New Mobile Justice App: Because Freedom Can’t Protect Itself


It is no secret that police brutality exists and is often targeted towards minority groups particularly African American and Latino citizens. Almost daily throughout the country, there are news reports depicting the inhumane nature of police interactions with people of color.  Also on social media, news feeds and twitter pages are filled with accounts about vicious attacks made by police on marginalized groups, and these attacks many times result in unnecessary death or trauma.

For people of color, police engagement instills a deep sense of fear and resentment towards those who are tasked with protecting and serving our communities. Historically, police departments have been used as legal enforcers for racial oppression. Most Caucasians see police officers simply working to maintain their safety while most people of color feel terrorized by them. Almost always, police are given a slap on the wrist for police brutality and excessive uses of force. Very rarely are they charged with their crimes, even when their actions result in unjustified homicide.

As I write, I remember two unwarranted deaths that had occurred while I lived in Pittsburgh.  Both victims were African American and unarmed- one was a teenager and the other was a mentally ill adult.  The teenager was shot and killed for walking home in his community, called the Hill District.  The other was tased to death in front of a gas station.

I also think about LaQuan McDonald, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and the countless number of victims that die yearly because of police brutality.  Let us give them a moment of silence to honor their memory and direct compassion towards their families.  During 2015 alone, police killed more than 100 unarmed African Americans, which means at least two unarmed African Americans are killed each week by police in the United States.

However, now there is hope to make an inhumane and unjust police system answer for brutality against minority groups. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri recently created a free mobile justice app that can be downloaded to any smart phone in order to hold the police system of Missouri accountable for its numerous attacks against marginalized groups.  Since the killing of Michael Brown, police brutality has exponentially grown in Missouri, which inspired the creation of this app to halt its prevalence.

This app, known as ACLU of Missouri Mobile Justice App 2, is free to anyone and offers many features that empower the community to act against police brutality.  The four main features of this app include:  1) Recording, 2) Witnessing, 3) Reporting, and 4) Educating about rights.  It allows app holders to record instances of brutal police encounters that are instantly emailed to ACLU of Missouri.  It also alerts other app users in the area of police brutality so that they can bear witness and offer testimony against police officers.

Additionally, it allows victims and witnesses of police brutality to accurately report inhumane and unlawful encounters with the police.  Lastly, this app educates its users about their rights as citizens, which includes the right to videotape police brutality despite what is said by police officers.  Thus, this app provides a mechanism to stop police brutality through visibility and accountability.

ACLU of Missouri cautions the usage of this app since police officers are armed and dangerous.  They suggest that users announce to police that they are reaching for their phone, while also reminding officers that recording is a civil liberty.  Ultimately if your life is in danger, app creators suggest that you put down the phone.  However, once the recording is initiated, it automatically alerts others and is sent to ACLU of Missouri’s email.

This app is a first and necessary step in ending police brutality against minority groups in the United States.  Other states can now model the creation their own mobile justice app in order to hold police accountable throughout the country.  More importantly, this app allows citizens across the United States to become educated about the cruel nature of police interactions in order to activate change within their communities.

This app empowers us citizens to prevent the unnecessary killing of unarmed minority citizens.  #BlackLivesMatter just as much as white lives.  Hispanic lives matter, Muslim lives, Asian lives, and Native American Lives too, but we cannot have justice until people of color lives matter just as much as white lives. Our police can no longer serve to protect solely its white members while targeting and killing minority groups.

Filming police brutality? Of course there’s an app for that

Posted by NowThis on Friday, May 1, 2015


Restraining Young People in Custody for the Purposes of “Discipline” is Dangerous and illegal

Earlier this year the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling unveiled plans for an £85 million secure young offender unit in Leicestershire which will open in 2017. The unit will hold 320 boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 17 and its intention is to put “education at the heart of custody” and reduce re-offending. There has been mass condemnation of the “secure college” from various member organizations of the Standing Committee of Youth Justice including the Howard League for Penal Reform who described the government’s plan as “flawed, dangerous and a recipe for child abuse.”

20031016-liss-mw08-008-910To add further controversy to the plans, Chris Grayling has called for the re-introduction of restraint techniques to be used on the young people held in the unit. The details enclosed in Part 2 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, permit custody officers to use force on children in custody in order to maintain good order and discipline (GOAD). Use of force is currently permitted in youth custody as a last resort for preventing harm to other young people.

However, in 2008 a judgement by the Court of Appeal ruled that use of force must only be used where absolutely necessary. Applying use of force on children as a means of disciplining them does not comply with the criteria of ‘absolutely necessary’ and is therefore incompatible with Articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The use of force on children in custody is both ineffective in reducing re-offending rates and dangerous. Lord Carlile QC undertook an independent review of the use of force on children in custody and found that violence often became the norm by custody officers.

The tragic death of Gareth Myatt in 2004 was a valuable and costly lesson for the Youth Justice Board and demonstrates the unpredictable consequences of restraint techniques.

On April 19th 2004, Gareth, aged 14 and weighing under seven stone, was put in to the seated double embrace position by three adults after refusing to clean a toaster in the communal dining area. Gareth protested that he could not breathe but his pleas were ignored until he finally choked on his own vomit.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Open Society Foundation

From 1990 to 2011, 31 children died in custody. Whilst 29 of those deaths were self-inflicted, the figure highlights the already desperate situation of children who end up in custodial settings.

These young people are often the most vulnerable, neglected and socially isolated in society. Many have grown up experiencing severe physical and sexual abuse. Their unfair and troubled childhood is often the main factor leading them to prison. To add further violence for the purposes of GOAD in YOIs will only further reinforce the lesson that many of these children already know; that life is a cruel and violent place. The lessons they have never learned are how to feel safe, loved and respected.

If our aim as a society is to rehabilitate young people and reduce crime we must take an evidence-led approach. Virginie Despentes astutely said: “What does prison create? It is no solution, just the face of inhumanity, the dirty mirror reflecting how poorly we live together, how we only know how to respond to violence by unleashing more violence.”

Chris Grayling’s insistence on re-introducing restraint techniques to maintain order is a clear backwards step in prison reform.

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