ready to help.

TIME cities

No, You Can’t Auction Off Public Parking Spaces in San Francisco

A San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency parking control officer writes a parking ticket for an illegally parked car on July 3, 2013 in San Francisco.
A San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency parking control officer writes a parking ticket for an illegally parked car on July 3, 2013 in San Francisco. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

The City Attorney has demanded that a company facilitating the auction of public assets put the brakes on their business

Correction appended, June 23

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera sent an immediate cease-and-desist letter Monday to Monkey Parking, a peer-to-peer app that “enables motorists to auction off the public parking spaces their vehicles occupy to nearby drivers.” Though startups often operate in legal grey areas that new laws will eventually flush out, spokesperson Matt Dorsey says that “there is no grey area here.”

Imagine that you snag a parking spot on a busy downtown street where finding a slot is generally the equivalent of winning the lottery. Once your car is in the spot, Dorsey says, the app allows you to “sell” that space to the highest bidder. The winner gets to slide their car in as yours pulls out, paying you perhaps $25 in addition to the actual meter fees. The problem is that those parking spaces, unlike driveways, are clearly public assets that private citizens are forbidden to sell.

“Technology has given rise to many laudable innovations in how we live and work—and Monkey Parking is not one of them,” Herrera said in a statement. “It creates a predatory private market for public parking spaces that San Franciscans will not tolerate … People are free to rent out their own private driveways and garage spaces should they choose to do so. But we will not abide businesses that hold hostage on-street public parking spots for their own private profit.”

The City Attorney is giving Italy-based Monkey Parking, which operates on Apple’s iOS system, until July 11 to cease all activity in the City by the Bay and has vowed to file a lawsuit if that deadline is not met. A state consumer-protection law provides for a $2,500 fine per violation, and Herrera is arguing that means Monkey Parking will be on the hook for that amount for every transaction that has occurred through the app. The drivers using the app, meanwhile, could be paying $300 penalties under a city law that prohibits people from buying, selling or leasing public parking.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the title and name of City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

TIME Environment

States Are Cracking Down on Face Wash

Vials of microbeads alongside products that use such small, plastic spheres.
Vials of microbeads alongside products that use such small, plastic spheres. Photo courtesy of 5 Gyres

Environmentalists are sounding alarms about microbeads, the tiny bits of plastic used in personal care products that researchers say are too small to be filtered out of water treatment plants, so they're ending up in oceans and lakes

If you’ve ever cleansed your face with a product that promised to gently exfoliate your T-zone, you may have been enjoying the effects of the latest scourge of environmentalists: microbeads.

Microbeads are tiny, round bits of plastic that are found in, among other things, personal care products made by companies like Johnson & Johnson and Proctor & Gamble. They’re so small that one will just cover Abraham Lincoln’s eye on a penny. More important, researchers have found that they’re too small to be sifted out at water treatments plants, so the tiny beads are flowing down bathroom sinks and ending up in America’s lakes and oceans. Though the effects of their presence are still being investigated, five states—California, New York, Illinois, Ohio and Minnesota—are considering bills that would proactively ban their use.

“The fundamental question is going to be: do we wait to take this material out until we prove that this microbead causes harm?” says Chelsea Rochman, a marine ecologist at the University of California, Davis, who specializes in microplastics research.

According to industry experts, microbeads started becoming popular with big companies about a decade ago as replacements for harsher scrubbing ingredients like pumice. Given how relatively new they are, there is little research specifically investigating how microbeads affect the environment. Still, Rochman says, there is plenty of evidence from research on other plastics suggesting that they’re probably causing more harm than good. In oceans and lakes, she says, bits of plastic “act like sponges,” soaking up toxins like pesticides and flame retardants that have also found their way into the ecosystem. And hundreds of species, from fish to plankton to wild-caught tuna, ingest bits of plastic, meaning those toxins could be ending up in the food chain.

Jay Ansell, a toxicologist with the trade association that represents personal care product companies, emphasizes that beyond the lack of research, there also isn’t hard proof that the beads researchers have found came from facial scrubs rather than paint or sand-blasting. Still, that hasn’t stopped many of the big companies represented by the Personal Care Products Council from taking steps away from the beads. Johnson & Johnson, which produces product lines like Clean & Clear and Neutrogena, has already announced that they’re not using microbeads in any new products and are reformulating all those that currently use them, with plans to eliminate their use entirely by 2017. Proctor & Gamble, maker of brands such as Olay, has made similar public vows.

“As an industry there was a feeling that this is certainly something we can do and we can do it today,” Ansell says of eliminating microbeads. “This is something we can live without.”

So why all the legislation, if companies aren’t pushing back? “This is a game of Whack-a-Mole,” says Stiv Wilson, policy director at 5 Gyres, an organization that studies plastic in the world’s watersheds. His group drafted the legislation that has served as a model in all the states that are currently considering bans. He says that laws are needed to keep big companies, however good-willed, beholden to certain timelines and to make sure smaller companies that might use microbeads don’t slip through the cracks. He believes that advocates only need two bills to become laws in U.S. states before it creates a “distribution nightmare” that will force companies’ hands.

Both Illinois and New York look poised to pass their bills. The Illinois measure has passed the Senate and moved on to the state House. In New York, companion bills have been introduced in both chambers, and the attorney general’s office is pushing their passage. Wilson says he’s confident that California could pass their bill too, though he’s less confident about the political circumstances in Minnesota and Ohio.

“It’s really important that these bills become law,” Wilson says. “There’s a history of companies saying they’re going to do something and then putting it off until forgotten … You’ve got to get some teeth behind these promises.” Though companies have not yet said what materials they might use as replacements, advocates have suggested natural products such as crushed walnuts and apricot shells.

An advocacy group operating under the banner “Beat the Micro Bead” is pushing similar reform in Europe. If you’re curious about whether a certain cosmetic contains microbeads, you can view their product lists here. In addition to face wash, Rochman says microbeads are also used in goods like toothpaste, toilet bowl cleaners and other cleaning products.

“This is a solvable problem,” says Wilson. “There’s plenty of places in the market that have demonstrated that you can get the same effect with other materials.” Whatever substitutes the companies end up using, expect more of them to be biodegradable.

TIME Law

California Bill Banning ‘Affluenza’ Defense Is Nixed

Ethan Couch
In this image taken from a video by KDFW-FOX 4, Ethan Couch is seen during his court hearing in December 2013 AP

California legislators shot down a bill that would have created the country's first ban on using the "affluenza" (rich kids don't know better) defense. It was introduced after a wealthy Texas teen got probation for killing four people and injuring others in a drunk-driving accident

California lawmakers on Tuesday killed legislation that would ban the use of the “affluenza” defense, stopping what would have been the first such ban in the nation.

State assemblyman Mike Gatto introduced the bill after a wealthy Texas teenager was given only probation last year for killing four people and injuring others in a drunk-driving accident. His lawyers successfully argued that he had been so coddled by his affluent parents that he couldn’t be expected to appreciate the rules of law or the consequences of his actions. The sentence sparked outrage, seen by many as an obscene example of privilege begetting privilege and inequity in the justice system.

“In our justice system, people who have means already have advantages,” Gatto said in introducing the bill before a legislative committee. “They have access to the better lawyers, they have access to better relationships and they know how the system works. And the idea of a defendant saying that a life of privilege and an upbringing of means somehow makes that defendant absolve him or herself of personal responsibility for a heinous act really is insulting to the intelligence of just about everybody who interacts with the justice system, and those of us who care about making sure that the justice system is blind.”

Gatto’s bill originally defined the notion of affluenza as the argument that a “defendant may not have understood the consequences of his or her actions because he or she was raised in an affluent or overly permissive household.” One issue raised by other lawmakers on the committee was the use of the phrase overly permissive, which some worried could apply to poor children with absentee parents as much as a rich kid who got to do whatever he wanted.

Opponents of the bill, though sympathetic to its intent, argued that it’s generally not a good idea to put limitations on legal defenses, that the bill presumed a jury couldn’t determine on its own the worth of a defense, and that such restrictions may prevent certain facts from coming forward during a trial.

Gatto also refused to accept an amendment supported by the chair of the committee, assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who wanted to build exceptions and affirmations of constitutional protections into the bill. “We are trying to prohibit the affluenza defense,” Gatto said, adding that he had “real heartburn” about writing “into the statute all the times where the defense could be used.”

Before voting against the bill, Ammiano, a Democrat, said he would have preferred Gatto accept the amendments offered by the committee. The two Republicans on the committee voted to support the bill, and the rest of the members, all Democrats, abstained. Those abstentions essentially counting as nay votes, the measure failed. The ban would have prohibited the use of affluenza as a defense or a mitigating factor in sentencing. Gatto, a Los Angeles–area Democrat, has said that while the high-profile case happened in Texas, he was attempting to be “proactive” in California.

In June 2013, Texas teenager Ethan Couch stole beer from a Walmart, drank enough for his blood-alcohol content to be three times the legal limit, got in his pickup truck, lost control and sped it into a group of people who were helping a woman with a stalled car on the side of the road near Fort Worth. Four people died. Others, including many crammed into his vehicle, were injured. Thanks in part to a psychologist who argued that Couch’s wealth was so extreme he couldn’t separate right from wrong, the then 16-year-old was given 10 years’ probation and ordered to attend rehab for the intoxication manslaughter and assault charges. In February, Judge Jean Boyd reaffirmed that sentence in a private hearing, denying prosecutors’ second request for 20 years in prison.

At the end of the committee hearing on Tuesday, the possibility of “reconsideration” was raised, meaning Gatto might bring his bill before the committee again at another time. But that would likely require a compromise that lawmakers did not appear ready to make on Tuesday.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser