TOPIC: Dept. of Justice

Illinois and racial profiling

The ACLU is calling for the federal Department of Justice to investigate whether or not Illinois cops use racial bias in traffic stop searches, reports Patrick Yeagle of the Illinois Times. A new study produced by the Illinois Department of Transportation found a slight disparity between the number of minorities stopped and the number of minorities who live in Illinois. It looks like real claims of bias lie in specific communities like Springfield, where 41 percent of all drivers stopped in 2010 were minorities and just 15 percent of the Springfield population is minority.

Pragmatism over principle on pot

The Chicago Tribune’s John Byrne reports that the city’s new top cop, Garry McCarthy, says that he might want to give citations, instead of court summons, to people arrested for marijuana possession. This comes shortly after Toni Preckwinkle, the head of the Cook County Board, declared marijuana arrests an unduly expensive burden on the judicial system.

Missing here, of course, is the argument that pot arrests don’t just drain resources but are a needless use of police powers that, in Chicago at least, unfairly target African Americans. A purely budgetary argument implies that once Cook County’s finances turn around, the city will again make casual marijuana users appear in court.

Conventional labor disputes

Chicago's McCormick Place

Even as both private and public sector unions lose power, labor is a powerful force in Chicago. But Illinois politicians — even Democrats who get union contributions — argue that AFL-CIO unions like the carpenters and the teamsters keep the city from seeing millions, maybe billions, of revenue at the McCormick Place convention center. But, like the dispute between Chicago-based Boeing and the machinist union, federal law has so far sided with labor.

More bad news for East St. Louis schools

A federal prosecutor will investigate the misuse of public funds in the East St. Louis, Illinois school district — one of the poorest and most mismanaged school districts in the country, reports Nicholas J.C. Pistor. The investigation comes three months after the East St. Louis District ceded control of its operations to the Illinois Board of Education.



Waiting For Thomson: Guantanamo Bay and an Illinois village held hostage

Thomson (IL) Correctional Facility

President Obama made many pledges during his campaign for president, and one of the most cut-and-dried was his promise to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It hasn’t happened. “Gitmo” still houses 172 suspected terrorists.

In Thomson, Illinois, the fate of the prison in Guantanamo Bay is not the first thing on Jerry “Duke” Hebeler’s mind. Hebeler, village president of Thomson, oversees the town of about 600 that lies 90 miles west of Chicago. (more…)

Washington sends unclear signals in war on weed

The legally murky world of medicinal marijuana cultivation has grown even more Byzantine. A recent old memo, penned by James Cole, a deputy U.S. attorney general, threw a curve-ball to everyone from growers to dispensaries to their customers, raising fears that federal authorities are about to upend a laissez-faire ethos announced in 2009 and begin raids and prosecutions, according to Peter Hecht of The Sacramento Bee.

The memo, somewhat contradicting the earlier statement that federal officials would not intervene in states where medicinal marijuana use is permitted, said state laws are “not a defense” from federal prosecution and that “Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug.” (more…)

DOJ funds used to pursue child pornography prosecutions

Dave Rozek of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that there is a “major effort” by Illinois state attorney general Lisa Madigan to make more child pornography prosecutions. The use of U.S Justice Dept. money to help states apprehend and prosecute users of child pornography has rapidly increased in the internet era. By one estimation, 50 people faced federal prosecution on child pornography in 1995 and 2,500 were prosecuted in 2010.


Juan Cole sues Obama admin for Bush admin snooping

Robert Snell of the Detroit News reports that blogger and Michigan professor Juan Cole has sued the CIA and FBI, demanding that the intelligence agencies turn over any documents that relate to him. As Snell reports, the lawsuit comes less than a month after James Risen of the New York Times broke the story that a former CIA official said the Bush administration wanted dirt on Cole’s personal life. Cole’s Informed Comment blog was one of the first, and most articulate and persistent, media outlets, that exposed the emerging fiasco that was/is the Iraq War. (more…)

COPS program next victim of deficit reduction?

Rep. John Conyers

Liberal lion John Conyers, a longtime Democrat representative from Michigan, fired off a press release today critiquing a pending bill in the House Appropriations Committee to cut funding for COPS, or Community Oriented Policing Services. The bill to fund the Justice Dept. in fiscal year 2012 eliminates money for COPS-related grants to local law enforcement agencies and unfunds the COPS office in the Department of Justice. Conyers points out that the program has funded the hiring of more than 122,000 police officers since it was started in the Clinton administration. That Congress could seriously consider cutting money for COPS shows that while street crime remains an issue de jour in urban areas like Chicago, it has moved off the radar screen as a national political problem.

Post-Blago FBI public corruption investigations

James Walsh of the Chicago Sun-Times uses the conviction of Rod Blagojevich as a vehicle to look at all the other public corruption cases the FBI is pursuing. Walsh writes that there is “lots” of work to be done on the corruption front, as the FBI is “investigating more than 2,000 public corruption cases around the country.”

But is that a lot? Left unsaid is how this number compares to prior years and what percentage of elected officials nationally are investigated by the FBI. Also, even if the number of investigations has increased, is this because more public officials are on the take — or because the FBI itself has decided to do more to root out corruption?