Wisconsinites Give Criminal-Justice System Low Marks, Especially for Offender Rehabilitation

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Marquette Law School, Public, Race & Law, Wisconsin Criminal Law & Process
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We expect a lot from our criminal-justice system, and we don’t seem very impressed with the results we are getting.  These are two of the notable lessons that emerge from the most recent Marquette Law School Poll of Wisconsin residents, the results of which were released earlier today.

In one part of the survey, respondents were asked to assess the importance of five competing priorities for the criminal-justice system.  As to each of the five, a majority indicated that the priority was either “very important” or “absolutely essential.”  The five priorities were:

  • Making Wisconsin a safer place to live (91.6% said either very important or absolutely essential)
  • Ensuring that people who commit crimes receive the punishment they deserve (88.1%)
  • Keeping crime victims informed about their cases and helping them to understand how the system works (81.0%)
  • Rehabilitating offenders and helping them to become contributing members of society (74.1%)
  • Reducing the amount of money we spend on imprisoning criminals (51.2%)

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Ninth Circuit Rules on Free Speech Issue in Schools

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Education & Law, First Amendment, Public, Race & Law
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clip_image002Late last month, in Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified School District, the Ninth Circuit held that the Principal of Live Oak High School properly exercised the school’s rights when he offered students wearing T-shirts bearing the American Flag on Cinco de Mayo the choice to either turn their shirts inside out or go home for the day.  The Principal’s action came on the heels of threats of violence from Mexican-American students earlier in the day and the occurrence of a slight physical altercation on Cinco de Mayo 2009.  The students were not disciplined in any way for their decisions to go home rather than turn their shirts inside out.

The court rested its decision on the First Amendment challenge made by the students on the 1969 Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503.  In Dariano, the Ninth Circuit applied Tinker to find that the school could restrict student speech based upon officials’ reasonable belief that the T-shirts would cause a “material and substantial” disruption in school activities.  The Ninth Circuit distinguished the facts of Dariano from those of Tinker by finding that in Tinker, there was no threat of disruption from the wearing of the armbands, whereas there were actual threats of violence throughout the day at Live Oak High School. Read more »

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Hallows Lecture Examines Little Noted, but Pivotal Civil Rights Decision

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Interpretation, Legal History, Public, Race & Law, Speakers at Marquette
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“Remarkable but relatively obscure” – that’s how Judge Paul T. Watford of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit described the 1945 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Screws v. United States. In presenting Marquette Law School’s annual Hallows Lecture on March 4, Judge Watford aimed to lift the decision from some of its obscurity and increase awareness of “the birth of federal civil rights enforcement,” as the title of his lecture put it.

The case began with the vicious and fatal beating of Robert Hall, an African-American man, by M. Claude Screws, the sheriff of Baker County, Ga., and two of Screws’ deputies. Judge Watford said the circumstances of Hall’s death provide a window into how African Americans of that era had to live with the “ever-present reality” of unwarranted violence against them by white law enforcement officers. Even given the many witnesses to Hall’s death, Georgia authorities declined to prosecute Screws and his deputies. But, in what Watford described as an unusual development for that time, a federal indictment was issued against them for violating Hall’s civil rights.

Ultimately, a splintered Supreme Court did not do all that civil rights advocates would have wanted, but the justices upheld the application in situations such as this of 18 U.S.C. § 242, prohibiting violation of civil rights by someone acting under the color of law. The majority of justices rejected the argument that civil rights violations were a matter to be left to the states, although no single opinion commanded a majority.

“Had Screws come out the other way, and been decided against the federal government, federal civil rights enforcement would have been stifled,” Watford said. “Instead, it was given new life, and that helped change the course of history, particularly in the South, in the second half of the twentieth century.”  Read more »

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Polarization or Social Control in Metropolitan Milwaukee?

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Category: Milwaukee, Public, Race & Law
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As a person who has always considered the City of Milwaukee to be home, I find Craig Gilbert’s ongoing study of political polarization in the metropolitan area to be both thorough and illuminating. His research indicates that when it comes to Republican and Democratic voting patterns, the area has become more polarized than any area outside of the American South. What’s more, the political polarization very strikingly correlates with race, ethnicity, education, and population density. Republican voters reside largely in middle and upper-class suburbs in Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee counties, while the impoverished and working poor reside and vote in the City of Milwaukee’s Democratic inner-city.

When we reflect on what has come to be, it is important that we not take the polarization to be simply a naturally occurring phenomenon and thereby overlook the political agency involved, that is, the way some socio-economic groups attempt to contain and control other socio-economic groups. Polarization has taken place in part because local and state governments have used law and legal arrangements to push socio-economic groups apart, to assign poorer citizens to certain areas, and to reduce the clout of these citizens at the polls. Read more »

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Redskins and Hog Rinds–Trademark Denied

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Category: Intellectual Property Law, Public, Race & Law, Sports & Law
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Pork RindsThe United States Patent and Trademark has recently refused to register the trademark “Redskins Hog Rinds” for a California food company on the grounds that the mark is “disparaging” and therefore prohibited by Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, the federal trademark statute.

The ruling, handed down on December 29 by an attorney-examiner, can be appealed. The decision concluded that there was no reason to deny registration of the mark except for the fact that it was disparaging to Native Americans. The examiner reached this conclusion on the basis of dictionary definitions that identified the term as disparaging and by the opposition to the continuing usage of the term “Redskins” by a number of Native American groups, including the National Congress of American Indians and the Oneida Nation, as well as articles about Indian activist opposition to the term that appeared in the Washington Post and the magazine, Indian Country Today.

This is not the first time that the term “Redskins” has been ruled disparaging. In recent years the Washington Redskins football team has unsuccessfully attempted to register variations on its famous mark. Read more »

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The Use of Native American Logos in Czech Ice Hockey

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Category: Public, Race & Law, Sports & Law
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HC PlzenI was generally aware of the Czech fascination with American Indians, but I was caught by surprise when I encountered a trio of Native American musicians and dancers performing in resplendent tribal costumes on a street corner in downtown Prague during my first day in the city this past December. (See below.)

I was even more surprised to discover that the players of HC Skoda Pilsen (Plzen, in Czech), the reigning champion of the Czech Extraliga (the country’s highest Hockey League), wear an Indian head patch on their uniforms and are nicknamed the Pilsen Indians.

In addition to the logo, the Pilsen club also has a live mascot (presumably a Czech) who dresses liked a Plains Indian. Moreover, at the beginning of each season, an individual in the garb of an Indian shaman comes on to the ice in the club’s home arena and performs a good luck ritual on behalf of the team. The mascot and shaman can be seen here.

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Culture and Racism: Some Reflections on “Zwarte Piet”

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Category: Public, Race & Law
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PietitieI don’t think I will ever forget the look on my roommate’s face when I offered her some pepernoten.

It must have been late October or early November. I was an exchange student in New York and my parents had mailed some much-missed Dutch goodies, including pepernoten, the tiny spicy cookies associated with the Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) celebration. Saint Nicholas—not to be confused with Santa Claus even though both are white men with long beards who dress in red robes—is the patron saint of children. Historically he was a Greek bishop from Myra in present-day Turkey, but for unknown reasons Dutch children are told he hails from Spain. The Saint’s grand arrival in the Netherlands by steamboat is followed by a few weeks of fun and excitement, which culminate in a big celebration on the evening of December 5. Read more »

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Historian Tells “Difficult Truths” About Slavery and American Colleges

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Category: Civil Rights, Public, Race & Law, Speakers at Marquette
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“The task of the historian is to tell difficult truths as honestly as we can and to tell help the reader understand both the complexities and the disturbing realities of the past.”

Professor Craig Steven Wilder, head of the history faculty at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offered that thought as part of describing his new book, Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities, during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Eckstein Hall on Wednesday. The book serves the purpose he set forth, describing the painful and long history of involvement of colleges and universities in the American colonies and in the United States with slavery and promotion of “scientific racism,” pseudoscience that promotes the superiority of white people.

Wilder described, both in the book and to the audience at Marquette Law School, how major institutions such as Harvard and Yale had long and close relationships with the slave business. That included recruiting the sons of slave traders and plantation owners as students, benefitting from large donations from very wealthy businessmen who were involved in slavery, and promoting thinking that black people and American Indians were inferior and should be suppressed. It also included the fact that many students in the slavery era brought their slaves with them to campus, including in the north. Read more »

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Nationally, Police Get Good Marks From Citizens; Locally, We’ll Soon Find Out

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Milwaukee, Public, Race & Law
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Police_vehicle_from_Manchester_(New_Hampshire)_02Last week, the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission announced that it would conduct its first survey of citizen satisfaction with the police.  The results should provide us with helpful new ways to evaluate the Milwaukee Police Department’s performance and identify areas in need of improvement.

Unfortunately, media coverage provides a very distorted picture of police-citizen interactions.  What makes the news, of course, are the incidents in which officers become violent or exhibit extreme callousness.  When video is available of such incidents, as is increasingly common, the disturbing images may be repeated endlessly on TV or circulate virally on social media.  Viewers may be left with the impression that such incidents are the norm.  However, the vast majority of police-citizen interactions occur without anything newsworthy happening.  Among other things, the Fire and Police Commission’s new survey should give us a much better sense of what happens in the more routine interactions and how those interactions affect public perceptions of the police.

Although data of this sort have not been available for Milwaukee specifically, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics did sponsor a national survey in 2011 regarding police-citizens interactions.  The results, released in two reports earlier this fall, indicate a remarkably high level of citizen satisfaction, even among the minority groups who seem to bear the brunt of the high-profile incidents of police misconduct.   Read more »

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Was There a Confederate Emancipation Proclamation?

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Category: Legacies of Lincoln, Legal History, Public, Race & Law
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EmancipationProclamationThis is another in a series of posts on slavery, the Constitution and the Civil War written for the Marquette University celebration of the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Although the Civil War was, at its core, fought to preserve slavery, during the war concern for the preservation of the Confederate nation led some of the breakaway country’s leaders to contemplate the unthinkable—the emancipation of African-American slaves in exchange for their service in the Confederate military.

Although Confederate diplomats, in their search for support in England and France, somewhat disingenuously implied that the South planned to eventually abandon slavery during the early years of the Civil War, Southern efforts to abolish the “peculiar institution” really began in late 1863 with Confederate general Patrick Cleburne of the Army of the Tennessee. Fearing the worst for his adopted country, the Irish-born Cleburne circulated a written document to his fellow officers that proposed that the Confederacy replenish its ranks with armed black soldiers who would be brought into the Rebel Army with a promise of freedom for themselves and their families. As Cleburne must have realized, the widespread emancipation of black soldiers and their families would make it impossible to keep other African-Americans as slaves once the war was over.

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Manipulation by the Media: Lessons to be Learned from Zimmerman v. NBC

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Category: Civil Procedure, Criminal Law & Process, Media & Journalism, Public, Race & Law
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George ZimmermanNow more than ever, journalism appears to be no longer about reporting facts or the search for truth, but instead about manipulating facts to maximize ratings. A case in point is the complaint George Zimmerman filed last December against NBC. The complaint alleges NBC’s use of edited 911 audio, as part of its coverage of Trayvon Martin’s death, was defamatory and an intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The transcript of the 911 call, released by the City of Sanford, begins as follows:

Dispatcher: Sanford Police Department. . . .

Zimmerman: Hey we’ve had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there’s a real suspicious guy, uh, [near] Retreat View Circle, um, the best address I can give you is 111 Retreat View Circle. This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

Dispatcher: OK, and this guy is he white, black, or Hispanic?

Zimmerman: He looks black.

Dispatcher: Did you see what he was wearing?

Zimmerman: Yeah. A dark hoodie, like a grey hoodie, and either jeans or sweatpants and white tennis shoes. He’s [unintelligible], he was just staring . . .

Dispatcher: OK, he’s just walking around the area . . .

Zimmerman: . . . looking at all the houses.

Dispatcher: OK . . .

Zimmerman: Now he’s just staring at me.

Dispatcher: OK – you said it’s 1111 Retreat View? Or 111?

Zimmerman: That’s the clubhouse . . .

Dispatcher: That’s the clubhouse, do you know what the – he’s near the clubhouse right now?

Zimmerman: Yeah, now he’s coming towards me.

Dispatcher: OK.

Zimmerman: He’s got his hand in his waistband. And he’s a black male.

Zimmerman’s complaint alleges “NBC saw the death of Trayvon Martin not as a tragedy but as an opportunity to increase ratings, and so set about to create the myth that George Zimmerman was a racist and predatory villain,” reported a “reprehensible series of imaginary and exaggerated racist claims,” and created a “false and defamatory misimpression using the oldest form of yellow journalism: manipulating Zimmerman’s own words, splicing together disparate parts of the [911] recording to create the illusion of statements that Zimmerman never actually made.” Read more »

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Still Dreaming: The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

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Category: Civil Rights, Human Rights, Legal History, Public, Race & Law
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untitled2Today marks the 50th anniversary of the March for Jobs and Freedom, more commonly known as the March on Washington. Today, in 1963, an estimated 250,000 people—of all ages, races, and creeds—descended on the Lincoln Memorial in a peaceful show of solidarity for full civil rights for African Americans. It was also the day that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream Speech.”

There have been a number of interesting pieces presenting the story behind the march, behind the people who organized it, and the people who participated. You can find some of those pieces here, here, here, here, and here (linking to writer and broadcaster Jean Shepherd’s incredibly interesting radio broadcasts about his participation in the march; the popular movie “A Christmas Story” is based on Shepherd’s autobiographical stories). Or just click on today’s Google doodle to find a host of links.

While reading a good number of pieces on the march, I realized that I cannot recall once in my entire 19 years of public schooling (elementary and secondary schools, plus public college and law school) that I ever read or heard about that event and never, not once, did I ever read or hear King’s speech. Read more »

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