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In the Media: Md. Prison Spending; D. Watkins Writes About Obama's Town Hall on Policing

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A digest of Baltimore news from local sources.

From the Baltimore Sun: Before next trial in Freddie Gray case, prosecutors face legal ‘minefield’ over immunized testimony

"Before the next Baltimore police officer stands trial in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, prosecutors will face a barrage of legal questions about whether they gleaned any evidence or strategic advantage from his forced testimony in the trial of another officer in May.

"One state high court judge called the process a legal 'minefield.' An assistant attorney general representing the prosecution said it could present a 'banquet of consequences' for them.

"Officer Garrett Miller, 27, was compelled against his will to testify in the trial of Officer Edward Nero under a limited form of immunity that prevents prosecutors from using anything he said on the stand against him at his own trial.

"Miller's trial is scheduled to begin Wednesday. Before it starts, Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams is expected to hold a hearing to determine whether prosecutors took the proper steps to ensure the terms of that immunity agreement — designed to protect Miller's constitutional right against self-incrimination — have not been violated.

"Prosecutors and defense attorneys have filed written motions about that so-called Kastigar hearing, and Williams is expected to hear arguments on those and other pretrial motions Wednesday morning.

"It remains unclear how long the hearing will take and whether it will significantly delay the start of the trial itself. Never in Maryland has a defendant gone to trial after having been compelled to testify against a co-defendant.

"What is clear is that the hearing will mark a significant turning point in the prosecution of the six officers charged in Gray's arrest and death.

"The need for the prosecution in Miller's case to be completely unswayed by his testimony in Nero's trial led the state to introduce a 'clean team' of fresh prosecutors who were 'instructed not to watch any news coverage of any trials involving the testimony of Officer Miller, not to discuss the testimony of Officer Miller and to take precautions to ensure that they would not be exposed to Officer Miller's immunized testimony.'

"That means that for the first time in the Gray case, senior prosecutors Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow and Deputy State's Attorney Janice Bledsoe will not lead the prosecution. Instead, Assistant State's Attorney Lisa Phelps, a veteran of the city state's attorney's office, and Sarah David, who joined the office in 2014, will assume the duty of seeking a conviction. Schatzow and Bledsoe, their superiors, have come up empty in four previous trials."

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From the Baltimore Sun: Spending on prisons grows faster than spending on education

"Spending on prisons and jails in Maryland has grown twice as fast as spending on elementary and secondary education over three decades, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Education.

"Nationally, state and local spending increased three times as fast for prisons as for education.

"The report was based on an analysis of federal data for state and local spending from 1980 to 2013.

"'While Maryland thinks of itself as a state supportive of education, this important report shines a light on a disturbing trend,' said Bebe Verdery, education director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

"Over those 33 years, Maryland's expenditure on education grew from $5.3 billion to $12.1 billion while spending on corrections rose from $457 million to $1.7 billion.

"The number of people who were incarcerated rose from 11,152 in 1980 to 33,398 in 2013 in the state. The state's population was rising during that period, but at a far slower rate.

"Nationally, growth rates for spending on corrections also outpaced appropriations for higher education, even when adjusted for population growth, according to the report. In Maryland, state spending per full-time student declined during the period from $8,946 to $7,020, while spending on prisons increased.

"The U.S. Department of Education released the report at a time of debate over rates of incarceration, particularly for nonviolent offenses, and over whether criminal justice reform is needed.

"The department said statistics show that two-thirds of state prison inmates have not completed high school, and that one study revealed that a black man between the ages of 20 and 24 and without a diploma has a greater chance of being incarcerated than of being employed.

"The old Baltimore City Jail, which dates back to 1859, was modernized in 1959, but to say it fell far short of today’s standards is an understatement.   

"Studies also show arrest rates decline when high school graduation rates increase, according to education officials."

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From Baltimore author D. Watkins and NY Daily News: Where Obama’s town hall on police-community relations went wrong

"What do we do if Barack Obama — one of the most intelligent people on the planet, and our first African-American President, refuses to have a real conversation about the role of race in policing?

"ABC made an attempt to move the ball forward with 'The President and the People,' a town hall that aired Thursday night. The hour-long special, moderated by David Muir, had the intention of guiding a dialogue between the President and the citizens who are suffering the most from our more-than-obvious problem with race within law enforcement.

"The ABC producer who invited me said that I might get the chance to ask the President a question, in an effort to elicit a better understanding on how the federal government plans to deal with these issues. If presented with the opportunity, I would’ve asked him why he went to Dallas, where five police officers were murdered, but didn’t go to Baltimore, which is just down the highway from his home, or to Ferguson or Baton Rouge or Albuquerque or Oakland, or any of the cities where the streets have been soaked with innocent black blood.

"The killings in Dallas were tragic, but aren’t they all?

"The studio was full of suits, activists, selfie-takers and cops. I saw enough faces familiar from TV to realize two things: I wasn’t cable-news or internet-famous enough to get to speak and, anyway, it didn’t matter because one of the passionate people there would get the chance to ask a tough question that dealt with these questions from a strong black perspective.

"I was wrong.

"ABC’s first mistake was giving a platform to the lieutenant governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, who pompously tried to chastise the President on his response to police shootings — as though he didn’t instantly make a statement, travel to Dallas, preside of a memorial service for the fallen officers and hug their spouses and children.

"That was indicative of a major blind spot that repeated itself throughout the production. Young-to-middle-aged black men bear the brunt of this problem, but strangely, they didn’t really get a chance to speak. We heard from two black children all night: Cameron, the son of Alton Sterling; and a college student and Black Lives Matter activist from Ferguson.

"Obama calls for nation to fix racially-damaged justice system

"The closest person to speak from the targeted demographic was Coffey Anderson, a 38-year-old country singer from Texas, whose career and style of dress really don’t represent most of those being victimized.

"The rest of the questions and comments came from a few black women who were victims, white men who were acting like victims and the mother of a police officer who feared for her son’s safety because he got hit with a water bottle while patrolling during the Baltimore uprising.

"More disturbingly, the mother of Michael Slager, the cop who murdered Walter Scott in cold blood and then lied about the whole incident in his police report, was acknowledged as being in the crowd — but Gwen Carr and Erica Garner, the mother and daughter of Eric Garner, were not. They were promised an opportunity to question the President on a national stage and did not get it.

"Why should I think my black life matters when I get invited to a show to talk about our race problem, and members of the Garner family, who have suffered more than most, aren’t even given the time of day?"

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