3/01/2021

Bay Area United Against War Newsletter, March 1, 2021

      


Haiti Action Committee
PO Box 2040
Berkeley,CA 94702

Contributions to Haiti Action Committee are not tax deductible for IRS purposes
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Bessemer, Alabama Amazon Solidarity Virtual Week of  

Action Begins Today!

https://solidaritycenter.ourpowerbase.net/civicrm/petition/sign?sid=20&reset=1

Later this week...

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Call the Superintendent of Mumia's Prison and demand he be taken to the hospital for treatment for COVID-19. It is not okay that they merely test him (they had not as
of Fri. night), the results will take days to come back and he is experiencing chest pains & breathing problems now--and COVID requires quick medical care to avoid death. 

Bernadette Mason, Superintendent
SCI Mahanoy
301 Morea Road
Frackville, PA 17932
(570) 773-2158



Urgent Demand For Mumia's Release
Mumia Abu-Jamal #AM 8335
 
There is a serious outbreak of COVID 19 in Mahanoy Correctional Facility, where Mumia and 2,400 other men live.  As of now 20 guards have tested positive 4 COVID 19, and the prison is frantically testing those housed in the prison.  Obviously, this a a huge cause for concern.  Despite the prison being on lockdown, meaning no one leaves there cell except for showers and emergencies.  Food is brought to the cells. 

 

Needless, to say, Mumia quite worried as he should be.  He is 66, years old, has liver damage and prison personnel are the ones bringing in the virus. 

 

Please call Governor Tom Wolf to demand Mumia and other aging elders with underlying vulnerable health concerns be considered for compassionate release.  Clearly, there is no such thing as social distancing in prison.  The only way to stop this virus from spreading and killing those in its' path is to send our elders home
who pose no threat to our community. 

 

Governor Tom Wolf -1(717) 787-2500  Fax 1 (717) 772-8284
Office of the Governor
508 Main Capitol Building
HarrisburgPA  17120    
 
After calling the governor, send an online communication about our concerns.   https://www.governor.pa.gov/contact/#PhoneNumber
 
Let us know what there response was, Thank you.  Mobilization4Mumia@gmail.com
 
ONA MOVE
 


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Pass COVID Protection and Debt Relief

 

Stop the Eviction Cliff! 


Forgive Rent and Mortgage Debt!


Sign the Petition:

 

https://www.acceaction.org/stopevictioncliff?utm_campaign=ab_15_16andutm_medium=emailandutm_source=acceaction

 

Millions of Californians have been prevented from working and will not have the income to pay back rent or mortgage debts owed from this pandemic. For renters, on Feb 1st, landlords will be able to start evicting and a month later, they will be able to sue for unpaid rent. Urge your legislator and Gov Newsom to stop all evictions and forgive COVID debts!

 

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock our state, with over 500 people dying from this terrible disease every day. The pandemic is not only ravaging the health of poor, black and brown communities the hardest - it is also disrupting our ability to make ends meet and stay in our homes. Shockingly, homelessness is set to double in California by 2023 due the economic crisis unleashed by COVID-19. [1]

 

Housing is healthcare: Without shelter, our very lives are on the line. Until enough of us have been vaccinated, our best weapon against this virus will remain our ability to stay at home.

 

Will you join me by urging your state senator, assembly member and Governor Gavin Newsom to pass both prevent evictions AND forgive rent debt?

 

This click-to-call tool makes it simple and easy.

 

https://www.acceaction.org/stopevictioncliff?utm_campaign=ab_15_16&utm_medium=email&utm_source=acceaction

 

Renters and small landlords know that much more needs to be done to prevent this pandemic from becoming a catastrophic eviction crisis. So far, our elected officials at the state and local level have put together a patchwork of protections that have stopped a bad crisis from getting much worse. But many of these protections expire soon, putting millions of people in danger. We face a tidal wave of evictions unless we act before the end of January.

 

We can take action to keep families in their homes while guaranteeing relief for small landlords by supporting an extension of eviction protections (AB 15) and providing rent debt relief paired with assistance for struggling landlords (AB 16). Assembly Member David Chiu of San Francisco is leading the charge with these bills as vehicles to get the job done.  Again, the needed elements are:  

 

Improve and extend existing protections so that tenants who can’t pay the rent due to COVID-19 do not face eviction

 

Provide rent forgiveness to lay the groundwork for a just recovery

 

Help struggling small and non-profit landlords with financial support

 

Ten months since the country was plunged into its first lockdown, tenants still can’t pay their rent and debt is piling up. This is hurting tenants and small landlords alike. We need a holistic approach that protects Californians in the short-run while forgiving unsustainable debts over the long term. That’s why we’re joining the Housing Now! coalition and Tenants Together on a statewide phone zap to tell our elected leaders to act now.

 

Will you join me by urging your state senator, assembly member and Governor Gavin Newsom to pass both prevent evictions AND forgive rent debt?

 

Time is running out. California’s statewide protections will start expiring by the end of this month. Millions face eviction. We have to pass AB 15 before the end of January. And we will not solve the long-term repercussions on the economic health of our communities without passing AB 16.

 

ASK YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS TO SAY YES ON AN EVICTION MORATORIUM AND RENT DEBT FORGIVENESS -- AB 15 AND AB16!!!

 

Let’s do our part in turning the corner on this pandemic. Our fight now will help protect millions of people in California. And when we fight, we win!

 

In solidarity,

 

Sasha Graham

[1] https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-01-12/new-report-foresees-tens-of-thousands-losing-homes-by-2023

ACCE Action

http://www.acceaction.org/


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Tell the New U.S. Administration - End 


Economic Sanctions in the Face of the Global


 COVID-19 Pandemic



Take action and sign the petition - click here!


https://sanctionskill.org/petition/

 

To: President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and all Members of the U.S. Congress:  

 

We write to you because we are deeply concerned about the impact of U.S. sanctions on many countries that are suffering the dire consequences of COVID-19.

 

The global COVID-19 pandemic and global economic crash challenge all humanity. Scientific and technological cooperation and global solidarity are desperate needs. Instead, the Trump Administration escalated economic warfare (“sanctions”) against many countries around the globe.

 

We ask you to begin a new era in U.S. relations with the world by lifting all U.S. economic sanctions.

 

U.S. economic sanctions impact one-third of the world’s population in 39 countries.

 

These sanctions block shipments and purchases of essential medicines, testing equipment, PPE, vaccines and even basic food.  Sanctions also cause chronic shortages of basic necessities, economic dislocation, chaotic hyperinflation, artificial famines, disease, and poverty, leading to tens of thousands of deaths. It is always the poorest and the weakest – infants, children, the chronically ill and the elderly – who suffer the worst impact of sanctions.  

 

Sanctions are illegal. They are a violation of international law and the United Nations Charter. They are a crime against humanity used, like military intervention, to topple popular governments and movements.

 

The United States uses its military and economic dominance to pressure governments, institutions and corporations to end all normal trade relations with targeted nations, lest they risk asset seizures and even military action.

 

The first step toward change must be an end to the U.S.’ policies of economic war. We urge you to end these illegal sanctions on all countries immediately and to reset the U.S.’ relations with the world.


Add your name - Click here to sign the petition:


https://sanctionskill.org/petition/






A Plea for the Compassionate Release of 

Leonard Peltier

Video at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWdJdODKO6M&feature=youtu.be

Screen shot from video.

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https://www.nlg.org/federalrepressionresources/

Resources for Resisting Federal Repression

Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests. 

The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page. 

Please visit the NLG Mass Defense Program page for general protest-related legal support hotlines run by NLG chapters.

Emergency Hotlines

If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities. 

State and Local Hotlines

If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for: 

National Hotline

If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:

Know Your Rights Materials

The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides. 

WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office

We also recommend the following resources: 

Center for Constitutional Rights

Civil Liberties Defense Center

Grand Jury Resistance Project

Katya Komisaruk

Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources

Tilted Scales Collective


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Articles

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1) The Deep South Has a Rich History of Resistance, as Amazon Is Learning

Alabama is more than its shading on the electoral map.

By Jamelle Bouie, Opinion Columnist, Feb. 26, 2021

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/26/opinion/amazon-union-south-us.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

A chemical plant near Muscle Shoals, Ala., in the 1940s.

A chemical plant near Muscle Shoals, Ala., in the 1940s. Credit...Buyenlarge/Getty Images


The Deep South is not generally known for its labor agitation, which is why it might come as a surprise for some to learn that it is in Alabama where workers have mounted one of the largest and most aggressive efforts to unionize Amazon in recent memory.

 

More than 2,000 workers at a fulfillment center in the city of Bessemer, just outside Birmingham, have indicated support for a union election. An estimated 85 percent of the work force is Black, and their union drive — which ties labor issues to Black Lives Matter and issues of racial equality — illustrates the extent to which racism and class exploitation are tied up with each other.

 

The size, scope and sophistication of the union drive in Bessemer should complicate commonly held ideas of Alabama and the Deep South as backward and relentlessly hostile to progress. It should be a reminder of the ways in which the fight for racial equality has historically been one for the dignity of labor as well. And it stands, as well, as an opportunity to explore a side of the state’s history that gets worse than short shrift in our collective memory.

 

To many Americans, Alabama is a synecdoche for the worst of Southern reaction. It is George Wallace in Montgomery in 1963, pledging “segregation forever.” It is the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham the same year, where four young girls were killed in the name of hate. It is Jim Clark and his posse in Selma, ready to attack peaceful protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And in the present, men like Jeff Sessions and Roy Moore stand as living links to Alabama’s history of reactionary politics as well as its continued resilience.

 

But the strength of reaction in Alabama is a function, in great part, of the state’s tradition of Black politics and Black radicalism. In the wake of emancipation, formerly enslaved Blacks established Union Leagues, where they organized for self-defense and agitated for legal and political equality. League activists, the historian Michael W. Fitzgerald writes in “Reconstruction in Alabama: From Civil War to Redemption in the Cotton South,” “critiqued the ills of the plantation system and explained how Reconstruction could facilitate a more democratic social structure.” In secret meetings away from hostile whites, freedmen gave radical speeches that “politicized the prevailing discontent over the labor system,” speaking to frustration “over the holdovers of slavery.”

 

In the 1880s, Black farmers and sharecroppers throughout the state formed “colored” chapters of the Agricultural Wheel, a cooperative alliance of farmers devoted to debt relief, the end of one-crop farming, the nationalization of the railroads and the strict regulation of banks and businesses.

 

“All of these local groups,” explained the historian Paul Horton in a 1991 article for The Journal of Southern History, “supported increasing funding for education, eliminating state normal schools, building more local schools, abolishing federal banks, inflation, a high tariff to protect the farmer, abolishing the Electoral College, a secret ballot, reducing the hours of labor, and prohibiting contract labor.” Although white and Black Wheelers could not overcome the twin forces of racism and capital, they prefigured a radical politics that would flourish among Black industrial workers in the next century.

 

That radicalism was at its strongest within the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers. “Originally an outgrowth of the Western Federation of Miners, a militant union that helped launch the I.W.W. in 1905, Mine Mill developed a national reputation as a radical, left-wing union during the 1930s,” the historian Robin D.G. Kelley writes in “Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression.” Most members of the union — like most iron ore miners in Birmingham, where the state’s steel industry was headquartered — were Black, and while its high-ranking officials were white, Black workers held the majority of middle- and low-level leadership positions within the union. Included among them were Communists, who helped spearhead Mine Mill’s organizing drive in the wake of the 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act, which had opened the door to unionization in large swaths of the economy.

 

“Union meetings were held in the woods, in sympathetic Black churches, or anywhere else activists could meet without molestation,” Kelley notes. “Company police used violence and intimidation in an effort to crush Mine Mill before it could establish a following, but when these tactics failed, officials exploited racial animosities.” To that end, the largest steel company in the area, the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company, created a company union that weaponized racism and anti-Communism to attract white workers and weaken Mine Mill.

 

For most of the next 20 years, the Black workers of Mine Mill would struggle against racism and capital in a singular push for racial equality and the emancipation of labor, neither of which could exist without the other. And while they would ultimately lose their fight — overwhelmed by the steel industry, its red-baiting in Washington and its own private army of racist vigilantes — the spirit of Mine Mill would live on and not just through the civil rights movement.

 

In the early 1970s, for example, a grass-roots workers organization called the Public Employees Organizing Committee strove to unionize Birmingham’s predominantly Black hospital and nursing home employees. The work of the committee, notes the historian Robert W. Widell, Jr. in “Birmingham and the Long Black Freedom Struggle,” “emphasized cross-racial solidarity” and “placed struggles over the workplace at the center of an expansive freedom agenda.”

 

Whatever its outcome, the Amazon unionization drive in Bessemer is part of this history, and its organizers are working in the tradition of what the historian Robert Korstad called the “civil rights unionism” of Black workers combining “class consciousness with race solidarity.” If it is these workers who, among so many others, stand a real chance of unionizing Amazon, then you could say that they owe it, in part, to their heritage.

 

As for all of us outside Alabama? We should remember that the political character of the South is more than its shading on an Electoral College map; that the entire region is home to a rich history of resistance against the twin forces of race hierarchy and class exploitation; and that a more just and equitable future may well depend on how much we take those histories to heart and build on them from there.


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2) Attacks on Asian-Americans in New York Stoke Fear, Anxiety and Anger

Hate crimes involving Asian-American victims soared in New York City last year. Officials are grappling with the problem even as new incidents occur.

By Alexandra E. Petri and Daniel E. Slotnik, Feb. 26, 2021

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/26/nyregion/asian-hate-crimes-attacks-ny.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Sam and Maggie Cheng on the street where their mother was attacked last week in Flushing, Queens.
Sam and Maggie Cheng on the street where their mother was attacked last week in Flushing, Queens. Credit...Andrew Seng for The New York Times

Maggie Cheng could stand to watch the video only once.

 

“I’ve never cried like that before,” Ms. Cheng said, describing her reaction to security footage that showed her mother being shoved to the ground last week on a crowded street in Flushing, Queens. “To see my mother get thrown like that, she looks like a feather. She looks like a rag doll.”

 

The attack on Ms. Cheng’s mother, which was highlighted by celebrities and gained widespread attention on social media, was one of four against Asian-American women in New York City that day. Taken together, they stoked fears that the wave of racism and violence that has targeted Asian-Americans during the pandemic was surging again in New York.

 

The number of hate crimes with Asian-American victims reported to the New York Police Department jumped to 28 in 2020, from just three the previous year, though activists and police officials say many additional incidents were not classified as hate crimes or went unreported.

 

Asian-Americans are grappling with the anxiety, fear and anger brought on by the attacks, which activists and elected officials say were fueled early in the pandemic by former President Donald J. Trump, who frequently used racist language to refer to the coronavirus.

 

In New York City, where Asian-Americans make up an estimated 16 percent of the population, the violence has terrified many.

 

“The attacks are random, and they are fast and furious,” said Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation, a nonprofit network of community groups. “It has stoked a lot of fear and paranoia. People are not leaving their homes.”

 

The xenophobia and violence is compounded by the economic fallout of the pandemic and fears of the virus, which dealt a severe blow to New York’s Asian-American communities.

 

Many of the attacks do not result in hate crime charges, because the police need evidence that identity was the motivating factor, like an audible racial slur, a self-incriminating statement or a history of racist behavior by the attacker.

 

So far this year, two attacks on people of Asian descent have led to hate crime charges in New York. A Police Department spokesman said the motives in last week’s attacks, including the one on Ms. Cheng’s mother, were unclear and that they were not currently being investigated as hate crimes.

 

Leaders who have pressed elected officials and the police to confront the issue say the response so far has felt sluggish.

 

“I’m really angry,” Ms. Yoo said. “I’ve been asking for something, some kind of a proactive response from City Hall.”

 

On Thursday night, a 36-year-old Asian man was stabbed near the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan and taken to the hospital in critical condition, the police said. A suspect was arrested and charged with attempted criminally negligent homicide, assault, forgery and criminal possession of a weapon. The police said Friday morning there was currently no indication that the attack was a hate crime.

 

Mayor Bill de Blasio said this week that the city was working to increase communication with community leaders, creating a website to help people report and respond to attacks, and focusing subway patrols on possible bias crimes. He also pointed to the Asian Hate Crime Task Force the department formed late last year.

 

“If you dare to raise your hand against a member of our Asian communities, you will suffer the consequences,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference.

 

Deputy Inspector Stewart Loo oversees the task force, which is composed of 25 volunteer detectives who speak 10 languages. He said it was designed to encourage Asian-Americans who are reluctant to cooperate with the police.

 

“The sentiment within the Asian-American community is that the police either don’t care or are not doing enough,” he said.

 

The N.Y.P.D. said it made arrests in 18 hate crimes involving Asian-American victims last year, and the cases are still pending.

 

But many Asian-Americans feel that their complaints are not being taken seriously by the police and prosecutors, said Chris Kwok, a board member for the Asian American Bar Association of New York.

 

“The political and social invisibility of Asian-Americans have real-life consequences,” Mr. Kwok said. “The invisibility comes from Asian-Americans being seen as permanent foreigners — they can’t cross that invisible line into becoming real Americans.”

 

Several highly publicized incidents early in the pandemic were not handled as hate crimes, Mr. Kwok said. If they had been, it “would have sent a signal that this was unacceptable and that if you were going to target Asian-Americans, there would be consequences,” he said.

 

In April, a man doused a 39-year-old woman with a caustic chemical as she took the trash out in front of her home in Brooklyn, badly burning her face, hands and neck. In July, two men lit an 89-year-old woman on fire near her Brooklyn home, after which hundreds of New Yorkers marched in protest. Neither was classified as a hate crime.

 

The increase in attacks in the city mirrors a trend across the United States. Stop AAPI Hate, an initiative that tracks violence and harassment against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, recorded more than 3,000 reported incidents from the start of the pandemic, said Russell Jeung, one of the group’s leaders and chair of the Asian American Studies Department at San Francisco State University. Of those, at least 260 were in New York City.

 

These attacks have lasting effects, said Kellina Craig-Henderson, who works for the National Science Foundation and has studied the psychological impact of hate crimes. She said that people targeted because of their race and ethnicity can suffer ailments like post-traumatic stress disorder, often more acutely than victims of other crimes.

 

“If you’re a minority person and this happens to you, you’re going to be more fearful, you’re going to question your place in the world,” Dr. Craig-Henderson said.

 

She added that hate crimes reverberate through communities and can further marginalize them.

 

“It sends a message to others that they could be next,” she said.

 

Several Asian-Americans who were victims of attacks in New York last year and reported them to the police said the scars were lasting.

 

Crisanna Tang was riding the subway to work one July morning when a maskless man spat on her and yelled that Chinese people had caused the virus. None of the other passengers intervened, Ms. Tang said.

 

“I was like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe this is actually happening to me,” said Ms. Tang, 31, a pathologists’ assistant at Jacobi Medical Center.

 

Now, Ms. Tang is hypervigilant. She started taking the express bus, which costs more than the subway. She stopped wearing a face shield to attract less attention. She carries pepper spray in her bag.

 

“I just wish these incidents would stop,” Ms. Tang said. “I am worried about the elderly community. I am really worried not enough is being done for them.”

 

Mimi Lau said strangers shouted racist slurs and threatened her physical safety twice last year, once on the D train and once outside the mochi shop she owns in Manhattan’s East Village.

 

“It made me think something was wrong with me,” Ms. Lau, 27, said.

 

Yen Yen Pong, 37, bought pepper spray after a maskless stranger accosted her last April in Queens, yelling racist remarks about the virus. After Ms. Pong tried to take a photograph of him, he snatched her cellphone and shattered it on the pavement.

 

Ms. Pong, who works at an asset management company, said she thought Asian-American women were particularly at risk, an observation supported by Stop AAPI Hate data showing that Asian-American women in New York were accosted three times as often as men.

 

“Number one, I am Asian. Number two, I am a woman,” Ms. Pong said. “What makes me a better target than that?”

 

The Asian American Bar Association of New York recently issued recommendations for ways to address the attacks, including clearer reporting mechanisms for victims and formalizing the Asian Hate Crime Task Force as a funded unit.

 

In September, more than 25 community groups condemned the task force, in part because of the effects that overpolicing can have on people of color, including Asian-Americans, and because such a unit fails to address the root causes of anti-Asian racism.

 

Even with the task force working to expand outreach, details of attacks and harassment may never reach the authorities. Activists say that many incidents go unreported, in part because of the stigma attached to them.

 

Sam Cheng, Maggie Cheng’s brother, said their mother spent hours in the hospital, where she got stitches for a deep gash in her forehead, and that she did not initially want to file a police report.

 

“She was trying to hide it,” Mr. Cheng, 28, said. “She doesn’t want any trouble.”

 

Two days after the attack, the police arrested Patrick Mateo, 47. He was charged with assault and harassment, and later released.

 

The New York Times reached out to Mr. Mateo, who said in several text messages that he began to argue with the woman after she got too close to him in line at a bakery and that she later sprayed him with mace.

 

He wrote that he had told the woman “you are in america … NOT CHINA! Please give me space with coronavirus.”

 

Mr. Cheng said his mother’s memory of the incident was foggy, possibly because of the blow to her head, but that she did carry pepper spray and that she had taken it out during the encounter.

 

The Chengs urged people not to retaliate against Mr. Mateo. Ms. Cheng said her mother was eager to move on and returned to her routine the day after the attack.

 

“She didn’t want to live in fear or stay at home,” Ms. Cheng said.

 

Ed Shanahan and Michael Gold contributed reporting. Kitty Bennett and Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.



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3) A Special Unit to Prosecute Police Killings Has No Convictions

The case of Daniel Prude’s death is the latest example of the challenges prosecutors face when they try to hold police officers accountable.

By Sarah Maslin Nir, Jonah E. Bromwich and Benjamin Weiser, Feb. 26, 2021

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/26/nyregion/new-york-police-accountability.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
A protest erupted in Rochester, N.Y., on Tuesday night after it was announced that the officers involved in Daniel Prude’s death would not face charges.
A protest erupted in Rochester, N.Y., on Tuesday night after it was announced that the officers involved in Daniel Prude’s death would not face charges. Credit...Joshua Rashaad McFadden for The New York Times

More than five years ago, Andrew M. Cuomo, the governor of New York, signed an executive order to address a persistent concern: Police officers were rarely held accountable for killing unarmed people. Often, those who died were Black.

 

The solution was to take the cases out of the hands of local prosecutors, whose close relationships with the police led to accusations of bias, and hand them over to the office of the state attorney general.

 

But the change in the legal process has not altered the results. Of the 43 investigations that the attorney general’s office has conducted in the years since, none has led to a conviction. Three officers have been charged — two with murder and another with assault, the office said.

 

On Tuesday, there was another familiar outcome. A grand jury convened by the attorney general’s office declined to indict any of the seven officers involved in the incident that led to the death of Daniel Prude in Rochester last year. Mr. Prude, who was Black, died after the police arrested him in the throes of an apparent psychotic episode, placed a hood over his head and pressed him into the street until he became unconscious.

 

The case shows that even as the demand that the police face more serious consequences has intensified, the legal system remains tilted in favor of law enforcement, said current and former prosecutors who have sought charges against officers.

 

New York’s system of investigating deaths caused by police officers is among the most far-reaching in the nation. But officers are afforded special legal protections when they use force in the course of their job. And juries are historically deferential to the police and receptive to arguments defending their actions. Officers often must make split-second decisions in dangerous circumstances, a reality that is not lost on jurors.

 

“The system was built to protect and shield officers from wrongdoing and accountability,” Letitia James, the New York attorney general, said when she announced the results of the investigation into Mr. Prude’s death. Ms. James added that she was “disappointed — extremely disappointed” in the grand jury’s decision.

 

Mr. Cuomo signed the executive order in 2015, a year after the killing of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died in a police chokehold. Gwen Carr, Mr. Garner’s mother, was present as the governor said he hoped the order would restore some faith in the legal system.

 

“I’m not aware of any state unit on the same level as the one in New York,” said Philip M. Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and a former police officer. The special unit assigned to the investigations in New York is made up of “top-notch prosecutors, they know what they’re doing, they have a lot of experience. And they still can’t get grand juries to return indictments, let alone obtain convictions.”

 

The office has been limited in its mission by the order’s narrow design: Until a new law goes into effect in April, prosecutors can only pursue cases that result in a death. The victim also has to have been unarmed.

 

In one case, prosecutors determined they were unable to move forward with an investigation when a man was shot by police after he struck and seriously injured an officer with a chair. The chair, prosecutors decided, qualified as a weapon.

 

A spokeswoman for the attorney general, as well as supporters of New York’s program, said the lack of charges and convictions belied the unit’s other achievement: enhancing public trust by extracting these cases from the hands of local prosecutors who might be loath to prosecute the police — in essence, their partners in law enforcement.

 

“The numbers alone do not account for the independence and transparency that is so critical and that we provide,” said Delaney Kempner, a spokeswoman for Ms. James.

 

But to some members of the public — and those who have lost loved ones at the hands of the police — improved transparency provides little comfort.

 

“The justice system doesn’t give a damn about us,” Joe Prude, Mr. Prude’s brother, told The New York Times a day after the grand jury declined to charge anyone involved in his brother’s death. “That’s not built for anyone in the community; that’s built for the police to keep slaughtering people.”

 

The attorney general’s program, called the Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit, has noted that Black and Latino people are disproportionately the victims of deadly police force. A 2019 biennial report from the unit pointed out a “disturbing trend” in the period covered by the report. Of the 13 civilians killed in police custody or in shootings involving police, seven were Black and four were Latino.

 

In her news conference about Mr. Prude’s case, Ms. James seemed to blame the outcome in the case on limitations inherent in the law. Police officers in New York have the legal right to use deadly force in numerous circumstances, such as when they feel their own lives are in danger. In cases that do not involve shootings, investigators are often unable to show conclusively that officers’ actions directly caused the deaths of people in their custody.

 

In one case in 2018, the unit did not seek charges after a Bronx man was restrained by seven officers and died. In another, in 2020, after a woman in Rockland County died after being restrained and shot with a Taser by police officers, the unit found it could not establish that the officers had committed a crime.

 

Even for prosecutors who are dedicated to investigating cases against police officers, doing so is not easy. Christy E. Lopez, a former Department of Justice lawyer who helped lead the investigation into the police department in Ferguson, Mo., said that public opinion remains on the side of the police.

 

“Despite all the protests this summer, the fact is that most Americans are incredibly protective of police, especially in these criminal cases,” said Ms. Lopez, who is now a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. “And so that’s the thing to look at, is are we willing to hold police criminally accountable?”

 

Jim Burch, the president of the National Police Foundation, an organization that seeks to help the police do their jobs more effectively, said that he had heard from officers who had issues with police accountability initiatives. “There are some who believe that some of these measures may not be necessary, maybe they’re an overreach, maybe they’re not going to solve the actual problems that some feel exist. They feel that the problems are more associated with things like training, or compensation,” he said.

 

But he added that his organization believed in accountability measures, including prosecutorial independence, and he felt that ultimately they helped the reputation and legitimacy of police officers.

 

In an email, a spokesman for the governor, Peter Ajemian, said Mr. Cuomo was committed to accountability in the justice system beyond the executive order.

 

“The governor believes the best way to repair the rupture in police-community relations is for localities to reimagine policing in a way that suits their unique needs,” Mr. Ajemian said.

 

Last summer, after years of political wrangling, lawmakers in Albany enshrined the executive order into law and expanded its scope to include cases of people who were armed.

 

“That clarity is really helpful because in these investigations, every second counts,” said Alvin Bragg, a lawyer who led the state unit under the former attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman. The office said that the broadening of the law, which goes into effect in April, is likely to triple its caseload.

 

Mr. Bragg, a Democrat who is a candidate for Manhattan district attorney, said that without additional reforms, racial biases that lead juries to see Black victims as less sympathetic would continue to keep police free from legal consequences.

 

“We need some law reform, and we need the police not to kill people in the first instance,” Mr. Bragg said.

 

Assemblyman N. Nick Perry, a Democrat who represents southeast Brooklyn and was one of the main backers of the law, stressed that it was only a first step. Mr. Perry said establishing a legal definition of what qualifies as excessive force is central so that jurors can determine if the police have broken the law.

 

But absent such a definition, “there is no limit on the police officer’s perception and judgment in the situation,” Mr. Perry said, “which is what leads to a lot of acquittals when there are strong cases that what was done was criminal.”

 

Nate Schweber contributed reporting.


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4) He Lost His Son to an Overdose. Now He’s Taking On the ‘Top Drug Cop.’

One activist is asking the Biden administration to remember the failures that led to the opioid epidemic as it chooses the next head of the F.D.A.

By Beth Macy, Feb. 23, 2021

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/23/opinion/woodcock-fda-opioids.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Ed Bisch, whose 18-year-old son, Eddie, died of an OxyContin-related overdose in 2001.

Ed Bisch, whose 18-year-old son, Eddie, died of an OxyContin-related overdose in 2001. Credit...Hannah Yoon for The New York Times


In 1995, 12-year-old Eddie Bisch was on a family fishing trip in the Florida Keys when his father, Ed Bisch, splurged and rented a boat on Islamorada. The mahi-mahi were everywhere; when Eddie snagged one it jumped so crazily on his line, he screamed. That memorable Florida fishing trip would be their last.

 

Earlier that year, Purdue Pharma began a major public relations effort to blanket regulators and prescribing doctors alike with information about OxyContin — much of which came with obfuscation about how addictive the drug, a version of oxycodone with a time-release mechanism, actually was. The F.D.A.-approved language on the initial label, stating that delayed absorption was “believed to reduce” abuse of the drug, was so valuable that, as Purdue executives gushed in one internal report, it could have easily served as OxyContin’s “principal selling tool.”

 

A recently discovered 2006 Department of Justice memorandum described the approval process for OxyContin as having been “tainted” by Purdue’s efforts to position the drug as less addictive and prone to abuse than other opioids.

 

During a year in which half a million Americans have died of Covid-19, it’s easy to overlook a much longer epidemic — the worst drug crisis in American history, a crisis fueled in part by the unholy alliance between F.D.A. officials and pharmaceutical companies. Since Eddie Bisch’s Florida fishing trip, at least 500,000 Americans have died of an opioid-related overdose. Millions now have what’s called opioid use disorder. Drug overdose deaths in the year ending May 2020 reached a record high.

 

Meanwhile, the interim F.D.A. commissioner, Dr. Janet Woodcock, long known as the nation’s top drug cop, is reported to be under consideration by the Biden administration to permanently lead the agency.

 

She became director of the F.D.A.’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research in 1994, the year before the agency approved OxyContin. In her more than two decades in this role, Dr. Woodcock helped preside over what Dr. Andrew Kolodny, a co-founder of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, has called “the worst regulatory agency failure in American history.”

 

While President Biden attempts to overturn so much of what went wrong during his predecessor’s tenure, 28 groups fighting the opioid crisis sent a letter to the new administration urging it to appoint someone other than Dr. Woodcock to lead the F.D.A. permanently because of her role in the approval of OxyContin and other opioids that came to market in its wake.

 

It’s not just physicians and public-health groups that have taken issue with Dr. Woodcock’s possible nomination. It’s the families of opioid victims themselves.

 

She is not, of course, the only former F.D.A. official of that era to come under question. That 2006 memo touched on the regulator-to-industry revolving door. In 1998, the medical review officer who evaluated OxyContin went to work for Purdue, earning at least $379,000 his first year. But he is not up for F.D.A. commissioner.

 

When Eddie turned 16 in 1998, just four years after Dr. Woodcock became director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, Ed Bisch bought his only son a used Mercury Sable. They had just moved from Fishtown, the family’s longtime Philadelphia neighborhood, to a New Jersey suburb 10 miles away. Eddie didn’t love the Sable — it had a “little old man” look, he complained — but he was glad to have it to get him to his after-school job.

 

Eddie often drove the car to Fishtown to see old friends. When he found a culinary school nearby he liked, father and son celebrated his admission by booking a return fishing trip to Islamorada in 2001.

 

Six days before the vacation, Eddie’s younger sister found him in his bedroom — unresponsive, his skin bluish.

 

The night before, Eddie went to a party in Fishtown. He chewed and swallowed OxyContin — a method that circumvented the drug’s time-release mechanism. That night in his sleep, the drug mixed with alcohol and illicit benzodiazepines to repress his respiratory system.

 

Soon after the drug’s introduction in 1996, this became the common hack for getting a high from a drug marketed as not providing one: crushing leftover OxyContin pills swiped from a family medicine cabinet or, more likely in Eddie’s case, purchased from drug dealers who frequented the office of a known pill-mill doctor just outside Philadelphia, Richard Paolino. (Dr. Paolino was later arrested and sentenced to 30 to 120 years in prison.)

 

In July 2001, five months after Eddie’s death, the F.D.A. finally required Purdue to add a “black box” warning about the potential for abuse and misuse to OxyContin labels. Paradoxically, the new label, while seeming like a rebuke, actually helped Purdue market the pills even more broadly for long-term treatment by allowing Purdue to write that OxyContin would be beneficial in instances when “a continuous, around-the-clock opioid analgesic is needed for an extended period of time.” Purdue shrugged the changes off as “more of an exercise in graphic design.”

 

“The action by the F.D.A. to clarify the OxyContin tablets labeling has created enormous opportunities,” the company wrote in a 2002 budget plan. “This is a positive action which helps to combat the negative reports perpetuated by the media.”

 

A week after his son’s death, Ed Bisch created a message board to connect similarly grieving families across the nation. He used vacation time to lead them in rallies outside conferences in which Purdue participated.

 

In 2002, when OxyContin began making headlines across the country, the F.D.A. convened an advisory panel to help the agency re-evaluate its policy on opioids and discuss the safety of prescribing opioids to patients with chronic non-cancer-related pain. Eight of the 10 panelists had been paid speakers or consultants for Purdue or other opioid makers; the panelists did not recommend any changes to OxyContin’s label.

 

In a recent letter to Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Dr. Woodcock wrote that the 2001 label change narrowed the use indication and that “it does not appear that there was any notable increase in the overall number of oxycodone E.R. prescriptions dispensed as a result of the 2001 change.” (Purdue has also denied that the 2001 label broadened the drug’s use indication.)

 

Around that time, pharmaceutical makers like Purdue began paying entrance fees as high as $35,000 to attend invitation-only conferences, organized by a drug-company-funded group called IMMPACT, with F.D.A. and National Institutes of Health representatives, elbow-rubbing affairs held at posh hotels that raised concerns about a possible pay-for-play arrangement. (IMMPACT and the F.D.A. have said that there were no improprieties.)

 

One idea discussed in the meetings was “enriched enrollment randomized withdrawal,” a drug trial design that has been accused of tilting the process in favor of F.D.A. approval. Enriched enrollment meant that people who didn’t respond well to the drugs were excluded from clinical trials — an omission, many experts believe, that makes it far more likely for a drug to appear to be effective while concealing, obscuring or overlooking what might happen after the drug reaches the general population.

 

Prescription opioid deaths had more than doubled between 1999 and 2006 when the F.D.A. approved a painkiller manufactured by Endo, Opana ER, using the questionable enriched enrollment testing methods. More than a decade later, and only after IV use of Opana was linked to an H.I.V. outbreak in rural Indiana and a hepatitis C surge across Appalachia, did the F.D.A request a halt to sales of Endo’s reformulated Opana ER.

 

“The abuse and manipulation of reformulated Opana ER by injection has resulted in a serious disease outbreak,” Dr. Woodcock said in 2017. “When we determined that the product had dangerous unintended consequences, we made a decision to request its withdrawal from the market.” She claimed the action would protect the public from further misuse and abuse, but the action was beyond belated: 11 years had passed since that drug’s approval, with an estimated 1.7 million Americans already suffering from substance use disorders related to prescription opioids.

 

In 2007, Purdue and three executives admitted to misleading regulators, doctors and patients about OxyContin’s risk of addiction, and agreed to pay $634.5 million in fines. Outside the federal courthouse in Virginia where they pleaded guilty to “misbranding,” Ed Bisch led relatives of the dead in a protest.

 

One of several parents who spoke at the court hearing, Mr. Bisch argued that the executives should face prison time. “The lies and deceits started at the top and caused to ruin countless lives,” he said. But to date, no one from Purdue has ever gone to prison for the role that OxyContin has played in the opioid crisis.

 

And the agency’s greenlighting of opioids continued. In 2013, the F.D.A. approved an opioid called Zohydro even though its own scientific advisers voted 11-2 against it. Critics were worried that the painkiller would be as easy to abuse as OxyContin initially was. But when they approved the drug, Dr. Woodcock and the F.D.A. did not demand the manufacturer at the time, Zogenix, add features that would have made it more difficult for users to crush the pill.

 

In 2015, the agency and Dr. Woodcock gave the nod to OxyContin for use in patients as young as 11 years old. In 2018, the F.D.A. approved Dsuvia, a fentanyl analogue that’s 1,000 times more potent than morphine. Even though one of the F.D.A.’s own advisory chairs predicted that the Dsuvia’s approval would lead to more abuse and death — nearly 47,000 Americans died of opioid-related overdoses in 2018 — this superpotent drug came to market anyway.

 

In the letter to Senator Hassan, Dr. Woodcock wrote that “our goal has been to ensure that our approval and other regulatory actions regarding opioids are science-based and that the agency’s benefit-risk framework considers not only the outcomes of prescription opioid analgesics when used as prescribed but also the public health effects of inappropriate use.”

 

But the pattern is clear. As drug overdoses fueled a decline in American life expectancy, drug makers kept bringing new opioids to market. Even when evidence suggested the risks outweighed the benefits, the F.D.A. was in the pocket of the pharmaceutical industry, which funds 75 percent of its opioid-approval budget via user fees. The agency has denied that this funding buys influence, and Dr. Woodcock has claimed that user fees accelerate innovation, but to many families, that drive for innovation resulted in a dereliction of duty, willful blindness and a generation lost.

 

The responsibility to prevent the nation’s most preventable epidemic was not one person’s, of course. And the failure is broad. But activists see Dr. Woodcock’s possible nomination as a referendum on that failure.

 

Last month, Mr. Bisch helped convene more than two dozen activist groups in an attempt to block Dr. Woodcock’s promotion, including the artist Nan Goldin’s P.A.I.N. and the Fed Up! Coalition. Meanwhile, as Purdue and its Sackler family owners try to keep their freedom and wealth intact, survivors of the scourge have marched and testified till their voices are hoarse.

 

As of Feb. 19, Eddie Bisch has been dead 20 years — longer than he lived.

 

Just because regulation of painkillers has been lax during four presidential administrations does not mean the threat Dr. Woodcock poses isn’t real. If industry insiders want Dr. Woodcock elevated to the permanent position of F.D.A. commissioner, it’s because they can count on her to serve them rather than the public.

 

Beth Macy is the author of “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America.”

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5) N.B.A. Investigating After Jeremy Lin Said He Was Called ‘Coronavirus’

Lin, who is Taiwanese-American, said on social media that he had been called “coronavirus” on the court. He has been playing in the N.B.A.’s developmental league.

By Michael Levenson, Feb. 27, 2021

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/27/sports/basketball/nba-jeremy-lin-coronavirus.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
“Being a 9 year NBA veteran doesn’t protect me from being called ‘coronavirus’ on the court,” Lin wrote in a post on social media.
“Being a 9-year NBA veteran doesn’t protect me from being called ‘coronavirus’ on the court,” Lin wrote in a post on social media. Credit...Chiang Ying-Ying/Associated Press

The N.B.A. G League said on Friday that it was investigating a report by Jeremy Lin, one of the best-known Asian-American players in basketball, that he had been called “coronavirus” on the court.

 

Lin disclosed the slur in a Facebook post on Thursday in which he denounced the racism and discrimination faced by Asian-Americans. It was a prominent example of the rising tide of bigotry that many Asian-Americans say they have endured since last year, when former President Donald J. Trump began describing the coronavirus as the “China virus.”

 

“Being an Asian American doesn’t mean we don’t experience poverty and racism,” wrote Lin, who plays for the Golden State Warriors’ affiliate in the G League, the N.B.A.’s developmental league. “Being a 9 year NBA veteran doesn’t protect me from being called ‘coronavirus’ on the court. Being a man of faith doesn’t mean I don’t fight for justice, for myself and for others.”

 

A league spokesman confirmed that an investigation had been opened, but declined to comment further. The investigation was first reported by The Athletic.

 

The investigation came amid a rise in attacks against Asian-Americans, according to government tallies. The number of hate crimes with Asian-American victims reported to the New York Police Department surged to 28 in 2020, from just three in 2019. Activists and police officials said many other incidents had not been classified as hate crimes or had not been formally reported.

 

In August, a United Nations report found that racially motivated violence and other incidents against Asian-Americans had reached “an alarming level” across the United States since the outbreak of the virus. The report said that more than 1,800 racist incidents against Asian-Americans in the United States had been reported over an eight-week period from March 2020 to May 2020.

 

The incidents involved people who said they had been spat on, blocked from public transportation, discriminated against in workplaces, shunned, beaten, stabbed and insulted by being called transmitters of the coronavirus, the report said.

 

Lin, who is Taiwanese-American, has spoken openly about the discrimination and questioning he has faced in professional basketball. He has also proudly embraced his status as a role model and an inspiration for many Asian-Americans.

 

A former Harvard basketball player, Lin became a breakout sensation in the 2011-12 N.B.A. season when, as a relative unknown on the bench, he took over as a guard for the Knicks and tore through the league, prompting a wave of excitement that became known as “Linsanity.” He scored more points in his first five starts than any other player in nearly 40 years, peaking with 38 against the Los Angeles Lakers.

 

In his Facebook post on Thursday, Lin, 32, pointed to a generational shift among Asian-Americans.

 

“We are tired of being told that we don’t experience racism, we are tired of being told to keep our heads down and not make trouble,” he wrote. “We are tired of Asian American kids growing up and being asked where they’re REALLY from, of having our eyes mocked, of being objectified as exotic or being told we’re inherently unattractive.”

 

“I want better for my elders who worked so hard and sacrificed so much to make a life for themselves here,” he added. “I want better for my niece and nephew and future kids.”

 

Shauntel Lowe contributed to this report.


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6) Unhealthy Foods Aren’t Just Bad For You, They May Also Be Addictive

Food researchers debate whether highly processed foods like potato chips and ice cream are addictive, triggering our brains to overeat.

By Anahad O’Connor, Feb. 18, 2021

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/18/well/eat/food-addiction-fat.html?surface=home-discovery-vi-prg&fellback=false&req_id=232426327&algo=identity&variant=no-exp&imp_id=326065507&action=click&module=Science%20%20Technology&pgtype=Homepage
Richard A. Chance

Five years ago, a group of nutrition scientists studied what Americans eat and reached a striking conclusion: More than half of all the calories that the average American consumes comes from ultra-processed foods, which they defined as “industrial formulations” that combine large amounts of sugar, salt, oils, fats and other additives.

 

Highly processed foods continue to dominate the American diet, despite being linked to obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and other health problems. They are cheap and convenient, and engineered to taste good. They are aggressively marketed by the food industry. But a growing number of scientists say another reason these foods are so heavily consumed is that for many people they are not just tempting but addictive, a notion that has sparked controversy among researchers.

 

Recently, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition explored the science behind food addiction and whether ultra-processed foods might be contributing to overeating and obesity. It featured a debate between two of the leading experts on the subject, Ashley Gearhardt, associate professor in the psychology department at the University of Michigan, and Dr. Johannes Hebebrand, head of the department of child and adolescent psychiatry, psychosomatics and psychotherapy at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany.

 

Dr. Gearhardt, a clinical psychologist, helped develop the Yale Food Addiction Scale, a survey that is used to determine whether a person shows signs of addictive behavior toward food. In one study involving more than 500 people, she and her colleagues found that certain foods were especially likely to elicit “addictive-like” eating behaviors, such as intense cravings, a loss of control, and an inability to cut back despite experiencing harmful consequences and a strong desire to stop eating them.

 

At the top of the list were pizza, chocolate, potato chips, cookies, ice cream, French fries and cheeseburgers. Dr. Gearhardt has found in her research that these highly processed foods share much in common with addictive substances. Like cigarettes and cocaine, their ingredients are derived from naturally occurring plants and foods that are stripped of components that slow their absorption, such as fiber, water and protein. Then their most pleasurable ingredients are refined and processed into products that are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, enhancing their ability to light up regions of the brain that regulate reward, emotion and motivation.

 

Salt, thickeners, artificial flavors and other additives in highly processed foods strengthen their pull by enhancing properties like texture and mouth-feel, similar to the way that cigarettes contain an array of additives designed to increase their addictive potential, said Dr. Gearhardt. Menthol helps to mask the bitter flavor of nicotine, for example, while another ingredient used in some cigarettes, cocoa, dilates the airways and increases nicotine’s absorption.

 

A common denominator among the most irresistible ultra-processed foods is that they contain large amounts of fat and refined carbohydrates, a potent combination that is rarely seen in naturally occurring foods that humans evolved to eat, such as fruits, vegetables, meat, nuts, honey, beans and seeds, said Dr. Gearhardt. Many foods found in nature are rich in either fat or carbs, but typically they are not high in both.

 

“People don’t experience an addictive behavioral response to naturally occurring foods that are good for our health, like strawberries,” said Dr. Gearhardt, director of the Food and Addiction Science and Treatment lab at the University of Michigan. “It’s this subset of highly processed foods that are engineered in a way that’s so similar to how we create other addictive substances. These are the foods that can trigger a loss of control and compulsive, problematic behaviors that parallel what we see with alcohol and cigarettes.”

 

In one study, Dr. Gearhardt found that when people cut back on highly processed foods, they experienced symptoms that were comparable to the withdrawal seen in drug abusers, such as irritability, fatigue, feelings of sadness and cravings. Other researchers have found in brain imaging studies that people who frequently consume junk foods can develop a tolerance to them over time, leading them to require larger and larger amounts to get the same enjoyment.

 

In her clinical practice, Dr. Gearhardt has encountered patients — some obese and some not — who struggle in vain to control their intake of highly processed foods. Some attempt to eat them in moderation, only to find that they lose control and eat to the point of feeling ill and distraught. Many of her patients find that they cannot quit these foods despite struggling with uncontrolled diabetes, excessive weight gain and other health problems.

 

“The striking thing is that my clients are almost always acutely aware of the negative consequences of their highly processed food consumption, and they have typically tried dozens of strategies like crash diets and cleanses to try and get their relationship with these foods under control,” she said. “While these attempts might work for a short time, they almost always end up relapsing.”

 

But Dr. Hebebrand disputes the notion that any food is addictive. While potato chips and pizza can seem irresistible to some, he argues that they do not cause an altered state of mind, a hallmark of addictive substances. Smoking a cigarette, drinking a glass of wine or taking a hit of heroin, for instance, causes an immediate sensation in the brain that foods do not, he says.

 

“You can take any addictive drug, and it’s always the same story that almost everyone will have an altered state of mind after ingesting it,” said Dr. Hebebrand. “That indicates that the substance is having an effect on your central nervous system. But we are all ingesting highly processed foods, and none of us is experiencing this altered state of mind because there’s no direct hit of a substance in the brain.”

 

In substance use disorders, people become dependent on a specific chemical that acts on the brain, like the nicotine in cigarettes or the ethanol in wine and liquor. They initially seek out this chemical to get a high, and then become dependent on it to alleviate depressed and negative emotions. But in highly processed foods, there is no one compound that can be singled out as addictive, Dr. Hebebrand said. In fact, evidence suggests that obese people who overeat tend to consume a wide range of foods with different textures, flavors and compositions. Dr. Hebebrand argued that overeating is driven in part by the food industry marketing more than 20,000 new products every year, giving people access to a seemingly endless variety of foods and beverages.

 

“It’s the diversity of foods that is so appealing and causing the problem, not a single substance in these foods,” he added.

 

Those who argue against food addiction also point out that most people consume highly processed foods on a daily basis without showing any signs of addiction. But Dr. Gearhardt notes that addictive substances do not hook everyone who consumes them. According to research, about two-thirds of people who smoke cigarettes go on to become addicted, while a third do not. Only about 21 percent of people who use cocaine in their lifetimes become addicted, while just 23 percent of people who drink alcohol develop a dependence on it. Studies suggests that a wide range of factors determine whether people become addicted, including their genetics, family histories, exposure to trauma, and environmental and socioeconomic backgrounds.

 

“Most people try addictive substances and they don’t become addicted,” Dr. Gearhardt said. “So if these foods are addictive, we wouldn’t expect that 100 percent of society is going to be addicted to them.”

 

For people who struggle with limiting their intake of highly processed foods, Dr. Gearhardt recommends keeping a journal of what you eat so you can identify the foods that have the most pull — the ones that cause intense cravings and that you can’t stop eating once you start. Keep those foods out of your home, while stocking your fridge and pantry with healthier alternatives that you enjoy, she said.

 

Keep track of the triggers that lead to cravings and binges. They could be emotions like stress, boredom and loneliness. Or it could be the Dunkin’ Donuts that you drive by three times a week. Make a plan to manage those triggers by a taking a different route home, for example, or by using nonfood activities to alleviate stress and boredom. And avoid skipping meals, because hunger can set off cravings that lead to regrettable decisions, she said.

 

“Making sure you are regularly fueling your body with nutritious, minimally processed foods that you enjoy can be important for helping you navigate a very challenging food environment,” said Dr. Gearhardt.


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7) More Protesters Are Killed in Myanmar as Crackdown Escalates

At least 18 people were killed during protests, according to the United Nations, with the police in at least one city opening fire on a crowd of hundreds.

By Richard C. Paddock, Feb. 28, 2021

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/28/world/asia/myanmar-protests.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage&section=World%20News
Protesters calling for an end to military rule taking cover during a clash with police officers in Yangon, Myanmar, on Sunday.

Protesters calling for an end to military rule taking cover during a clash with police officers in Yangon, Myanmar, on Sunday. Credit...Reuters


After four weeks of protests, the military in Myanmar opened fire on demonstrators in several cities on Sunday, killing at least 18 people, the United Nations said, in the most vicious effort yet to extinguish the unrest roiling the nation.

 

The forceful response of the military signaled a new toughness after a month in which thousands have turned out regularly to protest a Feb. 1 coup. The demonstrations and civil disobedience movement have been the biggest tests yet of a military notorious for its brutality after having crushed democracy movements in 1988 and 2007 by shooting peaceful protesters.

 

Videos and photographs captured images of bodies in the street and people running from the police as tear gas and smoke filled the air. The sheer ferocity of Sunday’s crackdown — security forces fired into crowds of unarmed protesters and rounded up groups of demonstrators before marches could begin — drew sharp rebukes internationally.

 

“We strongly condemn the escalating violence against protests in Myanmar and call on the military to immediately halt the use of force against peaceful protesters,” said Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman with the U.N. human rights office.

 

In the southern city of Dawei, the police opened fire on a crowd of hundreds, witnesses told The New York Times. At least three people were killed and more than 50 wounded, said Dr. Tun Min, who was treating the injured at a hospital. A second doctor, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, confirmed those numbers.

 

Doctors in Mandalay confirmed three fatal shootings there, and killings also took place in Yangon and the city of Mawlamyine, The New York Times was able to confirm. The United Nations statement said it had reports of deaths “as a result of live ammunition fired into crowds” in Yangon, Mandalay and Dawei, as well as in the cities of Myeik, Bago and Pokokku.

 

It was the largest single-day toll since the protests began after the Feb. 1 coup, which ousted the civilian government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s most popular politician. Before Sunday, just three deaths at the hands of the security forces had been widely reported, though two other deaths recently came to light in interviews with bereaved family members.

 

The Tatmadaw, as Myanmar’s military is known, has led the country for most of the past 60 years. But over the past decade it yielded some power to civilian leaders, before seizing control again in the coup.

 

Until Sunday, the junta led by Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing had been comparatively restrained in its response to the protests and organized civil disobedience that have swept the nation. But as the demonstrations, marches and work stoppages have continued, fear of another bloody, full-scale crackdown has been ever-present.

 

After the killings began on Sunday, Human Rights Watch called on the generals to halt the use of lethal ammunition against protesters and said any deaths and injuries should be the subject of an impartial investigation.

 

“The Myanmar security forces’ clear escalation in use of lethal force in multiple towns and cities across the country in response to mostly peaceful anti-coup protesters is outrageous and unacceptable, and must be immediately halted,” said Phil Robertson, the group’s deputy Asia director.

 

In Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city, one protester, U Maung Maung Oo, died after being shot in the head through his motorcycle helmet as he was fleeing police officers and soldiers. Two others were shot and wounded.

 

U Si Thu, a doctor and a protester, said he and the three victims were among a group of about 50 who were trying to escape police officers and soldiers, who broke up their planned protest before it could start.

 

“I don’t know where the bullet came from, but the man was shot in the forehead and went down,” Dr. Si Thu said in an interview. A video of the scene posted on Twitter showed several men carrying the victim to an ambulance as blood from his wound dripped onto the ground.

 

Minutes after the ambulance left, an army truck stopped at the end of the street and soldiers opened fire on the group, Dr. Si Thu said. That was when the other two men were wounded, one in the chest and one in the arm.

 

Mr. Maung Maung Oo was taken to the Byamaso Social Association Hospital, where he died, said U Zar Ni, a doctor there. U Lei Lei, another doctor at the hospital, said a second protester also died there from a gunshot wound.

 

Later, after protesters in Mandalay had largely dispersed, a woman was shot in the head and killed as the police and soldiers cleared barricades and fired at people in the streets, apparently at random, a witness said. Dr. Zar Ni said the woman, whose name was not released, was dead on arrival at the Byamaso hospital.

 

In Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, a protester named Hein Htut Aung, 23, was shot and killed at a demonstration in Thingangyun Township. His death was confirmed by Nadi Ayar Hospital, where he was taken. Another demonstrator in Yangon, Nyi Nyi Aung Htet Naing, was also shot dead, according to family members. The last post on his Facebook page read “#How_Many_Dead_Bodies_UN_Need_To_Take_Action?”

 

As teachers gathered to demonstrate at another protest site in Yangon, the police began firing tear gas and rubber bullets near them, and a primary-school teacher identified as Daw Tin Nwet Yi died of a heart attack, a witness said.

 

The police also arrested at least 100 medical students in Yangon as they were preparing to march in their white coats in a separate protest, witnesses said. Doctors have been at the forefront of the civil disobedience movement, and many have refused to go to their jobs at government hospitals, which the coup brought under military control.

 

As the police prepared to take the medical students away in trucks, neighbors poured into the streets and blocked the vehicles. But the police eventually pushed their way through.

 

The first person known to have been killed this month in the protests was Ma Mya Thwate Thwate Kaing, 20, who was shot in the head by the police at a demonstration in the capital, Naypyidaw, on Feb. 9. She died 10 days later, becoming a martyr for the movement.

 

On the day after her death, the security forces fired into a crowd of demonstrators at a shipyard in Mandalay, killing two, one of them a 16-year-old boy, and wounding dozens.

 

Another man who attended the shipyard protest, U Kyi Soe, a 48-year-old jewelry trader, was beaten by the police and died during the night, according to his wife, Daw Chaw Ei Thein.

 

Mr. Kyi Soe had gone to a market near the protest site to buy food but never came home. A friend called later to say that Mr. Kyi Soe had been badly beaten by the police.

 

Because of a curfew, Ms. Chaw Ei Thein was unable to go see her husband at the friend’s home until early the next morning. When she arrived, he was dead.

 

“According to the witness, he was brutally beaten by the police during the protest,” she said in an interview. “I saw a very big bruise on the lower left side of his head.” She said she did not pursue an autopsy because it was clear that the beating had killed him.

 

Another casualty of the shipyard protest was U Yarzar Aung, 26, a construction worker who was shot in the knee by the security forces. He was taken to a military hospital, where family members were not allowed to visit him.

 

On Wednesday, four days after the protest, the hospital contacted the family and said he had died. At that point, his wife, Daw Phyu Phyu Win, was allowed to see him. She said his body was still handcuffed to the hospital bed.

 

“When I saw him in the hospital, there were many bruises and injuries on his face,” she said in an interview. “They said my husband was trying to escape and that’s why they needed to tie him up.”

 

She asked to take his body away for burial, but the doctors refused. She said they told her he had died of Covid-19, and that the body must be cremated immediately.


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8) Vulnerable Inmates Left in Prison as Covid Rages

At a federal compound in Connecticut, inmates in precarious health “are like sitting ducks,” one lawyer said.

By Roni Caryn Rabin, Feb. 27, 2021

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/27/health/coronavirus-prisons-danbury.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage&section=Health
The Danbury Federal Correction Institution in Connecticut is one of three federal prisons that were singled out for prompt action last spring by former Attorney General William Barr because of its vulnerability to Covid outbreaks.

The Danbury Federal Correction Institution in Connecticut is one of three federal prisons that were singled out for prompt action last spring by former Attorney General William Barr because of its vulnerability to Covid outbreaks. Credit...Lauren Lancaster for The New York Times


Shacarey James was six weeks pregnant when she reported to the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Conn., last summer to serve a sentence for a parole violation.

 

At risk for severe illness if infected with the coronavirus, Ms. James kept her mask on at all times, except when she was sleeping. In December, a woman assigned to the next bunk developed a hacking cough.

 

Ms. James, 25, suspected a coronavirus infection, but officers at the prison at first dismissed her concerns, saying pregnancy “hormones” were making her anxious, and they refused to test her bunkmate.

 

Four days later, the woman’s temperature spiked, and a diagnostic test came back positive. “She was three feet from me — we were eye-to-eye,” said Ms. James. “I thought she was going to pass away in front of me.”

 

Ms. James escaped infection, but whether she should have been in the prison at all remains a pressing question. When the pandemic erupted last spring, federal prisons were told to move quickly to grant home confinement to medically vulnerable inmates who did not pose a risk to the public.

 

Inmates like Ms. James, who was convicted of cashing fake checks, were to serve out their sentences at their residences, with an electronic bracelet monitoring their movements. The goal was to protect them, reduce prison overcrowding and minimize the risk of outbreaks. But the Federal Bureau of Prisons has been slow to act.

 

The coronavirus has infected more than 620,000 inmates and correctional officers in the nation’s prisons, jails and detention centers, according to a New York Times database. Nearly 2,800 inmates and guards have died, making correctional facilities among the most significant battlefronts of the pandemic, along with nursing homes and schools.

 

Yet just 7,850 of the 151,735 people serving federal sentences right now have been granted home confinement — about 5 percent. State prison populations have fallen by 15 percent since the pandemic began, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, but not because inmates are being released to home confinement. Instead, many state prisons simply have stopped accepting transfers from county jails.

 

The Danbury compound, one of 122 federal prisons, offers a prism into the bureau’s failure to contain the virus. Though Danbury was singled out for prompt action by former Attorney General William P. Barr because it had seen an outbreak, only about 100 inmates have been granted home confinement so far, many as recently as December. At least 550 are still under consideration, most of them convicted of nonviolent offenses like fraud or drug possession.

 

Ms. James escaped infection, but whether she should have been in the prison at all remains a pressing question. When the pandemic erupted last spring, federal prisons were told to move quickly to grant home confinement to medically vulnerable inmates who did not pose a risk to the public.

 

Inmates like Ms. James, who was convicted of cashing fake checks, were to serve out their sentences at their residences, with an electronic bracelet monitoring their movements. The goal was to protect them, reduce prison overcrowding and minimize the risk of outbreaks. But the Federal Bureau of Prisons has been slow to act.

 

The coronavirus has infected more than 620,000 inmates and correctional officers in the nation’s prisons, jails and detention centers, according to a New York Times database. Nearly 2,800 inmates and guards have died, making correctional facilities among the most significant battlefronts of the pandemic, along with nursing homes and schools.

 

Yet just 7,850 of the 151,735 people serving federal sentences right now have been granted home confinement — about 5 percent. State prison populations have fallen by 15 percent since the pandemic began, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, but not because inmates are being released to home confinement. Instead, many state prisons simply have stopped accepting transfers from county jails.

 

The Danbury compound, one of 122 federal prisons, offers a prism into the bureau’s failure to contain the virus. Though Danbury was singled out for prompt action by former Attorney General William P. Barr because it had seen an outbreak, only about 100 inmates have been granted home confinement so far, many as recently as December. At least 550 are still under consideration, most of them convicted of nonviolent offenses like fraud or drug possession.

 

In December, cases at Danbury rebounded as more than one in 10 inmates at the complex tested positive for the virus. In a minimum-security women’s facility called the Camp, where Ms. James was held, 34 of the 50 inmates were infected.

 

Court declarations and interviews with inmates who were granted home confinement shed light on the missteps that contributed to the outbreaks.

 

Symptom checks were cursory in the prison, and suspended altogether for a period of about a week after Thanksgiving for no apparent reason, inmates said. Virus tests were administered only when inmates were acutely ill, which is the Bureau of Prisons’ policy despite the fact that people without symptoms are most likely to spread the disease.

 

When inmates felt sick, they often had to chase down medics and plead to be tested, and later beg for the results. Inmates weren’t removed from the general population until the results came back, which could take five days. When prisoners were secluded in groups after testing positive, they were left largely to fend for themselves, without basic supplies like acetaminophen or extra fluids. To call for help, they banged on the windows.

 

Under a settlement reached last July with inmates who sued, prison authorities agreed to re-examine the cases of some 600 prisoners with medical problems like diabetes and obesity who had been denied home confinement. They face a Friday deadline to report back.

 

“What’s frustrating about our case is that we have a settlement agreement and the Bureau of Prisons is disregarding it,” said Marisol Orihuela, co-director of the Criminal Justice Advocacy Clinic at Yale University, who is representing the inmates, along with attorneys from law schools at the University at Buffalo in New York and Quinnipiac University in North Haven, Conn., and the firm Silver, Golub & Teitell in Stamford, Conn.

 

“They knew what they needed to be doing in order to mitigate another outbreak, and they simply didn’t do it,” she added.

 

Neither the former warden named in the lawsuit, Diane Easter, nor the federal lawyers representing the prison in the case responded to repeated requests for comment.

 

Justin Long, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons, said federal facilities have taken steps to control the spread of the coronavirus, including educating inmates and staff about preventing transmission, maximizing social distancing to the extent possible, and providing surgical and cloth masks, soap and cleaning supplies to incarcerated people.

 

“We understand these are stressful times for both staff and inmates,” Mr. Long said in an emailed statement. “It is our highest priority to continue to do everything we can to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our facilities.”

 

Because of crowded conditions and vulnerable populations, prisons and jails have long been known to be breeding grounds for infectious diseases like tuberculosis, influenza and hepatitis C.

 

Prisons are more densely populated than nursing homes, according to the Prison Policy Initiative; one study found that the coronavirus spread almost four times as quickly in a large urban jail as it had aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which saw one of the most terrifying outbreaks of the early pandemic.

 

Minimum- and low-security settings like the federal prison at Danbury, where many inmates live in large dormitories separated by partitions that don’t reach the ceiling, are even more conducive to the spread of the virus than maximum-security prisons with cells that house only one or two inmates.

 

Many incarcerated people are medically vulnerable, suffering from conditions like obesity and Type 2 diabetes that increase the risk of serious complications or death should they be infected with the virus and develop Covid-19. “They’re like sitting ducks,” said Elizabeth Blackwood, an attorney with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

 

At the same time, medical care for chronic conditions has been disrupted by personnel shortages — Danbury had seven vacancies on its medical staff last summer — and delayed access to specialists outside the facility.

 

Throughout the fall, Ms. Orihuela and her colleagues warned that the prison was in danger of becoming a hotbed of infections, documenting their concerns — including a lack of hand soap in the women’s bathrooms during the Covid-19 outbreak in December — in a series of letters and affidavits addressed to the court.

 

Prisoners’ requests to be seen by the medical team, known as sick call slips, weren’t being collected, the lawyers wrote on Oct. 30. Screening for Covid-19 symptoms, which was supposed to be done every day, was inconsistent.

 

Several inmates who complained of Covid-19 symptoms, like cough, chest pain and loss of smell and taste, said in interviews with The New York Times that medical personnel dismissed their symptoms as a cold or flu. When they were finally tested, getting the result could take a week.

 

Joseph Heim Jr., a 45-year-old inmate in the men’s prison, submitted a sick call request on Nov. 28, when he started coughing, lost his sense of taste and smell, and developed chest pain “that felt like a heart attack,” he said in a declaration filed with the court.

 

A nurse told him it was “probably the flu,” and Mr. Heim was not seen by a doctor or tested for the coronavirus until Dec. 4. When Mr. Heim, who has chronic lung disease, was found to be infected and placed in isolation, he told staff he couldn’t breathe.

 

“They said there was nothing they could do for me,” he said in a declaration to the court. “The first four days I was in isolation, I laid there thinking I was going to die.” He remained there for 20 days, during which he was seen only three times by a physician, he said.

 

Isolation is critical to curbing the spread of infections, but almost a full year after the pandemic started, the prison did not have appropriate isolation quarters prepared for women who became infected.

 

In December, when dozens of women tested positive, they were housed in makeshift quarters in the prisons’ visiting rooms, according to the accounts of seven female inmates provided through written court declarations and phone interviews.

 

The rooms had no beds, only rudimentary restroom facilities, and no showers. (Temporary shower units were eventually installed.) The women were moved hastily; many said they did not have time to pack important items like medications, asthma inhalers and feminine hygiene products. Several said they were without their prescriptions for days.

 

On arrival, the infected women taken to the visiting room of the men’s prison, some of them visibly ill, were told to assemble metal cots to sleep on. Mattresses were not available at first, and bedding was scarce, according to numerous accounts. The room was cold, especially at night.

 

“I was freezing, actually, and they didn’t want to give us extra blankets,” said Stacy Spagnardi, 53, who was recently granted home confinement. She is serving a sentence for tax evasion and insurance fraud.

 

“Some women were so sick they couldn’t eat and could hardly move. One woman could not stop coughing,” said a written declaration by Jasmir Humphrey, who had spent nearly two weeks in the visiting room but was recently released for home confinement.

 

Mr. Long, of the prisons bureau, said in an email statement that all inmates who test positive or have symptoms are “provided medical care in accordance with C.D.C. guidance.”

 

That guidance says Covid patients recovering at home should rest, get plenty of fluids, take over-the-counter medicine for symptoms, stay in touch with their doctor and be alert for warning signs that the disease was getting worse.

 

But infected women who were placed in a men’s visiting room said they were not given over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen for fever and body aches, despite their requests. Bright overhead lights were turned on at 6 a.m. every day, and inmates said that the guards threatened disciplinary action if anyone turned them off.

 

There was a water fountain in the room, but cups were not provided until numerous requests were made, and the women were not given tea, soup or any other hydrating foods, they said.

 

“It was about a week until we got Tylenol,” Ms. Spagnardi said. She said she got some acetaminophen after asking for it repeatedly, but it was not distributed to all the sick inmates.

 

Temperatures were checked daily on weekdays, but not weekends. Staff “didn’t check our other vital signs or listen to our lungs,” Ms. Humphrey wrote.

 

Mr. Long said that the isolation area was appropriately heated and that inmates had medical care, but he declined to comment on the other conditions described by inmates and their lawyers.

 

Sick women who were placed in another visiting room, at the women’s prison, said that once the guards left the room and locked the door behind them, they had no way to call for help in the case of an emergency. There was a phone, but it was useless.

 

“A sign by the phone said, ‘In case of emergency, dial this number,’ but the number didn’t work,” said Jacqueline Torres, 33, whose complaints of shortness of breath and body aches were ignored for several days in early December. She was finally given a rapid test on Dec. 7 and tested positive.

 

“The only way we could get in touch with anyone was if a guard walked through the hall, and we banged on the wall to get their attention,” she said in an interview.

 

On Dec. 9, Rae Haltzman, who is 65 and has high blood pressure, started vomiting but was unable to summon help. She lay down by the locked door of the visiting room with a blanket “waiting for someone to come,” she wrote in a statement filed with the court. When she spotted a psychologist leaving the building, “I banged on the door and asked him to get a medic.”

 

Ms. Haltzman was eventually hospitalized for nine days. After being discharged on Dec. 18, she was placed alone in a locked room “that is usually used for suicide watch, or drug withdrawal cases,” she wrote. She was kept there until Jan. 2, even though the hospital’s infectious diseases specialist had said it was not necessary for her to be isolated.

 

“I had panic attacks from being left in the room alone for so long,” she said. “I felt as though the whole time I was being punished for getting sick.”

 

Another inmate, Denise Bonfilio, also became acutely ill in the visiting room of the men’s prison. Her lips turned blue, and she was sent to the hospital. She was found to be dehydrated but was not admitted, and she returned to the room.

 

Because of her food allergies, Ms. Bonfilio often could not eat the meals that were provided, which may have contributed to her dehydration. In an interview, she described the treatment in the isolation room as “physically and emotionally brutal.”

 

“It was like survival of the fittest,” Ms. Bonfilio said.

 

The inmates had to order items they needed from the commissary, recalled Ms. Torres, who was granted home confinement on Dec. 23. “We literally bought Halls, ibuprofen and hot tea,” she said.

 

“We were all scared,” Ms. Spagnardi said. “We were all thinking we were going to die in there, and nobody would know until count.”

 

It’s not clear why prison officials have been so resistant to granting home confinement to inmates in the middle of a pandemic.

 

Most people incarcerated in federal institutions are nonviolent offenders. The minimum-security facility for women at Danbury, the Camp, is not even surrounded by a fence.

 

Yet experts say the bureau has an aversion to home confinement because of the “Willie Horton effect,” a reference to the infamous case of a convicted murderer who raped a Maryland woman and stabbed her fiancĂ© while on furlough from a Massachusetts prison. The crimes served as the basis for attack ads that helped derail the 1988 presidential campaign of former Gov. Michael Dukakis.

 

Last March, the day after a former inmate was released from a prison in Florida to alleviate overcrowding and prevent an outbreak, he shot and killed a man in Tampa.

 

“Everybody’s worried that if they make a mistake, and someone gets out and commits a heinous offense, they will be blamed,” said Shon Hopwood, a law professor at Georgetown University. “They all live in fear of that one horrible case.”


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9) Before Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, There Was Ahmaud Arbery  

A year after his killing in Georgia,  his death has sparked a bipartisan effort to remake the state’s 158-year-old citizen’s arrest law. But a potentially divisive trial awaits.

By Richard Fausset, Published Feb. 28, 2021, Updated March 1, 2021

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/28/us/ahmaud-arbery-anniversary.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
A sea of candles rise and glow into the evening in Satilla Shores, Ga., on Tuesday, marking one year since the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery.
A sea of candles rise and glow into the evening in Satilla Shores, Ga., on Tuesday, marking one year since the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery. Credit...Malcolm Jackson for The New York Times

Wanda Cooper-Jones, the mother of Ahmaud Arbery, stands with a painting of her son during a candlelight vigil in his honor at New Springfield Baptist Church in Waynesboro, Ga., last week. 
Wanda Cooper-Jones, the mother of Ahmaud Arbery, stands with a painting of her son during a candlelight vigil in his honor at New Springfield Baptist Church in Waynesboro, Ga., last week. Credit...Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle, via Associated Press

WAYNESBORO, Ga. — Scores of mourners gathered last week at a rural cemetery for a service to mark the first anniversary of the slaying of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was chased by a trio of white men and shot to death on a residential street. 

 

Mr. Arbery’s killing, on a sunny afternoon in a suburban South Georgia neighborhood, drew widespread outrage when it happened, particularly with its evocation of the tortured racial history of the South. And together with the subsequent police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, his death has contributed to the national furor over shooting deaths of Black people and the wave of protests against systemic racism.

 

The emotions surrounding his death are still raw, but they now must intersect with a thicket of legal issues that leave the outcome of his case very much in doubt.

 

At the graveside service and at a candlelight vigil in the neighborhood where he was killed, many of the mourners acknowledged that the past year has brought some progress. That included a new hate crimes measure and an ongoing bipartisan effort to remake the state’s 158-year-old citizen’s arrest law. The law was cited by an early prosecutor of the case when he argued that Mr. Arbery’s assailants had not acted illegally.

 

But the mourners also were steeling themselves for the possibility of more painful moments in the months to come, including a potentially explosive murder trial for the three men — Travis McMichael, who is accused of pulling the trigger; his father Gregory McMichael and their neighbor William Bryan, all of whom have been in custody in a Glynn County, Ga., jail since their arrests on murder, assault and other charges last May. If convicted, each faces life in prison without parole.

 

“We are not seeking revenge. We are seeking justice,” said Kenya Sullivan-Crumbley, a minister in Waynesboro, the hometown of Mr. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones. “Justice is what is right in the eyes of the Lord.”

 

His supporters have found allies far beyond the world of liberal activists. They include Gov. Brian Kemp, a conservative Republican who has been accused by liberals of supporting voter suppression tactics that target African-Americans, and who, as a candidate in 2018, suggested in a campaign ad that he might take vigilante action against undocumented immigrants.

 

Last June, Mr. Kemp signed into law a new hate crimes measure that imposes additional penalties for crimes motivated by bias. The move came a few weeks after a hearing in the Arbery case in which a Georgia investigator testified that Mr. Bryan had heard Travis McMichael use a racist slur moments after firing his shotgun at Mr. Arbery. (The investigator also said that Mr. Bryan had used racial epithets in text messages unrelated to the shooting.)

 

Today, Mr. Kemp is among a group of bipartisan political figures backing a bill that aims to reform the state’s citizen’s arrest law, which dates to the year of the Emancipation Proclamation and would significantly curtail the ability of anyone who is not a certified law enforcement officer to arrest someone, allowing exceptions for security guards, private investigators and a few others.

 

“The horrific killing of Ahmaud Arbery shook a Georgia community to its very core,” Mr. Kemp wrote in an opinion column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this month. Mr. Arbery, he added, “was the victim of a vigilante-style of violence that has no place in our state, and some tried to justify the actions of his killers by claiming they had the protection of an antiquated law that is ripe for abuse.”

 

State Rep. Bert Reeves, a Republican and the House leader, said he expects a hearing on the bill sometime next week.

 

Still, lawyers for Travis McMichael said the law — as it existed on Feb. 23 last year when Mr. Arbery was killed — will be central to the defense of their client, who the authorities said was captured on video firing the fatal shots after a brief confrontation.

 

Lawyers for Mr.Arbery’s family say he was out for an innocent jog that day. In the early afternoon, a man in the Saltilla Shores neighborhood saw Mr. Arbery enter a home under construction. There had been a string of burglaries and car thefts in the neighborhood in prior months.

 

The McMichaels later told police they suspected Mr. Arbery of the break-ins, and in a graphic video that captured the confrontation and killing, he can be seen running down a tree-lined street as the father and son wait up ahead for him.

 

Mr. Arbery and Travis McMichael, who was 34 at the time, are seen tussling over Mr. McMichael’s shotgun as Mr. McMichael shoots three times. Mr. Arbery then spins around, tries to run and falls to the pavement.

 

“From our review of the law — as much as no one likes what it allows Georgia citizens to do — it appears the McMichaels had the full authority of the law to engage Mr. Arbery, and to try to stop him and talk to him and hold him until the police arrived,” Jason Sheffield, one of Mr. McMichael’s lawyers, said in an interview last week.

 

Mr. Sheffield, echoing the analysis of one of the first prosecutors on the case, George E. Barnhill, also said that Travis McMichael was within his rights to fire on Mr. Arbery under the state’s self-defense law because the two men were physically fighting at the time.

 

Ms. Cooper-Jones, in an interview last week, said she hoped that jurors would not be swayed. “The citizen’s arrest law was implemented in the time of the Civil War,” she said. “My son’s murder happened back in 2020. You can’t hide behind that law and commit murder in 2020.”

 

Still, the arguments may resonate in Glynn County, where Mr. Arbery and the accused men lived, and where the trial is likely to be held. No date has been set. The county, along the southern stretch of Georgia’s Atlantic coast, is majority white and conservative — “a defense friendly venue for this type of case,” said Esther Panitch, a criminal defense lawyer and legal analyst in Atlanta.

 

The prosecutors and defense have sparred, in competing motions, over whether Mr. Arbery should be allowed to be called a “victim” in the case; lawyers for the McMichaels have argued that it is a “prejudicial” term.

 

But it is the fate of two other motions that may prove to have a more serious impact on the eventual trial. In one, prosecutors have asked that evidence of what are described as past “racial” incidents involving the three defendants be included at trial, including Facebook posts and text messages.

 

In another motion, lawyers for the McMichaels have asked to allow Mr. Arbery’s criminal history to be introduced, including a conviction for bringing a handgun to a basketball game and another for trying to steal a television.

 

The motion, citing interviews with Mr. Arbery’s neighbors, claims that he tried to break into houses around his own home,  .

 

Medical documents reviewed by The New York Times show that Mr. Arbery was diagnosed in late 2018 or early 2019 by health care professionals with schizoaffective disorder, and that he had told doctors he heard voices in his head that at times told him “to do wrong” and “to steal and rob.”

 

Mr. Arbery’s family believes that his criminal past should have no bearing on whether he should have been chased and killed, especially by people who were not active law enforcement, on the mere suspicion that he might have engaged in a property crime.

 

“One of my friends said, ‘I wouldn’t care if he had an entire house on his back — you don’t get to do what they did,’” said Josiah Watts, Mr. Arbery’s cousin. “In a civil society there’s no way that’s the proper response, the humane response.”

 

Last week, Ms. Cooper-Jones filed a lawsuit against the McMichaels, Mr. Bryan and others, including Glynn County Police Department officials and the first two prosecutors who handled the case. The suit recounts how the three pursuers walked free for weeks after the killing, until an explosive video of his shooting was made public. And it  argues that police and prosecutors engaged in a “deliberate effort” to “cover up Ahmaud’s murder.”

 

At the graveyard ceremony last Tuesday, Ms. Cooper-Jones and the many mourners watched a video message from U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock, who compared her son’s killing to those of Emmett Till and Breonna Taylor. She listened as a family friend, Chuck Holmes, spoke to the audience about the nature of wickedness.

 

Mr. Holmes quoted from the 58th Psalm: “Make their weapons useless in their hands. May they be like snails that dissolve into slime.”

 

The crowd lit candles as someone played a recording of an old spiritual. “I sing because I’m happy,” the lyrics went. “I sing because I’m free.”

 

But in the crowd, there was little singing.


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