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Archive for October, 2013

Supreme Court Cases to Watch in 2013 Term

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

supcourt_buildingThe government is shut down but the Supreme Court is hard at work hearing cases for the October Term, 2013.  On Tuesday, the high Court heard a case on affirmative action to decide if a State by referendum can ban affirmative action in higher public institutions.  The justices will be asked to uphold Michigan’s voter initiative forbidding “preferential” admissions based on race.  Other cases that are expected to be heard this term are on abortion rights, gay rights, the Affordable Care Act, search of cell phones upon arrest and prayer at town hall meetings, to name a few.

The case, Schuette vs. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, was heard on Oct. 15 on the question of  does it violate the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection when a state bans such considerations in public-university admissions across the state through a constitutional amendment?  Justice Elena Kagan is not participating in the case, but a 4-4 decision would mean the Sixth Circuit’s decision holding the ban unconstitutional would stand, so supporters of the amendment need at least five votes to uphold the amendment.

On the issue of gay rights and religious objection is Elaine Photography v. Willock  where a photographer holding out business to the public may refuse to photograph same sex commitment ceremonies on the basis of religion.  The previous appleate court’s ruling is that New Mexico businesses that choose to be public accommodations must comply with the NMHRA, although such businesses retain their First Amendment rights to express their religious or political beliefs. They may, for example, post a disclaimer on their website or in their studio advertising that they oppose same-sex marriage but that they comply with applicable anti-discrimination laws.”

The Supreme Court is still deciding on cases to add to its current term. The Supreme Court’s new session will almost certainly see a ruling on state power to limit the use of some abortion-inducing drugs. Arizona’s attorneys asked the court to uphold the state’s ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a measure that was blocked on the basis of Roe vs. Wade.

The court is also expected to rule on the health law’s mandate that almost all employer health plans cover contraception.   By next spring, the justices are likely to revisit part of President Obama’s healthcare law to decide a religious-rights challenge to the requirement that large private employers provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives.

Dozens of employers who run for-profit companies have sued, contending that providing health insurance that includes a full range of contraceptives violates their religious beliefs.

In an interview which I held with BET News, I discuss other Supreme Court  cases with their Washington Correspondent, Andre Showell.


Miriam Carey, Post-Partum Depression and Mental Health

Friday, October 11th, 2013

police-chase_mediumMore than one week since Miriam Carey was shot and killed by police, after a chase from the White House to the U.S. Capitol, there have been few voices speaking out and questioning her death and the issues surrounding it.  Her sisters and family stated that she suffered from post-partum depression following the birth of her one year old daughter, Erica.   According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of post-partum depression range from insomnia, mood swings, overwhelming fatigue, appetite loss to a more severe condition called post-partum psychosis.  The Mayo Clinic describes post-partum psychosis with symptoms of confusion, delusion, disorientation, hallucination and paranoia. Miriam Carey was being treated for her post-partum depression. She had previously been hospitalized with no history of violence, according to her mother.  And she had a supportive family who was aware of her illness and is speaking out.

On other health issues affecting women, such as abortion, contraceptives, breast cancer, cervical cancer and Planned Parenthood funding, women are quick to speak out. Rarely, do we hear many persons, including women who suffered from mental health illness, addressing post-partum depression which affects 10- 20% of women after delivery. Post-partum depression forces many women to suffer in silence.

Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Act.  The Community Mental Health Act help to establish comprehensive community mental health centers throughout the country, allowing many mentally ill persons to be removed from warehousing in hospitals. In a press release issued today, Chelsea Clinton says: “Fifty years ago, President Kennedy urged Americans to take a bold new approach to mental health care. However today, far too many people still struggle in silence rather than face the stigma of mental illness. Working together, we can better understand these issues and implement smart policy choices to finally end the discrimination.” 

Miriam Carey was branded in the media with the stigma of mental illness. It’s no wonder that those who suffer from mental health issues refrain from coming forward to discuss it.  And those in Congress  gave a standing ovation and applauded the  D.C. police for shooting  Miriam Carey. Of course, no one knew of her mental health issues at the time of her death. Yet few have come forward to speak about her mental health issues since learning about them, except for her family.  It’s as if she is on a mental illness island by herself.

As the saying goes, if we’re not a part of the solution, then we’re part of the problem.  For all who remain silent on post-partum depression and other mental health issues, they’re part of the problem of continuing stigma against these issues. In a society where police shoot and kill an unarmed  34 year old woman suffering from post-partum depression and  few question it, one has to wonder how far we’ve come in the 50 years since the passage of the Community Mental Health Act.  We still have a long way to go. And the case of Miriam Carey is but one example. 

The Angry Black Woman Stereotype and Miriam Carey

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

police-chase_mediumThe media’s perception of the Angry Black Woman stereotype  affects how the public views the police  chase, shooting and killing of Miriam Carey.  At first, Carey was portrayed as a mentally unhinged black woman, suffering from depression.  Some media outlets have depicted her as a woman allegedly upset with President Obama. According to CBS News confirmations,  Carey “told police in December that she was a prophet, that President Obama would place the city of Stamford under a “lockdown” and that he had her and her residence under electronic surveillance.”  


Often black women are viewed by the media in one of three ways, as an “angry black woman”, Mammy (a maid) or as Jezebel, a sexual object.  The media is all too ready to put black women in one of these three boxes. Check box one if you’re the angry black woman. Check box number two if you’re the Mammy, which is considered by many in the mainstream media to be the preferred box.  The Mammy is the docile maid. Think of the movie, The Help. Check box number three if you are Jezebel also known as the seductress.  Miriam Carey was not a box to be checked. She was a 34 year old single mother of a one year old daughter. She was a dental hygienist with a supportive family and friends. And yet something went terribly wrong on October 3 for her to drive to Washington, DC from Stamford, Connecticut with her daughter, Erica, in her car. According to AP reports, a Social Security card, passport and driver’s license were found in her car, hardly the tools of a terrorist. She meant no one any harm.  Yet, Miriam Carey has been implicitly viewed in the media as the Angry Black Woman with mental issues.

Most media outlets were slow to paint the details of Miriam Carey, as a 34 year old single mother of a one year old, a dental hygienist, with supportive family, including a sister who was a former NYPD Sergeant and supportive friends. One of her friends. Donald Knowles, who saw Carey just a few days earlier, said, “she was all smiles, like she didn’t have a care in the world.”  The police and the media  portrayed her in another  fashion and then looked for clues to back up their assessment to find out what her anger and mental instability stemmed from.

Miriam Carey is not the first black woman to be characterized in this fashion. Fox News commentator, Cal Thomas, in 2008 spoke of “angry black women” saying,And who are the black women you see on the local news at night in cities all over the country. They’re usually angry at something.  They’ve had a son who had been shot in a drive-by shooting. So you don’t really have a profile of non-angry black women {{except}} Oprah Winfrey.”   

Melissa Harris Perry wrote of the media’s portrayal of the Angry Black Woman in her book, Sister Citizen.   Even if the police viewed Miriam Carey, in the same way that often black women are portrayed in the media, that still didn’t give them the right or justification to kill her.  Others have come to the White House and the U.S. Capitol, unarmed and engaged in some form of illegal or bizarre behavior, yet, unarmed Miriam Carey was the one to get killed for her bizarre behavior. This begs the question of whether the Angry Black Woman  stereotype is what caused Miriam Carey to meet her death by police shooting her.  One has  to wonder if Miriam Carey was a young, white woman with a baby in the car, if a different outcome would have occurred. 

For whatever reason that  Secret Service police chose to shoot and kill Miriam Carey, there must be a transparent investigation as to the circumstances surrounding this shooting. Her family and the public deserves to know the truth.  A thorough investigation is necessary to explain the justification, if any, for her death.  Joseph Gebhardt, attorney for the U.S. Black Capitol Police Association stated it best, “There must be an objective and transparent investigation of this shooting and chase, which ends in a public report – not some confidential Internal Affairs “investigation” with a predetermined outcome.”

Washington,  DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks blog who addresses issues on race and gender in law and politics. She has appeared in national and local media including  C-Span, the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC, Fox and CBS affiliates,  RT America, CBC- Canadian TV and XM Sirius radio discussing headline legal news.

A Review of Police Killing of Miriam Carey is Needed

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

police-chase_mediumMiriam Carey’s sister, Valarie Carey, a former NYPD Sergeant  spoke out about her sister’s shooting death stating  there is no justification for the police killing of her sister. She stated that, “Deadly physical force was not the ultimate recourse and it didn’t have to be.” A closer examination  reveals that more scrutiny is warranted into the shooting death of Miriam Carey.


Carey, a 34 year old mother of  1 year old Erica Carey and dental hygienist  was killed on  October 3, when police fired 21 shots while chasing her through Washington, DC city streets en route from the White House to the U.S. Capitol.  Carey who is described as suffering from postpartum depression drove from Stamford, Connecticut, where she lived, to the White House. Unable to get through the White House barricade,  she headed towards the U.S. Capitol.  She proceeded with police in full chase towards the U.S. Capitol and ended at the Hart Senate Building, where she was killed by Secret Service police.  Her baby girl and nearby innocent bystanders were left unharmed.


Police with guns a blazing fired shots at Carey with innocent bystanders running for cover, putting the Capitol on lock down and causing havoc in our nation’s capital. This incident came just two weeks after a gun man entered the Navy Yard in Washington, DC and shot and killed 12   persons working there.  No doubt the Navy Yard incident was on the minds of the officers involved which likely affected their actions.


While the Secret Service personnel have been praised by law enforcement for the acts committed against Carey as acting appropriately, a closer look should involve whether proper police protocol was followed.  Law enforcement may say they needed to use other drastic measures because Carey attempted first to enter the White House barricade.   This was not the first time that someone has attempted to enter the White House gates or barricades.  On the same day as the Navy Yard killings, a man threw firecrackers, sounding like gun shots, over the White House fence and was arrested without being shot.  Another man, Ohio resident, Joseph Reel, crashed his Jeep containing more than 200 rounds of ammunition into the steel barriers of the White House  and jumped the fence  to get onto the White House grounds on June 9, 2013.  He was arrested without being shot and later indicted on charges. In fact, there have been others who climbed the White House gates or fence, flew over the no fly zone, protested too close to the gates and none were shot at or killed.  They were subdued and arrested.


A closer examination needs to occur on whether law enforcement acted appropriately with their chase through city streets with shots being fired.  The only shots fired were those of the police.  “I’m more than certain that there was no need for a gun to be used (by police) when there was no gunfire coming from the vehicle,” Valarie Carey, a former NYPD Sergeant said. “I don’t know how their protocols are in D.C., but I do know how they are in New York City.”  And on most chases through metropolitan areas, the police do not shoot, unless of course being shot at by the suspect. That was the case in Boston with the alleged Boston bomber suspects who were firing shots at the police during the chase. Carey did not shoot at police as she was unarmed. A recent 30 mile police chase involving two dozen police cars that occurred from Baltimore County  into the District of Columbia on  August 13, 2013  with an alleged  felony suspect, involved no police shooting.  Police laid  down a spike strip which caused the tires of the vehicle  to flatten. And later, they subdued and arrested the suspect.  And in July, 2013, Park Police chased a vehicle from Washington, D.C. to Virginia without firing shots.

Some law enforcement state they had concern for whether unarmed Carey may have had a bomb.  If she had a bomb, the firing of multiple shots by police would have perhaps made it go off.  There appears to be little reason for that rationale and the firing of shots.  Carey was shot while still inside the car, according to the police.


Law enforcement, particularly Secret Service, have applauded their efforts despite the fact that Carey had no weapons or had ever been convicted, arrested or charged with a crime.  A different story would have emerged if the one year old baby had been shot and killed or if any innocent bystanders had been injured or killed by law enforcement.   That’s the main reason that most police protocol do not allow for high speed chases through city streets with firing of shots unless the police are being shot at.  Carey did no firing at police. Carey was unarmed.


The only weak justification by the police is the U.S. Capitol is on high alert because of the recent Navy Yard killing and police most likely jumped to the conclusion that Carey was another Navy Yard killer type or worse.  But a different result occurred on the same day as the Navy Yard killing when an intruder attempted to illegally enter the White House grounds.


While the law enforcement involved are touting success with killing an unarmed woman and single mother who may have had mental issues, a closer examination should be conducted before any other unarmed Miriam Carey’s are shot and killed or worse, any innocent bystanders in the process.  The only reason why the police are touting success is because no innocent person was injured or killed.  But Miriam Carey, by all accounts, was also innocent of any act requiring an immediate penalty of death.


Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, former   Maryland prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks blog who addresses issues on race, gender and class in law and politics. She regularly contributes articles to the Huffington Post and Women’s Media Center blog. She  appears in national and local media as legal commentator, analyst  and guest host including on C-Span, the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC, Fox and CBS TV affiliates, RT America, CBC- Canadian TV and XM Sirius radio.