News Roundup

Around here, the biggest news item this week was the shooting of Walter Scott by North Charleston, South Carolina police officer Michael Slager. Scott, who is black, ran from a traffic stop, perhaps because he was afraid of being jailed for being delinquent on child support payments. It appears that Slager, who is white, gave chase on foot and caught Scott. Some type of scuffle ensued. Slager at least initially claimed that Scott sought to obtain control of his Taser during the struggle. A bystander captured video of the last moments of the scuffle, which ended with Scott breaking free of Slager and running away, apparently unarmed. Slager fired eight shots at Scott’s back as he fled, killing Scott. Slager has been fired from his job and charged with murder. CNN has the story here.

The incident has given a renewed impetus to the push to equip officers with body cameras. At least two bills are pending in the North Carolina General Assembly regarding cameras. The News and Observer discusses both bills in this article. H537 appears to have the better prospects, as it has attracted some Republican support. It would provide $10 million over the next two years to help fund the acquisition of cameras and generally would require all officers in counties with populations over 200,000 to wear cameras and record specified interactions with the public. A News and Observer editorial supporting the bill claims that the bill would cover about 60% of the state’s officers.

In other news:

Boston Marathon bomber found guilty, faces capital sentencing hearing. As CNN reports here, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty in federal court of 30 crimes in connection with the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. There was little question about his guilt and the main issue all along has been whether he would receive a death sentence. The penalty phase could begin as early as next week. The defense is expected to argue that Tsarnaev acted under the influence of his older brother, Tamerlan, who was killed in the manhunt after the bombings. The 2015 Boston Marathon will take place on April 20, potentially during the penalty phase. The Boston Globe just published an editorial arguing that the jury should not impose the death penalty. It strikes me as somewhat unusual for a newspaper to take a position on what decision a jury should make in a specific legal proceeding that hasn’t even happened yet, but I’m certainly no expert in journalistic practices.

Comments on the state of the death penalty in the United States and around the world. Also on the topic of the death penalty, Linda Greenhouse recently wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that begins: “You wouldn’t know it from the death penalty proceeding about to take place in the Boston Marathon case . . . but capital punishment in the United States is becoming vestigial. The number of death sentences imposed last year, 72, was the lowest in 40 years. The number of executions, 35, was the lowest since 1994 . . . . Seven states, the fewest in 25 years, carried out executions.” Meanwhile, Amnesty International released this report, summarizing the global use of the death penalty in 2014. It documented executions in 22 countries, the same as in 2013, and a 28% increase in death sentences between 2013 and 2014. Yet it also asserted that “the world continues to make progress towards abolition” – Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases – principally citing a decline in executions. There is considerable random annual variation in both death sentences and executions, so I am reluctant to put much stock in the figures from any single year, but still, perhaps they are food for thought.

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