Published: Saturday 1 December 2012
Published: Tuesday 18 September 2012
The Memphis area is one of several embroiled in controversies over school discipline


Meridian is not alone under the Justice Department magnifying glass. In a somewhat similar case in Tennessee,  DOJ says the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County has failed both to inform children of the charges against them and to make sure they understand what their legal rights are ahead of questioning. Like Meridian, the juvenile court is also accused of failing to hold timely hearings.

Worries about a school-to-prison pipeline have grown in recent years, but there are different ways to define the issue, said Jim Freeman, senior attorney at Advancement Project, a nonprofit legal action group that fights racial injustice.

“How I like to define it,” Freeman said, “is the use of policies and practices that increase the likelihood that young people become incarcerated.”

That includes at-school arrests for minor behavioral incidents, as well as what he calls more indirect actions, like suspensions, expulsions or references to juvenile court or alternative schools.

Such practices have grown in the last 10 to 15 years, he said. ...

Published: Monday 17 September 2012
“When he was charged with vandalizing a school bus security camera, he was booted from school.”


Lionel Townsend will turn 14 in September. And a few months after that he will be able to return to school, ending a year of exile.

Lionel admits he got into fights multiple times at Magnolia Middle School. When he was charged with vandalizing a school bus security camera, he was booted from school. He fought again in a community day program. The county Youth Court eventually put him on probation and ordered him to stay at home with an ankle monitor.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is alleging the juvenile justice system here is so faulty that it amounts to a “school-to-prison pipeline.”

“If you do wrong, you got to pay,” insisted Lionel’s mother, Ella Townsend, speaking in the living room of the home she shares with her mother, Lionel and four of the boy’s siblings. Lionel listens quietly, a skinny boy, who grins when attention is turned to him, or he’s teased about the sparkly blue earring studded in his ear. “But “that was harsh punishment,” she said, “I feel like they were sort of out of order.”

Townsend says her son’s ankle monitor was so sensitive it went off if he went in the back yard. The young man is rid of it now, but not before he gouged off the speaker, causing what Townsend said the court assessed as $1,500 in damage.

She worries if Lionel makes another mistake, he will end up in prison with adults, where he will learn little more than how to be a criminal.

The Justice Department says it has probable cause to believe the city of Meridian and Lauderdale County routinely and  repeatedly incarcerate children for school disciplinary infractions, as outlined in an Aug. 10 open letter that was issued at the conclusion of an eight-month investigation. The department’s letter is addressed to the city ...

Published: Friday 13 July 2012
“DOJ found that Wells Fargo’s discriminatory lending practices resulted in African-American and Hispanic borrowers paying higher rates for loans solely because of the color of their skin.”


Yesterday, the Justice Department announced an agreement by Wells Fargo to pay $175 million in order to settle claims that its independent brokers discriminated against black and Hispanic borrowers. The Wells Fargo settlement, if approved, will be the second largest residential fair-lending settlement in DOJ’s history.

DOJ found that Wells Fargo’s discriminatory lending practices resulted in African-American and Hispanic borrowers paying higher rates for loans solely because of the color of their skin. Minority borrowers were both steered into sub-prime loans and charged higher fees.

An investigation by the department’s civil rights division found that mortgage brokers working with Wells Fargo had charged higher fees and rates to more than 30,000 minority borrowers across the country than they had to white borrowers who posed the same credit risk, according to a complaint filed on Thursday along with the proposed settlement.

Wells Fargo brokers also steered more than 4,000 minority borrowers into costlier subprime mortgages when white borrowers with similar credit risk profiles had received regular loans, a Justice Department complaint found. The deal covers the subprime bubble years of 2004 to 2009.

Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, said the practices amounted to a “racial surtax,” adding: “All ...

Published: Friday 9 March 2012
“Groups demand FBI address concerns from governors and other high level state and local officials that program undermines public safety.”

Today, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and more than 80 other civil and immigrant rights organizations sent a letter to the FBI demanding that it end its facilitation of ICE’s Secure Communities deportation program (S-Comm).

The groups charge that S-Comm threatens public safety, encourages racial profiling and undermines community policing by turning local police departments into gateways to deportation. Under S-Comm, the FBI takes all fingerprints submitted by local police for criminal background checks and automatically forwards the prints to federal immigration officials, regardless of whether individual has been convicted of a crime or of the severity of the charge. 

Last summer, the governors of New York, Illinois, and Massachusetts requested that S-Comm be delayed or deactivated in their states. The FBI, as the agency that manages the federal criminal fingerprint database, has the ability to grant the governors’ request, but thus far has not provided an official response. 

Today’s letter calls upon the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Advisory ...

Published: Saturday 14 January 2012
The DOJ still has an ongoing investigation on Arpaio for excessive use of force within his jail.

Mike Atencio watched the crowd of protesters outside the offices of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (MCSO) at the Wells Fargo building in downtown Phoenix listening to the chants of “Arrest Arpaio, not the people.”

The latest protest convened by the PUENTE Movement, an Arizona-based immigrant rights group, comes on the heels of public outrage over surveillance videos that show deputies beating and using a Taser gun on Atencio’s brother on Arpaio’s Fourth Avenue jail on Dec. 16.

Groups like PUENTE are holding Arpaio accountable for the death of Ernest “Marty” Atencio. The war veteran was pronounced brain dead after the beating, and five days later, his family decided to remove him from life support.

“We want him arrested,” said Carlos García, the director of the PUENTE Movement. “I don’t think I ever heard of anyone to retire [sic] after murder."

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s office is investigating Atencio’s beating, and Arpaio has made no comments about it.


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