Black Lives Matter, protests, and the search for justice

Over the last week, protests against police violence – sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis – have sprung up not just across America but as far away as Argentina, Iran, Kenya, and New Zealand.

President Trump has condemned these as “violent protests” and blames “professional anarchists,” however as Trump was speaking in the Rose Garden Monday evening, DC Police along with Park Police and possibly Secret Service were using riot shields, tear gas and rubber bullets to remove protesters from Lafayette Square and the street in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church so the President could walk to the Church from the White House for a photo op.

Riot police across the country have similarly used these tactics to try dispersing peaceful protesters, and in some cases have been met with resistance. In Indianapolis riot police destroyed the donated medical supplies before pepper-spraying the medical personnel and then deploying tear gas on protesters. And it’s not just protesters who are subject to this violence. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says “Journalists have been attacked at least 100 times in the last four days. We shouldn’t need to say this, but [we]” strongly believe: Journalists should not be pepper sprayed; shot with rubber bullets; be threatened, harassed, or beaten; or be arbitrarily detained.

While some, including the President, are focused on the rare acts of violence at protests; the message of the protests seems to be falling on deaf ears.

We have a problem of systemic racism in our criminal justice system. Not only is it common for police to act as Judge, Jury and Executioner with over 5,360 people killed by police since 2015; but minorities are victims at a disproportionate ratio. states, “Police killed 1004 people in 2019. Black people were 24% of those killed despite being only 13% of the population.”

Minorities are also more likely to be arrested or in jail than their white counterparts. In New Hampshire specifically, an NHPR report from 2016 shows that African-Americans are 2.8 times more likely to be arrested, and 5.2 times more likely to be in jail than a white person, compared to 2.5 times more likely for Hispanics to be in jail than a white person. And an ACLU report released earlier this year shows that African-Americans are 4.1 times more likely that whites to be arrested for cannabis related offenses, despite numerous studies showing cannabis use to be similar across racial demographics.

These disparities are the reasons for the protests across the country.

The question before us now is: how do we fix these problems?

We first have to acknowledge the root of these problems. To start, there are simply too many laws; many of which disproportionately affect poor and minority communities. For example, licensing laws, prohibit people from working in certain fields without jumping through regulatory hurdles. These laws are often championed by existing businesses in the field as a way to limit competition. Zoning laws often prohibit mixing residential and commercial spaces, which means people can’t work close to where they live. Which for someone without their own form of transportation makes finding and retaining employment difficult, especially in locations with limited (or no) public transportation.

When these laws and regulations are combined, it’s no wonder some people feel helpless and turn to working in the black market to survive. The existence of black market opportunities is pretext for police to patrol these neighborhoods at a higher rate than they would patrol a more affluent neighborhood.

Aside from eliminating victimless crime laws, we also need to ensure that innocent men and women are not being wrongfully convicted, and we need to take further steps to prevent police from killing people.

To handle wrongful conventions, the New Hampshire Legislature needs to expand post-conviction relief which includes expanded access to DNA evidence. The Innocence Project cites other contributing factors to a wrongful convention include: eyewitness misidentification, misapplication of forensic science, false confessions, unreliable jailhouse informant testimony, and inadequate defense. All of these are issued that need to be reviewed. If elected Governor, I will convene a Task Force – made up of members of the Legislature and Attorney General’s Office, as well as representatives from the ACLU, Innocence Project, New Hampshire Legal Aid and other organizations that seek to protect the rights of the accused – to look at ways to solve these problems. Anyone who has been wrongfully convicted should also receive compensation for the time they were incarcerated.

Additionally, I will work with the Legislature and Police throughout the Granite State to require police first try to de-escalate a situation before using non-lethal force, with a prohibition on chokeholds and strangleholds, and requirements for verbal warnings before shooting at a suspect. Police should also be required to fully document all instances in which any use of force was used, and the NH Department of Justice shall compile these reports and release a Quarterly Report on the Use of Force by police. Further, I will work with the Legislature to institute a Duty to Intervene if an officer observes any excessive use of force.

Finally, I will work with the Legislature to abolish qualified immunity for police and prosecutors, so that people who have had their rights violated can hold accountable the supposed public servant who has violated their rights.

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