Category Archives: News

Supreme Court lets Wisconsin’s voter ID law stand

via Salon


The Supreme Court on Monday opted not to hear a challenge to Wisconsin’s voter identification law, effectively allowing the measure to stand.

Reuters reports:

The justices declined to hear an appeal filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which challenged the law. The ACLU said it then filed an emergency motion with a federal appeals court to try to keep the law from taking effect immediately.

Republican Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said the law cannot be implemented for the state’s April 7 election because absentee ballots are already in the hands of voters but would be in place for future elections. “This decision is final,” Schimel said.


In October, the high court temporarily blocked the Wisconsin law. It did not explain its reasoning, but it was most likely because the statute was being implemented so close to the November election, which could have caused confusion and disruption.

Continue Reading…

Cop Arrested After Video Shows Her Shoot Unarmed Man in Back Lying Face Down in the Snow

from March 25, 2015 at 08:47AM

The fatal incident occurred during a routine traffic stop gone awry.

Harrisburg, PA– Hummelstown police Officer, Lisa J. Mearkle was charged with criminal homicide on Tuesday in the shooting death of 59-year-old David Kassick on February 2.

Mearkle shot Kassick as he laid face down on the ground in the snow, unarmed, during a routine traffic stop gone awry.

Mearkle had attempted to pull Kassick over for an expired inspection sticker, but the situation escalated when Kassick attempted to flee from the officer.

Eventually Mearkle caught up to the motorist close to his sister’s home where he was staying, but Kassick got out of the vehicle and fled on foot.  As he was attempting to run away, he was incapacitated by the officer’s taser which she held in her left hand. With her right hand, she unnecessarily pulled out her service gun and shot the unarmed man twice in the back as he lay face-down on the ground.

The 36-year-old officer claims that she shot the unarmed man because he would not show his hands and she was concerned he may have been reaching in his jacket for a weapon, but the recording from the deployed taser paints a different picture.

District Attorney Ed Marsico has stated that it appeared from the recording that Kassick was simply trying to remove the stun gun probes from his back before his life was taken.

“At the time Officer Mearkle fires both rounds from her pistol, the video clearly depicts Kassick lying on the snow covered lawn with his face toward the ground, furthermore, at the time the rounds are fired nothing can be seen in either of Kassick’s hands, nor does he point or direct anything toward Officer Mearkle,” the arrest affidavit reads.

A syringe was found near his body, and there were unspecified drugs as well as alcohol in his system when he died. His family has admitted that he has struggled with addiction, a personal problem which should not have cost him his life.

“Mr. Kassick is now dead as a result of a traffic stop, a routine traffic stop,” one of the family’s attorneys, Christopher Slusser, told the press. “He should not be dead. He should not have died as a result of that traffic stop. And the manner in which he was shot — you can infer from that what you will.”

Mearkle is currently free on $250,000 bail. She faces potential charges ranging from misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter to felony first-degree murder depending on what the prosecution decides when she is formally arraigned.


Read more at: Alternet

Shocking Dash Cam Video Shows Detroit Police Brutally Beating Innocent Man

from March 26, 2015 at 07:11AM

Warning: This might be worse to watch than Rodney King.
Floyd Dent is an amazing man. He has worked his entire adult life, from age 20-57, for Ford Motor Company in suburban Detroit. Never a day in his life has he been in trouble with the law. Loved by his family and community, he’s about as upstanding of a citizen as a man could be.

So, when the Michigan State Police in Wayne County, outside of Detroit, trailed Floyd’s car, suspecting him of purchasing drugs, what happened next may be the most preposterous case of police brutality in modern American history.

Yanked from his car and put into a brutal, illegal choke hold, officers begin to repeatedly punch Floyd in the face, nearly knocking him unconscious. Another officer comes up and shocks Floyd three separate times with his Taser—putting him at great risk of death. In all, ten officers, all of them white, made contact with Floyd during this ordeal.

While in the hospital, Floyd was forced to take drug tests, which all came back negative for drugs.

They eventually charged him with not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. Floyd even disputes this charge. One of the officers, as you will see in the video, was previously cited by the government for falsely planting evidence.

See the brutal video below and share this immediately.

Read more at: Alternet

Shocking Video Shows Car Explode as Border Patrol Agent Tasers the Driver

from March 26, 2015 at 10:44AM

Instead of trying to help the driver, the border patrol agents pulled their vehicles away from the scene.

Pine Valley, CA — The family of Alex Martin has filed a lawsuit against the federal government after their son was burned alive in his vehicle during a traffic stop.

According to NBC San Diego:

The family’s attorney Gene Iredale said Martin had been driving for 22 hours on his way back from Texas when he got lost in Pine Valley, California, in March 2012. According to court documents, Border Patrol agents tried to pull him over for driving the wrong way on Interstate 8.

But Iredale told NBC 7 Tuesday that the pursuing agents were all in plain clothes and unmarked cars, so Martin did not stop. For about three minutes, Martin led the agents on a high-speed pursuit that ended when he drove over spike strips that deflated his tires.

Martin, who had pulled over on the side of the road, had no way of knowing the men approaching him were law enforcement, Iredale claims.

“These agents approached in unmarked cars, in plain clothes and never identified themselves by the display of badges or even the simple statement ‘Border Patrol,’” the attorney said.

In the video we can see the plainclothes agents approach Martin’s vehicle and smash the window out with a flashlight. As soon as the agent fires the taser inside the vehicle, the car erupts into flames.

Apparently during the pursuit, a canister of gasoline had spilled over inside Martin’s car. When the taser was fired, it ignited the fumes, engulfing Martin in flames and sending the border patrol agent flying back.

Martin burned to death inside of the vehicle. Instead of trying to help him, the border patrol agents pulled their vehicles away from the scene.

“All three of those cars had large fire extinguishers in them and standard equipment,” Iredale said. “Not one of these agents ever even tried to spray any of the fire extinguisher solution on that car.”

Gabriel Pacheco, a lead representative for the border patrol union says that all border patrol procedures were followed.

However, Iredale says that the agents failing to identify themselves is not following protocol.

“This was a senseless act in a senseless way for somebody who had violated no law and who lost their life needlessly,” said Iredale.

Below is the graphic and disturbing dashcam video.


Read more at: Alternet

$1 Billion TSA Behavioral Screening Program Slammed as Ineffective “Junk Science”

from March 23, 2015 at 11:50AM

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been accused of spending a billion dollars on a passenger-screening program that’s based on junk science.


The claim arose in a lawsuit (pdf) filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has tried unsuccessfully to get the TSA to release documents on its SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques) [pdf]) program through the Freedom of Information Act.


SPOT, whose techniques were first used in 2003 and formalized in 2007, uses “highly questionable” screening techniques, according to the ACLU complaint, while being “discriminatory, ineffective, pseudo-scientific, and wasteful of taxpayer money.” TSA has spent at least $1 billion on SPOT.


The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in 2010 that “TSA deployed SPOT nationwide before first determining whether there was a scientifically valid basis for using behavior detection and appearance indicators as a means for reliably identifying passengers as potential threats in airports,” according to the ACLU. And in 2013, GAO recommended that the agency spend less money on the program, which uses 3,000 “behavior detection officers” whose jobs is to identify terrorists before they board jetliners.


The ACLU contends SPOT uses racial profiling, even though TSA has a zero-tolerance policy for such singling out of people based on their ethnicity. The lawsuit says “passengers, as well as behavior detection officers themselves, have complained that this process results in subjecting people of Middle Eastern descent or appearance, African Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities to additional questioning and screening solely on the basis of their race.” Furthermore, “there is no known instance in which these techniques were responsible for apprehending someone who posed a security threat” after years of using SPOT.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

TSA Asked to Divulge Screening Techniques (by Adam Klasfeld, Courthouse News Service)

ACLU Sues TSA over Behavior Screening Program (by Bart Jansen, USA Today)

American Civil Liberties Union v. Transportation Security Administration (U.S. District Court, Southern New York) (pdf)

Request Under Freedom of Information Act/Expedited Processing Requested (American Civil Liberties Union) (pdf)

TSA Behavior Detection Technique Deemed Not Much Better than “Chance” (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Read more at: News – AllGov

New York TV Stations more likely to Report Violent Crimes if Suspects are Black

from March 25, 2015 at 11:45AM

Television news in New York City has tended to over report violent crimes committed by black people, according to a new study.


Media Matters for America examined stories from four TV stations, WCBS, WNBC, WABC, and WNYW (Fox), between August 18 and December 31 of last year. The watchdog group also looked at crime statistics compiled by the New York City Police Department over the past four years involving African Americans.


NYPD numbers revealed black suspects were arrested in 54% of murders, 55% of thefts, and 49% of assaults.


But 74% of homicides reported by the four stations where race was identified had black suspects; suspects in 84% of thefts reported on were African-American and in assault cases mentioned by the stations, 73% of suspects were black.


New York’s not the only city whose media focuses on crimes whose suspects are African-American. A 2011 study of Pittsburgh media showed that when African-Americans are the focus of a news story in newspapers, 36% of the time the reporting is about black men or boys committing crime. The numbers are even more skewed in television: 86% of stories in that medium dealing with African-Americans focus on black men and boys in connection with crime.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

New York City Television Stations Continue Disproportionate Coverage of Black Crime (by Daniel Angster and Salvatore Colleluori, Media Matters for America)

Half of Prisoners Cleared after being Wrongly Convicted are African-American (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Read more at: News – AllGov

Congressional Republicans Approve Huge Increase in Fund for Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan despite Pentagon Asking for Less

from March 26, 2015 at 11:55AM

Republicans on Capitol Hill added $45 billion to a request by the Department of Defense to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of the GOP’s budget plan.


Pentagon officials had asked for $50.9 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO, a trick that has been routinely used by Congress to support the wars for years. They got that, and more. Wednesday night, the Republican-controlled House passed a budget plan that added $45 billion to the request for OCO.


Republicans put two budget proposals on the floor, nicknamed Price 1 and Price 2, after their author, House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Georgia). Price 2 provided the extra Pentagon funding, while Price 1 did not. Price 2 passed the House 219-208 with no Democratic support.


Democrats, and even some Republicans, call the OCO a “slush fund” that allows the military too much freedom to spend taxpayer dollars instead of going through the usual defense appropriations process. Democrats have labeled the padding of the OCO with $45 billion an “abusive loophole.”


“This is the first time I’ve ever seen the chairman of the House Budget Committee bring two Republican budgets to the floor. Price 1 and Price 2—I don’t know which Price is right, but from our perspective they are both wrong,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) told reporters Wednesday.


“They both essentially play games with how we fund defense. If you fund defense you should do it in a straight-up manner,” Van Hollen said.


The Pentagon’s $51 billion request was largely for funding the Afghanistan war, which is slated to get $42 billion. Another $5 billion is intended to support operations against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

- Steve Straehley, Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

War Budget Might Be Permanent ‘Slush Fund’ (by Jeremy Herb and Bryan Bender, Politico)

Lawmakers Boost War Spending as the Wars Wind Down (by Julia Harte and Alexander Cohen, Center for Public Integrity)

A Long-Term Blank Check for ‘War’ Spending (by Julia Harte, Center for Public Integrity)

Divided House GOP Prevents Embarrassment, Passes Budget Boosting Defense Spending (by Laura Barron-Lopez, Huffington Post)

U.S. has Spent $1.5 Trillion on Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

U.S. Has Spent $642 Billion on Afghan War, Including almost $200 Billion for This Year and Next (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Read more at: News – AllGov

Secret Trade Pact would Allow Foreign Corporations to Sue U.S. for Damaging Investment “Expectations”

from March 27, 2015 at 11:55AM

A new free trade agreement being pushed by the Obama administration could allow foreign corporations to challenge American laws and regulations before international tribunals.


The Trans-Pacific Partnership (pdf) (TPP), being negotiated between the U.S. and governments throughout the Western Hemisphere and the Pacific region, includes a provision authorizing companies to sue the U.S. government for actions that undermine their investment “expectations” and damage their business opportunities.


The controversial section of the treaty, kept hidden as part of the ongoing negotiations for the TPP, was only revealed after The New York Times obtained a copy of the classified document with help from WikiLeaks.


The language could be used by corporate lawyers in other nations to challenge U.S. federal, state or local laws, regulations, court rulings and government actions. Multinational companies based in Asia, North America and South America could bring such challenges to legal bodies operated by the World Bank or the United Nations.


The provision amounts to “a scheme hidden inside a scam,” wrote AlterNet’s Jim Hightower. Twenty-four of the 29 chapters in the accord, he says, “create a supranational scheme of secretive, private tribunals that corporations from any TPP nation can use to challenge and overturn [U.S.] laws. All a corporate power has to do to win in these closed proceedings is to show that a particular law or regulation might reduce its future profits.”


“It’s been negotiated among trade officials of the 12 countries in strict secrecy,” he added. “Even members of Congress have been shut out — but some 500 corporate executives have been allowed inside to shape the ‘partnership.’”


Democrats in Congress have been the most vocal opponents of the provision, saying it would give foreign banks as well as pharmaceutical, tobacco and other companies the ability to undermine U.S. sovereignty.


“This is really troubling,” Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) told the Times.  “It seems to indicate that savvy, deep-pocketed foreign conglomerates could challenge a broad range of laws we pass at every level of government, such as made-in-America laws or anti-tobacco laws. I think people on both sides of the aisle will have trouble with this.”


Schumer and others like Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) are hoping to enlist help from those on the right to fight the TPP.


“Conservatives are likely to be incensed that even local policy changes could send the government to a United Nations-sanctioned tribunal,” Jonathan Weisman wrote at the Times.


However, most GOP lawmakers reportedly favor the agreement, as they have with other free-trade pacts because of their business-friendly provisions. Obama administration officials are defending the accord and accusing its critics of drumming up fear that they say has no basis in reality.


Senator Sherrod Brown (D–Ohio) says the entire agreement is problematic, not only the “investment expectations” section. “This continues the great American tradition of corporations writing trade agreements, sharing them with almost nobody, so often at the expense of consumers, public health and workers,” he told the Times.


Meanwhile, negotiations on the pact are said to be nearing completion.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Trans-Pacific Partnership Seen as Door for Foreign Suits Against U.S. (by Jonathan Weisman, New York Times)

Jim Hightower: Obama’s Terrible Trade Pact Is a Scam That Must Be Stopped (by Jim Hightower, AlterNet)

Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty: Advanced Investment Chapter working document for all 12 nations (January 20, 2015 draft) (WikiLeaks) (pdf)

Obama’s Secret International Trade Treaty Caving on Environmental Protections (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Proposed Obama Trade Agreement would Ban Buy America Laws (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Read more at: News – AllGov

ACLU Lawsuit Seeks Data on TSA’s Creepy “Behavior Detection” Program

from March 23, 2015 at 02:20PM

Airport security basically sucks: Being herded through a Tensabarrier maze alongside a bunch of strangers is vexing enough. Then throw in the bag searches, the bomb-swabs, the mandatory doffing and donning of footwear and accessories, the "complimentary" pat down—it’s hardly surprising that some people will come through the experience looking less than cheerful.

Nowadays, though, your very reasonable travel emotions (anxiety, stress, fear, despondency) can earn you even more face time with the Transportation Security Administration. Since 2003 TSA has toyed with the idea of placing "behavior detection officers" in airports across America—part of a $1 billion counter-terrorism measure known as SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques), which officially launched in 2007.

The behavior detection officer’s job is to scan travelers’ faces for micro-expressions—facial movements that come and go in the blink of an eye and are said to convey a person’s true emotions. When one of these airport mentalists spots a potentially shifty character, he can take it to the next level by striking up a casual conversation—the idea being that brief encounters may suggest whether a person poses a threat.

Signs of "anti-social" behavior (see emotions above) may result in a traveler being flagged for additional security measures. Between 2004 and 2008, as my former colleague Ben Buchwalter has reported, 152,000 people were flagged but fewer than 1,110 were arrested. Most of the arrestees "were undocumented aliens, had outstanding warrants, or were carrying fake documents or drugs."  

Meanwhile, the SPOT program, which relies heavily on officers’ subjective observations, has been compared to the "stop-and-frisk" police tactics that have resulted—at least in New York City—in a disproportionate number of stops of blacks and Latinos. In an anonymous complaint obtained by the New York Times, one Boston TSA officer wrote that "the behavior detection program is no longer a behavior-based program, but it is a racial profiling program." The Times interviewed other TSA officers who corroborated the claim.

Despite the program’s obvious potential for profiling, the TSA does not track the race or ethnicity of those pulled aside. This lack of data—and the TSA’s lack of transparency—are the focus a lawsuit filed by the ACLU last week after the agency failed to respond to the group’s Freedom of Information Act request. The ACLU is demanding that the TSA turn over any documents related to SPOT’s effectiveness, its impact on minorities, and its scientific underpinnings.

The ACLU thinks SPOT should probably be scrapped, lead attorney Hugh Handeyside says. But for the moment, it simply wants data that will let people understand and assess the program. "We’re certainly open to examining many things that TSA can produce to justify the program scientifically and try to convince us that there isn’t undue risk of continuing unlawful profiling," Handeyside told me. "Our request and the lawsuit is to determine if TSA can adequately defend SPOT."

The ACLU isn’t alone in its concerns. In November 2013, the Governmental Accountability Office issued a report recommending that federal spending for SPOT be slashed. "Congress should consider the absence of scientifically validated evidence for using behavioral indicators to identify threats to aviation security," the report reads.

Even the program’s lead designer has unsatisfying answers on what SPOT can accomplish. "I can’t tell you what triggers an emotion," Paul Ekman, the "co-discoverer" of micro-expressions, told Buchwalter in 2011. "I can only tell you to recognize an emotion even when someone doesn’t want you to recognize it."

Concealing our true emotions, when you stop and think about it, is something most of us do every day. Whether questioning us about it translates into an effective national security program is another story.

Read more at: Politics | Mother Jones

Philadelphia Cops Shoot and Kill People at 6 Times the Rate of the NYPD

from March 24, 2015 at 03:00AM

Philadelphia, a city with a vastly smaller population than that of New York City, has seen a much higher rate of police shootings in recent years. According to a new report published on Monday by the US Department of Justice, police violence disproportionately affects Philadelphia’s black community, and officers don’t receive consistent training on the department’s deadly force policy.

The 174-page report results from an investigation the DOJ launched in 2013 at the request of Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, during a time when officer-involved shootings, including fatal incidents, were on the rise, even as violent crimes and assaults against the police was on the decline. "Police carry baggage and lack legitimacy in some communities," Ramsey, who has been appointed to chair the Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing, recently told the New York Times. "And for us to change the paradigm, we have to understand why we are viewed in this way."  

The DOJ’s Philadelphia investigation, which examined nearly 400 deadly force incidents between 2007 and 2013, provides a rare close-up of the patterns of officer-involved shootings. The report follows on the heels of another damning report the DOJ published on the city of Ferguson, where federal investigators found systematic racial discrimination among public officials and police.

While it’s nearly impossible to know how much the findings in Philadelphia represent police practices across the country—there is no comprehensive national data on police officers’ use of force, as we reported last year—the DOJ probe does reveal an alarming rate of shootings when compared to other large departments. Philadelphia’s police force, which is one-fifth the size of the NYPD, saw dozens more officer shootings resulting in deaths and injuries than those by the NYPD over the same period.

Here are a few key findings from Monday’s report:

In a city where blacks and whites each make up about 45 percent of the population, almost 60 percent of the officers involved in shootings between 2007 and 2013 were white, while 81 percent of suspects involved were black.


In nearly half of officer-involved shootings of an unarmed victim, the officer mistook a nonthreatening object for a gun.


Black suspects were the most likely to get shot because of a misidentified object. White suspects were the most likely to be involved in a physical altercation that resulted in the officer shooting.


Among officer-involved shootings in which the victim was black, black and Hispanic officers were more likely than their white counterparts to have shot at a suspect after mistaking a plain object for a gun.


While the overall number of officer-involved shootings declined between 2007 and 2013, the share of victims who were unarmed during those incidents more than tripled, from 6 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2013.


Officers initiated the encounter in 43 percent of officer-involved shootings in 2013, down from nearly 60 percent in 2007 and nearly 70 percent in 2008.


Out of 382 suspects involved in the shootings between 2007 and 2013, about 88 were killed, 180 injured, and 115 unharmed. The majority of suspects brandished a weapon but did not shoot, held a weapon other than a firearm, or were unarmed. Forty-nine suspects (13 percent) shot at the officer, injuring six and killing one.


The average time spent on investigating an officer involved shooting has declined from 417 days in 2007 to 264 days in 2013.


Out of 88 officers who were found to have violated department policy during a shooting incident, 73 percent were not suspended or terminated. Some interviewees told the Justice Department they believed that the department’s board of inquiry undermined findings from internal reviews of officer shootings, resulting in "too little discipline."


Read more at: Politics | Mother Jones