Police Discretion: The Duality of Lethality

Media used: Frontline, Joe Sexton, November 29, 2018

I Don’t Want To Shoot You, Brother

The media source I reviewed is an episode of The Frontline Dispatch podcast titled “I Don’t Want to Shoot You, Brother.” In this episode the listener is led into the world of police use of force and discretion in the case of the shooting of R.J. Williams, though this case subverts expectation. The first officer to arrive at the scene is the focus of the episode, Stephen Mader. Williams repeatedly requests that Mader shoot him, holding a firearm and repeating his request. Mader identifies this as suicide by cop and elects to not fire his weapon on Williams. It was this decision that ultimately cost him his job after two other officers arrived on scene, eventually taking the life of Williams. In a shocking turn of events, the action taken against an officer in a shooting was that of being fired for not killing a visibly armed man.

Discretion and the use of force continuum are a deeply debated combination in law enforcement, but it is very rare that this outcome is seen. The case of Williams is a case study in the intersection of the two and the impact of the quality and quantity of information has on the outcome of a police interaction. The podcast creates an outline of the situation step by step before contextualizing the aftermath. The episode provides interesting insight on a phenomenon they refer to as “Blue Lives Matter More,” an idea that the mentality of a police officer revolves around making sure that they are the ones that go home at the end of the day. They cite an incident where an officer allowed a subject to chase them with a pipe before backup subdues the attacker. The officer is criticized by their peers for not taking action against the subject, but the family of the subject shows immense gratitude for not killing their family member.

The concept of Blue Lives Matter More can be seen in decisions such as Grahm v. Connor and Tennesee v. Garner  (Terrill, 2016) where the lines of acceptable use of force are drawn in vague terms and provide greater discretion on the part of the officer. When coupled with this case, it makes a clear argument that context matters and neither Mader nor the officer that shot Williams arguably made the wrong call. The standards set for “objectively reasonable force” are such that cases like this have unfortunate endings where two officers can have drastically different opinions on the situation (Terrill, 2016). Objectively reasonable force is the lynchpin of the issues around police use of force. There are cases like Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray in which the officers had to make decisions in the moment that received tremendous public backlash with no official sanctions. Ronald Wright (2017) brings to light a system of police accountability that takes aim at cases such as those listed above and aided Mader in his civil suit against the police department: legal prosecution. Chief prosecutors are elected officials in the United States and as such the people have the power to ensure that their local prosecutor is doing their job to the satisfaction of the public. While Mader did not employ the chief prosecutor, this is still a strong lesson to be learned. Police accountability is a hurdle in the background of the case of Williams, but it is a feature nonetheless.

I personally believe that this episode provides an interesting look into the lesser known world of police internal politics. With that said, it is not what I would consider a starting point and would implore that a listener pay close attention and seek a foundational understanding elsewhere. Through personal experience I am able to sift between the shock of the outcome and the deeper issues with some review and rewinding, but it still took a few listens at times. The episode is a great chance to broaden horizons and introduce a listener to new ideas like “Blue Lives Matter More” and the mentality of a duty cop in limited scenarios. There are no winners or happy endings in this episode, but that is a critical element that I believe makes this podcast worth listening to. Punches are not pulled and heart strings are tugged. It is recommended that the listener keep expectations in check and do their best to see everything from the point of view of all participants more so than ever.




Terrill, W. (2016), Deadly Force. Criminology & Public Policy, 15: 491-496. doi:10.1111/1745-9133.12193

Wright, R. F. (2017). Elected Prosecutors and Police Accountability. In A. J. Davis, Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment (pp. 3-20). Vintage Books.


The Cost of a Joint: The Case of Erimius Spencer

Media Used: SERIAL, SERIAL Podcast, 2020, LINK

          The media source I reviewed was the third episode of season three of the podcast SERIAL titled “Misdemeanor, Meet Mr. Lawsuit.” The episode turns a critical eye on police-community relations, more specifically that of police and the Black community. The episode starts in earnest after a segment regarding a community event that brings police and the community together to discuss relations in an informal, moderated setting where Samira Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, attends. The core of the episode is concerned more with the experience of Erimius Spencer, a Black man living in an apartment building in Euclid, Ohio. The episode is a first-hand look into a police brutality case and the minutiae that comes with trying to fight a system with a staggering upper hand. The issue at hand is twofold, containing the law enforcement officers and the legal system and the way in which they often work hand in hand with the protection of law enforcement, for better or worse.

The initial issue is the encounter Erimius has with law enforcement that results in a savage beating that leaves his orbital broken and his face swollen. In this case Erimius was stopped in the hallway as he was knocking on the door to a friend’s apartment, looking to ask for a cigarette. Officers were known to work the building off the clock and happened upon Erimius. They told him to stop, asked for his ID and received permission to search him. The search turned up a single marijuana cigarette which prompted an arrest from the officers, the point at which the trouble starts. Asking for the reason for arrest, Erimius was not answered, prompting the stiffening of his arm and further questioning. Officers continued to ignore his question before delivering a knee to his groin and an order to “Shut the fuck up.” Brought to the ground with an arm behind his back, the assaulting officer proceeds to kick Erimius in the face an indeterminate number of times. This is followed by being tased in the neck, back of his thigh, and his left chest. His heart. Seven total Taser discharges with notable burns. The case is a notable instance of overzealous force to subdue a subject; two police officers subduing a 5’6” Black man over a single marijuana cigarette.

In spite of the brutality of his arrest Erimius described the incident as only “uncomfortable” and that he was trying to avoid letting it get to him. Koenig outlines a number of statistics in the podcast, discussing the impacts of reports of police brutality on community relations and crime rates. This is only one consequence and another argument could be made that Erimius was racially profiled, adding another layer of distrust to the interaction. The race of the victim can serve to further increase the distrust between police and the community while simultaneously increasing the prevalence. According to Hutchins (2017) in her essay on racial profiling, “blacks who were the subject of such policing… felt more black…”(p. 106). This is exacerbated by a video mentioned as the cliffhanger of the episode in which an officer, whose testimony held great weight in the criminal charges being faced by Erimius, was recorded beating a Black driver during a traffic stop.

The distrust of police officers can easily bleed into distrust of the legal system itself with cases similar to Erimius when prosecutors attempt to remove journalists from a public proceeding and create testimony on a “bulge” in the defendant’s pocket. Davis (2017) corroborates two practices that appear in the case of Erimius: the stacking of charges on a defendant and the ease of creating probable cause. Erimius is given a sizable list of charges such as drug abuse, resisting arrest, theft, and criminal damaging. Cristallo corroborates this in a segment where he provides a brief outline of the practice and why they would have to take the bait in this instance. In regard to the ease of probable cause, Hutchins (2017) provides an explanation through their identification of “Race Plus” racial profiling with an example similar to Erimius’s story. This is when the officer uses the fact that an individual is Black and combines it with other factors, such as running in a high crime area or even knocking on a door in a nice apartment complex.
This episode of SERIAL was a candid look into the less favorable side of police interactions with an easy to follow and engaging timeline. There is no question as to the bias of the piece, but it reads like a modern muckraker aiming to take a stab at injustice. Koenig does an impeccable job of keeping the listener well informed without lacing the subject with their opinions. There is a relatively clear definition between opinion, fact, and circumstance in the piece with no attempt to hide any allegiances. It is clear everyone has a side and everyone is given their opinion. I would recommend this piece to anyone looking for an in depth example of the darker side of police interactions and no qualm with being caught with a well-executed cliffhanger.




Davis, A. J. (2017). The prosecution of black men. In A. J. Davis, Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment (pp. 178-208). Vintage Books.

Hutchins, R. M. (2017). Racial profiling: The law, the policy, and the practice. In A. J. Davis, Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment (pp. 95-134). Vintage Books.

Mass Incarceration: Privatizing Prisons and Funding Distrust

Media used: Criminal (In)Justice, David Harris, February 6, 2018, LINK

          The media source I reviewed is the 75th episode of the podcast Criminal (In)Justice titled “Punishment for Profit.” This episode of the podcast focuses on the issues of the privatization of the prison industrial complex and the concerns that arise when the duration of an offender’s stay in the facility has a direct link to the pockets of those in charge of the facility. This episode brings Lauren-Brooke Eisen, the author of Inside Private Prisons: An American Dilemma in the Age of Mass Incarceration, sharing their expertise in the matter in order to shed light on the issue. Some major points of the arguments made include the topics of expansion into immigration, hidden costs of the privatized prisons, and the guaranteed bed provision.

An argument raised by Eisen is the questionability of adding immigration to the pool of inmates that are covered by private corporations given their vulnerable and delicate situation. Due to the political environment and the concerns over quality, is it safe to entrust this party into the care of a profit-oriented facility? The second element Eisen covers is that the costs of private prisons are often underestimated, leaving out the money that must be put into oversight. Much like a public correctional facility, private facilities must be monitored to ensure they are up to code, observing policies, and not involving themselves in questionable or illegal acts. Eisen goes on to mention that in most studies, these figures are not factored into the total cost in an analysis of the money saved through the use of privatized corrections. In regard to money being saved, money can often be lost as a result of the guaranteed bed provisions. Eisen explains that these provisions charge the state based on the number of beds available rather than filled, effectively encouraging the state to fill the prison to capacity in order to ensure that they are not losing money. This often becomes an issue when deciding to continue or cancel a contract with a private prison, giving the prison power over the government due to the fact that the government has to decide whether or not they can handle the massive influx of prisoners that would accompany the closing of a facility packed to capacity. These are just a few of the issues brought up in the podcast and the wealth of knowledge offered by Eisen is much larger and goes further in depth on these issues.

It is worth noting that even if there is no injustice going in with the system of privatized corrections, simply seeming like there is injustice can spark tensions between law enforcement and the community. More specifically, the Black and Hispanic community due to the higher rates of incarceration compared to Whites. Relations between the Black community and law enforcement are especially strained in the current political climate, a fact that is not helped by disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates as well as longer overall sentences. According to Hager, blacks are 2.5 times more likely to be arrested than whites (as cited in Davis, 2018), which often leads to an inherent distrust of the law enforcement. When this is further complicated by their overwhelming presence in prisons, making up nearly 35 percent of prison populations (Davis, 2018) along with the data collected from the U.S. Sentencing Commission that observed an increase of sentence length of 19.5 percent for black men compared to their white counterparts.( Davis, 2018) When these factors are introduced to the knowledge that people are actively profiting off the prison industrial complex, doubts and concerns will understandably be raised and may incite further distrust between the Black community and the Criminal Justice System.

This growth of distrust does not stop with just blacks, especially given the political climate surrounding illegal immigration in the United States. According to the Department of Homeland Security in 2016, nearly 65 percent of the immigrant-detained population is held within privatized detention centers (Menjívar, et. al., 2018). As mentioned in the podcast, this is in no way to suggest there is anything insidious going on or any ill will, this point is only brought up to identify a possible source of distrust and concern. When nearly two thirds of the facilities are profit based, how can it shift the focus of the institution from wanting to keep inmates out from the idea that full beds are good? The recent waves of aggressive immigration enforcement and the previous criminalization of immigration, such as the upgrading of the offense of reentry after being deported to an aggravated felony add to this concern (Menjívar, et. al., 2018). How does this reflect on the criminal justice system?

This episode of the Criminal (In)Justice podcast is a perfect way for anyone looking to expand their thinking on the topic of the interaction between mass incarceration and the privatization of prisons. The audio quality from Eisen leaves something to be desired and may require multiple attempts to understand at times. In regard to the quality of the information and the guest speaker themselves, the episode is thought provoking and aims to inform rather than impose opinions. While this review focused more on the issues expressed by Eisen, the podcast also covers the finer qualities of a system of privatized prisons, a refreshing experience. In its entirety, episode 75 is an impressive delve into critical thinking topics that commonly arise when privatization is involved.




Davis, A. J. (Ed.). (2017). Policing the Black man: Arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment. Vintage Books.

Menjívar, C., Gómez Cervantes, A., & Alvord, D. (2018). The expansion of “crimmigration,” mass detention, and deportation. Sociology Compass, 12(4), e12573.

Undocumented Immigrants: The “Criminal” Next Door

Media used: Living Undocumented, Netflix, Aaron Saldman & Anna Chai October 2, 2019 LINK

          The media reviewed was the first episode in a series titled Living Undocumented in which the viewer follows the struggles of three families living in the United States without legal documentation. The docuseries follows a collection of undocumented immigrants as they talk about their struggles with the administration and its zero tolerance approach to illegal immigration. The first episode follows Luis, Rob, and Alejandra as they each struggle to handle the looming threat of deportation, the deportation of their loved ones, and even their own deportation.

The story of Luis Diaz, an undocumented male from Honduras, revolves more around his girlfriend Kenia and her son Noah. After being pulled over by law enforcement one night, Kenia was arrested due to having an active deportation order. Despite the presence of Luis and Noah in the vehicle, both of which had an active deportation order, only Kenia was taken. The story of the trio follows their trip to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility where Kenia and Noah will be deported. Along the way the viewer will be exposed to the general system of appeals and risks they must undergo in an attempt to reunite Kenia and Noah before they are deported all while attempting to prevent their removal. This is in addition to the immense risk taken by Luis as he puts himself in a position to be trapped by ICE and deported as well.

Rob is an undocumented immigrant from Israel who escaped his strife-ridden homeland in search of a better life for his children. Living with his wife Karen and their three children for seventeen years with no current way to seek legal citizenship. Ron provides his family with a living by running his own branding and packaging company with his co-owner Brad. Their story outlines the family’s reason to flee Israel, the struggles of owning a business as an undocumented immigrant, and the risks associated for all those involved, including Brad. The picture of the American Dream, the family of five must live in fear and hiding until an avenue to become legal residents arises.

Alejandra is a military wife living in the suburbs as an undocumented immigrant with her husband Temo, and her daughters Estella and Pamela. After coming to the United States from Mexico in 1998 she has created a life for herself and has currently been checking in with ICE for the last five years. After the Trump administration took office she was notified that she is slated for deportation. Her husband voted for Trump and believed that only “criminal, bad hombres” would be the ones targeted by the enforcement policies. He does his best to comfort his wife leading up to and after the notification. Estella will be deported with her mother due to her age, as she is too young to take care of herself.

The cases of Luis and Alejandra are not exceptions or rare instances, rather they are part of a startling majority that brings to question the actual purposes of these deportations and the efforts being made. Chavez (publication year, as cited in Martínez et al., 2018) believes that the system of enforcement as having less to do with crime and safety and rather the handling of what is described as the “Latino Threat” narrative and a front for ulterior motives. He believes that it is a way to take xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment and dress it in such a way that it can be misconstrued as protecting the country. Sentiment like this is only made more understandable when one takes into account the overzealous tactics used by law enforcement with Latino people, both documented and undocumented. According to Provine and Doty (publication year, as cited in Menjívar et al. 2018), the policies implemented target undocumented Latinx immigrants and provide law enforcement with the authority to “take strong action against them.” This is only further exacerbated by the increase in enforcement that selectively targets Latinx people and serves as a reminder of the overwhelming presence of law enforcement that undocumented immigrants must avoid while simultaneously reminding documented immigrants that their welcome to the country is on a strict time limit. This crushing pressure from the individuals placed in a position to enforce the laws and protect the community often lead to the exact opposite, creating a greater divide in community-police relationships.

This issue can be reflected even in the year 2020 in the instance of Joaquin Marte when he and two other Latinos were traveling through Jim Thorpe, PA only to be pulled over for a difficult to read license plate. Shortly after, the men were arrested and detained with not citation issued. At the time of writing this, the ACLU are filing a federal civil rights lawsuit over the stop and detainment (ACLU 2020). With the case pending, the sentiment of Provine, Doty, and Chavez become more understandable. The plight of undocumented immigrants fleeing hardship, violence, the threat of death, or a combination thereof is one expertly displayed by Living Undocumented.

Living Undocumented is a candid testimonial to the often unheard side of the immigration debate and I would implore anyone interested in the topic to watch it with an open mind. Regardless of one’s stance on the matter, Living Undocumented allows the viewer to understand the motivations of an undocumented immigrant, the hurdles they face when attempting to become legal citizens, and dispel the myths that surround the matter. With testimony from professionals accompanying the segments from the brave immigrants, the first episode is a perfect first step into understanding the motivations of Sanctuary Cities and those that endorse similar policies. This docuseries is the perfect place for anyone looking to experience an emotional journey through the lives of people who are criminalized by the government of the nation of which they so desperately want to be a part.




ACLU-PA Files Lawsuit Over Racial Profiling and Illegal Detention by Jim Thorpe Borough Police. (2020, February 21). Retrieved March 5, 2020, from https://www.aclupa.org/en/press-releases/aclu-pa-files-lawsuit-over-racial-profiling-and-illegal-detention-jim-thorpe-borough

Martínez, D. E., Martínez‐Schuldt, R. D., & Cantor, G. (2018). Providing Sanctuary or Fostering Crime? A Review of the Research on “Sanctuary Cities” and Crime​. Sociology compass, 12(1), e12547.

Menjívar, C., Gómez Cervantes, A., & Alvord, D. (2018). The expansion of “crimmigration,” mass detention, and deportation. Sociology Compass, 12(4), e12573.

Public Defenders: The Hazards of Client to Attorney Ratios

Media used: Broken Justice Podcast, PBS, November 5, 2019, LINK

          The media source I used is the first episode of a podcast titled Broken Justice. This podcast discusses the issues surrounding the public defender system nationwide and the impact these difficulties have on the indigent defendants that are represented by the overworked public defenders. This particular episode includes interviews with a public defender named Jeff Esparza and his client Kevin Shepard in which they share their experience in Kansas City, Missouri and the impacts it had on Shepard’s life.
The case in question was a charge of the unlawful use of a firearm. With a charge as serious as this Shepard needed an attorney but, since he could not afford one, he applied for a public defender. While waiting for his public defender Shepard had to wait in the jail without the ability to post bail or personally negotiate his release based on his financial situation. Under these circumstances, he waited in jail for nearly two months before Esparza was assigned to his case despite the lawyer having over 100 pending felony cases at the time. Esparza attempted to refuse the case in order to ensure that his existing clients and Shepard would be able to receive the counsel they deserve only to have the judge knowingly deny his request and further burden the struggling public defender.

It took 118 days after initial arrest for Shepard to be released to no home and no property. It was nearly a year after his arrest and Shepard was still in the preliminary stages of the process, still awaiting a trial date. A couple of months later, Shepard passed away. Esparza was notified by the PBS team working on the podcast of his client’s death. Sadly, Shepard’s lawyer had to be notified by a third party that his own client had passed away.

The case involving Shepard and Esparza are not an isolated event, their struggles are mirrored in public defenders offices nationwide. Public defender offices are suffering caseloads at an astonishing highs as evidenced by Austin, Jr. and Martinez (2019) when they mention that public defenders offices exceed the maximum recommended limit of cases handled per attorney in three quarters of county public defender offices nationwide in 2007. When this is coupled with the steady reduction in the funding of public defenders offices it is no surprise that indigent defendants are suffering systemic discrimination as a result of their poverty. They suffer extended stays in facilities awaiting trial due to the staggering caseloads the public defenders must endure. Without the funding the county needs, they cannot hire a sufficient number of public defenders to properly represent them to the best of their ability. The article by Austin, Jr. and Martinez (2019) goes on to reference ways that this burden can be shared between the public defenders and prosecution. The two sides must do their best to work hand in hand to reduce the impact of the caseloads and improve the chances of those who rely on the system to have their rights protected.

An argument can be made that the core of the issue is entirely financial. The simple addition of more public defenders will reduce the individual caseload and allow the county to better support their clients. The Brennan Study (as cited in TCR Staff, 2009) echo the argument that funding is a crucial improvement that can be made to the system. An increase in the funding of public defenders offices can lead to reductions in workloads, access to more and better support staff, and can decrease the staggering pay gap between prosecutors and public defenders. When there are instances in which the public defender in a jurisdiction is earning $15,000 less than the most junior prosecutor (TCR Staff, 2019), it can hardly be called a fair fight in our adversarial system.

I would unhesitatingly recommend the first episode of the Broken Justice podcast to anyone looking to better understand the issues that plague the public defender system. What is included in this work arguably covers only three quarters of the content available in the first episode. Understanding the core of a system so broken that the participants are often called “Public Pretenders” even while working with the same ethos as that of a trauma center: triage. The episode provides a surprising amount of insight into the struggles of the system without minimizing the severity and seriousness of the systematic failures. The episode provides the listener with insight into just how varied the cases that a public defender handles and just how serious the disparity in preparedness and funding can be for an indigent defendant. A highlight of the podcast is the frequent use of interview snippets, increasing the confidence a listener can have in the information they are hearing. PBS has produced a masterpiece of a podcast that will certainly satisfy anyone looking to bolster their knowledge of or start learning about the issues plaguing the public defender system as it exists today.


Austin, Jr. & Martinez (2019, March 27) Can prosecutors and public defenders team up to produce fairer justice. Retrieved from https://thecrimereport.org/2019/03/27/can-prosecutors-and-public-defenders-team-up-to-produce-fairer-justice/

PBS (2019, November 5) Broken justice, Episode 1: Triage. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/podcasts/broken-justice

TCR Staff (2019, September 9) More $$$s needed to end ‘crisis’ in US public defender system: Study. Retrieved from https://thecrimereport.org/2019/09/09/u-s-public-defender-system-in-crisis-brennan-study/