Articles Tagged with civil rights

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I read numerous judicial opinions. I’ve read thousands (really, thousands). But sometimes an opinion stops me in my tracks, and I have to read it over again because I know it’s a ripple in the sea of judicial restraint. These ripples are few and far between. These ripples are a little blip. But they are a blip that is meant to grow and catch a wave, turning into or joining a tsunami of change. And that is what I found in Estate of Jones v. The City of Martinsburg, et al., Cause No. 18-2142 (4th Cir. Jun. 10, 2020).

In 2013, Mr. Wayne Jones, a black man experiencing homelessness was walking on the sidewalk when he was stopped by law enforcement. Immediately, the encounter escalated and never stopped. By the end of this encounter, Mr. Jones would be dead: “Armed only with a knife tucked into his sleeve, [Mr. Jones] was tased four times, hit in the brachial plexus, kicked, and placed in a choke hold. In his final moments, he lay on the ground between a stone wall and a wall of five police officers, who collectively fired 22 bullets.” A police officer asked him whether had a weapon. Jones asked what a weapon was. He was told, by the officer, a list of examples (knife, gun, etc.). Mr. Jones answered he might have “something.” He did. A small blade tucked in his right sleeve.

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Black Lives Matter Protestor, December 2014 — photo by Robert Stribley

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While prisons are designed to further purposes of deterrence and retribution, do those aims come with an unfettered right to abuse incarcerated individuals? 

In 2015, the nation was shocked to hear the story of Kalief Browder, a 16-year old wrongfully arrested for robbery who served two years in solitary confinement prior to trial.  After his release, Browder committed suicide.  A documentary entitled Time: The Kalief Browder Story, produced by iconic hip-hop rapper Jay-Z recounts Browder’s experience in Rikers and the psychological tortures of solitary confinement.[1]  In that same year, Terry Poole, a North Carolina inmate, committed suicide after serving time in solitary confinement.[2]  A recent article found that there are nearly 300 inmate suicide attempts in American jails and prisons every year.[3]  The statistical prevalence of suicide and suicide attempts increases for inmates in solitary confinement.[4] The deleterious physical and psychological effects of solitary confinement has wide-spread social science support[5], but is the repudiation of solitary confinement progressing rapidly enough?

Ultimately, Americans—by and through the casting of theiJuvenile-in-Cell-300x248r ballots—must decide whether the conviction of a crime, putting aside the heinousness of felony offenses generally, warrants an extraneous, additional punishment to include prolonged physical and psychological suffering.  Does the Eighth Amendment allow for carte blanche treatment of inmates?  Because of an adjudication of guilt, are prisoners properly cast into dark holes without recourse from our Constitution? I think not.

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