New York magazine's cover story that shows 35 women who share an unenviable title, Bill Cosby's accusers, is called "required reading" by the Chicago Tribune. (In all, 46 have come forward to accuse the comedian of rape.) "A sorrowful sisterhood," Joan Tarshis, who says Cosby assaulted her in 1969, told the magazine. The Tribune calls the piece "a powerful, important piece of history in the making, finally gathering almost three dozen of the women who've accused Cosby of assault and giving them a united voice."
"The group, at present, ranges in age from early 20s to 80 and includes supermodels Beverly Johnson and Janice Dickinson alongside waitresses and Playboy bunnies and journalists and a host of women who formerly worked in show business," writes New York's Noreen Malone. "Many of the women say they know of others still out there who've chosen to remain silent." Malone's article considers our culture's slow evolution in its handling of rape accusations. A decade ago, she writes, 14 women had already accused Cosby of rape. "But they were met, mostly, with skepticism, threats, and attacks on their character," she writes.
Sandra Bland's death in a Texas jail cell highlights at least three major policy changes needed to keep the public safe from its protectors, says the Grits for Breakfast blog in Texas: The police officer should not have had grounds to arrest her in the first place; even if arrested, she should have been booked and released, not jailed, and once in jail, she should have been more closely monitored, assuming that her death was in fact, a suicide. While lots remains unknown about Bland's death, she would probably be alive today if she had been booked and released on a personal bond with a date to return to court for her hearing.
Bland's friends and family are raising a ruckus, saying she was a special person. Unfortunately, says Grits for Breakfast, the circumstances surrounding her unjust detention and preventable death weren't special at all. One can can learn much from what's unique about this young woman's case, but perhaps even more from what it has in common with dozens or hundreds of others. Last year in Texas there were 615 in-custody deaths; 410 were in state facilities, excluding 10 executions, and the rest were police shootings or deaths in jails.
In recent speeches on criminal justice, President Obama has emphasized one of the most problematic myths standing in the way of true penal reform, and his recent commutations of 46 federal sentences implicitly did the same, says law Prof. John Pfaff of Fordham University. Obama suggested that we can scale back incarceration by focusing solely on nonviolent offenders. The President made this a key point in his speech this month to the NAACP, when he said, "Here’s the thing: Over the last few decades, we’ve also locked up more and more nonviolent drug offenders than ever before, for longer than ever before. And that is the real reason our prison population is so high.” This claim, which is widely accepted by policymakers and the public, is simply wrong, Pfaff writes in the Washington Post.
It’s true that nearly half of all federal inmates have been sentenced for drug offenses, but the federal system holds only only about 14 percent of all inmates. In state prisons, which hold the remaining 86 percent, more than half of inmates are serving time for violent crimes, and since 1990, 60 percent of the growth in state prison populations has come from locking up violent offenders. Less than a fifth of state prisoners — 17 percent — are serving time for nonviolent drug offenses. Contrary to Obama’s claim, drug inmates tend to serve relatively short sentences. It is the inmates who are convicted of violent crimes who serve the longer terms. Pfaff says that, "We are going to have to reduce the punishments that violent offenders face if we really want to cut our breathtaking prison population down to size." He adds that, "This idea is a political third rail, and no leading politician has been willing to risk touching it."
If it seems like mass shootings are becoming more common, researchers say they are, reports the Los Angeles Times. Between a 2011 shooting at a restaurant in Carson City, Nv., that left four people dead and the 2013 attack on the Washington Navy Yard where 12 people were killed, a mass shooting occurred somewhere in the U.S. once every 64 days, on average. In the preceding 29 years, such shootings occurred on average every 200 days, say researchers from Harvard University's School of Public Health and Northeastern University. The study defined a mass shooting as an outbreak of firearms violence in which four or more victims were killed and the shooter was unknown to most of his victims.
Not only are such shootings more common, they have also become more deadly. In the 10-year period that ended with the Washington Navy Yard attack, 285 people died in such events. In the 13 years before that, 151 people perished in mass shootings. Between Jan. 1, 2015 and July 20, 2015 there have been 203 mass shooting events in which victims were both killed and wounded by gunfire, according to statistics from Mass Shootings Tracker, a Wiki-style site. That doesn't include the two moviegoers who were killed and nine wounded at the Grand Theatre multiplex in Lafayette La., last Thursday night. Although the fatalities in mass shootings are dramatic, they are dwarfed by the number of people killed by firearms in attacks that affect one or two victims at a time and largely escape public notice. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 11,208 people died in homicides involving firearms in the United States in 2013.
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Chicago police have fatally shot 70 people over a five-year span, the highest among departments in the largest U.S. cities, writes the Better Government Association for the Chicago Sun-Times. The Chicago victims were nearly all male. Most were black. More than half of the killings happened in six South Side police districts. No other police department in any of the 10 most populous cities killed more people from 2010 through 2014, but Chicago ranks fourth behind Phoenix, Philadelphia and Dallas when the numbers are adjusted for population, showed an analysis of data obtained through interviews and open records requests. In Chicago, an officer was recently acquitted of killing an unarmed woman, the first time a cop has stood trial for a fatal shooting in more than a decade, and the FBI is investigating last year’s death of a teen shot 16 times by Chicago police.
City officials say police shootings are trending lower this year. Officers had fatally shot three people in 2015 as of Friday, putting the department on pace to record the fewest killings since 2012 when there were a total of eight. “The real question is, are the shootings appropriate?” says former Los Angeles police officer David Klinger, criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “If not, that’s where I get concerned.” Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) has investigated nearly 400 police shootings since 2007 and found only one to be unjustified. “Just because it was justified doesn’t mean it was necessary,” says Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer now at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “Perhaps, it could have been prevented by better training or different tactics.”
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With the St. Louis homicide rate on target to reach its highest level in 20 years, the police department is coming under increasing pressure. So is Mayor Francis Slay, the man who two years ago won control of the department to hold it more accountable, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I wouldn’t want to be in Mayor Slay’s shoes,” said Todd Swanstrom, a professor who specializes in urban politics at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Slay wrested oversight of city police from the state in 2013 for the first time since the Civil War. With the change has come more power over police strategy, but also more political responsibility for it.
Previously, the department was overseen by a five-member board: the mayor and four board members appointed by the governor. “It’s not an easy task,” Swanstrom said. “A lot of it is managing perceptions. The headlines are very damaging to the city — and frightening.” After a violent weekend last week, the number of murders soared above 100 already this year. That’s 60 percent higher than the number of homicides at the same time last year, which itself had seen a 30 percent increase from the prior year. The situation has put Slay in unfamiliar territory. The city’s longest-serving mayor, Slay saw a sharp decrease in homicides after he first took office in 2001. By 2003, under former Chief Joe Mokwa, the annual number of murders dropped to 74, the lowest in generations. Slay told the Post-Dispatch, “We’ve got a handle on it.” He added, “We are going to get results. We are absolutely committed to that. We don’t give up.”
Despite recent high-profile violence involving gang members in Dallas, gang-related crime is down in the city, police officials tell the Dallas Morning News. Gang experts say that while gangs have changed over the years, the culture they represent is still here and in need of fixing. “You ain’t got nothing in terms of gang prevention and intervention services down there,” said Greg Knox of the Illinois-based National Gang Crime Research Center. Knox said gangs don’t come to the fore in people’s minds anymore because federal authorities have weakened their centralized hierarchy, making them more of a neighborhood clique than a regional or even national power. “But they still have interfaces with each other — alliances, liaisons,” Knox said. “Their networks still exist.”
Dallas police say they have documented 103 street gangs, more than 6,000 gang members and 3,700 associates, although about 2,300 of the nearly 10,000 people in the system are set to go through a routine purge from it. The department has eight officers and a sergeant actively working on the gang unit street enforcement. Knox said that isn’t enough. Fort Worth, for instance, has a department half the size of Dallas but counts 32 officers working in the gang unit as street enforcement, prevention, intervention and detectives. Dallas First Assistant Police Chief Charlie Cato counters that the department’s strategies have been effective. Gang-related murders, aggravated assaults and other crimes are way down this year, he said.
At Washington state's boot camp, Camp Outlook, teenagers convicted of crimes would get a dose old-school discipline: situps, push-ups, running. They also got behavioral therapy, job training and help finishing their education, says the Seattle Times. Even as military-style camps for juveniles elsewhere acquired a darker reputation and some were shut down after the deaths of boys and girls, Washington state’s camp remained. A 2004 state report showed that, unlike camps in other states, Camp Outlook helped reduce some recidivism rates and save money. After a decline in juvenile arrests and pressures on the state budget, the camp closed this spring. Its last class of six people graduated in May, according to Pioneer Human Services, which operated the camp under contract.
Closing Camp Outlook will save the state $1.7 million over the 2015-17 budget cycle. Although only a drop in the $38.2 billion state budget, legislators sought savings where they could find themt to put more money toward education, mental-health programs and pay increases for teachers and state workers. Rep. Ross Hunter, chief budget writer for Democrats, cited the “pretty stunning” decline in youth crime as a reason to shut down the camp. In 2004, there were about 39,000 juvenile arrests in the state. By 2014, that number stood at about 13,000 — a roughly 67 percent decline over the decade. The steep drop mirrors both an international trend in developed countries and a national one, says Jeffrey Butts of John Jay College of Criminal Justice.