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Forum Post: Wisconsin Passes First State Law Requiring Independent Investigations of Police-Custody Deaths

Posted 4 years ago on May 3, 2014, 7:50 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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Wisconsin Passes First State Law Requiring Independent Investigations of Police-Custody Deaths

Saturday, 03 May 2014 09:10
By Candice Bernd, Truthout | Report


After relentless pressure from the families of shooting victims, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill, the first of its kind in the nation, requiring deaths in police custody to be investigated by outside organizations. Is there potential for similar bills to be passed elsewhere?

When police kill, should they be the ones responsible for investigating and judging themselves? This is the question Michael Bell has been asking officials in Wisconsin ever since his 21-year-old son, who was named after him, was fatally shot by Kenosha police in front of the son's mother and sister in 2004.

And it was largely Bell's activism - a publicity campaign involving billboards, newspapers ads and his website - that led to the recent passage of a historic law that will overhaul police review policies. It is the first law of its kind in the nation.

The legislation, which Gov. Scott Walker recently signed into law, requires that deaths in police custody be investigated by an outside agency, using independently gathered evidence. Bell and about two dozen other family members of police victims attended the private signing ceremony.

"It was a very healing moment for our family," Bell told Truthout.

Bell is a retired lieutenant colonel Air Force pilot and understands the nature of investigation, training and discipline in a profession that uses deadly force. He has pushed for criminal justice officials to take the same approach to investigations of police shootings as is taken with investigations of military plane crashes, which typically require impartial experts to review the facts.

It took many years before any progress was made on the issue of independent investigations in police-custody deaths.

Though his efforts have now been successful in Wisconsin, Bell says that for a long time, he was vilified for questioning police officials. It took many years before any progress was made on the issue of independent investigations in police-custody deaths.

"I have a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy who was shot in the head while his hands were behind his back in handcuffs, being held down by another officer and there are five eyewitnesses, and his father is a retired Air Force colonel ... and I [was] ignored and vilified. What must it be like for people aren't in that privileged class?" Bell asked.

Wisconsin lawmakers drafted the legislation in response to three people's deaths while in police custody in the last few years, including Bell's son. The other deaths involved Derek Williams, who died struggling for air and begging for help in the back of a Milwaukee squad car in 2011, and Paul Heenan, who was fatally shot by a Madison officer during a confrontation in 2012.

The families of the men banded together publicly, petitioning the US Attorney's office and the FBI, questioning the validity of the internal police investigations that found no wrongdoing in their sons' cases and resulted in no criminal charges.

Fifty-three people have died in police custody in Wisconsin between 2003 and 2009, and state police departments reported officers killed 41 people between June 2008 and April 2013, according to the Associated Press. All the reported killings were determined to be "justifiable."

"We researched the state of Wisconsin and we could not find an 'unjustified' ruling of a police-involved shooting in 129 years since the police and fire departments were first formed in 1885, and we knew that was an impossible record of perfection."

"We researched the state of Wisconsin and we could not find an 'unjustified' ruling of a police-involved shooting in 129 years since the police and fire departments were first formed in 1885, and we knew that was an impossible record of perfection. Either the police officers were perfect, or there was something wrong with the system," Bell said.

Several smaller police departments in the state and many across the country already have an independent process for reviewing police-involved shootings and deaths, but many larger departments, both in Wisconsin and nationally, have older review practices and often handle their own investigations. The new Wisconsin law is groundbreaking because it is the first statewide mandate of this external investigation process.

The new law is a significant victory for accountability advocates. If other states follow Wisconsin's lead, it could codify this external oversight process within other police departments around the country.

"I do think the bill will be a model for other states," Bell said. He also said that if an opportunity arises in another state to pass a similar bill, he would be open to supporting the efforts to get it passed. Already, concerned citizens are reaching out to him for advice.

Similar legislation has been attempted in a few states such as Maine and Oregon, but hasn't been successful. The law in Wisconsin could provide a model policy that could attain bipartisan support elsewhere.

But some police unions are already objecting to the new law, saying police departments are "uniquely suited to investigate incidents." They worry that, in addition to outside agencies' investigations, federal authorities might investigate deaths in police custody, and lawsuits could be brought. It's certainly not in the interest of the unions to hand over their control of internal investigations to outside agencies, as it has been important to the unions in the past to control the process. It's the unions that could be the biggest obstacle to the new mandate spreading to other states.

Many accountability experts agree that the practice of police officers in the same agency or department investigating their own colleagues when they are accused of a crime can lead to bias and cover-up. The new law provides a better accountability system for both officers and families who are grieving after the loss of a loved one.

"It was almost as if love triumphed over power."

"If you look at the photographs from that signing, you can see the expression on everybody's face," Bell said. "It was almost as if love triumphed over power."

Copyright, Truthout.



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[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

Reseachers Blast US Prison Policies

Saturday, 03 May 2014 11:26
By Michael Doyle, McClatchyDC | Report


The United States incarcerates too many people, a new National Research Council report concludes.

Adding more evidence to a growing debate, the elite scientific panel noted with alarm that "the U.S. penal population of 2.2 million adults is by far the largest in the world." Nearly one out of every 100 U.S. adults is in prison or jail, a rate five to 10 times higher than that in Western Europe and other democracies.

"We are concerned that the United States is past the point where the number of people in prison can be justified by social benefits," said committee chair Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. "We need to embark on a national conversation to rethink the role of prison in society."

The study panel attributed the "historically unprecedented" and "internationally unique" growth in prison population to mandatory sentencing, long sentences for violent and repeat offenses and the once politically popular "war on drugs."

The burden does not fall evenly, the 400-plus page report notes.

Of those incarcerated in 2011, about 60 percent were African-American or Hispanic. African-American males under the age of 35 who did not finish high school are more likely to be behind bars than employed in the labor market, the study found. In 2010, the imprisonment rate for African-Americans was 4.6 times that for whites.

The benefits, moreover, may be questionable.

"The increase in incarceration may have caused a decrease in crime," the report concludes, "but the magnitude is highly uncertain, and most studies suggest it was unlikely to have been large."

© 2014 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

Bundy's ''Militia'' Is Lawlessness of a Different Color

Saturday, 03 May 2014 12:59
By Terrance Heath, Campaign For America's Future | Op-Ed


At what point do armed citizens consider themselves the law, based on little more than their numbers and their guns? The latest news from Bundy Ranch, raises this and many other questions.

The Bureau of Land Management called an end to its gather of Cliven Bundy's cattle. Even though the agency was well within its rights to take action, considering that Bundy owes more than $1million in unpaid grazing fees, and the courts have repeatedly ruled against him for 20 years, it stood down after well-armed, self-appointed "militias" rush to defend Bundy's freeloading, rather than give right right-wing another Waco or Ruby Ridge myth to rally around.

The BLM is gone, now, but the militia is still hanging around and beginning to show its dark side. With nothing better to do, Bundy's "militia" is reportedly setting up "checkpoints" and requiring locals to show proof of residence before being allowed to pass. In a letter to Clark County Sheriff David Gillespie, Rep. Steve Horsford (D, Nevada) describe the checkpoints and other intimidating behavior.

My constituents have expressed concern that members of these armed militia groups:

  1. Have set up checkpoints where residents are required to prove they live in the area before being allowed to pass;

  2. Have established a persistent presence along federal highways and state and county roads; and

  3. Have established an armed presence in or around community areas including local churches, school, and other community locations.

Horsord writes that his constituents have been forced to "live under the persistent watch of an armed militia," that answers to no particular authority other than its own, and is accountable to no one.

Let's be clear. There is nothing that gives any of the so-called "militia" members the right to stop anyone and demand anything, let alone to establish armed patrols in the community. What's happening around Bundy Ranch now is outright intimidation.

Gun Bullying

The phrase used to describe it lately is, "gun bullying," and it rose in the wake of anti-gun protest following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. It happens when gun-toting protestors flout open-carry laws at counter-demonstrations, to intimidate anti-gun protesters. It happened in Dallas, Texas, when 40 armed gun advocates gathered outside a restaurant where they knew Moms Demand Action For Gun Safety In America (MDA) was meeting, started getting guns out of their trucks, and wanted for the group members to come out. MDA later issued a press release calling the group "gun bullies."

But the phenomena takes on an even more sinister self-appointed "militias" used a show of arms to intimidate opponents, and the threat of violence to affect policy making and law enforcement. That's what happened in GIlberton, Pennsylvania, where embattled police chief Mark Kessler, who was running for sherif was put on suspension after disturbing videos surface of him shooting automatic assault rifles and ranting against "libtards" and other perceived political enemies, as well as videos of Kessler in uniform, repeatedly shooting at a target he called "Nancy Pelosi."

Kessler also happened be the head of a private militia force called the Constitutional Security Force. When the city/county council met to consider disciplinary action against Kessler, more than 100 armed members of his personal "militia" gathered outside the meeting. Some patrolled the meeting area, telling the media they were there to provide extra "security." They also angrily confronted a member of Keystone Progress, who petition signatures from more than 20,000 who wanted Kessler fired. Rather than fire Kessler, the council decided to suspend him for 30 days without pay.

What's unfolding in Nevada hasn't become quite as extreme, yet. But give it time.

Lawlessness of a Different Color

Let's be clear. Clive Bundy is basically a criminal. After losing in court for over 20 years, Bundy employed the threat of violence to continue illegally grazing his cattle without paying the grazing fee that other ranchers pay. A simple review of county records proves Bundy's claims on the land are bogus. Whipped into a frenzy by Fox News, Bundy now has armed "militia" supporting him in flouting the law.

If Bundy and his supporters were black or Latino, and wore hoodies instead of cowboy hands, they wouldn't be called a "militia." They would be called a gang of armed "thugs." Instead of hailing them as heroic patriots, the talking heads at Fox News would be calling for them to be arrested, if not shot on sight.

History bears this out. In May of 1967, Black Panthers invaded the California statehouse. Thirty well-armed young black men and women arrived on the west lawn of the state capitol, and climbed the capitol steps. Bobby Seal declared, "The time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late."

What drove the Black Panthers to the capitol was opposition to gun control.Then governor Ronald Reagan told reporters that afternoon that he "no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons," and called guns "ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will."

But that was when the NRA supported gun control, and Republicans were still the "law and order" party." What's happening at Bundy Ranch may be lawlessness, but it's lawlessness of a different color — and that makes all the difference.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 2 points by DKAtoday (33491) from Coon Rapids, MN 4 years ago

( EDIT ) The Bundy conundrum.

Quite a thing - is it not?

Fed government beating up on the little guy - again. Is It? Really?

"My" thought/perspective ( partial = so much to address ) is - Bundy you shiftless reprobate taking advantage of public lands to make yourself wealthy ( um was that a bit harsh? ) - look everyone needs to pay the same to graze on public lands ( my only problem with that - "is" - are those monies charged/collected used to sustaining a healthy wild ( public ) Land? As if the monies are used to maintain and even improve the fecundity of the land - well then I have no problem with your or anyone else being charged to graze there - if the monies collected do not go to maintaining the land - well then = Fuck you government.

Thing is Bundy - YOU have not been singled out for this land use charge - SO - GET OVER YOURSELF - if anything - team up with the sierra club and other environmental groups to see to proper stuardship of the land - other than that? = Fuck Off!!!!

EDIT -> Bundy the only ( really ) injustice - "is" - if anything - that the wealthy are not held to holding up their end = subsidies to fossil fuel and such things like that and mega-profitable corp(se)oRATions that don't pay a cent in taxes - "THERE" is the real crime that you and everyone else should be screaming about.

[-] 2 points by DKAtoday (33491) from Coon Rapids, MN 4 years ago

Police actions - one good place for hardwired bigbrother monitoring.