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New Zealand Is Infusing Policing With a Social Work Philosophy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 30/11/2020 - 7:00pm in

A call for help from domestic or family violence is made on average every four minutes in New Zealand, whose high statistics regularly top global lists. And South Auckland is the country’s ground zero, where 23,000 calls come in yearly for family violence.

The area also has a large Māori and Pacific Islander population, but New Zealand’s police force is mostly white. Encounters between residents and officers summoned to respond to family disputes have often ended with arrests made and children funneled into emergency state care, where a bewildering bureaucracy of government agencies and community organizations await. Families regularly fall through cracks between services that compete for funding. Often, when help comes, it arrives too late, or doesn’t reflect the culture of perpetrators and victims.

“By the time you blink, you’ve got children living in a virtual war zone, and it’s been a year down the track with five or six more incidents,” said Jonelle McNeil, an operations manager for Barnardos, a New Zealand nonprofit that deals with children and their families impacted by family violence.

Māori are twice as likely to be victims of intimate partner violence compared to all New Zealanders. It is a reflection of the generational trauma facing families whose parents or grandparents moved away from tight-knit, tribal communities to the largely unfulfilled promise of urban jobs. This is layered over the impact of European colonization that began in the 1800s. (According to scholars who’ve studied the roots of the issue, violence toward a female partner was unacceptable in Māori society before European settlers enforced a gendered belief system.)

But a new Māori-led response to family violence in South Auckland is showing early signs of success in addressing the problem. Te Taanga Manawa — a Māori term meaning a place of rest and safety — was launched in March, bringing together 13 government, Māori and community agencies, including local police, in a single building. The multi-agency team ensures a collaborative response that is quicker and more culturally nuanced. As advocates for law enforcement reform in the U.S. wrestle with racial bias in police violence and seek more effective alternatives to traditional policing, New Zealand’s experiment bears watching as a model for how police work and social work can be threaded together.

“It works well because there are no barriers, no bricks and mortar to separate the opportunity to deal with whānau [families] quickly and directly,” said Dee-Ann Wolferstan. She is the chief executive officer of Te Whare Ruruhau o Meri Trust, a social justice arm of the Anglican Church, and Te Iwi o Ngati Kahu Trust, the support service of a Māori tribe. Both organizations are involved in Te Taanga Manawa.

“Some families, as soon as they see blue uniforms, they are a bit uneasy.”

Te Whare began experimenting with a multiple-agency approach to family violence in 2018 by joining with Barnardos and Fonua Ola, a nonprofit organization that serves Pacific Islander families. The organizations shared information, brainstormed together, and presented one cohesive strategy to each family. That meant families had just one point of contact, said Wolferstan, “instead of a million.” Within 12 months, more than 90% of families referred to the initiative agreed to participate in programs like parenting classes, a jump from 20%.

New Zealand Police played a role in creating Te Taanga Manawa. In 2018 and 2019, they invited government agencies and nonprofits like Te Whare to work out of a South Auckland police station during the December holiday period, when family violence tends to spike. The arrangement proved to be so effective that it was unanimously decided the one-room, many-agency approach should be permanent. “Police haven’t really made a big difference in the last 20 or 30 years,” said Inspector Ann Wilkie from New Zealand Police. “We had to start thinking about how to address intergenerational family violence.”

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In South Auckland, local police still respond to the initial incident. But instead of looking at the incident through just a law-and-order lens — make arrests or remove the perpetrator — they seek the root causes of family violence. “Is this a food issue?” said Wilkie. “Are there drug and alcohol issues? Have people lost their jobs? Do the children look malnourished?”

That information is instantly relayed back to Te Taanga Manawa through a phone app. Each morning, representatives from the different entities hold a meeting to determine who will handle each family violence incident. If mental health is the dominant cause of an incident, then Friendship House, a mental health organization, assumes the lead. If it’s money pressure, then the Ministry of Social Development, the government agency that deals with welfare payments, takes over. The cause of family violence is often multiple issues, so the lead entity for each family leans on the expertise of other agencies and organizations at Te Taanga Manawa.

Families typically receive a follow up within 24 hours of an incident. Previously, organizations might not have been notified about an incident until days or weeks later. Response time is crucial because families are more likely to accept help if it comes within hours of an incident, not days, according to Wolferstan. Once that window closes, families often reconcile without addressing the cause, creating a cycle of incidents. If families receive intervention early, “then they are vulnerable enough to understand that it is not OK, that they shouldn’t operate that way and that shouldn’t be the way we keep our children safe,” said Wolferstan.

Mark Henaghan, a law professor at the University of Auckland, isn’t directly involved with Te Taanga Managa but has watched its progress; he calls it “the best model by a country mile, but it has been very hard to get it going.” Since the 1980s, government agencies and nonprofit organizations have competed for government contracts and donations, “so they tend not to work that well together,” he said.

The country’s coronavirus response added a new set of complications. The hub was set to open in April this year. But New Zealand went into a strict Covid-19 lockdown in March, with the government enforcing a nationwide shutdown of schools, restaurants, and non-essential workplaces for five weeks. With South Auckland families holed up in cramped houses amid financial and other anxieties, family violence incidents were expected to jump, so the Te Taanga Manawa team collected a hodgepodge of old police furniture and moved into the incomplete office. Family harm incidents increased by 20 percent in the first week, but the hub team was able to provide an agile response, said Wolferstan.

Whai Reewhi Matthews is a counselor for Friendship House, an organization that brings mental health expertise to the hub. He previously worked out of Friendship House’s offices; now he sits at a desk surrounded by police, government agency workers and representatives from the other organizations. Information is shared rather than guarded. Communication is a face-to-face conversation rather than emails and paper reports.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, Matthews was assigned a mother living in a car following a violent incident with her partner. Her 10-year-old daughter was with her. Within two hours of getting the case, Matthews was able to arrange emergency housing — a representative for the government’s housing department sits a few desks over. “Previously, I would have got [the mother’s] task two weeks later, and she would be on her third or fourth phone trying to distance herself from the perpetrator,” he said. “I wouldn’t have got through to her, so I would have closed her file.”

The relationship between some Māori communities and police is also strained. New Zealand’s prison population is more than 50% Māori, but only 16.5 percent of the population. “Some families, as soon as they see blue uniforms, they are a bit uneasy,” said Matua Mawene Birch, who is considered a kaumātua, a respected Māori elder (Matua is a title that means father or uncle). One of Birch’s roles at Te Taanga Manawa is to ease the tension between residents and police.

When he visits a Māori family, Birch relies on whakapapa (pronounced fa-ka-pa-pap), or genealogy, to build rapport. In one recent case, a white police officer struggled to have a positive interaction with a family violence perpetrator, who is Māori. Back at Te Taanga Manawa, the officer asked Birch for help. Birch noticed the perpetrator’s last name was from his iwi, or tribe. They were connected, a bridge-building concept in Māori culture. Birch went back to the house with the officer and eventually, the perpetrator agreed to enter a social program. “We can get them around their identity,” said Birch. “A lot of frustration comes from not knowing who they are and where they are from.”

New Zealand’s initial Covid-19 response was globally celebrated for its effectiveness: It snuffed out the virus in the general population for three months. But as the nation reopened, new cases in August sent Auckland into a shorter and less severe lockdown. As in other nations, the pandemic’s economic damage is adding new strains. New Zealand depends heavily on its tourism industry, which has collapsed with the halt in international travel. And while national unemployment has yet to dip as low as many feared, thanks to the government’s wage subsidy, job losses could accelerate when the subsidy ends, with Māori disproportionately impacted.

The disease itself has also targeted the Māori community, which has higher rates of pre-existing health conditions like heart disease. Fears surrounding the virus echo another historical trauma, as the diseases of early European colonists annihilated many Māori.

As these and other stressors add up, the members of  Te Taanga Manawa are bracing for a heavy workload in the months to come. “The majority of who we work with are the working poor,” said Wolferstan. “Unfortunately, we believe Māori will be highly impacted.”

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Here are 277 policies that Biden can enact on day one – without Congress

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/11/2020 - 5:11am in

Biden's transition task forces proposed new legislation to achieve its goals straight out of the gqte. We found 277 policies that are clearly within the executive branch’s power to immediately pursue, at least in part. Continue reading

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Corruption at the Heart of the Prison System

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/10/2020 - 9:14pm in

There is a deep problem within the criminal justice system which needs to be addressed.

The post Corruption at the Heart of the Prison System appeared first on Renegade Inc.

GOP-Led Legal Inquest Into Bloomberg Helping Florida Felons Vote Condemned as Attempted Voter Suppression

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/09/2020 - 2:47am in

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s call for state and federal investigations into billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s effort to raise millions to pay off court fees to help Florida felons restore their voting rights was a “gross abuse” of power... Continue reading

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Awakening and Sacrifice: A Conversation with Pete Nicks

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 14/08/2020 - 1:42am in

In January 2018, I spoke with the Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Nicks about The Force, his feature documentary about Oakland’s deeply troubled police department and its history of violence. This is a new interview with Pete, discussing those issues in the post-George Floyd world. Continue reading

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A Mental Health Service for Inmates that Reduces Recidivism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/07/2020 - 7:00pm in

The odds of being pulled back into the criminal justice system once you’ve been in it are high — nearly 70 percent go back within three years. To break that cycle, Washington D.C. is trying something new: helping justice-involved individuals beat those odds by changing their thinking patterns, which could modify their behavior, and ultimately, their outcomes.

In addition to career training, housing support, mental health counseling, and substance abuse treatment, the city is in the process of piloting Thinking for a Change (T4C), an evidence-based cognitive behavior change program that addresses “criminogenic needs” — the patterns of thinking that can lead people to make irrational decisions, which can lead to incarceration.

“For people who have convinced themselves that they’re not going to be able to get a job, and that selling drugs is a much more effective way to make a living … Or their parents were incarcerated, and they think, ‘Well, that’s just who I am…,’ this is a program that could work,” said Brent Kiser, an executive fellow with FUSE Corps, a national nonprofit that matches professionals from the private sector with jobs in local government, who has been working with the District’s Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) to strengthen services for justice-involved people.

As recent events in Minneapolis and elsewhere have once again made clear, endemic racism and unaccountable policing are major factors in people becoming justice-involved in the U.S. So are economic systems that perpetuate wealth inequality. T4C is just one element of a broader structural transformation that can improve outcomes for people who are at risk of becoming trapped by the criminal justice system.

T4C, which consists of 25 facilitated group sessions of eight to 12 participants, helps this population reflect upon the thoughts, attitudes and beliefs that might be contributing to criminal behavior. It also addresses developing social skills, non-confrontational ways of resolving conflict and problem-solving by helping people role-play different challenging scenarios and build coping strategies.

“We need to provide services that are specifically tailored to justice-involved individuals. When you don’t do that, there’s a big gap in service delivery. You’re missing out on an opportunity to help people,” Kiser said.

Juliana Taymans, a co-author of T4C who has conducted training in more than 40 states, illustrated the benefits of the program by recounting a story about a former T4C participant who was walking to the bus one morning on his way to work and started feeling very hungry. “He didn’t have enough money to both buy something to eat and pay the bus fare,” she said. At first, the young man saw only two choices. He could buy food with the money he had and then sneak onto a crowded bus, hoping not to get caught. Or he could pay the bus fare, stay hungry and be miserable all morning.

Among other things, the T4C program teaches participants to look beyond the options that immediately come to mind. “As he thought about it, he realized there was a third choice. He could pay for the bus, go to work and ask to borrow a few dollars from a coworker to get some breakfast,” said Taymans. “He knew it was a gamble, but it was one that probably wouldn’t lead to trouble. He made that choice, and it ended up working for him.”

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Developed in 1997, T4C is considered a model intervention for justice-involved individuals. Studies on T4C and cognitive behavior therapy have found that people who complete the program have fewer probation violations, show significant improvements in social skills and problem-solving abilities, and recidivate less. One study, published in the Journal of Offender Rehabilitation in 2006, found that 33 percent fewer participants who completed a year of T4C committed new offenses.

Like most things in life, T4C is not a silver bullet. “It’s just one element of what needs to be addressed in order for people to successfully reenter their communities,” said Kiser. “You have to consider important things like housing and job preparation.” But none of this matters, said Kiser, if programs don’t simultaneously help people take a new approach to how they address day-to-day challenges.

Uncovering What’s Needed

When Kiser started at DBH, he joined its newly formed Forensic Services Division, which focuses on the needs of justice-involved individuals. After meeting with dozens of internal and external stakeholders to find out what was — and wasn’t — working, he discovered that no standardized protocols existed for the more than 60 core service agencies the District contracts with for clinical services. “We weren’t really sure what qualities these service providers had, and whether they were adequately meeting the needs of our justice-involved clients,” said division director Chad Tillbrook.

Another issue was a lack of evidence-based programming dealing specifically with criminogenic needs. Kiser knew about the T4C program from his work at a federal prison in Kentucky, where he had helped develop a residential drug-treatment program. “Part of this program was helping people address the way they were thinking about certain things,” said Kiser. “So, my question when I came here was, ‘Are treatment providers locally doing that?’”

They weren’t — at least not with an evidence-based, highly structured curriculum like T4C. So Kiser reached out to the National Institute of Corrections, which has a cooperative agreement with T4C to provide facilitator training to eligible criminal justice professionals and government contractors at no cost. Last summer, the Institute held initial training for about 85 staff from the District’s core service agencies. “I wanted to see what local staff would think about the program, and if they thought the concept was something that would be beneficial for them and their clientele,” said Kiser.

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. In a survey that Kiser administered after the training, more than half of attendees said they were interested in receiving more advanced training. One of those attendees was Johari Eligan, director of DBH’s Access Helpline, a 24-hour telephone service that connects people to behavioral health services. “I wanted to know more about the program so that we could share that resource with justice-involved individuals who call us,” she says.

Her team of behavioral health specialists receives referrals through a jail liaison, who lets them know when people are coming up on their release dates and might need services. Formerly incarcerated individuals also call the Helpline directly.

“What I liked about the training was that it really emphasized getting individuals to slow down their thinking and reactions,” Eligan says. For example, attendees were asked to complete a “thinking report,” in which they described a situation that challenged them and then reflected on the thoughts, attitudes and beliefs that surfaced. They then role-played how they might react in that situation. The training provided a clear understanding of what the T4C services can offer, says Eligan, who shared examples and handouts from the training with her team.

Kiser is now looking to expand the training to more core service agencies. Because of limited capacity and other restrictions, the National Institute of Corrections was not able to come in for a second training, making it necessary to contract with T4C directly. DBH had some mental health block grant funds, Kiser said, so he wrote a proposal, and the agency director approved their use to pay for Taymans to do the training. The funding is currently going through the administrative process, and Kiser hopes to conduct the next training once coronavirus restrictions are lifted and the session can be done safely.

In consultation with Taymans, Kiser determined the best program for the department’s clientele would be a shorter, more flexible version of the original T4C program called Decision Points. Rather than 25 closed-group lessons that build upon each other, Decision Points condenses the content of the full course into five stand-alone lessons that anyone can attend. That flexibility is important, because turnover in the criminal justice system is high, and justice-involved individuals often move from one facility to another within the system.

To implement T4C programming as widely as possible, the department is using a “train the trainer” model, in which core service agency staff will be trained not only to facilitate T4C sessions, but to teach others how to facilitate as well. Because turnover among front line staff at core service agencies can be high, DBH is seeking to train middle and upper management. “If we impart the importance of these programs and give leaders the tools to effect change within their own agencies, then we can make this more sustainable,” said Tillbrook.

Ultimately, the department seeks to coordinate and broaden the services available for justice-involved individuals so that they are less likely to reoffend. “If this is really working, they won’t be coming back into the system,” Kiser said. “That’s ultimately why you’re doing it.”

This story was produced by FUSE Corps and originally appeared in Next City.

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The Pell case: Immovable liturgical robes, vigil Mass apostasy and jury irrationality

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 30/06/2020 - 3:00am in

Monsignor Charles Portelli and former sacristan Maxwell Potter gave sworn evidence at the trial of Cardinal George Pell on child sexual abuse charges. Both categorially denied that it was possible to pull a liturgical robe (an alb), such as the one worn by the Cardinal at the time of the first alleged offence, to the side while the cincture was tied at the waist. If this was true, the acts alleged by the Cardinal’s accuser, former choirboy Witness J, were impossible.

Later, the Victorian Court of Appeal judges had the same opportunity as jurors to assess the manoeuvrability of an alb as a garment. Two of the judges found that ‘it was well open to the jury to reject the contention of physical impossibility. The alb was neither so heavy nor so immoveable as the evidence of Portelli and Potter had suggested’. It seems that a cinctured alb had no special claim to immovability at all.

Another witness, former altar server Daniel McGlone, gave sworn evidence that he had served at most Sunday Masses for a ten-year period but could only recall one occasion when he served at a Mass celebrated by Pell. McGlone said that he had a specific memory of the occasion because it was ‘the first time that George Pell was Archbishop in the Cathedral and I remember being excited by that’. McGlone also recalled that his mother had made a rare visit to attend the Sunday Mass.

The first Sunday Mass celebrated by then Archbishop Pell was 15 December 1996 and one of two probable dates of the first incident alleged by Witness J. If McGlone’s evidence was accepted, Witness J’s account was unlikely because, McGlone insisted, the Cardinal had remained on the steps talking to parishioners, and in particular to his mother, for an extended period of time.

But the ‘first time that George Pell was Archbishop in the Cathedral’ was in fact a Saturday evening vigil Mass in November 1996. When questioned, McGlone not only denied having taken part, he added that he did not believe in Masses of that kind. Yet a photograph taken at the vigil Mass showed conclusively that McGlone had been present with other altar servers.

It is difficult to draw conclusions about trials such as this one, and only the jurors know what their deliberations were when they concluded that the Cardinal was guilty beyond any reasonable doubt.

Still, the case against the Cardinal must have been redolent with doubt.

A four-week trial concerning brief—but seismic —events from decades earlier. The disadvantage to the Cardinal in being confronted with allegations of criminal offending years after the events were said to have occurred. An account from a complainant, Witness J, who was clearly considered persuasive and credible despite lengthy cross-examination and little, if any, corroboration. An unsworn denial from the Cardinal but sworn evidence about general Catholic church practice and from ‘opportunity witnesses’, including Portelli, Potter and McGlone, concerning the Cardinal’s and others’ movements following the conclusion of Sunday solemn Mass. With much, but not all, of that evidence of practice and opportunity, if accepted, making Witness J’s account improbable, if not impossible.

But there were footholds in the quagmire, some things about which the jury might be certain. One was that the Cardinal’s robes had no unusual properties; they could be moved even while the cincture was tied at the waist. As for McGlone’s evidence that he had not attended the earlier vigil Mass, there he was in a photo! And what was a jury to make of his sworn testimony that he did not ‘believe’ in Masses of that kind?

Was it possible that the jurors concluded that these three witnesses’ evidence was not credible? Not just mistaken or confused, as was Witness J’s evidence at times, but that they were not ‘witnesses of truth’ (to borrow the term adopted by the majority judges of the Victorian Court of Appeal when describing Witness J and upholding the jury’s verdict)? Perhaps sincere, but assessed as ultimately not to be relied upon. Indeed, the High Court itself noted that, at the trial, Potter was aged eighty-four and ‘suffering from some mental infirmity [and at] times, his recollection of events was apparently flawed’.

According to the Victorian bench book for judges conducting jury trials—such as the Cardinal’s—it is for the jury, who have seen and heard the witnesses, to decide whether they accept their evidence:

It is up to you to decide how much or how little of the testimony of any witness you will believe or rely on. You may believe all, some or none of a witness’s evidence. No one can tell you how to approach any particular witness’s evidence in this regard…

There is no special skill involved—you just need to use your common sense…

In making your decision, do not consider only the witnesses’ testimony. Also take into account the exhibits… Consider all of the evidence in the case, use what you believe is true and reject what you disbelieve.

Might jurors, not using any special skill but their common sense, examine the robes and the vigil Mass photograph and reasonably decide not to believe any of the three witnesses’ evidence? It seems possible.

Well, not according to the High Court. Whatever the jury’s reasoning, its verdict was irrational. Importantly, this was not because corroboration of Witness J’s evidence was required. Nor was it because the High Court ‘duplicate[d] the function of the jury in its assessment of the credibility of the witnesses’. Instead it was, as the Cardinal’s lawyer had argued, because of ‘the compounding effect of the improbability of events having occurred as [Witness J] described them in light of unchallenged direct evidence and evidence of practice’.

That evidence consisted significantly—but not only—of the evidence of Portelli, Potter and McGlone. They are named more than eighty times in the High Court’s analysis of the limited number of issues it considered before deciding that in light of ‘the compounding improbabilities caused by the unchallenged evidence’ the jury, acting rationally, would have had to entertain a doubt as to the Cardinal’s guilt. (Somewhat gratuitously, it added ‘Plainly it did’, when it was evident that it was not plain to either the jury or the majority of the Victorian Court of Appeal.) 

It seems then that it was the unchallenged nature of the inconsistent evidence that was critical to the High Court’s analysis.

Now it is true that, in stark contrast to Witness J, who was challenged as a liar and fantasist by the Cardinal’s defence lawyers, the prosecution chose not to challenge witnesses as liars if they contradicted Witness J’s account.

But this is where it gets really interesting. The prosecution’s ability to cross-examine those witnesses was further limited by the trial judge to ‘a relatively narrow basis’. The prosecution was allowed only ‘to test and challenge any categorical and unqualified assertions which effectively allow for no realistic possibility of departure from a practice, which in turn excludes any possibility of opportunity for the offending conduct to have taken place’.

Specifically, the trial judge disallowed the prosecutor from cross-examining Portelli and Potter on ‘whether [they] consciously or unconsciously held any allegiance’ to the Cardinal, noting:

…this trial is being conducted within a broader atmosphere of a perceived cover-up of child abuse within the Catholic Church…

In my view, terms such as allegiance or loyalty, especially in the context of this case, are very loaded terms. They are pregnant with suggestions of a deliberate or calculated decision to protect the [Cardinal] or perhaps the Church for reasons of obedience. If such questioning does not raise the issue of perjury, it goes perilously close. It risks the impression being left that these witnesses are lying, or being less than truthful, and that they are doing so out of a sense of devotion and expectation.

In my view, it would be unfair to the [Cardinal] to allow such questioning, in circumstances where the prosecution, on the state of the evidence as it stands, eschews any allegation that these witnesses are lying.

As for a suggestion of ‘unconscious allegiance’, I don’t see how the witnesses can be questioned about this. If it is ‘unconscious,’ then it is not a question the witnesses could possibly answer.

In relation to McGlone, the trial judge’s direction is not publicly available, but it was described by Victorian Court of Appeal justice Mark Weinberg in his dissenting judgment as allowing the prosecutor to cross-examine him ‘in a restricted form, going only to memory, and not to truthfulness’, without any cross-examination directed towards establishing partiality or bias on McGlone’s part. This was ‘having regard to what [the trial judge] perceived to be the background of prejudice associated with the [Cardinal’s] involvement in the Catholic Church’s general response to sexual abuse of children, on the part of clergy’. 

There is a stark incongruity in this.

The trial judge disallowed the prosecutor from challenging witnesses who contradicted Witness J about their allegiance, loyalty, partiality or bias towards the Cardinal because of ‘a broader atmosphere of a perceived cover-up of child abuse within the Catholic Church’. So the cover-up of child abuse within the Catholic Church ends up being the reason that witnesses are not allowed to be challenged about whether they were, consciously or unconsciously, covering up child abuse within the Catholic Church.

The trial judge said that this was to prevent unfairness and prejudice to the Cardinal. That may well have been fair enough given perceptions about the Cardinal’s involvement in the Catholic Church’s general response to child sexual abuse by members of the clergy. But wasn’t there substantial unfairness and prejudice to Witness J when the High Court then overturned the jury verdict because the inconsistent evidence of those witnesses was unchallenged?

Now I don’t doubt that there is impeccable legal reasoning to justify all of this. But just where is the irrationality here? The verdict of a jury and the evidence of a persuasive and credible complainant were discounted by the High Court because of the evidence of witnesses who testified to immovable robes that were ‘neither so heavy nor so immoveable’ as they claimed, and because of the evidence of a former altar server who denied attending or believing in a Mass at which he was photographed.

It leaves little reason to have faith in the legal system.

Chris Hedges: My Student Comes Home

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 30/06/2020 - 1:22am in

Rahway, New Jersey (Scheerpost) — When Lawrence Bell, an orphan living in an abandoned house in Camden, New Jersey, went to prison he was 14-years-old. Barely literate and weighing no more than 90 pounds, he had been pressured by three Camden police detectives into signing a confession for a murder and rape he insisted at his trial he did not commit, although admitted he was in the car of the man who dragged a young mother into the bushes where she was sexually assaulted and strangled to death. It made no difference. The confession condemned him, although there was no scientific evidence or any independent witnesses tying him to the crime. He would not be eligible to go before a parole board for 56 years. It was a de facto life sentence.

But on Sunday, thanks to the dogged work of Jennifer Sellitti, an attorney who is in charge of training the Public Defender’s office’s 600 lawyers, Lawrence walked out of East Jersey State Prison after serving thirty years and one day. Sellitti, who devoted two-and-a-half years to freeing Lawrence and who openly wept in court, used Lawrence’s case as a prototype for re-sentencing hearings for juveniles that were tried as adults. Lawrence will attempt, with no money and few connections, to start a life interrupted by a dysfunctional judicial and prison system, filled mostly with 2.3 million poor men and women like Lawrence. It was a tiny victory in a sea of defeats.

Lawrence and I walked the two blocks from the prison to the QuickChek, a ritual for most prisoners released from East Jersey State Prison. The convenience store, which can be seen from the barred windows, has a mythic status in the prison, a symbol for those locked inside of the outside world.

Lawrence Bell

Lawrence Bell [right], moments after being released from East Jersey State Prison on Sunday, is greeted by his friend Ron Pierce [left], who was also incarcerated for three decades.

“I feel a mixture of excitement and trepidation,” he said. “It feels so strange right now to be walking outside without handcuffs and shackles.”

“How long has it been since you walked outside as a free man?” I asked.

“Thirty years and one day,” he said. “June 27, 1990 I came into prison at 14-years-old. I’m now going on 45-years old. It’s amazing. It’s scary. But it’s here.”

He said he was up at 4:00 a.m. to wait by his cell door. He was released at 8:30.

“It’s bittersweet,” he said of his release. “A lot of these guys I grew up with. They’re my brothers, they’re not my friends. As happy as I am to be leaving, I won’t ever forget the fact that I’m leaving people I love and care for behind. But this is just a chance to help ‘em, man, to come back for ‘em, just like everybody came back for me. We got to go back for them, too. As I say, it’s bittersweet, but somebody got to go at some point to start bringing other people home. And that’s just the way I try and keep it in focus, keep myself from having like survivor’s guilt.”

“The hardest thing about getting out is the unknown, not knowing what I’m gonna face, not knowing what’s gonna be there, what’s not gonna be there, who’s gonna be there, particularly for me coming in as a kid, as literally a child,” he said. “These are my first steps in the free world as a grown man. I don’t know how to pay a bill. I don’t know how to open a bank account. I don’t know how to apply for insurance. There are so many things I don’t know, and I think that is probably the scariest thing for me, trying to figure out how to exist as a grown man in a free world after 30 years.”

“When you thought about getting out was there one thing you wanted to do in particular?” I asked.

“As crazy as this sounds, I want to ride a bike and go swimming,” he said. “I don’t know why. I think that might be a reflection of the fact that I got locked up as a child. I kind of think about the things that I left off doing as a child. I also look forward to getting up that first morning and sitting outside and having myself a cup of coffee on the steps, just quiet, just enjoying freedom.”

Lawrence entered the QuickChek, clutching some cash friends had handed to him, and came out with a bouquet of flowers for his lawyer.

The police violence in the streets of American cities is savage and lethal, but its counterpart is our monstrous prison system where the poor are railroaded into cages by courts that coerce 94 percent to take plea deals rather than jury trials. The poor are imprisoned for decades for crimes they did not commit or with sentences for crimes they did commit that are four or five times longer than in any other industrialized country. We have 25 percent of the world’s prison population but are 4 percent of the global population. Half of those in our prison system have never been charged with physically harming another person.

The poor rarely get adequate legal representation and once locked up usually depend on self-taught prison paralegals to help them file desperate appeals, although many sentences increasingly come with the stipulation that there can be no appeals. Hiring an outside attorney to file an appeal costs as much as $100,000, a sum neither they nor their families can obtain.

Prisons, along with the police, are the twin pillars of social control. They are used by the ruling elites to keep those discarded by deindustrialization and austerity fearful, intimidated and neutralized. Break the reigns of terror by the police and the bonds of the world’s largest prison system and the ruling elites will stand naked before us. And this is why the reigning oligarchs, despite gaslighting us with promises of reform, have no intention of weakening the two principle institutions that keep those they have betrayed in bondage and themselves in power.

Lawrence, who I taught in the B.A. program in the New Jersey prison system run by Rutgers University and who has a 4.0 GPA, never had a chance. He lived at 14 different addresses, a common experience for the poor who are repeatedly evicted from their homes and often suffer from the same perimigration trauma I witnessed among refugees and the displaced in war zones. (Perimigration is the phase between initial displacement and eventual resettlement.)

Like orphaned children buffeted by war, Lawrence endured extreme poverty, chronic instability, physical abuse and the early death of his parents. He lived in constant fear, even terror, amid street violence — Camden per capita was often ranked as the most dangerous city in America — was exploited by drug dealers, deprived of his most basic needs, and was rejected and outcast by the wider society. He never had an adequate income or sufficient food.

Lawrence, terrified and alone in the Camden police interrogation room, was repeatedly assured by the detectives that they wanted to help him, that if he signed the papers he could go home, that 10 years would immediately be taken off his sentence. He had no family to intercede on his behalf or legal representation. His father had died when he was about two. His mother, who had raised him and his sister, had died in June 1985 when he was nine. His forlorn efforts at his trial to recant the confession, to insist he did not commit the crime and did not understand what was in the confession or its consequences, were brushed aside by Judge Isaiah Steinberg.

He was charged with murder, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, and related offenses in the 1990 rape and murder. Steinberg, when he announced the aggregate sentence of life plus 50 years with 55 years to be served without parole, sneeringly called Lawrence in the courtroom a “despicable coward.” Lawrence was 14 at the time of the crime. He was 15 when the court told him he was an adult. He was 16 during his trial. He would be 70 before he could see a parole board.

Lawrence, who I taught in several classes, was one of my most dedicated and gifted students. If I mentioned a book that was not required reading, he made huge efforts to obtain it and read it. At the end of a history course I taught called Conquest — we read Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, and The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution — Lawrence waited until the classroom was empty. He told me, “I know I am going to die in this prison, but I work as hard as I do so one day I can be a teacher like you.”

Lawrence’s life was a train wreck of abuse and neglect, one that defines the lives of many of my students. He suffered terrible physical abuse from his mother’s boyfriend Reggie. The tragic struggles of the poor are rendered largely invisible by a corporate media that caters to the demands of advertisers and is addicted to ratings. This is why protestors in poor neighborhoods attack camera crews. It is why crowds trashed the CNN headquarters in Atlanta. The poor know that these reporters only appear to film or write about looting, fires and rioting, never exposing or explaining the long slow drip of neglect, poverty, police terror, mass incarceration and humiliation that make the eruptions comprehensible.

“My earliest memory is of coming home from kindergarten,” Lawrence said. “My mom and I would watch TV shows together in the afternoons. That day, I came in through the door and saw my mom sitting on the couch with Reggie holding a shotgun to her head. And she said in a very calm voice, ‘Go upstairs.’ And so, I did. Something didn’t feel right, but I didn’t understand what was going on. At that age, you believe your mom, so I thought everything must be OK.”

“I had a couple of guinea pigs that I would take care of, and they can be dirty and will, you know, make a mess everywhere,” he said. “One day, Reggie told me to clean up after them, and I said, ‘Yeah, OK,’ but I didn’t clean up the mess right away. So, later on, without saying anything, he brought his dog up to the second floor where the guinea pigs were kept. He let his dog behind the gate at the top of the stairs and the dog went in and ate the guinea pigs. He would do things like that. Just sadistic. Another time, we had some small dogs like poodles that were outside one night — and this was winter — and he took some water and threw it all over them and closed the door with them still outside. They froze to death.”

“It was like walking on eggshells all the time. Everyone would have to be quiet whenever he was home. My mom would try to keep us all quiet by having us play board games or do other quiet things. The door was set up with a lock on the inside and the outside, so you would need a key to get out of the house. And we couldn’t go into the basement or their bedroom. They were off limits. I don’t think I saw into my mom and Reggie’s bedroom until I was maybe seven or eight years old. I can remember hearing fights going on upstairs. Like, you would hear things being thrown around and breaking or like my mom being thrown around. And then, after a few minutes, there would just be silence. He would come downstairs like nothing had happened and leave. Then we would go find my mom and she would have a swollen face and bruises, putting ice on her face in front of the mirror. And I just remember wanting to get bigger so I could beat him up. I wanted to kill him for doing that to my mom. The saddest thing was that even when he wasn’t home, we would still act like he was. Because he drove a tow truck for work, we didn’t know when he was going to show up, so we always acted like he was home.”

Lawrence’s oldest brother, Gary, was about 20. He was in and out of prison. He was “everybody’s hero because he would stand up to Reggie.” By the time Lawrence was seven or eight the only children left in the house were his sister, who Reggie sexually molested, and himself. His sister once jumped from the attic window trying to escape from Reggie and broke her ankles. Reggie’s fury and violence intensified. His mother tried to leave, but Reggie would take Lawrence or his sister hostage until his mother returned. Reggie once took Lawrence when he was about seven or eight to the apartment of a stranger after picking him up from school. Reggie called his mother and said he was going to give Lawrence pills, which he told Lawrence was candy. His mother shouted over the phone for him not to swallow the pills. She agreed to come back to Reggie if he would hand her son back to her.

“For a long time, I was angry with her for not leaving,” he said. “I blamed her for allowing us to be abused by him. But later on, as I thought more about it, I could see how she couldn’t leave. I learned about Battered Woman Syndrome and how people can be manipulated, and I know that that’s what happened to her. After being angry with her for years, I was able to let go of blaming her. I forgave her. And then I also had to forgive myself for ever blaming her.”

On June 22, 1985 his mother collapsed in the kitchen.

“We called 9-1-1,” he said. “I held her head in my lap while we waited for the ambulance to come. It was a blood clot in her lung, a pulmonary embolism. She was dead there on the floor, but I think they revived her at the hospital. Then she died on the operating table, if I remember correctly.”

Reggie came home that night from the hospital.

“Your mother died, and I don’t want to hear anything out of you,” he told the children.

“He forbade us from crying about it,” Lawrence said. “I remember the exact song that was playing when he told us she died. My sister and I just sat there in the living room for what must have been a long time. For months after she died, I wouldn’t speak to anyone. Sometimes I would whisper to my sister, but I stopped talking to other people for a while. Before she died, I didn’t smoke weed. Before she died, I was a good student. I started getting into trouble at school after that. I got into my first fight that year in school, my first physical fight. A kid said something about my mom, some joke about her being stupid. I grabbed a chair and hit him with it. I think there was a rage inside of me that wasn’t there before. No school counselor or anyone else talked to me. I am the epitome of systemic failures. If you want to talk about how systems fail, just look at my life. There isn’t anyone available to help you in that situation. I never remember the police coming around the house except for maybe once when my brothers were brought home for playing hooky. So, after the police left, we all watched as they got beaten. But no one ever intervened.”

The death of Lawrence’s mother deeply affected his older brother Troy who was manic-depressive and an alcoholic. Troy, after his mother’s death, tried to kill himself by cutting his arm from his wrist almost to his elbow with a hunting knife.

“I was sitting on the porch with my sister when Troy called once,” Lawrence said. “He was crying and drunk. He told her that he was going to kill himself. So, I got in my car, I had been driving since I was twelve, and drove over to the cemetery where my mom was buried. He was sitting at her grave. He was drunk and crying and said he wanted to die. I went over to talk to him. And I’m not sure if it was a moment of clarity or a moment of acceptance, but I went back to my car and got my gun. I loaded it and handed it to him and said, ‘Here. If you want to die, put it in your mouth. You won’t miss.’ He looked at me for a moment, then he got up and walked to my car and got in.”

Troy later tried to commit suicide by stabbing himself in the stomach. Troy visited Lawrence in prison a few times.

“He died a few years ago from heart complications, tuberculosis, alcoholism — you pick the reason,” Lawrence said.

Six months after his mother died Reggie was arrested and sent to prison. Lawrence moved in with an older woman, a friend of his mother’s, who lived across the street, who he called Grandma. But she soon left for New York City and passed Lawrence into the care of her daughter Debbie, who was bipolar and physically abusive.

“Debbie was sort of like my guardian, if you can call her that, but she wasn’t officially my guardian,” he said. “That’s now an issue in my case — to this day, the state of New Jersey doesn’t know who my legal guardian was after my mom died. Debbie wasn’t legally responsible for me, so she wasn’t able to give the police permission to interrogate me like they claimed. I got left with Debbie because I guess Grandma thought it would be good for Debbie to have the responsibility of taking care of me. She thought it would calm her down and give her more stability.”

“Reggie’s abuse was sometimes physical but mostly psychological, but Debbie’s was just physical,” he said. “It would get to the point where it was a preemptive beating. When I’d come home from school, she’d say, ‘I know you did something,’ and beat me. And she was smoking and selling weed. The house was raided by police multiple times when I was staying there. She got me to sell weed for her. She’d say that if I wanted new sneakers, I would need to earn them. I’d see other boys I knew selling drugs and making money. One day Debbie asked me where my friends were getting their money from, and I said drugs. She said, ‘Well, why don’t you go out there with them?’ So, I started selling for her. I’d sell dime bags. One package was 35 bags, so I’d give $300 to Debbie and keep $50 for myself. That was a standard cut at the time. After that, I always had money. I saved a lot of what I made. I was the kind of kid who would keep at least $20 in my shoe at all times. I would take my money, go buy an ounce of weed, pack it up into bags, and sell it myself. I was making more that way. That was the end of depending on her.”

He still had a key to his old house on 25th Street, although it was abandoned. He started sleeping there at night. He carried a gun, a .32 special, fearful of being robbed.

“Before I went to sleep, I’d spread some gravel over the porch so that I could hear if anyone came up to the house during the night,” he said. “I could sell drugs and take care of myself without her. My sister was still around. She would argue with me and tell me I needed to stop selling, but at the same time, she was accepting my help. She had little kids by now and she was struggling financially. So, even though she didn’t want me to sell drugs, she needed Pampers for her kids and she accepted my money.”

He got a girl pregnant when he was thirteen. She had an abortion.

“It felt like another loss,” he said. “I never had suicidal thoughts or a desire to die like Troy, but I will say that I was sort of numb. I didn’t care about living. One night … I was sitting on my porch smoking weed and taking pain pills. I was drinking beer, too. I had been given a prescription for the pills because I was hit by a car and broke both of my knees. I also had head trauma from the car accident. I was sitting in a chair on my porch with my legs propped up because they were in a soft cast, and taking these pills, but they weren’t helping. I took another one, and nothing. I took a few more, still nothing — no help with the pain. A friend of mine had some Xanax, so he gave me some, and I took one or two. Not long after that, my sister came over and saw me on the porch with the pills. And she said, ‘What are you doing mixing those pills with all of that? You’re gonna kill yourself.’ And my response was just, so? That was my attitude toward life then – I didn’t care if I died.”

“Imagine that you are fourteen, still a kid, and you are brought into a courtroom,” he said. “You have these adults around that you’ve never met before and they are saying things you don’t understand. You catch a few words like ‘murder’ and ‘rape,’ but you still don’t know what they are talking about. It happens really fast and then they take you away, back to the youth house — the correctional facility. That’s what it was like. That whole hearing was like a blur. Next thing I know I’m in the youth house, I was meeting with a lawyer, then going to see a psychiatrist for an evaluation. But I don’t fully understand what’s going on. That’s why I never want to be in a situation where I can’t follow what the people around me are saying. Part of what drives me to learn and be ready for anything, any conversation, is wanting to prevent that from ever happening again.”

He spent 22 months in jail before going to trial.

“The judge decided to charge me as an adult because of the seriousness of the crime,” Lawrence said. “He said I didn’t seem remorseful. But what they didn’t think about was the effect that being in jail had on me. I saw two people get killed when I was there. During the trial, my mind was partially focused on that, keeping myself prepared for going back into that situation. They interpreted that as indifference and a lack of remorse. One thing that the judge said has stuck with me. He called me ‘irredeemable.’ I’ve been working hard and working on myself all this time to prove him wrong. I want him to be able to look at me and admit that he was wrong about [that]. If I saw him again, I’d tell him, ‘You were wrong about me. But that’s OK, it’s OK as long as other kids — babies — don’t end up being locked up like I was.’”

“After the trial, they took me away, stripped me down and put me in a jail uniform,” he said. “That’s when it became real and I knew what was happening. I went to the jail that night, but the people at the jail didn’t want to admit me at first. I was so small and looked young. They were calling their supervisors to find out what to do with me. That first night I was put in a holding cell with other guys. And one of the guys was staring at me, looking at me funny. I started a fight with him — I felt like I had to. I was taken away and I ended up being placed in protective custody. It’s a block for anyone who can’t be in the general population. I was in isolation. It’s called ‘23 and one’ — 23 hours in isolation and one hour outside of your cell each day. I would count all the bricks in my cell, all the lines on the walls. I still do that. I will count all of the photos in a magazine or every time a word or phrase shows up in a book. I learned that habit while in isolation. The hardest part, probably, is being alone with your thoughts. They were concerned for my safety because I was so small and skinny. But there were, I think, six pedophiles on that block. I wanted out. So, I signed a waiver so that I could join the general population.”

Lawrence’s brother Gary was known within the prison population. His friends watched out for Lawrence, who was now 17-years-old and at Garden State prison.

“A man named Salaam, who was like a father figure to me, really took care of me,” he said. “Whenever I was getting into trouble or fights, he’d come and talk to me. Reverend Du Bois was another person who helped me a lot. He was the head chaplain at Garden State. He showed me respect and really cared about me even though I was Muslim, and he was Christian.”

“There was a time when members of the Bloods tried to take over the chapel,” he said. “Some guys, including me, intervened on behalf of Reverend Du Bois. He was really well-liked and respected by everyone. In the end, the Bloods backed off. I bring up this story because not all Christians were as accepting of me as a Muslim as Rev. Du Bois. Years ago, I wrote to Centurion ministries asking for help with my case. They said they wanted to help but that they were focused on helping Christians, not Muslims. They might have felt differently about taking on my case if they had known how I’d put my neck on the line to help Christians like Rev. Du Bois.”

“When I was young, people didn’t give me chance,” he said. “Nobody intervened, nobody tried to help or took me aside and said that they believed in me. But once I got to prison, I encountered people who cared about me and really wanted to help. As soon as I was given a chance, I took to it like a fish to water. So many teachers and classes have had an impact on me over the years. My teachers have been mentors. They stand as examples of what I want to be and show me what is possible. Every day, I am trying to make progress and be a little better than I was yesterday. I’m always learning, growing. It may be that today I learn a new word or work through a puzzle – anything that challenges me. Something in me pushes me to keep getting better. My most prized possessions are my books. I have nice, hardbound editions of The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, and others. I love reading Homer and Ovid and the classics. I’ve read everything that Shakespeare has written. I actually have a one-volume edition of Shakespeare’s works. I like his sonnets and comedies the most. My favorite book is probably Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown. I read that one a long time ago and still like it. You’ve read Dante’s Divine Comedy, right? Right now, I am writing a book that follows my life as a journey through the different stages in the Divine Comedy. It sees my own experiences as part of a journey that leads to the discovery of self. I remember thinking when I first read the Divine Comedy that his idea of Purgatory is sort of what it feels like being in prison.”

Lawrence would not have walked out of East Jersey State Prison on Sunday without Sellitti.

“When I first started as a lawyer, my boss in Wooster was this guy named Mike Hussy, who is an amazing attorney,” Sellitti told me. “He’s retired now. And I would go to court all the time, and I would come back from court, you know this little new lawyer, and he would say to me, ‘Doing justice?’ And on the days when I did something great in court, when I got a great victory for a client, I’d be like ‘Yeah! Yeah! I’m doing justice!’ And on the days when things went wrong, I’d be like, ‘No, no justice today.’ And then finally, one day, I believed my client was innocent, but he got such a good deal and he really wanted to take it. I didn’t want him to, but I understood what he was doing, and he took it. I came back to the office and he asked, ‘Doing justice?’ I said, ‘I have absolutely no idea.’ He said, ‘I’ve been asking you that question for two years, and you finally got the answer right.’ And that’s like, kind of the best way you can look at the system. Half the time, I’m like, I don’t know.”

Those who know Lawrence and who were released before him have used the last few weeks to fill my garage with household items. We applied for and received a grant from the Lilah Hilliard Fisher foundation to rent a small apartment in East Orange, NJ. In the fall he will finish his degree at Rutgers. We will pool our meager resources, because no one else will, to help him resurrect his life. It is a victory for us. But it does nothing to halt the onslaught that continues around us. There is only triage, the attempts, often by those most abused by the system, to extract a little justice. I cling emotionally to these tiny victories — a job for a student who was released, covering the rent for a student who got out and was evicted from his fiancée’s trailer because of his conviction 30 years earlier, buying a computer for a student who matriculated to Rutgers but did not have any money. These victories keep me going, but they do little to blunt our callous indifference to the most vulnerable among us.

You become fatalistic, you strive against a monolithic evil knowing that whatever you achieve is Pyrrhic, that the system flourishes despite your efforts. And yet, what binds you, what keeps you going, are these relationships. How can you walk away? How can you do nothing? If you stand with the oppressed and are defeated have you failed? Or does one succeed by simply being willing to make that journey, to show them they are not forgotten, not alone? And while Lawrence’s release is minuscule when set against the vast injustice around us, it is not minuscule to us.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the last volume of the Gulag Archipelago, once he is released and sent into internal exile, writes of a Serb, a teacher, also in forced exile, named Georgi Stepanovich Mitrovich. He, too, had been recently freed from the gulag. Mitrovich would not give up his dogged battle with local authorities for justice for his students.

“His battle was utterly hopeless, and he knew it,” Solzhenitsyn wrote. “No one could unravel that tangled skein. And if he had won hands down, it would have done nothing to improve the social order, the system. It would have been no more than a brief, vague gleam of hope in one narrow little spot, quickly swallowed by the clouds. Nothing that victory might bring could balance the risk of rearrest — which was the price he might pay.” (Only the Khrushchev era saved Mitrovich).

“Yes, his battle was hopeless, but it was human to be outraged by injustice, even to the point of courting destruction! His struggle could only end in defeat — but no one could possibly call it useless. If we had not all been so sensible, not all been forever whining to each other: ‘It won’t help! It can’t do any good!’ our land would have been quite different.”

Feature photo | East Jersey State Prison in Rahway, New Jersey, on July 12, 2018. Photo | Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He wrote a weekly column for the progressive website Truthdig for 14 years until he was fired along with all of the editorial staff in March 2020. [Hedges and the staff had gone on strike earlier in the month to protest the publisher’s attempt to fire the Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer, demand an end to a series of unfair labor practices and the right to form a union.] He is the host of the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show On Contact.

The post Chris Hedges: My Student Comes Home appeared first on MintPress News.

What Police Budgets Are Being Spent on Now

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 11/06/2020 - 1:14am in

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Service oriented

“Defund the police” has become a rallying cry, not to reduce police violence but to redirect money spent on law enforcement toward social services. Minneapolis’s move to reconstitute its police force as a community-led public safety system is the biggest example of this yet. But according to Citylab, at least 15 other cities are also taking steps to divert some of their policing budgets toward social services and neglected communities.

Los Angeles plans to cut up to $150 million from its police budget and redirect it — plus $100 million more — into investments in black communities. In New York, the mayor has committed to shifting police funds into youth and social services when the city’s budget is released in July — a letter from criminal justice employees is asking for a shift of $1 billion. Meanwhile, in St. Louis, a new sales tax that generates $50 million per year was earmarked to hire more cops — now councilmembers want it spent on “violence interrupters, social workers and substance abuse counselors” instead.

black lives matterA protest in Los Angeles, one of many cities already redirecting some of their police budgets toward social services. Credit: Brett Morrison / Flickr

Advocates argue that these reallocations simply rebalance budgets that put far more money into law enforcement than social and community services. For instance, in St. Louis, one-third of the city’s general fund and one-fifth of its total budget go to the police, but only 2.3 percent is earmarked for mental health services. “We’ve continued to underfund social services and human services,” said St. Louis Councilmembber Megan Ellyia Green, adding that it’s time ”to start to go after the root causes of crime in our city.”

Read more at Citylab

It’s electric

A scientist drives a small spike into the stem of a rhododendron, connects it by wire to an LED light and rubs the leaves together. Let there be light! It sounds too simple to be true, but it works. Leaves gather electrical charges from the air, just like your clothes sometimes do. Those charges are funneled into the plant, turning it into a bright green battery. Now, researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology are working on ways to tap that battery — and help trees create even more static charge.

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They’re doing this by adding artificial leaves made of silicon rubber, so that when the wind blows the tree has more leaves to rub together, creating additional electricity. That power can then be channeled out of the tree using common electrical conduits. One tree that the researchers tested in a wind tunnel lit up 150 LED lights once the fake leaves were attached.

Attaching fake leaves to trees is laborious, and large amounts of wind power are probably better harnessed with regular wind turbines. But the researchers say that for certain low-voltage needs — say, powering the lights in a park — trees could provide the electricity needed with minimal infrastructure. One big unknown remains, however: Do the trees need the energy we would be taking from them?

Listen at the BBC

Till death do you part

The U.K. is implementing a long-sought public health solution: It is designating every adult an organ donor unless that person specifically opts out.

organ donorsA 2015 demonstration in London drew attention to the fact that three people die every day in the U.K. while waiting for an organ transplant. Credit: TaylorHerring / Flickr

File this one under no brainers. Over 80 percent of British citizens say they would donate their organs, but fewer than 40 percent have actually registered to do so. In other words, the opt-out model simply gives people what they want without making them take the extra steps to get it. Family consent is still required at the point of transplant, as an added safeguard against unwanted donations. The model has been a success since 2015 in Wales, where consent rates have risen from 58 to 75 percent.

Read more at the Guardian

The post What Police Budgets Are Being Spent on Now appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.