An Interview with NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony on Race, Equity & Leadership

Clarence AnthonyNational League of Cities CEO & Executive Director Clarence Anthony, seen here speaking at NLC’s Congressional City Conference in March. (Jason Dixson)

The tragedies that have occurred in Ferguson, New York City, Baltimore, and other communities throughout America have rightly sparked conversation about the social, cultural, racial and economic factors that affect the everyday lives of city residents – particularly minorities, at-risk youth, and the poor. What can cities do to promote equality and economic opportunity for people of all races, ethnicities, ages and economic backgrounds?

When tragedies like this occur, it not only erodes the relationship between the police and the community, it highlights the fact that there is a growing economic disparity that city leaders in America must recognize and address. High unemployment rates and low graduation rates among citizens in cities, towns and villages shows that certain neighborhoods have prospered while others have not. It’s important that city leaders understand that you have to engage with, and design initiatives for, all constituents in every neighborhood.

For example, city leaders must focus on creating vibrant downtowns while developing inclusive and affordable housing in neighborhoods. This type of approach to public policy will create more engaging cities where citizens can live, work and raise their families within the community that they call home. One way we can accomplish this is to create incentives so that the private sector will hire from within the community. When city leaders promote this type of growth, cities benefit and residents become vested in their community.

Cities should also examine the appointment process for city advisory boards and councils. For example, a planning and zoning commission that doesn’t reflect the ethnic, racial or gender diversity of the city is not truly representative of that city. From parks and recreation departments and advisory councils to tourist development councils and workforce boards, every policy board that advises the elected leadership should represent the diversity of that city. It can be done, but you’ve got to be very strategic and intentional, and have a real commitment to making sure that every segment of the population is represented.

These are just a few of the concrete steps that cities can take to ensure that their communities are equally represented in government. If a community is under-represented, and its needs are not served, then its residents will not be vested in the city as a whole. They won’t feel like the city is their home. And then you’ll see the tragic events that have happened in countless cities across the nation continue to occur. All of these cities have people who feel that they are not part of a community; that they are not “real” citizens with a voice in government. And they will find other ways to make their voices heard.

So there can’t be a disconnect between municipal authority and the people it represents.

You have to have that connection. You have to include them in the governance process, in the community process. I was just at a conference in Philly – Cities United – and it had a panel of young African American men, and their message was “Don’t talk at us; talk to us, and with us.” Many of them were in their mid-twenties, and public policy and programs are being designed for them – but without their input. That has to change. You have to include them in the development of the community in which they live.

The root causes of the recent tragedies are complex and nuanced. Two distinct events consistently stand out, however: the death of a young black male as a result of an interaction with police, and the violent public response that subsequently occurred. What steps can city leaders and local elected officials take to address the potential for these tragedies to occur in their cities?

There has to be an acknowledgement that there are still challenges in communities throughout America when it comes to race relations – specifically, race relations with police departments. Something must occur to strengthen trust between the minority community and police in cities throughout America. At this point, unfortunately, we are starting to see police being targeted in reprisal; community trust continues to erode. We must start a conversation of understanding and partnership – and that conversation must be led by city leaders. The elected officials who are members of the National League of Cities are exactly that type of group; they’re city leaders who strive to create a bridge between police and communities, so that real conversations can occur.

In addition, I think city leaders should start to re-examine – and implement, wherever possible – community policing policies that provide for a real understanding of the communities they serve; there must be understanding to have a relationship with the community. Once you have that relationship, you’ll be able to engage. So city leaders must be able to look at how they’re investing their resources and what kind of progress is being made throughout the community as a whole. When city leaders acknowledge that they have diversity in the community, and they create opportunities to bring people throughout the community together, that creates relationships and real conversations.

This is happening in some communities, but we need it to happen everywhere. The questions involving black males in America focus on more than just police relations – they take into consideration the high unemployment rate, the low high school graduation rate, and the level of poverty that exists in cities throughout America, among other factors. The takeaway is this: city leaders have to focus on improving engagement and relations in their communities. We have to look at how we provide creative and innovative techniques to reach the African American community so that we can achieve our goal of making true connections that are lasting and productive. It will take hard work and partnerships with our educational system and the private sector – and on the law enforcement side, those same partnerships need to develop, focusing on education and training on how to value diversity and how to communicate across cultures.

The change we need will not occur overnight; it will take patience and time to build the trust that our cities deserve. We need to spur conversation, in an effort to reach a certain level of trust and understanding between police and communities. The National League of Cities is quickly becoming a nexus of conversation about race, equity and leadership in American cities. That conversation is long overdue.

Do you see the Cities United event in Philadelphia as one of the forums for that conversation?

Yes. I think Cities United is not only a forum for that conversation, but an excellent tool to help elected officials get the technical expertise they need to deal with the larger issues involved. For example, Cities United provides consultants that help city leaders respond to the challenges faced by American cities that we’ve discussed today.

How does the National League of Cities’ lead that conversation?

Our REAL initiative is a very important tool and resource for city leaders. It’s designed to help them address racial tensions in their communities and create meaningful conversations around racial diversity and equity issues. REAL stands for Race, Equity And Leadership – and the piece that we really have to elevate is the piece on leadership, because our members are the ones who are responsible for governance in American cities.

Earlier, you posed the question, “What should city leaders do if something like this happens?” The challenges we’ve spoken about today are especially difficult challenges for any city leader to face, and it’s the responsibility of the National League of Cities to develop best practices around these issues, give city leaders the space to discuss the challenges they face with a network of peers, and then provide them with the tools they need to manage the situation if something like what happened in Baltimore or Ferguson occurs in their community.

I wish I could sit here and tell you that this will be the last time that tragedies like these will occur. But the reality is that, until a systematic strategy is in place to bring about full economic participation as well as improved relations between police and the communities they serve, these tragedies could happen in any city in America. City leaders are standing up and saying, “we need to fix these issues before something like this occurs in our community.” That’s a conversation that needs to be had. We’re going to start seeing city leaders begin to deal with the injustices, the inequality, and the creation of opportunities for all of their citizens.

And that’s what we have to do: we have to build a city in which everyone is a participant, where all citizens feel like they can raise their kids, and live and work and play in a safe and vibrant environment. You don’t call a place home when you don’t have a system of governance that supports you. Right now, I think that’s one of the biggest challenges American cities face. But if we can rise to that challenge, I think we’ll have more people out on the streets saying “Hey, this is our neighborhood; we own this.” We have to create cities that all citizens can call home.

Paul Konz headshotAbout the Author: Paul Konz is the Senior Associate Editor at the National League of Cities.

Policing Will Change

This is a guest post by Jack Calhoun. The post originally appeared here.

Firefighters work to extinguish street fires in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif., August 1965. The historic Watts riots occurred after neighborhood residents watched two white officers scuffling in apprehending a suspected black drunk driver. (image courtesy atlantablackstar.com)

Author’s note: After the grim and disheartening days in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York City, and other cities across the nation, there is hope. There are cities that once faced the same climate we are seeing in Baltimore today that are now making strides and developing programs that are saving lives and transforming the relationships between the police and those they police – a move from a volatile combination of resentment and violence to one of authentic collaboration and caring. Watts serves as a shining example.

“It’s not been a change – it’s a transformation. I grew up in Watts. I got jumped into a gang when I was 13 – only way I could get to school safely. Otherwise, I got beat up every day. We hated the cops. Man, nobody talked to the cops. Nobody trusted the cops; if you talked to the cops, you could get hurt. Sold drugs… did time in prison… and now? Well, just let me say it this way: I’ve never seen moms and grandmothers sitting on their front steps waving to cops. They do now, in Watts. I’ve never seen kids running up to cops to get a hug – happens all the time. And guess what? I have a say in helping hiring these cops!”

So spoke Michael Cummings, Executive Director of We Care Outreach Ministries at a breakout session I ran for the Council on Foundations annual meeting in San Francisco on Tuesday, April 28th. Michael, who also co-facilitates the Children’s Institute Project Fatherhood, and who helped organize the Safe Passage Haven program for Jordan High School, plays a key role in the Advancement Project’s remarkable report “Relationship-Based Policing: Achieving Safety in Watts.” Things haven’t changed in the three target housing projects – Jordan Downs, Nickerson Gardens and Imperial Courts – they’ve been transformed. Cummings reports a dramatic drop in homicides – in some areas zero homicide, zero – in this, one of the most violent pieces of real estate in the nation.

“The cops stay with us for five years, and they get two stripes. They don’t get the stripes if they don’t stay. Yes, they arrest. But they are really part of us in the community. They help coach the Watts Bears. They take the kids to the Clippers’ and Dodgers’ games. They’re on the ground. They’ve even helped with providing food in emergencies, and helping kids get jobs.

The Advancement Project’s relationship-based policing, called “the Community Safety Partnership” (CSP), “imagines a new way of operating for the police where their legitimacy in the community is built on procedural justice, authentic relationships with community members, and sustained commitment to improve the health and well-being of the community, not just a focus on crime statistics.” CSP has targeted Watts’ highest crime areas, areas “plagued” by other issues: poor school retention, unemployment, few usable green spaces, limited access to healthy foods, and chronic mistrust. (See Advancement Project’s Urban Peace Program, Community Safety Partnership and Relationship-Based Policing: Achieving Safety in Watts).

LAPD Chief of Police Charlie Beck established CSP in partnership with former Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) CEO Rudy Montreal and the Advancement Project. CSP vision stresses both “safety” and “peace” along with “long-term community development” and “a healthy quality of life.” It would do this through a combination of support programs and “the presence and sustainable relationships between LAPD officers, residents and other community leaders.” Safety and relationships with law enforcement are conjoined with community capacity development.

To ensure sustainability, and to avoid being viewed as just another program or short-term initiative, CSP planners, who intended that CSP be seen not as “an isolated tactic of a few officers, but an established practice endorsed by the highest ranks of LAPD,” carefully screened and selected 35 officers out of 400 applicants. CSP officers received promotions, were rigorously trained with 25 community stakeholders, and, in order to forge lasting relationships in a notoriously mistrusting community, pledged a five-year commitment. Promotions and raises (“incentive structures”) are not solely based on traditional enforcement measures such as an increase in arrests, but on other measures such as diversion of youthful offenders and helping students travel safely to school. “These new cops had to get to know the community,” said Cummings. “We showed them around. We had lunch with community leaders. Took them to schools and had them meet with the principals and teachers. Yeah, they have to help us keep the crime down – but, now that they know us, they’re worried about us, how we’re doing, helping kids have a good future.”

(image courtesy advancementprojectca.org)

(image courtesy advancementprojectca.org)

The Advancement Project’s 2012 report, “A Call to Action: Los Angeles’ Quest Toward Community Safety,” concludes that CSP has been instrumental in:

  • Reducing violent crime by more than 50% in three Watts housing developments
  • Notable decreases in gang membership and activity
  • Plummeting homicide rates

CSP is seen as the first step in a $1 billion effort to redevelop the housing developments via mixed-income homes, stores and parks, support of construction jobs, and newly-created small businesses.

The overly-militarized “warrior” culture of policing will change. Officers, with the community, will eventually be seen as co-producers of safety. If found guilty, officers in Ferguson, Cleveland, Baltimore, North Charleston and other cities must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Race-biased, culturally insensitive policing must end. But the most good that can emerge from the events claiming headlines daily is not just a change in the ethos of policing in America, but that the public will see and act upon the real issues, now glaringly evident – seethingly evident – in cities across the nation: issues of unemployment, poor schools, families with no fathers, absence of jobs paying livable wages, chronic exposure to violence, the obscene availability of guns, sub-standard housing, and hopelessness.

These should be the lessons we all learn from the grim events in Baltimore – and from the hope in Watts.

Jack CalhounAbout the Author: John A. “Jack” Calhoun is an internationally renowned public speaker and frequent media guest and editorial contributor. He currently serves as Senior Consultant to the National League of Cities and Founder and CEO of Hope Matters. For more than 20 years, Mr. Calhoun was the founding President of the National Crime Prevention Council, prior to which he served under President Carter as the Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families.

Remarkable New Policy Allows City Employees in Louisville to Mentor — and Pays Them

This is a guest post by Jack Calhoun. The post originally appeared here.

Louisville, Ky. Under the leadership of Mayor Greg Fischer, the city of Louisville, Ky., has created a new program which allows employees the opportunity to take two hours of paid time a week to work with at-risk youth. (Getty Images)

“When I ask businesses and others to step up to mentor, they ask, ‘What are you guys doing?’ And I say, ‘Here’s our Mentors Program. Mentoring is an act of citizenship; at the end of the day, we’re put on the earth to make the world a better place… being an American is not a spectator sport.’”

– Mayor Greg Fischer, City of Louisville

When speaking about his groundbreaking new mentorship program, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer did not limit his rallying cry to moral exhortation and sound bites. He set a goal: to sign up 10 percent of the city’s workforce – 600 individuals – as mentors. And he anchored his exhortation in city policy.

Louisville’s Metro Government Personnel Policies, states, in section 1.21 (1), “The future of Louisville rests in the hearts and minds of our young people – we must do all we can to plant the seeds of future growth and success in our young people. The purpose of this policy is to allow all Louisville Metro employees to act as mentors for area youth.” The policy continues: “Metro employees qualifying to participate in the program will be allowed up to two hours per week, to be used during their regular work shift, in order to volunteer at one of the program’s partner organizations with the purpose of mentoring at-risk youth in our community and shall commit to participate for a minimum of one year. This time will be paid.”

“We talk the talk, but now’s the time to walk the walk,” asserts Sadiqa Reynolds Chief for Community Building, top aide to Mayor Fischer. “Ours are public employees, and we see this as part of their public service commitment.”

Anthony Smith, who directs the Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods for the City, has woven mentoring into “One Love Louisville,” the City’s comprehensive violence prevention/community building plan. He views mentoring as an essential crime prevention tool: “We have a lot of kids who might be involved in the criminal justice system. They need positive adults in their lives right now. And there are kids in the third grade who can’t read. They’re in danger of dropping out and getting into trouble.”

Sytisha Claycomb, a city employee who serves as the Administrative Director for the Youth Detention Center, points to the powerful effect of mentoring on her life. Having helped her mentee complete his GED, and now working to enroll him into a local university, she states: “I felt like a proud parent at his GED graduation this morning at the institution. All the facility workers, line staff and other kids and family attended his graduation. He thanked me from the stage. Thanked me! I can’t tell you how honored I felt.” She also underscored one of mentoring’s core purposes, namely, steadiness and reliability in otherwise chaotic, mistrusting lives. Speaking about her mentee, she noted that “He doesn’t need another person dropping in and out of his life. He needs consistency.”   The City’s program asks for a year’s commitment. Not enough for Sytisha: “I originally signed up for one year,” she stated, “but I’m committed for at least two to make sure he’s solidly on his next path.”

In addition to consistency and trust, exposure to a wider world and to trusted adults who can provide that exposure, lie at the core of a successful mentoring program. Says Smith, “The mentees need to see a better world than they see now, a wider world, the wide horizon of Louisville and beyond, because all they know is their tiny corner.” City employees can introduce them to that wider world. As Smith notes, “We’re actually talking about job shadowing now, kids coming into city hall and other places to see what people actually do.” Darryl Young, another mentor, echoes Smith’s sentiment: “We who have made it take for granted that everyone has people to look up to, people who are examples of jobs, of opportunity.”

The paid mentorship program instituted in Louisville offers city employees increased incentive to serve as positive examples for at-risk youth, and the program serves as a model of what can be accomplished by cities willing to dedicate resources to such an endeavor. The key takeaway: this model doesn’t add additional costs to city budgets. It simply allows employees to spend two hours of their work mentoring youth . Two hours makes little difference in employee productivity and a huge difference in the lives of young people. And Mayor Fischer is quick to recognize that not every city employee is prepared to mentor a youth who has been in trouble or who finds him or herself in a particularly turbulent, even violent situation. His response?  “I understand that, but come on, everyone can help a third grader read!”

Note: It’s an idea that’s taking root at the federal level. The Department of Justice recently approved two hours a week (8 hours a month) of paid administrative leave for Office of Justice Program (OJP) employees to receive training and perform academic mentoring at a DC area public school through an already approved afterschool program. Echoing Louisville’s Reynolds, Beth McGarry, OJP’s Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General said, “When I returned to OJP one of my goals was to ‘walk the walk’ and set up a program for our employees to mentor.”Cities throughout the nation are embarked on mentoring campaigns, especially for at risk children and youth. The Louisville and the Department of Justice examples show that the government can model what it is asking citizens to do.

Jack CalhounAbout the Author: John A. “Jack” Calhoun is an internationally renowned public speaker and frequent media guest and editorial contributor. He currently serves as Senior Consultant to the National League of Cities and Founder and CEO of Hope Matters. For more than 20 years, Mr. Calhoun was the founding President of the National Crime Prevention Council, prior to which he served under President Carter as the Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families.

City Leaders are Taking Up the Charge of Juvenile Justice Reform

This is the first in a series of blog posts providing ongoing updates as more cities – especially those in NLC’s Municipal Leadership for Juvenile Justice Reform technical assistance initiative – create new examples of successful reform.

Kid - blog(Getty Images)

As cities strive to create fair and effective responses to young people in the juvenile justice system, everyone benefits from reduced future crime and improved outcomes for young residents. We see new examples of progress toward reform emerging in four key areas:

  • Reducing racial and ethnic disparities that begin at the first point of contact between the system and youth – arrest. This reduction can often be accomplished through improved police training and arrest protocols.
  • Opportunities to improve outcomes for youth accused of non-criminal offenses, such as skipping school or running away, by addressing the needs of these youth in their communities rather than sending them to detention facilities.
  • Mechanisms for sharing information and data across city agencies to support informed policymaking, align services for youth and measure success.
  • Structures that connect youth with a continuum of community-based services so that they are held accountable for their actions in ways that improve their life outcomes and reduce the risk of future criminal activity.

These opportunities have frequently been the focus of conversation among the six cities participating in the Municipal Leadership for Juvenile Justice Reform technical assistance initiative. At the recent Mayors’ Institute on Children and Families, hosted by the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families, five mayors discussed juvenile justice reform opportunities, analyzed data demonstrating the need for reform in their cities, and took up the mantle of juvenile justice reform champions.

Finally, in case you haven’t seen it yet, NLC’s recently released municipal action guide, Increasing Public Safety and Improving Outcomes for Youth through Juvenile Justice Reform introduced city leaders to opportunities for city-led juvenile justice reform. The guide also highlights several local examples, including innovative programs and policies in Gainesville, Fla., Minneapolis and Baltimore.

Through this blog series and other resources, NLC will continue to build on the information included in the guide throughout the year, thanks to support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative.

headshot_LFurrAbout the Authors: Laura Furr is the senior associate for Juvenile Justice Reform in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Laura on Twitter at @laura_furr. Stay engaged by subscribing to the juvenile justice reform newsletter! Email Laura to start receiving it.  

Highlights from the REAL Talk Town Hall Meeting at the Congressional City Conference

This is a guest post by Leon Andrews.

i-HDF2h7q-X3REAL Talk Town Hall panel members listen as NLC Second Vice President and Cleveland, Ohio, Councilmember Matt Zone discusses relationships between Cleveland police and community members.

National League of Cities President and Salt Lake City, Utah, Mayor Ralph Becker today announced the launch of a new NLC program, the REAL (Race, Equity And Leadership) initiative. The announcement was made at the first REAL Talk Town Hall meeting at the Congressional Cities Conference in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, March 10th. FOX News Commentator Juan Williams moderated a provocative discussion with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Gary, Ind., Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, NLC Second Vice President and Cleveland, Ohio, Councilmember Matt Zone, and President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing Member Dr. Cedric Alexander.

More than 400 city leaders attended the riveting discussion on race and justice in our communities and the challenge and opportunity to build trusting relationships between the community and police. Panel members began by sharing stories about the challenges they face regarding racial inequities in education, criminal justice and housing systems, and highlighted actions they are taking to implement programs and partnerships that include youth employment programs and citizen ambassadors programs.

The second panel was moderated by NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony, and featured leaders from NLC constituency groups – Fremont, Calif., Vice Mayor Suzanne Chan, Asian Pacific American Municipal Officials (APAMO) President and San Marcos, Texas, Mayor Daniel Guerrero, Hispanic Elected Local Officials (HELO) Board Member and Wilmington, Del., Councilmember Dr. Hanifa Shabazz, and National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (NBC-LEO) Vice-President and District Heights, Md., Mayor James Walls. The panel also included Julie Nelson, the director for the Local and Regional Government Alliance for Race and Equity. Panel members provided helpful insights on understanding race and equity issues in diverse communities, and expressed the need to take careful steps to normalize the conversation about race in communities with a common understanding and language before organizing to advance racial equity.

Finally, Executive Director Anthony introduced REAL Director Leon T. Andrews, Jr., and encouraged city leaders to stay engaged and join the REAL network to get next steps, share experiences and learn more about what others are doing to combat racial inequity in communities across the nation.

About the Author: Leon Andrews is Senior Fellow at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families. For more information on the REAL initiative, please contact Leon at andrews@nlc.org.

Supreme Court to Decide If Police Officers Must Accommodate Mentally Ill Arrestees

handcuffsPer the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), accommodating persons with disabilities is the norm. Twenty-five years after the Act’s passage, the Supreme Court will decide whether it applies to police officers arresting a mentally ill suspect who is armed and violent. (Getty Images)

In City & County of San Francisco v. Sheehan, the Supreme Court will decide whether, pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), police must accommodate a suspect’s mental illness during an arrest. The State and Local Legal Center’s (SLLC) amicus brief argues against this because no conclusive evidence indicates that accommodating mentally ill suspects reduces injuries or the use of force.

When police officers entered Teresa Sheehan’s room in a group home for persons with mental illnesses, she threatened to kill them with a knife she held, so they retreated. When the officers re-entered her room soon after, Sheehan stepped toward them with her knife raised and continued to hold it even after officers pepper sprayed and ultimately shot her. Sheehan survived.

Title II of the ADA provides that individuals with a disability must be able to participate in the “services, programs, or activities of a public entity,” and that their disability must be reasonably accommodated.

Sheehan argues that Title II of the ADA applies to arrests, and that the officers should have taken her mental illness into account when re-entering her room. Her proposed accommodations included respecting her comfort zone, engaging in non-threatening communications, and using the passage of time to defuse the situation.

The Ninth Circuit agreed with Sheehan that Title II of the ADA applies to arrests.  The ADA applies broadly to police “services, programs, or activities,” which the Ninth Circuit interpreted to mean “anything a public entity does,” including arresting people.  The court refused to dismiss Sheehan’s ADA claim against the city reasoning that whether her proposed accommodations are reasonable is a question of fact for a jury.

The Ninth Circuit also concluded that re-entry into Sheehan’s room violated the Fourth Amendment because it was unreasonable. Although Sheehan needed help, “the officers had no reason to believe that a delay in entering her room would cause her serious harm, especially when weighed against the high likelihood that a deadly confrontation would ensue if they forced a confrontation.”

State and local government officials can be sued for money damages in their individual capacity if they violate a person’s constitutional rights. Qualified immunity protects government officials from such lawsuits where the law they violated isn’t “clearly established.”

The Ninth Circuit refused to grant the officers qualified immunity related to their reentry, stating “If there was no pressing need to rush in, and every reason to expect that doing so would result in Sheehan’s death or serious injury, then any reasonable officer would have known that this use of force was excessive.” The Court will review the Ninth Circuit’s qualified immunity ruling.

The SLLC’s amicus brief argues that the ADA should not apply to arrests. While few police departments have the resources to adopt specialized approaches to responding to incidents involving the mentally ill, no conclusive evidence indicates that these approaches reduce the rate or severity of injuries to mentally ill suspects. No one-size fits-all approach makes sense, because police officers encounter a wide range of suspects with mental illnesses. And even psychiatrists – much less police officers who aren’t mental health professionals – cannot predict with any reasonable degree of certainty whether an armed suspect with a mental illness will harm himself or herself or others in an emergency. Finally, because the officers in this case could not predict whether Sheehan would harm herself or others if they did not reenter her room, the brief argues that they are entitled to qualified immunity.

Orry Korb, Danny Chou, Greta Hanson, and Melissa Kiniyalocts, County of Santa Clara, California wrote the SLLC’s amicus brief which was joined by the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the International City/County Management Association, and the United States Conference of Mayors.

Lisa Soronen bio photoAbout the Author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

A Term of Recurring Themes

Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

If you follow the Supreme Court’s docket, one theme from this term is unmistakable:  patent cases.  The Court has taken at least five patent cases (out of less than 70).  But patents don’t worry the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC).  Qualified immunity and protesters do.  And the Court has been immersed in both of these issues too.

Earlier this month the SLLC filed an amicus brief in a qualified immunity case involving deadly force, which NLC signed onto.  Earlier in the term the SLLC filed an amicus brief in a case involving a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics adopted by the Massachusetts legislature to keep protesters from crowding, which NLC also signed onto.  Now the themes of qualified immunity and protesters collide in Wood v. Moss.  The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case, which again, NLC joined.

In this case, the Court will decide whether Secret Service agents engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination when they moved anti-Bush protesters about one block further from the President than pro-Bush demonstrators.  The Court also will decide whether the lower court evaluated the viewpoint discrimination claim at too high a level of generality when determining whether the agents should have been granted qualified immunity.

Pro- and anti-President Bush demonstrators had equal access to the President as his motorcade arrived in Jacksonville, Oregon.  But when the President made an unexpected stop for dinner at the Jacksonville Inn’s outdoor patio, Secret Service agents, assisted by state and local police officers, moved the anti-Bush protesters, who were closer to the restaurant than the pro-Bush demonstrators, about one block further from the President than the pro-Bush demonstrators.

The anti-Bush protesters sued two Secret Service agents claiming their First Amendment right to be free from viewpoint discrimination had been violated.  The Ninth Circuit denied the agents qualified immunity.  Government officials can be sued for money damages in their individual capacity if they violate a person’s constitutional rights. Qualified immunity protects government officials from such lawsuits where the law they violated isn’t “clearly established.”

The Supreme Court will decide whether the lower court evaluated the qualified immunity question in this case too generally.  The Ninth Circuit focused on its conclusion that the agents engaged in viewpoint discrimination instead of whether it was clearly established that the anti-Bush protesters could not be moved further away from the President than the pro-Bush demonstrators.  The Court also will decide whether the anti-Bush protesters have adequately claimed viewpoint discrimination when there was an obvious security-based rationale for moving them:  they were closer to the President.

The SLLC’s amicus brief encourages the Court to tour downtown Jacksonville using Google Maps Street View.  What the Justices will discover is that there is a parking lot adjacent to the Jacksonville Inn’s outdoor patio which the anti-Bush protesters would have had direct access to had they not been moved a block away.  Pro-Bush demonstrators had no direct access to the Inn where they were gathered because the side of the Inn they were facing was totally blocked by another building.

The SLLC’s brief also argues that when the safety of the President is at stake, police may consider the content of speech.  Finally, the brief argues that the lower court evaluated the qualified immunity question in this case without consideration of the facts, so, too generally.

Oral argument will be March 26.  The Court will issue an opinion by the end of June.

NLC Supports Arkansas League before the Supreme Court

Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

To have a case before the United States Supreme Court is quite an honor for most lawyers, and Michael Mosley is no exception. On March 4th, Arkansas Municipal League Attorney Michael Mosley will argue a case that he has been working on for almost a decade before the nine Justices. In the case, Plumhoff v. Rickard, the Supreme Court will decide whether police officers are entitled to qualified immunity for the use of deadly force in a high speed chase. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief, which NLC joined.

A quick refresher on qualified immunity: state and local government officials can be sued for financial damages in their individual capacity if they violate a person’s constitutional rights. Qualified immunity protects government officials from such lawsuits where the law they violated isn’t “clearly established.” Qualified immunity is intended to protect “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.”

In July 2004, police officers shot and killed Donald Rickard and his passenger after Rickard led police on a high-speed chase. Their families sought money damages claiming the officers violated the Fourth Amendment by using excessive force. The officers argued they should be granted qualified immunity because their use of force wasn’t prohibited by clearly established law.

The Supreme Court will decide whether the Sixth Circuit properly denied qualified immunity by distinguishing this case, which arose in 2004, from a 2007 Supreme Court decision. The Court also will decide whether qualified immunity should be denied based on the facts of this case. Rickard wove through traffic on an interstate connecting two states, collided with police vehicles twice and used his vehicle to escape after being surrounded by police officers, nearly hitting at least one officer.

Mosley, who is representing the police officers, expressed hope that “the Supreme Court will rule that my clients’ conduct was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”

The SLLC’s brief argues that the Supreme Court should rule as follows: officers retain qualified immunity from Fourth Amendment force claims so long as it is arguable, on the historical facts most favorable to the plaintiff, that the force was reasonable. In evaluating immunity, a court must adopt the inferences that a reasonable officer could arguably draw from the facts, regardless of whether those inferences are factual or legal. It is a legal question whether—based on the historical facts, the inferences an officer could arguably draw from them, and clearly established law—only a plainly incompetent officer could conclude that force was reasonable.

The National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Association of Counties, the International City/County Management Association, the United States Conference of Mayors and the International Municipal Lawyers Association also signed onto the SLLC’s brief.

The Supreme Court will issue an opinion in this case by June 30, 2014.

NLC Joins Public Safety Buffer Zone Case

Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

It looks like an abortion case…but it really isn’t.  It just happens to have come up in the abortion clinic context.   It’s actually a speech case; a time, place, and manner case.  And local governments use speech buffer zones all the time in many contexts.  So a lot could be a stake in this case.

The Supreme Court will decide in McCullen v. Coakley whether a Massachusetts statute prohibiting speech within 35-feet of a reproductive health care facility violates the First Amendment.  The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case, which NLC signed onto.

Massachusetts law initially allowed protesters to come within six feet of those entering a clinic, within an 18-foot buffer zone around the clinic.  Protesters would crowd six feet from a clinic door, making entry into the clinic difficult and intimidating.  In 2007, Massachusetts adopted a 35-foot fixed buffer zone around clinics.  The First Circuit held that this statute is a constitutional time, place, and manner regulation of speech because numerous communication channels remain available to protesters.

The SLLC’s brief points out that how the Court rules in this case could affect state and local government’s ability to regulate speech to protect public safety in many contexts.  For example, lower courts have upheld buffer zones to prevent congestion at special events and places that regularly draw crowds (funerals, for instance).  These buffer zones and many others may be in jeopardy if the Court rules against Massachusetts.

The National Association of Counties, the United States Conference of Mayors, the International City/County Management Association, and the International Municipal Lawyers Association also joined this brief.

Oral argument has been scheduled for January 15.  The Supreme Court will issue an opinion in this case by June 30, 2014. 

What the Philanthropic and Business Sectors Can Do to Help Reduce Violence and Gun Crime

This post is part of a series, ‘Galvanizing the Civic Sector to Reduce Gun Violence.’  The series focuses on what several sectors – including parents, teens, schools, hospitals, the faith community and city leaders – can do, independent of state and federal legislative activity, to reduce violence and the number of gun-related deaths.

Most private or business-related foundations do not list violence prevention among their top funding priorities.  However, if one views violence prevention work through a wide lens, then many if not most foundations play some role in helping to reduce violence.  In point of fact, if one sees violence prevention as stopping crime and helping to build vital communities that do not generate crime, then initiatives such as mentoring, afterschool programs, family support, job training and neighborhood improvement all can and do fit under the rubric of violence prevention.  The potency of such initiatives is maximized if they are part of a comprehensive citywide plan blending prevention, intervention, enforcement and reentry.

Because of its ability to move fast, take risks and tailor the work to community realities, the private sector’s participation in violence prevention is essential.  America, with five percent of the world’s population, locks up 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.  At a cost of $80 billion, one in every 107 Americans was behind bars and one in every 34 was under correctional supervision at the end of 2011.  On the basis of these staggering prison costs, and realizing the status quo is neither effective nor efficient, those on both sides of the political spectrum now argue together for fundamental changes.  Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent critique of “draconian mandatory minimums,” which result in the warehousing of low-level offenders, signals a growing consensus that the U.S. must reduce its excessive dependence on incarceration.  This shift will mean, in part, an increased demand for proven, evidence-based community programs that affix responsibility and provide help for such offenders.

Activists and policymakers at the local, state and federal levels will almost certainly turn to the private sector for help, and local officials should balance their needs with an assessment of what particular foundations stand for and what they have funded in the past.  City leaders who are spearheading violence prevention efforts must think pragmatically, too.  Low crime and little fear mean citizens are unafraid to shop; a violence-free environment is good for business.  Local businesses should be among a city’s active partners.

Finally, city leaders can show potential supporters how their investment connects to others.  Single interventions are okay, but limited unless part of a larger context.  Showing funders how their support fits into a comprehensive plan, how it will be leveraged, increases the chances of securing funding.

What Factors have Brought Foundations in to Work on Violence Prevention Efforts?

Interviews with leaders of national and state-based foundations suggest a multitude of factors that are motivating the philanthropic sector to engage in violence prevention work:

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