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California Votes Down Proposition That Would Have Eliminated Cash Bail

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California voters rejected Proposition 25, a ballot measure that would have made the state the first in the U.S. to discard the cash bail system entirely.

What We Know:

  • Proposition 25 aimed to implement a system that eradicated the use of bail money. Had Californians voted “yes”, judges would employ computerized risk assessment to determine whether someone should be held until trial. The Association Press reported 45% of voters supported the measure and 55% of voters opposed it.
  • The new system was originally approved by the state Legislator in 2018 set to be effective in October 2019. The billion-dollar bail bond industry halted the law putting it on hold until voters could weigh in on the decision.
  • Presently anyone arrested for nonviolent misdemeanors could spend more than two days in jail if deemed dangerous by a judge. This measure would have allowed them to be released within 12 hours of the arrest and maintain freedom until trial. Judges would have assessed a defendant’s flight risk and possible threat to the public for other misdemeanors and felony charges using the factors such as arrest records, work history, drug use, and community ties.
  • Opposers of Prop 25 were concerned the risk assessment tools used by judges would be inherently biased. Human Rights Watch and ACLU of Southern California gave warning the assessment relied on data influenced by the criminal justice system’s unequal criminalization of people of color. Judges would essentially have unlimited disposition to incarcerate.
  •  Bail money ensures people show up to their trial date and do not commit any more crime prior; however the system has been chastised for motivating socioeconomic injustice. Supporters of the measure believe the current cash bail system encourages classist and racist behavior.
  • Often defendants with the financial ability are able to pay for their release while poor defendants have no choice but to await trial in jail. Studies have made clear bail amounts are consistently higher for Black defendants than they are for white defendants. Even in cases where they have committed similar crimes and hold similar criminal histories. Public Policy Institute of California predicted predicted about 49% of Black people who were booked would be held for risk assessment, in comparison to 37% of whites.

Criminal justice reform groups do not plan to end their stride to change the current bail system. They hope to try other methods that avoid a harmful approach.

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Alex Haynes is Editor-At-Large/NYC Editor at Urban Newsroom, Executive Editor at UNR's Black Alerts and the host of Boss Mornings and Unmuted Nation. Alex joined Urban Newsroom in 2010 and contributes regular op-ed and editorial pieces while advising the columnist and contributing staff.

Crime

Classes canceled at Howard University as US Government investigates ransomware cyberattack

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Howard University officials along with leading cyber experts are trying to assess what has been compromised in an active ransomware, cyberattack on the HBCU campus. Officials have deemed the attack criminal.

What We Know:

  • Monday, the university issued a statement to faculty and students that “the service disruption was caused by a ransomware cyberattack against the university.”
  • Classes have been canceled for Tuesday and Wednesday. Students have been notified that online and hybrid classes will remain canceled and only essential staff will be allowed on campus. All in-person undergraduate, graduate, professional, and clinical experiential courses will resume as scheduled on Wednesday.
  • A ransomware attack can be triggered by simple, everyday activity. Opening a unintended link inside of can lead to a cyberattack.  Computer, tablet and phone users are encouraged to change their passwords and security questions regularly.

Howard University is home to several notable high profile Black alumni such as Chadwick Boseman and Phylicia Rashad.

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Crime

New Orleans 911 Operator Wanted After Allegedly Disconnecting Calls on Purpose

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A New Orleans 911 operator deliberately disconnected emergency calls without obtaining necessary information or relaying the callers’ emergencies to other dispatchers, and she is now facing arrest, according to authorities.

What We Know:

  • Precious Stephens, 25, is wanted on a count of malfeasance in office, and she remained at large Thursday, police said. She has been fired from her job as a 911 operator, officials said.

“(The district) has and will continue to cooperate with the … investigation into this matter and dedicated to providing any and all assistance to aid in (the) efforts.”

  • Stephens worked for the Orleans Parish Communication District, which dispatches first responders to 911 calls. On Aug. 24, the district reported to police that Stephens had deliberately disconnected 911 calls without obtaining vital information or informing other dispatchers about the callers who were in need of help.  The district conducted an investigation into the quality of a random set of calls when they detected the problems with Stephens during her shifts Aug. 20 and Aug. 21, officials said.  A statement from the district highlighted how its own internal protocols identified the issues with Stephens, who was immediately turned over to police and dismissed from her post.

Police asked anyone who knows where Stephens is to call Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111. Tipsters may be eligible for a cash reward.

Louisiana law defines malfeasance in office as unlawfully performing a job in public service. It can carry up to five years in prison.

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Crime

R&B Star R. Kelly Jurors Summoned for Sex Trafficking Trial

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The first phase of R. Kelly‘s trial began on Aug. 9 with a jury selection after several delays.

What We Know:

  • U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly asked potential jurors if they could keep an open mind about Kelly as he faces charges for abusing women and girls for nearly two decades. Donnelly also reminded jurors that Kelly was presumed innocent, so they should not feel influenced by any bad publicity the singer experienced because of the accusations.
  • Due to pandemic restrictions, the event took place online. Because of this, Kelly and the jurors faced difficulty popping up on the screen and the audio cut off at times.
  • During the trial, jurors will expect to hear testimonies from several of Kelly’s accusers. In addition, a judge ruled that officials may only use the women’s first names. Currently, Kelly faces sex trafficking charges. Scrutiny around Kelly’s sexual behavior has followed him for decades. These include charges for child pornography. Alongside the sex-trafficking case in New York, Kelly also faces sex-related charges against him in Illinois and Minnesota.
  • In addition, prosecutors might provide evidence that Kelly schemed with others to buy a fake ID for late R&B singer Aaliyah. In 1994, when Aaliyah was only 15, Kelly married and began a sexual relationship with her; it is also speculated he impregnated her. Prosecutors believe he married her so that she could not testify against him.
  • In regards to his sex-trafficking trial, Kelly denies any wrongdoing; he has pleaded not guilty to leading a criminal enterprise of managers, bodyguards, and other employees who recruited women and girls for sex. Concerning the criminal enterprise, federal prosecutors reported the group found victims at concerts and other venues. After recruiting the women and children, they would make travel arrangements so they could meet with Kelly. Kelly’s lawyers claimed the victims were “groupies” who showed up at his concerts and “were dying to be with” Kelly.

The case is scheduled to officially begin on Aug. 18 with opening statements.

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