My colleague Evan Mintz this week discusses the potential posthumous pardon in Texas for George Floyd and the implications for justice writ large:
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended a full posthumous pardon for George Floyd this week.
Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin in response to a 911 call about a counterfeit $20 bill. His death was preceded by a lifetime of interactions with police: He had been stopped or charged at least 19 times in his adult life, the Washington Post reported, notably in 2004 on accusations of selling $10 of crack. However, the Houston police officer who arrested Floyd in that case, Gerald Goines, is at the center of an investigation into falsified evidence spurred by a failed drug bust that left two people dead in their home. Now Goines is facing murder charges, and the district attorney is reconsidering more than 160 of his arrest cases. So Harris County public defender Allison Mathis submitted a clemency application for Floyd’s arrest, and the state pardon board unanimously agreed.
While we wait to see if Gov. Greg Abbott follows the board’s recommendation, it is clear that a single posthumous pardon won’t be the end of the story. This case points to the larger challenges looming over the system: How public defenders can work toward justice when they’re given the right support. How unaccountable police undermine trust in law enforcement and inflict deep harms on Black communities. How unnecessarily punitive enforcement of low-level misdemeanors keep people — usually Black men — cruelly entangled with the criminal justice system.
“You had a lot of crack in Houston and officers that needed hours or numbers,” former Houston Police Chief C.O. Bradford told the Washington Post. “They would swoop through the neighborhood and make these low-hanging fruit arrests to keep numbers up. They picked up the same person over and over again.”
While felonies make the headlines, low-level misdemeanors are the more likely reason that police interact with people. Police have wider discretion in these cases, and research by the Research Network on Misdemeanor Justice has found stark racial disparities in enforcement and arrest warrants stemming from low-level offenses.
Reforming our misdemeanor system — policing, courts, and jails — is critical to reducing the direct harms and collateral consequences unjustly inflicted on Black communities.
All too many politicians — Democrats and Republicans alike — are willing to speak in mourning of Floyd yet fall silent when it comes to calling for an end to the injustices he endured.
Abbott, a Republican, expressed a commitment to policing reforms before Floyd’s funeral in Houston in June 2020. But when it came time to pass the sweeping reform bill named for Floyd, Abbott instead put his political weight behind a “tough-on-crime” wealth-based detention bill that aimed to undo misdemeanor reforms in Harris County.
Kim Ogg, the Democratic Harris County District Attorney who is prosecuting Goines, is also waging a political war against misdemeanor bail reform that keeps men and women out of jail on low-level offenses. Meanwhile, she continues to pursue backlogged misdemeanor cases despite outside experts recommending they simply be dismissed. As a result, the criminal justice system remains overwhelmed, public resources that could be spent addressing violent crimes are instead dedicated to petty charges, and the next generation of George Floyds remains ensnared in a criminal justice dragnet that keeps communities over-policed and underserved.
Floyd deserves his pardon. But real justice will demand much more.
The Contraception Coalition
That Became a Juggernaut
The story behind the sweeping contraceptive access legislation recently enacted in Colorado provides a playbook on how to get it done. Advocates and practitioners joined forces to advance five complementary bills that the Colorado General Assembly passed — making Colorado a model for health care that is "fundamental to human dignity."
Why it Matters: Nineteen million women in the U.S. lack access to the full range of birth control methods. The problem is especially acute in communities of color. Insurance coverage for family planning services is overwhelmingly popular nationally, but policies supporting that have been under attack in recent years.
What to Copy: A unique and broad-based coalition of reproductive rights organizations, grassroots social justice nonprofits, and public health practitioners drove a unified state-level campaign that addressed the gaps in the federal Affordable Care Act. Advocates for family planning services often find themselves in competition with each other — and with other policy-focused social justice organizations — for both state dollars and policymaker attention. But in this case, they banded together, put all the proposed new measures on one sheet of paper, and pushed it as a single agenda.
School districts around the country are rushing to implement tutoring to help students facing learning loss from the pandemic. There are promising signs that this may indeed be an effective approach. But in our hurry, and without proof these programs work, we run the risk of launching ineffective programs.
Why it Matters: Data shows COVID's disruption of in-person learning — and of so much else about life — means students returning to classrooms have fallen further behind grade-level learning standards. Tutoring intuitively seems like a smart intervention. But without research to validate the effectiveness of different approaches, blanket implementations could leave students unprepared in the years to come.
What's Next: AV and the Overdeck Family Foundation are teaming up to support the expansion of a format called high-dosage tutoring, given the promising evidence established by decades of research. The need is urgent and immense, so we're also supporting the evaluation of other program designs and delivery in order to identify the best of the rest — and then get them to more districts.
Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices would make life-saving drugs affordable to millions of Americans who cannot afford them right now, without stifling innovation, write Mark Miller, AV’s executive vice president of health care, and David Blumenthal and Lovisa Gustafsson of the Commonwealth Fund.
“We could start by reinvesting a substantial fraction of the hundreds of billions of dollars that could be saved from pending drug-payment-reform legislation into the most powerful engine of innovation in drug development: the National Institutes of Health and its academic research partners,” the trio write in an op-ed published in Harvard Business Review: “The U.S. Can Lower Drug Prices Without Sacrificing Innovation.”
Smart reform and the reinvestment of resulting savings would protect true innovation, the kind that is no longer dominated by large pharmaceutical companies, which are instead primarily funneling their dollars into lobbying, marketing, and buying up small, innovative companies rather than investing in research and development.
A disturbing assessment of the state of emergency inside Rikers Island, the New York City jail complex, as told to The Marshall Project by those incarcerated there, corrections officers, and officials. “Right now, nobody needs to be in Rikers.”
Dozens of states have tried to end qualified immunity, but police officers and unions have helped to defeat nearly every bill, The Washington Post reports.
The Crime Report looks at a RAND Corporation study that found Black motorists in Virginia face more serious charges for “excessive speeding” than white motorists do — even when committing the same speeding infraction.
The 19th* dives deeper into the report we highlighted last week on the increasing number of women serving life sentences in prison. “The systems that we have in this country that are supposed to provide safety nets, and are supposed to keep people safe and protect communities, I think are failing women,” says report author Ashley Nellis with the Sentencing Project.
The criminal justice system has long been the first response to substance use disorder — with minimal success. A video series and new guide by the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College offers prosecutors strategies for advancing drug policy grounded in principles of public health and racial justice.
A powerful photo essay from The New York Times illustrates the staggering financial burden on people in Florida who are barred from voting because of fines and fees from a prior felony conviction. “It’s like I’m not a citizen. That’s what they’re saying.” (free link for Abstract readers)
Similar hospital services for treating COVID-19 have generated widely disparate bills for patients, with charges varying by tens of thousands of dollars, a Wall Street Journal analysis shows. (free link for Abstract readers)
Brookings examines policies that can mitigate the harmful effects of private equity acquisitions in health care.
The Columbia Journalism Review profiles Real Change, a weekly Seattle newspaper and nonprofit that centers the experience of unhoused people in its coverage — and provides them an opportunity to earn income. “There’s the old axiom that journalism is meant to speak truth to power. That’s true, but it’s also meant to remind people who’ve been told they’re powerless that they’re not.”
Al Jazeera English’s Fault Lines and the nonprofit newsroom The Lens partner for the short documentary “The Jim Crow Convictions,” free to stream on YouTube. It’s the story of the problematic trial and conviction of Brandon Jackson, who in 1997 was sentenced to life in prison in the armed robbery of a Louisiana Applebee’s — despite two jurors voting not guilty (both of whom were Black). Jackson denies involvement in the robbery, there was no physical evidence tying him to it, and much doubt has been cast on the “star witness” testimony. At the time, Louisiana was one of two states that allowed non-unanimous jury convictions; elsewhere, he would have had the right to a retrial. Non-unanimous jury convictions were an outgrowth of the Jim Crow era and used to diminish the influence of Black jurors. The Supreme Court in 2020 ruled them unconstitutional, but this year said the decision would not retroactively apply to the more than 1,500 people still convicted and imprisoned under the law — most of whom are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole — and the state Legislature blocked a bill that would have offered a path forward for people like Jackson. It did, however, create a task force to study the issue of providing relief for those in prison on non-unanimous verdicts. Jackson is still behind bars, and his lawyers are still pursuing post-conviction relief.
Some Final Inspiration
Journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratovwin the Nobel Peace Prize for their fight for freedom of expression and holding powerful leaders to account.
How did it take me so long to discover this Instagram account? Photographer Christian Vieler captures with hilarity dogs catching treats.
Join a discussion on “Improving Data Infrastructure to Reduce Firearms Violence” at 2 p.m. EDT on Tuesday Oct. 19. The event is co-hosted by NORC at the University of Chicago, Arnold Ventures, the Data Foundation, and the National Prevention Science Coalition. Learn more and register.
We're Seeking Proposals
The Higher Education team seeks grant applications to build the evidence base on effective student support strategies for students enrolled in online postsecondary programs, either fully-online or in hybrid modalities. Respondents can read the RFP; school or program letters of interest are welcomed until Oct. 11.
The Complex Care team is funding research into how to improve the systems that deliver care to a population of more than 12 million people who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. Learn more here.
Stephanie DiCapua Getman develops and executes Arnold Ventures' digital communications strategy with a focus on multimedia storytelling and audience engagement and oversees daily editorial operations and design.
You are receiving this email because you registered for news updates from Arnold Ventures.
1717 West Loop South
Houston, TX 77027
Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp