After the sentencing hearing for Marissa Alexander's plea bargain, Justice Outreach founder Mark O'Mara published an oped on CNN.com calling for the repeal of minimum mandatory sentencing laws. Below is an excerpt from that oped. You can read the rest on CNN.com»
Minimum mandatory sentencing takes discretion away from judges and gives it to prosecutors. While it is appropriate for prosecutors to have discretion over who they prosecute and what charges they pursue, minimum mandatory sentencing gives them a power that can be too easily abused. Prosecutors can use the threat of extreme minimum mandatory sentences to strong-arm defendants into plea deals. This is what happened in the Marissa Alexander case, and it compromised her right to due process simply because the risk was too great to chance a conviction at trial.
Minimum mandatory laws are politically popular with "tough-on-crime" advocates. But the "tough-on-crime" flag waving that makes for great talking points during an election ignores the day-to-day difficult realities judges and defense attorneys face, as well as the effect it has on the lives of the people who get caught in the system.
This is not a call to go light on crime; this a call to be reasonable about sentencing. We can keep our tough sentencing guidelines, but we need to let our judges be judges. We need to eliminate minimum mandatory sentencing laws.
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama pledged $263 million to procure body cameras and training for up to 50,000 police officers. On Wednesday, a grand jury declined to charge the New York Police Department officer whose chokehold contributed to the death of Eric Garner -- an incident captured in full on video. Unsurprisingly, Thursday brought cries of "what's the use?" After all, an officer walked even though there is a video of the killing.
So, body cameras must not make any difference, right?
Wrong. The fact is that even though the grand jury decided not to charge Officer Daniel Pantaleo over Garner's death, having a video of the incident has still had a huge impact -- without the video, the story wouldn't be leading the headlines, and protesters wouldn't have assembled to demand change.
The Police Foundation conducted an experiment with the Rialto Police Department in California. They suspected that if officers wore body cameras on patrol, it would decrease use of force incidents. To test the hypothesis, they set up a control group of officers without cameras and a test group of officers with the body cameras, and they compared the incident rates with a baseline established during the previous year. For both the control group and the test group, use of force incidents dropped compared to the baseline, but incidents for the test group with the cameras dropped much more dramatically. Cops wearing body cameras used less force less frequently, and they were far less likely to initiate physical confrontations.
At Justice Outreach, we’ll be looking for more studies like this to demonstrate whether body cameras are effective in reducing use of force incidents, and we will be advocating for wide adoption of body cameras for police forces across the country.
Some of the opposition we encounter when we talk about bullying -- especially non-physical bullying -- is that kids need to “toughen up.” The adage is “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” The truth is that verbal abuse is often a precursor to physical abuse, and the emotional trauma inflicted by verbal abuse very often lasts much longer than scratches, bruises, and even broken bones.
Justice Outreach as co-sponsored the HurtWords.com project. Photographer Rich Johnson teamed up with professional makeup artists to create a series of images that illustrate the invisible pain caused by bullying and verbal abuse. A host of models each chose a “hurt word” that they identified with, and the makeup artists painted a burn or bruise on the model, working the chosen word into the simulated wound. The resulting photographs proved both stunning and emotionally arresting.
We made the photographs available for use by anyone who wanted to stand up against bullying, child abuse, and domestic violence. The response has been amazing. The director of a Children’s Services department in a rural county has lined the hallways of the office with these images, so social workers can be reminded to take verbal abuse seriously. In Scotland, these images were used in a poster campaign to raise awareness of a support line for victims of abuse. In Alaska, a mental health counselor uses these images to talk to men convicted of domestic violence about how damaging verbal abuse can be. We have dozens of more stories, from places around the world.
During a recent trip to the University of North Florida to present the TalkingRace Project, Mark O'Mara sat down with a student journalist to talk about some of the pillars of the Justice Outreach.
In the wake of the Michael Dunn verdict, Mark O'Mara joined Dr. JeffriAnne Wilder at the University of North Florida to talk about the TalkingRace Project. The even spurred the submission of several race stories that have contributed significantly to the project.
An honest discussion about race is difficult to have in America, because race is still taboo.
At least, the fear that a misstep might be interpreted as racist inhibits many of us from having a conversation. Most would agree that racism is the deep wound that has marred our nation since before its conception. While we have made great strides since the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, we have a long way to go before we reconcile the gap that exists in racial equality.
An honest discussion about race, therefore, is a critical first step in identifying and resolving the issues that prevent us from finally closing the racial equality gap.