“If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem,” Stokely Carmichael, the civil rights organizer, is said to have stated. “If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude; it’s a question of power.”
“Justice denied is a body blow to our national psyche,” 84-year-old actor George Takei tweeted to his millions of followers. “On trial was not only a killer, but a system that continues to kill.”
Sign the Petition Today!
As a renewed wave of worker militancy and organizing is unfolding across the United States, alongside major developments in recent months in the fight to organize Amazon workers, the Support Amazon Workers network is reconstituting itself on a national basis to build and mobilize solidarity for these critical struggles.
On Monday, October 25, Amazon workers in Staten Island picked up the baton from Bessemer workers and filed for a union election there. The effort, organized by the independent Amazon Labor Union, is a critical new front in the long term battle to organize Amazon. Right now, solidarity from every corner of the workers and progressive movements is needed to support the Staten Island workers, who will undoubtedly come under a fierce anti-union attack from Amazon as the drive toward the election picks up.
The development in Staten Island is but one among many in the drive to organize Amazon. In recent months:
- A hearing officer from the National Labor Relations Board, in response to 23 charges filed by Bessemer workers and the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, recommended that the results of the election there earlier this year be set aside and a new election conducted. There has not yet been an official ruling on this recommendation from the NLRB, but one could come in the weeks or months ahead.
- The Teamsters overwhelmingly approved a resolution at their national convention in June to undertake a major campaign to organize Amazon. The language of the resolution indicates that, rather than going the route of a shop by shop NLRB election approach, the Teamsters intend to carry out a campaign that targets Amazon across the country with a wide array of tactics, including shop floor actions, recognition strikes, close coordination with community and solidarity activists, and more. They are wrapping up their national leadership election soon, and more could unfold on this front following that.
- Canadian Amazon workers at 9 locations across the country recently filed to hold elections for their union there. The Teamsters are organizing those 9 facilities.
- Amazon workers in Germany are currently conducting rolling strikes demanding higher wages and better working conditions
- Each and every day, Amazon workers across the country are organizing shop floor committees, engaging in boss fights, and building power on the job through a wide array of other initiatives and organizing efforts, including with Amazonians United and others.
At the same time, organized and unorganized workers in many sectors are also on the move, including Starbucks workers in the Buffalo area, rideshare and other gig workers, graduate students, school bus drivers, and many more.
In the upcoming weeks, the Support Amazon Workers network intends to build solidarity with these workers:
- We invite you to participate in a Strategy/Organizing Meeting to support Amazon (and Whole Foods) worker organizing and connecting this work to other workers struggles (reply to this email if you’re interested in joining)
- Supporting and helping to organize actions on November 26 (known as Black Friday) and November 29 (known as Cyber Monday)
- Forming local solidarity committees that can engage in a variety of activities to support Amazon and unorganized workers
- Mobilizing solidarity for Staten Island Amazon workers and other Amazon workers engaged in struggle on the shop floor
- Looking ahead to activities, national actions, and more in the new year.
All workers have a stake in the fight to organize Amazon, given its central role in the global capitalist economy and the logistics sector in particular, as well as for the way it is pioneering new methods of automating work and exploiting our labor.
With these developments unfolding, and many more likely to open up in the months ahead, re-constituting a national solidarity network that can engage in a variety of activities to support Amazon and all workers -- especially the unorganized -- fighting for power could not be more critical.
Organizing Amazon cannot and should not be left to the major unions and Amazon workers alone -- it will take a strong, united, and powerful mobilization of the entire working class to take on this giant. Join us in the fight.
To: U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives
Sign Petition at:
Rashid just called with the news that he has been moved back to Virginia. His property is already there, and he will get to claim the most important items tomorrow. He is at a "medium security" level and is in general population. Basically, good news.
He asked me to convey his appreciation to everyone who wrote or called in his support during the time he was in Ohio.
His new address is:
Kevin Rashid Johnson #1007485
Nottoway Correctional Center
2892 Schutt Road
Burkeville, VA 23922
Freedom for Major Tillery! End his Life Imprisonment!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Governor's Press Office
Friday, May 28, 2021
Governor Newsom Announces Clemency Actions, Signs Executive Order for Independent Investigation of Kevin Cooper Case
SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom today announced that he has granted 14 pardons, 13 commutations and 8 medical reprieves. In addition, the Governor signed an executive order to launch an independent investigation of death row inmate Kevin Cooper’s case as part of the evaluation of Cooper’s application for clemency.
The investigation will review trial and appellate records in the case, the facts underlying the conviction and all available evidence, including the results of the recently conducted DNA tests previously ordered by the Governor to examine additional evidence in the case using the latest, most scientifically reliable forensic testing.
The text of the Governor’s executive order can be found here:
The California Constitution gives the Governor the authority to grant executive clemency in the form of a pardon, commutation or reprieve. These clemency grants recognize the applicants’ subsequent efforts in self-development or the existence of a medical exigency. They do not forgive or minimize the harm caused.
The Governor regards clemency as an important part of the criminal justice system that can incentivize accountability and rehabilitation, increase public safety by removing counterproductive barriers to successful reentry, correct unjust results in the legal system and address the health needs of incarcerated people with high medical risks.
A pardon may remove counterproductive barriers to employment and public service, restore civic rights and responsibilities and prevent unjust collateral consequences of conviction, such as deportation and permanent family separation. A pardon does not expunge or erase a conviction.
A commutation modifies a sentence, making an incarcerated person eligible for an earlier release or allowing them to go before the Board of Parole Hearings for a hearing at which Parole Commissioners determine whether the individual is suitable for release.
A reprieve allows individuals classified by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as high medical risk to serve their sentences in appropriate alternative placements in the community consistent with public health and public safety.
The Governor weighs numerous factors in his review of clemency applications, including an applicant’s self-development and conduct since the offense, whether the grant is consistent with public safety and in the interest of justice, and the impact of a grant on the community, including crime victims and survivors.
While in office, Governor Newsom has granted a total of 86 pardons, 92 commutations and 28 reprieves.
The Governor’s Office encourages victims, survivors, and witnesses to register with CDCR’s Office of Victims and Survivors Rights and Services to receive information about an incarcerated person’s status. For general Information about victim services, to learn about victim-offender dialogues, or to register or update a registration confidentially, please visit:
www.cdcr.ca.gov/Victim_Services/ or call 1-877-256-6877 (toll free).
Copies of the gubernatorial clemency certificates announced today can be found here:
Additional information on executive clemency can be found here:
Mumia Abu Jamal Appeal Denied!
We regret to share with you some alarming news on the continued case of Political Prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio)—The Pennsylvania Superior Court has challenged Mumia Abu-Jamal’s latest effort for an overturned conviction and new trial—nearly 40 years after he was convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.
The high court said Abu-Jamal’s appeal was untimely, adding that the lower court shouldn’t have reinstated any part of his appeal because it lacked jurisdiction.
This fifth appeal attempt—filed in 2016—was based on a federal ruling involving former Philadelphia District Attorney Ron Castille, who later became a state Supreme Court justice and ruled on a death penalty appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Castille had an “unconstitutional risk of bias” as the district attorney.
ABU-JAMAL’S ATTORNEYS ARGUED TO A PHILADELPHIA JUDGE IN 2018 THAT CASTILLE WAS ALSO THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY WHEN ABU-JAMAL WAS CONVICTED, AND A STATE SUPREME COURT JUDGE WHEN HE APPEALED.
And, they pointed to a letter Castille penned to the governor in 1990, urging the death penalty be used to send a “clear and dramatic message to all police killers that the death penalty in Pennsylvania actually means something.”
The Pennsylvania Superior Court concluded that “the 1990 letter cannot create a reasonable inference that Justice Castille had a personal interest in the outcome of the litigation,” court documents say. “There is no evidence that Castille had ever personally participated in the prosecution of Abu-Jamal.
“The 1990 letter is not evidence of prior prosecutorial participation. It is evidence that while acting as an advocate, District Attorney Castille took a policy position to advance completion of the appellate process for convicted murderers: ‘I very strongly urge you immediately to issue death warrants in each and every one of these cases. Only such action by you will cause these cases to move forward in a legally appropriate manner.’ He was not arguing that the law should be changed or should be ignored. Rather, he simply took a position to facilitate collateral review of death sentences which was subscribed to by many prosecutors at the time.” But, the state Superior Court noted, Castille didn’t list Abu-Jamal, and they say Abu-Jamal didn’t file a new petition, using the letter as an argument, in time.
“Further,” the decision reads, “the 1990 letter was dated June 15th. At that time, Abu-Jamal’s direct appeal was still pending before the Supreme Court of the United States. … As such, Abu-Jamal was not even in the class of litigants that District Attorney Castille was referencing in the letter. The 1990 letter therefore cannot create a reasonable inference that Justice Castille was personally biased against Abu-Jamal.”
Pa. Supreme Court denies widow’s appeal to remove Philly DA from Abu-Jamal case
Abu Jamal was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder of Faulkner in 1982. Over the past four decades, five of his appeals have been quashed.
In 1989, the state’s highest court affirmed Abu-Jamal’s death penalty conviction, and in 2012, he was re-sentenced to life in prison.
Abu-Jamal, 66, remains in prison. He can appeal to the state Supreme Court, or he can file a new appeal.
KYW Newsradio reached out to Abu-Jamal’s attorneys for comment. They shared this statement in full:
“Today, the Superior Court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to consider issues raised by Mr. Abu-Jamal in prior appeals. Two years ago, the Court of Common Pleas ordered reconsideration of these appeals finding evidence of an appearance of judicial bias when the appeals were first decided. We are disappointed in the Superior Court’s decision and are considering our next steps.
“While this case was pending in the Superior Court, the Commonwealth revealed, for the first time, previously undisclosed evidence related to Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case. That evidence includes a letter indicating that the Commonwealth promised its principal witness against Mr. Abu-Jamal money in connection with his testimony. In today’s decision, the Superior Court made clear that it was not adjudicating the issues raised by this new evidence. This new evidence is critical to any fair determination of the issues raised in this case, and we look forward to presenting it in court.”
Questions and comments may be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sign our petition urging President Biden to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier.
Address: 116 W. Osborne Ave. Tampa, Florida 33603
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.
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:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
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.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
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:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
I Asked Fellow Ex-Israeli Soldiers to Tell Me Their Stories
By Rona Segal
Director Rona Segal learned filmmaking in the Israeli army.
Now, she turns the camera on her fellow soldiers.
Ms. Segal is a documentary filmmaker.
I joined the army when I was 18 years old. Military service is mandatory in Israel (with few exemptions) and we’re instructed to never doubt its necessity. But I wanted to make films, so I maneuvered my way into the Israel Defense Forces’ film unit.
The army is where I learned the craft of filmmaking, and making the short documentary above allowed me to go back to those years. But now, as an independent filmmaker, I have a different perspective, a perspective that most 18-year-olds simply don’t have.
Here, ex-soldiers share their accounts of day-to-day operations on the ground in Hebron, the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank. They offer a view that has rarely been seen by the public.
Here are a few screenshots from the video—and these are not the most violent altercations shown:
Stop and Frisk:
And it gets worse! Tearing up homes for no reason. Shooting Palestinians for no reason. Cheering when they shoot a young man in his testicles with rubber bullets. Rewarding soldiers who hit their targets. IDF brutality is unmatched!
By Charles M. Blow, November 19, 2021
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Kyle Rittenhouse, the 18-year-old who shot and killed two men and wounded a third last year during protests of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, was found not guilty Friday of all charges by a Wisconsin jury.
One can argue about the particulars of the case, about the strength of the defense and the ham-handedness of the prosecution, about the outrageously unorthodox manner of the judge and the infantilizing of the defendant. But perhaps the most problematic aspect of this case was that it represented yet another data point in the long history of some parts of the right valorizing white vigilantes who use violence against people of color and their white allies.
Rittenhouse has emerged as a hero and cause célèbre on the right, with people donating to help him make bail and one Republican strategist telling Politico that he “could see a future in which Rittenhouse becomes a featured speaker at the conservative confabs where activists congregate.”
The idea of taking the law into one’s own hands not only to protect order, but also to protect the order, is central to the maintenance of white power and its structures. The killers of Ahmaud Arbery on trial in Georgia are also vigilantes.
George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin in 2012, was also a vigilante, and also embraced by the right. Money also poured in for Zimmerman’s defense.
In 1984, subway vigilante Bernard Goetz shot four Black teenagers who he said were trying to rob him. He was hailed as a hero, but then more details about him began to emerge. One of his neighbors wrote in New York magazine that he had heard Goetz say at a community meeting that “the only way we’re going to clean up this street is to get rid of the spics and niggers.”
This list is long, and doesn’t only include individuals, but also organizations and entire periods of American history. I am sure that many in the white Citizens’ Councils and the Ku Klux Klan also saw themselves as vigilantes.
Perhaps the most prolonged period of violent white vigilantism occurred in the decades following the Civil War, as lynchings surged.
This vigilante impulse, what some call justice and others terror, has been a central feature of the American experience. So has the way people have made heroes of vigilantes, encouraging, supporting and defending them.
When Donald Trump was running for office in 2016, he encouraged his supporters to assault rabble-rousers at his rallies while promising, “I’ll pay the legal fees.”
The St. Louis couple who waved guns in front of Black Lives Matter protesters in the summer of 2020 were invited to speak at the Republican National Convention.
One could argue that the entire Jan. 6 insurrection was one enormous act of vigilantism.
You could also argue that our rapidly expanding gun laws — from stand your ground laws to laws that allow open or concealed carry — encourage and protect vigilantes.
It goes without saying how ominous this all is for the country. Or, to turn the argument around, how intransigent the country is on this issue of empowering white men to become vigilantes themselves.
Black vigilantes are not celebrated, but feared, condemned and constrained by the law.
Perhaps one of the more prominent Black groups that one could argue had a vigilante impulse was the Black Panthers. They were seen as a threat. As I have written before, in 1967, when the Panthers showed up armed at the California State Legislature, a largely white place of power, the public was aghast.
Then-Gov. Ronald Reagan said: “I don’t think that loaded guns is the way to solve a problem that should be solved between people of good will. And anyone who would approve of this kind of demonstration must be out of their mind.”
The California Legislature passed, and Reagan signed, the Mulford Act, which banned the open carry of firearms in the state. The N.R.A. supported the measure. The bill’s author, Don Mulford, said at the time, “We’ve got to protect society from nuts with guns.”
Whether a vigilante is viewed as radical or righteous is often a condition of the skin they’re in.
And the verdict in the Rittenhouse case is only likely to encourage more vigilantes, those who want to keep or impose “order,” those irked by the idea that disorder could flow from injustice, those who don’t want to see streets filled with people demanding equity.
The great threat, and real possibility, is that there are other Rittenhouses out there — young men who watched this verdict and saw how the right has embraced and celebrated a murderer, and now want to follow his lead.
The worst thing for America would be that this case becomes exemplar and precursor.
Protesters in Barcelona are pushing back against foreign investment firms that have bought up thousands of homes over the past decade and are forcing out residents who can’t pay the rent.
By Nicholas Casey and Roser Toll Piraffé, Nov. 21, 2021
A family scheduled for eviction waiting outside their home, owned by Cerberus, in Piera, near Barcelona, Spain, this month. A court eventually delayed the eviction by a month. Credit...Samuel Aranda for The New York Times
BARCELONA, Spain — Ana María Banegas lives on a sun-drenched street in central Barcelona, a short walk from where her children go to school. Outside, a doormat welcomes visitors: “Home Sweet Home.”
But this is where the domestic idyll ends. The building’s owner isn’t your typical landlord, she says, but rather a private equity firm thousands of miles away. And Ms. Banegas is no typical tenant: Along with a dozen other families who have been struggling financially during the pandemic, she has occupied the building since April and now refuses to leave.
“This property belongs to Cerberus,” said Ms. Banegas, referring to Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm based in New York. “And from this home, we aim to pressure them.”
Her protest is part of a battle that is being waged in the courtrooms, living rooms and streets of Barcelona, pitting foreign investment firms that have bought up thousands of homes across Spain over the past decade against residents and activists who are using a novel strategy to try to stop them from evicting renters who have fallen behind.
On one side is Cerberus, which, along with other giant investment firms like Blackstone and Lone Star, has been snapping up properties across Spain at bargain prices since the global financial crisis that began in 2008. The firms then put them up for rent at a time when the country’s economy was on a stronger footing.
But the pandemic pushed the Spanish unemployment rate up to 15 percent and evictions nationwide spiked in the first half of 2021. The investment firm landlords sent out a slew of eviction notices to tenants across the country or canceled leases for those who fell behind on the rent, residents said.
In the streets of Barcelona, a group called War Against Cerberus decided to fight back.
When lawyers of private equity firms come with police officers to force residents from their homes, members of the group — some of them longtime housing activists — surround the building to block their entry. As residents are pushed out of apartments, the group sends squatters to occupy properties owned by the firms elsewhere in the city — sometimes breaking in to gain entry.
The activists even took over the offices of a Cerberus real estate servicer in Barcelona for a time last year.
According to War Against Cerberus, dozens of families have occupied buildings owned by private equity firms in Barcelona, which has long been a target of outside investors. That can translate into years of courtroom hearings and millions of dollars in legal fees to remove the squatters.
Miquel Hernández, a spokesman for War Against Cerberus who helped Ms. Banegas find the home where she is squatting, accused the private equity firms of profiting from the economic distress caused by the pandemic.
“They’re treating them like any other asset,” he said, referring to the homes owned by the firms.
The problem has caught the attention of Spain’s national government, led by a left-wing coalition. It has proposed the imposition of rent controls on investment funds and other large landlords.
The proposed legislation, supported by Barcelona’s mayor, Ada Colau, would allow for rent caps for owners with more than 10 properties in areas where rent increases have outpaced inflation.
“We have to civilize a market that has gotten out of control,” said Ms. Colau, a former housing activist who rose to power with an organization that fought against foreclosures. “A problem that was bad before the pandemic has suddenly gotten worse.”
She attributed much of the increase in evictions to investment firms that refused to negotiate agreements with renters who fall behind, choosing instead to force them out and find others who can pay.
Spain imposed a partial moratorium on evictions for much of the pandemic, but only for those in “vulnerable situations,” such as single parents. In cases that went to the courts, the judiciary was seen as siding largely with the landlords.
Cerberus said it was committed to treating every resident with dignity and respect and to following the law.
“We believe it is the responsibility of all corporate citizens to not only respect the dignity of everyone but also appropriately address illegal activity that can harm communities,” a company spokesman said in a statement to The New York Times.
The Association of Rental Housing Owners, a Spanish group which includes some of the outside investment firms, took aim at the proposed housing law, saying that rent controls would only discourage owners from building new rental units during a time of low supply.
The conflict in Barcelona traces its roots to the financial crisis that started in 2008. That downturn hit homeowners hardest, driving many of them, as well as the banks that owned their mortgages, into bankruptcy. The crisis also fueled evictions and the rise of a protest movement to defend homeowners against predatory loans.
But thousands lost their homes anyway and many of them became renters. And in the current crisis, it is renters who have suffered the brunt of the damage, activists say.
As defaults became common and credit harder to come by, the number of renters in the country grew by more than 40 percent over the last decade. At the same time, private firms amassed at least 40,000 properties in Spain, according to estimates by economists and the Spanish news media.
Even so, homeownership has remained relatively high in Spain, at about 75 percent.
In one case in 2013, Blackstone, now thought to be Spain’s biggest landlord, bought more than 1,800 apartments from the Madrid city government, which was low on cash.
But those types of acquisitions did not cause a stir until the pandemic left the firms, like many other landlords, serving up eviction notices for those who could not make the rent.
In the first quarter of 2021, evictions of renters in Spain rose by 14 percent compared with the same period the previous year, according to the government. By the second quarter of this year, they surged to eight times as many as in the same period in 2020.
One complaint about private equity landlords is that being based abroad, they are difficult to reach to negotiate settlements, unlike local landlords.
Irma Vite, a 47-year-old immigrant from Ecuador, first received a notice in 2019 that the lease for her rental apartment would not be renewed by Divarian, a Cerberus-owned real estate company in Spain. She has spent the entire pandemic fighting in courts to remain in the home.
Her story offers a window into the unregulated world of Spanish housing which allowed private equity companies to become such dominant landlords here. She bought the apartment in 2005 for 216,000 euros, or about $267,000 at the time, with no down payment, from a local Spanish bank. Her monthly mortgage payments were €900.
The mortgage had a fluctuating interest rate, however, and by 2009, her payments had risen to €1,200. By 2015, she could no longer afford the payments and she entered foreclosure proceedings with the bank, which allowed her to remain in the home as a renter.
But that bank, Caixa Catalunya, was barely solvent itself. In 2016, it merged with the Spanish giant BBVA, which extended her rental agreement until 2019.
In October 2019, she received a letter from Divarian, the Cerberus company, saying that it now owned the property and would no longer rent to her. Ms. Vite sought help from the War Against Cerberus and has spent the last two years refusing to leave her home.
Cases like hers are becoming more common and have provided War Against Cerberus opportunities to flex its muscles. In October, the group got word of five evictions that were scheduled in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, a town on the outskirts of Barcelona.
When a lawyer representing the firm that owned the apartments arrived with the police, they were met by about 50 activists who surrounded the building. A crowd of residents soon arrived, chanting for the officers to leave.
“You’re vultures,” one of the protesters yelled.
The police backed down, saying that they would give the owners an extension before their eviction.
War Against Cerberus is also trying to play offense against private equity firms by sending residents like Ms. Banegas to occupy apartments that the firms own in Barcelona. Mr. Hernández, the activist spokesman, said that the group’s goal was to eventually pressure Cerberus into agreeing to allow the squatters to remain and pay reasonable monthly rents.
Ms. Vite said she would much rather go back to paying rent than keep squatting. But so far, Cerberus has refused to make an agreement with her and has asked a court to evict her.
An auxiliary nurse at a nearby hospital, Ms. Vite said that she recently came across a man suffering from depression who was also being forced out of his home after not being able to pay the rent, and that they had briefly commiserated.
“I was there as the nurse, he as my patient, and I was just thinking, ‘Look at what’s at the root of all of these problems,’” she said.
Samuel Aranda contributed reporting.
With closing arguments set to begin in the trial of three men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery, those closest to him have kept a prayerful vigil at the courthouse.
By Tariro Mzezewa, Nov. 22, 2021
Akeem Baker, one of Mr. Arbery’s best friends, has tried to watch every moment of the trial. Credit...Nicole Craine for The New York Times
Theawanza Brooks, an aunt of Ahmaud Arbery, was compelled to activism after his death. “I feel that every day that I go out,” she said, “I have to have some kind of representation of Ahmaud.” Credit...Nicole Craine for The New York Times
BRUNSWICK, Ga. — From the moment that Theawanza Brooks heard the initial account that her family was told about her nephew Ahmaud Arbery’s death, it felt off. The authorities, she said, reported that he had been involved in a burglary and killed after a tussle over a gun.
Her own trip to investigate the scene of his death — his blood still visible on the ground — made her only more skeptical. Nearly three months later, when a video became public showing Mr. Arbery being chased, cornered and then shot at close range, she felt vindicated and angry — an anger that has persisted nearly two years.
Ms. Brooks, 37, who works in retail, is among many members of Mr. Arbery’s large extended family and circle of friends who have been both grief-stricken and galvanized to action since his death in February 2020. Over the past month, as the case against the three men charged with murder has played out in the Glynn County Courthouse, they have watched with anguish as the gruesome details of the final moments of Mr. Arbery’s life — but nearly none of his humanity — were described to the jury. Part of the family’s role, Ms. Brooks said, is helping the public understand who her nephew was.
“This activism kicked in me that I never saw myself being a part of,” she said. “I feel that every day that I go out, I have to have some kind of representation of Ahmaud.”
Ms. Brooks has attended the trial regularly, filling notebooks with detailed descriptions of what is said by witnesses, lawyers and the judge. At the end of the day, she cross-references media coverage to make sure her notes are accurate before going live on Facebook to relay the day’s events to people around the world.
Diane Arbery, another of Mr. Arbery’s aunts, has been outside the courthouse all day, every day talking to supporters. So has Carla Arbery, an aunt whose children were especially close to Mr. Arbery. Ruby Arbery, still another of Mr. Arbery’s aunts, has brought home-cooked meals for family members and supporters. Mr. Arbery’s parents have attended every day of the trial, each arriving with his or her own lawyer, and sometimes sitting with high-profile civil rights activists, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
“I’ve been trying to watch every second, every minute because I don’t want to miss anything,” said Akeem Baker, one of Mr. Arbery’s best friends since childhood. “I feel like if I take my eyes off it, I don’t want anything to kind of slip through the cracks.”
Many of those closest to Mr. Arbery begin and end the day with a prayer. They pray throughout the day for the strength to keep watching. “We need prayer,” Diane Arbery said. “We’ve got to keep praying, and we ask everyone out there to keep praying for us.”
Last week, Black pastors from across the country joined the family in Brunswick in a show of support after a defense lawyer asked that Black pastors and civil rights leaders not be allowed in the courtroom because they could intimidate the jury.
“My heart is full of just joy in the midst of this broken heart,” Wanda Cooper-Jones, Mr. Arbery’s mother, told the assembled crowd before asking the pastors and activists to say her son’s name.
Ms. Brooks and Mr. Arbery’s other aunts were there too, wearing T-shirts that said, “It’s the Black pastors for me.”
Mr. Arbery, 25, was known to his family and friends as Maud or Quez. He had been a standout linebacker for the Brunswick High School Pirates and dreamed of playing professional football. He left town briefly to attend a technical school but eventually returned to the Brunswick area and was living with his mother. “His mom was his queen,” Mr. Baker said.
He liked rapping and listening to trap music. After a hard day, he sometimes went to Madge Merritt Park, near Brunswick, to rap to clear his mind. He had recently started a job doing landscaping work with his father, and he was also working at a truck wash, according to a friend. He also had a mental illness that caused him to have auditory hallucinations.
James Trimmings, who grew up and played football with Mr. Arbery, described his devotion to his friends. He said Mr. Arbery was always happy to babysit for his two children.
“If you called Maud and he didn’t pick up, he’d call you back,” Mr. Trimmings said. “But if you didn’t answer, he’d come find you because he worried you weren’t OK. Everyone should be so lucky to have a friend like Maud.”
The picture of Mr. Arbery painted by the lawyers for the men accused in his death has been difficult for the family to hear. One lawyer, building an argument that his assailants had reason to believe Mr. Arbery was responsible for a string of neighborhood break-ins, described him as “an intruder” who was caught four times on video “plundering around” a house under construction in the neighborhood.
Mr. Arbery’s aunts and grandmother said that the day the medical examiner spoke was the hardest. The testimony left no doubt in their minds that Mr. Arbery died afraid and alone.
Ms. Brooks has been focused on that moment since she first learned of her nephew’s death. Though she and Mr. Arbery had grown apart after he moved to a different part of town with his mother, they had spent considerable time together in the months before he was killed. She checked in on him every few days while his mother was out of town for work. He didn’t have a car, so she made sure he had groceries.
On Feb. 23, 2020, Ms. Brooks drove to the Satilla Shores neighborhood outside Brunswick as soon as she got off work — her disbelief at the news of Mr. Arbery’s death there compelling her to see for herself.
“I was distraught,” she said. She was surprised to see that the house her nephew was accused of burglarizing had no windows or doors; it was still under construction.
“Burglary,” she said. “It just kept playing in my mind, ‘How can you burglarize this?’”
Ms. Brooks began keeping track of local news articles mentioning Mr. Arbery, trying to piece together what happened. She wanted everyone to know what happened to her nephew and for his killers to be held accountable.
Eventually, three men — Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor William Bryan — were charged with murder. The case became among the most high-profile in the country, contributed to the national furor over shooting deaths of Black people and the wave of protests against systemic racism. In Georgia, it propelled lawmakers to enact hate crimes legislation and to largely dismantle the state’s citizen’s arrest law.
In the months since, Ms. Brooks has marched through the streets of Brunswick chanting Mr. Arbery’s name, knocked on doors telling residents the story of her nephew’s life and death and urged them to vote out the district attorney who initially refused to press charges against the suspects in Mr. Arbery’s killing. Her nephew’s name and likeness are on her car, her clothing, her jewelry.
“Travis McMichael got up there and talked about fearing for his son,” Ms. Brooks said. “Maud was someone’s son. What about the son he took away from Wanda and Marcus? The son that we love that we will never see again, who will never go home again?”
By Alan Leveritt, November 22, 2021
Mr. Leveritt is the founder and publisher of The Arkansas Times. His lawsuit against Arkansas’s anti-boycott law is being reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/22/opinion/israel-arkansas-bds-pledge.html
At The Arkansas Times, a publication I founded 47 years ago, our pages focus on small-scale local issues, like protecting Medicaid expansion from the predations of our state legislature and other elements of Arkansas politics, history and culture. So I was surprised when in 2018 I received an ultimatum from the University of Arkansas’s Pulaski Technical College, a longtime advertiser: To continue receiving its ad dollars, we would have to certify in writing that our company was not engaged in a boycott of Israel. It was puzzling. Our paper focuses on the virtues of Sims Bar-B-Que down on Broadway — why would we be required to sign a pledge regarding a country in the Middle East?
I understood the context of that email. In 2017, Arkansas pledged to enforce support for Israel by mandating that public agencies not do business with contractors unless those contractors affirm that they do not boycott Israel. The idea behind the bill goes back 16 years. In 2005, Palestinian civil society launched a campaign calling for “boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.” Around the world, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or B.D.S., as it became known, gained momentum. In response, Israel and lobbyists have used multiple strategies to quash the movement. In the United States, one such strategy took the form of anti-B.D.S. bills. Currently, more than 30 states have provisions on the books similar to Arkansas’s.
It soon became clear that The Arkansas Times had to answer our advertiser. Though boycotting Israel could not have been further from our minds and though state funding is a significant source of our income, our answer was no. We don’t take political positions in return for advertising. If we signed the pledge, I believe, we’d be signing away our right to freedom of conscience. And as journalists, we would be unworthy of the protections granted us under the First Amendment.
And so, instead of signing, we sued to overturn the law, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, on the grounds that it violates the First and 14th Amendments. We are still fighting it.
The Arkansas legislature is dominated by conservative evangelicals, such as the former Senate majority leader, Bart Hester. He is featured in the new documentary film “Boycott,” directed by Julia Bacha and produced by the group Just Vision. “Boycott” follows three plaintiffs, including me, challenging their states’ anti-boycott laws. In the film, Senator Hester explains that his religious belief motivates everything he does as a government official, including writing Arkansas’s anti-boycott law. He also explains his eschatological beliefs: “There is going to be certain things that happen in Israel before Christ returns. There will be famines and disease and war. And the Jewish people are going to go back to their homeland. At that point Jesus Christ will come back to the earth.” He added, “Anybody, Jewish or not Jewish, that doesn’t accept Christ, in my opinion, will end up going to hell.” Senator Hester and his coreligionists may see the anti-boycott law as a way to support Israel, whose return to its biblical borders, according to their reading of scripture, is one of the precursors to the Second Coming and Armageddon.
In other words, Senator Hester and other supporters of the law entwine religion and public life in a manner that we believe intrudes on our First Amendment rights.
These types of laws are not restricted to states in which fundamentalist Christians hold sway. In 2016, California passed a law requiring large contractors working with a state agency to certify that they will not discriminate against Israel, and Andrew Cuomo, as governor of New York, signed an executive order that compels state entities to divest money and assets from a list of organizations regarded by the state as participating in the boycott. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York proposed national anti-boycott legislation.
Let’s be clear, states are trading their citizens’ First Amendment rights for what looks like unconditional support for a foreign government.
When our case reached the Federal District Court in 2019, the state argued that boycotting was not political speech but rather an economic exercise and therefore subject to state regulation. We found that argument absurd. After all, our nation’s founding mythology includes the boycott of tea. Since then, boycotts have repeatedly been used as a tool of political speech and protest, from the Montgomery bus boycott to end segregation to the Delano grape strike protesting exploitation of farmworkers. University students throughout the country engaged in anti-apartheid boycotts of and divestment from South Africa. In 1982, the right to boycott as a method of collective political speech was upheld by a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in N.A.A.C.P. v. Claiborne Hardware Company.
And yet U.S. District Judge Brian Miller ruled against us. We appealed to the Eighth Circuit — and won — before a three-judge panel in February. But on June 10, a rehearing by the full Eighth Circuit was ordered. That hearing occurred on Sept. 21, and a decision is expected very soon. Frankly, we’re concerned it won’t go our way.
If we lose in the Eighth Circuit, our last hope is the Supreme Court. Ours isn’t the only case out there. In 2018 and 2019, federal courts in Texas, Arizona and Kansas ruled against their states’ anti-B.D.S. laws. If the Supreme Court rules against us, the other favorable rulings could be in jeopardy. Also concerning is that these states have since amended their anti-boycott laws, narrowing their scope so they apply only to companies with a large number of contractors and to public contracts that are more than $100,000 but without addressing what we see as the laws’ fundamental unconstitutionality.
Although the Arkansas press has covered the case, there has been little editorial support for or comment on our fight beyond that. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette signed the pledge — as did Arkansas Business, our business journal. And yet freedom of expression is a sacred American value and foundational to our democratic ideals.
If these anti-boycott laws are allowed to stand, get ready for a slew of copycat legislation. Texas passed two laws that went into effect on Sept. 1 — one prohibiting state agencies from conducting business with contractors that boycott fossil fuels and another preventing agencies from contracting with businesses that boycott firearm companies or trade associations.
What the outcome of The Arkansas Times’s lawsuit will be is unclear. One thing, however, remains crystal clear: These anti-boycott laws, allowing government to use money to punish dissent, will encourage the creation of ever more repressive laws that risk strangling free speech for years to come.
By José Luis Granados Ceja
—Truthout, November 23, 2021https://truthout.org/articles/socialists-secure-massive-victory-in-venezuelan-elections/?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=1a556484-4c8d-45e7-8a54-f40ca65d81ae
The United Socialist Party of Venezuela secured a resounding victory in Sunday’s regional and local elections, which were defined by the return of obstinate far right political parties to Venezuela’s democratic process after years of United States-backed destabilization efforts and violent regime-change plots.
Preliminary results from the country’s electoral authority showed Chavistas winning up to 20 of the 23 governorships that were up for grabs. The results cemented the ruling socialists’ dominance over a political opposition that has struggled to unite under a cohesive strategy and banner after years of violent political schemes that failed to oust President Nicolás Maduro from power despite the opposition having considerable bipartisan support from the U.S. political establishment, which maintains a punishing sanctions regime on the country.
United Socialist Party of Venezuela supporters and sympathizers celebrated their victory, taking to the streets even before results were announced.
“We believe it is significant that we won 20 of 23 of the state contests — the math does not lie,” said Abril Viscaya, a political organizer and member of Frente Revolucionario Artístico Patria o Muerte (or “Homeland or Death Revolutionary Artistic Front”), in an interview with Truthout. “We must remain on this pathway of participation; we are a people that are not willing to surrender in the face of unilateral coercive measures by the United States government.”
These elections saw races for 3,082 public offices, including 23 state governors, 335 local mayors, 253 regional legislators and 2,471 local councilors, and were accompanied by more than 300 international visitors invited by the National Electoral Council and political parties in Venezuela, as well as delegations from the European Union, the Carter Center and the Latin American Council of Electoral Experts (CEELA).
Martin Sereno, a regional lawmaker from the province of Misiones, Argentina, who accompanied the electoral process told Truthout that the vote was well organized, peaceful and marked by a festive atmosphere. “We also saw many adults and seniors that came to vote, and that speaks to the enthusiasm of the people to be able to elect their representatives and authorities,” said Sereno.
Nicanor Moscoso, head of the CEELA delegation, praised the organization of the election and said in a press conference that the process met international standards.
Venezuela has a rigorous system to prevent fraud, with voters having to present their identification, have their fingerprints scanned, and both sign and leave a thumbprint on a paper record. The South American country is one of few in the world that has an entirely electronic voting system which automatically produces a paper record that is then deposited into a ballot box in case of an audit. Political parties are also invited to have a representative at every polling location to supervise the process and the count.
Cybel González, one of the citizens tasked by the electoral authority with supervising a voter center in the municipality of Carrizal in the state of Miranda, told Truthout that in her center the process had taken place without incident with representatives from four political organizations present to scrutinize the vote.
Carlos Ruiz Patiño, a voter in the city of Los Teques, just outside the capital of Caracas, said he found the organization of the election to have been excellent, despite the additional safety protocols implemented in light of the pandemic.“Going out to vote is the most important thing,” said Ruiz.
The End of Violence in Venezuelan Politics?
With a history of sabotage by political forces interested in disrupting elections and rumors of potential violence, Venezuela mobilized a significant number of state security forces to provide security at the voting centers.
Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López, visiting one of the polling locations in the Coche Parish in Caracas, told Truthout that there had been no significant incidents in the country. “The people are the ones who will be the protagonists on this day, and they are doing it. The people of Venezuela have always demonstrated their civic duty,” said Padrino.
Certain elements of the political opposition, particularly those close to self-declared “interim” President Juan Guaidó and his Popular Will Party, have in the recent past staged months-long violent street protests known as guarimbas. Guaidó himself, along with his mentor, former Chacao Municipality Mayor Leopoldo López, unsuccessfully tried to stage a military coup.
The insurrectionary strategy proved unsuccessful, being largely rejected by the Venezuelan people, leading Guaidó to tepidly endorse a return to an electoral strategy, with other hardline parties more emphatically calling for an end to violent tactics.
“The people of Venezuela have said ‘no’ to that violence and have come out in massive numbers to vote,” said Padrino. “They have said ‘no’ to interventionism, ‘no’ to political violence, ‘yes’ to democracy, ‘yes’ to harmony, ‘yes’ to coexistence, and this is another example of what the Venezuelan people want.”
A sizeable portion of the opposition had, until recently, opted for the insurrectionary strategy and called on their supporters to boycott the election over the past three electoral cycles, which played a role in a drop in voter turnout.
As a result, with the return of nearly all of the political parties, much attention was paid to the voter turnout in these elections. The National Electoral Council reported a turnout of nearly 42 percent, a figure in line with turnout in previous regional elections in Venezuela and notably, higher than the turnout in presidential elections in neighboring Chile, which also held its vote on Sunday.
The return of the hardline political opposition was the product of complex negotiations between the government and opposition. The efforts to bring the political opposition back to the democratic process facilitated the participation of an election observation mission from the EU, which had not accompanied Venezuelan elections since 2006.
The participation by nearly 100 EU observers is widely considered a first step for the lifting EU sanctions, which together with U.S. sanctions, have significantly contributed to rising poverty and hunger in the country as the government struggles to sell oil, Venezuela’s single most important export commodity.
Nonetheless, ahead of the vote there was significant tension between Venezuelan politicians and Josep Borrell, the high representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, with President Maduro and even representatives of the moderate opposition Democratic Alliance emphasizing that Venezuelan elections are sovereign processes, and that their legitimacy would not derive from the EU or its mission.
Those tensions largely dissipated during Sunday’s vote with the head of the EU mission, Isabel Santos, saying the vote was proceeding “calmly” and Maduro noting that the mission had respected the Venezuelan constitution. The EU is expected to release its full report this week.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the vote, saying that the Venezuelan government “deprived Venezuelans yet again of their right to participate in a free and fair electoral process” but did not point to any flaws in the voting process. Instead, he alleged the government “grossly skewed the process.”
Blinken also reaffirmed U.S. support for Popular Will opposition leader Guaidó’s claim to the presidency and gave no indication there would be any easing of sanctions. The statement also pinned the blame for the lack of opposition unity on Maduro. The Venezuelan opposition is notorious for its infighting, a fact made evident by an incident just days before the vote with an opposition activist assaulting a rival candidate in the state of Bolívar.
The disappointing result for the opposition and the U.S.’s affirmation of support for Guaidó’s claim despite a lack of support inside Venezuela paints a grim picture for the opposition’s future. With part of the opposition betting on participating in elections and the Guaidó camp clinging to its claim to the presidency despite not exercising any real power, the opposition continues to send contradictory messages to its supporters.
Meanwhile, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela has emerged from this contest all the more stronger.
By Charles M. Blow, November 24, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/24/opinion/guilty-verdict-ahmaud-arbery.html
Nicole Craine for The New York Times
All three defendants in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery were found guilty of murder.
Arbery was jogging through a South Georgia neighborhood. The men formed a posse that became what has been described as a “lynch mob.” They stalked Arbery, hunted him down, insisted on detaining him, and then one of the men — Travis McMichael — blasted him three times with a shotgun.
It was caught on video, ironically by one of the men now convicted of the murder.
The guilty verdicts landed oddly for me. This was the right decision, the way it should have gone. There was an impulse to celebrate the victory, but it felt a bit like celebrating a mother caring for her children or respecting a spouse.
If you are humane, this is what you do, not because there is a need for fanfare, but because it is the right and honorable way to behave.
But that’s just it: Our justice system is so racially biased, so often allowing vigilantes and police officers to kill Black people with impunity, that simply having the system not perform in that way becomes extraordinary.
I want to applaud possibility.
I want to clap and shout and dance because I need to be assured that while the racism that ails America may be chronic and metastatic, it needn’t be unfailing and terminal.
I, like many Black people and many people of all races and ethnicities who value justice and equity, needed to be reminded that the lives of Black people are valued in this country — at least on occasion.
We have seen so many cases in which those lives appeared not to matter. Trayvon. Tamir. Eric. Breonna. There are so many names over so many years. The drumbeat of injustice is unrelenting. At a certain point, against your own best efforts, your senses begin to grow numb. The spirit and the mind and the body move to protect themselves from the trauma.
You become conditioned to Black pain. You adjust to its ubiquity.
That is not to say that each case doesn’t destroy a little piece of you, that you don’t grieve each loss and protest each injustice, but rather that psychic survival becomes an act of self-regulation.
And in that vein, the verdicts in this case are a welcome respite.
That doesn’t mean that this case wasn’t without its own issues of inequality and elusive justice.
The police initially did not charge the men and they remained free men for more than two months until the video was made public. The former prosecutor in the case has been indicted on charges that she sought to shield the men from prosecution.
And when the jury was chosen, it was composed of 11 white people and only one person of color.
But in the end, justice still prevailed. The system that has given so many killers of Black men a pass said that in this case, you can’t hunt and corner a man like an animal and take his life.
Of course none of this will change the fact that Arbery was murdered. Nothing can bring him back. Nothing can ease the ache in his mother’s heart. But at least the pain was not compounded the way it was in other cases.
I dare not say that this one case teaches us much about the American justice system. I dare not say that it demonstrates a trend or a shift. There is simply too much evidence to the contrary.
I will only say that a shooting star that streaks across the night sky, that disrupts the darkness, is worthy of being noticed and appreciated. It doesn’t alter the night. It doesn’t convert it into day. It comes without warning, a phenomenon onto itself, not a herald for others to follow.
That is how I will view the verdict in this case: I will simply appreciate it.
I will pray that it provides hope for the scores of other families out there suffering as Arbery’s family is, that it is possible that justice will also be achieved in their cases, that at least for a precious few families, the system works in their favor.
Ahmaud Arbery was a person, a man, a human being with a future and a family. With the blasts of a shotgun, his murderers destroyed all that. They stole from him. They stole from the people who loved him. They stole from the world.
Wednesday’s verdict goes a bit of the way in setting that right.
8) I Was With Family. Suddenly, a White Man Appeared with a Gun.
By Danté Stewart, Nov. 24, 2021
Mr. Stewart is a writer and speaker on race, religion and politics. He is the author of “Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle.”
“The Broken Five” by Rashid Johnson.Credit...Courtesy of Rashid Johnson, Hauser & Wirth and David Kordansky Gallery
There is a memory I will never forget. It sits in my body like a nightmare. It crept from my feet, up to my stomach and into my mind as my ears heard “not guilty” and “Kyle Rittenhouse” in the same sentence. I sighed. “Damn,” I said, my body getting a little hot from the anxiety and the rage. “Damn.”
The memory emerges again as my eyes behold Ahmaud Arbery’s face and that of his mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones. It pierces my ears as I hear the words of his father, Marcus Arbery, as he describes what he has seen in the courtroom as “devastating.” It sits in my mouth bitterly as I see Travis McMichael and Gregory McMichael and William Bryan as they sit in the courtroom, watched by all of us.
And I can still taste the fear even after the words “guilty … guilty …guilty” travel Wednesday from Judge Timothy Walmsley’s mouth.
My mind tries to forget, but my body remembers.
It is June 2008. I am barely 16. In the heat of a South Carolina summer, just two weeks after my body went down in and back up out of the baptismal pool, the white garments sticking to my body like swimming trunks, I am traveling on a back road with my sister, two brothers and a cousin. As my 25-year-old brother Depaul drives our mother’s old silver Cutlass, we bob our heads to Tupac and then to Bone Thugs and then to Outkast and then to Missy Elliott. We’re on our way to my aunt’s house to celebrate another cousin’s graduation.
We hear a clank in the car, a rumble, a puzzling noise. Depaul stops on the shoulder of the road, which is barely the shoulder of the road because we’re in rural South Carolina, to take a look. To our right is an old trailer home with a garden next to it. It is beautifully Southern. I am sitting in the back seat, playing with my seatbelt.
An old white man comes out of the house and stands on the porch, about 30 feet away. He starts yelling something at us. Apparently he thinks we’ve thrown some trash in his yard. The yells are chilling. They are the yells of someone who wants to ruin us.
I see his eyes. They are dark, piercing. He sees us, but he refuses to see us. He does not see playfulness or youthfulness or the Bible that rests underneath the passenger seat. He sees a threat.
“You be here when I get back!” the old man yells, and he rushes into his house.
“I don’t give a damn about you,” Depaul yells back.
I see the rage take over Depaul’s body. I see that he is willing to stand for us and, if need be, to die for us. But more than that, he wants to protect us. So he runs. He runs back to the car, jumps in and speeds off.
The anxiety — nah, more than that — the terror takes over my body when suddenly —
He’s shooting at us.
My brothers. My sister. My cousin. Children.
I can barely catch my breath. The first thing I know to do is to run my hands down my body to make sure I wasn’t hit. My hands tremble as I pat my body. My sister is crying. Depaul is cursing. We are all afraid. I am confused. Why did he shoot at us? Why did he want to kill us? Why am I so afraid? Why can’t I stop shaking?
We made it home that day. But my hands wouldn’t stop trembling. My body wouldn’t stop shaking. I learned at church that baptism saved us from ourselves and from the wrath of God. But it did not save our bodies from the wrath of man.
No amount of prayers could save it. No amount of Sunday school lessons or math problems or names on the back of orange jerseys or degrees from academic institutions could save my body from American terror.
This was 53 years after Emmett Till’s mutilated body appeared in the pages of Jet magazine for the world to see. It was four years before the news of Trayvon Martin shot by George Zimmerman; it was six years before people would stare at the lifeless body of Mike Brown as he lay face down on the hot Ferguson, Mo., concrete for four hours; it was eight years before my eyes burned in anguish as I and so many others saw the executions of Alton Sterling and then of Philando Castile; and 12 years before the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
And as I’ve watched the trials that we are forced to endure, I see that we are killed twice: in the streets, in our homes, on our runs; and in the eyes of others as they blame us for our deaths and sit in courtrooms to justify their destruction.
“If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem,” Stokely Carmichael, the civil rights organizer, is said to have stated. “If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude; it’s a question of power.”
That’s what damns us: white power. It is white power, and the addiction to it, that forces us to live in a country where Black teens are seen as guilty adults and are killed while white teens can kill people but be seen as innocent kids. It is white power that sees a young man running in the Georgia furnace as someone who must be punished. It is white power that moves people to use the court and the classroom and the church and the concrete as the site of terror and suffering. It is white power that wants to erase us.
But we cannot be erased. Just last week, I looked at an image of Ahmaud that I can hardly get off my mind.
His eyes are dark. His forehead has the marks of acne but also the softness of a smile. His jaw is strong. “Bruh, you ain’t got it like I got it,” we would say to one another in high school as we brushed our waves likes his in one hand and motioned our other hand from the back of our head to the front. We would do it again. Smiling. Then we would do it again and smile again. “Nah, bruh,” one of my boys would say to me, “I got it. We all got it.”
Ahmaud had it too. His dark, serious eyes stare back at me. I wonder what he feels, what he has seen, what he knows and what dreams sit in his body. I see him. He sees me. I know him. He knows me.
Then there is another image. It is one that I have returned to again and again during the trial.
Ms. Cooper-Jones sits in the corner of the courtroom. Her eyes are filled with sorrow, even as the gold buttons on her blue dress shine with light.
I see in his mother’s eyes the same thing I saw in my mother’s eyes when she heard about the white man who tried to destroy us: her sleepless nights, our first steps, our scoring touchdowns as she cheered, her singing over and praying over our restless bodies. The difference: Ms. Cooper-Jones’s child, her beautiful, dark child, did not survive. And that haunts me.
Some of us live. Some of us die. And what remains is how we remember and show up and fight to make sure that we are free and that justice, if it is not a present experience, will become our children’s inheritance. For whatever they inherit will be as much about what we hold in our bodies as we hold in our minds and hands and stomachs and hearts. For they will hold what we held: memories of terror and stories of the ways in which some of us have pushed back against the power of whiteness. Their bodies will hold what we held: the miracle of Black aliveness.
We do not just remember the death. We remember the life, the beauty, the art, the feeling, the waiting, the living. We remember it all. It is not trauma porn. It is, as Dr. Courtney Baker calls it, humane insight.
We do not just stare down the barrel of the white gun even as it stares at us. We do not live at the mercy of the white gavel. The white gaze is not our gaze. For we do not live at their mercy. We do not see us as they see us. We can be looked upon with sacredness. We are alive, we are breathing, we are here. This world is cold and looks upon us to snatch our joy and suffocate our ability to be free. But we catch our breath.
“It actually happened,” I text my wife, Jasamine. “They’re guilty,” I write. I smile. I am still sad. Ahmaud should be here. This is not justice but at least, in the eyes of the law, his life was not in vain.
I think about his mother. I think about his father. I think about so many Black mothers and so many Black fathers who still grieve and who still hold on to the memories of their children, their smell, the way they smiled and laughed. I think about all we have lost. I am tired. I know that we must remain, even as so many are gone. We are exhausted, but we catch our breath again.
His letter to two senators about beatings by U.S. troops in Iraq led to legislation in 2005 prohibiting extreme mistreatment of military prisoners.
By Sam Roberts, Nov. 23, 2021
The Army officer Ian Fishback on Capitol Hill in 2005. His reports of the abuse of prisoners in Iraq led to the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act with overwhelming bipartisan support. Credit... Jamie Rose for The New York Times
Ian Fishback, an Army whistle-blower whose allegations that fellow members of the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq routinely beat and abused prisoners prompted the Senate to approve anti-torture legislation in 2005, died on Nov. 19 in Bangor, Mich. He was 42.
His family said in a statement that the cause had not been determined. He died in an adult foster care facility, the climax to a distinguished but abbreviated career that the family said had begun to unravel as a result of neurological damage or post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was admitted to the facility following court-ordered treatment with anti-psychotic drugs after he had become delusional and created public disturbances, his family said.
Major Fishback was one of three former members of the 82nd Airborne who said soldiers in their battalion had systematically abused prisoners by assaulting them, exposing them to extreme temperatures, stacking them in human pyramids and depriving them of sleep to compel them to reveal intelligence — or, in some cases, simply to amuse the soldiers. He said his complaints were ignored by his superiors for 17 months.
Major Fishback reported some of the abuses in September 2005 in a letter to top aides of two senior Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee: John W. Warner of Virginia, the chairman, and John McCain of Arizona. The aides said his reports were sufficiently credible to warrant investigation.
More allegations by two other members of the division were included in a report released later that month by Human Rights Watch.
“Ian’s greatest quality is not his courage, but his humanity,” Christopher Nicholson, a friend, wrote on gofundme.com, where by the time of Major Fishback’s death friends had raised more than $18,000 toward a goal of $60,000 to transfer him to the Austin Riggs Center, a private psychiatric treatment facility in Stockbridge, Mass.
“I always marveled at the way he could shoot at and be shot at by terrorists, watching his friends die in battle, then in the very next instant risk himself to demand that the prisoners be treated with decency,” Mr. Nicholson wrote. “I remember I once called him an expert on warfare, and he looked mildly offended and responded that he was an expert on justice.”
In his letter to the senators, Major Fishback said troops were often torn among the imperatives of doing what they were trained to do, following field manual instructions, obeying their superiors’ orders and responding to the exigencies of actual combat.
“I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment,” he wrote. “I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq.”
“Do we sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve security?” he continued. “Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice?”
He concluded his letter: “I strongly urge you to do justice to your men and women in uniform. Give them clear standards of conduct that reflect the ideals they risk their lives for.”
Later in 2005, the Senate voted 90 to 9 to approve Senator McCain’s Detainee Treatment Act, which prohibited “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” although subsequent amendments carved out caveats.
Time magazine named Major Fishback one of the 100 most influential people in the world that year.
Ian Fishback was born on Jan. 19, 1979, in Detroit. His parents, John and Sharon Fishback, were both rural letter carriers.
He grew up in Newberry, a village of about 1,500 on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that bills itself as the state’s “official moose capital.” In 1997 he graduated from Newberry High School, where he excelled in football and wrestling and achieved a 3.953 grade point average (out of 4) and where, his father said, he decided to pursue a military career.
“He was looking for a way to do better in the world,” said Justin Ford, a boyhood friend who organized the funding drive. “He was looking for structure.”
Major Fishback graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree in Middle Eastern studies in 2001. He served in the Army until 2014, including two combat tours with the 82nd Airborne and two with the Fifth Special Forces Group.
“He had all the scars from it,” Brig. Gen. Stephen N. Xenakis, a retired medic who had worked with Major Fishback since 2005 on human rights issues, said in a phone interview.
“It was not that he was a perfectionist,” General Xenakis added. “I think he wrestled with understanding what are the principles, what am I supposed to do, how am I supposed to organize my conduct and thinking? He was intent on doing what he thought was ethical.”
Major Fishback earned a master’s degree in philosophy and political science at the University of Michigan in 2012, taught at West Point from 2012 to 2015, and earned his doctorate at Michigan. In his thesis, dated this year, he explored the questions of when a war is just, when a soldier has a moral justification to disobey orders, and what the scope of his responsibility is both for doing harm and for allowing harm to be done.
His marriage to Clara Hoisington, a fellow West Point graduate, ended in divorce. He is survived by their young daughter; his parents, John Fishback and Sharon Ableson; his stepmother, Sharon Brown; and his sister, Jazcinda Jorgensen.
Mr. Ford, his friend from boyhood, described Major Fishback as a “moral absolutist.”
“If I asked him to help me bury a body, he would turn me in,” Mr. Ford said. “He would have been a great moral compass for this country.”
But Nancy Sherman, an ethicist who taught at the Naval Academy and Georgetown University and who befriended Major Fishback, said that “with his fierce sense of doing what’s right at all costs came a certain moral loneliness.”
Major Fishback said several years ago that his original testimony on abuses had been discredited by the Army, in part because doctors said he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Although he was promoted to major from captain, he decided to leave the Army and the United States altogether. He moved to Sweden to accept a Fulbright scholarship, worked for a human rights organization, applied for European Union citizenship and sought, he said, to “make sure Europe is able to fend off the United States and Russia.”
“I’m done,” he told Carol Stiffler, the editor of the weekly Newberry News and a former classmate of his sister’s, in January 2020. “I gave the U.S. a lifetime of service — very admirable service. And if this is the repayment, it is not acceptable.”
At the time, his father called him “a natural-born warrior” who “was simply standing up for the rule of law.”
Major Fishback’s departure was delayed by the pandemic, though, and he returned home from Sweden after his life had begun to fall apart.
He began receiving psychotropic drugs and was involuntarily committed in September, when his behavior became erratic, resulting in an arrest at a football game. His father said that as of last month Major Fishback was still depressed, but that he was “ditching his demons” and “coming back to reality.”
“We know the community supported Ian through his recent difficult times,” the Fishback family said in its statement. “He faced many challenges, and many of us felt helpless. We tried to get him the help he needed. It appears the system failed him utterly and tragically.”
“We will seek justice for Ian,” the statement concluded, “because justice is what mattered most to him.”
When students in Pittsford, a suburb of Rochester, returned to school in the fall, a disturbing video of a white student threatening to kill Black people renewed concerns about racism.
By Jesse McKinley, Nov. 27, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/27/nyregion/pittsford-racism.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=New%20York
Jaylen Wims, with his mother, Carletha Simmons, lives in East Rochester but attends high school in Pittsford under a voluntary desegregation program. Credit...Malik Rainey for The New York Times
PITTSFORD, N.Y. — When students in the town of Pittsford, N.Y., an affluent suburb just outside Rochester, flowed back into schools this fall, something troubling emerged: a video of a white student brandishing a gun and making a racist threat.
“People be like, ‘Why do you carry a gun?’” the boy says in the short clip, pulling out the weapon. To kill Black people, he answered, using a racial slur.
For some parents and students, the video has laid bare what they say is a larger pattern of racist incidents in the largely white town where local officials are now scrambling to address those concerns.
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said the teenager, who has been suspended and has not returned to school, was not an immediate danger, noting the weapon was an air pistol and that the video was recorded months ago. But that assessment has done little to quell concerns of parents who say their children have endured racial taunts and other incidents with little consequences for their harassers.
“It’s not an isolated incident,” said Tharaha Thavakumar, who is of Sri Lankan descent and is the mother of a 14-year-old freshman in the school district. “It’s something that’s ingrained. And it isn’t going away.”
As the shock of the video continued to percolate, the town’s school district was buffeted by a pair of new allegations, accusing Pittsford students of taunting Black students from another high school — including making monkey noises and using a racial slur — during two soccer games in late September.
The Pittsford district said an investigation found no evidence of such behavior, while officials from the rival high school — in nearby Greece, N.Y. — said their staff found the claims credible.
The suggestion that Pittsford could be at the center of another racist incident prompted agonized responses from school leaders and officials in the town of some 30,000 people, where charming old houses sit on large lawns with white-picket fences.
Pittsford’s main street is home to boutiques, salons and a 19th-century Town Hall, and its two high schools — among the best academically in the state — are surrounded by beautifully maintained sports fields. The median household income is more than $120,000, according to census figures.
Almost the entire adult population has a high-school degree or better, in a town whose school system includes nine schools total and some 5,500 students.
In an interview, Michael Pero, the superintendent of Pittsford’s schools, stressed that the school district is grappling with the same forces as American society as a whole.
“I don’t think that anyone wants to have racism attached to their organization, their community, their schools,” he said. “But I also don’t want to sugarcoat this and say racist acts don’t happen in Pittsford, because they do. It’s a national issue, it’s something we’re all working through.”
In early November, the school district announced the hiring of an “equity and diversity coordinator,” with a wide-ranging mandate that includes increasing its tiny number of nonwhite teachers and administrators, as well as curriculum evaluation and supporting “restorative practices” in classrooms.
That comes on the heels of a series of “listening circles” for parents and students, held by two groups devoted to encouraging emotional health in children and helping communities heal in the aftermath of racist incidents.
But for upset parents like Ms. Thavakumar, such measures are far too meek to address more entrenched problems, including a nearly complete lack of Black teachers in the district. A 2016 investigation by WXXI, a local public radio station, found that just one of the district’s nearly 500 teachers was Black.
The district says diversity hiring has increased in recent years: As of this fall, it says the district has 13 teachers or administrators who identify as people of color — about 2.2 percent of the entire number of “certificated staff” — and 53 employees in that category districtwide.
The Pittsford schools are part of the Urban-Suburban program, a voluntary desegregation plan that brings students from the Rochester city school district to wealthier schools outside the city limits.
One of those students, Jaylen Wims, a senior who lives in Rochester, said he and other Black friends regularly endured “some sort of iffy or racist incident.” And while the gun video upset him, it didn’t surprise him.
“The magnitude of it made it an outlier, but in terms of having something occur? No,” he said.
In 2019, there were local media reports of a swastika and a slur for Black people carved in a desk. The same year, the school district found itself embroiled in a controversy after a Black History Month exhibit at a Pittsford elementary school mistakenly had photos of white men instead of the Black inventors who were being recognized. And earlier this year, the school district apologized for a fourth-grade worksheet which suggested that enslaved Africans had “agreed to work for colonists” in exchange for a trip to the New World.
Local leaders say the problems within the school district are a reflection of the town’s struggles to grapple with racism.
In 2016, a series of fliers directing people to a white supremacist website were anonymously left on residents’ driveways in Pittsford and a neighboring town. Those fliers prompted strident denunciations from local officials, as well as antiracism rallies and the formation of a group of concerned local residents — PittsForward — committed to “addressing systemic and institutional racism.”
The next year, Pittsford elected its first Black man to the town board, Kevin Beckford, a first-generation Jamaican immigrant and former bank executive. Inspired to run by the racist fliers, he says he realized that “there’s some underlying issues that were really kept under the covers here” because of concerns about the town’s reputation as a desirous place to live and educate children.
One of the first Democrats elected to the town board after a decades-long domination by Republicans, Mr. Beckford, 56, says one telling moment in his first campaign came when he was petitioning to get on the ballot in 2016, and finding that few residents would open their door. He altered his strategy, allowing a white campaign volunteer to knock and then introduce him.
“They would be friendly to me,” he said. “But it was just that notion of opening the door to a Black person.”
Much of the debate over racism has played out online, with social media posts from some members of the community who felt that accusations against students were false. Some Democrats also expressed concerns about racism in the run-up to local elections.
One of those candidates was Kendra Evans, a Democrat who fell short in an attempt to oust William A. Smith Jr., a Republican, as town supervisor. Ms. Evans, who is white and the mother of three adopted children — all of whom are people of color — says her children began “experiencing micro- and macro-aggressions back in elementary school.”
That includes Grace, her 15-year-old daughter, who is Haitian and recalls being called a racist vulgarity in fourth grade. And at a recent rally on the steps of Town Hall, Grace plead with Mr. Smith and Mr. Pero to do more to confront the problem.
“Racism isn’t new here,” she said, “and neither is us asking for help.”
Mr. Smith says that the recent incidents “are not at all representative of our town or its people,” noting a 2018 resolution he sponsored affirming Pittsford’s embrace of “residents from myriad national, ethnic and religious backgrounds.”
Mr. Smith, who has been town supervisor since 2014, also supported the creation of a volunteer “equity review board,” but in a video posted from last year on the PittsForward Facebook page, Mr. Smith struck a more skeptical tone.
“We live in this era of rigid cultural orthodoxy which frankly makes the medieval church look liberal by comparison,” Mr. Smith says.
He continues: “It has its own holy trinity: diversity, equity and inclusion. Which, from my perspective, diversity means everyone is supposed to look different and they are all supposed to think alike; an equity that’s based on massive inequities toward whole groups of people; and a concept of inclusion which means excommunication for those who do not recite the catechism syllable for syllable.”
Asked why he made this statement, Mr. Smith said he was trying to express “what I consider to be the important distinction between what I and most people think of as diversity and equity and inclusion and what a small, extreme group of voices in our town mean by them.”
As the town board and school district look for answers, the recent episodes have also sparked a robust response from students in the district, who staged a walkout in late September to protest the school’s response to the incidents, organized by a student group called Diversify Pittsford.
Ameera Duarte, the group’s founder, said that the school district could take a major step by “listening to students of color and taking them seriously and then actually acting on what they say they are going to do.”
“They need to work on showing us that they actually care and want to help,” said Ms. Duarte, who is 16 and a junior at Pittsford Sutherland High School.
State Senator Samra G. Brouk, a first-term Democrat who graduated from Pittsford Sutherland in 2004, said that the reports of racist behavior were sadly familiar.
Senator Brouk, who is Black, said that she and her younger brothers — also past Pittsford students — had endured racial slurs while they were students there. “The difference now is our young people now have the language. They know there is support and they can be more vocal about experiences.”
By Cybèle C. Greenberg, Nov. 26, 2021
Ms. Greenberg is a fellow with the editorial board and a former active-duty Marine officer.
Illustration by Rebecca Chew/The New York Times; photograph courtesy of the Vassas family
Anne Vassas loved being a Marine.
She was always smiling. Younger members of her unit saw Corporal Vassas, 20, as something like a mother. Stationed in Iwakuni, Japan, she was re-enlisting for a second tour.
So it came as a shock when Corporal Vassas took her own life in August 2019, a month before her 21st birthday.
Six months after her death, her father was surprised to discover among her belongings pages from a sexual assault report she filed in October 2018. A military investigation into Corporal Vassas’ death later found that she may have been sexually assaulted on three occasions while serving in uniform.
The death of Corporal Vassas, and other deaths like hers, raises questions regarding the military’s ability to care for its service members who experience sexual trauma. In many cases, untreated trauma can have deadly consequences.
There are numerous misconceptions about military suicide. Despite the stereotypes, there is no significant association between combat deployments and the rate of suicide, according to a study in JAMA Psychiatry.
Some experts say that it would be more accurate to blame the problem on the military’s culture of intensity and violence that extends well beyond the battlefield. That includes toxic relationships between service members and continued stigma surrounding those seeking help. It is perhaps no coincidence that the Army and the Marine Corps — the two branches founded on an infantry culture, in which the perception of strength trumps all else — experience the highest suicide rates.
A report by the Defense Department inspector general this month indicates that although the number of sexual assault complaints has doubled in the past decade, the services often cut corners when it comes to investigating and prosecuting them.
Sexual trauma is associated with an increased risk of suicide and is more likely than combat to lead to post-traumatic stress for both men and women. While combat troops get time to recover from their deployments, victims of sexual trauma are often sidelined or forcibly discharged, according to Don Christensen, a retired Air Force officer who is president of Protect Our Defenders, a nonprofit that works to end sexual violence in the military.
Many victims of sexual violence actually experience trauma twice: once, at the hands of the offender, and a second time, at the hands of the institution they serve.
In a July report, the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military found that many of those who reported sexual violence regretted doing so. The backlash often compounds the trauma of the actual assault.
Worse still, some service members attempt suicide after speaking up and seeking help. Studies show that the perception of betrayal by the military bureaucracy in the aftermath of sexual assault is associated with severe depression and self-inflicted violence. Women who served in the military are at 2.5 times the risk for suicide compared to their counterparts who did not.
According to the investigation into her death, Corporal Vassas tried reporting her sexual assaults several times. But the reporting process was perilous. During her initial training, she said that she had been forcibly kissed by another Marine. But when investigators reminded her that having a relationship with another trainee was prohibited, she withdrew her complaint.
While stationed in California, Corporal Vassas told two of her childhood friends that an officer had interrupted another Marine pushing her up against the wall of his room and taking her pants off without her consent, after both had been drinking. She was disciplined over this incident because she was not supposed to be in the barracks for men.
The inquiry into her death suggests that the officer who reprimanded Corporal Vassas ignored the assault and that a military investigator believed she may have been lying about the incident “to get out of trouble for being in the wrong barracks.”
But her medical record tells a different story. Her heightened depression and anxiety can be traced back to late 2018 and were likely “due to the stress induced by the sexual assault” in the barracks, according to a behavioral health assessment. It was also around this time that Corporal Vassas started voicing suicidal ideations to her friends, including one text message that read, “I can’t live with this pain.”
But in February 2019, she was given a clean bill of health and cleared to deploy to Japan. There, Corporal Vassas may have been sexually assaulted yet again, according to Marines in her unit.
Six months after her arrival in Iwakuni, Corporal Vassas was dead.
The contours of her story are all too similar to those of other servicewomen. In May an Army specialist, Kaylie Harris, 21, who reported she was raped by a man after she came out as gay, died by suicide. In 2018 an Army private, Nicole Burnham, 21, died by suicide after incidents in which male soldiers held her down against her will and photographed and assaulted her. Despite some fellow soldiers calling her a “whore,” “slut” and “deserving of rape” after she reported the attacks, the Army was slow to transfer her out of South Korea, according to an investigation by CBS News. In 2009 a 20-year-old Marine, Carri Leigh Goodwin, died from acute alcohol poisoning after, according to a lawsuit, she was raped twice and bullied by her commander for reporting the second rape.
Many factors have contributed to a recent increase in suicide rates for military personnel, and they’re not entirely well understood. The accessibility of guns certainly plays a role: The most common method of suicide across the military is death by firearm. The White House recently announced regulations that will increase the availability of secure gun storage and safety devices.
More research is also needed on the possible correlations between military suicide, the protracted length of recent wars and the rise in traumatic brain injuries from increased exposure to improvised explosive devices.
Despite years of effort and tens of millions of dollars invested in prevention research and programs, suicide continues to afflict military communities. Last year there was a statistically significant increase in the rate of suicide deaths by active duty troops in all services — the highest rate since 2008, when the Pentagon began keeping detailed records, according to the Defense Department’s latest annual suicide report.
An independent Pentagon commission established this year prefaced its findings on sexual trauma with a letter to service members: “We heard you.”
But in at least some important ways, no one listened to Corporal Vassas, Specialist Harris, Private Burnham or countless other service members who experienced unbearable trauma while serving their country.
Many military units still do not take sexual trauma or mental health as seriously as they should and often treat suicide awareness training as a perfunctory exercise. Few active duty military leaders speak out about their own struggles coping with trauma. Those who do often face derailed careers — something that discourages junior troops from speaking up and seeking help themselves.
Ultimately, it is only genuine, supportive human connections with other service members, leaders and veterans — those who believe and understand them — that will save young American troops from feeling there is no way out.