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How High Bail Costs Contribute to Systemic Poverty

Last month, Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act to encourage states to reform their bail systems. Beyond shrinking our overly expanded incarcerated population, bail reform would boost the United States’ stagnating income mobility by reforming a system that traps the poor in poverty.

Of the 646,000 people in local jails, 70% have not yet been convicted of a crime.

Upward mobility has stalled. According to Stanford Professor of Economics Raj Chetty, “social mobility is low and has been for at least thirty or forty years.” Of those born into the bottom income quintile, more than a third remain there as adults. However, progressives who blame the free market misdiagnose the problem.

A 50-state analysis found that in more economically free states – those with fewer labor regulations and smaller governments – the wealth of the poor rises more quickly than the wealth of the rich because freer markets produce more opportunity for everyone. The problem is that government policies like steep bail hamstring low-income individuals’ efforts to advance.

When low-income Americans can’t pay their bail, they go to jail. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, of the 646,000 people in local jails, 70 percent have not yet been convicted of a crime. Most are awaiting their trial. In 2002, those jailed had a median income of $15,109 prior to incarceration. Many inmates are there due to low-level crimes, like not paying a traffic ticket or driving without a license.

Jail Time Is a Huge Economic Hurdle

Being jailed reduces earnings. Jailed individuals often lose their jobs when they don’t show up to work the next day. Many individuals even plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit in order to avoid the weeks or months of jail time associated with a bail they can’t afford. The Journal of Legal Studies found that when judges assigned a money bail, suspects were 12 percent more likely to be convicted, in part because they were more likely to plead guilty to avoid jail and in part because they had less access to their public defenders.

This can have profound future implications, as many employers are leery of hiring people with a criminal record. Jailed individuals are even likely to become repeat criminals: the same study found that pretrial detention caused a 6-9 percent increase in recidivism.

Jail hurts poor people twice, first by depriving them of income behind bars and then by stigmatizing them once they are free.

These factors add up to lower earnings: a Pew study found incarceration reduced individuals’ yearly earnings by 40 percent. Formerly incarcerated Americans are hit even harder over the course of a lifetime: according to the same study, “By age 48, the typical former inmate will have earned $179,000 less than if he had never been incarcerated.” This doesn’t factor in the loss of income jailed individuals suffer while waiting for their trial.

When individuals are prevented from working and pushed into scenarios that encourage recidivism, they’re less able to escape poverty.

Jail hurts poor people twice: once by depriving them of income behind bars and once by stigmatizing them once they are free. The end result is less income mobility. Formerly incarcerated men in the bottom earnings quintile were twice as likely to still be there 20 years later, compared to men who were never sent to jail or prison. While part of this is due to the fact that incarcerated individuals are more likely to be frequent criminals, part is due to the negative effects of even one jail stretch.

Jail Time Hurts People Who Aren’t Criminals

Jail time also hurts the children of the incarcerated, creating inter-generational poverty. According to a meta-study on the subject, children with incarcerated parents are three times more likely to end up incarcerated themselves. Having an incarcerated parent can leave children with psychological scars such as depression, and can even aggravate learning disabilities.

Even when individuals can make bail and remain free until trial, they often require a bail bond to do so. A bail bond is a payment an insurance company makes on the accused’s behalf, but these companies often charge a payment of 10 percent of bail. The average bail for a felony is $10,000, and even misdemeanors often have four-figure bail amounts. Bail bonds often amount to a substantial fine that the working poor are ill-equipped to pay.

Bail bonds often amount to a substantial fine that the working poor are ill-equipped to pay.

Even individuals who can pull together the money for bail on their own may find that it wipes out their savings. While bail money is refunded at trial, going without thousands of dollars for several weeks can leave people, especially poor people, in danger of financial ruin.

Economic mobility is relatively strong for non-incarcerated individuals. Pew notes that 15 percent of never-incarcerated Americans who start in the bottom economic quintile end up in the top quintile. Our bail systems force poor individuals to choose between unfeasible short-term fees that can spell financial ruin, or the long-term earning potential loss that comes with jail time. For these people, upward mobility is a broken promise.

Julian Adorney


Julian Adorney
Julian Adorney is a Young Voices Advocate. His work has been featured in dozens of outlets, including National Review, Fox News’ Nation, and Lawrence Reed’s best-selling economics anthology Excuse Me, Professor.
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NYC Prosecutors Pledge to Dismiss 700,000 Minor Warrants

Four of New York City’s district attorneys say they will file motions in coming weeks to toss out 700,000 old warrants issued for low-level offenses like drinking in public and riding a bicycle on a sidewalk, reports the New York Law Journal. Prosecutors in Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan will move to dismiss warrants that are 10 years old or older that stem from NYPD summonses. The mass clearance will dismiss a significant portion of the city’s roughly 1.5 million outstanding warrants.

When warrants aren’t cleared, those who have them are subject to automatic arrest for years and decades to come, even if they come in contact with police because they were involved in a minor traffic accident or while reporting a crime. Bronx DA Darcel Clark said the motions for clearance should not be viewed as mass amnesty. “We’re not telling everyone it’s OK to get a summons and not show up,” Clark said. But she said many of the cases are unprosecutable because of legal sufficiency issues.

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Bipartisan Bail Reform Bill Introduced in the Senate

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat, has introduced bipartisan legislation to prod states to reform their bail systems, reports the San Jose Mercury News. The new bill, which Harris co-wrote with Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, and was introduced yesterday, would spend $10 million annually for three years on grants for states that reform their bail systems.

Most courts in the U.S. require money bail, holding defendants in jail before trial until they pay. Advocates say cash bail is unfair to poor defendants who haven’t been convicted of a crime.

Under Harris’ bill — her first major bipartisan legislation — states would be eligible for a grant if they enact reforms such as replacing money bail with systems based on assessing a defendant’s risk to the community, releasing inmates before trial in most cases, or appointing public defenders at the earliest stages of pretrial detention.

In a New York Times commentary, Harris and Paul wrote, “Our justice system was designed with a promise: to treat all people equally. Yet that doesn’t happen for many of the 450,000 Americans who sit in jail today awaiting trial because they cannot afford to pay bail.” They said their proposal encourages better data collection, empowers states to build on best practices, and holds them accountable.

Some states have already moved to change their approach to bail. New Jersey, for example, is shifting away from “money-based” pretrial justice through pretrial risk assessment in a system NPR describes in the latest episode of its “Planet Money” podcasts as a “model” for the nation.

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Fired Texas Police Officer who killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards Indicted on Murder Charge

The fired Balch Springs cop who fatally shot 15-year-old Jordan Edwards was indicted Monday on a murder charge by a Dallas County grand jury.

Jordan’s family and their attorney said they were “cautiously optimistic” after Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson announced the indictment against 37-year-old Roy Oliver.

Oliver was also indicted on four counts of aggravated assault by a public servant for firing his rifle into a car full of teenagers leaving a party April 29. Jordan, who sat in the front passenger seat, was struck in the head. His two brothers and two friends were also in the car.

Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber originally said the Chevrolet Impala was aggressively reversing toward Oliver and Officer Tyler Gross, but body camera footage contradicted that story. Oliver was fired and arrested on the murder charge in May.

Johnson said prosecuting Oliver is not a “political statement” but rather the right thing to do, something she believes most police officers would agree with.

“I think our police officers would stand with us and say, ‘We do not condone bad behavior,'” she said. “Hopefully, it is a message we are sending to the bad police officers. If you do wrong, we will prosecute you.”

Oliver’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

Lee Merritt, the family’s attorney, said he was pleased to see Johnson go forward with plans to prosecute Oliver, something that other district attorneys might not do in similar police shootings.

“Far too often we see cases where there’s been a lack of comparable effort in cases that are equally deserving,” Merritt said after the announcement. “We are satisfied with this step.”

Oliver was also indicted last month on two aggravated assault charges following accusations he pulled a gun on two people in an unrelated road-rage incident weeks before Jordan’s death. The district attorney called Oliver a “danger to the community.”

That case was investigated more thoroughly after Jordan’s death. Originally Dallas police said no crime occurred.

The attorneys for Jordan’s family have been critical of how Dallas police handled the road-rage incident.

“Had Dallas taken some action on that particular night when they knew that this officer placed a gun to someone’s head, Jordan would be with us here today,” said attorney Daryl Washington, who also represents the family.

A wooden silhouette of a police officer stands in front of the Balch Springs Police and Fire Complex Monday in Balch Springs. Roy Oliver, the fired Balch Springs police officer who shot and killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, was indicted Monday on a murder charge by a Dallas County grand jury(Tom Fox/Staff Photographer)
A wooden silhouette of a police officer stands in front of the Balch Springs Police and Fire Complex Monday in Balch Springs. Roy Oliver, the fired Balch Springs police officer who shot and killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, was indicted Monday on a murder charge by a Dallas County grand jury (Tom Fox/Staff Photographer)

Oliver faces up to life in prison for each of the seven felony charges against him. Although no date has been set for Oliver’s trial, Johnson said prosecutors will first pursue the murder charge against Oliver.

Johnson declined to elaborate on the details of the case, but said she is dedicated to “seeking justice for Jordan.”

“We believe we have a very strong case,” Johnson said. “We’re planning to win this case.”

Many who have been strongly advocating that prosecutors move forward with the case have questioned whether the district attorney’s office could win a conviction after so many officers nationwide have been acquitted in shootings of unarmed black men.

But another attorney for Jordan’s family, Jasmine Crockett, said she is no longer one of them.

“There’s no question now in my mind whether he’s going to be locked up,” she said.

In the meantime, Oliver is free on a $700,000 bond related to the murder charge and aggravated assault charges stemming from the road-rage incident. A judge did not increase that bond for the four new aggravated assault charges.

<p>Jordan Edwards (left) with his stepmother, Charmaine Edwards, and his sister Korrie on a family trip to the beach. Jordan was shot and killed at age 15 by a Balch Springs police officer who fired his rifle into a car as Jordan, his brothers and friends drove away. The officer, Roy Oliver, was fired and arrested on a murder charge.</p>(Edwards family)
Jordan Edwards (left) with his stepmother, Charmaine Edwards, and his sister Korrie on a family trip to the beach. Jordan was shot and killed at age 15 by a Balch Springs police officer who fired his rifle into a car as Jordan, his brothers and friends drove away. The officer, Roy Oliver, was fired and arrested on a murder charge. (Edwards family)
Oliver and Gross were at the Balch Springs home after a 911 call about reports of drunken teenagers. But they arrived and found no alcohol or drugs in the home. The officers were inside when they and party-goers heard gunshots. Oliver and Gross ran outside. Oliver went to his patrol car for his rifle, and Gross ran toward where he thought the shots came from.

The shots everyone heard while inside the house, investigators later learned, came from the parking lot of a nearby nursing home.

Oliver grabbed his rifle from a patrol car as Jordan, his brothers and two friends got in a car to leave the party. Gross walked up to the car, yelling for them to stop. He broke a window of the car with his gun. The kids drove off.

Oliver, a six-year veteran of the force, shot through a passenger window and killed Jordan.

Jordan’s mother, Charmaine Edwards, described the teen Monday as “a great kid, a great football player, a straight-A student, somebody that was gonna go somewhere.”

She and Odell Edwards said their sons who were with Jordan when he died have been struggling since the shooting. Some days they’re OK, other days they’re not. 

‘Smile that could light up a room’

Jordan was a Mesquite High School freshman who had begged his parents for weeks to attend the party. He was there with his two brothers and two friends, who were in the car when Oliver fired into it.

His football coach Jeff Fleener has said he was “crushed and heartbroken” when he found out Jordan had been killed. He said Jordan was a good kid who never got into trouble and had a GPA over 3.5.

Fleener has been at the school only two months, but he said that Jordan introduced himself on his first day and that the two became “quick friends.” Jordan played on the freshman team and was supposed to begin playing defensive back this spring.

Jordan had many friends and a “smile that could light up a room,” Fleener said.

“The best thing in the world, or the worst thing in the world, would happen, and he’d smile, and everything would be OK,” the coach said. “You create a checklist of everything you would want in a player, a son, a teammate, a friend, and Jordan had all that. He was that kid.”

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Massachusetts School Suspends Black Girls With Braids

Two black female students attending a charter school in Massachusetts were recently kicked off their sports teams and prohibited from attending prom all because they wore their hair in braids. The Mystic Valley Charter School in Malden, about nine miles away from Boston, enforces a strict dress code preventing students from wearing their hair in any unnatural way, which includes braids.

Twin students Maya and Deanna Cook, African-American sophomores at the school, told local news outlets they were first told to take their braids out two weeks ago by school officials. The girls’ adoptive mother, Colleen Cook, told Boston’s 25 News that she received a call from the school informing her that students weren’t allowed to wear “anything artificial or unnatural in their hair.”

“We told them there’s nothing wrong with their hair the way it is. Their hair is beautiful, there’s no correcting that needs to be done,” Colleen Cook said, adding that the hair policy seems to only target students of color, who wear their hair in braids or extensions symbolic of their African-American culture.

The dress code policy listed on the school’s website says students can not wear “drastic or unnatural hair colors or styles such as shaved lines or shaved sides or have a hairstyle that could be distracting to other students (extra-long hair or hair more than 2 inch in thickness or height is not allowed). This means no coloring, dying, lightening (sun-in) or streaking of any sort. Hair extensions are not allowed. Hair elastics must be worn in the hair and not on the wrist.”

The Cook girls are just two of many black and biracial students that have been subjected to daily detention because of dress code violations at the school. Other parents told 25 News that their children had also been suspended for wearing braids, and following the Cook sisters’ latest incident, black students were singled out for a hair inspection.

“All the little black children were marched down for a hair inspection, whether they had braids or not, and asked, ‘are those extensions’ ‘are your braids real or not?’” Colleen Cook said.

Alexander J. Dan, the school’s interim director, said in a statement the dress code policy aims to serve a “diverse student population” that fosters “a culture that emphasizes education rather than style, fashion or materialism. Our policy on hair extensions, which tend to be very expensive, is consistent with, and a part of, the educational environment that we believe is so important to our students’ success.”

The dress code policy is also enforced at Mystic Valley Charter Schools in Everett and Medford.

The Mystic Valley Charter School is just one of many that have come under fire for enforcing dress code policies that prohibit braids and other hairstyles representative of African-American culture. In 2016, Butler Traditional High school in Louisville, Kentucky was accused of purporting a racist dress code policy after it banned students from wearing dreadlocks, cornrows and braids. The school amended the controversial hair policy following a flood of outraged parents, including state Representative Attica Scott, a Democrat, who took to social media to condemn the school.

The U.S. military faced severe backlash in 2014 after banning natural hairstyles like dreadlocks and twists.

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Standing on the Backs of the Poor

Kitia Harris is a single mother raising her eight-year-old daughter in Detroit. Recently, she picked up a minor traffic ticket for “impeding traffic” totaling $276 in court fines and fees. Living off just $1,200 a month in disability payments—not enough to cover rent, utilities, food, clothing, and other basic needs—she was unable to pay her traffic fines.

Because she cannot afford her outstanding court debt, Michigan suspended her license.

Kitia has never committed a crime, and for many years she worked hard in low-wage jobs to support herself and her daughter. In 2014, she was diagnosed with interstitial cystitis, a painful condition with no cure that prevents her from working.

Without a driver’s license, everything is more expensive. Kitia’s disability requires regular medical treatments. Now, instead of driving herself to her appointments, she must pay others to drive her. And because Detroit has the worst public transportation system of any major city in the country, she must also pay for rides for daily tasks like grocery shopping, or picking up her daughter. By forcing her to pay more just to get around, Michigan has trapped her in a cycle of poverty.

This is not fair, and it’s not justice.

Like Kitia, hundreds of thousands of Michiganders have lost their driver’s licenses simply because they are poor. In 2010 alone, Michigan suspended 397,826 licenses for failure to pay court debt or failure to appear.

These residents have not been judged too dangerous to drive; they are not a threat behind the wheel; they have not caused serious injuries while driving. In the vast majority of cases, their only “crime” is that they are too poor to pay.

Michigan’s model creates two different justice systems based on wealth status. For the rich, a minor infraction (like changing lanes without a turn signal) would result in a fine of maybe $135. For those who are poor and unable to pay, the same infraction could eventually lead to a license suspension. This suspension scheme violates our commonly held standards of justice: States should not dole out punishment simply based on wealth status.

But perhaps more importantly: Michigan’s scheme is terrible public policy.

These suspensions laws are trapping productive residents in a cycle of poverty. It’s crushing for Kitia and her daughter, and it is especially bad for Michigan. As a state famous for its poorly managed fiscal situation, Michigan should help its residents pay back their court debt. Instead, the state is making it much harder for them to do so.

On May 4, Equal Justice Under Law filed a class-action lawsuit against the state of Michigan for this wealth-based suspension scheme. Our lawsuit seeks to return licenses to the hundreds of thousands of drivers who have had their licenses suspended solely for the inability to pay court debt, and it asks the state to cease poverty-based suspensions in the future. We are not asking Michigan to change the way it treats drivers who are truly a threat on the road. Nothing we’re asking would allow a driver to commit reckless driving offenses.

We’re only asking that the state stop punishing people for being poor.

We are also asking that Michigan consider alternatives that many other states successfully employ. There should be an ability-to-pay hearing before any license is suspended. If someone is unable to pay due to poverty status, they should be given alternatives, like community service or payment plans. Some states offer payment plans as low as $5 per month.

Some supporters of Michigan’s suspension law claim that those who cannot afford to pay traffic tickets should drive more carefully. But this argument is exactly the kind of unequal justice we must fight against. Our justice system should not be premised on the notion that the rich get to buy their way out of trouble while the poor live under a sword of Damocles for not using a turn signal.

Others say that it’s unfair for poor people to get out of fines just because they’re unable to pay. What I ask of those folks is empathy. For many people—including Kitia Harris—poverty is not a choice. Kitia was raised without a mother or father, spending the majority of her childhood in foster care.

Now 25, she has never had a reliable, supportive adult in her life. She has lived her life in poverty. Calling it “unfair” that Kitia keep her driver’s license even though she cannot pay her court debt misses the fact that Kitia is doing everything in her power to make ends meet.

If she could pay her court debt, she would.

Instead of punishing someone who cannot pay their court debt, Michigan—and every other state—would be better off if people like Kitia were helped to break the cycle of poverty and repay the debt they owe.

Phil Telfeyan

Rather than making life harder and more expensive for Kitia, Michigan could provide her with the tools she needs to get back on her feet. Especially in a place like Detroit, which offers no meaningful public transportation option, Kitia needs a way to get around.

She needs empathy from us, and justice from our justice system.

 

Phil Telfeyan is founding director of Equal Justice Under Law a Washington, DC based nonprofit that challenges “wealth-based discrimination.”  He served as a trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice for five years, where he specialized in employment discrimination and immigrants’ rights. He welcomes comments from readers.

 

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ACLU Says Businesses Need to Also Start Hiring Ex-Criminals

A report issued last week by the American Civil Liberties Union implores the business community to help put people with criminal records–that’s one-third of adults in the U.S.– back to work, for the good of the economy.

According to a 2016 study by the Center for Economy and Policy Research, barriers to employment for people with a criminal history is costing the U.S. between $78 and $87 billion in annual GDP. And, as the ACLU points out, unemployment is the most significant factor in recidivism, leading to increased prison costs.

“By expanding the hiring pool to include people with criminal histories, companies can improve their bottom line, reduce recidivism and incarceration costs, avoid discriminatory practices, and increase public safety,” the report reads.

Several recent studies have found that people with a criminal record tend to keep their jobs longer, and can reduce a company’s rate of employee turnover. The latest literature includes a Northwestern University report on Criminal Background and Job Performance (2017), and an ongoing investigation by the Johns Hopkins Health Resource Center.

The ACLU cites Walmart and Koch Industries, both of whom have adopted ‘Ban-the-Box’ practices, as fair chance leaders in the business community. Companies that adhere to these policies do not ask job seekers to disclose criminal history until a conditional offer has been made. In the case of Walmart, a background check is only performed once someone has accepted an offer, and hiring teams and HR personnel are not made aware of any convictions disclosed– “only whether the candidate is eligible for hire or deferred for hire to a later date based on the final results of the report.” Candidates with a criminal history are allowed to participate in a review, providing additional information about education, and efforts at rehabilitation.

In addition to advocating for wider adoption of Ban-the-Box legislation, the ACLU advises companies to consider pair with local workforce development programs, whocan advise them on tax credits, offer case management for employees with criminal histories, and educate companies on state and local laws.

A major concern for employers is liability: in hiring someone with a criminal record, companies fear it will be difficult to get private malfeasance insurance for that individual, or that they will be found negligible if the employee harms someone else on the job. But according to the ACLU, liability risk is actually low for employers who follow the national Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines. On the policy side, the ACLU advocates for the expansion of state laws that restrict employee liability. Several states have already adopted such legislation, including Texas, Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, and Tennessee.

Ultimately, argues the ACLU report, education is the key to reducing unemployment, recidivism, and prison costs: for every $1 spent on education, $5 is saved on correctional costs. The business community can help by partnering with local workforce development programs; offering tuition assistance; lobbying legislators to expand prison education programs, as well as educational institutions to ‘Ban the Box’ themselves.

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Racial Imbalance in Louisiana Murder Charges is ‘Systemic’

Black homicide defendants in Louisiana are more likely than whites to face charges making them eligible for the death sentence in cases in which their victims are white, according to a Northeastern University study.

The findings add more evidence of the “stark racial imbalances” researchers have already found in the administration of the death penalty in that state—where the odds that African Americans who kill whites will receive the death sentence are 11 times greater than for a  “black-on-black” homicide—according to study author Tim Lyman.

Lyman, of the Institute for Security and Public Policy at Northeastern’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, concluded that the “systemic” inequality actually begins with prosecutors’ initial charging decisions.

He examined 1,356 cases where first-degree murder charges were filed and found that the race of the victim and accused made a critical difference.

“Yes, prosecutors pursue severe punishment more often in all white victim cases,” Lyman concluded. “But no, they do not round up and overcharge white suspects in these cases the way they do black suspects.

“To the contrary, they overcharge fewer (white on white) cases than they do the across-the-board under-represented (black on black) cases.”

An abstract and a downloadable version of Lyman’s study, “Race and the Death Penalty in Louisiana: An Actuarial Analysis,” are available here.

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A Confederate Statue Surrenders after 133 Year

ATLANTA — Gen. Robert E. Lee stood erect, arms crossed over his chest, as workers in masks and protective vests gathered with power tools Friday to oust the statue from its prominent 133-year perch in the heart of New Orleans.

Just after dawn, a removal crew had converged around Lee Circle, a traffic roundabout between the city’s bustling central business district and the wealthy Garden District neighborhood of antebellum mansions.

Slowly, they prepared to dismantle the 16 ½ -foot bronze statue of the icon of the “Lost Cause of the Confederacy” from its lofty 60-foot tall marble column.

Before long, the event took on the aura of a block party as residents settled in with lawn chairs, parasols, even mimosas. Some strutted and shimmied as a boombox blasted James Brown’s 1968 classic “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” and Public Enemy’s 1990 anthem “Fight the Power.”

The sculpture of Lee, dedicated with great fanfare in 1884, was one of the first Confederate monuments erected in the South and the last of four contentious Civil War-related structures targeted for removal by the historic Southern city.

“For me, this landmark has always been a symbol of exploitation and oppression and white supremacy,” said Malcolm Suber, an adjunct professor at Southern University at New Orleans and organizer of Take ’Em Down NOLA. “Today is a sign that we are forcing New Orleans to have a conversation about race and economics and politics that has honestly not happened here in the city before.”

Not everyone agrees the monuments should be removed, which opponents say are part of history.

More than 150 years after the end of the Civil War — as fringe white nationalist groups have gained newfound prominence and activists with Black Lives Matter and other groups have stepped up to protest injustice — New Orleans is one of a string of Deep South cities and institutions moving to purge their public squares and streets of Confederate monuments.

About 700 Confederate-inspired monuments and statues remain on public property across the nation, with the majority dedicated or built before 1950, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. While public scrutiny of such memorials has intensified since white supremacist Dylann Roof’s June 2015 massacre of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., the act of removing them is fraught with logistical, legal and ideological hurdles.

Relocating massive marble, bronze and granite monuments can cost tens and even hundreds of thousand dollars, money that some communities can ill afford. In many cases, cities and counties also face bitter resistance and lawsuits from historical groups and descendants of soldiers who accuse them of erasing history and disrespecting those who lost their lives fighting for the Confederacy.

Bitter disputes have erupted on New Orleans streets in recent weeks as the city has proceeded with its deeply contested plan to take down an equestrian statue of Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard and a bronze sculpture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The Battle of Liberty Place obelisk, a marble monument that celebrates the 1874 uprising of a white supremacist militia against Louisiana’s Reconstruction state government, came down in April.

“It’s a sad day for Louisiana history,” Republican state Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser said in an interview Friday. “People come to Louisiana for our rich culture and our history. Some of it is unpleasant, but it is history. You’re not going to right a wrong by taking down a monument.”

Many Louisianans, Nungesser said, would prefer to put up plaques offering a fuller, more contextualized history of the sculptures, many of which still feature plaques that glorify white supremacist interpretations of history, or erect alternative statues paying tribute to historical black leaders.

“Do we take down the Washington monument because he had slaves? Do we tear down the White House? It was built with slaves!” Nungesser said. “No one believes this will help race relations.”

Many Southern communities that have wanted to take down controversial monuments in recent years have found their efforts stall as they’ve struggled to find final resting places for symbols that many condemn as offensive.

Officials in Gainesville, Fla., and St. Louis have resolved to remove public Confederate monuments only to fail to find museums willing to house them. Officials in St. Louis this week set up a GoFundMe page to raise $25,000 to remove a monument and place it in storage.

New Orleans’ removal of four of its prominent sculptures marks a significant moment in the South’s history, a determination to challenge long-standing white supremacist symbols, said Martin Blatt, director of public history at Northeastern University and a former president of the National Council on Public History.

“All this debate and the controversy points to a history that we still badly need to confront and unearth and interrogate,” Blatt said.

He said he favored the idea of grouping the monuments at a new site, away from highly visible public space, and offering new context and interpretation.

The New Orleans movement to relocate some of the city’s most visible Confederate monuments began in earnest in 2015, shortly after the Charleston massacre, when Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the City Council declared they were “public nuisances” that did not reflect the city’s diversity or full history.

The process was delayed for nearly two years by a succession of lawsuits from historic preservation groups and monument supporters. The original contractor hired by the city backed out after his employees received death threats and his car was set on fire. Workers dismantled the last three monuments in the cover of darkness, protecting themselves with masks and protective vests.

In contrast, the city announced the removal of the fourth statue, of Lee, in advance, with Landrieu planning an afternoon address at a nearby historic building.

Throughout the years, the Lee monument has served as a focal point for Civil War reunions and a host of civic celebrations. In 1891, it was a gathering spot for the mob responsible for the largest mass lynching in American history: the killing of 11 Italian American men for their alleged role in the murder of the city’s police chief, David Hennessy.

The ultimate fate of the Jim Crow-era sculptures is uncertain. The city has stated the monuments will remain in storage until officials find a museum or facility where they can be displayed in proper context.

On Thursday, Landrieu’s office said in a statement that it had received offers from public and private institutions to take individual monuments and would solicit proposals only from governmental entities and nonprofit groups.

“This should guarantee that wherever the statues end up, they are interpreted as they should be: as historical artifacts from a time when white Southerners believed it was acceptable to memorialize a lost-cause interpretation of the Civil War and ignore the historical record,” said Blain Roberts, a professor of history at Fresno State, who is working on a book about the memory of slavery.

Yet questions linger about how far New Orleans and other Southern cities will go to memorialize the Civil War and the historic legacy of slavery.

New Orleans officials have announced that Lee’s statue will be replaced by a water feature and public art, while a U.S. flag will be placed at the site of the Davis statue. The City Park Improvement Assn. will help decide what replaces the Beauregard statue.

“Putting the American flag in the spot where the Davis statue stood is fine, but I would urge the city to do more,” Roberts said. “Whatever replaces the removed statues should acknowledge the historical facts that those statues were designed to suppress: that enslaved labor generated the wealth of white New Orleanians, and that defending slavery was the reason they and other white Southerners seceded from the Union and fought the Civil War.”

By Jenny Jarvie

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Sotomayor sees ‘disturbing trend’ of failing to intervene on behalf of victims of police shootings

Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Monday complained about a “disturbing trend” in which the U.S. Supreme Court appears more likely to intervene on behalf of police officers than the people they shoot.

Sotomayor lobbed her complaint in a dissent from a cert denial (PDF) in an excessive force case. The dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, included a footnote that read, “Some commentators have observed the increasing frequency of incidents in which unarmed men allegedly reach for empty waistbands when facing armed officers.”

Sotomayor argued that the court should have accepted a case that involved Ricardo Salazar-Limon, who was shot in the back by a Houston police officer as he walked back to his car. The officer said he shot Salazar-Limon in October 2010 because the suspect ignored his order to stop, turned toward the officer, and raised his hands toward his waistband. Salazar-Limon had said he was trying to walk away from a confrontation.

The shooting happened after Salazar-Limon was pulled over for suspected drunken driving and then resisted being handcuffed. Salazar-Limon sustained “crippling injuries” as a result of the shooting, according to Sotomayor.

Because there were competing accounts of the incident, the case should not have been decided by summary judgment, Sotomayor said.

The cert denial, Sotomayor wrote, “continues a disturbing trend regarding the use of this court’s resources. We have not hesitated to summarily reverse courts for wrongly denying officers the protection of qualified immunity in cases involving the use of force. … But we rarely intervene where courts wrongly afford officers the benefit of qualified immunity in these same cases.”

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. concurred in the cert denial in an opinion joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. Alito said Salazar-Limon never refuted the officer’s claim that he had reached with his waist.

“It is clear,” Alito wrote, “that the lower courts acted responsibly and attempted faithfully to apply the correct legal rule to what is at best a marginal set of facts.”

Alito also said that Sotomayor had not cited any cases in which the Supreme Court failed to grant cert on behalf of an alleged victim of unconstitutional police conduct that was similar to the cases in which it granted relief for police officers.

“This is undeniably a tragic case,” Alito wrote, but the court rarely grants review when a petitioner alleges a lower court erred in applying a settled rule of law to particular facts.

The case is Salazar-Limon v. Houston. SCOTUSblog has coverage.