Reps. Demings and Bacon Introduce Bipartisan Anti-Terrorism Legislation


The Homeland Security Capabilities Preservation Act would expand funding to urban areas previously designated as potential targets.   ORLANDO, FL – This week Rep. Val Demings (D-FL-10) and Rep. Don Bacon, (R-NE-02) introduced the Homeland Security Capabilities Preservation Act. This bipartisan legislation would direct the Department of Homeland Security to review past disbursements under the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), and to then create a plan to continue federal anti-terrorism support for UASI-funded homeland security capabilities that keep people safe in these communities. Orlando, Tampa, and Miami/Fort Lauderdale are current UASI grant recipients in Florida. Rep. Demings is a former 27-year law enforcement officer and Orlando, Florida Chief of Police. Rep. Bacon is a former United States Air Force Brigadier General and Wing Commander. BILL TEXT // FACT SHEET  
Demings is critical of Orlando’s historical approach to funding public safety.  More consistency in funding, she believes, would result in a more mobilized workforce worth an increased commitment to future planning. “The safety and security of every person who lives, works, and travels in Florida is my top priority,” Demings said.  “Our previous experience in Orlando showed that critical public safety funding can be inconsistent, leaving important programs without necessary support. This new legislation would provide much-needed stability and peace of mind to emergency planners across Florida, who will rest easier knowing that when they begin a new initiative to keep Floridians safe, they will be able to sustain those efforts.” The UASI program has been one of Demings’ top priorities since arriving in Congress.  “I am proud of the work I have done to restore Orlando to the list [of UASI fundees], and ensure that we can prevent violence – or at least be ready to save lives when the worst should happen. I have seen firsthand how important these federal dollars are, and I will continue working to ensure that every Florida community has what’s needed to keep every Floridian safe.”   Bacon says the funding is necessary to keep vital services like first responders in place to effectively deal with.the possibility of terrorist threats in urban areas. “Keeping Americans safe from all threats, both foreign and domestic, is a top priority of mine. I’m glad to help lead this effort alongside Rep. Demings to direct DHS and FEMA to assess UASI capabilities and ensure federal assistance is made available for these anti-terrorism law enforcement programs, especially in urban areas, which are potential targets for terrorist attacks. In fact, Omaha had not received UASI funds since FY2010, leaving our community more vulnerable and unprotected. As a retired Brigadier General and Air Force veteran, I believe that if another terrorist attack like 9/11, a natural disaster, or worldwide pandemic occurs, our first responders, non-profits, and other public safety personnel must be equipped to protect our citizens and preserve our communities.” UASI funding is seen as fundamentally necessary to safeguard the nation’s urban areas, which because of the sheer density of human population makes detection and protection more difficult. “This important program assists high-threat, high-density urban areas in efforts to build and sustain the capabilities necessary to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism…”, said Patrick Yoes, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police.  “By directing DHS to submit a plan on how to make Federal assistance available to former UASI jurisdictions, which your legislation does, will undoubtedly save lives and prevent future acts of terrorism. On behalf of the more than 364,000 members of the Fraternal Order of Police, I am proud to offer our support for this legislation.”  
Background The Homeland Security Capabilities Preservation Act is endorsed by the Major Cities Chiefs Association, National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, The United States Conference of Mayors, The National Fusion Center Association, Major County Sheriffs Association, and the Fraternal Order of Police.   After 9/11, the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security began to distribute funding to urban areas under the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant program with the goal of enhancing “regional preparedness and capabilities in designated high-threat, high-density areas.”   Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolón explained, in testimony before the Committee, that for local law enforcement who are on the “front lines of responding to any emergency, whether it be a terrorist attack, natural disaster, or global pandemic, FEMA preparedness grants are critical resources that bolster law enforcement’s ability to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks and other associated threats.”   The Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) provides funding to help with terror-prevention planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercises in urban areas which could be targeted. Orlando received $3.8 million in 2021, $3.5 million in 2020, $3.25 million in 2019, and $1.5 million in 2018. Prior to this, Orlando was excluded from the program starting in 2014, until it was restored following Rep. Demings’ advocacy. Other UASI allocations in Florida this year were $14.75 million for Miami/Fort Lauderdale and $3.8 million for Tampa.
  Rep. Demings is the Chair of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery, which oversees the UASI program. She previously fought to have Orlando restored to the program. As Orlando’s former Chief of Police, Rep. Demings oversaw the use of UASI funding by the Orlando Police Department.   Law enforcement agencies in 31 cities around the nation—including Orlando, Tampa and Miami—received a total of $615 million in UASI funding this year. They can use this funding to buy homeland security equipment, conduct training exercises, train and pay first responders, and enhance security in order to protect high-profile locations like stadiums, public transit, and theme parks. Florida also received $9,701,894 through the State Homeland Security Program.   In addition, because Orlando is again receiving UASI funding, non-profit organizations in the city are eligible for Nonprofit Security Grants from DHS. Previously, five faith-based non-profit organizations in Orlando applied for, and received, a total of $480,000.

Smithsonian’s Exhibit of Desecrated Emmett Till Sign Extended Until Nov. 2


By Hazel Trice Edney( – It was a 1963 speech to teachers, in which African-American author, poet and activist James Baldwin said, “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.”
That pointed description is what came to the mind of Dr. Anthea Hartig, the Elizabeth MacMillan director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH), when discussing the extension of the exhibit of a sign to honor Emmett Till. That sign, in recent years, was riddled with 317 bullets, demonstrating America’s ongoing struggle with racism, hate and terrorism.
On display at the NMAH since Sept. 3 – now extended until Nov. 2 – the exhibit has been a stark reminder that America continues to harbor the same evils that caused the death of the 14-year-old Chicago teenager, who was mutilated by White supremacists in Mississippi on August 28, 1955. Hartig says the exhibit is part of the vision being established by Lonnie G. Bunch III, the Smithsonian’s first African-American secretary and the first African-American to lead the institution of 19 museums, founded in 1836.
Bunch, also founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture, started his career with the Smithsonian in the late 1970s. He grew into curation alongside other young Black scholars, who largely agreed with Baldwin’s view of American history, including Baldwin’s “Talk to Teachers” in 1963.
“So, I see this powerful through line as really picking up that mantel,” Hartig says in a recent interview with the Trice Edney News Wire; especially after the creation and opening of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture five years ago. “With our American History Museum’s new mission of empowering people to create a more just and compassionate future, I see kind of like the weave coming back – I hope – more wholistically into the American History Museum to represent all that the United States’ past is and all that it can teach us; and the lessons that we still need to learn, which I think are so powerfully and sadly and poignantly exemplified in the Riverside Marker.”
Starting in 2008, “the Emmett Till Memorial Commission erected nine historical markers to remember Till, but the signs have been stolen, riddled with bullets, or thrown in the river,” according to a news release from the museum. The display of the “defaced historical marker preserves the memory of Emmett Till while demonstrating the contested nature of racism’s violent legacy in America.”
The exhibit, “Reckoning with Remembrance: History, Injustice and the Murder of Emmett Till”, closes Nov. 2, but will return as part of the Museum’s offerings at a later date.

It remains in Flag Hall, a positioning which Hartig says speaks “very powerfully and viscerally to the fact that” Emmett Till and his enslaved descendants are just as important as the flag itself, which was sewn in part by an enslaved woman, Grace Wisher.
On Sept. 2, the eve of the start of the exhibit, Reverend Wheeler Parker, a civil rights activist and Till family member and Patrick Weems, executive director of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Money, Mississippi, teamed up with curators and officials from the Smithsonian to hold a conversation about the Emmett Till killing.
C-SPAN will be airing that panel on Saturday, October 23, at 4:15pm (EST) on American History TV on C-SPAN2. Here is the link: The discussion will also be made available on the Smithsonian’s YouTube channel.
The Emmett Till story has become an integral part of America’s story. During a visit to see his great uncle in Mississippi, 14-year-old Emmett Till, of Chicago, was brutally lynched Aug. 28,1955. When his mutilated body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River, his mother, Mamie Till, insisted on an open-casket funeral in Chicago. JET Magazine published a photo of the mutilated body of Till, causing it to be seen around the country. It was this photo and the Till lynching that has been credited as the impetus to the modern-day Civil Rights Movement. Only a few months later, the Montgomery bus boycott was sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parks on December 1, 1955.
Hartig credits Smithsonian curators Tsione Wolde-Michael, curator of African American Social Justice History and Nancy Bercaw, historian and curator, with successfully acquiring the marker and for telling the story that is crucial to the NMAH.
In an op-ed published in the Washington Post this week, Wolde-Michael, Bercaw and University of Kansas professor, Dave Tell, author of “Remembering Emmett Till”, doubled down on the need for the “reckoning with remembrance” that the marker exhibition illustrates.

“However, as the unrelenting defacement of the Emmett Till markers demonstrate, these advances continue to be violently contested. And whether these gains have permanence or are ultimately reversed remains to be seen,” the curators and professor wrote. “Whether in Tallahatchie County, Miss., or on the National Mall, the full work of reckoning with this history and its contestations remains. Public memory is not just created by scholars, museums and governments. We all bear responsibility for what our nation remembers and forgets. As ‘Reckoning with Remembrance’ shows us, history is an active battleground as much as it is a tool for justice.”

Federal Student Debt Forgiveness Program Receives Massive Makeover


ATLANTA DAILY WORLD — The newly revamped Public Service Loan Forgiveness program will eliminate federal loans for all applicants after borrowers make 10 years of payments. An estimated 22,000 borrowers are eligible to get their loans canceled and an additional 27,000 borrowers could be deemed eligible if they get their past payments certified. Overall, a total of 550,000 borrowers are expected to be positively impacted by these changes.

President Joe Biden and his colleagues at 1800 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. are making strides toward alleviating the stress of student loans for thousands of Americans.

Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona have made steps toward changing a troubled student loan program called Public Service Loan Forgiveness. According to NBC News, the program launched in 2007 with the hopes of getting more college graduates involved in public service, but it has only helped 5,500 borrowers erase their student debt. Public Service Loan Forgiveness is designed to alleviate federal loans for those who spend 10 years working in public service after graduation. However, NBC News reports that more than 90% of borrowers have been rejected after making years of payments because their loans did not meet the program’s requirements.

The newly revamped Public Service Loan Forgiveness program will eliminate federal loans for all applicants after borrowers make 10 years of payments. An estimated 22,000 borrowers are eligible to get their loans canceled and an additional 27,000 borrowers could be deemed eligible if they get their past payments certified. Overall, a total of 550,000 borrowers are expected to be positively impacted by these changes.

“Borrowers who devote a decade of their lives to public service should be able to rely on the promise of Public Service Loan Forgiveness,” Cardona said, according to the Associated Press.

“The system has not delivered on that promise to date, but that is about to change for many borrowers.”

Active duty military members and federal workers will also have an opportunity to join the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. In 2022, the U.S. Department of Education will automatically count payments by federal workers and military members toward the required 10 years.

Many of these changes are being categorized as short-term solutions as the federal government works toward long-term adjustments.

“Today we breathe a collective sigh of relief as the Kafkaesque system that dashed the dreams of far too many finally starts to be dismantled,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told NBC News.

Unfortunately, all lawmakers were not on board with these changes. Several Republican lawmakers criticized Biden’s use of executive power to make this change rather than work with a divided group of legislators on Capitol Hill.

“We agree this program is in desperate need of reform; however, such reforms require congressional action, and we encourage you to work with us to fix the federal loan and repayment program,” Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina wrote in a letter to Cardona.

Moving forward, Cardona and several other top officials will participate in congressional hearings regarding the nation’s education system.

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The post Federal Student Debt Forgiveness Program Receives Massive Makeover appeared first on Atlanta Daily World.

Cancel “Cancel Culture”


    NewsFashionGadgetsLifestyleHealth & FitnesByBy Dr. Yaounde Olu, Courtesy of The Chicago CrusaderThe dynamic comedic legend, Dave Chappelle, has dipped his toe in hot water during his latest Netflix special, “The Closer.” He is on record saying this was the last of his comedy specials for a while, and he vowed to get some things off of his chest. He then proceeded to talk about everyone! Anyone who knows Dave Chappelle knows that he has an equal-opportunity “potty mouth”: no one is really off limits, he will give his unfiltered truth about everything that he determines needs to be called out.During “The Closer,” he came under fire for allegedly denigrating the LGBTQ community. More specifically, after talking about white folks, Black folks, women and others with a monologue liberally sprinkled with the “N” word, he delivered a long discourse on the topic of transexuals. He admittedly referred to himself as “transphobic,” and then proceeded to share an experience that he had with a transsexual person.As a result, certain individuals are calling for censuring him, with some Netflix employees threatening to leave the company if he is not punished. People are accusing him of being just what he called himself, “transphobic.”For those who actually watched the comedy special, Chappelle doesn’t really come across as a mean-spirited, anti-trans person. In fact, he befriended the person described in his monologue, ultimately hiring her to work as an opening act for him. And he expressed sadness when she eventually committed suicide.Those who oppose Chappelle and are calling for “cancelling” him are insulted by his routine. On the other hand, people without particular ties to the LGBTQ community are treating Chappelle’s critics with disdain. They are expressing the opinion that people in the LGBTQ community are overly sensitive and that this is much ado about nothing.Actually, it is understandable that LGBTQ persons would express a certain sensitivity whenever topics arise that cast what they feel are negative aspersions on them, and this is especially true regarding trans men and women. They have good reason to be sensitive; many trans people are being murdered, and there seems to be little or no will to do much about it. Trans people are vulnerable to attack from all sides and from all races.Now, something must be said about “cancel culture.” According to Wikipedia, “cancel culture” or “call-out culture” is a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles, whether it be online, on social media, or in person. Notably, many people claiming to have been “cancelled” often remain in power and continue their careers as before.Reports about Chappelle’s response to threats of being “cancelled” all seem to infer that he is thumbing his nose at the idea; he is unbothered and is not taking the issue seriously. Because of his reputation and esteem as a comedian, chances are that he won’t suffer significantly from the threats of being cancelled.Essentially, however, there is something to be said about the downturn of civility that is evident during the past few years resulting in escalating calls for the use of cancel culture. People are seemingly devolving into negative behavior and demonstrating a genuine disrespect for those who differ from themselves. So, when looked at in that light, there is reason for people to be super sensitive to real or imagined slights.If we look at things objectively, we may reach the conclusion that the whole “politically correct” movement, which has arguably spawned the offshoot that we are now calling cancel culture, has partial origins when Black people objected to being called derogatory names or being depicted in an unflattering light.Because of this, if we are to fight the trend of devolution into a cesspool of disrespect, we should endeavor to be as considerate as possible when it comes to the feelings of others, especially if there can be life-threatening consequences.As Black people who have experienced extreme disrespect down through the years, we should know better than to act as co-conspirators in a system that can turn around and bite us! Cancel culture is a legitimate soft weapon, but it should be used sparingly, if at all. At the rate things are going, we will all end up losing the moral high ground and forfeit justification for being treated fairly. A Luta -Continua.This column first appeared on The.Chicago Crusader

Global Disruption: Decentralizing Clinical Trials for Diversity, Faster Results

TAMPA BAY, Fla., Oct. 19, 2021 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ — Diversity is a growing concern in all aspects of modern life, but the ramifications of this disparity in health care can have life threatening consequences. According to data from the FDA, African Americans are only 5% of individuals included in clinical trials, despite being more than 13% of the total U.S. population.(1) Addressing this race inequality is just one of the goals of Jeeva Informatics and its founder and CEO Dr. Harsha Rajasimha.

Focusing on industrializing the process of bringing new solutions to market faster makes Jeeva Informatics an ideal fit for JOTO PR Disruptors(TM).

“The work Jeeva Informatics does will bring new medicines or vaccines to patients who need them FASTER,” Karla Jo Helms, CEO and Chief Evangelist for JoTo PR, says. “They can improve patient outcomes—a life-saving example of the disruptive approach needed in the market today.”

A bioinformatics and genomics services company, Jeeva Informatics is working to heal a broken system by improving patient recruitment for drug trials, increasing participation and retention rates among diverse patients who may not otherwise be invited to participate in new drug development trials, and by increasing access to innovative research opportunities.

“There are currently no regulatory demands on patient diversity,” Rajasimha says. This leaves all minorities underrepresented in clinical trials—from women to members of the LGBTQ+ community, to people living in rural or hard-to-reach geographies. “Any benefits these minority groups derive from medications after marketing approvals by the FDA are subject to the results of testing them on a homogeneous group during clinical trials.”

One of the problems that clinical trials face—and the main reason why they need to be decentralized—is that for the most part, potential participants live far from the test site, they have conflicts with the time, and face difficulties finding childcare while they are away, among other reasons. This is why participants in as much as 80 to 90% of the cases tend to be white, affluent males.(2) The number of women who participate has been estimated at 25%.(3) This data then leads to the question: how can women and minorities trust the effects of medication if clinical trials do not contain members like them?

“Not having decentralized trials leaves too many people without health care solutions to meet their unique challenges. Enrolling diverse populations in clinical trials is necessary for proper evidence generation and to help ensure that a therapy is effective for and trusted by everyone it is intended to help,” Helms says.

About JOTO PR Disruptors(TM):After doing marketing research on a cross-section majority of 5,000 CEOs of fast-growth trajectory companies and finding out exactly how they used PR, how they measure it, and how they wanted the PR industry to be different, PR veteran and innovator Karla Jo Helms created JoTo PR(TM) and established its entire business model on those research findings. Astute in recognizing industry changes since its launch in 2009, JoTo PR’s team utilizes newly established patterns to create timely Anti-PR(TM) campaigns comprising both traditional and the latest proven media methods. This unique skill enables them to continue to increase the market share and improve return on investment (ROI) for their clients, year after year—beating usual industry standards. Based in Tampa Bay, Florida, JoTo PR is an established international public relations agency. Today, all processes of JoTo are streamlined Anti-PR services that have become the hallmark of the JoTo PR name. For more information, visit JoTo PR online at

About Jeeva InformaticsJeeva Informatics Solutions, Inc., based out of Tysons Corner, VA, partners with Biopharmaceutical sponsors, CROs, and clinical researchers to accelerate clinical studies. The Jeeva TRIALMAGNET(TM) package of the patent pending Jeeva eClinical Cloud platform achieves remote patient recruitment goals by as much as three times faster. Jeeva’s flexible bring your own device (BYOD) SaaS solution works on any browser-enabled mobile device and saves more than 70% time by minimizing logistical burden on study teams and patients. Modular software design allows a rapid study configuration with the features and workflows that fit the specific trial protocol whether short-term or long-term, cross-sectional or longitudinal, interventional or observational studies, clinical phase or post-market, hybrid or fully remote. To learn more, visit

1.    “Why We Need To Improve Patient Diversity Amongst Clinical Trial Participants,” MD Group,

2.    “Clinical Trials Have Far Too Little Racial and Ethnic Diversity,” Scientific American, September I, 2018,

3.    Brazil, Rachel; “Why we need to talk about sex and clinical trials”; The Pharmaceutical Journal; May 28, 2020;

Voting Rights Activists Arrested at White House After Third Direct Action Calling on Biden to Help to Protect Freedom to Vote


Faith leaders, local and state representatives, national civil rights leaders arrested in series of actions calling on the Biden administration to protect the freedom to vote  

Watch the live streamed recording of the demonstration, here

Washington, DC — Voting rights activists escalated demands for the White House to act on voting rights today, in an action that resulted in the arrests of 25 participants. The action comes on the eve of an anticipated vote in the Senate on the Freedom to Vote Act, and follows a previous demonstration at the White House on Oct. 5 at which five activists were arrested.   

Today’s action was led by People For the American Way, the League of Women Voters of the United States, and the Declaration for American Democracy. Participants called on President Biden to use the influence of his office to get the Freedom to Vote Act passed in the Senate. Danton Whitley and members of the Baltimore Urban Inspiration Choir performed at the event.    

Participants risking arrest during today’s action, included:

  • Ben Jealous, People For the American Way
  • Jana Morgan, Declaration for American Democracy
  • Virginia Kase Solomón, League of Women Voters 
  • Alyssa Milano, board member, People For the American Way 
  • Rabbi David Saperstein, board member, People For the American Way
  • Marge Baker, People For the American Way
  • Rev. Jamal Bryant, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church
  • Tami Sawyer, Commissioner, Shelby County, TN
  • Noelle Damico, The Workers Circle
  • Ann Toback, The Workers Circle  Bee Nguyen, Georgia state representative Rev. Mark Thompson, civil rights activist
  • Andi Pringle, March OneCindy Battles, GA Coalition for The People’s Agenda
  • Laurie Woodward Garcia, Broward for Progress
  • Barbara Harris, Broward for Progress
  • Jennifer Lamson, Democracy Initiative
  • Rev. Charles Williams, Historic King Solomon Baptist Church of Detroit 
  • Christina Harvey, Stand Up AmericaCharly Carter, Democracy InitiativeJoseph Geevarghese, Our Revolution
  • Reverend Derrick Rice, Sankofa United Church of Christ
  • Reverend Fer-Rell M. Malone, Sr., Missionary Baptist Church
  • Keith Silver, Washington DC MLK Peacewalk
  • Sam Riddle, Michigan National Action Network


“We came back to the White House to deliver a clear message to President Biden: we need actions that match the urgency of his words on voting rights – and time is running out. The Freedom to Vote Act has to pass now if we are going to protect voting rights in the next election for all of us: for Black voters and Brown voters, for women, for younger voters and older voters, voters with disabilities and working people of all backgrounds. The president needs to step up, or voting rights will die on his watch,” said Ben Jealous, president of People For the American Way. 

“On the eve of a critical Senate vote to advance the Freedom to Vote Act, we need President Biden to increase his pressure on the Senate to ensure this bill can become law. We are running out of time and the American people are counting on our president to protect our freedom to vote. Today’s action sent a strong message to the White House and we will continue to come back until we see President Biden take real action to secure voting rights protections,” said Virginia Kase Solomón, CEO of the League of Women Voters of the United States.   

“No matter where we live or what our background is, we all deserve a fair say in the big issues that affect our lives. If Senate Republicans use the filibuster loophole to block even having a debate on transformative voting rights legislation, President Biden must use his bully pulpit to call on the Senate to do whatever is necessary to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and protect equal access to the ballot box. The Declaration for American Democracy coalition is proud to stand with People for the American Way and League of Women Voters to demand our freedom to vote. We won’t rest until we achieve a democracy that works for all of us,” said Jana Morgan, director of the Declaration for American Democracy.  

“John Lewis told us, ‘The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.’ States across the country are trying to take it away from so many people in a cynical power grab. We can’t let them. We need federal law right now to protect voting rights for all Americans, no matter which state they happen to live in. It’s a cause that’s worth getting arrested for,” said activist and People For board member Alyssa Milano. 

“In the face of injustice, God tells us, in Lev. 19, ‘Do not stand idly by.’ Recognizing that those who fail to act in this moment when our democracy is imperiled will be held accountable if it falters, we gather together today to prod President Biden to use the full power of the presidency to mobilize the nation and the Congress to press for voting rights protection and be prepared to reform the filibuster,” said Rabbi David Saperstein. 

“We are coming to Washington from Georgia because democracy is being attacked and voting rights are under siege. The black church has always lifted our voice, and this isn’t the time to have laryngitis,” said Rev. Jamal Bryant, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. 

“President Biden has been saying the right words about voting rights – now it’s time for action. We expect a critically important vote in the Senate on the Freedom to Vote Act tomorrow. This is the moment when the president must bring all his influence to bear on Senate Democrats to not only support the Act, but to do whatever is necessary to pass this critical legislation.  It’s now or never, and that’s why we have faith leaders, local officials, and national civil rights leaders who are willing to risk their own freedom here today to send this message to the White House. Without the freedom to vote, few other freedoms are meaningful in our democracy,” said Marge Baker, executive vice president of People For the American Way.  

“At the Workers Circle, protecting our democracy is our highest priority. Without the freedom for every American to cast their vote and have it counted, the liberties and rights that drew our Eastern European Jewish immigrant founders to the United States and which continue to protect us all can be lost. President Biden must immediately use the full power of his presidency to get the Freedom to Vote Act passed through the Senate. He must not let the filibuster stand in the way of protecting our voting rights. Failure of the President and Senate to act now will mean millions of voters in 2022 will be faced with state-sponsored obstacles in accessing the polls and having their ballots counted,” said Ann Toback, CEO of The Workers Circle.  

“Jewish tradition exhorts us to not stand idly by in the face of injustice, but commands that we must intervene; we must interfere. Today we risk being locked up because too many Americans are being locked out of our democracy. We call on President Biden to use the full power of his office to get Congress to stop voter suppression in its tracks and prevent it from happening by passing the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act now,” said Noelle Damico, director of social justice at The Workers Circle.   

“They tell us to hold on and be patient. How long must we wait? State legislatures aren’t waiting, governors aren’t waiting. Voter suppression bills are moving fast from Michigan to Mississippi. Suppressing my vote is a challenge to our democracy as we know it. We will stand and we will continue to challenge these politicians no matter the party. I’m doing what John Lewis would do, ‘getting in good trouble.’ Pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act now!” said Rev. Charles Williams, Chair of the National Action Network Michigan, and Pastor, Historic King Solomon Baptist Church of Detroit  

“The vote is how we make an impact in our communities. It is our voice. When politicians try to limit the vote, they limit who has power in their communities and a voice in their government. We will continue to defend everyone’s right to vote with whatever power we have. We urge the President to do the same. As our Executive Director, Helen Butler, has said multiple times over the last few months: ‘This is our Selma moment.’ It is our hope that the president and Congress are with us and willing to take action to protect our democracy,” said Cindy Battles, Policy & Engagement Director for the GA Coalition for the People’s Agenda. 

“We need to pass federal voting rights protection now — and we’re here to urge the president and Congress to prioritize our democracy. We cannot out-organize the subversion of democracy. In states like Georgia, Republicans are doubling down on the ‘big lie’ and will do anything in their power to overturn the will of the people,” said Bee Nguyen, Georgia state representative. 

“As a Black southerner, I came to DC to represent one of the most disenfranchised demographics in the country. Collectively, we bet on President Joe Biden and now it’s time for him to settle up. Do not continue to take for granted the very people who supported your journey to the White House, because where would you be if we could no longer vote? End the filibuster now,” said Tami Sawyer, Commissioner, Shelby County, TN.   

“I am risking arrest at the White House today because I want our children to live in a democracy and ours is under attack. President Biden and Vice President Harris support the Freedom To Vote Act and so do all 50 Democratic Senators. They have the votes to deliver the most significant pro-democracy protections in a generation. It is time for President Biden to take a strong public stand that the filibuster must be changed so he and the Congress can deliver on the change mandate 2020 voters gave them,” said Jennifer Lamson, senior advisor, Democracy Initiative. 

“This year, our members have made nearly 90,000 calls to Congress imploring them to pass legislation to protect our freedom to vote. But, the President of the United States can use his soapbox to make one call and compel Congress in a way that no one else can. President Biden must call on the Senate to end the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation. Two months ago, we joined with other advocates to collect over 400,000 signatures from Americans in every congressional district demanding President Biden do just that, and delivered the signatures to the White House. Since the president clearly needs more encouragement, we’re back today, calling on him to lead at this critical moment. His legacy and our democracy depend on it,” said Christina Harvey, Executive Director, Stand Up America.  

“My job as a mom is to feed, clothe, shelter, love, and educate my child. But I also have a job as an American mom and that is to stand up for my child’s democracy, that is why I am putting my body on the line for my family and my community in Florida. I am calling on President Biden to use his power and influence to help protect the votes in states like my home state of Florida. Florida is currently under attack with a pandemic, misinformation, and now some politicians that would rather steal power with voter suppression than do the work to earn the trust and votes of black and brown folks, working people, seniors, returning citizens, and all who call Florida home,” said Laurie Woodward Garcia, Broward for Progress.  

“Picking and choosing which voters to hear and which to silence isn’t a matter of left and right but a matter of right and wrong. We need every elected leader to take this voting crisis seriously with the urgency and moral clarity that it deserves. The recent anti-voting rights law in Georgia is death by a thousand cuts–it’s a sweeping law that makes it harder, and sometimes impossible, for Black and Brown voters to cast their ballot. That’s why we have filed litigation in Georgia and that’s why we’re here today. We pray President Biden remembers that Black and Brown voters, who will be negatively affected by these kinds of Jim Crow-era laws, were almost single-handedly responsible for electing our current leaders. We urge the President to lead Congress in passing the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to protect our rights and freedoms to vote and make good on America’s promise for fair and inclusive representation,” said Reverend Derrick Rice, founding Pastor of Sankofa United Church of Christ. 

“Our country is running out of time to pass federal voting rights legislation, and those standing in the way are already out of excuses for their inaction. The Freedom to Vote Act is a fair, common sense approach to protecting the rights of every voter, and without it we will cease to be a democracy. We call on the Senate to immediately pass it by any means necessary,” said Andi Pringle, Political and Strategic Campaigns Director for March On. 

“President Biden spent 36 years in the U.S. Senate and eight years of a frustrated agenda due to the filibuster. He knows more than anyone that fixing or nixing the filibuster is the only way to protect the voting rights of millions of Americans. Time is running out; that’s why we are here putting our bodies on the line. Mr. President, it’s time for you to put your political capital on the line to push through the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” said Charly Carter, executive director of the Democracy Initiative.  

“As my hero John Lewis said, ‘You must be bold, brave, and courageous and find a way… to get in the way.’ As the wife of a black man and a grandmother to three Spanish grandchildren I am getting in the way in any way I can. From protesting for their lives mattering, to my grandchildren having a planet not on fire, to them being able to participate in future free and fair elections. Until that is accomplished, I will continue to be bold, brave and keep finding a way to get in the way,” said Barbara Harris, Broward for Progress. 

“The goal of state-level anti-voter attacks is to shut out and shut up the rising majority of Black, Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous voters. We have a moral responsibility to pass federal legislation to protect our freedom to vote — anything short of that undermines the incredible work of organizers and voters who showed up in record numbers, especially rural Georgia voters, and turned out to elect new leaders who must deliver for us. Had stronger national voting standards been in place, the Georgia voter anti-voting rights law would have been stopped. Every voter, regardless of where you live, deserves free, fair, and accessible elections. We call on President Bident and Vice President Harris to use the full power of the administration to work with the Senate — and secure the votes to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” said Reverend Fer-Rell M. Malone, Sr., Senior Pastor of the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church. 

“Many brave and impassioned Americans protested, marched, were arrested and even died working toward voting equality. In 1963 and 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. brought hundreds of black people to the courthouse in Selma, Alabama to register. When they were turned away, Dr. King organized and led protests that finally turned the tide of American political opinion. In 1964 the Twenty-fourth Amendment prohibited the use of poll taxes. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act directed the Attorney General to enforce the right to vote for African Americans,” said Keith Silver, co-founder, Washington DC MLK Peacewalk About People For the American Way. 

People For the American Way is a progressive advocacy organization founded to fight right-wing extremism and build a democratic society that implements the ideals of freedom, equality, opportunity and justice for all. We encourage civic participation, defend fundamental rights, and fight to dismantle systemic barriers to equitable opportunity. Learn more: About League of Women Voters

The League of Women Voters envisions a democracy where every person has the desire, the right, the knowledge and the confidence to participate. We believe in the power of women to create a more perfect democracy. About the Declaration for American Democracy

The Declaration for American Democracy is a coalition of more than 240 organizations from labor, racial justice, voting rights, faith, environmental, women’s rights, good government, business and many other important communities, standing together to realize a democracy that represents, reflects, and responds to all of us.

N.J. Faith Org Launches Statewide Make The Right C.A.L.L. Campaign To Reimagine Crisis Response, Abolish The Drug War


New Jersey Community Partners, Community Members Join Salvation and Social Justice for Campaign Launch Event in Elizabeth

ELIZABETH, N.J. — (October 18, 2021) — Today, Salvation and Social Justice (SandSJ), a leading faith-rooted social justice organization based in New Jersey, launched a new campaign to remove law enforcement from the response to behavioral health crises, including substance use and overdose.

The campaign, Make the Right C.A.L.L. (Community Alternatives Leading to Liberation), seeks to address New Jersey’s overinvestment in policing through funding for community-centered solutions like education, housing, health care, and harm reduction. Today’s launch follows a four-month-long community listening and stakeholder engagement process to identify community safety needs, brainstorm safe alternatives to a police-led response, and lift up the voices and concerns of community members with lived experience. The campaign kicked off with an official launch event at Mount Teman AME Church in Elizabeth with remarks from Rev. Dr. Charles Boyer, partners at New Jersey Policy Perspective and Newark Community Street Team, and community members.

As part of the launch, SandSJ also released Make the Right Call, a new report detailing the findings of its community visioning process, including personal accounts from New Jersey community members about their own experiences with policing, substance use, and mental health and policy recommendations to improve emergency response. The report is available here.

“Make the Right C.A.L.L. is the community’s response to decades of racially-profiled violence, misconduct, and neglect in the state’s handling of substance use and overdoses,” said Rev. Dr. Charles Boyer, founding director of Salvation and Social Justice. “For far too long, New Jersey has ignored the voices of impacted residents, taxpayers, and community leaders demanding a police-free response to community crises. Now, as rising police violence, a disturbing uptick in crime, and a scourge of overdose deaths target Black and Brown communities, it’s time that New Jersey finally put its people first.

“We launched this campaign to center the needs and recommendations of the many individuals impacted by discriminatory policing, neighborhood disinvestment, and the War on Drugs. With today’s announcement, we are urging local and state legislators to invest in education, health care, harm reduction, and other community-backed solutions to help our neighborhoods thrive.

“Investing in communities is how we make the right call,” said Marleina Ubel, policy analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective. “Community-led responses to crises are often more effective than police interventions that are premised on punishment. If we want safer and healthier communities for all residents, we must take a more holistic view of public safety. It’s time to put people first.”

“NCST is proud to stand alongside our partners as they launch the Making the Right C.A.L.L. campaign today,” said Solomon Middleton-Williams, director of programs at Newark Community Street Team.

“We know, all too well, what underinvestment in communities looks like. As we’ve seen around the country and in our own work in Newark, community led responses work. They also play an important role in addressing trauma and leading communities on a path of healing. We look forward to working together to encourage New Jersey policymakers to invest in this approach.”

Substance use and overdose now rank among the leading causes of death across the state of New Jersey and nationwide. But despite the obvious public health implications, the state has historically criminalized these issues — particularly in Black communities.  According to a new report from New Jersey Policy Perspective, police budgets in at least two New Jersey communities dwarf budgets for health and human services.

In fiscal year 2020, the police budget in Elizabeth, New Jersey was more than five times that of the Department of Health and Human Services. During that same period in Gloucester County, New Jersey, the police budget was two-and-a-half times that of the Department of Health and Human Services. This current criminalization model for addressing substance use and overdose is not only ineffective; it increases the likelihood of deadly police encounters.

Through a vision for community-led crisis response, SandSJ worked in close coordination with directly impacted leaders from two New Jersey communities to reimagine emergency response in a way that uplifts community voices and protects Black lives.

Make the Right C.A.L.L. Make the Right C.A.L.L. is a community-powered campaign to shift emergency response from law enforcement to local leaders, service providers, trained health experts, and other qualified professionals. Through direct local action, digital organizing, and community-building activities, the campaign is calling on New Jersey to:

  • Create and support community-led alternatives to policing to expand options for intervention that do not involve law enforcement;Invest in new programs and resources like mental health counseling, affordable housing, and employment opportunities to build and restore communities;
  • Support existing programs, providers, and resources working to fill gaps in the social safety net;
  • Develop a more robust system for police accountability;
  • Focus on harm reduction in crisis response; andEstablish community-approved accountability measures to ensure that interventions are responsive to community needs and concerns.

Community Visioning Process

Make the Right C.A.L.L. is a direct response to local demands for creative and transformative community-based safety solutions. Between January and April 2021, SandSJ held 16 virtual community sessions with local residents in Elizabeth and Gloucester County, New Jersey. Community members were invited to share their personal experiences on various topics, including substance use, mental health, and barriers to change, as well as consider possibilities and offer policy recommendations for a safer, fairer, more effective emergency response.

Several key themes emerged, including expanding alternatives to policing, emphasizing harm reduction, improving treatment options, and making catalytic investments in community institutions. Community members overwhelmingly favored person-centered measures (e.g. community education, mental health counseling) to punitive measures (e.g. arrests and incarceration).

The campaign is expected to hold additional events and actions in the coming weeks. To learn more about Make the Right C.A.L.L. or to get involved, visit the Make the Right C.A.L.L. website or follow SandSJ on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Salvation and Social Justice seeks to liberate public policy theologically by building Black faith-rooted communication strategies, advocacy, and public education campaigns, to lift up poor, underserved, and traditionally oppressed communities with a particular focus on racial justice through abolition, restoration, transformation, and coalition.

How an Alleged Racist Email from Authorities Led to the Criminal Prosecution of an Investigative Journalist, and the Arrest of a Cop


NNPA NEWSWIRE — Hatziefastathiou, an accomplished journalist whose sources made him the first to break the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision to clear and release Bill Cosby, shared his attorney’s court filings with NNPA Newswire, suggesting that the email in question began as some responding to a request for a favor and escalated to the racist email. 

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent

The emails were explosive and dangerous, and they threw gas on the long-lit fire of racism in the criminal justice system.

Nik Hatziefstathiou, known by his nickname “Nik the Hat,” had seemingly revealed the racist and frightening thoughts of a high-ranking Delaware County, Pennsylvania, Adult Probation & Parole Supervisor.

“You do not have to worry about job security… ROFL… so long as there’s a nigger in our county, you will have a full slate.”

“Good morning,” the supervisor purportedly wrote in an email that found its way splashed across the top of Hatziefstathiou’s Your Content News website.

The email continues, “Make sure he registers as a [redacted] before applying. They’re extremely strict about that. Can’t have a bunch of [gang-bang] loving [redacted] in here … ha.”

Hatziefstathiou, Your Content News’ editor-in-chief and CEO of Original Media Group Corporation, cited more than two dozen county officials in a report that said all applicants in Delaware County must register as a Republican for hiring considerations.

Also, he reported that the Delaware County Department of Adult Probation & Parole employs no African Americans, and 1 percent of the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office are Black.

The 2019 story caused an uproar throughout Pennsylvania.

Because of the article, state legislators and Black activists led protests outside the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania requested Hatziefstathiou turn over the emails.

Believing there would be an investigation into systemic racism, Hatziefstathiou complied with the request.

During the investigation, authorities arrested Chester Police Officer Donald Jackson, who allegedly providing Hatziefstathiou with a taser.

According to police statements, Hatziefstathiou sent a text to Jackson with the following request: “Know anyone I can borrow a taser from? I’m going to be in some bad areas while I’m down there this weekend.”

Jackson’s reply? “I have one. You can’t tell anyone where you got it, though.”

The pair allegedly met, and Jackson handed Hatziefstathiou the weapon officials said belonged to a police captain.

Authorities didn’t identify Jackson as a source of the explosive email Hatziefstathiou obtained.

Instead, the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office hit him with a whopping 20 counts of fraud, including created a false government email.

Hatziefstathiou, 27, allegedly claimed that he worked for ABC News and the New York Times, according to the charging documents.

Authorities alleged that he opened the email account of ABC News reporter Stephanie Wash and New York Times reporter Liam Stack and sent emails through those accounts to obtain documents and recordings relating to the District Attorney’s investigation into police misconduct.

“The crimes that the defendant is alleged to have committed in this context are identity theft, unsworn falsifications to authorities and attempted theft by deception,” the District Attorney wrote in court filings.

Hatziefstathiou also is accused of tampering with public records, forgery, and unsworn false statements to authorities – the charge is directly related to the racist email.

He also faces a charge of making false statements to the Department of Motor Vehicles to obtain a press photographer’s registration for his vehicle.

Finally, prosecutors slapped Hatziefstathiou with a charge of tampering with identification – alleging that he removed a watermark titled “Cameo” from videos and replaced it with “Your Content News.”

Hatziefastathiou, an accomplished journalist whose sources made him the first to break the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision to clear and release Bill Cosby, shared his attorney’s court filings with NNPA Newswire, suggesting that the email in question began as some responding to a request for a favor and escalated to the racist email.

Notes shared with the NNPA also suggest Hatziefstathiou may have received emails over weeks or months from several sources within the County’s Probation Office.

Officials expect the trial to begin on October 18.

It could include the first case where a sitting judge must testify about political figures and their special interests.

Hatziefstathiou and his staff at Your Content News said they’re standing behind their reporting.

“Everybody has a story,” Hatziefstathiou said in a statement.

“With the support of our readers and sources, we at Your Content introduced Delaware County to a new breed of journalism that explored the untold stories.

“At Your Content, the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of information to the public far outweigh the dangers which are cited to justify it. There is little value in ensuring the survival of the news industry—specifically our publication—if our traditions do not survive with it,” he concluded.

Hong Xie, the interim Editor-in-Chief at Your Content News, said the “political pundits have words and pieces of our confidential newsgathering material which they refer to as ‘proof.’ Our reporters involved in the May 25, 2019, publication have evidence – and at trial, we will understand which of those are more powerful. Some people victimize a vulnerable child and don’t get caught. Others lie, cheat, and get elected.”

Anthony Loro, the chief communications officer for Original Media Group, said he’s confident in Hatziefstathiou’s innocence.

“We stand by our reporting. But say authorities charged the tireless journalists who uncovered the Watergate or Catholic Archdiocese of Boston sex abuse scandals – who benefits? “Certainly not the public or victims,” Loro wrote in a statement.

“It’s far too late for the person who started this literal courthouse catch-and-kill campaign to reverse what they intentionally set-in motion. We know our team, especially Mr. Hatziefstathiou, will be on the right side of history in this dark Delaware County era.”

General Colin Powell Dies at 84 from Covid


NNPA NEWSWIRE — “General Colin L. Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, passed away this morning due to complications from Covid 19,” the former General’s family wrote on Facebook.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent

Colin Powell has died from complications from Covid-19, his family members have confirmed.

The first Black US secretary of state was 84.

“General Colin L. Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, passed away this morning due to complications from Covid 19,” the former General’s family wrote on Facebook.

“We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” the family wrote.

They reported that Powell had been fully vaccinated.

Powell became the first Black national security adviser during the end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

He also counted as the youngest and first African American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush.

Powell was thrust into the global spotlight after leading the United States to victory during the Gulf War, with many even considering him as a presidential candidate.

Black Children Were Jailed for a Crime That Doesn’t Exist. Almost Nothing Happened to the Adults in Charge.

Judge Donna Scott Davenport oversees a juvenile justice system in Rutherford County, Tennessee, with a staggering history of jailing children. She said kids must face consequences, which rarely seem to apply to her or the other adults in charge.

by Meribah Knight, Nashville Public Radio, and Ken Armstrong, ProPublica

This article was produced for ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network in partnership with Nashville Public RadioSign up for Dispatches to get stories like this one as soon as they are published.

Chapter 1: “What in the World?”

Friday, April 15, 2016: Hobgood Elementary School, Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Three police officers were crowded into the assistant principal’s office at Hobgood Elementary School, and Tammy Garrett, the school’s principal, had no idea what to do. One officer, wearing a tactical vest, was telling her: Go get the kids. A second officer was telling her: Don’t go get the kids. The third officer wasn’t saying anything.

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Garrett knew the police had been sent to arrest some children, although exactly which children, it would turn out, was unclear to everyone, even to these officers. The names police had given the principal included four girls, now sitting in classrooms throughout the school. All four girls were Black. There was a sixth grader, two fourth graders and a third grader. The youngest was 8. On this sunny Friday afternoon in spring, she wore her hair in pigtails.

A few weeks before, a video had appeared on YouTube. It showed two small boys, 5 and 6 years old, throwing feeble punches at a larger boy as he walked away, while other kids tagged along, some yelling. The scuffle took place off school grounds, after a game of pickup basketball. One kid insulted another kid’s mother, is what started it all.

Screenshots from a heavily filtered video, originally posted to YouTube, showing a scuffle among small children that took place off school grounds. Credit: Screenshots by ProPublica

The police were at Hobgood because of that video. But they hadn’t come for the boys who threw punches. They were here for the children who looked on. The police in Murfreesboro, a fast-growing city about 30 miles southeast of Nashville, had secured juvenile petitions for 10 children in all who were accused of failing to stop the fight. Officers were now rounding up kids, even though the department couldn’t identify a single one in the video, which was posted with a filter that made faces fuzzy. What was clear were the voices, including that of one girl trying to break up the fight, saying: “Stop, Tay-Tay. Stop, Tay-Tay. Stop, Tay-Tay.” She was a fourth grader at Hobgood. Her initials were E.J.

The confusion at Hobgood — one officer saying this, another saying that — could be traced in part to absence. A police officer regularly assigned to Hobgood, who knew the students and staff, had bailed that morning after learning about the planned arrests. The thought of arresting these children caused him such stress that he feared he might cry in front of them. Or have a heart attack. He wanted nothing to do with it, so he complained of chest pains and went home, with no warning to his fill-in about what was in store.

Also absent was the police officer who had investigated the video and instigated these arrests, Chrystal Templeton. She had assured the principal she would be there. She had also told Garrett there would be no handcuffs, that police would be discreet. But Templeton was a no-show. Garrett even texted her — “How’s timing?” — but got no answer.

Instead of going to Hobgood, Templeton had spent the afternoon gathering the petitions, then heading to the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center, a two-tiered jail for children with dozens of surveillance cameras, 48 cells and 64 beds. There, she waited for the kids to be brought to her.

In Rutherford County, a juvenile court judge had been directing police on what she called “our process” for arresting children, and she appointed the jailer, who employed a “filter system” to determine which children to hold.

The judge was proud of what she had helped build, despite some alarming numbers buried in state reports. 

Among cases referred to juvenile court, the statewide average for how often children were locked up was 5%. 

In Rutherford County, it was 48%.

Credit: Reports compiled from the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts

In the assistant principal’s office at Hobgood, the officer telling Garrett not to get the kids was Chris Williams. Williams, who is Black, had been a Murfreesboro cop for five years. “What in the world?” he thought, when he learned what these arrests were about. At Hobgood, two-thirds of the students were Black or Latino. Williams wondered if such arrests would be made at a school that was mostly white. He had a daughter who was 9. He pictured her being arrested. This is going to blow up, he thought; I’m going to end up in federal court over this. He considered quitting, but instead tried to get someone to intervene. Tucked in an office corner, he called a sergeant, a lieutenant and a major, but couldn’t find anyone to call it off.

The officer not saying anything was Albert Miles III. Growing up, Miles, who is Black, had friends who hated the police. But Miles’ dad was a cop. Miles wanted to prove that police could be trusted. That afternoon, Miles had been pulled out of roll call along with another officer; a sergeant told the two to go arrest some kids at Hobgood. The sergeant didn’t say why, but at Hobgood, Miles started picking up details. Miles, too, wondered if these arrests would happen at a school full of white students.

The third officer at Hobgood was Jeff Carroll. He’d been pulled out of roll call with Miles. Carroll, who is white, was a patrol officer and SWAT team member. In evaluations, supervisors praised him as a leader, “cool under pressure.” Carroll also had no idea what these arrests were about. But his sergeant had ordered them, and he followed orders. Carroll was the officer telling the principal: Go get the kids.

Hobgood’s Tammy Garrett Credit: Stacy Kranitz, special to ProPublica

Garrett asked if she could call their parents first. Carroll told her no. Garrett told the police that one girl had diabetes and got treatment when she arrived home after school. Please, the principal said. Let me call her parent. On this, the police ultimately compromised, saying the girl could get a shot in the nurse’s office before being taken to the jail.

Of the two officers telling Garrett what to do — get the kids, don’t get the kids — Carroll seemed the more aggressive, the principal would say later. She agreed to get the kids.

Having these arrests take place at Hobgood was not something school officials wanted. They wanted kids to feel safe at school. Garrett grew up poor. Nine-tenths of her students were poor. Years before, Hobgood had struggled academically. Now it was a celebrated success. Garrett and her staff had worked to build trust with parents, with students. “I don’t give up on kids,” Garrett says. But she knew that trust is fragile, and trauma endures.

As Garrett gathered the girls from their classrooms, she believed the police would at least avoid a spectacle. School let out at 2:30. That was minutes away. Garrett’s understanding was that the police would keep the girls in the office until school was dismissed and everyone else was gone.

Garrett rounded up the sixth grader, a tall girl with braids who had visions of becoming a police officer; one of the fourth graders, the girl with diabetes; and the 8-year-old third grader. In the hallway, the principal tried to prepare them, saying the police were there regarding a video of a fight. Hearing this, the sixth grader told Garrett that the two other girls hadn’t even been there.

After returning to the office with the three girls, Garrett relayed to police what the sixth grader had told her.

Her words were barely out when Carroll made it clear he’d had enough, Garrett said later when interviewed as part of an internal police investigation.

Carroll pulled out handcuffs and put them “right in my face,” Garrett recalled.

“And he said, ‘We’re going now, we’re going now, there’s no more talk, and we’re going now.’

“And I said, ‘But, but, but.’”

A chalk drawing outside Hobgood Elementary School Credit: Stacy Kranitz, special to ProPublica

Carroll yelled at her, Garrett said. She felt intimidated. Bullied. She worried that if she said any more, she might be arrested herself. “And so I backed off.”

By now the girls were crying and screaming and reaching for the principal, who was also crying, as was the assistant principal. “And it was, it was, it was awful,” Garrett later said.

Carroll handcuffed the sixth grader. Later, asked why, he said because policy allowed him to. After being handcuffed, the sixth grader fell to her knees.

Miles handcuffed the 8-year-old with pigtails. “Just acting out of habit,” he said later. Walking to a patrol car, Miles stopped and thought, “Wait a minute,” and removed the cuffs. “I guess my brain finally caught up with what was going on.”

While Carroll drove those two girls to the jail, the fourth grader with diabetes stayed behind to see the nurse. She was sisters with the sixth grader; her initials were C.C.

In all this back and forth, Principal Garrett realized something. The other fourth grader. She had forgotten about her. And now, school was out. The girl had boarded her bus, and was waiting to go home.

The other fourth grader was E.J. Although she’d said “stop,” she was on the police’s list to be picked up for encouraging the fight.

Go get her, the police told Garrett.

Garrett was still crying. She didn’t want to go out to the line of buses and let all those kids see her like that. But she went, feeling she had little choice.

A teacher beckoned E.J. off the bus. Then Garrett escorted her inside, to the awaiting police. E.J., scared and confused, begged for her mother — and threw up on the floor.

The two fourth graders still at Hobgood, E.J. and C.C., were best friends. Williams and Miles walked the girls outside, not handcuffing either. With some parents joining in, the officers formed a prayer circle around the two girls. Miles prayed out loud for the kids to be protected and for God to bring peace and understanding. Then he buckled the fourth graders into a patrol car and drove off. On the way to jail the girls cried, “snot and all,” E.J. would say later. Garrett, meanwhile, pulled out her personal cellphone and began calling parents, no longer willing to do as the police commanded.

For the officers, the confusion didn’t end at the school. It continued once the children began arriving at the jail.

When Carroll walked in with the first two girls, Templeton, the investigating officer, pointed to the 8-year-old and asked what she was doing there. The police had no petition for her, Templeton said. The 8-year-old’s mother soon arrived and took her child home.

Left: The playground at Hobgood Elementary School. Right: Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center. Credit: Stacy Kranitz, special to ProPublica

Miles brought in the last two girls, the two fourth graders. Then, walking out to his patrol car, he ran into an angry parent, Miles would recall later. It was a father demanding answers. Miles dropped his head, shaking it. The father asked why this was happening. I don’t know, Miles answered. We are good people, the father said. I can only imagine what you’re feeling, Miles answered. He explained, briefly, the juvenile court process. This is wrong, the father told Miles, over and over. After the third time, Miles, fighting back tears, said he understood, as a parent himself, the father’s anger and pain.

Fuck you, the father said.

I understand, Miles answered.

Only later, when he returned to the police station, did Miles allow himself to cry.

​​When the parent asked why this was happening, Miles had been unable to say. But the answer traces to individual missteps and institutional breakdowns — all on a grand scale.

What happened on that Friday and in the days after, when police rounded up even more kids, would expose an ugly and unsettling culture in Rutherford County, one spanning decades. In the wake of these mass arrests, lawyers would see inside a secretive legal system that’s supposed to protect kids, but in this county did the opposite. Officials flouted the law by wrongfully arresting and jailing children. One of their worst practices was stopped following the events at Hobgood, but the conditions that allowed the lawlessness remain. The adults in charge failed. Yet they’re still in charge. Tennessee’s systems for protecting children failed. Yet they haven’t been fixed.

Chapter 2: “The Mother of the County”

Eleven children in all were arrested over the video, including the 8-year-old taken in by mistake. Media picked up the story. Parents and community leaders condemned the actions of police. “Unimaginable, unfathomable,” a Nashville pastor said. “Unconscionable,” “inexcusable,” “insane,” three state legislators said. But Rutherford County’s juvenile court judge focused instead on the state of youth, telling a local TV station: “We are in a crisis with our children in Rutherford County. … I’ve never seen it this bad.”

Rutherford County established the position of elected juvenile court judge in 2000, and ever since, Donna Scott Davenport has been the job’s only holder. She sometimes calls herself the “mother of the county.”

Davenport runs the juvenile justice system, appointing magistrates, setting rules and presiding over cases that include everything from children accused of breaking the law to parents accused of neglecting their children. While the county’s mayor, sheriff and commissioners have turned over, she has stayed on, becoming a looming figure for thousands of families. “She’s been the judge ever since I was a kid,” said one mother whose own kids have cycled through Davenport’s courtroom. One man, now in his late 20s, said that when he was a kid in trouble, he would pray for a magistrate instead of Davenport: “If she’s having a bad day, most definitely, you’re going to have a bad day.”

While juvenile court is mostly private, Davenport keeps a highly public profile. For the past 10 years she’s had a monthly radio segment on WGNS, a local station where she talks about her work.

She sees a breakdown in morals. Children lack respect: “It’s worse now than I’ve ever seen it,” she said in 2012. Parents don’t parent: “It’s just the worst I’ve ever seen,” she said in 2017. On WGNS, Davenport reminisces with the show’s host about a time when families ate dinner together and parents always knew where their children were and what friends they were with because kids called home from a landline, not some could-be-anywhere cellphone. Video games, the internet, social media — it’s all poison for children, the judge says.

Davenport describes her work as a calling. “I’m here on a mission. It’s not a job. It’s God’s mission,” she told a local newspaper. The children in her courtroom aren’t hers, but she calls them hers. “I’m seeing a lot of aggression in my 9- and 10-year-olds,” she says in one radio segment.

She encourages parents troubled by their children’s behavior to use over-the-counter kits to test them for drugs. “Don’t buy them at the Dollar Tree,” she says on the radio. “The best ones are your reputable drugstores.”

Scrutinizing the inner workings of Tennessee’s juvenile courts can be difficult. Court files are mostly off-limits; proceedings can be closed at a judge’s discretion. But on the radio, Davenport provides listeners a glimpse of the court’s work.  “I’ve locked up one 7-year-old in 13 years, and that was a heartbreak,” she said in 2012. “But 8- and 9-year-olds, and older, are very common now.”

Davenport has lots of favorite sayings. “God don’t make no junk,” she says to kids, to instill self-worth. To instill fear, she will say, “I’m going to let you be young and dumb — one time.” There’s no jury in juvenile court, so Davenport decides the facts as well as the law. “And that is why I should get 12 times the pay,” she likes to joke.

Davenport enforces a strict dress code in her courtroom, requiring people to “show deference.” There will be no untucked shirts. No sundresses, spaghetti straps or spandex. No body piercings, no uncovered tattoos. Pants shall be pulled up, and if a child shows up without a belt, the judge keeps a bag of them, and if she runs out, “you’ll just have to make do with a piece of rope,” one newspaper profile said.

Davenport says children need consequences. “Being detained in our facility is not a picnic at all,” she says on the radio. “It’s not supposed to be. It’s a consequence for an action.”

Davenport’s tough talk — and the county’s high detention rate — go against a reform movement that started about the same time she went on the bench. Beginning in the late 1990s, the number of kids in lockup began to decline, both nationally and in Tennessee.

Davenport, now 69, grew up in Mt. Juliet, a Nashville suburb. She attended Middle Tennessee State University, in Murfreesboro, majoring in criminal justice.

On the radio, Davenport says she has been “blessed” with an extensive history in law enforcement: “I was trained well in 17 years by different law enforcement agencies.” As a juvenile court judge, she says, she can spot “subtle signs” of gang activity, “wearing something to the right or to the left, or a color here or a color there.”

Her description of her job history doesn’t always match employment records.

Davenport, in a sworn deposition, said her law enforcement career began in 1977 at MTSU, where, as a student, she worked full time as a university police officer for two to three years. But her MTSU personnel file shows her being a part-time dispatcher, then a full-time clerk-typist, then a full-time secretary.

In 1980, Davenport started as a dispatcher for the Murfreesboro Police Department. Then she took another job — not in law enforcement, but in the law department for Nashville, investigating financial claims that might include anything from car accidents to slip-and-falls.

At night, Davenport went to law school. She graduated in 1986. That same year, she told lawyers in a deposition, “I started with the feds.” She told radio listeners that for eight years she was “with the U.S. Justice Department, where I analyzed and tracked and helped identify serial killers.” But this job wasn’t with the Justice Department. Her employer, Regional Information Sharing Systems, received federal funding but isn’t a federal agency.

She then became a private investigator, handling “mostly divorces,” she told lawyers.

In a deposition, Davenport said she first took the bar exam about a year after finishing law school. She failed, then kept trying.

“How — how many times have you taken the bar?” an attorney asked her.

“I passed on the fifth time,” she said.

She was admitted to practice law in 1995, nine years after getting her law degree.

In 1998, she became a juvenile court referee, akin to a judge. One of the county’s judges appointed her. (Asked why, he recently said, “I really can’t go back and tell you.”)

The following year, Rutherford County violated federal law 191 times by keeping kids locked up too long, according to a story later published by The Tennessean. By law, children held for such minor acts as truancy were to appear before a judge within 24 hours and be released no more than a day after that. The newspaper interviewed Davenport, who estimated half those violations occurred because a kid had cursed her or someone else. For cursing, she said, she typically sentenced kids to two to 10 days in jail. “Was I in violation?” she said. “Heck, yes. But am I going to allow a child to cuss anyone out? Heck, no.”

In August 2000 — less than three months after the story was published — Rutherford County elected Davenport to the newly created job of juvenile court judge. Her opponent, a major in the sheriff’s department, was later charged with sex crimes against minors and, in a plea deal, got probation. Davenport has not had another opponent since.

With juveniles, police in Tennessee typically avoid cuffs and custody, particularly in less serious cases. They instead serve summonses instructing kids and their parents to show up in court.

But that wasn’t the routine in Rutherford County. When the Murfreesboro officers arrested the kids at Hobgood, they were following Davenport’s “process”: arrest, transport to the detention center for screening, then file charging papers. “IT IS SO ORDERED,” Davenport wrote in a 2003 memo about her instructions. Four years later she declared that even kids accused of minor violations like truancy must be taken into custody and transported to jail.

Davenport once told Murfreesboro’s Daily News Journal: “I know I’m harsh, I’m very harsh. I like to think I’m fair, but I’m tough.”

In 2016, the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded Davenport. In a family law matter, a father’s lawyers had asked to move his case to another county. By law, they were allowed to. But Davenport called “the father and/or his attorneys” a “sneaky snake,” the reprimand said. What’s more, she ordered that a transcript of her words be forwarded, possibly tipping the next judge to her animosity. The reprimand found that Davenport’s “intemperate conduct” threatened the right to a fair hearing.

In some other cases, appeals courts have taken Davenport to task through unusually blunt language.

In one, Davenport was overturned twice. Davenport, finding that a mother had neglected her daughter, granted custody to another couple. Two higher courts disagreed and ordered Davenport to reunify the mother and child. Instead, Davenport terminated the mother’s parental rights. The other couple then adopted the girl, after being “exhorted” by Davenport to move quickly, according to a state Court of Appeals opinion.

The adoption went through while a challenge to Davenport’s parental termination ruling was still pending. In the second go-round, a state appeals court judge made clear his displeasure, saying, during oral argument, “Our little system works pretty simply”: If a higher court tells a lower court to do something, the lower court does it. “That didn’t happen in this case,” he said. Two months later, the appeals court overruled Davenport for a second time. Saying it was “troubled by the proceedings to this point,” the court ordered Davenport to reunite the mother and child — “expeditiously.”

Davenport, through a spokesperson, declined our interview request, to which we attached 13 pages of questions. Previously, when asked about the county’s arrest practices, Davenport told lawyers that she “can’t tell law enforcement what to do.” She told a local newspaper that her court produces “a lot of success stories.” She told radio listeners, “I want the children that come in front of me to leave better than they came in.”

Chapter 3: “Yeah, That’s the Charge”

Friday, April 15, 2016: Judicial Commissioners’ office, Murfreesboro, Tennessee

On the same Friday afternoon as three police officers jammed into the assistant principal’s office at Hobgood Elementary School, three other people huddled in another office a few miles away, to discuss what charge these kids could face.

Chrystal Templeton, the police officer investigating the video, wanted to arrest every kid who watched the fight and “get them all in front” of Davenport, she would say later during an internal police investigation. Charging them was helping them, Templeton believed, because “juvenile court is about rehabilitation.”

Templeton thought an appropriate charge might be conspiracy to commit assault. But then she met with Amy Anderson and Sherry Hamlett, two judicial commissioners authorized by Rutherford County to issue arrest warrants. Anderson told Templeton that she thought the only child who could be charged with conspiring was the kid who recorded video of the fight on a cellphone.

So they went in search of another charge, with Hamlett checking the state’s criminal code on a computer.

Templeton had joined the Murfreesboro Police Department in 1998, when she was 21. By the time of the arrests at Hobgood, she had been disciplined at least 37 times, including nine suspensions. She once left a loaded pistol on the seat of a patrol car, according to her personnel file. During a pursuit, she failed to turn on her dash cam. Another time she lost control of her patrol car and hit a Ford Explorer, which, in turn, hit a Nissan Pathfinder while Templeton’s patrol unit, spinning, smacked a Toyota Sequoia. In all, four cars were damaged and seven people injured, including Templeton.

In the lead-up to the Hobgood arrests, Garrett, the school’s principal, had heard grumbling about Templeton. Templeton was a school resource officer — not at Hobgood, but at two other schools in Murfreesboro. Both schools’ principals complained that Templeton was often absent. Meanwhile, one of Hobgood’s resource officers warned Garrett that Templeton’s handling of the case was going to cause a “shitstorm.” But that officer didn’t share her concerns with police higher-ups. She believed Templeton’s sergeant always made excuses for her, so what was the point?

Templeton had begun investigating on Wednesday, two days earlier. To try and identify all the kids, she asked around at schools and in the neighborhood where the fight took place. One parent she approached for help was E.J.’s mom. Templeton assured her no one was in trouble, that she just wanted to give the kids a talking-to, E.J.’s mom would say later. E.J., who was with her mom during this meeting, said she had been there. It was her on the video saying, “Stop, Tay-Tay.” On a piece of paper, on the hood of Templeton’s patrol car, E.J. and another girl who was with them listed the onlookers. And that was Templeton’s investigation. “My case is the video and the list,” she would say later, even though she couldn’t match any bystander to any image in the video.

The victim, the boy being punched, told Templeton the kids were all friends now. Templeton told him she understood. She then asked the child, “Do you think that there needs to be some consequences for what happened?” she would later recall. “And he said yes.”

Templeton wanted guidance. She believed the boys throwing punches were too young to be charged with a crime. An assistant district attorney agreed. The assistant DA also told Templeton she didn’t believe there was any single charge appropriate for all the kids gathered around. But Templeton still wanted to charge them all.

Inside the judicial commissioners’ office, Hamlett discovered an alternative to conspiracy to commit assault.

Her search turned up a Tennessee statute defining “criminal responsibility for conduct of another.” It says, in part: A person is “criminally responsible” for an offense committed by another if “the person causes or aids an innocent or irresponsible person to engage in” the offense, or directs another to commit the offense, or “fails to make a reasonable effort to prevent commission of the offense.”

Hamlett shared her find with Templeton. They went through the statute line by line, with Anderson joining in.

“I looked at the charge to the best of my ability, from my experience was like, ‘Yeah, that’s, that’s the charge,’” Templeton would later say. (When she subsequently apprised a higher-up in the police department, the higher-up wasn’t so sure. But he didn’t warn her off. “No one ever said no,” Templeton said later, adding, “If somebody told me, ‘No, stop,’ I would have stopped.”)

In the United States, it is typically the prosecutor’s job to review a police investigation and decide what charges, if any, to file. But Tennessee allows counties to hire judicial commissioners to fill this role. From issuing warrants to setting bail to conducting probable cause hearings, Rutherford County’s judicial commissioners can take on tasks that traditionally fall to judges or prosecutors — without needing the legal training of either.

County judges recommend people for the job. County commissioners appoint them.

Rutherford County opens the job to anyone with a Tennessee driver’s license and a high school diploma, supplemented by some college-level course work or vocational training and some office work.

Anderson, a county employee since 1998, was disciplined shortly before this case. According to investigative records, she had passed a note to a sheriff’s clerk. The clerk tore it up, then left with Anderson. Someone fished the note’s scraps from the trash and taped them together. The note read: “Could I get a few? If not, that’s fine. It’s my hip.”

In an internal sheriff’s investigation, the clerk admitted giving Anderson two prescription painkillers. That was illegal, a lieutenant wrote. He informed a county judge, who said they “would handle the situation administratively.” Anderson received a letter of warning, according to her personnel file.

Hamlett started as a judicial commissioner in 2008, making $8.50 an hour. Her application listed a high school diploma, and no college. Her previous job was in a small-town post office where her responsibilities included “computer work and general office duties.”

When Hamlett came up with “criminal responsibility for conduct of another” as a possible charge, there was a problem. It’s not an actual charge. There is no such crime. It is rather a basis upon which someone can be accused of a crime. For example, a person who caused someone else to commit robbery would be charged with robbery, not “criminal responsibility.”

But in the judicial commissioners’ office that Friday afternoon, 10 petitions were issued, each charging a child with “criminal responsibility.” The petitions didn’t distinguish the kids’ actions; the documents were cookie-cutter, saying each child “encouraged and caused” two other juveniles to commit an assault.

Templeton signed each petition. Anderson also signed at least some of them. Templeton then left the judicial commissioners’ office, the 10 petitions in hand.

After the four arrests at Hobgood, other children named in the petitions were brought in by their parents or rounded up by police.

(Templeton, through her lawyer, declined to comment. Anderson and Hamlett did not respond to interview requests. A supervisor in the judicial commissioners’ office told us the two had no comment, and neither did he.)

On Saturday, the day after the scene at Hobgood, police went to the home of a sister and brother who were 12-year-old twins. In court records they would be identified as J.B.#1 and J.B.#2. Officers arrested and handcuffed both children, even as the girl cried and begged to stay with her mother, and the mother pleaded with police not to use handcuffs. The mother recently said, “It hurt me to my heart … for them to take my kids.” Two of her other children watched the arrests, as did three of her nieces. Afterward, her other children had nightmares of being arrested, she said.

The officers put the twins in a patrol car and took them to the juvenile detention center to be processed.

Chapter 4: “We Will Hold the Juvenile”

When police took the 12-year-old twins to the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center on Saturday, April 16, 2016, the odds that either would be jailed were long, at least under Tennessee law.

Recognizing the harm that can come from incarcerating kids, Tennessee lawmakers have placed narrow limits on when a child accused of being delinquent can be held in a secure lockdown prior to receiving a court hearing. The child must fit one of six categories, precisely defined. They include being a jail escapee; being wanted elsewhere for a felony offense; or being accused, on substantial evidence, of a crime resulting in serious injury or death.

These two 12-year-olds were charged on negligible evidence with a crime that’s not an actual crime for something in which no one was seriously hurt.

Rutherford County, however, had its own system for deciding whether to keep a child under lock and key. Its written procedure, imprecise and broad, boiled down to whether a child was considered by jailers to be a “TRUE threat.” Jailers allowed the 12-year-old girl to go home. But they locked up her twin brother. Of the 10 children charged in this case, all Black, four were girls and six were boys. Every girl was released. Of the boys, four were jailed, according to court records.

Those four boys became a small part of a big group. In the fiscal year that encompassed April 2016, Rutherford County jailed 986 children for a total of 7,932 days.

Jacorious Brinkley Credit: Stacy Kranitz, special to ProPublica

J.B.#2, the 12-year-old boy, spent two nights in the detention center, court records show. While there, he was placed in solitary confinement as punishment for standing at his cell’s window, a lawsuit would later allege. We recently interviewed J.B.#2, whose name is Jacorious Brinkley. (He’s 18 now and is OK with us using his name.) A guard, Jacorious said, kept walking past his cell, “saying, like, ‘You can’t, you can’t be by the door. You got to sit down.’”​​

The person who runs the detention center is Lynn Duke. Davenport initially picked someone else, but her first appointee was arrested on a drug charge only hours after receiving the congratulations of county commissioners. Davenport quickly named Duke as replacement. Duke, a former youth services officer, became director on Jan. 1, 2001, and has remained in that role ever since.

Duke reports to Davenport, but does not consult her daily. In 2005, Duke emailed the judge to say she was feeling guilty for not checking in more. “If you need me to do anything … PLEASE TELL ME!” Duke wrote, to which Davenport replied: “GIRL, if I had any concerns or problems you would hear from me. YOU DO A GREAT JOB!!!!!”

When Duke first became director, the county detained kids in a deteriorated 19th-century jail separate from the court building. A local newspaper editorial bemoaned the sight this produced in the public square: kids, shackled together, in orange jumpsuits, “shuffling along the sidewalk and into the Judicial Building.” “Not that we’re afraid to see juveniles cuffed and heading toward justice, but it is a disturbing thing that could be avoided if juvenile court could be held at the detention center,” the editorial said.Lynn Duke during a 2017 deposition Credit: Obtained by ProPublica and Nashville Public Radio

In 2003, Rutherford County hired a consulting firm to help design a new detention center. The next year the firm produced a lengthy report, alerting Rutherford County that it was locking up kids at an exceptionally high rate. Jailing children should be “the last of a number of options,” the firm wrote. Less restrictive alternatives not only save money, they’re “more effective in reducing recidivism,” making them better for children and the community.

Scale down, the report recommended. Build a 35-bed juvenile detention center, with room to add on later. Also, build shelter care: 10 beds, in a residential setting, for runaways or other kids who pose no real threat to public safety.

In 2005, Rutherford County dropped the consulting firm and rejected its advice. The county opted for a 64-bed detention center, with no shelter care.

The center, attached to new courtrooms for Davenport and her magistrate, opened in 2008. The complex’s cost, coupled with that of a nearby correctional work center for adults, was $23.3 million.

Duke and Davenport have gushed about their new workplace. A “dream come true,” Davenport called it. They offer public tours. “You’ll see booking … bring your family … [have] a little piece of cake,” Davenport told radio listeners in a 2015 segment. They also lauded the jail staff. “We are a well-oiled machine, so there is not much to report,” Duke told county commissioners.

On occasion, news reports have revealed embarrassing staff breakdowns. Duke fired one officer who pepper-sprayed a kid in his cell, after which the kid chased the officer down and beat him up. (The officer, in a statement, said he was confident he followed procedure.)

In another case Duke promoted a corporal to sergeant despite a troubling disciplinary record; Duke then fired the sergeant after she entered a cell, removed her belt and struck a child with it, according to an internal investigation’s findings. The sergeant denied hitting the child, saying she had just removed her belt and made a popping sound with it. (When we pulled this officer’s personnel file, we discovered she had originally been recommended for hire by Davenport, who wrote a letter lauding her “professional demeanor” and “enthusiasm for the world of juvenile law.”)

When the new center opened in 2008, Duke incorporated a “filter system” into the jail’s written manual. When police arrest a child, they bring the child to jail. There, under the system, staff decide whether to hold the child before a detention hearing, which could take place days later. Say a child is hauled in for something minor, like skipping school. Under the filter system, the child would be locked up if deemed “unruly.” But the filter system defines “unruly” simply as “a TRUE threat,” while “TRUE threat” is not defined at all.

So any child, no matter the charge, who is considered a “TRUE threat,” however that’s interpreted, can end up being locked up.

Plus, the police can weigh in. In a 2013 email, Duke encouraged sheriff’s officers to let her staff know if they wanted a child detained. “If they say I really want this kid held, 9 times out of 10 we can make it happen,” she wrote. She went further in a memo to school resource officers, writing, “Even if we would normally release a juvenile … any time a local law enforcement officer requests a juvenile be detained and agrees to come to court to testify we will hold the juvenile.”

Detention center staff could be quizzed on the filter system when up for promotion, or disciplined for not applying it as written, according to personnel records. The staff member who made her way up to sergeant before being fired said in a deposition, “We were told when in doubt, hold them ’cause it’s better to hold a kid … that should have been released than release a child that should have been held.”

In 2016, Jacorious Brinkley joined in a lawsuit asking for the filter system to be stopped. When Duke was deposed in 2017, she called the system a guideline. Asked when it applied and what it dictated, Duke repeatedly said, “Depends on the situation.”

“Is it your policy or not?” a lawyer asked Duke.

“No. Yes. It — it’s a policy to use it when necessary,” Duke said.

Duke declined our request for an interview, writing in an email, “I appreciate your interest in Rutherford County and its youth, but decline to participate at this time.” Elsewhere she has consistently expressed pride in her operation, saying Rutherford County has the “best juvenile detention center in the state of Tennessee.”

Rutherford County doesn’t just jail its own kids. It also contracts with other counties to detain their children, charging $175 a day. “If we have empty beds, we will fill them with a paying customer,” Duke said at one public meeting.

Duke reports monthly to the county commission’s Public Safety Committee. At these meetings — we watched more than 100, going back 12 years — commissioners have asked regularly about the number of beds filled. “Just like a hotel,” one commissioner said of the jail. “With breakfast provided, and it’s not a continental,” added a second. At another meeting a commissioner said it would be “cool” if, instead of being a cost center, the jail could be a “profit center.”

When, at one meeting, Duke said “we get a lot of business” from a particular county, a commissioner chuckled at Duke’s word choice. “Business,” he said. This brought awkward laughter from other commissioners, leading the committee chair to say: “Hey, it’s a business. Generating revenue.”

Chapter 5: “They’re Not Coming Out Better Than They Went In”

Friday, April 15, 2016: Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center

She had tried to stop the scuffle. The evidence was right there, in the video. Stop, Tay-Tay. Stop, Tay-Tay. Then, asked by police for help, she had helped. The police had responded by arresting her, as she vomited and cried, saying that she had “encouraged and caused” the fight.

When E.J. was taken to the detention center, she was processed along with C.C., her best friend. Jail staff recorded E.J.’s name and birthdate (she was 10 years old), conducted a 16-point search and confiscated her jewelry, all her small rings. Then they placed the two fourth graders in a holding area.

The air, the bench, everything was cold, E.J. remembers. She heard buzzing, and doors opening and shutting.

E.J. and C.C. sat and cried — E.J., who had tried to stop the fight, and C.C., who, as her sister had told Principal Garrett, was not even there. She had been at a pizza party, celebrating her basketball team’s championship.

E.J. remembers C.C. saying something to her sister, in a nearby holding cell, and she remembers the jail staff’s reaction. The grownups in charge told the children: Be quiet. “It was like a demanding,” E.J. recalls.

E.J. was released the day of her arrest. Come Monday, she was afraid to go back to school, worried the police might pick her up again.

After the outcry over these arrests, the charge against E.J. was dismissed, as were the charges against all the other kids. But E.J.’s mom could see signs of lasting trauma. E.J. had bad dreams about the arrest. She didn’t trust the police. For two or three months, E.J. received counseling.

In July 2016, 10-year-old E.J., through her mother, sued Officer Templeton in federal court. Her lawsuit was later expanded into a class action against Rutherford County.

Her lawyers wanted to know: How many kids were there who, like E.J., had been improperly arrested? How many kids had, like Jacorious Brinkley, been improperly jailed? The lawyers gathered large samples of arrest and detention records from an 11-year period, ending in December 2017. Then they extrapolated.

They would eventually estimate that kids had been wrongly arrested 500 times. And that was just for kids arrested by the sheriff’s office. This estimate didn’t account for other law enforcement agencies in the county that followed Davenport’s “process.” As for how many times the juvenile detention center had improperly locked up kids through its “filter system,” the lawyers estimated that number at 1,500.

Based on their access to the usually confidential records, the lawyers created a spreadsheet showing that more than 50 kids, identified by their initials, had been jailed for offenses that wouldn’t be crimes if they were adults. While most were 14 or older, exceptions abounded. C.V., D.L. and J.S., all age 13, were locked up for being “unruly”; J.B., age 12, for “truancy”; and A.W., age 11, for “runaway.”

The lawyers obtained the jail’s intake procedures, detailing how kids are required to shower while watched by a staff member of the same sex. “Constant visual shall be maintained,” the procedures say. All braids shall be removed, and every scar, mark and tattoo, unless “located in a private area,” photographed.

The lawyers cited research on how arresting and detaining kids hurts not only the children, but society. Kids who have been arrested and jailed are more likely to commit crimes in the future. They’re more likely to struggle in school, and to struggle with drugs and alcohol. “Detention makes mentally ill youth worse,” the lawyers wrote. Detention makes kids more likely to hurt themselves.

In the class-action lawsuit, one of the lead plaintiffs is Dylan Geerts. While E.J. alleged wrongful arrest, Dylan alleged he was illegally jailed.

Dylan Geerts Credit: Stacy Kranitz, special to ProPublica

When Dylan was 14, his uncle killed himself. The two had been close. Afterward, Dylan started talking of taking his own life. His dad took him to a hospital, where Dylan stayed for a week. Doctors diagnosed him as being bipolar and prescribed lithium.

Two months after Dylan turned 15, he spent a weekend night with a friend. “Me and him were like fuel to each other’s fire,” Dylan says. They went looking for unlocked cars, for things to steal. About 3:30 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013, a police officer spotted them. They ran, but he caught them. They had lifted a radio, a hat, a phone case and cologne. Dylan was charged with six crimes. The crimes weren’t violent. There were no weapons involved. Dylan had never been arrested before. But when police took him to the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center, the staff, using the filter system, locked him up.

At the detention center, he says, he didn’t get his lithium: “Not a dose.” He spent almost all his time alone in his cell. Going off medication affected “my moods, my suicidal thoughts and my manic depressive disorders,” he says. “Twenty or 21 hours a day are a lot of time to think and let your mind go wild, especially when you’re bipolar.” He felt jittery. “It’s like your stomach has dropped and your chest is real tight and you’re real nervous … it’s like having stage fright … all day, every day.” Classwork was superficial. He was in high school, but they had him doing simple multiplication: “11 times 11, 5 times 7 … I got an entire worksheet of that.”

Once, he used the intercom inside his cell to ask for toilet paper. “I was told I would be put on lockdown if I used the intercom system a second time.” Another time, outside his cell, he was told by a guard that he had a phone call from his father. “I stood up and then another guard jumped up and said, ‘You don’t stand unless you’re allowed permission to stand,’ and threatened to pepper-spray me.”

Three days after his arrest, he appeared before Judge Davenport. She seemed hostile, he says, the hearing perfunctory. Davenport released him, but placed him on house arrest. So for more than two months he was either at home or at school. “Or you’re following your dad like you’re on a leash.” He couldn’t see friends. He wasn’t even allowed to text them.

Dylan’s dad would say that to his mind, house arrest was “the worst thing you could ever do to a child, because he’s looking out a window.” Community service would have been better, something “to preoccupy his time, not un-occupy his time.”

After Dylan was released from detention, he found his lithium no longer worked. He started on a string of other medications. He fell behind in school. In the 16 months after, he tried three times to kill himself. To his dad, the change in Dylan was dramatic. Before detention, “He came to me and said, ‘I was having trouble with thoughts in my head.’ After detention it was acting on thoughts in his head.”

Dylan doesn’t like having his name attached to the class-action lawsuit. But “someone has to be representative,” he says. “If there’s no actual story to it, then no one cares.” We interviewed Dylan this year, in his new home outside Rutherford County. He said if he could, he’d tell Davenport, “They’re not coming out better than they went in.”

The lawyers representing E.J. and Dylan discovered that for children swept up in Rutherford County’s juvenile justice system, the harm could go beyond being arrested or jailed. Many children, once jailed, were placed in solitary confinement.

In April 2016, mere days after the Hobgood arrests, Duke’s staff received Davenport’s approval to isolate, indefinitely, a teen with developmental disabilities. Jailers confined Quinterrius Frazier, 15 years old, to his cell for 23 hours a day while denying him music, magazines or books, except for a Bible.

By that time, President Barack Obama had banned solitary confinement for kids in federal prison, citing the “devastating, lasting psychological consequences.” But Rutherford County allowed isolation in eight ascending levels, calling it “crucial” that kids “understand there are consequences for all behaviors.” Level 1 was for 12 hours. Level 8 was indefinite.

The lawyers for E.J. also represented Quinterrius, in what became a second class action. That federal lawsuit ended with Rutherford County being permanently banned from punishing kids with solitary. A federal judge called the practice inhumane. The county, in settling, did not admit any wrongdoing.

Quinterrius recounted his time in solitary in a court document. He wrote that with nothing to do and no bedsheets until nighttime, “I just do push up endtile I can’t anymore than sleep with my arm’s in my sleeves untile I can’t sleep anymore.” Although it was forbidden, he sometimes talked through vents or cracks to whoever was jailed above or beside him. The hardest part, he wrote, was when jailers would cover his cell’s window with a board. Then he couldn’t even see another kid’s face.

We interviewed Quinterrius this summer, with his mother. He’s 20 now, and is fine with us using his name. He told us that in solitary, he felt like an animal: “They open the flap, feed me and close it.” In his cell, he began talking to himself. And now, five years later, “I still talk to myself a little bit just because that’s what I did for so long.” When we talked with him, he tapped on his phone and pulled on his hair. His mother, Sharieka Frazier, said since his time in solitary, her son seems to need constant stimulation, from music, his phone, the television. “He’s probably struggling now,” she told us during the interview.

“Are you struggling?” she asked her son. “Are you OK?”

“OK, I’m just, I’m OK, mama,” he told her, dropping his head into his palm.

Left: Quinterrius Frazier’s bedroom. Right: His mother, Sharieka Frazier. Credit: Stacy Kranitz, special to ProPublica

Chapter 6: “There Were No Concerns”

In the immediate aftermath of the arrests at Hobgood Elementary, the Murfreesboro police chief promised an internal investigation. By year’s end, the department had finished its report.

The officer who bailed before the arrests got a one-day suspension. So did the sergeant in charge of school resource officers. Three other supervisors also were disciplined: the sergeant, lieutenant and major who had not stepped in, even as Officer Williams called them from the assistant principal’s office, raising the alert. Each received a reprimand.

As for Templeton, who had initiated the arrests, the department made one finding: Her work had been “unsatisfactory.” She received a three-day suspension — her 10th suspension in 15 years — then kept working.

She retired in 2019 and, according to her LinkedIn profile, is now a life coach and member of Mary Kay, a multilevel marketing company that sells cosmetics.

Nashville police also participated in this investigation, to produce an external report with recommendations. Together, the two police departments delved into one of the case’s biggest missteps: the use of a charge that doesn’t exist.

The district attorney for Rutherford County confirmed to the police investigators that there’s no such crime as “criminal responsibility.” “You should never, ever see a charge that says defendant so-and-so is charged with criminal responsibility for the act of another. Period,” he said.

The investigators interviewed 13 police officers, four school officials, two prosecutors and a pastor. But two people refused to be interviewed: Amy Anderson and Sherry Hamlett, the two judicial commissioners.

They “failed to cooperate,” a Nashville sergeant wrote. “This is unfortunate. … Important information could have been obtained.” In his recommendations, the sergeant wrote that it’s “worth considering” whether police should give more weight to advice from prosecutors than judicial commissioners.

Hamlett was reappointed as a judicial commissioner in 2017, Anderson in 2019.

Their personnel files include no mention of this case.

All 11 children arrested over the fight captured on video sued in federal court. Defendants included the city of Murfreesboro, Rutherford County and various police officers.

At least six of the 11 children had been handcuffed. The four who were locked up spent twice as many days in jail, collectively, as Templeton did on suspension.

Starting in 2017, all 11 children received settlements, for a combined $397,500. For at least five children, some money was earmarked for counseling.

Rutherford County also faced the class action accusing it of illegally arresting and jailing children.

In January 2017, Davenport arrived at a law firm to be questioned by the lawyers for E.J. and so many other children.

Kyle Mothershead, a specialist in civil rights cases, deposed her. He knew about Davenport’s strict dress code — and he made sure to flout it. He wore blue jeans and a white button-down shirt, untucked. He later told us he was thinking, “I am going to fucking spit in her eye and come in all casual and take her off her little throne.”

Mothershead asked Davenport if she ever kept tabs on the number of kids detained.

“That’s not my job is to know statistics,” Davenport said.

Mothershead asked if she’d ever consulted with Duke about the filter system.

Not that she could recall, Davenport said, adding, “I don’t micromanage her.”

Mothershead asked about Davenport’s orders to law enforcement to take children to the detention center upon arrest.

“Because that’s our process,” Davenport said.

“OK. But I just want to make sure that we’re clear,” Mothershead said. “So — so that — that’s your process because you personally have ordered that process into existence?”

“From the orders, apparently so. Yes.”

In May 2017, a federal judge ordered the county to stop using its filter system, saying it “departs drastically” from ordinary standards. By being subjected to “illegal detention,” he wrote, “children in Rutherford County are suffering irreparable harm every day.”

This year, in June, Rutherford County settled the class action, agreeing to pay up to $11 million. Individual payouts figure to be around $1,000 for each claim of wrongful arrest and about $5,000 for each claim of unlawful detention. The county, as part of the settlement, “denies any wrongdoing in any of the lawsuits filed against it.”

With the end of the filter system, Rutherford County now jails fewer of its kids than before.

But that doesn’t mean its jail is ramping down. Quite the opposite. The jail keeps adding staff. Mark Downton, one of E.J.’s attorneys, says the county has “shifted gears.” Forced to stop jailing so many of its own children, Rutherford County ramped up its pitch to other places, to jail theirs.

The county has created a marketing video titled “What Can the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center Do For You?” Over saxophone music and b-roll of children in black-and-white striped uniforms, Davenport narrates. She touts the center’s size (43,094 square feet), employees (“great”), access to interstates (I-24, I-65, I-40) and number of cells, which she refers to as “single occupancy rooms.” “Let us be your partner for the safe custody and well-being of the detained youth of your community,” Davenport says.

Thirty-nine counties now contract with Rutherford, according to a report published this year. So does the U.S. Marshals Service.

​​How did Rutherford County get away with illegally jailing kids for so long?

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services licenses juvenile detention centers. But its inspectors didn’t flag Rutherford County’s illegal filter system, which was right there, in black and white. We collected nine inspection reports from when Duke put the system in until a federal judge ordered it out. Not once did an inspector mention the jail’s process for deciding which kids to hold. “There was very little graffiti,” an inspector wrote in 2010. “Neat and clean,” the same inspector wrote in 2011, 2013 and 2014. Two inspection reports in 2016 said, “There were no concerns regarding the program or staff at the detention center.”

We requested an interview with the department’s longtime director of licensing, to ask how inspectors could miss this. The department refused to make him available.

The state’s failures don’t end there.

Tennessee’s Administrative Office of the Courts collects crucial data statewide. In 2004, the consultant hired by Rutherford County used that data to sound an alarm: Rutherford County was locking up kids at more than three times the state average.

But then, Rutherford County stopped reporting this data. From 2005 to 2009, the county had 11,797 cases of children being referred to juvenile court. How many were locked up? The county claimed to have no idea. “Unknown,” it reported, for 90% of the cases. The county’s data, now meaningless, couldn’t be used against it.

Later, when the county resumed reporting how many kids it detained, lawyers representing children sounded a second alarm. By 2014, the county was locking up children at nearly 10 times the state average. But then the state stopped publishing its annual statistical report, which had provided the statewide comparison points that allowed troubling outliers to be spotted.

In 2017, a state task force on juvenile justice concluded that Tennessee’s “data collection and information sharing is insufficient and inconsistent across the state.” This “impedes accountability,” it reported. The following year, a state review team reported that without good data, “the state cannot identify trends.” The team recommended creating a statewide case management system with real-time, comprehensive data. But that hasn’t happened.

We sent written questions to Tennessee’s Administrative Office of the Courts, asking why it stopped publishing the annual statistical report and about the data gaps. The office’s spokesperson didn’t answer.

While Rutherford County’s filter system was ultimately flagged (by lawyers, not through oversight), it is only one illegal system under one juvenile court judge. With Tennessee’s inadequate inspections and data, there could be trouble in any of the state’s other 97 juvenile courts, without any alarms being sounded.

In Rutherford County, Davenport still runs juvenile court, making $176,000 a year. (She’s up for reelection next year, and has previously said she’d like to run for another eight-year term.) Duke still runs the juvenile detention center, earning $98,000. And the system as a whole continues to grow.

In 2005, the budget for juvenile services, including court and detention center staff, was $962,444. By 2020 it had jumped to $3.69 million.

Earlier this year, Davenport went before the county commission’s public safety committee. “I come to you this year with a huge need,” she said. By now she had two full-time magistrates and another who worked part time. Davenport said she wanted an additional full-time magistrate. And another secretary. She wanted to increase her budget by 23%.

She also wanted to expand the system’s physical footprint. A small school in the same building was closing, so Davenport proposed converting classrooms into an intake room and a courtroom.

During the meeting, one commissioner, Michael Wrather, took a moment to express his admiration for the judge.Tennessee Children Were Illegally Jailed. Now Members of Congress Are Asking For an Investigation.

The commissioners gave Davenport’s budget request a favorable recommendation. Their vote was unanimous. 

“I have said this for years and years,” Wrather told Davenport. “If we have a judge that has a box in the courtroom with belts in it, that requires young people to put a belt on and hold their pants up in a courtroom, I’m all for it.”

“Thank you, sir,” Davenport said.

“Good job.”