Police Brutality as a Constitutional Problem

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To be clear, there are thousands of wonderful and dedicated law enforcement officers out there doing great work in their communities. Just as those officers do not want to be labeled for the bad deeds of other police officers, innocent victims of police brutality do not want to be labeled based on just the color of their skin or the neighborhoods in which they live. Sometimes we hear news stories in which police violence is presented as a crime or an “excess reaction” to crime. In truth, police brutality often has little to do with crime.

For those who are abused or degraded by law enforcement officers, it can feel hopeless. It can seem as though the victim is entirely powerless to do anything about it. Sadly, in many cases there is indeed a power imbalance. Excessive force complaints and other constitutional violations by government authorities are issues of civil rights. The team at Five Points Law Group are devoted to protecting the Constitutional rights of Birmingham residents and those who are the victims of police violence throughout Alabama.

 

What Makes Police Brutality a Constitutional Issue?

 There are emotional and rhetorical arguments to be made, but ultimately data should be the focus of any legal debate. The research shows that upwards of 30% of African-Americans shot and killed by police are unarmed, and 21% of white suspects killed by police are unarmed. Both numbers are shocking. When it comes to African-American victims, less than a third were actually suspected of a crime at the time of the confrontation. Indeed, over two-thirds of these shooting victims were not actually criminal suspects, according to research by Mappingpoliceviolence.com.

 

These statistics tell us one thing for sure: The vast majority of police shootings were not because of a suspected crime. In many situations, people who called the police for help are the ones being attacked or shot. The U.S. Constitution includes several key rights that are violated by excessive force scenarios.

 

Due Process Violations

 The Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment both protect individuals’ rights to not have their life, liberty, or property taken without due process of law. While the Fifth Amendment is limited to the federal government, the Fourteenth Amendment, added later, extends these protections to the states.

 

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

 Likewise, the Eighth Amendment states that, among other things, the government should not impose cruel and unusual punishment or excessive fines. When a law enforcement officer takes matters into his or her own hands and dispenses justice through physical assaults, that officer deprives the victim of due process. In many cases, the brutality is far out of proportion with any crime that may or may not have been committed.

 

How Constitutional Violations are an Issue of Civil Rights

When violence is directed at a victim due to race, religion, sex, or other protected classifications, police violence may also implicate specific civil rights laws, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Fewer than 1% of all police brutality cases result in any form of criminal prosecution against the accused officers who perpetrate the acts. Nevertheless, even in the absence of criminal charges, there may be civil rights claims that can be brought for civil damages, either by the victims or their families.

 

Fighting for Victims’ Rights

 At Five Points Law Group, we believe that every citizen deserves equal treatment. Our police are sworn to protect us, and for the most part they do a great job. However, if you or a loved one have been the victim of police violence, discrimination, or brutality, call or visit our firm online to get aggressive and knowledgeable representation today.

 

Housing Discrimination is Alive and Well Nationwide

Think housing discrimination is a thing of the past? Is it merely a sad relic of history, when communities, banks, and realtors would “redline” in order to keep minorities out of specific neighborhoods slated for “redevelopment” (i.e. gentrification)? Think again. Nationwide, housing discrimination is alive and well and, in some parts of the country, growing at an alarming rate.

At Five Points Law Group, we know that housing can be one of the most challenging and largest decisions for families, especially for families of limited means. When landlords, banks, real estate holding companies, and even community associations blatantly discriminate to keep people out, it can leave families traveling further for work and struggling to afford housing costs that may be further from family and support groups.

Moreover, many families have actually found themselves displaced, having to move children from school district to school district every few years, as prices escalate or as leases are not renewed inexplicably. Sometimes this is evidence of true economic growth and free market principles. Other times, the reasons are far more insidious.

 

What is Housing Discrimination?

 Housing discrimination has many faces. The Fair and Equitable Housing Office (FEHO) �’ a division of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) �’ investigates complaints of unfair and discriminatory housing.

Discrimination may come in many forms, including decisions not to rent or sell homes, refusing to give mortgages, or other adverse decisions based on:

  • Race
  • Sex
  • Color
  • Familial status
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • National Origin

 

Recent Housing Discrimination Claims Around the Country

 While discrimination happens every day all over the U.S., some notable cases have arisen in recent years.

  • Wayne, NJ �’ A 2007 case involved a small town in New Jersey that attempted to use eminent domain to keep a mosque from developing in their town.
  • Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc. �’ In 2000, a federal court in Maryland held that a Maryland condo company had to make in excess of $333,000 in repairs to retrofit a building when they had failed to make the building accessible for those with disabilities.
  • Hudson City Savings Bank �’ This bank ended up settling with the federal government to the tune of $33 million because it was accused of methodically discriminating against black and Latino mortgage applicants.
  • Re/Max Alliance – In an interesting set of events, a national consumer rights and advocacy group sent out undercover couples to shop for homes in areas of Jackson, Mississippi to test whether black and white couples would receive the same treatment. The outcome was a bit unsurprising, except that it set the groundwork for litigation. The white testers were almost always called back and asked to view homes, while black testers were often ignored and “rarely” asked to come view homes in a predominantly white neighborhood, reports

 

Fight Back Against Housing Discrimination

 If you and your family have suffered because a realtor, landlord, mortgage company, or housing association have treated you unfairly or taken some adverse action against you due to your race, religion, family status, or other protected status, call us today.

Kira Fonteneau
Kira Fonteneau
Kira is a lawyer for working people who represents people facing discrimination and illegal wage practices in the workplace.

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