Skip to main content


Showing posts from May, 2013

Gun Deaths Outpaced Motor Vehicle Deaths in 12 States

May 29 - Gun deaths outpaced motor vehicle deaths in 12 states and the District of Columbia in 2010, the most recent year for which comprehensive state-level data is available, a new analysis from the Violence Policy Center (VPC) shows. Nationwide, improved safety standards have steadily reduced traffic fatalities over the past decade, while firearm deaths (homicides, suicides, and fatal unintentional shootings) continue unabated.

Nationally in 2010, there were 31,672 firearm deaths and 35,498 motor vehicle deaths, compared to 28,874 firearm deaths and 42,624 motor vehicle deaths in 1999. More than 90 percent of American households own a car while little more than a third of American households contain a gun.

In 2010, gun deaths (including gun suicides, homicides, and fatal unintentional shootings) outpaced motor vehicle deaths in: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, District of Columbia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, and Washington (se…

ACLU Seeks Accountability for Police Violation of the Rights of Domestic Violence Victims

In 2008, 66 year old Baerbel Roznowski sought a protection order to keep herself safe from her estranged boyfriend, Chan Kim, who had a history of violence. A court issued the order, which said that Kim must stay away from Roznowski and her home and stop contacting her. The order included instructions for law enforcement explaining that Kim did not speak English well and would need an interpreter to fully understand what was happening, and that Kim would likely react violently against Roznowski when he received news that they would be separated. Unfortunately, the police officer who brought the order to Kim didn't bother to read these instructions. He gave the order to him at Roznowski's home, did not bring an interpreter, and left them together without ensuring that they were safely separated. Just hours later, Baerbel Roznowski was dead. Her boyfriend had stabbed her 18 times, murdering her in her own home.

This tragic loss is just one example of a widespread a…

The Impact of Family Visitation on Incarcerated Youth’s Behavior and School Performance

Research shows that incarcerated adults who have strong relationships with loved ones fare better in prison and pose less of a risk to public safety when they return to the community.Phone calls, letter writing, and visitation with family members, and other so-called “pro-social supports,” help sustain these relationships. They also help adults adjust to imprisonment and limit what has been called the “pains of incarceration”—all of which has been associated with reduced behavioral infractions. It seems likely that such findings also hold true for incarcerated youth. However, there is very limited research on whether family visitation affects incarcerated juveniles’ behavior.To examine the effects on juveniles, the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) and theOhio Department of Youth Services (DYS),  with support from the Public Welfare Foundation, collaborated on Families as Partners: Supporting Youth Reentry in Ohio, a research and technical assistance project. Vera researchers found th…

How Prosecutor Win Rates And Informants Drive Wrongful Murder Convictions

In the American criminal system, one primary purpose of constitutional protections is to achieve justice by convicting the right person for the right crime. But prosecutors whose bonuses, promotions, and sometimes election are tied to conviction rates and prominent “wins” have perverse incentives to instead score any conviction at all. Recent reporting by investigative outlet ProPublica adds to the evidence that this sort of prosecutor misconduct too often goes unpunished, meaning there is little risk in manipulating the evidence and great reward.

In more than two dozen instances in which judges overturned convictions in New York citing explicit attorney misconduct, disciplinary action was almost never taken against these prosecutors, and only one prosecutor was disbarred, suspended, or censured. ProPublica’s Joaquin Sapien traces the trail of errors that plagued one such case by Assistant District Attorney Michael Vecchione, whose murder conviction who was overturned after…

Six Ways Colorado Will Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol

Colorado took a major step toward implementing a legal system for dispensing recreational marijuana, as Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed into law on Tuesday several pieces of legislation on the licensing, cultivation, and taxing of marijuana. The ballot initiative to legalize and regulate marijuana passed by voters last November immediately eliminated criminal punishment for possession by those 21-and-over of less than an ounce of pot and for growing up to six plants. But a legal system for dispensing cannabis will not take effect until producers and dispensaries can be licensed. And although Hickenlooper opposed the ballot initiative, his signature signals his willingness to implement the will of the voters. The laws passed Tuesday set up a state licensing authority that will set more specific rules for the marijuana industry, and enable the law to fulfill its stated purpose of regulating and taxing marijuana like alcohol to minimize criminal activity while protecting…

Justice Scalia: Ensuring Innocent People Get Out Of Prison Is A ‘Faustian Bargain’

A man who may be locked up for a murder he did not commit should not be allowed to challenge his conviction, according to Justice Antonin Scalia and his three most conservative colleagues. And three members of the Supreme Court seem to believe that most people jailed due to unconstitutional convictions should have no recourse to the federal courts. At least, that’s what emerges from a four justice dissenting opinion written by Scalia in a case dealing with the rights of state prisoners who may be “actually innocent” of the crime they were convicted of committing.

McQuiggin v. Perkins is a fairly unusual case. After being sentenced to life in prison for murder, Floyd Perkins spent years gathering three affidavits from witnesses corroborating his claim that another man committed the crime. Yet he sat on this new evidence for nearly six years before presenting it to a federal court. Justice Scalia’s dissent claims that a one year statute of limitations prevents Perkins from …

The New Crime of Eating While Homeless (Hard Times, USA)

Whenever one of our cities gets a star turn as host of some super-sparkly event, such as a national political gathering or the Super Bowl, its first move is to tidy up — by having the police sweep homeless people into jail, out of town, or under some rug. But Houston’s tidy-uppers aren’t waiting for a world-class event to rationalize going after homeless down-and-outers. They’ve preemptively outlawed the “crime” of dumpster diving in the Texan city. “I was just basically looking for something to eat,” he told the  Houston Chronicle. But, unbeknownst to both this indigent tourist and the great majority of Houston’s generally generous citizens, an ordinance dating way back to 1942 says that “molesting garbage containers” is illegal. In March, James Kelly, a 44-year-old Navy veteran, was passing through Houston on his way to connect with family in California. Homeless, destitute, and hungry, he chose to check out the dining delicacies in a trash bin near City Hall. Spotted by…

The Long, Sordid History of the American Right and Racism

Racism has been a consistent thread weaving through the American Right from the early days when Anti-Federalists battled against the U.S. Constitution to the present when hysterical Tea Partiers denounce the first African-American president. Other factors have come and gone for the Right, but racism has always been there.

Though definitions of Right and Left are never precise, the Left has generally been defined, in the American context, by government actions – mostly the federal government responding to popular movements and representing the collective will of the American people – seeking to improve the lot of common citizens and to reduce social injustice.

The Right has been defined by opposition to such government activism. Since the Founding, the Right has decried government interference with the “free market” and intrusion upon “traditions,” like slavery and segregation, as “tyranny” or “socialism.”

This argument goes back to 1787 and opposition to the Constitution’…

Why is violent crime so rare in Iceland?

Even though I grew up in New England, there was something novel about seeing an Icelandic blizzard. It was paralysing, with epic wind gusts that made snowflakes feel like razors.
As I dragged my bags along Reykjavik's snowy pavement, an older man in a Jeep pulled alongside me.

"You want to get in?" he asked.

It sounded crazy. Why would I ever get in a stranger's car?

Despite everything I was taught about riding in cars with strangers, I climbed in the backseat. And I knew nothing bad was going to happen to me.

Read on...

The US Murder Rate Is on Track to Be Lowest in a Century

This is fairly preliminary data, but Rick Nevin reports that if current trends keep up, we'll end 2013 with the murder rate in America at its lowest rate in over a century.

Analytically speaking, murder is an especially interesting crime because we have pretty good homicide statistics going all the way back to 1900. Most other crimes have only been tracked since about 1960. And if you look at the murder rate in the chart below (the red line), you see that it follows an odd double-hump pattern: rising in the first third of the century, reaching a peak around 1930; then declining until about 1960; then rising again, reaching a second peak around 1990. It's been dropping ever since then.

This is the exact same pattern we see in lead ingestion among small children, offset by 21 years (the black line). Lead exposure rises in the late 1800s, during the heyday of lead paint, reaching a peak around 1910; then declines through World War II; and then begins rising again du…

An Increasingly Unchecked Surveillance State

The most egregious rights violations tend to happen against the voiceless; those who have neither the platform nor resources to articulate their grievances to the broader world.
Last week, however, the US Department of Justice was caught in a very public transgression against the freedom of an influential and empowered private organisation when it was revealed that it had engaged in a spying campaign against the Associated Press (AP) - one of the country's largest news agencies.
In what has been described as a "massive and unprecedented intrusion", AP revealed that Obama's Department of Justice had engaged in a surveillance campaign targeting its reporters and editors. This campaign included the covert acquisition of phone records from AP staff; including from their home and personal cell numbers.
In a public letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, AP President Gary Pruitt said the surveillance would:
Reveal communications with confidential sources and dis…

Police Use Tasers Against Foreclosure Activists Outside Dept. of Justice

Video from Monday's protest outside the Department of Justice by struggling homeowners and anti-foreclosure activists shows DC Capitol Police officers using tasers against peaceful protesters.
In the video, protesters can be seen trying to move away from police and as at least one officer presses what appears to be his taser weapon into the stomach of a man you can hear him scream in pain, "Stop! Fucking stop!"


Read on...

How the Government Targeted Occupy

Freedom of conscience is one of the most fundamental human freedoms. This freedom is not merely about one’s ability to choose to believe or not believe in religion or a particular philosophy. In a democracy, freedom of conscience is about the ability to be critical of government and corporations, and to be free from the chilling fear that being critical will subject you to government surveillance.

Freedom of conscience is not fully realized in isolation. Without the ability to share one’s thoughts, to speak out about injustice, or to join with others in peaceably assembling to petition for redress of grievances, this core freedom is not truly free. Americans should be able to exercise these most sacred rights in free society without worry of being monitored by the government.

In our new report, “Dissent or Terror: How the Nation's Counter Terrorism Apparatus, in Partnership with Corporate America, Turned on Occupy Wall Street,” written by Center for Media and …

In Colorado, Blacks Make Up 4 Percent Of The Population And 100 Percent Of Death Row

In March, Colorado came close to becoming the 19th state to abolish the death penalty, but the bill failed after Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) voiced opposition and suggested a possible veto. A few months later, Colorado’s death penalty is still firmly in place, and the state is poised to complete what would be only the second execution in 45 years (the last was in 1997). Few dispute that Nathan Dunlap committed a horrific crime and murdered several people at a Chuck E. Cheese. But judges, university professors, and other prominent state leaders are urging Gov. Hickenlooper to commute Dunlap’s sentence, both because crucial errors that defined his trial may have led him to get a harsher sentence than others, and because killing anyone under the perverted state system would be a miscarriage of justice. According to letters filed with Hickenlooper’s office:
All three people on death row are black men. In a state that is only 4.3% African American, Colorado’s death row is 100% A…

24 Harvard Student Groups: Graduating Jason Richwine ‘Debases All Of Our Degrees’

In response to the news that Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government bestowed a doctrate upon disgraced former Heritage staffer Jason Richwine, 24 student groups at the elite university released a strongly worded letter condemning the decision to approve Richwine’s dissertation:

We are deeply concerned with the academic integrity and the reputation of Harvard Kennedy School and the University as a whole. It has been recently made public by the Washington Post and the New York Times that in 2009 the Kennedy School accepted a dissertation written by Jason Richwine which claims that “Immigrants living in the US today do not have the same level of cognitive ability as natives” (Richwine Dissertation, 26). Richwine goes on to state that “the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against” (Richwine Dissertation, 66) and argues for an immigration policy based on IQ. Central to his claim is the idea that certain …

How The Cleveland Kidnapping Trial Could Turn Into A Proxy War Over Abortion

Yesterday, Cuyahoga County, Ohio prosecutor Thomas McGinty announced that he may seek the death penalty against Ariel Castro, the man who allegedly kidnapped, raped and beat three women and held them captive for about a decade. The basis for seeking the death penalty is charges that Castro forced one of his captives to miscarry by starving and punching her. Under Ohio law, “unlawful termination of another’s pregnancy” is considered murder.

As a constitutional matter, there is nothing improper about treating involuntary termination of another’s pregnancy as a very serious crime. The Supreme Court’s decisions recognize “the right of the woman to choose to have an abortion before viability and to obtain it without undue interference from the State.” This is a right that belongs to the pregnant woman, not to monsters who would violently impose their wishes upon a woman. So even if the alleged miscarriages in this case occurred before “viability,” Castro will find little comfort …

We Can't Let Hatred and Gun Paranoia Silence Our Great Democracy

We were struck this week by one response to our broadcast last week on gun violence and the Newtown school killings. A visitor to the website wrote, “It is interesting to me that Bill Moyers, who every week describes the massive levels of corruption in our government… [and] the advocates for gun control don’t understand that we who own guns in part own them to be sure that when our government becomes so corrupt we have guns to do something about it.”

About the same time that man’s post showed up on the web, we saw the  startling survey from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind polling organization, the one finding that nearly three in ten registered voters agree with the statement: “In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties.” Three out of ten! That includes 44 percent of Republicans, 27 percent of independents and 18 percent of Democrats. 

That poll also noted that a quarter of Americans think that facts about t…

Cleveland Horror Caps Week of Violence Against Women

These tales of misogyny should jolt us to connect the dots and to shine a stronger light on the violence against women that’s always there beneath the surface.

In just the last few days, we’ve seen a series of news stories involving violence against women. The violence comes in different forms -- physical, psychological, financial -- and from different quarters: a former school-bus driver in Cleveland, the NRA convention in Houston, the military, congress. And so it’s not surprising that the media, as usual, is delivering these stories as unrelated incidents. But arriving almost simultaneously, these tales of misogyny should jolt us all to connect the dots and to shine a stronger light on the violence against women that’s always there, just below the surface. 

The story of the three Cleveland women who were found alive after being held captive (and, by all accounts, raped, beaten and bound) in a neighbor’s house for 10 years is the most shocking. The suspect, Ariel Castro,…

State Department Forces Texas Law Student to Take Down Instructions for 3-D-Printed Guns

Defense Distributed, the Texas-based company specializing in 3-D-printed plastic firearms, took down its downloadable files on Thursday at the request of the State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Control Compliance. The company posted a blueprint for the first fully-operational printed plastic handgun, "The Liberator," on Monday at its site, DEFCAD; the file was downloaded more than a 100,000 times in its first three days.

In a letter to the company's founder, Cody Wilson, the State Department alleged that the Defense Distributed's file-sharing service violated the terms of the Arms Export Control Act, and demanded that it take down 10 of its files, including the Liberator, within three weeks.

"Our theory's a good one, but I just didn't ask them and I didn't tell them what we were gonna do," Wilson, a University of Texas law student, told Mother Jones. "So I think it's gonna end up being alright, but for no…

America's 10 Worst Prisons: Reeves County

Serving time in prison is not supposed to be pleasant. Nor, however, is it supposed to include being raped by fellow prisoners or staff, beaten by guards for the slightest provocation, driven mad by long-term solitary confinement, or killed off by medical neglect. These are the fates of thousands of prisoners every year—men, women, and children housed in lockups that give Gitmo and Abu Ghraib a run for their money.

While there's plenty of blame to go around, and while not all of the facilities described in this series have all of the problems we explore, some stand out as particularly bad actors. We've compiled this subjective list of America's 10 worst lockups (plus a handful of dishonorable mentions) based on three years of research, correspondence with prisoners, and interviews with criminal-justice reform advocates concerning the penal facilities with the grimmest claims to infamy. We will roll out the remaining contenders in the coming days, complete wit…

Plant Tomatoes. Harvest Lower Crime Rates.

I suppose the easy thing to do would be to rail against food deserts, the dearth of fresh produce and other healthy foods for those living in impoverished neighborhoods. Or to enter the debate over whether there are, in fact, food deserts. (A couple of recent studies have suggested that proximity to decent grocery stores isn't the key problem of inner-city nutrition.) But considering Emily Schiffer's photos, I was reminded of Mother Teresa's visit to a housing project on Chicago's West Side in the mid-1980s. What rattled her was not the poverty of the pocketbook. She'd seen worse in India. Rather, it was what she called "the poverty of the spirit."

Looking at Schiffer's photos and talking with people involved in urban farming, I've come to realize that their efforts have less to do with providing healthy food than they do with a reclamation of sorts, taking ownership of their community and their daily lives. Growing Home is one of …

Racism in a Texas Death Case

In the annals of racism in the Texas criminal justice system, seven death penalty cases are in a class by themselves. In 2000, after the Supreme Court ordered a new sentencing hearing in one of them, Senator John Cornyn, who was then the state attorney general, called for new sentencing hearings in the other cases for the same reason: because race was improperly and explicitly considered as a factor in determining the sentence.

Duane Buck, who was convicted of two murders, is the only one among the defendants who was not granted a new sentencing hearing. His post-conviction lawyers have uncovered a lot of mitigating evidence that his trial counsel did not present to the jury that sentenced him to death. He is seeking life without parole and is awaiting a decision on this matter by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. 

Read on...

This is from a NYTimes editorial. Tom