Chapter News

West Palm: Immigrants welcome

April 11, 2017

In rebuff to Trump, city supports immigrants’ rights.

By Tony Doris Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

WEST PALM BEACH — Even as the Trump administration threatens to sanction so-called sanctuary cities, the West Palm Beach City Commission this week unanimously declared West Palm a “Welcoming City” whose employees will not help federal law enforcers round up immigrants for deportation unless specifically required to by state or federal law or courts.

The resolution — not a city law but a policy statement — passed after more than an hour of public comment in a commission chambers packed mostly with supporters but some pointed opposition.

It prohibits city employees from:

  • Asking anyone for information about or otherwise helping investigate citizenship or immigration status.
  • Disclosing information regarding someone’s citizenship or immigration status.
  • Conditioning receipt of city benefits, opportunities or services on one’s citizenship or immigration status.
  • Requiring federal identification documents issued by a person’s nation of origin, instead of just accepting a Florida driver’s license or Florida ID card.
  • And it requires that arrests and detentions be conducted in accordance with the city’s standard procedures.

“We want to make sure people know that they are safe in West Palm Beach and this is a place where we want them to be,” Mayor Jeri Muoio said.

City Commissioner Paula Ryan said the city has been fielding daily calls and emails expressing heightened fear of deportation under the Trump administration. Some immigrant parents, afraid they’ll be taken away, are consulting with lawyers to draft power of attorney documents to ensure their children won’t become wards of the state, she said.

Muoio said Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa told her that attendance has been dropping in schools with large immigrant populations.

“Children are afraid something will happen to their parents or parents are afraid something will happen to their children,” she said. “We want to make it clear that it’s so important for children to go to school.”

The community response to the resolution has been mostly positive, though she fielded “some very heated negative responses,” from people concerned the city would be violating federal law.

“We’re not breaking the law,” she stressed. “We’re very clear: We’ll uphold all laws applicable.”

Immigrants who break the law will be arrested and treated like anyone else, she added.

The idea for the resolution percolated from conversations the mayor has been having at government conferences throughout the country, and with organizations such as the Service Employees International Union, she said. The resolution merely codifies what West Palm has been doing for years, the mayor said.

“We want people to feel welcome to use city services if they’re eligible for them, as anyone else would be eligible. And it also said in the resolution, very clearly, that we were going to obey all state and federal laws and case law. And any warrants that were appropriately served, we would implement.”

But West Palm Beach police don’t check immigration status, she said.

“That’s not their job. And constitutionally, local governments are not to implement or take over federal roles and responsibilities. Immigration enforcement is up to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and not up to the police department of the city of West Palm Beach.”

Commissioner Sylvia Moffett said she hoped other Florida cities would adopt similar resolutions.

“It’s not our police peoples’ job to go out and round up people,” Moffett said. “We have a lot of police officers who have made good relationships with immigrants who are here and who will come to the police and give them information about crimes that have been committed or other things and if we do anything as the current executive person wants us to do, in the White House, we will be jeopardizing that.”

Opponents spoke of crimes committed by illegal immigrants and said the city had an obligation to back the federal government in enforcing immigration laws.

One woman likened the city’s stance to helping or harboring illegal aliens.

“If you commissioners are not planning to uphold the oath that you swore to when you took office, and plan to pass this resolution or something stronger, then the next time you see me will be with my lawyer in court,” she said, and was greeted with applause from some in the audience.

Among those opposing the resolution was immigration rights advocate Aileen Josephs.

“If Democrats really cared about the immigrants, rather than pass these resolutions in today’s climate they should put their money in securing legal representation of those fighting their deportations, rather than passing empty resolutions that do not help the situation but actually could make matters worse for the sojourners among us,” Josephs said in an email after the vote.

But Jill Hanson, a board member of the Florida Immigrant Coalition and the Palm Beach County Coalition for Immigrant Justice, called the move “a courageous first step in making immigrants feel welcome, showing that the city commission is willing to do what it takes to protect West Palm Beach families from living in constant fear.”

A spokesman for the Service Employees Union noted that Hillsborough and Bro-ward counties and St. Petersburg had made similar votes and she urged other localities to do the same.

The phrase “Welcoming City” means the same as “Sanctuary City” but without implying something was done that was wrong, she said.

In Miami-Dade County, by contrast, when President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order threatening to pull federal money from sanctuary cities, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez signed an executive order saying his county will fully comply with Trump’s rules to cooperate in deportation enforcement.

On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions backed Trump, urging sanctuary cities to change their policies. He said the Department of Justice would deny money if they do not follow federal immigration laws.

Twitter: @TonyDorisPBP

Post of June 27th on Judge Cohen’s retirement. Judge Cohen was a recipient of the Chapter’s Glasner Award.

July 4, 2016

By Jane Musgrave

WEST PALM BEACH — Trying to recover from the trauma of being the first — and most unlikely — judge in Palm Beach County history to be reprimanded by the Florida Supreme Court, County Court Judge Barry Cohen turned to writing as therapy.

Giving his future book a working title of “The Road to Tallahassee,” he pounded out a few chapters about the political intrigue that led to his 2014 public tongue-lashing by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, and then he stopped.

“There’s no reason to go back and revisit it. It’s too painful,” he said of the reason he abandoned his budding career as a novelist before it began. “Unless you go through it, you can’t understand how unsettling it is.”

As Cohen began packing up his office last week, stripping the walls of photos of his beloved New York Yankees and wondering at all the paperwork he has accumulated during his 25 years on the bench, he made it clear that the public reprimand left him chastened, not bowed.

Glancing at some notes he scribbled down to remind himself of topics he wanted to talk about before leaving office on Thursday, the 66-year-old mentioned three issues that most trouble him: mass incarceration, attacks on the independence of the judiciary and the lack of diversity — particularly the dearth of blacks and Hispanics — on the bench.

Such concerns are classic Cohen, an unabashed liberal whose legions of supporters admire him for not being afraid to speak out, even at great personal cost.

“They went after him because he was speaking the truth,” Richard Lubin, a veteran criminal defense attorney, said of the allegations that led to Cohen receiving a public reprimand from the high court.
Attorney James Green, a longtime civil rights attorney who was in private practice with Cohen for 10 years in the 1980s, agreed.

“Justice is supposed to be blind, but Barry was never blind,” he said. “He saw the destructive effect the war on drugs had on constitutional liberties. He saw the disparate impact the criminal justice system had on minorities and he is one of the few judges ever to speak publicly about those disparities.”

Cohen was first attacked by then-Palm Beach County State Attorney Peter Antonacci, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott. When Antonacci failed in his efforts to get Cohen removed from criminal cases, an anonymous complaint was filed with the Judicial Qualifications Commission.

While acknowledging that Cohen’s personal views did not appear to influence his rulings, the commission and ultimately the Supreme Court found that he violated judicial canons by using his post as a bully pulpit to rail against various issues, including racial profiling and the prosecution of the mentally ill, and for writing a letter to The Palm Beach Post about an upcoming political race.

To illustrate the depth of support he has in the community, 15 judges and dozens of attorneys chartered buses so they could be with him when he appeared before the high court. Such an outpouring, along with the numerous awards and accolades he has collected during his 42-year legal career, speak louder than the reprimand, supporters said.

“I don’t think it will tarnish his legacy as one of the fairest judges we’ve ever had,” said defense attorney Michael Salnick.
“He recognizes the humanity in everybody,” Green said. “People respect him not because of his robe but how he treats everybody the same.”

Green credits Cohen’s late father, who worked for the U.S. Social Security Administration, with instilling key values in Cohen and his older brother, Harold, who retired in 2004 after serving 28 years as a Palm Beach County circuit judge. Both have the same even temperaments that made them both standouts on the bench, Green said.

Cohen attributes his success to his father, brother and just plain luck. He credits his brother with bringing him to Florida from New York, first by helping him get into the University of Miami law school and then by helping him land a job in the state attorney’s office, where Harold was working. Cohen spent three years as a prosecutor before switching sides and becoming a public defender. Then, he got a strange itch.

“I got this ridiculous idea at the age of 31 to run for the office of public defender,” Cohen said. He campaigned hard for two years and was confident as Election Day neared. “I didn’t realize 1980 was going to be the year of the Reagan revolution,” he said. A Democrat, he lost badly to a Republican incumbent.

Discouraged, he joined Green and attorney James Eisenberg in private practice. Then, in 1990, his brother urged him to run for a newly-created county court seat. He was elected without opposition.

“No one filed to run against me,” he said, recapturing the shock he felt at the time. “As bad as 1980 was, I was lucky in 1990.”
While he never sought a seat on the circuit bench, he regularly handled felony trials for circuit judges who needed help with burgeoning caseloads. Records show he presided over at least 1,000 jury trials — perhaps a record for a county court judge, as they handle mostly misdemeanor cases, which are less likely to be decided by juries.

Palm Beach County Chief Judge Jeffrey Colbath said Cohen was uniquely suited to handle felony cases. In a nod to Cohen’s passion for baseball, he offered this analogy: “He’s Derek Jeter. He’s always there. He’s my utility infielder. He’s unflappable. He can handle anything you throw at him.”

Cohen’s love for the Yankees can’t be understated. He named one of his dogs Jeter. The Yankees logo is tiled in the bottom of his pool. On one of the several occasions that former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner fired manager Billy Martin, Cohen actually applied for the job, Green said.

Facing retirement, Cohen acknowledged that one of his biggest concerns is what to do with all the Yankee memorabilia in his office. His wife, Bonnie, has barred him from hanging it in their Wellington home and the one they bought near Harold’s in Vermont. She’s also not crazy about his smoking.

But after years of deciding the appropriate punishment for people accused of crimes, horrific and otherwise, he said he will embrace the chance to settle such mundane disagreements.

He said he’s also a little anxious about the retirement abyss, but he’s ready to move on.

“I intend to do nothing for a while,” he said, “because I haven’t done nothing for so long.”

A Bad 4th Amendment Decision

June 22, 2016

The Opinion Pages | EDITORIAL

Another Hit to the Fourth Amendment


The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government — or that’s how it works in theory, anyway. In practice, though, court decisions over several decades have created so many exceptions to this constitutional principle as to render it effectively meaningless in many real-world situations.

On Monday, the Supreme Court further weakened the Fourth Amendment by making it even easier for law enforcement to evade its requirement that stops be based on reasonable suspicion. The justices ruled 5 to 3 that a police officer’s illegal stop of a man on the street did not prevent evidence obtained from a search connected to that stop to be used against him.

The case, Utah v. Strieff, started when the police in Salt Lake City got an anonymous tip of drug activity at a house. An officer monitoring the house became suspicious at the number of people he saw entering and leaving. When one of those people, Edward Strieff, left to walk to a nearby convenience store, the officer stopped him and asked for his identification. A routine check revealed that Mr. Strieff had an outstanding “small traffic warrant.” The officer arrested him based on that earlier warrant, searched him and found drugs in his pockets.

The State of Utah agreed that the initial stop was illegal, because it was not based on reasonable, individual suspicion that Mr. Strieff was doing anything wrong. Instead, the state argued that the discovery of the valid warrant — after the illegal stop — got around the Fourth amendment violation.

The Utah Supreme Court rightly rejected this argument, but that decision was overturned in a majority opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas. The officer’s lack of any specific suspicion of Mr. Strieff, Justice Thomas wrote, was a result of “good-faith mistakes.” The illegal stop was, at worst, “an isolated instance of negligence.”

In a powerful dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor took apart that specious reasoning. “Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language,” she wrote. “This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification, and check it for outstanding traffic warrants — even if you are doing nothing wrong.”

Justice Sotomayor acknowledged the temptation to let the officer get away with his own wrongdoing, since “his instincts, although unconstitutional, were correct.” But that misses a “basic principle” of the Fourth Amendment, she said: “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Responding to Justice Thomas’s unsupported claim that the violation of Mr. Strieff’s rights was an isolated case, Justice Sotomayor pointed out that the police in Salt Lake City and nationwide routinely run warrant checks on people they have illegally stopped. Combine that practice with the “staggering” number of outstanding warrants — nearly eight million around the country, almost all for minor offenses — and cops have an even greater incentive to stop anyone for any reason, knowing the odds are good that they will find a warrant and be able to make an arrest and conduct a search.

In a final and more personal statement, Justice Sotomayor drew a link between the court’s extreme deference to law enforcement officials and the racial inequity that pervades America’s criminal justice system. While Mr. Strieff is white, she said, “it is no secret that people of color are disproportionate victims of this type of scrutiny.” The central, disturbing message of Monday’s ruling, she added, is that whether you are white or black, “your body is subject to invasion while courts excuse the violation of your rights,” and in that way, “unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives.”

Local Cost of Marijuana Arrests versus Citations

May 17, 2016

Sun Sentinel news report 5-14-16

Palm Beach County spends $158K a year to jail low-level marijuana offenders, analysis shows

Skyler Swisher
Sun Sentinel

It’s the latest turn in a clash between the sheriff and county commissioners over whether deputies should give citations to those caught with a small amount of marijuana.

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw has said he has no plans to use a commission-approved ordinance that lets deputies issue a civil citation, instead of a criminal charge, for possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana. A citation would be similar to a traffic ticket.

Now, a newly completed analysis by county staff estimates the expense that comes from jailing small-time offenders instead of ticketing them.
From 2009 to 2015, Palm Beach County taxpayers spent $1.1 million to jail people whose most serious offense was having a small amount of marijuana, according to the county’s Criminal Justice Commission. That comes to an average of $158,856 a year.

County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor said she wants to withhold money from the sheriff’s budget to offset the cost of locking up marijuana offenders instead of issuing tickets.

“We should not be paying for something that we’ve already said we don’t want to see happening,” she said.

The Sheriff’s Office is reviewing the report to verify if the numbers are accurate, Teri Barbera, a spokeswoman for the agency, wrote in an email.

Bradshaw is the only sheriff in South Florida who has taken the position of not using such a marijuana-civil-citation ordinance, as local government boards across the region move to loosen pot penalties.

In a recent radio interview, Bradshaw defended his decision.

Most people caught with less than 20 grams of marijuana (about three-fourths of an ounce) are given a notice to appear in court and avoid a trip to jail, he said. Going to court connects them with drug treatment, and they have an opportunity to wipe the offense from their record if they follow the proper steps, he said

Under the county ordinance, passed by the commission in December, offenders would pay a $100 fine to settle the matter, and it would not be placed on their criminal record. Citations can be issued only twice under the county’s ordinance, and repeat violators face arrest.
The county-prepared report also provides a snapshot of who is being jailed for smoking pot. County researchers examined jail booking data from Jan. 1, 2009, to Dec. 31, 2015, factoring in the estimated daily cost of $135 to house an inmate to produce the cost estimate.

Almost half of the people jailed for low-level marijuana offenses are black, according to the report. Blacks make up about 17 percent of Palm Beach County’s population, according to the 2010 census.

An analysis in 2013 by the American Civil Liberties Union found blacks are nearly five times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana in Palm Beach County, despite national surveys showing they use marijuana at about the same rate as whites.

This latest report demonstrates marijuana citations would save taxpayers money, said Mark Schneider, president of the Palm Beach County Chapter of the ACLU of Florida.”If the economics of the issue alone do not cause the sheriff to reconsider his rejection of the commission’s ordinance — and other communities to adopt something like it — the racial disparities in enforcement certainly should,” Schneider said. “This would be an easy step toward improving relations between our police and the community.”

The median age of offenders was 24, and the vast majority — 86 percent — are men. Fifty-five percent of the jailed offenders were arrested by the Sheriff’s Office and the rest were brought in by city police departments.

Offenders spent an average of about five and a half hours in jail., 561-243-6634 or @SkylerSwisher
Copyright © 2016, Sun Sentinel

Cerabino on Lake Worth homeless ordinance

January 25, 2016

Cerabino: Lake Worth on the brink of arresting development
Posted: 5:40 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016
By Frank Cerabino – Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
The upstanding, taxpaying citizens of Lake Worth need to start getting arrested.
I know, I know. It’s not a comforting subject. Nobody looks forward to spending a night in the Palm Beach County Jail on some trumped-up trespassing charge.
But it’s essential to the financial well-being of the city that its civic-minded residents get locked up for violating the ordinance that the Lake Worth City Commission passed this week.
Allow me to explain.
The ordinance magically turned the city’s outdoor public areas — such as the City Hall property and parking lot, the shuffleboard courts and the downtown Cultural Plaza — into city parks.
The reason is that municipal laws have established nightly curfews for city parks, but there has been no curfew for walking across the Cultural Plaza or sitting on a bench outside City Hall.
Now there is. To hear the majority of the city commission talk about this change, it’s a crime-fighting measure against drug dealers and pedophiles.
But it’s really just a way to criminalize homelessness in downtown Lake Worth after dark by giving law enforcement officers permission to do what they’ve been prohibited from doing before: To arrest homeless people for being homeless.
“We’re already on record that we don’t have ways to arrest folks that we kind of don’t want in town, so now we’re going to pass something or other that gives us a tool to arrest folks,” Commissioner Christopher McVoy told his colleagues. “That’s a discrimination setup that seems like it’s asking for trouble.”
Fellow commissioner Ryan Maier agreed.
“To criminalize the existence of people in public spaces is a civil rights violation,” he said.
But Maier and McVoy were on the losing end of a 3-2 vote, with the majority contending that this had nothing do to with the homeless.
Vice Mayor Scott Maxwell pointed out that the seven-page ordinance doesn’t use the word “homeless” even once. So therefore, it’s not about the homeless.
“Where’s the language that speaks to homelessness?” he asked. “That seems to be a concern of a couple of folks in the room that this is an ordinance directed at homelessness.”
To make Maxwell right, non-homeless Lake Worth citizens need to be arrested for stepping foot on city property after the curfew. Even if they are unaware of the ordinance.
“It shall not be a defense to a prosecution under this section that the person charged had no actual knowledge of the park or public property hours,” the ordinance reads.
So it shouldn’t make a difference under the law if you’re a homeless person sitting on a bench in the Cultural Plaza or a local homeowner cutting through the plaza while taking your dog for an evening walk.
“Entry onto park or public property grounds during hours at which such park or public property is closed shall be deemed a trespass,” the new law says.
This means that people with or without homes ought be represented when it comes time to line up for jailhouse mugshots.
But if it ends up that only homeless people are arrested for trespassing, the American Civil Liberties Union might very well end up suing. Mark Schneider, the president of the Palm Beach County chapter of the ACLU, warned commissioners about what they were about to do.
“Homeless people cannot legally be punished for carrying out in public daily activities of living when they have no alternative provided them,” Schneider told commissioners. “I hope you will explore constructive solutions to homelessness, then, rather than adding to the difficulties homeless persons experience.”
With the ACLU looming, Lake Worth needs to find a way to avoid becoming embroiled in a civil rights lawsuit.
That suit would have some credence if six months from now, the jailhouse booking blotter makes it clear that the deputies are arresting only homeless people under this new law.
Or as McVoy told his fellow commissioners:
“We, in our wisdom, said it was not our intent to use this to go after the homeless, so, by gum, we better go after everybody like it says in the law.”
That means you, Lake Worth homeowner and renter.
You need to take one for the team. It won’t be hard.
For starters, some of you need to be arrested for trespassing in the City Hall parking lot if you linger too long after a nighttime city commission meeting. And maybe neighborhood organizations in the city can set up a rotating schedule of volunteers to get themselves arrested on a nightly basis in the Cultural Plaza.
Mondays could be College Park’s night. Murry Hills on Tuesdays, Sunset Ridge on Wednesdays. You get the idea.
Bring a jacket. It gets nippy at nights in the lockup.
With any luck, a judge at first-appearance court the next day will set you free with a “time served” sentence.
Unpleasant? Sure. But your city needs you.
It’s the only way Lake Worth can mask the necessarily silent intentions of a law aimed at making homelessness a crime.

Schneider’s comments to Lake Worth City Commission on homeless ordinance

January 25, 2016

My name is Mark Schneider and I’m the president of the Palm Beach County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
Members of the Commission:
The ACLU has had a longstanding interest in the problem of homelessness. We would encourage you to work with the County and with the League of Cities to craft a solution to Lake Worth’s problems based upon the models provided by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
We would also encourage you and the City Attorney to familiarize yourselves with the Pottinger agreement. Let me quote from our website:
“In 1988, the Miami Chapter of the ACLU of Florida brought litigation challenging the treatment of homeless persons by the City of Miami and the police. After a decade of litigation involving two trials, two appeals, and nearly two years of mediation, the “Pottinger Agreement” put in place rules to protect the fundamental rights of homeless people in the City of Miami.
“As homelessness surged in the 1980s, the City of Miami responded with efforts to drive homeless people out of the City or out of sight. It routinely arrested homeless people for minor misdemeanors – for example, sitting on public sidewalks or sleeping in parks at night after they closed – that homeless people could not avoid committing…”.
Federal Judge C. Clyde Atkins found that:
“The City’s arrests of Plaintiffs for harmless acts in public that fell within misdemeanor ordinances violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban against punishment based on status…”

And that:

“The City’s overbroad enforcement of misdemeanor ordinances that homeless persons necessarily violate while living in public violated the Plaintiffs’ right to procedural due process…”

In short, homeless people cannot legally be punished for carrying out in public daily activities of living when they have no alternative provided them. I hope you will explore constructive solutions to homelessness, then, rather than adding to the difficulties homeless persons experience by passing Ordinance 2016-06. Reach out to the County, the League of Cities, and the National Alliance to End Homelessness so you won’t be going this alone, and inform yourselves about the Pottinger Agreement. The ACLU is anxious to work with you to make life in Lake Worth, and elsewhere in Palm Beach County, better—for the average citizen, for the business community, and for the homeless. Thank you.

18 January 2016 Comment to Lake Worth City Commission on Agenda item 2016-06

Howard Simon on misunderstanding the Second Amendment

January 13, 2016

Commentary: Put bogus Second Amendment claims to rest

Palm Beach Post    Posted: 6:00 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016

By Howard Simon, Executive Director, ACLU of Florida

Though we find ourselves in an election year, some of the responses to President Barack Obama’s recent initiatives on gun control reverberate outside this political silly season.

Some responses to the president’s actions were easily predictable: How effective will these very limited initiatives really be in curbing rampant gun violence? Are some of these initiatives (for example, expanding the number of gun buyers who are subject to a background check) an overreach of executive authority? Is he exercising powers that belong to Congress, not the executive branch of government?

But it is past due to retire one common theme — the bogus claim that “any regulation of gun ownership violates Second Amendment rights.”

In a column written for an Iowa newspaper, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush claimed that Obama’s actions trample on the Second Amendment. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told a crowd in New Hampshire that the president has waged war on the Constitution. His initiatives were “meant to further erode the Second Amendment” and deny Americans the rights given by God.

It’s time to give that one a rest.

In 2008, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared (for the very first time) in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to own and possess a weapon, rather than having been written with the intention to guarantee the right of states to maintain a “well-regulated militia,” the high court also pointedly emphasized that the right is not unlimited.

“Like most rights,” Justice Antonin Scalia noted, “the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. The “Second Amendment right to bear arms” he added, is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues.”

The court urged policymakers to take note that its opinion should not be understood to cast doubt on prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the sale of arms.

The court also noted that the Second Amendment protects the possession of the sort of weapons that were “in common use at the time” of the adoption of the Second Amendment, in 1791, meaning that the “historical tradition” permits a prohibition on carrying dangerous and unusual weapons.

Here in Florida, the “any regulation of gun ownership violates Second Amendment rights” gave us the dangerous law (dangerous mostly for the children of the state) that threatens doctors with the loss of their license should they initiate conversations with their patients about the safe storage of guns in the home, particularly in a home where there are children. Fortunately, this law is not in effect because it is tied up in a constitutional challenge brought by several physicians and medical groups with the support of the ACLU.

Legislators apparently enacted this law (signed and championed by Gov. Rick Scott) out of concern that even talking about gun safety somehow threatens the “right of the people to keep and bear arms.”

Enough of the misleading, if not disingenuous, claims about threats to the Second Amendment — and enough of the bogus constitutional analysis.

PBPost Op-Ed on police shootings

December 29, 2015

Commentary: Police shootings show need for policy shift, more training
Posted: 12:00 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015

By Mark A. Schneider and James K. Green

While we await the outcome of the investigation into Corey Jones’ death, there are already lessons about policing and investigative practices to be learned from this case, and others locally and nationally.

First, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida Palm Beach County Chapter joins The Palm Beach Post and others responding to the Jones case in recommending that all local police departments immediately take steps to ensure that plain-clothes officers do not engage in enforcement activities except to prevent a violent felony. Uniformed officers should be called upon to make contact with citizens in all other circumstances.

In both the Jones case and in that of Seth Adams — currently the subject of a local wrongful death suit — young men encountered plain clothes officers and ended up dead. More tragedies like that of Jones and Adams are inevitable unless best practices in plain-clothes policing are scrupulously adhered to.

Second, police training in use of force and in risk assessment must be rethought to achieve a better balance between the actual danger in a situation and the level of force used to respond to it. Current training encourages near immediate use of deadly force when a deputy believes a citizen may be reaching for a weapon. Seth Adams was killed when reaching for a cell phone because a deputy believed he may have been lunging into his car for a weapon. Local resident Dontrell Stephens was shot within four seconds of encountering a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy who believed Stephens might be reaching for a weapon in his waistband. Again it was a cellphone.

Rather than shooting first and from exposed locations, police can assess situations from protected positions, such as behind cruiser doors, employing “cover and conceal” tactics and, most importantly, working to de-escalate the situation. Such tactics might well have saved Jones and Adams. They would also have saved the life of local resident Mary Lou Forrest, a slight woman with mental disabilities who was cornered by deputies in her own bathroom with a knife.

Deciding how police are best trained so as to balance safety and threat response should be high on our local and national agenda, and requires the contribution of police practices experts to revise current policies and training practices. In Los Angeles, police shootings of citizens have roughly doubled in the past year, from 23 to 45. In response, the civilian review board overseeing the Los Angeles Police Department has called “for an extensive review of the department’s use of force.”

Third, to achieve greater transparency with regard to police use of force, and to assess how best to mitigate its consequences for citizens, police departments should publish uniform data on their use of force. These data can contribute to a national database that will allow us better to assess the problem.

Considerable work goes into creating comprehensive lists of police injured or killed in the line of duty, but not police shootings. The federal government tracks how many people were victims of shark attacks and how many livestock live on U.S. farms, but has no reliable data on people shot by U.S. police officers every year. The ACLU has called on the Department of Justice to mandate that all police departments collect and report data on police shootings.

Finally, we need to consider who should police the police. A troubling feature of both Adams’ and Jones’ shootings is that the only living witness to them is the police officer. Also of concern is that in Adams’ case, the PBSO admits to having failed to secure potentially critical evidence. In such cases, the community calls for an “independent investigation.” Yet the supposedly “independent” investigators — Florida Department of Law Enforcement, State Attorney or FBI — all have ties to and often rely upon local police forces.

There are no easy fixes. While the ACLU generally supports greater civilian oversight of law enforcement, its effectiveness is not guaranteed, as the issues with Miami’s Civilian Review Panel, which the ACLU fought to create, have demonstrated. An alternative to explore is federally organized regional teams, on the model of NTSB or FAA plane crash site teams, which would be deployed to investigate police shootings — particularly those to which police are the only witnesses. Using such teams, and improving police training in the appropriate use of force, might significantly increase citizen safety and perceptions of justice being served.

(Mark Schneider is the President and James Green the Legal Panel Chair of the Palm Beach County Chapter of the ACLU of Florida)

Post editorial of 6-5-15 on police shootings

June 10, 2015

Readers: note that Prof. Lorie Fridell is an ACLU State Board member.

Editorial: In racially charged shootings, police must look at biases
12:00 a.m. Friday, June 5, 2015 | Palm Beach Post

It’s a simple experiment. You sit in front of a computer screen. You see a series of male faces flash before you, some black, some white, in fractions of a second. After each picture of a face, you then see an image of a handgun or a hand tool such as a pliers and a wrench. You must react. If you perceive a weapon, you hit one key. If you perceive a tool, you hit another.
It’s an effort by social scientists to gauge the implicit biases in our brains. Not the explicit racism that is, thankfully, a disappearing feature of American life — but the deeper-held, harder-to-detect, harder-to-talk-about assumptions about race that are inside each and every one of us.
In this 2001 experiment, as in many others since, evidence was clear. The participants were more likely to misidentify a hand tool as a gun after having just seen a black face.
Such unconscious biases get to the heart of the debate now roiling America over police shootings. Just this week, a Guardian investigation disclosed that black Americans are more than twice as likely to be unarmed when killed during encounters with police as are white people.
The Palm Beach Post and WPTV-NewsChannel 5 found much the same result locally, in our joint “Line of Fire” investigation into 15 years of police shootings: The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, by far the largest law-enforcement agency in the county, shot and killed 45 people and wounded 38 others since 2000. One of every four people shot at was unarmed. More than one-third were black.
The series sparked a symposium last Saturday on policing, called by Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor, that nearly filled the County Commission chambers with citizens who described their pains and frustrations, and asked questions of a half-dozen police chiefs and ranking officials from local departments — though not, conspicuously, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, who pleaded an unspecified scheduling conflict.
One of the featured participants, Jane Tierney, CEO of the Palm Beach County-based group Catalyst for Justice, hit the nail on the head when she urged more law-enforcement training “based on the science of implicit bias.” Her group has sponsored 10 such training sessions for county police agencies — including the sheriff’s office, and Riviera Beach and West Palm Beach police departments — since 2010. One more, for police trainers of a variety of local police agencies and co-hosted by the PBSO, is scheduled for July.
Lorie Fridell, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of South Florida, who runs the sessions, sees two key reasons for the high numbers of shootings of racial minorities by police.
One, she told The Post Editorial Board, is “differential behavior.” Fact is, people of lower socioeconomic status commit a top-heavy share of street crime, and in America many of the poorest citizens are racial minorities. So, yes, police do have a reason to be more on their guard in certain parts of town.
“The other one, I believe, is human biases,” Fridell said. “All people, including well- intentioned people, including well-intentioned officers, have implicit biases that can affect their behavior.”
There is nothing wrong, Fridell says, with forming stereotypes. In fact, it’s a basic way our brains make sense of reality.
The mistakes begin when we assume that every individual fits into the stereotype.
The good news is that when people become aware of their biases, they can change their behavior. “Scientists have shown that implied biases can be reduced through positive contact with stereotyped groups,” Fridell has written. Also by “counter-stereotyping” — being exposed to information that’s opposite of the cultural stereotype.
This means we should encourage more community policing. More police-civilian contacts. And that officers should engage in more role-playing, such as computer simulations of use-of-force situations in which the target may be randomly white or black, armed or unarmed.
It’s heartening that county police agencies have shown a willingness to tackle an issue as difficult and soul-searching as implied racial biases. The challenge now is to step it up. “Our vision,” Tierney told the Editorial Board, “is that this becomes universal training for all law-enforcement officers in Palm Beach County.”
We heartily agree.