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Most charges against George Floyd protesters dropped, analysis shows | US policing

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The vast majority of citations and charges against George Floyd protesters were ultimately dropped, dismissed or otherwise not filed, according to a Guardian analysis of law enforcement records and media reports in a dozen jurisdictions around the nation.

But some prosecutors and law enforcement observers charge that departments carried out mass arrests as a crowd control tactic, as a means to silence peaceful protesters, and as a public relations strategy designed to turn the public against demonstrators by making them appear more violent than they were. And what’s more – some of the citing officers never witnessed the protests in the first place.

“It sends a message that you might get arrested if you express your views and first amendment rights,” said Vera Eidelman, staff attorney with the ACLU’s speech, privacy and technology project. “Police absolutely should not be relying on mass arrests to control a crowd or silence people who they disagree with.”

In most of a dozen jurisdictions examined, at least 90% of cases were dropped or dismissed. In some cities, like Dallas and Philadelphia, as many as 95% of citations were dropped or not prosecuted.

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What is the Overpoliced, underprotected series?

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Overpoliced, underprotected is a series focused on police violence in the US following one of the largest-scale uprisings in history. 

A year on from the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, there are demands both inside the government and from grassroots movements to end the systemic racism and lethal force that has been embedded in police culture for centuries. 

But with stark differences in approaches to reform and revolution, and the continued power of police unions, achieving sweeping change faces more obstacles than ever.

In Houston, about 93% of citations were dropped; in Los Angeles, about 93% of citations were not filed. The prosecutor’s office in San Francisco dismissed all 127 cases related to “peaceful protest-related charges”, though data for more serious citations was not available.

Officials did not file charges for nearly all low-level offenses, like disobeying curfews, while they most often pursued cases with strong evidence of more serious crimes, like assault or looting. Still, data shows that a majority of felony charges were also dropped, which some prosecutors said was due to a lack of evidence.

The analysis does not include federal charges, and the figures are estimates that will change as the remaining cases play out in court. Police sent citations to a patchwork of agencies and departments in different cities where prosecutors, mayors or city attorneys largely made the call to drop charges.

Mayors in every city except Detroit dropped all citations over which they had jurisdiction. The administration of Mayor Mike Duggan, a former prosecutor, pursued a high number of low-level misdemeanor charges or ordinance violations, even though the demonstrations were largely peaceful. But district court judge Larry Williams Jr dismissed more than 100 cases because police refused to provide basic evidence, such as body-cam footage.

In most instances, Detroit officers who wrote tickets were not at the protests and didn’t actually witness the alleged crimes, said the National Lawyers Guild and Detroit Justice Center attorney Rubina Mustafa. Instead of continuing to attempt to prosecute with shoddy evidence, the city earlier this year dropped nearly 300 more citations, but has still pursued dozens of charges against protest organizers. All told, 93% of Detroit cases have been dropped.

Among those still facing charges is the Detroit Will Breathe organizer Tristan Taylor, who said the mass arrests across the country are “all about intimidation” of people who vocally oppose police brutality: “It says something about the nature of policing when that’s a uniform tactic.”

Officers arrest a protester near the police station in Detroit, Michigan, on 30 May 2020.
Officers arrest a protester near the police station in Detroit, Michigan, on 30 May 2020. Photograph: Seth Herald/AFP/Getty Images

The mass arrests were also part of a public relations campaign by Duggan and the Detroit police chief, James Craig, to paint the protesters as violent agitators and undermine their messaging, a strategy used by police in cities across the nation, said Tyler Crawford, the National Lawyers Guild director of mass defense.

“What they try to do is spin it and say ‘Look at how unlawful protesters are as is evidenced by all of these arrests that we’ve made,’” he said. “Then they hope people have stopped paying attention after six, 10, 12 months when prosecutors say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to drop these charges because these people shouldn’t have been arrested.’”

In Dallas, where more than 95% of cases were not filed, police represent an exception. The department dropped about 675 charges stemming from one protest because “the spirit of service to which the Dallas police department is committed would not be exemplified by moving forward with charges,” leadership explained in an August report. Still, it sent nearly 200 charges to the prosecutor’s office, of which about 85% were dropped or had not been filed as of September, though a department spokesperson did not know the outcome of eight cases.

In Philadelphia, police sent over 1,700 charges to the city and the office of the district attorney, Larry Krasner. Mayor Jim Kenney and Krasner dropped or are poised to drop about 95% of the charges, including all ordinance violations. Krasner is handling a large portion of the more serious misdemeanors and felonies with a restorative justice program that involves dropping charges upon completion of the program. It includes a mix of meeting with victims, community service and referrals to job and education programs. Only about 80 of the most serious charges have so far been filed.

“Police were making arrests as a form of crowd control, so in many instances there were no criminal charges to file,” a Krasner spokesperson, Jane Roh, said. “In other instances, there was simply not enough information to proceed on opening a criminal case.”

The number of dropped cases are also relatively high in cities that witnessed more violence. In Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, more than 90% of cases were dropped by November, though a local Black Lives Matter leader told the Guardian that hundreds of charges that police made since then remain in legal limbo. Portland has also seen recent violent clashes between protesters and law enforcement. Still, only 15% of nearly 1,100 cases have been filed and 82% have been rejected by the Multnomah county prosecutor, Mike Schmidt.

Minneapolis state patrol arrest protesters on 7 October 2020.
Minneapolis state patrol arrest protesters on 7 October 2020. Photograph: Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty Images

In New York City, more than 5,000 summonses that police wrote citywide for low-level offenses were dismissed by a summons court, according to the court’s chief clerk. Though the precise percentage is unclear, the National Lawyers Guild attorney Gideon Oliver, who coordinated defense for many of those cited, said the “vast majority”, if not all, of summonses were or will be dismissed. Meanwhile, Brooklyn’s prosecutor dropped 83% of 136 more serious criminal cases, and Manhattan’s prosecutor dropped about 64% of nearly 1,000 cases.

The mass arrests overwhelmed already strained criminal justice systems by forcing them to contend with processing thousands of protesters. That resulted in delayed arraignments and kept high numbers of inmates crowded in small New York jails for up to days at a time during the pandemic, Crawford said.

“The police response created this whole additional public health crisis that wasn’t something people talked about much, but, in the moment, that was one of the biggest issues we were concerned about,” he said.

Moreover, forcing the criminal justice system to process thousands of cases based on flimsy evidence that probably would not result in prosecutions represented an enormous waste of tax dollars and time, observers said.

“That’s not what the government should be doing,” Eidelman said. “It points to an excessive use of governmental authority.”

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El Salvador ‘responsible for death of woman jailed after miscarriage’ | Global development

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The Inter-American court of human rights has ruled that El Salvador was responsible for the death of Manuela, a woman who was jailed in 2008 for killing her baby when she suffered a miscarriage.

The court has ordered the Central American country to reform its draconian policies on reproductive health.

The decision on Tuesday marked the first time an international court has ruled on El Salvador’s extreme abortion laws and was celebrated by women’s rights activists, who believe it could open doors for change across the region.

Since 1998, abortion in El Salvador has been banned without exception, even in cases of rape and incest. Over the past two decades, more than 180 women have been jailed for murder for having an abortion after suffering obstetric emergencies, according to rights groups.

The case of Manuela v El Salvador was brought after the 33-year-old mother of two from the countryside died from cancer after receiving inadequate medical diagnosis and treatment, leaving her two children orphaned. She had been serving a 30-year prison sentence for aggravated homicide after a miscarriage.

When Manuela – whose full name has never been made public in El Salvador – went to the hospital after miscarrying, staff failed to provide her with timely treatment and instead subjected her to verbal abuse and accused her of having an abortion, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Manuela was handcuffed to her bed and denied access to a lawyer while police interrogated her.

“There is no doubt that Manuela suffered an obstetric emergency,” the landmark court ruling stated. “Such situations, as they are medical conditions, cannot lead to a criminal sanction.”

The court also ruled that the state must pay reparations to Manuela’s family, and should develop comprehensive sexual education policies and guarantee doctor-patient confidentiality.

“The Inter-American court has done justice by recognising Manuela was another victim of an unjust legal context that originates in the absolute prohibition of abortion,” said Morena Herrera, at the Feminist Collective for Local Development, one of the parties in the case supporting Manuela’s family.

“Manuela’s story is a sad one, but it represents a change and becomes a path of justice and hope for all women in Latin America and the Caribbean who are criminalised for obstetric events.”

Most countries in the region respect the Inter-American court’s jurisdiction, opening the door for sweeping change, activists said.

“This is a huge advance for reproductive rights, not only in El Salvador but across Latin America,” said Catalina Martínez Coral, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights, another party in the case. “This is a standard we can apply to the constitutions and states across the region.”

Martínez Coral added that while the ruling was to be celebrated, the issue of poverty affecting access to reproductive rights remained a challenge.

“There are over 180 cases of women in jail, or that have been jailed, over these issues,” said Martínez Coral, who also worked as a litigator on the case against the Salvadorean state.

“What that means is we’re dealing with a state that criminalises women and, above all, criminalises poor women in the most rural and impoverished areas,” she said.

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EU commission unveils proposal to digitalise justice systems

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The European Commission unveiled on Wednesday a proposal to digitalise EU cross-border justice systems, aiming at making them more accessible and effective. Under the new draft law, the EU executive wants to tackle inefficiencies affecting cross-border judicial cooperation and barriers to access to justice in cross-border cases. Shifting paper-based communications to electronic formats would save up to €25m per year across the EU in postage and paper costs.

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Covid limits migration despite more people displaced by war and disasters | Global development

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The coronavirus pandemic had a radical effect on migration, limiting movement despite increasing levels of internal displacement from conflict and climate disasters, the UN’s International Organization for Migration said in a report on Wednesday.

Though the number of people who migrated internationally increased to 281 million in 2020 – 9 million more than before Covid-19 – the number was 2 million lower than expected without a pandemic, according to the report.

“We are witnessing a paradox not seen before in human history,” said IOM director general, António Vitorino. “While billions of people have been effectively grounded by Covid-19, tens of millions of others have been displaced within their own countries.”

Internal displacement caused by violence, conflict and disasters increased to 40.5 million from 31.5 million. Globally, the IOM said governments implemented a total of 108,000 restrictions on international travel, alongside internal restrictions on movement, disrupting migration during the pandemic.

Prior to the report’s release, Vitorino told IOM member states on Monday that international cooperation was needed to ensure people were not stripped of the option of migrating when they needed to.

He also pointed out that people from countries with low levels of vaccination could be excluded from emigrating. “We must acknowledge the deep impacts the Covid-19 pandemic has had for people on the move: people stranded in transit, families separated across borders, migrants left unemployed but unable to afford the return home,” said Vitorino.

“The resulting complex patchwork of measures, frequently changing in scope and application, has placed a chilling effect on cross-border mobility, particularly for those unvaccinated.”

The report said conditions were particularly harsh for people from developing countries working in the Middle East and south-east Asia, with the pandemic affecting their incomes and housing, while they were also often excluded from access to healthcare and welfare.

However, the feared 20% drop in remittances – which can be a key lifeline to poor families during crises – that was predicted by the World Bank in April 2020 did not materialise and had been much lower, at 2.4%. This might be partly related to people being forced to send money to their families through formal routes, the report suggested, because options such as carrying cash were blocked off, as well as many working in jobs on the frontline of the pandemic that continued despite lockdowns.

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