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Justice

Are Social Workers Helping Inmates Rot in Solitary Confinement?

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As I wrote in a article several weeks ago, there are about 25,000 people held in solitary confinement in supermax prison units called SHUs—security housing units—and another 80,000 inmates housed in isolation cells in regular prisons and jails. Many of these individuals are mentally ill. Some are juveniles and/or pretrial detainees. No question they are being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment regardless what different courts may decide.

solitaryThe purpose of solitary confinement—if it should be used at all—is to segregate the most dangerous criminals. But even dangerous criminals should not be isolated for extended periods and never indefinitely. Social workers and other mental health practitioners are assigned to these units to provide care for the inmates. Often they wind up feeding them medication and sleeping pills so they will not totally lose their minds. In a warped sense, they are helping them rot in their cells.

This ethical nightmare was brought to my attention recently by Moya Atkinson, a dynamic social worker who is very passionate about this issue. Nearing 80 years old, you would think she would leave this fight to younger advocates. She has organized a task force of social workers committed to significantly restricting the use of solitary confinement and eliminating its use for vulnerable populations such as the mentally ill, juveniles, pregnant women, people with disabilities and pretrial detainees.

After she read my article, we met to discuss the issue and I agreed to join the task force. While my focus was on the cruel and unusual punishment individuals incur because of extended, indefinite and indiscriminate use of solitary confinement, she was equally concerned about ethical dilemmas faced by social workers and other mental health professionals charged with providing care for individuals in solitary confinement.

Ethical dilemmas are familiar to social workers who often find themselves in environments and situations that challenge their code of ethics. But working in solitary confinement is a level of horror that few encounter. Social work in correctional facilities which falls under the umbrella of forensic social work is ripe with these challenges.

What should social workers do when they believe mentally ill inmates are being mistreated in jails or prisons? Who does she or he complain to? Often locked in an environment with violent individuals who are both inmates and guards, how do social workers look out for their personal safety concerns while seeking just treatment for inmates? These are tough questions with no easy answers that the task force will wrestle with.

Task force member Mary E. Buser, whose op-ed piece in the Washington Post about her work with mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement at New York City’s Rikers Island jail provided the impetus that spurred Moya into organizing the task force, wrote about “doling out antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mountains of sleeping pills,” in an effort to keep the psyches of people in solitary from unraveling.

Her job was to determine if those in solitary confinement might reach the point where they would kill themselves. How do you do that as a social worker or mental health practitioner? Her brief time as acting chief of mental health took her into the segregation unit on Rikers Island known as the Bing. It was an experience she will never forget. Yet, social workers must provide services to people in solitary confinement unless the practice is discontinued.

National social work organizations are involved in this effort. Task force member Mel Wilson, manager of the Department of Social Justice and Human Rights for the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has been active on this issue for years. He provided testimony during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights on the use of solitary confinement. Dr. Michel Coconis, chair of the Association for Community Organizing and Social Administration (ACOSA) and a long-time activist against the death penalty, also joined the task force which held its kickoff meeting Wednesday at Columbia University School of Social Work.

Confronting the misuse of solitary confinement will be a challenge as many in the “tough on crime” crowd see solitary confinement as necessary and useful. However, there is mounting opposition to the growing use of solitary confinement in our nation’s jails and prisons. Conservative columnist George Will has equated solitary confinement with torture.

The New York City Department of Corrections recently ended solitary confinement for 16 and 17 year olds. Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin, chair of the Judiciary Committee has held two subcommittee hearings on solitary confinement. Two bills have been introduced in the House—H.R. 4618 sponsored by Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA2) would create a commission to study its use, and H.R. 4124 sponsored by Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA29) would eliminate the use of solitary confinement in federal juvenile facilities.

Dr. Charles E. Lewis, Jr. is President the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. He has served as deputy chief of staff and communications director for former Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns and was the staff coordinator for the Congressional Social Work Caucus.

          
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I’m a mental health professional. I deal with inmates in confinement. I don’t help them rot. I help them figure things out while they are back there and when they are back in general population so they don’t wind up back in confinement. Confinement and incarceration are out of my control. How I help dismantle this system is help inmates learn skills and have tools to stay out of confinement and stay out of prison. I am not a rescuer, I help empower.

“: Are Social Workers Helping Inmates Rot in Solitary Confinement? – http://t.co/t3o53XJyLV” by @CharlesELewisJr #JusticeReform

Diversity

Hearts and Humanity: Reframing Homicide, Renewing Communities

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On July 18, 2013, Dr. Tyrese Gaines, author of “Homicide ‘directly affecting’ racial gap in U.S. life expectancy, study shows” stated, “But overall, African-American males continue to die younger, with heart disease and homicide shortening their lives.” This grave conclusion was further substantiated in a report from the Centers for Disease Control which highlighted the following statistics (page 1):

  • In 2010 the life expectancy rate at birth was 78.7 years, an increase of 11% since 1970. The life expectancy for whites rose 10%, and for blacks, the rate increased by 17%.
  • Life expectancy for black males was 4.7 years less than that of white males. This difference was attributed to higher death rates for black males from homicide, stroke, heart disease, cancer, and pre-birth environments.

Given these facts, Kenneth D. Kochanek, lead author and statistician of the CDC report, surmised, “…when you look at the graph for males, you see how important homicide is for directly affecting life expectancy for African-Americans.”

Considering this direct correlation, Dr. Robert Gore, an emergency medical physician at Kings County-SUNY Downstate Hospitals and executive director of the Kings Against Violence Initiative (KAVI) in Brooklyn calls for a paradigm shift in the way we view homicide. Dr. Gore says, “We have to look at [violence and homicide] like a disease. We have to stop looking at violence as a purely social problem.”

Flash forward to April 27, 2016, and Dr. Dhruv Khullar and Dr. Anupam Jena echo these sentiments in an article titled, “Homicide’s Role in the Racial Life-Expectancy Gap” in the Wall Street Journal.

Dr. Khullar and Dr. Jena note for blacks ages 1 to 44, the premier cause of death is a homicide. They further add the life expectancy of black males has decreased substantially by the high rate of homicides. Acknowledging this alarming outcome, Khullar and Jena suggest a reevaluation of the way medical professionals consider violent crimes. Dr. Khullar and Dr. Jena state, “Homicide can no longer be understood only as a criminal-justice problem; it needs to be seen as a first-order health issue, a contributor to early mortality.”

As a resident of Louisville, KY since 1999, I know homicide is a visual and a visceral experience for our community. Hearing gunshots throughout the day and night, seeing shell casings lying on the streets, and being afraid to let your children play outside is a reality for myself and many Louisvillians. On February 25, 2016, the Louisville Courier Journal conducted an in-depth look at the homicide rates in Louisville, KY over the past year.

According to the Louisville Courier Journal report:

  • In 2015 the total number of homicides for Louisville was 84, up 47% from 2014.
  • Two-thirds of the victims – 52 men and 4  women – were black. About 22% of Louisvillians are African Americans.
  • In instances where the suspected perpetrator was known, 91% of the black victims were killed by other African Americans, while 72% of white victims were killed by other whites.
  • Louisville was not the only city that experienced a spike in homicides. According to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, after two decades of a downturn in violent crime, 44 of the nations’ 65 largest cities saw upticks in the murder rate in 2015.
  • Only 14 cities had larger increases than Louisville, though even with the dramatic rise in killings here, the Louisville homicide rate – 11 per 100,000 – is standard for cities its size.
  • While the investigation revealed citizens were murdered in 21 of Louisville’s 26 residential ZIP codes, 14 were killed in the 40212 area, the city’s northwest division.
  • Mirroring data for other cities, the homicide rate for African Americans – 35 per 100,000 – was greater than three times the rate for all residents, while for black males that rate doubled to 70.

As a resident of Louisville’s West End (Algonquin, California, Chickasaw, Park Duvalle, Park Hill, Parkland, Portland, Russell, and Shawnee neighborhoods) I understand why these numbers make citizens afraid to live and go about their daily routines in these areas. Due to the tragic death of social worker Boni Frederick in October of 2006, some social workers who live and work with clients in the West End are apprehensive as they conduct home visits and provide services in these areas.

On July 7th of this year, Jonathan Capehart, author of the Washington Post article, “Why African Americans are terrified” attempts to define this fear in light of current events. Capehart shares all these incidents together: (Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, Samuel DuBose, the Mother Emanuel nine, Levar Jones, Sandra Bland, and Walter Scott). These which took place under various circumstances, add to the fear African Americans feel across the nation.

This emotion is lamented in the words of Langston Hughes’ poem, “Democracy” when he writes, “I tire so of hearing people say, Let things take their course. Tomorrow is another day. I do not need my freedom when I’m dead. I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.”

Why do the homicides in our country, states, and cities continue to end up as cold cases? According to a March 7, 2016, Louisville Courier Journal article, Major David Ray, commander of the Louisville Kentucky Metro Police Major Crimes Division, believes a low rate of citizen involvement has led to a lack of justice in many cases. Major Ray adds that because of the decreased rate in citizen involvement the percentage of homicides solved is lower than 52%, in contrast to the 2014 rate of 75%. Additionally, Major Ray proposes the fear of being labeled a “snitch” which is embedded in our pop culture and general skepticism about police creates apprehension about providing information. Knowing these barriers exist to solving our nation’s homicides, what can police and citizens do differently?

Four major cities: Boston, New York City, Cincinnati, and Louisville have initiated diverse game plans for addressing the homicide rate in their respective areas. Each approach has had varying degrees of success. Andrew Wolfson, author of “Curbing homicides: What other cities have tried” lays out the pros and cons for each of the above metropolitan areas.

According to the article:

Boston:

  • In 1996 an interdisciplinary group of law enforcement, clergy, and helping professionals formed Operation Ceasefire.
  • Program goal was to inform local gangs of a zero-tolerance policy against violence with prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.
  • Neighborhood groups, social services, and probation officers also presented gang members with the opportunity for rehabilitation.
  • The effort nicknamed the “Boston Miracle” produced a 63% decline in homicides among teens.
  • Eighty-two cities conduct “call-in meetings” openly between gang members and community leaders to foster relationships and address crime.

New York:

  • Homicides have decreased by 85% over the last 25 years and the overall crime rate decreased by 40%.
  • Efforts were described as “quality of life” or “broken windows” policing in which officers focused on low-level violations that may lead to felonies.
  • The New York City Police Department (NYPD) increased their visibility in specific areas utilizing crime mapping and investigation and amped up the number of officers from 17, 000 to 25,000.
  • From 1990 to 2009, NYPD stops grew from 41,000 to 581,000. Blacks were detained for possession of marijuana at seven times the rate for whites, despite statistics revealing greater marijuana usage among whites.
  • However, in 2014 the city’s “preventive policing” or stop and frisk methods were deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge citing that Hispanics and blacks were disproportionately pursued.

Cincinnati:

  • In 2006, a community partnership called the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) was created to diminish gang activity.
  • During a period of 42 months, 568 perpetrators were informed that entire gangs would be held accountable for individual homicides.
  • A local group of 14 activists proposed counseling services and employment coaching to over 600 clients.
  • Gang-affiliated homicides dropped 41%.
  • However, even with preliminary gains Cincinnati’s homicide rate was approximately double that of Louisville in 2015.

Louisville:

  • In 2003, the Department of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods was instituted as a community effort to combat violent crime.
  • Program director Anthony Smith attempted to conduct neighborhood meetings with community leaders and former offenders to convey stiffer penalties would be enforced for drug trafficking.
  • However, the efforts proved disappointing as only a few former offenders attended the meetings.
  • The Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) enhanced its homicide unit by adding 8 detectives for a total of 25.
  • Also, in February 2015, a project called Operation Trust was established as an evidence-based initiative to focus on high crime areas. This effort consisted of federal agents and LMPD representatives from various units.

Despite sincere national, state, and local efforts from law enforcement, helping professionals and Commonwealth leaders to diminish the number of homicides and attempt to rehabilitate offenders, each approach was met with variable outcomes. Steve Brown, author of the July 8, 2016 article, “What can we do to prevent the next killing?” states, “We have already identified numerous evidence-based policies and programs that can make our communities safer and more enriching for young people of color, make policing more effective, and improve under-resourced neighborhoods.” Research and evidence can help, but our hearts and humanity will take us there.”

This is where social workers come in. Dr. Angela Henderson, author of “Voices of Reason”, notes social workers serve a pivotal function in impacting violent crime in our nation. The irreconcilable loss of countless black men, women, and police officers should be challenged and stopped. For this reason, social workers must continue to serve their communities without fear. We must educate the public about the epidemic of homicide in our nation and its impact on the life expectancy of black and brown citizens. And we must continue to apply evidence-based practice in policing and policy reform to protect all of our citizens.

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News

Paradise Lost – or Have We Forgotten?

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For over a year now the UK has been wracked with a host of political scandals which rival the most intricate episodes of Yes, Prime Minister.

Yes, Britain is apparently leaving the European Union (a matter knife-edge enough). Yes, there are questions about the tenability of the Prime Minister’s position, and who will usurp her. Yes, the Paradise Papers have long ago told us what we already knew: the rich aren’t paying tax. Yes, our government is regularly implementing and justifying racist policies. But the hottest of the hot topics was, at least for a time, this:

Why has the sexual harassment and abuse of (mostly) women been prevalent in British parliament for decades?”

Our government has been dealing with everything from rape to groping and sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexual or inappropriate comments. Women set up a WhatsApp group specifically to share information about whom to be cautious of.

The Secretary of State For Defence (that’s right, the person responsible for defending the United Kingdom against attacks) resigned on November 1st, 2017 before the full range of allegations was even made public.

The media has, of course, sought answers, ranging from It was the culture to Women need to toughen up to a disappointingly modest mainstream smattering of power, privilege and toxic masculinity.

Some outlets have linked this (to some, unsurprising) spurt of public revelations to the infamous Harvey Weinstein allegations. This is a man whom, for decades, sexually harassed and abused (mostly) women in Hollywood. His behaviour was known-yet-unknown, referenced in public but never revealed.

Given this, Hollywood responded with the full spectrum of shock, anger, feeling ‘sad’ and ‘bad for’ Weinstein, expressing renewed curiosity about women’s dress codes and naïveté of ‘the culture we live in’. This British Bank Holiday, on the 25th May 2018, he was finally charged, with rape, sex abuse, and sexual misconduct pertaining to two women. Two.

However, we now know about comedian Louis CK, actor Steven Segal, and the once-beloved Kevin Spacey. Morgan Freeman is on the list of those accused. Heartbreakingly, there will be others to come.

To what extent can we continue to suggest it’s women’s responsibility and women’s fault – when it’s happening to a whole spectrum of people? Let’s be clear: every single accused person is a man. And we are all – no matter our personal gender – at risk of the violence of male power.

As Judith Hermann writes in her seminal work Trauma and Recovery, “It is now apparent that the traumas of one are the traumas of the other. The hysteria of woman and the combat neurosis of men are one. Recognising the commonality of affliction may even make it possible at times to transcend the immense gulf that separates the public sphere of war and politics – the world of men – and the sphere of private domestic life – of women” (p. 32).

It should be noted here that Hermann’s usage of ‘hysteria’ was of hysteria a debunked and oppressive conceptualisation of women. She discusses  how a range of traumas, apparently so different, are linked  by the political – they are characterised by fear and threat, power and violence.

Her words ring true, except now the traumatic event is the same for both men and women. The personal world of child sexual abuse – largely perpetrated by men – has become political. And, unfortunately, that is meant both metaphorically and literally.

For Britain, however, this does not follow the Hollywood accusations as some have suggested. Its cultural foundations more likely rest on the ‘watershed moment’ of the British Jimmy Savile story.

Between 2011-2013 Jimmy Savile –  an English radio, TV, and media personality who was an avid charity fundraiser – was posthumously exposed as having perpetrated prolific sexual abuse.

Some of the abuse happened live on air, with cameras rolling. Some was with unconscious and disabled children. He was buried as Sir Jimmy Saville, just two months before the truth of his abuse was unearthed to the public.

This case was unprecedented; ghastly, shocking, unspeakable and yet the country could speak of little else. The grim reality of the tale started to unravel with one small thread: a ‘handful of cases’ in the 1960s.

At first, people couldn’t believe it.

Then, eventually, nobody could question it.

His final victim count – following a snowball effect of increased confidence in reporting, public attention, support and helplines – was around 500. At least, that we know of.

It is to the shame of Britain this happened. It is to the shame of Britain nobody listened until it was too late.

Consider now the current political mess. Consider the heated discussions about everything from consensual flirting to discomfort to harassment to rape. At once point, these discussions consumed the media as much as the media is consumed by its audience. Now, the attention has cooled in light of the scandal-machine that is our current government.

However, the sexual consent movement has been built upon the backs of those who were brave enough to stand up and say: this happened. It was real. It is also built upon the humiliation and isolation we heaped upon so many hundreds of thousands of others, by not believing them in the first place.

Arguably, such open discussions about child sexual abuse could not have happened before. They repeat an age-old story, except this time people are compelled and able to hear it.

The personal is political and the political is personal. The social and cultural context for victims, survivors and survivor-victims to finally unburdening their stories is ripe. And abuse is rife.

What does this tell us? It tells us we have a problem with how we teach our men. And it tells us we have a problem with power.

Judith Hermann predicts every few decades, society can acknowledge traumas and set the stage for action and reparation. However, the unspeakable nature of trauma begs that we push it back into our collective unconscious.

And we can’t. We simply can’t let that happen. Not in my country.

The original meaning of ‘watershed’ is an area of land which separates rivers which flow in two different directions. Politically, culturally, socially, morally, we need to make sure things flow in the right direction.

Crucially, we can’t let this stop with perpetrators who are famous, who have pockets of accusers sharing their stories together for their own safety. We need to support ordinary people (ordinary women, particularly), to share their stories outside of the limelight where the public’s support is less tangible. We need to support the poor, the less ‘credible’, the young, those of ethnic, gender and sexual minorities, those already in sex work, those with ‘bad reputations’.

Let’s continue to bring those in power to task.

Let’s support and donate to groups like Refuge and Broken Rainbow, the NSPCC, and other local charities in your area. Let’s protest the closure of women’s shelters. Let’s give our gratitude to groups like Sisters Uncut. And for goodness’ sake, for all that is healthy in this world…

Stop blaming women. Stop blaming victims. Start listening. Don’t let us forget what it felt like when these allegations and stories were fresh. Let’s turn the political back personal again.

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Diversity

Is It More Than Just A Shooting?

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Several articles in response to the shootings in Minnesota, New Orleans, and Dallas point fingers at racists, PTSD, and mental illness. Although these issues are valid, there is a multitude of factors making this issue far more complex than a singular culprit like mental illness.

Underneath all these shootings and acts of violence is fear, an emotion we don’t often factor in when discussing shootings. Fear causes fight or flight reactions in humans, a strong, protective instinct which can, at times, cause reactions that aren’t typical of our normal behaviors. When we experience fear, whether real or perceived, our adrenaline increases and as an act of self-preservation. Our reactions to fear may cause us to act in ways our “normal” brain might not have. Unfortunately, it can also cause us to react in a way which can take the life of someone in the name of self-protection or justice.

So, imagine the stress of living in a neighborhood where people are killed, gunshots are heard regularly, and those around you are involved in nefarious activities. Long-term stress can have severe consequences – such as physical health issues and problems with cognitive thinking. For children, toxic stress results in behavioral and development issues. Living in a state of constant fear never allows an individual to care for themselves, always on the alert for potentially dangerous situations. Living in fearful conditions where a community’s needs aren’t met and their safety is questionable, a physically and mentally harmful lifestyle is already enough to deal with. Now, factor in racial profiling, police bias and brutality, and classist targeting.

In low-income neighborhoods, police are not always responsive. The police don’t often know you or your family and tend to approach certain neighborhoods with harmful preconceived ideas. Whether it’s internalized hate, racial profiling and learned bias, classism or just plain ignorance, many police officers are not educated about communities different from their own and only have reference points from television and media, which reinforce harmful stereotypes. If this is the basis from which police are viewing the public, it’s highly likely police will target certain groups out of fear.

It is important as a society, we do not downplay the personal responsibility we have for our actions nor the sheer horror of violence. But we are not born disliking people of color, women, immigrants or cultures different from our own. Through our learned experiences with family, school, media, or religious institutions, we learn to be separate and fear groups who are not like us. We look around and see people who only look like us and learn to live in a comfortableness rather than question the status quo which oppresses certain groups more than others.

So, how do we get past this fear? Education, compassion, and empathy are key. As a community, we need to be more responsible to one another and have difficult conversations about race, gender, and class while challenging our own internalized biases. Speaking to our legislators, media representatives, friends, and family is a power to hold ourselves and others accountable for racial profiling, classism, abuse of power, and internalized fears. We need to put our foot down and refuse to settle for superficial conversations or answers to large, complex problems.

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Business

Work Together to Prepare for the Next Big Storm

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Year by year, hurricanes are growing stronger and more frequent. We are witness to these changes as we watch two catastrophic storms devastate the southeastern United States in as many weeks.

This month, Hurricane Michael slammed the Florida Panhandle, southern Virginia, and the Carolinas. The massive storm killed at least 16 people, flooded cities, highways, and rivers, and reduced much of the region to rubble.

Barely two weeks ago, Hurricane Florence killed at least 36 people in three states, forced thousands to evacuate their homes, dumped record floodwaters on North Carolina, created power outages for hundreds of thousands, and killed millions of farm animals. The most recent damage estimates put the economic toll at a staggering $100 billion, once accounting for property damage, medical costs, and lost wages.

Natural forces emboldened by climate change continue to overwhelm our outdated stormwater management practices and inadequate urban planning, putting us in a precarious position. Short-term economics have often driven development where considering long-term environmental impact was needed instead. When it comes to handling the effects of more storms, we’re not as prepared as we think.

As we assess the damage done by Michael, Florence, and other storms, the shrewdest move is to prepare for the next big storm — and the one after that. Municipalities, businesses, and individuals can brace for the next storms by focusing on the following areas:

Additional Pollution Prevention

Florence and Michael disrupted two of North Carolina’s biggest industries: coal power and hog farming. This created environmental trouble and the potential for health problems. Duke Energy officials in North Carolina said slope and landfill erosion caused stormwater with coal ash — containing heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, and mercury — to spill into Sutton Lake. Watchdog groups have expressed concern about the effect on water quality.

Floodwaters also breached multiple hog lagoons, designed to keep solid waste from polluting sources of drinking water, in at least two North Carolina counties, causing varying degrees of damage. The North Carolina Pork Council says the state’s other 3,000 hog lagoons are holding up, but the state’s Department of Environmental Quality will have to perform inspections.

The landfills, dams, and lagoons containing pollutants need to be stabilized and reinforced. Cities can reduce landfill washout by using gravel stabilizers, terracing, drainage diversions, and other measures to safeguard their slopes against erosion. To avert overflow of detention ponds like hog lagoons, companies can add pond depth, secure the perimeters, and place impervious barriers around the site.

Adjusted Damage Estimates

Because of climate change, we can count on heavier rain and shorter intervals between storms increasing flooding risk. Data is still being gathered for Michael, but we know that for Florence, greenhouse gas emissions and warmer weather made for more intense rainfall. When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston last year, the city matched its annual rainfall (typically 50 inches) in a matter of days.

Cities, businesses, and infrastructure planners need to set new damage expectations, as 500-year storms” arise with increasing regularity. Adequate planning and preparation may seem expensive overall, but it’s more expensive to deal with damage in the aftermath of flooding. It’s important to remember there’s no immediate fix or silver bullet. Instead, we need long-term solutions first acknowledging the problem and then planning for it.

Broader Public Education

Weathering the next storm requires a public education process that touches all sectors on the solutions available to help protect communities against floodwater. In my hometown of Houston, the community has come together with a discussion on the web, in public forums, and in community meetings.

The Houston Green Building Resource Center provides a public resource at the permitting building, providing engineers, architects, contractors, and homeowners with techniques on how to reduce flooding on the macro and micro levels, including information on building codes, permeable and sustainable materials, and engineering technologies to incorporate. Examples include elevated construction, or raising buildings above the rising floodplain, and permeable paving techniques that can reduce the extreme weather’s impact on the earth’s surface. Both are cost-effective improvements worthy of broader public education.

The intensity of storms like Michael and Florence raise the bar for planning and preparation. Governments, businesses, and communities must plan ahead and work together during the quiet times before the storm returns.

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Justice

Brett Kavanaugh’s Hall Pass for Police Misconduct

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Brett Kavanaugh

On July 9, 2018, Brett Kavanaugh was nominated for a lifetime appointment to the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). Since Kavanaugh’s nomination, opponents are extremely concerned his addition to the court will skew the court to a conservative majority resulting in the rollback of rights and protections for women and minorities

Although Brett Kavanaugh’s stance on Roe v. Wade has been widely discussed, the latest allegation of sexual assault levied by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has added yet another layer of angst among Democrats and women advocacy groups opposing his confirmation.

Observers can’t help but notice the historical parallels between the Kavanaugh hearings and the installation of Justice Clarence Thomas despite the testimony of Anita Hill in 1991. Thomas is currently the longest serving conservative justice on the current court. Most importantly, it is likely his impact will be felt for decades to come which is why its imperative the mistakes of the past are not repeated.

As the spotlight shifts from Kavanaugh’s stance on Roe to allegations of sexual assault, little attention has been paid to Kavanaugh’s position on the exclusionary rule which may drastically change how law enforcement wield its governmental power. The exclusionary rule is “a law that prohibits the use of illegally obtained evidence in a criminal trial” presented by police to prosecutors.

Last year, Kavanaugh gave a speech where he commended the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s view that the exclusionary rule “was beyond the four corners of the Fourth Amendment’s text and imposed tremendous costs on society,” and that it was not “required by the constitution.” Kavanaugh was referring to Rehnquist’s originalist approach to the constitution and his belief that the court should not go beyond its text.

The exclusionary rule was created to deter law enforcement from performing unreasonable searches and seizures as defined by the 4th amendment of the United States Constitution. This limit on law enforcement power is so intrinsic and engrained in our culture that it is almost taken for granted.

The rule simply says that evidence unlawfully obtained by police cannot be used against a suspect at trial. The rule also provides an important check on a criminal justice system that is already skewed against poor people and people of color.

A recent study found that the majority of innocent people who are wrongfully convicted and later exonerated are African American. In regards to murder convictions, African Americans are seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted than white people. The disparity is even more pronounced with regards to drug offenses; African Americans are twelve times more likely to be wrongfully convicted than whites.

The stock argument in opposition to the exclusionary rule is that it inevitably allows guilty persons to go free. According to Judge Benjamin Cardozo, “The criminal is to go free because the constable blundered.” However, those in favor of the exclusionary rule remaining intact believe without it, the protections guaranteed by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments are nothing more than empty promises.

The exclusionary rule has been chipped away at with various exceptions since the Rehnquist Court. Currently, the Supreme Court has four conservative justices; Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito, and John Roberts. With the addition of Kavanaugh our protections under the exclusionary rule, and Roe for that matter, will be in jeopardy.

The public has already witnessed Officer Michael Slager on video attempting to plant evidence on Walter Scott after fatally shooting in him the back while he was running away from a traffic stop for a broken taillight violation in Charleston, South Carolina. Communities of Color already fear and mistrust the police, and unchecked police power will further widen the divide.

If police are allowed to illegally enter into a home or seize property without securing a warrant and are able to present this evidence in court despite being obtained illegally, many fear this move will reward illegal behavior by the police.

The hypocrisy of government benefiting from its own unlawful conduct leads to a lack of trust in it and further diminishes the idea of equal protection under the law. Most importantly, when a court permits the use of illegally obtained evidence, the court not only sanctions the misconduct but also encourages it.

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Environmental Justice

Plastic Might Be Convenient, But Is It Worth It?

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By

Kristin

Plastic is everywhere in our lives these days. Water bottles, microbead skin products, disposable razors, shopping bags, and red solo cups.  It’s amazing how much of this ends up in the water systems, my dear Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean.

When this debris ends up in the oceanic system, they all get pulled around by the currents–typically ending up in the same place, if not in an animal’s throat or around their neck first.  According to National Geographic, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch “is a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. Marine debris is litter that ends up in oceans, seas, and other large bodies of water.

This “patch” is more than twice the size of Texas. It’s not surprising considering a study released in 2015 estimates that 8.8 million tons of plastic waste ended up in the ocean in the year 2010. I keep having this nightmare that the garbage patch is going to grow until the whole Earth is one large garbage patch!

Before we get to that point, too many animals will die from plastic. In 2013 in Spain, scientists found a dead whale, whose cause of death was intestinal blockage. The digestive system contained 59 pieces of plastic waste totaling 37 pounds in weight. Sea turtles are now ingesting twice the plastic they were 25 years ago. In total, it is estimated that plastic ingestion kills 1 MILLION marine birds and 1 HUNDRED THOUSAND marine animals every single year!

Other than ingestion, plastic can also ruin an animal’s life by tangling them up; this can make movement and growth difficult or impossible. Some species happen to inhabit areas where plastic pollution is more of a problem, causing them to be more susceptible to entanglements and ingestion caused by plastic. This fact proves true for species like the Hawaiian monk seal, which swim and feed in areas close to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Not only can plastic hurt them in its full state, but also in later states. Although plastic does not biodegrade, it does break down and the chemicals that break down impact animals as well. The toxic chemicals really mess with the hormones of marine animals. In the long term, this can affect humans as well because many people are consuming the animals affecting by these pollutants.

So what can you do?

Of course, recycling can be a big help and not littering, but the only way to completely prevent these problems is by decreasing your plastic consumption. The best thing you can do is to completely eliminate plastic from your life! Convenience is not worth possibly living on a garbage planet.

In my single-handed fight I have collected 180,000 items – 50 pieces of litter a day for 10 years. If only the world didn’t find this weird – Andrew Mayer

Learn more about Andrew and his efforts to help pick up trash before it makes its way to the ocean in the article he wrote for the Guardian entitled I pick up plastic waste to save it from landfill. It’s lonely but worth it.

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