Vol. 8 #6 April 2, 2017

What’s Going On?

This newsletter comes out every other week during the Iowa Legislative Session.  Many people won’t realize it, but last week was a scheduled week for the newsletter to be sent.  We held off a week so that we could be timely with bills that remain alive.

With less than a month to go in this legislative session (hopefully) the following bills remain eligible for debate (not every bill is listed; only a select few that are of interest to JRC) (not listed in any particular order):

House File 579: See Funny Sentencing Reform below.

House File 604: Establishes a motor vehicle insurance verification program and establishes fees.  JRC OPPOSES.

Senate File 403:  A bill making the failure to return rental property a crime.  JRC OPPOSES. See The Wrong Use of Tax Dollars in the previous edition of the JRC Newsletter.

Senate File 234: Changing the status of driving while looking at a text message, email, playing a game, etc., from a secondary offense to a primary offense.  JRC OPPOSES.

Senate File 416:  This is a bill relating to the authority of cities to regulate and restrict the occupancy of residential rental property. See A Good Opinion On HF 161.  JRC SUPPORTS.

House File 296:  A bill for an act relating to controlled substances, including by temporarily designating substances as controlled substances, modifying the penalties for imitation controlled substances and certain controlled substances, modifying the controlled substances listed in schedules I, III, and IV, and providing penalties. JRC OPPOSES.

Senate File 415;  A bill for an act providing immunity from certain criminal offenses and prohibiting certain disciplinary sanctions for persons who report, seek, or require emergency assistance for alcohol overdoses or protection from certain crimes, and modifying penalties. This is better known as the “Good Samaritan Law”.  Unfortunately, it covers only alcohol and not drugs.  JRC SUPPORTS.

Senate File 446:  Forfeiture reform.  It doesn’t go near as far as it should, or as far as we would like, but it IS an improvement over the current law and practices. JRC SUPPORTS.

Funny Sentencing Reform

House File 579 is a bill that is called “sentencing reform”.  However, is it?  The middle of the bill does address the matter of mandatory minimum sentences and eliminates several of those requirements.  It doesn’t eliminate all mandatory minimum sentences, but it’s a good start.  That is all we say about the bill that is good.  The rest of the bill stinks!

Public safety was ignored as a provision was added to the original bill, House File 377.  That provision sounds like the old mantra “tough on crime”, but it’s senseless, just like most “tough on crime” proposals of the previous 30 years.  The provision prevents a person convicted of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer to serve every bit of the sentence imposed.  Tough, huh?  Did no one consider that the person will walk out of prison at some time (quite possible depending upon the defendant’s age at conviction), without any outside supervision.  All that hate and anger that has built up over the years will need to find a way out.  At that point in time, what does a potential cop killer have left to fear?

Justice Reform Consortium opposes HF 579 for several other reasons, one of those reasons has us wondering where in the world the Iowa County Attorneys Association, or the Attorney General, or both, came up with a 5:1 ratio on the disparity between crack/powder cocaine.  There is nothing scientific or rational about the numbers that appear to have been pulled from thin air.  Alternatively, the Iowa Public Safety Advisory Board has studied the matter and recommended that the ratio between the two pharmacologically identical substances be 5:3.

Since its first report to the Iowa Legislature in December of 2010, the Iowa Public Safety Advisory Board has continuously recommended a ratio of 5:3 between threshold amounts of crack/cocaine.  The report, highlighted in the previous sentence, contains the following:

PSAB decision:

Amend IA Code 124.401 for the amounts of crack cocaine.

  1. 124.401(a)(3) to greater than 125 grams
  2. 124.401(b)(3) to greater than 35 grams and not more than 125 grams
  3. 124.401(c)(3) to equal to or less than 35 grams

The PSAB voted to approve the above legislation, which reduces the disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine penalties, by a vote of 9 in favor and 6 against. Further discussion led to a consensus by the PSAB that the amounts and attendant penalties for the two forms of cocaine should be equalized. However, the PSAB disagrees on how this should be accomplished.

The Specific Crimes subcommittee is chaired by Michelle Leonard, Dallas Center Police Chief. Members of the committee are Sherri Soich, Stephanie Fawkes-Lee, Kim Cheeks, Gary Kendall, Clarence Key, Jr., Ross Loder, Lettie Prell, and Tomas Rodriguez.

The subcommittee discussed the current disparity in sentences between powder and crack cocaine. Information provided to the committee included a recommendation from the Department of Corrections, data on prison admissions by race, and data on drug seizure amounts.

The Department of Corrections recommended that the threshold amounts of crack be increased for the various penalty class levels for the following reasons:

  1. There is no rational basis to punish crack cocaine offenses more severely than powder cocaine offenses. Numerous studies have shown that the physiological and psychotropic effects of crack and powder cocaine are the same, and the drugs are now widely acknowledged as pharmacologically identical. Dr. Glen Hanson, Ph.D., D.D.S., Acting Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in testimony to the U.S. Sentencing Commission on February 25, 2002 provided the following: “Cocaine, in any form, produces the same effects once it reaches the brain. It produces similar physiological and psychological effects, but the onset, intensity and duration of its effects are related directly to the method of use and how rapidly cocaine enters the brain. Cocaine inhalation became popular because it produces the quickest and highest peak blood levels in the brain without the risks attendant to IV use such as exposure to HIV from contaminated needles. Inhalation or smoking involves the inhalation of cocaine vapor or smoke into the lungs, where absorption into the bloodstream is as rapid as by injection.”
  2. In Iowa, prohibited acts involving more than 10 grams but less than 50 grams of crack carry the same penalty as offenses involving more than 100 but less than 500 grams of powder cocaine.
  3. It may assist in reducing the disproportionate incarceration of African-Americans.


Guest Opinion

The following opinion is written by a Davenport resident who let Justice Reform Consortium know about a brutal incident in that city after JRC wrote about the Davenport Police Department’s efforts to get a law passed pertaining to eluding “an official law enforcement vehicle”.  The following is the opinion of the unnamed author and does not necessarily reflect the views of JRC.

As I’ve watched the details and thoughts and opinions about this incident pour out over the last week, I have to ask a few questions. 1. Where is the humanity? 2. What will it take to (and why do we have to) prove the inherent humanity of the black body? 3. Has the slave patrol ever ended?  If so, how have we normalized slave patrol tactics in police engagement of the minority community?

Now, I will have to preface this statement with, I have not watched the entire video, the first few minutes have emotionally wrecked me and I could not bring myself to finish watching it.  Unfortunately for the young man and his girlfriend, they could not press pause and turn it off, because they lived it.  This overwhelmingly traumatic incident will forever be embedded in their psyche and will influence not only their interaction with law enforcement, but their interactions with everyone else.  And for that, they have my deepest sympathies and I will be praying for them.

Unfortunately, I’ve already heard people who will never be subjected to racialized profiling and anti-black police violence stand up and say that the police did everything correctly, and that it was this man’s own fault that his jaw was broken in three places and that he will now have to undergo reconstructive surgery of his face.  And, the fact that the police released this “raw” video leads me to believe that they share a similar perspective as these people.

The problem with this mentality is this, there is a thought that in order to be treated as though you are a human being, deserving the respect that is due to your fellow man, you have to be a perfect human being.  By perfect I mean, you have to be college educated, wealthy, no criminal record and meek and mild mannered.  Unfortunately, everyone does not fit into these neat little boxes that society has identified as acceptable and because of this, we have allowed ourselves to accept that the failure to fit in these boxes means that you are “less than” and by being “less than” you are not entitled to the treatment that is bestowed upon those who fit within these criteria.  More importantly, the U.S. constitution does not require that basic human rights be respected by the government, it is usually only afforded if a person meet such superficial criteria discussed above. But, where is our humanity?  Why don’t we challenge the mistreatment of our fellow man?  The beauty of mankind is that we are all different.  And despite our differences we are supposed to love one another, but that is not what I see.  What I see is willful ignorance, implicit and explicit bias and a lack of empathy.  Because for some reason, some people think that because someone has a criminal record (at another time we can discuss the structural racism that has recreated slavery within the criminal justice system through strategic and intentional segregation in the American society, effectively corralling certain people in certain areas to more effectively target them for strategic disenfranchisement and dehumanization) they are not entitled to equal treatment and it is okay to view them with suspicion and interact with them in a manner that would be wholly unacceptable to members of the majority.

It is also important to note that even when certain members of our society are “ideal citizens” this has not and will not protect them from the racially biased views and interactions that leads to violent engagements with the police or even deaths of those civilians.

But do we ever stop to ask why?  Again, I ask where is our humanity?  Where is the caring and kindness for your fellow man?  Why do you excuse bad behavior by the majority towards the minority? I have two theories, the first is that too many of you are comfortable in the silence and know deep, deep down these things will almost certainly never happen to you or your families. My second theory (which is actually supported by empirical evidence) is that some of you default to your own implicit biases when you see stories like this. Because many of you have grown up in a world where the police have been helpful, and kind and supportive to your safety and the safety of people that look like you. How nice that must be, and I mean that honestly. I look forward to the day I am afforded the privilege to view the police as a source for human aid, and not a source of raw fear and terror. Perhaps it’s also because you too fear “those people”, therefore, it is totally acceptable that they are dehumanized for the sake of the majority’s comfort.  And do you ever stop to think about how constant micro and macro aggressions impact the psyche of these impacted groups?  Literally every segment of American society has been designed to exclude them, except prison, but they are expected to gracefully navigate this system and excel.

Do we ever stop to consider how if you devoted half of the effort that you exert to defend the actions of those who are in the wrong to dismantling structural oppression in American society how much further we could have advanced our society? How much you yourself would benefit from strengthened human rights?  Because stopping injustice is not done in a vacuum, it takes the community, coming together and demanding that we treat one another the way that we would like to be treated to stop the injustice that we are witnessing.

Now, to my next question, did the slave patrol ever end? (Do you know the history of that?)  Because I’m thinking that if the slave patrol has truly ended, we as a society should take issue with the police summarily stopping someone and questioning them essentially about why they are outside. People are allowed to be outside, you do not have to explain why you’re outside.   The police are not entitled to know what this young lady was doing out at night, they are not entitled to know her cousin’s name, they are not entitled to know where her cousin lives, they are not entitled to know where they are on their way to. It is none of their damn business what these two were out doing, that’s the beauty of living in a free society, you can come and go as you please. And exercising your right to do so, should not subject you to scrutiny. Not wanting to answer questions that they have no right ask, should not result in you laying in a hospital bed. Further, the fact that someone can say that this seems like a perfectly acceptable encounter, means that they have accepted that these two people are somehow lesser beings who are not entitled to their constitutional rights, because I don’t know how blowing a stop sign gives the officer cause to investigate the passenger, is there a belief that he was somehow operating the vehicle from the passenger’s seat?   Anyone who is willing to stand and say that this young man has caused his own injury is basically saying that he’s not entitled to humanity, they are saying that he has no rights, they are saying that the slave patrol has never ended, they are saying that he has no right to his person. They are giving an excuse for people who are in a position of authority and power, to abuse that authority and power and to mistreat people.  Effectively, what they are doing is giving away someone else’s rights, while maintaining their own, because I can surely bet that if they were in this person’s position they would be indignant, they’d be outraged, and they would be vocal about it.  Just as vocal as they were about this being this young man’s fault.  And I think that the saddest part of it is that they don’t recognize their own privilege to be able to step out and comment on a problem that will never hit home for them because it will never be them.

For those people, I say this.  You will never understand the fear that is instilled in the minority community at the hands of the police. The people whose salary we are helping to pay.  You will never have the fear of believing that every time you leave the house you could be killed by the very people who are supposed to serve and protect you. Because that will never be your truth or your burden I will kindly ask that you sit down and shut up, because you are not helping anyone, you are making matters worse for a lot of people. You are adding voice and support to a system that literally causes the deaths of people on an arbitrary and ignorant basis. You are condoning injustice in the name of the equality, you are condoning a lack of humanity, you are condoning the furtherance of the slave patrol, you are a part of the problem and you should see yourself as such.


In the matter of the article above, the United States Supreme Court has Relisted* Lewis v. Vasquez ,16-805, for its March 31, 2017 conference.  We will not know until this week if the Court will accept the case for further review.  Below are the issues in Lewis v. Vaquez:

Issues: (1) Whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in a divided 2-1 decision, incorrectly narrowed qualified immunity and failed to faithfully apply the Supreme Court’s precedents when it held that officers clearly lacked reasonable suspicion for the brief detention of a driver after a valid traffic stop until a drug detection dog arrived and alerted to the driver’s car; and (2) whether the 10th Circuit erred by doing precisely what the Supreme Court instructed lower courts not to do in United States v. Arvizu, which was to use a divide-and-conquer approach to reasonable suspicion and proceed to dismiss individual factors as innocuous in isolation rather than consider all factors collectively, i.e., the totality of the circumstances.

* When a case is “relisted,” that means that it is set for reconsideration at the Justices’ next Conference.  Unlike a hold, this will show up on the case’s electronic docket.  A relist can mean several things, including the fairly straightforward prospect that one or more Justices wants to take a closer look at the case; that one or more Justices is trying to pick up enough votes to grant review (four are needed); that the Justices are writing a summary reversal (that is, a decision that the lower court opinion was so wrong that the Court can decide the case on the merits without briefing or oral argument); or that one or more Justices are writing a dissent from the decision to deny review.  http://www.scotusblog.com/2013/06/frequently-asked-questions-orders/

Selected links:

http://www.msn.com/en-us/money/markets/for-whites-across-america-deaths-of-despair-are-rising/ar-BByDYIj?li=BBnb7Kz&ocid=mailsignout For whites across America, deaths of despair are rising www.msn.com  Alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide are driving up mortality rates for less-educated whites.  Aimee Picchi.  CBS News. March 24, 2017.

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