Welfare recipient Dessie Robinson, 55, who suffers from a heart ailment, diabetes, and ulcers, was among 21 people arrested at gunpoint in Los Angeles one week in July during a sweep targeting people who said they hadn’t received monthly Supplemental Security Income checks but who allegedly cashed the original and the duplicate checks, reports the Los Angeles Times. Most of those taken into custody were physically or mentally disabled and frightened as they were handcuffed and hauled off to court, says the federal public defender’s office. Defenders call the arrests by agents from the Social Security Administration’s inspector general’s office an outrageous abuse of authority, says the Times.
The arrests departed from standard procedure at the U.S. Attorney’s office. Normally, prosecutors send a summons to a defendant accused of a nonviolent misdemeanor. Many of those arrested had previously reached accommodations with the Social Security Administration and were making restitution by having money deducted from future SSI checks. All were African Americans, a fact that public defenders cited as an indication of possible racial discrimination. U.S. Attorney Debra Yang has apologized for the arrests to Christopher Prince, president of the John M. Langston Bar Association, a black lawyers group.