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Mayor Tishaura Jones Wants to Reimagine Policing in St. Louis

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Mayor Tishaura Jones recently addressed a crowd during the opening of a new woman’s center in St. Louis.

What We Know:

  • During her speech at the opening of the facility, Jones said, ” there are segments of the population who are more deeply affected by societal norms.” She believes that the problem must be approached “with an eye towards equity.” Jones believes that St. Louis must focus on its most vulnerable populations to address core problems first.
  • Jones took office on April 20th, and she is the first Black woman to win the seat. Jones is among elected leaders coming into power that is in favor of police reform. This comes as Congress looks to craft bipartisan legislation aimed to tackle police reform. Jones intends to challenge St. Louis’ leaders, residents, police unions, and community activists to rethink what a safe city means.
  • In her speech, Jones mentions that African-Americans were leaving St. Louis at a higher rate than any other race. Jones faces pushback from St. Louis City Hall and the police union. The groups remain skeptical of her vision, which intends to diminish their resources. She also faces criticism from restless activists who have been advocating for a radical change instead of small reforms.
  • Jones is among the first class of progressing Democratic candidates who ran on promises to end cash bail, curtail mass incarceration and hold police accountable. Tory Russell, the International Black Freedom Alliance founder, says he’s worried about the Obama effect in regards to Jones. He notes that Obama’s historic presidency paralleled some of the most high-profile police shootings in American history. Russell believes Jones’s historic rise must come second to the movement’s goals.

Jones’s first action when she took office was to focus on public safety reform.

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Justice

DNA Exonerates Texas Man, Lydell Grant, in 2010 Murder Case

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Jon Shapley/Houston Chronicle via AP

Newly tested DNA from under the victim’s fingernails exonerated Lydell Grant and convicted Jermario Carter for the murder of Aaron Scherhorn in 2010. Representatives from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in favor of his innocence on May 19, 2021.

What We Know:

  • Grant was released in November of 2019 after being granted a $100,000 bond. With the help of his lawyer and executive director of The Innocence Project of Texas, Mike Ware, new evidence was agreed to be examined. DNA collected from the victim showed no trace of Grant.
  • Ware received initial DNA test results from the Harris District Attorney’s Office which he then sent to CyberGenetics with the help of Dr. Angie Ambers. The technology used at CyberGenetics relies on a computer algorithm to separate DNA mixtures. Prosecutors questioned the new evidence that placed Jermario Carter at the scene of the crime.
  • Scherhorn was murdered in 2010 outside of a nightclub in Houston. Police reported that Scherhorn initially ran into the nightclub for help, but was turned away by the bouncer. He was then stabbed several more times in front of a dozen eyewitnesses.
  • Five days following the incident, Grant was pulled over during a traffic stop where police discovered he was driving with a suspended license. Police received a tip and labeled him as a suspect in the stabbing. Six eyewitnesses picked Grant from a photo lineup.
  • As the prosecution collected further evidence against Carter, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg released Grant on bond on November 26, 2019.
  • The court ruled on May 19, 2021, that Grant was innocent following months of delay. Judge Bert Richardson of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals attributed the delay of Grant’s case to incomplete case records and logistical delays because of the pandemic. Richardson told NBC News, “It is not that this Court is reluctant to grant actual innocence; it’s merely that we are unable to do so without a complete record.”
  • Grant is entitled to up to $80,000 worth of compensation for every year he spent behind bars. He is seeking to get his record expunged.

According to the National Exoneration Registry, there were 129 exonerations in 2020. Over these 129 individuals, defendants lost a total of 1,737 years wrongfully imprisoned.

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Biden Desired to Mark the Anniversary of George Floyd’s Death with Legislation, It will be a Discussion Instead

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Although President Joe Biden directly addressed Congress last month to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act “by the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death,” officials could not meet the deadline. Because of this, the White House discussed different options to commemorate the day.

What We Know:

  • One of the ideas included a meeting with key congressional negotiators. However, the Biden Administration scrapped the idea over concern that it might “disrupt sensitive negotiations;” lawmakers also declared they did not want to partake in the meeting.
  • Instead, Biden will host Floyd’s family at the White House. However, the Biden Administration reassured the public that the president would mainly focus on personal connection. “It is important to him to hear from them about their perspective on this moment in our history and the progress that must be made to stop the agonizing trend of people of color being killed at the hands of law enforcement and to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” an official said.
  • The House of Representatives already passed the bill. Still, the Senate halted decisions over issues like qualified immunity, blocking victims or their family members from suing law enforcement officers over civil rights violations. While both parties acknowledged they would continue working past the deadline, they vowed to find common ground.
  • In addition, the White House downplayed Biden’s disappointment. Cedric Richmond, a senior adviser, told MSNBC that despite Biden calling for its completion by May 25, “it’s better to have a meaningful bill than worry about a deadline.” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki  also informed reporters last week that negotiators will keep discussing the bill and reach a mutual agreement on it because “the president wants to sign it into law.”

“We are not going to slow our efforts to get this done, but we can also be transparent about the fact that it’s going to take a little bit more time. Sometimes that happens, that’s OK,” Psaki declared.

  • Floyd’s family and their non-profit, the George Floyd Memorial Foundation, already began a series of tributes to celebrate his legacy. On Sunday, they took to the streets of Minneapolis with hundreds of people and held up signs with pictures of Floyd and other victims of police brutality. Another event, a virtual  “day of action,” encouraged advocates to organize remotely on Monday. The foundation also hosted two panels with Floyd’s family members and other activists. Tuesday will follow with a community festival and a candlelight vigil.
  • Alongside this, Floyd’s brother Terrence attended a Brooklyn gathering hosted by the Rev. Al Sharpton on Sunday. Terrence told attendees not to forget George, or other victims of racist violence, such as Breonna Taylor, Sean Bell, Ahmaud Arbery, and more.
  • The White House warned Congress of serious consequences if they extended talks too much. If the discussions take much longer, they will enter a summer when racial justice protests may continue, and midterm election politics may “increasingly loom larger.”

While there is no current expected date for the bill’s approval, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) suggested an informal deadline of two months to NBC News. “Two months from now we’ll either be done celebrating or we won’t be done at all,” he stated.

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North Carolina Jury Awards $75 Million to Brothers Who Spent Decades in Prison After Wrongful Conviction

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A jury recently found that Henry McCollum and Leon Brown should receive $31 million after five hours of deliberation.

What We Know:

  • The money is supposed to represent the 31 years they spent in prison. The brothers were also awarded $13 million in punitive damages. Their attorney, Elliot S. Abrams, informed The Washington Post that the award is the highest combined verdict in U.S history in a wrongful conviction case. This is also the largest ever personal injury award in North Carolina.
  • The payout arrives after the brothers pursued civil action against law enforcement for violating their civil rights. They were both originally released from prison in 2014 after DNA evidence exonerated them. McCollum and Brown were 19 and 15 at the time of their arrest. They were both blamed for the rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie in Red Springs, South Carolina.
  • The brothers were originally brought in by police based on a tip from a “confidential informant.” The 17-year-old informant was acting on rumors she had heard in school, according to the Guardian. McCollum and Brown both signed confessions that implicated them in the murder without having lawyers present. The two men admitted that they signed the confessions without understanding what they want.
  • Brown was the state’s youngest death-row inmate at the time. McCollum, on the other hand, would become the state’s longest-serving inmate on death row. The two were retired in the early 90s and had their sentences adjusted to life in prison. In 2009 the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission took on the case and discovered new DNA evidence which would warrant Robeson County to toss their convictions five years later.

The Robeson County Sheriff’s Office settled their part of the case for $9 million and have declined to deliver a comment.

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