Police Violence is Still Violence

Last week the city of Pasadena agreed to pay  $1,037,500 to the parents of Kendrec McDade to settle civil cases involving two police officers that shot and killed the 19 year old on March 24, 2012. The young man was shot eight times after a brief pursuit. Police believed he was armed after receiving a call identifying an “armed suspect.” The caller later admitted that there was no weapon and that he lied so police would respond faster. An investigation found the police conduct to be “lawful and within departmental policy.” The loss is a scar that will forever leave a mark on this city. The million dollar settlement is also a painful reminder of the monetary cost of gun violence.

This story serves as one more lesson in a long list of recent tragedies resulting from gun violence.  Just because the shooters in this case were uniformed officers, this loss is no less tragic than losses at Santa Barbara, Sandy Hook or anywhere else.  America consistently has the highest rates of gun related fatalities on the planet, yet we refuse to address the issue of gun control in a more effective manner. Instead we continue to debate gun advocates who repeat the mantra “guns don’t kill, people kill.”  We have a responsibility to advance the conversation to include viable alternatives to our current reality of widespread access to fatal weapons. England is one such example where neither police offices nor private citizens carry guns. Last year while 12,000 people in America died from gun violence, England had less than 200 gun fatalities.  There may be several reasons for this disparity, and one of them is certainly the fact that handguns are not readily available to the public or the police.

At some point the lives of those thousands of victims should be valued more than our absurdly liberal gun laws. I hope that our conversations and gun policy decisions one day reflect a higher value on human life. In a civilized society the preservation of life should outweigh the right to bear arms, because lives are always more valuable than guns. Image

Tips for Dealing with Law Enforcement

Seattle police officers wearing riot gear guard a Starbucks coffee shop during May Day demonstrations in Seattle

1. The Right to be Free from Search

The Fourth Amendment guarantees our right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. This right applies to all persons whether walking, driving, riding a bike, sitting at home or even standing around in a public space. The 4th amendment was written to protect individuals from police and law enforcement agents. That means police can not search you, or arrest you without a warrant, or without evidence that you are involved in a crime. One way police often get around the warrant requirement is by asking if you will agree to a search of your vehicle, bag, home or other property. Know that you always have the right to refuse a search, and you should exercise that right with confidence, knowing that state and federal law support you in asserting that right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. If an officer asks if he/she can search you, your car or your property, simply say “No, I do not consent to searches.” Repeat as needed because they can be very persistent.

2. The Right to be Free from Seizure

The Fourth Amendment also protects individuals from police who may try to arrest or detain you without legal justification. Police can be intimidating, but remember that the law is on your side and is there to protect you. When officers stop you on the street and want to question you, you can quickly terminate that police encounter by asking the question: “Officer are you detaining me, or am I free to go?” At that point, if the officer says you are not being detained, then just walk away, because that is your right, and the officer knows that. When police question you, that usually means they don’t already have enough evidence to detain you, and most likely they’re fishing for anything they can use against you or someone you know. Be smart, don’t stand there and provide info that can later be used against you or someone else in court. Quit while you’re ahead, and keep your mouth shut.

3. Your Right to Remain Silent, Shut Your Mouth and Stay Out of Trouble

Everyone who’s watched a cop show has heard the phrase: “you have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” Despite hearing that phrase repeatedly, many people are all too eager to speak to police whenever they are asked to do so. If you are being questioned about possible criminal conduct, you’re best response is always: “I choose to remain silent, I’d like to speak with a lawyer.” You may have to repeat that sentence several times, because the police will most likely continue to ask you questions and try to get you to change your mind. Be firm, and remember that the law is on your side, and remind them that you will remain silent, and would like to speak to a lawyer. Cops are allowed to lie to you, so don’t be tricked by false threats or promises, don’t give up your right to remain silent, be firm, and shut your mouth. If cops are questioning you, that often means they don’t have enough evidence against you, shut your mouth and don’t give it to them.

60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, segregation still plagues America

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1. The elusive goal of desegregation

60 years ago the US Supreme court ruled unanimously (9-0) that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” As a result, de jure racial segregation was outlawed, and this paved the way for desegregation in other areas of life. It was certainly a legal victory for civil rights advocates, but the ruling did little to change the hearts and minds of those hell bent on discriminating against blacks or other minorities. Rather than succumbing to the perceived evils of desegregation, many white families simply moved to suburban areas where their children would not attend school with black students. In Pasadena where I live, it was not until 1970 that local schools were finally desegregated by a court order which required “busing” to enforce desegregation. At that time, a very significant portion of white families in Pasadena pulled their children from public schools and enrolled them in local private schools. Until this day, Pasadena has one of the highest concentrations of private schools in the country. The consequence is that our public schools in the city are majority black and latino, and the education, graduation rates and resources available to those public school students reflects a lasting disparity between most white and minority students in the city. Segregation is still our reality. In a report published by the Economic Policy Institute, researchers found that today African American students are more isolated than they were 40 years ago, meaning today there are less white students attending school with black students than there were in the 1970’s. (www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/08/29/report-public-schools-more-segregated-now-than-40-years-ago) While the law is on the side of racial equality, the march to desegregate our schools continues.

2. Segregation in the justice system

Although segregation is unlawful, de facto segregation thrives where communities are separated by race due mostly to economic circumstance. Minority families who may be struggling financially are forced to live in lower priced neighborhoods, and to send their kids to local public schools with higher drop out rates, lower standardized test scores, and less access to certain resources. Police departments invest more time in “policing” these lower income neighborhoods and inevitably people of color tend to fill our prisons in much higher numbers. According to the Sentencing Project, 1 in 10 black males in their 30’s are incarcerated, and more than 60% of inmates in America are minorities. (http://www.sentencingproject.org/template/page.cfm?id=122) This disparity in convicting minorities effectively perpetuates the cycle of segregation in America. The billions of dollars spent on our prison system could be invested into communities of color to promote education, opportunity and positive alternatives before our youth get trapped in the web of injustice. That decision to invest in incarceration over education reflects a continuing attitude of de facto segregation. We currently have 34 state prisons in California and 33 state universities. Education and professional opportunities must be viewed as an alternative to incarceration. We need to appreciate the value of investing in desegregation through education. It may be 60 years since Brown v. Board, but we still have a long way to go to end segregation and discrimination.