TIME Crime

Utah Looks to Old Execution Method: Death by Firing Squad

Utah Firing Squad Ronnie Lee Gardner
The execution chamber at the Utah State Prison after Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad, with visible bullet holes, on June 18, 2010 in Draper, Utah. Trent Nelson—AP

State legislature may mandate firing squads if lethal injection drugs aren't available

Utah has a unique history with firing squad executions. The state used gunmen to execute Gary Gilmore in 1977, the first inmate put to death after the Supreme Court lifted a five-year moratorium on capital punishment. For years, it’s been one of just two states to allow the method as an option for inmates. And now, state legislators are looking to make it the default practice if lethal injection drugs are unavailable.

On Wednesday, the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee voted 9-2 in approving legislation that would bring back firing squads in executions. The bill, which will likely head to the full legislature early next year, would mandate a court hearing prior to an execution, in which a judge would determine whether the state had sufficient drugs to carry out lethal injection. If the judge ruled that drugs were lacking, a firing squad would be mandated; according to the Salt Lake Tribune, State Rep. Paul Ray says the state currently doesn’t have them.

MORE: Execution Problems Revive Talk of Using Firing Squads and the Electric Chair

Utah and Oklahoma are the only two states in recent years that have allowed firing squads in executions, but only Utah has actually used the method since capital punishment was reinstated. The practice soon fell out of favor following the highly publicized execution of Gilmore (famously captured in Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song). Public opinion soon shifted toward lethal injection, which became the go-to execution method nationwide and was widely considered more humane. Only three inmates — Gilmore, John Albert Taylor and more recently Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010 — have been executed by firing squad since 1997, all in Utah.

But states around the U.S. have been looking often into archaic and previously discarded methods, thanks to increasing reluctance from pharmaceutical companies to sell drugs to prison systems.

A similar bill in Wyoming that would allow the state to use a firing squad if execution drugs are unavailable advanced in September and is expected to be taken up by the full legislature next year. In May, Tennessee passed a law bringing back the electric chair if lethal injection drugs can’t be acquired or if it’s deemed unconstitutional. (Lethal injection, however, is still the default method of the capital punishment.) And legislators in Louisiana have attempted to revive the chair, but with little success.

TIME Laws

New Video Released for Right-to-Die Advocate Brittany Maynard’s 30th Birthday

Maynard, who died Nov. 1, became the face of the right-to-die movement

A new video released by supporters of the so-called Death With Dignity movement shows Brittany Maynard, on what would’ve been her 30th birthday, advocating for expanded right-to-die legislation around the United States.

The advocacy group Compassion & Choices has released the video, made in August, nearly three weeks after she died Nov. 1. Maynard had moved from California to Oregon in order to take advantage of a state law that allows terminally ill patients to obtain life-ending medication. Diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, she quickly became the face of the right-to-die movement, releasing several videos that advocated for more states to legalize the practice.

MORE: Brittany Maynard Could Revive the Stalled ‘Death With Dignity’ Movement

Only five states currently allow physicians to give drugs to people who have terminal illnesses. In the last few weeks, lawmakers have drafted or advanced right-to-die legislation in Colorado, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

TIME Laws

Arkansas Keeps ‘Patchwork Prohibition’ on Alcohol

Alcohol Liquor Store
In half of Arkansas's counties, liquor sales are prohibited. A constitutional amendment being voted on today would change that. Ted S. Warren—AP

Half of the state's counties are dry, and they're staying that way for now

Arkansas voted Tuesday against allowing alcohol sales statewide, preserving the status quo of “patchwork prohibition” that exists in half of the state’s counties.

With 96% of precincts reporting, 57% of voters said no to the Arkansas Alcohol Beverage Amendment, which would’ve changed the constitution to allow for the manufacture, sale and distribution of liquor, beer and wine across the state. Arkansas has one of the highest concentrations of dry counties left in the U.S. Thirty-seven are currently dry while 38 are wet.

The issue largely pitted churches, existing liquor stores in wet counties and rural, conservative residents against more liberal, populous counties and out-of-state retailers looking to get a foothold in previously dry regions. The ballot initiative appeared to have significant support as recently as last month. But support for the amendment eroded as its main opponents, led by Citizens for Local Rights, vastly outspent the initiative’s backers.

“We started late and didn’t have the resources to get our message out,” says David Couch, a lawyer and chair of Let Arkansas Decide, which led the campaign to legalize alcohol statewide.

Couch’s organization raised about $200,000 and was supported mainly by out-of-state convenience stores. Citizens for Local Rights raised $1.8 million from roughly 900 contributors, many of which were existing Arkansas liquor megastores, often near the border of a dry county.

Polling had shown growing opposition to the amendment in the weeks leading up to the vote. Citizens for Local Rights’ primary message was simple: Don’t let the liberal-leaning urban counties dictate to the smaller, conservative ones. Add in some help from local pastors and churches warning of legalizing a vice in heavily Christian areas, and it appears that message resonated with voters.

But Couch of Let Arkansas Decide says he’s not giving up. His next move is to try to get state legislators to reduce the threshold required to get the issue, known as the “local option,” on the ballot county by county. Signatures of 38% of registered voters within a county must be collected to trigger a vote.

“If that doesn’t work, we will refile the measure and start earlier,” Couch says. “And hopefully be better funded.”

TIME Election 2014

Arkansas Could Finally End Prohibition After More Than 80 Years

Alcohol Liquor Store
In half of Arkansas's counties, liquor sales are prohibited. A constitutional amendment being voted on today would change that. Ted S. Warren—AP

Voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to turn the state's dry counties wet

Drop a pin on a map of Arkansas and your chances of finding a stiff drink there are about 50-50. But that could soon change if enough residents vote for a constitutional amendment on Tuesday’s ballot that would open the entire state to beer, wine and liquor sales for the first time since the 1930s.

Arkansas is one of dozens of states that allow local municipalities to make their own decisions about selling booze, but only about 10 states actually have dry counties, most of which are in the South. The result is what’s known as “patchwork prohibition,” where the state is divided into wet, dry and even moist (beer and wine only) counties.

The divisions can be confusing, with wet cities occasionally in dry counties and highly-profitable liquor stores almost always parked just across the border from booze-less regions. In Texas, for example, 49 of the state’s 254 counties are wet, 11 are dry and the rest are a combination of wet and dry. Alabama has 25 dry counties, but many cities within them are wet. And in Kentucky’s 120 counties, 39 are dry, 32 are wet and 49 are some combination of the two. No state comes closer to an equal division than Arkansas, where 37 counties are dry and 38 counties are wet.

Opening these dry counties to alcohol sales has become an increasingly popular economic development tool. Several counties in Kentucky have used their “local option” to expand liquor sales in the last couple years, while voters in Alabama’s largest remaining dry city are considering a similar ballot initiative Tuesday as well (the 2012 push failed by close to 400 votes).

Unlike most other votes on the wet/dry issue, the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Initiative—which would allow the “manufacture, sale, distribution and transportation of intoxicating liquors” throughout the state beginning on July 1, 2015—is subject to a statewide vote. That’s because attorney David Couch, the chair of pro-wet group Let Arkansas Decide, found that the number of signatures required for getting the measure on the state ballot was not much more than what it would’ve taken in just the three counties he had initially targeted.

Couch’s main rationale is economic. He cites a University of Arkansas study showing that if Faulkner, Craighead and Saline counties were wet—three of the state’s biggest counties, and ones where Walmart has expressed interest in selling booze —they would each generate an additional $12 million to $15 million in annual economic activity. And he estimates the total statewide benefit of going wet at an additional $100 million a year. But Couch has other motives, too.

“These dry counties make my state look kind of backward, and I don’t like that,” he says. “This is a much more modern approach to alcohol regulation.”

The amendment seemed to have signs of support in September. But the opposition appears to have grown in recent weeks. Part of that may be a huge cash infusion from Citizens for Local Rights, a group opposed to the amendment. The organization has raised $1.8 million compared to $200,000 for Couch’s Let Arkansas Decide.

Citizens for Local Rights is backed largely by liquor retailers in wet counties that want to keep out new competition. The Conway County Liquor Association, for example, has given the group $540,000. All six counties surrounding Conway are dry. The amendment has also been criticized by religious leaders wary of making alcohol more available.

Brian Richardson, chairman of Citizens for Local Rights, casts the issue as a matter of regional autonomy—no small claim in a vote that will come down partly to rural turnout. “It’s a badly written, overreaching amendment that guts local communities from being able to make decisions on a local level,” he says. “It’s letting people in the more populous counties determine this.”

Couch says his only poll found majority support for passage, but it was conducted last month. Richardson says his group’s final survey points to partial prohibition remaining in place, with 58% of respondents opposed to the amendment.

“I hate to jinx ourselves,” Richardson says. “But I think we’ll have a decisive victory.”

TIME Laws

Brittany Maynard Could Revive the Stalled ‘Death With Dignity’ Movement

"In a way, the Death with Dignity movement has been waiting years for someone like Brittany Maynard"

Long before the world knew of Brittany Maynard’s wrenching decision to end her own life Saturday at 29 rather than continue treatment for terminal brain cancer, Eli Stutsman, an Oregon lawyer, began meeting with a group of physicians and businesspeople in Portland who shared his belief that the terminally ill should be able to decide how and when to die. The group started small, meeting first in public libraries, then graduating to a church and eventually a small office space. By 1993, they hammered out what would become the state’s Death With Dignity law, the first in the United States to give people with months to live the right to access lethal medication.

Then, as now, it was a polarizing idea. Earlier efforts to pass similar measures had failed in California and Washington.

“We were being hit with these overheated arguments, mostly from the Catholic Church,” Stutsman says when his group first went public with their proposed legislation. “It felt like we had made a horrible career mistake.”

But a grassroots campaign and lobbying effort built enough support, and in 1994 the bill Stutsman co-wrote passed the Oregon legislature. It took effect three years later, after an appeals court lifted a federal injunction prompted by legal challenges that the law violated the Constitution’s First and Fourteenth Amendments. For the next decade, where a candidate stood on the Death with Dignity law became a crucial litmus test in Oregon politics.

The culture wars have since moved on. “Those days are long gone,” Stutsman says. “It’s not an issue in campaigns. There was a time when it was a big issue, but all of that has settled down.”

As the controversy faded, so did momentum for similar laws around the country. Oregon is one of only three states that allow aid in dying, which generally lets doctors prescribe drugs to terminally ill patients who are deemed mentally competent. In the 17 years since the law took effect, almost 1,200 people have used it to obtain medication to end their own life, according to the Oregon Public Health Division. About 750 have actually taken the medication.

Washington passed an end-of-life law in 2008 modeled after Oregon’s legislation, and Vermont did the same in 2013. The matter is fuzzier in two other states. Montana’s Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that state law does not prohibit end-of-life care, while a district court judge in New Mexico ruled earlier this year that terminally ill residents who are mentally competent have a constitutional right to prescribed end-of-life drugs. That decision is under appeal.

But the debate was revived by Maynard, a 29-year-old newlywed who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in April and decided to move from California to Oregon to take advantage of the state’s Death With Dignity law. She went through with it Saturday, and news broke Sunday after publication of this article.

“Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love,” she wrote on Facebook before dying. “Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me … but would have taken so much more. The world is a beautiful place, travel has been my greatest teacher, my close friends and folks are the greatest givers. I even have a ring of support around my bed as I type. … Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!”

In a way, the Death with Dignity movement has been waiting years for someone like Maynard. In the public imagination, the person most often associated with aid-in-dying is Jack Kevorkian, the late Michigan physician who was known as Dr. Death. Kevorkian claimed to have helped more than 100 people end their own lives through “physician-assisted suicide” (a term disliked by the death with dignity supporters), and he was eventually convicted of second-degree murder of one of his patients. Kevorkian raised Americans’ awareness of the issue, but not in the way many of its supporters had hoped.

Maynard may have been Kevorkian’s polar opposite: a young, sunny schoolteacher who should have had far more of life ahead than behind. Her story has resonated much more than those of most patients who utilize aid-in-dying laws, who tend to be in their 70s. More than nine million people have viewed a video of her describing her illness and talking about her recent wedding, how much she will miss her beloved dogs, and all of the things she wanted to do before she dies.

“Brittany Maynard is transformative for our movement,” says Barbara Coombs Lee, president of Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit organization that supports aid in dying. “I’ve never felt this energy or seen this level of engagement in any of our campaigns.”

Surveys show that Americans support having choice at the end of their life if they’re suffering from an incurable disease. Gallup polls have consistently found that about 7 in 10 Americans support doctors who help bring about “some painless means if the patient and his or her family request it.” Support may be waning, though it remains high. In a November 2013 Pew survey, 66% of respondents said that there are circumstances in which a patient should sometimes be allowed die, down from 73% in 1990. Meanwhile, 31% said medical staff should always do everything possible to save a patient, up from 15% in 1990.

Despite popular support, aid-in-dying has stalled in statehouses and on ballots around the country. It’s not exactly a galvanizing political issue, and the Catholic Church has staunchly opposed the measures that do find their way to a vote.

“Our opponent is well-organized and well-funded,” Stutsman says. “You could put this issue on the ballot anywhere in the country, and if there were no political campaigns organized around the issue, it would pass in every state. But if you look at where the money comes from and the political expertise and organization, it’s always the Catholic Church.”

The most recent battleground was Massachusetts. In 2012, the state included a Death With Dignity law on the ballot, and several polls showed what most national numbers indicate: about 60% of people in Massachusetts supported it, and many political observers predicted that the heavily Catholic state would actually vote it into law. But the measure failed, 51% to 49%. Of the $5 million spent to defeat it, about $4 million came from the Catholic Church or individuals with ties to the church.

“We think fundamentally that these laws institutionalize an injustice in which society decides some people’s lives are not worth protecting as others,” says Richard Doerflinger, associate director of pro-life activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Church sees the issue of a piece with suicide and abortion, all of which it opposes out of adherence to the commandment Thou Shalt Not Kill. Doerflinger says that even though surveys often show a majority of Americans and even Catholics say they favor of end-of-life legislation, many can’t bring themselves to vote for legalizing the practice.

It’s too soon to know the effect of Maynard’s heartrending story. Death with Dignity legislation is pending in Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and a measure may be introduced in Colorado in January. Supporters are optimistic that the young teacher’s ordeal may be enough to tip the balance their way.

“She brings it home to people in a way that hasn’t been brought home to them,” says Lee of Compassion & Choices. “So far, because it hasn’t been front and center and people have not had the awareness and the motivation to become activist about it, politicians have been able to ignore it. But I think they won’t be able to ignore it anymore.”

dignity

Read next: Terminally Ill Woman Who Planned Assisted Suicide Dies

TIME Laws

The CDC Has Less Power Than You Think, and Likes it That Way

Ebola isn’t likely to lead to a widespread quarantine but it certainly raises interesting constitutional questions

Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tom Frieden has come under fire in recent days for what some charge is the agency’s stumbling response to the appearance of Ebola in America. This week, reporters and lawmakers alike grilled Frieden over how two nurses in Texas contracted the virus and how one of them was able to board an airplane even after she reported a raised temperature.

Breakdowns in good practice notwithstanding, it’s important to remember that Ebola in the U.S. is largely contained and very unlikely to lead to any kind of significant outbreak. Still, the charges leveled against Frieden raise a question that leads to a surprisingly complicated answer: just what, exactly, can—and should—the CDC do?

Since time immemorial, public health officials’ main weapon against the outbreak of a disease as been to restrict the ability of people to interact with one another, also known as a quarantine. The term comes from the Latin “quadraginta,” meaning 40, and is derived from the 40-day period ships traveling from plague-stricken regions were kept at bay before being allowed to dock in medieval European ports.

Imposing a quarantine—effectively stripping innocent people of the most basic right to move freely in the world—is one of the most serious actions a government can take against its own citizenry. Partly for this reason, in the American federal system (designed from the outset to check the power of the national government) the power to quarantine resides largely with state and local authorities. Should Texas, or any other state, someday face the threat of a true epidemic, the states have broad authority to restrict the movement of people within their own borders. Public health codes granting the state power to impose quarantine orders vary from state to state, of course. Violating a quarantine order in Louisiana is punishable by a fine of up to $100 and up to a year in prison; in Mississippi the same infraction could cost a violator up to $5000 and up to five years in prison.

The federal government does have its own powers. The CDC, as the U.S.’s primary agency for taking action to stop the spread of disease, has broad authority under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution to restrict travel into the country and between states of an infected person or a person who has come in contact with an infected person, according to Laura Donohue, director of the Center on National Security and the Law at Georgetown Law School. Federal quarantine can be imposed, too, on federal property, like a military base or National Forest land. And as the preeminent employer of experts on public health crises, the CDC is always likely to get involved within any affected state in the event of a looming pandemic.

But its power to act is extremely restricted. The agency traditionally acts in an advisory role and can only take control from local authorities under two circumstances: if local authorities invite them to do so or under the authority outlined in the Insurrection Act in the event of a total breakdown of law and order.

And here the picture becomes murkier yet because authority does not always beget power.

“It’s not a massive regulatory agency,” said Wendy Parmet, a professor in public health law at Northeastern University in Boston. “They don’t have ground troops. They don’t have tons of regulators. They’re scientists. Even if the states asked them to do it it’s not clear how they would do it.

Even in the highly unlikely event that the CDC were called to respond to a—let’s reiterate: extremely-unlikely-to-occur—pandemic, quarantine and isolation would be imposed not by bespeckled CDC scientists but by local or federal law enforcement or troops. Most importantly, the CDC is extremely reluctant to be seen as a coercive government agency because it depends as much as any agency on the good will and acquiescence of citizens in order to respond effectively to a public health emergency. When the bright lights of the Ebola crisis are not on it, the CDC will still need people to get vaccinated, to go to the doctor when they get sick, and to call the authorities if they see trouble.

“Our public health system is built on voluntary compliance,” Donohue tells TIME. “If the CDC starts to become the enemy holding a gun to [someone’s] head and keeping them in their house, they lose insight.”

MONEY Opinion

What Congress Should Do to Give Student Loan Borrowers Hope For Relief

141015_FF_LOANBORROWERS
Blend Images - Hill Street Studi—Getty Images/Brand X

Student loans are the only debt that can't be discharged in bankruptcy. Joe Valenti and David Bergeron of the Center for American Progress argue for two law changes to fix this.

Steve Mason’s story could keep any parent up at night.

The Redlands, Calif. pastor co-signed $100,000 in private student loans for his daughter Lisa to attend nursing school. But Lisa died suddenly at age 27.

Now, the loans intended to ensure her financial future are threatening to impoverish her parents and their three young grandchildren because Mason remains on the hook for the loans. He is struggling to provide for his family while trying to negotiate with lenders to settle on his daughter’s debt which, with interest and penalties, now totals about $200,000.

If he had co-signed a car loan for his daughter, or if his family had racked up credit card debt, or nearly any other kind of debt, the Masons would have had a way out: bankruptcy. Our Founding Fathers, appalled by British debtors’ prisons, created bankruptcy courts to give Americans that are struggling with debt a chance to reduce or even erase those financial burdens, and gain a fresh start.

Unfortunately, Congress has carved out an exception to this American promise: student loans.

The student loan exception to bankruptcy laws ignores tragic life situations of students, parents, and grandparents alike. And it should be changed. A common-sense approach to bankruptcy reform would help struggling families like the Masons while promoting a better student loan system for everyone.

How Student Loans Became the Exception to the Rule

Until 1976, all types of loans were treated equally under bankruptcy law. But that year, Congress passed the first exception, declaring that bankruptcy judges could only dismiss federal student loans under the direst of circumstances.

In 2005, Congress expanded the exception to include private student loans—those made by banks and credit unions.

Now, bankruptcy judges are only allowed to discharge the student loans of those who have proven they have “undue hardships,” which generally means never being able to work again.

The death or disability of a borrower discharges federal student loans. But private loans—such as those the Masons took out—don’t have those provisions. So private student loans plague those who are disabled as well as the survivors of those who have passed away, such as the Masons.

All together, under current law, it is next-to-impossible to get rid of any kind of student debt in bankruptcy.

How to Fix the Problem

Here are two simple steps that would help make student loans fairer and more bearable:

1) Allow judges to wipe out the private student loans of any private lender that fails to:

A) Discharge loans in the cases of death and disability, as the federal government does.

B) Charge reasonable interest rates.

C) Allow borrowers repayment flexibility, such as deferment and forbearance options for those in financial difficulties.

2) Allow judges to wipe out any student loans—including federal loans—taken out for colleges that:

A) Have high dropout rates.

B) Have high student loan default rates.

Lenders who charge reasonable rates, allow flexible repayment and wipe out the debts of the disabled and deceased could be considered “qualified” for the current tough bankruptcy rules. Bankruptcy would remain the narrow path of last resort it was designed to be for borrowers. But lenders who don’t meet these standards—basically, those that don’t give borrowers any way out—would be subject to the same bankruptcy laws as other lenders.

Schools, too, would need to earn the bankruptcy exemption for the programs they offer. If students are not likely to complete the programs they’re borrowing for, or generally don’t earn enough to pay back the debt, their federal or private student loans would be dischargeable. There is no sense in penalizing students, parents, and grandparents lured by false promises of success.

Indeed, a study two decades ago by the U.S. General Accounting Office found that low-income borrowers who dropped out of poor-performing schools were the borrowers who most frequently defaulted on their loans—not successful young grads simply trying to walk away from their obligations.

It is economic circumstances, rather than moral failings, that often brings families to bankruptcy as a way to deal with difficult and unforeseen situations. Surely the Masons could not have anticipated their current situation. And it’s probably a situation that no member of Congress anticipated either when they closed the doors of bankruptcy court to virtually all student loan debtors.

These are doors that Congress, and Congress alone, can reopen for students, parents, and grandparents who have fallen on hard times to have equal access to the same courts that the wealthy and corporations have used to make a fresh start. And these doors can be opened strategically to make sure bankruptcy remains a last resort.

Otherwise, families like the Masons will continue to struggle needlessly.

Joe Valenti is the Director of Asset Building at the Center for American Progress. David Bergeron is the Vice President of Postsecondary Education at the Center for American Progress and former assistant secretary for postsecondary education at the U.S. Department of Education.

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.

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