Sandra Bland Police Reform & Economic Justice Plan

Activist Sandra Bland died in the custody of Waller County, Texas police July 13, 2015.

Every 28 hours a Black person is killed by police, security guards or vigilantes. Police in the U.S. kill more citizens each year than all of the other developed countries combined. Police in China, a dictatorship 41/2 times the size of the U.S., killed 12 people in 2014. Police in the U.S. killed 1100 people in 2014 and 476 in the first five months of 2015. The police in this country killed more people in three days in July 2015 than cops killed in Germany, England, Spain, Switzerland and Iceland in 2014 combined. The United Nations Human Rights Council has denounced law enforcement in the U.S. for its failure to follow their recommendations.

Cops nationwide such as former LAPD officer Alex Salazar ( ), former Auburn, Alabama police officer Justin Hanners (, and members of the NYPD ( ) are all speaking out against police brutality, racism and corruption. A group of NYPD officers are suing the department over illegal arrest quotas.

Samuel Walker wrote a report that found Maryland police union contracts and officers’ bill of rights language impede accountability. Add to this biased district attorneys, an opaque grand jury process, and brutal, corrupt police officers are protected by a system that places them above the law. A holistic approach is required to address racial profiling and police violence in the U.S. This includes an urban policy plan which addresses economic issues and police containment of low income communities of color. Poverty and police brutality are both forms of state sponsored violence. Lack of economic opportunity forces urban community residents to engage in the underground economy, which brings them in contact with law enforcement. Addressing racial economic disparities is a key component of ending racial profiling and police violence. The so-called War on Drugs is actually a war on poor Black and Brown people. The disease of addiction is criminalized. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) is a national organization of police officers who have declared the drug war a failure. Gloucester Police Department Chief Leonard Campanello has launched a revolutionary program which treats drug addiction as a public health issue.

Police Union Contracts/Bill of Rights

Police union contract language, which includes officers’ bill of rights, impedes accountability. A provision regarding death/use of force investigations provides officers with up to ten days before they can be interviewed by investigators. Officers involved in the death or injury of citizens and any officers who are witnesses should be interviewed immediately and separately at the scene.

“Some police union contracts in the U.S. have provisions barring interviews with officers involved in use of force and other incidents for 48 hours. The Baltimore, Maryland, contract (and the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights) provide for a ten-day waiting period. Additionally, there is evidence that some police departments voluntarily delay interviews for 48 hours because of union pressure.

Police unions and their supporters claim there is ‘scientific evidence’ that a stressful incident impairs an officer’s memory and that ‘two sleep cycles’ (i.e., 48 hours) are required for that person’s memory to fully recover.

A report by Sam Walker, University of Nebraska at Omaha has found that there is no such scientific evidence. A systematic review of research by psychologists on the impact of stress on memory found no support for a 48-hour delay. The systematic review of 244 studies over 100 years found it a highly complex issue, with mixed findings.Walker’s report concludes that the police union claims for a 48-hour or longer waiting period are ‘inconsistent, hypocritical and self-serving.’ ” ~ Samuel Walker website

Misconduct Investigations/Disciplinary Process

Union contract/bill of rights language stipulates that a police officer or district attorney must investigate officers accused of misconduct, and that a three person panel including a peer police officer will hear an appeal on a finding of misconduct which could result in suspension or termination before the police chief decides on a course of action. Investigations should be conducted by an entity separate from the police department and the district attorney, who partners with the police on criminal cases. Appeals should take place after a decision on discipline is made. Peer police officers should not be involved in the appeal process, as this is an obvious conflict of interest. Police officers should have rights that are equal to those of community residents.

“First, it is unreasonable that such a hearing occur before the police chief has imposed discipline in the case. (The right to an appeal of discipline after it has been imposed is an established matter of due process.) In practice, the Hearing Board provides an additional step in the disciplinary process that is an opportunity for mitigating the seriousness of the alleged misconduct. A proper disciplinary process involves the internal affairs (IA) or professional standards bureau (PSB) investigating allegations of misconduct, including citizen complaints, determining whether misconduct occurred, and forwarding that finding to the chief for disciplinary action. Second, including a peer officer as a member of the Hearing Board serves to protect misconduct. This is a particularly serious matter in departments that have troubled histories of a pattern of misconduct. By giving the rank and file a direct voice in disciplinary investigations, the police union contract and Maryland law necessarily lowers the standards for police conduct. The peer officer member of a Hearing Board has a vested interest in shielding all officers from meaningful investigations and discipline. In passing, it should be noted that the Maryland statute does not specify whether decisions of a Hearing Board require a unanimous vote or may be approved by a 2-1 vote. This is an ambiguity that creates uncertainty, possible disagreements, and possible appeals.” ~ Samuel Walker website

The disciplinary process should remain transparent. Police departments should not be allowed to expunge the records of police officers who are accused of misconduct.

The police controlling dashboard and body camera videos of use of force incidents resulting in injury or death is a conflict of interest. A special prosecutor should have custody of the video. Officers involved in these incidents should not be allowed to view the video prior to giving a statement to investigators. A special prosecutor and the victim and/or victim’s family/loved ones are the parties who should view the video. The victim’s family/loved ones should have veto power on any decisions regarding release of the video to the public. Body camera videos should be live streamed.
50% of police killings involve people with mental illness. Officers who use excessive force against mentally ill people or individuals in crisis, especially when children are present, should face enhanced criminal sanctions. De-escalation should be the focus in these situations.
Treating Drug Addiction as a Public Health Issue

The Gloucester Police Department drug program model has taken a revolutionary approach to addressing drug addiction. Individuals who bring their drugs and paraphernalia to the Gloucester police station will not face criminal charges; they will instead be immediately entered into treatment. Heroin overdoses have decreased since the Gloucester program was launched. Police departments should adopt the Gloucester model.

New Deal 2.0

U.S. Census data shows that child poverty, the poverty rate among families, the amount of people whose income is below the federal poverty level and the number of residents without health insurance in Connecticut have all increased since 2003. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) perpetuates the cycle of poverty, emphasizing low wage, dead end jobs over education and job skills training that will make clients more marketable, and increase their chances of obtaining gainful employment that will lead to financial independence. Black and Latino unemployment rates are at Depression era levels. The jobless rate among Black males age 18-25 is as high as 50%. Poverty and lack of economic opportunity fuel gun violence in urban neighborhoods. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program employed over 8 million people at its peak, pulling the U.S. out of the Great Depression. A New Deal type of program could deliver the same results in low income communities of color and poor rural areas.

Rocky Anderson, the Justice Party’s 2012 candidate for president, included in his platform a job creation initiative modeled after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Work Progress Administration program. Anderson described his plan during the Democracy Now! Expanding the Debate special, which aired in conjunction with the October 3, 2012 presidential debate between President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney.

“During the last 43 months we have had more than 8% unemployment. It is the only time in this nation’s history that we have had a president that has presided even over three years of over 8% unemployment. There are things that have been proven in our history to work. We could have put in place, and it needs to be put in immediately, a WPA Works Progress Administration kind of program where we are investing in the future by building up our nation’s rapidly deteriorating infrastructure, putting people to work. In the WPA project they put 8.5 million people to work. We could be putting 20 million to 25 million people to work and making that kind of investment in our nation’s future.”

The UFE State of the Dream report found that funding from Obama’s 2009 job stimulus initiative did not reach urban areas and focused on industries that mostly employs white people.

“Most of the job-creation projects in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and other federal initiatives are investments in infrastructure and transportation, ‘green’ building retrofits, and pass-through funds that help states maintain schools and other important programs. All are worthy, but there is no evidence that the jobs these initiatives create are going to the communities most in need. In some cases, the opposite is true.
• The Associated Press found that, across the U.S., stimulus money for transportation was directed away from where the economic conditions are most dire. More money went to areas with higher rates of employment.
• The New York University report Race, Gender and The Recession reported that federal recovery money is creating more jobs in construction and retail than any other industries. These are industries that traditionally have not been major job sources for African American communities.
If the rain falls on relatively well-watered areas of economic opportunity, it does little to revive the driest economic landscapes in our country. Targeted approaches are much more likely to be effective. Prioritizing our nation’s highest-unemployment communities is precisely the way to end the downward economic spiral in those places and start a real, broad-based recovery for the entire nation.
Congress must identify communities with the highest unemployment rates and target job-creation initiatives toward those communities, whether by census tract, zip code, or other method. This policy direction will lift up working-class white communities while narrowing the racial income gap. Congress should also ensure that as many of those jobs as possible pay a living wage. This report shows that broad-spectrum, universal solutions to the economic crisis will neither solve the pervasive racial wealth divide nor end gaping racial differences in income. We need job-creation and foreclosure-prevention programs that are targeted to communities most in need, including those with the highest unemployment and foreclosure rates. Such focused strategies will not only help close the racial wealth divide, but will lift up working-class families of all races.”

A federally funded, state WPA kind of program monitored through equity assessments would ensure that program dollars would reach low income communities of color in Connecticut. UFE explains how equity assessments would function.

“To ensure that stimulus funds reach working class and disenfranchised communities, equity assessments should be required for all federal spending. A proper equity assessment will track where funds go, what jobs are created and in what communities. Demographic data on race, ethnicity, gender, class, and geography will be required for an equity assessment. This information will help future government programs reach the disenfranchised and the working class, the communities who must be at the center of an economic recovery.”

Racial Economic Disparity

Blacks/Latinos currently earn about 60 cents for every dollar whites make, and possess about 10 cents of net wealth for every dollar whites have. Houses are the primary wealth asset for Blacks/Latinos. The toxic mortgage scam that contributed to the 2008 economic collapse disproportionately targeted people of color, who subsequently have lost their homes at a higher rate than whites. UFE recommends a plan to build wealth in low income communities of color.

Foreclosures – Draining the Wealth Reservoir:

Foreclosures continue to rise alarmingly. There were an estimated 3.4 million foreclosures in 2009 “Due to the rise in homeowner walk-a-ways, lack of forced bank modifications, growing unemployment figures… Housing Predictor forecasts foreclosures will now top 17 million homes through 2014.”

In addition to rampant unemployment, communities of color experience higher foreclosure rates due to racially targeted predatory lending, in which virtually every sector of the mortgage industry participated. A 2006 study that controlled for income and credit worthiness found that non-whites were significantly more likely than whites to receive high cost loans.

Revisiting the State of the Dream 2008: Foreclosed

The wealth-stripping effects of the recession and foreclosure crisis were documented in UFE’s 2008 State of the Dream: Foreclosed, which showed that predatory lending practices were stripping wealth from communities of color. People of color were more than three times more likely to have subprime loans than whites. Commonly, lenders gave people of color loans with less advantageous payment rates, even when they qualified for better ones. Lenders failed to provide those applying for a home loan with information on the strenuous repayment schedule. Lenders inserted stiff fines for people to pay to get out of a subprime loan if they discovered it was too expensive. Since homes are the main form of wealth for working-class families and especially for communities of color, these practices drained their wealth reservoirs to dangerously low levels.

Source: RealtyTrac reports, with NCRC projecting foreclosures for December 2009 (see Endnotes in report for full citation).
2007 2008 2009
In three years, there have been more than 7.1 million foreclosures in the U.S.

3,400,000 (estimate)

Over half of the mortgages to African Americans in recent years were high-cost subprime loans. This predatory lending formed the epicenter of the first stage of the foreclosure crisis. Significantly, more than 60 percent of those subprime loans went to borrowers whose credit ratings qualified them for lower-cost prime loans, according to a 2008 Wall Street Journal study.
The disproportionate damage from foreclosures compounds the economic challenges that communities of color face and makes their economic recovery more difficult. A recent study shows that workers laid off in an economic downturn can take up to 20 years to replace their lost earnings. Replacing the wealth stripped from communities by predatory lending and foreclosure could take even longer. And while some economic indicators are improving, unemployment and the foreclosure crisis continue to do long-lasting damage to the nation’s economy.
Are we narrowing or widening the racial wealth divide? Arresting the foreclosure crisis is a critical first step toward restoring health to the national economy. The housing industry employs millions of workers and provides the property tax base of cities across the country. Housing is also a main pillar of the nation’s credit markets; while that pillar remains shaky, credit cannot fully recover.
The irresponsible and predatory lending practices of our nation’s financial institutions directly led to the current foreclosure crisis that is stripping wealth from communities of color at alarming rates. The Obama Administration and Congress missed opportunities in 2009 to stop foreclosures, stabilize the economy, and start rebuilding wealth in the communities that the predatory mortgage industry targeted. Our government has an important role in protecting communities from the destructive actions of any party, be it the breaking and entering of a common burglar or the deceptive actions of the
mortgage industry. On this front, the government has failed.
While the Administration and Congress set up several programs to stem the tide of foreclosures, these efforts have been largely ineffective in getting the mortgage industry to renegotiate most mortgages.
Actions that could have been taken include:
• Declare an immediate moratorium on foreclosures. This would have stabilized housing markets, stopped the vicious spiral of wealth stripping in communities of color, and given the financial industry an incentive to renegotiate predatory loans.
• Give bankruptcy judges the power to lower mortgages for insolvent homeowners. This would have kept millions of families in their homes.
• Make mortgages more affordable by requiring cooperation from financial institutions with the affordability programs, including loan modifications, set up by the Administration.
• Strongly regulate financial markets and protect consumers. This would prevent future financial market failures that strip wealth and jobs from all communities and take down the nation’s economy.

Poverty and the Need for TANF Reform in Connecticut

by Mary Sanders

The candidates running for office this year are all avoiding the “P” word! Poverty is a hot potato that causes candidates to cringe when questioned about their agenda to improve the lives of those most in need. For many single parents who are unemployed or underemployed, public assistance, also known as ‘welfare’, makes the difference in meeting their basic survival needs. It used to be that people could get help as long as they needed it, there were also programs available to prepare people to become self- sufficient. What we have now does not meet the needs of families and individuals living in poverty. The candidates for public office, all the way up to the governor’s seat, do not seem to understand or care enough to change things.

When President Bill Clinton’s administration announced the overhaul of the welfare system, what resulted was a federal maximum of 5 years of assistance throughout a person’s life. The message was, grab any job and don’t use up all your time in case you need it down the road! Even in those states with the maximum of 5 years, this is problematic. Imagine CT where you are only allowed 21 months and if you qualify a couple six-month extensions. The goal is to get as many people off assistance as possible during the year and look good to the feds. I know that someone analyzing the data may say, “CT has lowered the number of AFDC cases – Aid to Families with Dependent Children (now TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) households by 10%.” But because important information is not attached to those closed cases, they neglect to say – or may not even know – that 3% of the clients are gainfully employed and 7% got kicked off the program for a variety of reasons. After years of President Reagan’s demonization of “welfare queens”, CT’s welfare reform created an illogical timeline of activity that Department of Social Services caseworkers and the subcontractors are expected to enforce. The program used to be Job Connection and is now Jobs First. In the old program, recipients were assessed for potential return to school and/or vocational training. They were asked what they were good at and what career they would like to pursue and, if reasonable, their DSS social worker, the employment counselor and the school would work as a team to make sure nothing interfered with their training and job placement. This was changed to recipients spending a year looking for work before education or training is considered. It used to be that individuals needed a high school diploma to get a decent job; now that is not enough.

The last 2 decades have seen the largest growth of income for the elite few and the worst decline and climbing poverty rates for too many. And it’s not just that there are more poor people, it’s that more people are experiencing a deeper kind of poverty. As “cash assistance” has ended for many, and people only have their food stamps, studies have shown that families exchange food benefits to buy their kids’ shoes and other household necessities. Unscrupulous storeowners are complicit in this deprivation of food for the kids. They pay pennies on the dollar for whatever is left on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) card. Parents do whatever they need to do when cash benefits end. This system is cruel and punitive; there is no way to get out of the vicious cycle of poverty. For adults with no dependent children it’s even worse, as city welfare departments were all closed in favor of the new State Administered General Assistance program. SAGA is a misnomer as little assistance is actually given. Recipients used to receive about $300 cash monthly in addition to their food stamps & Medicaid. At least recipients could rent a room from someone. Now there is no cash assistance, resulting in extremely harsh circumstances for anyone who loses their job who has no unemployment benefits coming in. Lack of housing assistance is a huge problem and many new homeless are seeking some type of relief. The new 211 shelter line has at least 3 or 4 weeks of wait time for even an assessment and possible placement in shelters. This is not a good system for those seeking employment & stability. This is especially true for the able-bodied but long-term unemployed. That’s another story for another day but housing vouchers are what’s needed, so people can pay a portion of their income and have the stability they need to work towards self-sufficiency.

In spite of all the spending that goes to meet the DSS goals, pending cases sit on piled- high desks waiting for review, clients have no way to pay rent, buy food, get medical care, get childcare assistance, etc. Applications are frequently lost, and it’s almost impossible to reach workers by phone. Caseworkers are overloaded and cannot provide the services they would like to for their clients. Restrictions on what type of supports, training opportunities, and other services can be provided tie the hands of workers. On top of all the restrictions and the time limits, due to former Gov. Rowland’s privatization of the Jobs First program, state workers are no longer doing the case management they used to. Now it’s up to private nonprofits, who are charged with getting X number of participants off the rolls each year. Get out there and prove you went to see 25 potential employers, filled out applications and got the names of the people you saw. Recipients must attend the workshops on how to fill out applications, how to interview, how to dress, etc., whether you’ve never worked or have an extensive work history and just need a decent job.

The benefit of 1 or 2 years of schooling would raise recipients’ potential earnings. If people could get the proper supports and enter training paid by the Department of Labor or DSS, they might have a decent chance to become self-sufficient but those opportunities are few and far between. It’s no wonder so many low-income people are lured into student debt trying to attend ‘private educational institutions’ that offer high cost trainings to anyone that will sign the loan notes. Unfortunately, many people are falsely led to believe their training will be subsidized then all of a sudden they are signing off on loan applications. Many of them are unprepared and not able to complete successfully; they still owe thousands of dollars. Someone needs to do something about these for-profit schools and those that have changed their status to non-profit are no better. Lives are ruined and children are even more deprived when these predators take advantage of low-income folks seeking training opportunities that they’ll be repaying for the next decade or so.

For those TANF clients who have found employment; how about not terminating people’s benefits as soon as they become employed and letting them put a little something away for a rainy day? Clients are afraid to accept any job that will cause them to lose their benefits because these days jobs are temporary, do not provide benefits, and most do not pay livable wages. Don’t say, “Well they can get back on assistance if they need to”. It’s not that easy! If an individuals send their application in by mail, it’s frequently misplaced and needs to be done again. Forget about getting through to DSS workers by phone; clients can be on hold 30 minutes to 2 hours and may get to speak to the right person. Most low-income people have free government phones with very limited monthly minutes. Those could be used up in a couple calls to DSS. I know the department is overwhelmed by all the new cases being opened, but there has to be a way to process people’s redetermination forms so that they do not constantly have their benefits cut off. Many of them end up at our food pantry asking for groceries and the toilet paper we purchase for distribution. It’s a damn shame that in our wealthy state, we cannot properly administer mandated entitlement programs that provide for the basic needs of our residents. Apparently, the computer system in place is programmed to automatically terminate people’s benefits on certain dates, if a worker does not physically enter data to stop that from happening. That means that if the worker is behind, and has 100 redetermination forms piled up on a desk, whose due dates have past, all those cases will automatically be closed. People who were expecting to receive their cash or food benefits are then in a crisis situation, and when told they did not send in their redetermination forms, will just send them over again, creating an even bigger pile. More people comply than do not; therefore, it would make sense to de-program that automatic cutoff feature and have workers physically enter data to close any cases that warrant termination, either for noncompliance or eligibility reasons.

CT was already cited by the feds for their inability to get SNAP applications processed quickly enough and for disqualifying too many who actually qualified. People should not be going hungry, especially the kids. Their parents should have decent employment but if they do need assistance, their food stamps also shouldn’t run out mid-month. In another case, the young mother with a 4-year-old shouldn’t have been cut off of her cash benefits after 21 months when she hadn’t finished preparing for her HS exam. Now she sleeps on the couch at her mom’s house with her son on a cot near her. Someone should give her a housing voucher, daycare, a good educational/vocational program and help her, not punish her for missing an appointment and denying her extension. I opted our agency out of participating in the Jobs First model; I didn’t want to be part of that because I knew that most people needed more time. We run a food pantry and have a social worker but we also have English and GED classes and help people go to college. I don’t want to send people out to look for work if they have education and training needs. Some of the regulations have eased up a little, allowing people minimal training & education opportunities, but the majority of recipients of public assistance are still denied real vocational training or college, which would truly help towards self-sufficiency.

Tell our public officials that money needs to be allocated for the hiring of additional caseworkers to handle the backlog; we need timely processing of applications for assistance. We also need to be able to speak with caseworkers directly and not be relegated to a phone system that routes calls to full voice mailboxes. Tell them that more time needs to be allowed on public assistance while folks are going through adult education and vocational training or higher education so they can reach self- sufficiency (New York City recently implemented reforms, see our Resources section below). SNAP benefits also need to be increased, as food prices continue to climb and more housing vouchers need to be issued for all municipalities, not just urban areas. Those becoming homeless or jobless are flocking to the cities in search of services that are already stretched thin. Additionally, a committee of diverse stakeholders should meet regularly to assess the progress the department is making towards the goal of true client self-sufficiency. The department should not take credit for reducing welfare rolls when half of those exited simply were deemed non-compliant and were therefore removed. There are hungry children out there whom the department has forgotten about.

At the federal level, we already know that poor people are not a priority, and military and corrections systems are more fully funded than education, health and social services. Government officials believe it is more important to avoid taxing the rich and corporations, than to make sure kids have their needs met. It is time we rethink our priorities and come up with ways to protect our most vulnerable. There have been a few active grassroots community groups and non-profits trying to improve the lives of families living in poverty, a couple of them in Hartford have been around for years, organizing and meeting with legislators. The Community Party is also part of the discussion and we have some ideas on how to come up with the money needed. Plans to address hunger, affordable housing, healthcare, and education for low-income CT residents are the topics I want to see on the candidates’ platforms. Why aren’t they discussing these critical issues? Why are they afraid of the “P” word?

We will continue to enhance this plan in the coming months. Follow the Community Party on Twitter for updates. We will present this policy paper to legislators.

David Samuels

Contributors: Laurie Valdez, Wendy Bueno, Janet Frazao-Conaci

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: