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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 firstname.lastname@example.org
- 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
Reality Winner Tests Positive for COVID, Still Imprisoned
With great anguish, I’m writing to share the news that NSA whistleblower Reality Winner, still in federal prison, has tested positive for COVID-19. Winner, despite her vulnerable health conditions, was denied home release in April – the judge’s reasoning being that the Federal Medical Center, Carswell is “presumably better equipped than most to deal with the onset of COVID-19 in its inmates”.Since that ruling, COVID infections at Carswell have exploded, ranking it now as second highest in the nation for the number of cases, and substantially increasing the likelihood that its medical capacity will be overwhelmed.This news comes one week after Trump’s commutation of convicted felon Roger Stone, and two months after the home release of Trump’s convicted campaign manager, Paul Manafort:Donald Trump’s commutation of Roger Stone’s prison sentence is galling on numerous levels. It’s a brazen act of corruption and an egregious obstruction of an ongoing investigation of the President and his enablers. There are few figures less worthy of clemency than a Nixonian dirty trickster like Stone. But the final twist of the knife is that Reality Winner, the honest, earnest, anti-Stone of the Russian meddling saga, remains in federal prison.
Please share this with your networks, and stand with us in support of Reality Winner and her family during this critical time.
Thank you,Jesselyn Radack
Whistleblower & Source Protection Program (WHISPeR)
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Subject: Shut Down Fort Hood! Justice for Vanessa Guillén. Sign the petition!
SHUT DOWN FORT HOOD NOW!JUSTICE FOR
PFC. VANESSA GUILLÉN!
Sign the Petition
In late April, Pfc. Vanessa Guillén went missing from her base in Ft. Hood, Texas. It took her family and friends working night and day to appeal to the commanding officers to get any attention whatsoever about her whereabouts. Vanessa had told her family she had been sexually harassed by her supervisor.For more than three months, Vanessa’s higher-ups paid little attention to her family’s urgent pleas to investigate her disappearance. She was treated as being disposable.In late June, her body was found 25 miles from the base. Vanessa had been tragically murdered by her abuser who later killed himself upon capture.The unspeakable crimes against Vanessa Guillén have opened a floodgate of testimonies about sexual assault in the military. Many women and LGBTQ2S+ people are telling their heartbreaking stories with the hashtag #iamvanessaGuillén.Vanessa’s death is a result of sexual harassment in the military, which is deplorable. Fort Hood is the worst. According to the Pentagon’s own reports, it has the most sexual assaults of any Army post in the country. That is why it must be shut down now!In addition, Fort Hood, the single biggest military post in the U.S. armed forces, is named after a Confederate general. Its name glorifies racism and slavery.When Vanessa Guillén enlisted in the Army, she thought she’d be doing good and it would be helpful to her. Instead, it destroyed her. But how could it not when the military exists not to help people, but to defend Wall Street? It invaded and still occupies Iraq and Afghanistan, killing millions, just for oil profits.The case for Justice for Vanessa is very much linked to the movement for Black Lives. Young people of color must have other options than police violence or going to war for their future.WE DEMAND:•Investigate Fort Hood Commanding General Robert White and others for conspiracy to cover up Pfc. Vanessa Guillén’s murder. Why did it take a mass movement to find what happened?
•Shut down Ft. Hood! There is no other way to end the deplorable conditions soldiers face.
•Job training, education, COVID-19 relief, not war! If we shut down the Pentagon, the annual U.S. defense budget of $1 trillion could be used for people’s needs, not war.
•End misogyny and homophobia in the military. Justice for Vanessa and all survivors.
147 W 24th St.
New York City, NY 10011
This legacy belongs to all of us:
“Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed the forest to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries. . . Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature–but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.” The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man 1876. —Friedrich Engels
Marvin Gaye - What's Going On (Official Video 2019)
BlackRock loves to make a killing on killing: Over a thousand Americans have been killed by Tasers — 32 percent of them are Black Americans. Tasers are made by the colossal law enforcement supplier Axon Enterprise, based in Arizona.
One of their top shareholders happens to be Blackrock. Recently Blackrock has been trying to be sympathetic to the atrocities of murders waged on Black Americans and communities of color. If we ramp up massive pressure and blow the whistle on their deadly stocks, we can highlight that divesting from Tasers and the war in our streets will be a step in the right direction in building a fair and just society.
This issue is important to having peace in our streets. But this will only work if people participate. Send an email to Blackrock to divest from the Taser manufacturer Axon Enterprise which is responsible for the killing of thousands of Americans, and CODEPINK will pull out all the stops to make sure Blackrock execs hear our call:
Blackrock could do this. They recently announced that they were divesting from fossil fuels — signaling a shift in their policies. If CEO Larry Fink cares about “diversity, fairness, and justice” and building a “stronger, more equal, and safer society” — he should divest from Tasers.
Plus, compared to Blackrock’s other holdings, Taser stocks aren’t even that significant!
But if Blackrock does this, it could be the first domino we need to get other investment companies on board too. Send an email to BlackRock and share this widely!
If there’s one thing our community stands for, it’s peace and social justice. And one way we can help achieve that is by cutting off the flow of cash into the manufacturing of Tasers. So, let’s come together to make that happen, and help prevent more innocent Americans from being killed with these senseless tools.
Nancy, Carley, Jodie, Paki, Cody, Kelsey, and Yousef
To update your email subscription, contact email@example.com.
If you haven't seen this, you're missing something spectacular:
On Saturday May 30th filmmaker and photographer David Jones of David Jones Media felt compelled to go out and serve the community in some way. He decided to use his art to try and explain the events that were currently impacting our lives. On day two, Sunday the 31st, he activated his dear friend author Kimberly Jones to tag along and conduct interviews. During a moment of downtime he captured these powerful words from her and felt the world couldn’t wait for the full length documentary, they needed to hear them now.
So what has protesting accomplished?
👉🏾Within 10 days of sustained protests:
Minneapolis bans use of choke holds.
👉🏾Charges are upgraded against Officer Chauvin, and his accomplices are arrested and charged.
👉🏾Dallas adopts a "duty to intervene" rule that requires officers to stop other cops who are engaging in inappropriate use of force.
👉🏾New Jersey’s attorney general said the state will update its use-of-force guidelines for the first time in two decades.
👉🏾In Maryland, a bipartisan work group of state lawmakers announced a police reform work group.
👉🏾Los Angeles City Council introduces motion to reduce LAPD’s $1.8 billion operating budget.
👉🏾MBTA in Boston agrees to stop using public buses to transport police officers to protests.
👉🏾Police brutality captured on cameras leads to near-immediate suspensions and firings of officers in several cities (i.e., Buffalo, Ft. Lauderdale).
👉🏾Monuments celebrating confederates are removed in cities in Virginia, Alabama, and other states.
👉🏾Street in front of the White House is renamed "Black Lives Matter Plaza.”
Military forces begin to withdraw from D.C.
Then, there's all the other stuff that's hard to measure:
💓The really difficult public and private conversations that are happening about race and privilege.
💓The realizations some white people are coming to about racism and the role of policing in this country.
💓The internal battles exploding within organizations over issues that have been simmering or ignored for a long time. Some organizations will end as a result, others will be forever changed or replaced with something stronger and fairer.
🌎 Protests against racial inequality sparked by the police killing of George Floyd are taking place all over the world.
🌎 Rallies and memorials have been held in cities across Europe, as well as in Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand.
🌎 As the US contends with its second week of protests, issues of racism, police brutality, and oppression have been brought to light across the globe.
🌎 People all over the world understand that their own fights for human rights, for equality and fairness, will become so much more difficult to win if we are going to lose America as the place where 'I have a dream' is a real and universal political program," Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to the US, told the New Yorker.
🌎 In France, protesters marched holding signs that said "I can't breathe" to signify both the words of Floyd, and the last words of Adama Traoré, a 24-year-old black man who was subdued by police officers and gasped the sentence before he died outside Paris in 2016.
🌎 Cities across Europe have come together after the death of George Floyd:
✊🏽 In Amsterdam, an estimated 10,000 people filled the Dam square on Monday, holding signs and shouting popular chants like "Black lives matter," and "No justice, no peace."
✊🏽 In Germany, people gathered in multiple locations throughout Berlin to demand justice for Floyd and fight against police brutality.
✊🏾 A mural dedicated to Floyd was also spray-painted on a stretch of wall in Berlin that once divided the German capital during the Cold War.
✊🏿 In Ireland, protesters held a peaceful demonstration outside of Belfast City Hall, and others gathered outside of the US embassy in Dublin.
✊🏿In Italy, protesters gathered and marched with signs that said "Stop killing black people," "Say his name," and "We will not be silent."
✊🏾 In Spain, people gathered to march and hold up signs throughout Barcelona and Madrid.
✊🏾 In Athens, Greece, protesters took to the streets to collectively hold up a sign that read "I can't breathe."
✊🏾 In Brussels, protesters were seen sitting in a peaceful demonstration in front of an opera house in the center of the city.
✊🏾In Denmark, protesters were heard chanting "No justice, no peace!" throughout the streets of Copenhagen, while others gathered outside the US embassy.
✊🏾 In Canada, protesters were also grieving for Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old black woman who died on Wednesday after falling from her balcony during a police investigation at her building.
✊🏾 And in New Zealand, roughly 2,000 people marched to the US embassy in Auckland, chanting and carrying signs demanding justice.
💐 Memorials have been built for Floyd around the world, too. In Mexico City, portraits of him were hung outside the US embassy with roses, candles, and signs.
💐 In Poland, candles and flowers were laid out next to photos of Floyd outside the US consulate.
💐 And in Syria, two artists created a mural depicting Floyd in the northwestern town of Binnish, "on a wall destroyed by military planes."
Before the assassination of George Floyd some of you were able to say whatever the hell you wanted and the world didn't say anything to you...
THERE HAS BEEN A SHIFT, AN AWAKENING...MANY OF YOU ARE BEING EXPOSED FOR WHO YOU REALLY ARE. #readthatagain
Don't wake up tomorrow on the wrong side of this issue. Its not to late to SAY,
"Maybe I need to look at this from a different perspective."
"Maybe I don't know what its like to be black in America..."
"Maybe, just maybe, I have been taught wrong."
There is still so much work to be done. It's been a really dark, raw week. This could still end badly. But all we can do is keep doing the work.
WE ARE NOT TRYING TO START A RACE WAR; WE ARE PROTESTING TO END IT,
How beautiful is that?
ALL LIVES CANNOT MATTER UNTIL YOU INCLUDE BLACK LIVES.
YOU CANNOT SAY 'ALL LIVES MATTER' WHEN YOU DO NOTHING TO STOP SYSTEMIC RACISM & POLICE BRUTALITY.
YOU CANNOT SAY 'ALL LIVES MATTER' WHEN BLACK PEOPLE ARE DYING AND ALL YOU COMPLAIN ABOUT IS THE LOOTING.
YOU CANNOT SAY 'ALL LIVES MATTER' WHEN YOU ALLOW CHILDREN TO BE CAGED, VETERANS TO GO HOMELESS, AND POOR FAMILIES TO GO HUNGRY & LOSE THEIR HEALTH INSURANCE.
DO ALL LIVES MATTER? YES. BUT RIGHT NOW, ONLY BLACK LIVES ARE BEING TARGETED, JAILED, AND KILLED EN MASSE- SO THAT'S WHO WE'RE FOCUSING ON.
🖤🖤🖤BLACK LIVES MATTER🖤🖤🖤
IF YOU CAN'T SEE THIS, YOU ARE THE PROBLEM.
*I do not know the original author*
Copy & paste widely!
BLACK LIVES MATTER
Ultimately, the majority of human suffering is caused by a system that places the value of material wealth over the value of
human life. To end the suffering, we must end the profit motive—the very foundation of capitalism itself.—BAUAW
(Bay Area United Against War Newsletter)
Ultimately, the majority of human suffering is caused by a system that places the value of material wealth over the value of
human life. To end the suffering, we must end the profit motive—the very foundation of capitalism itself.
(Bay Area United Against War Newsletter)
I didn't do nothing serious man
please I can't breathe
I can't breathe
I can't breathe
man can't breathe, my face
just get up
I can't breathe
I can't breathe sh*t
I can't move
my stomach hurt
my neck hurts
some water or something
I can't breathe officer
don't kill me
they gon' kill me man
come on man
I cannot breathe
I cannot breathe
they gon' kill me
they gon' kill me
I can't breathe
I can't breathe
please I can't breathe"
Then his eyes shut and the pleas stop. George Floyd was pronounced dead shortly after.
By ShakaboonaTrump Comic Satire—A Proposal
Write to Shakaboona:Smart Communications/PA DOCKerry Shakaboona Marshall #BE7826SCI RockviewP.O. Box 33028St. Petersburg, FL 33733
Enough is Enough: Global Nuclear Weapons
Veterans Join Call for a Global Ceasefire
www.couragetoresist.org ~ 510.488.3559 ~ facebook.com/couragetoresist
Oakland, CA 94610-2730
"The biggest block from having society in harmony with the universe is the belief in a lie that says it’s not realistic or ￼humanly possible."
"If Obama taught me anything it’s that it don’t matter who you vote for in this system. There’s nothing a politician can do that the next one can’t undo. You can’t vote away the ills of society people have to put our differences aside ban together and fight for the greater good, not vote for the lesser evil."
—Johnny Gould (Follow @tandino415 on Instagram)
When faced with the opportunity to do good, I really think it’s the instinct of humanity to do so. It’s in our genetic memory from our earliest ancestors. ￼It’s the altered perception of the reality of what being human truly is that’s been indoctrinated ￼in to every generation for the last 2000 years or more that makes us believe that we are born sinners. I can’t get behind that one. We all struggle with certain things, but I really think ￼￼that all the “sinful” behavior is learned and wisdom and goodwill is innate at birth. ￼ —Johnny Gould (Follow @tandino415 on Instagram)
Major Tillery, a prisoner at SCI Chester and a friend of Mumia, may have caught the coronavirus. Major is currently under lockdown at SCI Chester, where a coronavirus outbreak is currently taking place. Along with the other prisoners at SCI Chester, he urgently needs your help.
500 E. 4th St.
Chester, PA 19013
Telephone: (610) 490-5412
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (Prison Superintendent). email@example.com (Superintendent's Assistant)Please also call the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections at:Department of Corrections
1920 Technology Parkway
Mechanicsburg, PA 17050
Telephone: (717) 737-4531
This telephone number is for SCI Camp Hill, which is the current number for DOC.
Reference Major's inmate number: AM 9786
Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgDemand that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections immediately:
2) Disinfect all cells and common areas at SCI Chester, including sinks, toilets, eating areas and showers;
3) Provide PPE (personal protective equipment) for all inmates at SCI Chester;
4) Provide access to showers for all prisoners at SCI Chester, as a basic hygiene measure;
5) Provide yard access to all prisoners at SCI Chester;
6) Provide phone and internet access to all prisoners at SCI Chester;
7) Immediately release prisoners from SCI Chester, including Major Tillery, who already suffers from a compromised immune system, in order to save their lives from execution by COVID-19.
It has been reported that prisoners are now receiving shower access. However, please insist that prisoners be given shower access and that all common areas are disinfected.
The Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
‘I have been given two options: either resign or get fired.’
By Joan C. Williams, Aug. 6, 2020
Employers are using the pandemic to get rid of mothers, and our attempts to protect them are failing.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was enacted this spring for the express purpose of providing workers with expanded family and sick leaves for reasons related to Covid-19 and its accompanying school and child care closings. But between April and June, caregiver-related calls to our hotline at the Center for WorkLife Law, which provides legal resources to help workers claim workplace accommodations and family leaves, increased 250 percent compared to the same time last year. We’ve heard from lots and lots of workers, many of them mothers. And the stories they’re sharing make it clear that Families First is falling short.
One single mom is ineligible for Families First, which excludes health care workers, emergency responders and those who work for companies with over 500 employees. She has no child care options for her 6-year-old and 8-month-old. She exhausted all of her paid leave options while on maternity leave. “I have been given two options: either resign or get fired,” she told us. She resigned. She’s one of an estimated 106 million people not guaranteed coverage under the act.
Even those who appear to be covered by Families First often end up losing their jobs. A single mom wanted to begin to work part time, taking Families First leave for a few days each week. She felt this worked well, but at the time, taking leave in chunks was allowed only if the employer agreed to it. Hers ultimately didn’t — and she was fired. (On Monday, a federal judge in New York ruled it illegal for employers to refuse intermittent leaves; the Trump administration will likely appeal that decision.)
One grocery worker was able to return to work — provided it was on the same part-time schedule she had always worked. But when she asked for that, her employer cut her to zero hours and ghosted her, refusing to respond to queries about why those hours had been reduced, whether she was laid off, what was happening. She’s out of luck unless she can prove her termination was discriminatory, which is often hard and sometimes impossible.
We heard from another single mother whose daughter has a disability that makes her especially vulnerable to Covid, and who had successfully worked from home since near the beginning of the pandemic. She was fired because her employer insisted she return to the office, which she couldn’t do without putting her daughter at risk. If a worker has an underlying medical condition, sometimes we can get them telecommuting as an accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act. But if they need to telecommute to protect the health of a relative, typically they’re out of luck.
We know that Covid-related job loss has disproportionately affected women. We also know that the women we’re hearing from aren’t quitting because they don’t want to work; they’re being driven out by a combination of family care requirements and employer rigidity. And when workers try to push back, they face a labyrinth of laws that are often ineffectual.
Figuring out whether you’re eligible for Families First is so complicated that a chart explaining the program looks like a game of Chutes and Ladders. It seems clear that many states understand neither Families First nor a companion program known as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
Traditionally, workers have been denied unemployment when they leave a job because of a lack of child care; Pandemic Unemployment Assistance explicitly reversed this until the end of the year. If calls to our hotline are any indication, many employers don’t know that, and some states have set up Byzantine systems that ask workers to apply for standard unemployment and get rejected before they apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. (To add to the chaos, Virginia announced a policy of denying unemployment insurance to workers whose kids’ camps are closed — a clear violation of the act, as the Department of Labor recently reiterated.) The end result is that many mothers find that once they have been pushed out, employers derail their unemployment claims on the grounds that they left their jobs for personal reasons.
One single mother of two found herself without day care and had no income for two months while the state twice deemed her ineligible for unemployment benefits. Another couldn’t even appeal her state’s decision because of a faulty internet connection. We hear from low-income women who have to return to work, leaving small children home alone. Now they worry someone will call Child Protective Services and they will lose their children.
Recently, we’re hearing a lot from mothers whose 12-week Families First leaves are running out, and who still have no option for child care. If schools aren’t given the resources to open safely this fall, there’s going to be a blood bath. As it is, we may well be facing a generational wipeout of mothers’ careers: research shows that when mothers leave the labor force it hurts their economic prospects for decades, often permanently. A society that pushes mothers out of their jobs is a society that impoverishes both mothers and children.
We’re in this mess because, even before coronavirus, the legal protections for working mothers consisted of a convoluted matrix of federal, state and local laws. Mothers who want time and space for pumping breast milk turn to not-very-enforceable provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Mothers who need pregnancy accommodations often turn to the Americans With Disabilities Act. Mothers fired when a disabled child’s health care costs cause their employer’s insurance costs to skyrocket turn to a tax law. The lack of straightforward legal protections is just one of many ways that public policy fails mothers; the haphazard nature of Families First is merely one symptom of a broader problem.
This crisis should help us finally recognize that mothers are raising the next generation of citizens; motherhood is not a private frolic like hang gliding. In June, Senator Cory Booker introduced legislation that would, in a simple and straightforward way, protect all mothers — and fathers, and other family caregivers — from employment discrimination. That’s long overdue but we need much more. If, God and Wisconsin willing, Democrats win in November, we also need nationwide paid family leave and what many other advanced industrial countries also have: neighborhood-based, nationally financed child care to replace the patched-together Rube Goldberg machine that just broke.
Joan C. Williams is a professor of law and director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings, College of the Law.
Washington’s police chief took the blame. But Nixon was behind the decision.
By Lawrence Roberts, Aug. 6, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/06/opinion/nixon-trump-protests-military.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
In the spring of 1971, Richard Nixon found himself in a situation not unlike President Trump’s. His approval rating was falling — in Mr. Nixon’s case, to a first-term low — just as an energetic social movement was hitting the streets. Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Nixon was tempted to use military force to counter those dissenters. And like the current president, Mr. Nixon and his aides found a way around the Pentagon’s resistance.
The occasion was the most audacious plan yet by the six-year-old movement against the Vietnam War. A group called the Mayday Tribe organized a traffic blockade of Washington under the slogan “If the government won’t stop the war, we’ll stop the government.”
As the Mayday action unfolded on May 3, twin-engine Chinook helicopters roared down by the Washington Monument, disgorging troops from the 82nd Airborne Division, who trotted off to the Capitol and other hot spots. In all, the administration summoned 10,000 soldiers and Marines, turning “the center of the nation’s capital into an armed camp with thousands of troops lining the bridges and principal streets, helicopters whirring overhead and helmeted police charging crowds of civilians with nightsticks and tear gas,” according to a New York Times report. More than 12,000 people were swept up over three days, the largest mass arrest in U.S. history.
John Dean, the Nixon aide who flipped on his boss in the Watergate scandal, wrote recently in The Times: “Never once did I hear anyone in the Nixon White House or Justice Department suggest using United States military forces, or any federal officers outside the military, to quell civil unrest or disorder. Nor have I found any evidence of such activity after the fact, when digging through the historical record.”
Mr. Dean and I were there on Mayday (he was inside the White House; I was on the streets). He has suggested that the troops were called by city officials, not Mr. Nixon, and in any case weren’t used offensively to quell the blockade. I also dug through the historical record, for a new book on those events, and came to quite a different conclusion. What I found in White House tapes, in minutes of planning meetings and in the papers of Mr. Nixon’s aides, including those of his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, and his chief domestic adviser, John Ehrlichman, left no doubt that a half century ago, a president under siege resorted to military force and mass arrests for political gain.
The Mayday protest was the finale of an extraordinary season of dissent. After Mr. Nixon expanded the Vietnam War into Laos, hundreds of thousands of protesters arrived in Washington for a variety of events. Among them were Vietnam veterans, “flower children,” self-styled revolutionaries and pacifists. Veterans hurled medals onto the Capitol’s steps. Quakers held pray-ins. A mass march, almost surely the biggest the city had seen, stretched along the National Mall. Then, on the first weekend in May, more than 40,000 people gathered by the Potomac River for the Mayday action.
The antiwar movement had already helped turn public opinion against Mr. Nixon’s conduct of the war. He was determined to deny activists a victory that could cause further political damage. He blasted them in private with rants like “Little bastards are draft dodgers, country-haters or don’t-cares.”(If Mr. Nixon had access to Twitter, his tweets would have been eerily similar to Mr. Trump’s.) He instructed aides to ensure the blockade would fail and, as one put it, didn’t care if it took 100,000 troops, and if they came up short, “someone will be in big trouble.”
Mr. Nixon’s men convened a war council with representatives of the police, the military and the National Guard. Presiding was the deputy attorney general, Richard Kleindienst. Washington didn’t yet have home rule, so the police chief, Jerry V. Wilson, answered to the White House. Mr. Kleindienst and Mr. Ehrlichman batted away objections from Chief Wilson and Army Lt. Gen. Hugh Exton, who questioned Mr. Kleindienst’s demand for 10,000 regular troops, given that thousands of police and guardsmen were already available. They suggested such force might do more to inflame the situation than calm it. Separately, Pentagon officials told Mr. Kleindienst that his plan “to combat dissent,” as they characterized it, might not comport with the rules. They reminded him of the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which generally bans active duty troops from law enforcement.
Mr. Kleindienst overrode their concerns with an opinion from the Justice Department’s legal counsel, William Rehnquist, who had been his protégé in their home state, Arizona. Mr. Rehnquist said the act didn’t apply; the president had “inherent constitutional authority” to use troops “to protect the functioning of the government.” (Mr. Rehnquist would be named to the Supreme Court by Mr. Nixon later that year and elevated to chief justice under President Ronald Reagan.)
Mr. Kleindienst faced another obstacle. David Packard, the deputy secretary of defense, pointed out the procedures a president should follow, under the Insurrection Act, in calling forth the military: a formal order that demonstrators disperse and, if they don’t, an executive order to send in troops. Mr. Nixon’s predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, had done this during the riots in Washington in 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The White House, however, wanted to keep its involvement under wraps. According to Mr. Haldeman’s diary, Mr. Nixon let Mr. Packard know he wanted troops sent without any public presidential action. The White House spread the fake news that city officials had requested the military help.
In contrast, Mr. Trump has been open about his desire to send troops to “dominate” streets in cities with Black Lives Matter protests. After Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, stood in the way of using active-duty military, the president dispatched forces from agencies including Customs and Border Protection. In June, those agents cleared peaceful demonstrators from Lafayette Square outside the White House for the president’s now-famous photo op in front of a church. In Portland, Ore., they used tear gas and other riot tools to disperse largely peaceful protesters outside the federal courthouse.
During the 1971 Mayday action, as 12,000 people tried to snarl rush-hour traffic with nonviolent civil disobedience, a majority of the regular troops fended off protesters at bridges and federal buildings, or guarded large groups of detained protesters. Most soldiers didn’t confront demonstrators directly, but their presence and hardware bolstered the authoritarian tactics and escalated tensions. A police dragnet swept up 7,000 people that Monday, including many young people just walking on the streets wearing hippie-style clothing, and took in more than 5,000 other demonstrators over the next two days. My research confirmed that Mr. Nixon gave the order to make the mass arrests. He made it clear later to a group of conservative members of Congress: “The point is, I had the responsibility,” he told them. “I approved this plan.”
As criticism mounted that the dragnet was unconstitutional (courts ultimately agreed, awarding detainees millions in damages), Mr. Nixon’s involvement was suspected. The White House denied it. Aides instructed the police chief, Mr. Wilson, to take the heat. “I wish to emphasize the fact that I made all tactical decisions relating to the recent disorders,” he said in a public statement. “I took these steps because I felt they were necessary to protect the safety of law-abiding citizens and to maintain order in the city.” The tapes show Mr. Nixon’s men were delighted.
“Wilson went to the mat today,” Mr. Ehrlichman confirmed to Mr. Nixon. “Good for him!” the president said. Mr. Ehrlichman added, “We programmed him to do this this morning, and he did better than you could possibly have programmed.” He went on: “He has never let us down yet.”
No military leader expressed second thoughts in the weeks after Mayday.
But in June, after General Milley accompanied Mr. Trump to Lafayette Square wearing combat fatigues as protesters were dispersed by federal agents and police, he said he regretted taking part.
“We must hold dear the principle of an apolitical military that is so deeply rooted in the very essence of our republic,” General Milley told graduates of National Defense University. “And this is not easy. It takes time and work and effort, but it may be the most important thing each and every one of us does every single day. And my second piece of advice is very simple: Embrace the Constitution.”
Lawrence Roberts, a former editor at ProPublica and The Washington Post, is the author of “Mayday 1971: A White House at War, a Revolt in the Streets, and the Untold History of America’s Biggest Mass Arrest.”
How expanding opportunity for women, immigrants and nonwhite workers helped everyone — and why we need to do so again.
By Jim Tankersley, Aug. 6, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/06/opinion/middle-class-prosperity.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
A new book of photos documents the human impact of the bombings that ended World War II — and challenges a common American perception of the destruction in Japan.
By Mike Ives, Aug. 6, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/06/world/asia/hiroshima-nagasaki-japan-photos.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
In August 1945, a Japanese newspaper sent a photographer from Tokyo to two cities that the United States military had just leveled with atomic bombs.
The photographer, Eiichi Matsumoto, had covered the firebombings of other Japanese cities. But the scale of the calamity that he encountered in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he later recalled, was on another level.
At a Red Cross hospital near Hiroshima’s ground zero, he met victims dotted with red spots, a sign of radiation sickness. And on the desolate, rubble-strewn streets of Nagasaki, he watched families cremating loved ones in open-air fires.
“I beg you to allow me to take pictures of your utmost sufferings,” Mr. Matsumoto, who was 30 at the time, said he told survivors. “I am determined to let people in this world know without speaking a word what kind of apocalyptic tragedies you have gone through.”
Mr. Matsumoto, a photojournalist for the Asahi Shimbun newspaper who died in 2004, is among dozens of photographers who bore witness after the bombings, which forced Japan’s surrender and ended World War II.
Some of their images, banned until the American occupation ended in 1952, were eventually exhibited in museums and other venues across Japan. They also became fodder for antinuclear activists waging nonprofileration campaigns.
But in the United States, the photographs are still virtually unknown.
“Americans, when they think about atomic war, think about the mushroom cloud,” said Benjamin Wright, a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin who helped curate “Flash of Light, Wall of Fire,” a new book of photographs about the 1945 bombings.
“Perhaps they think of a destroyed city, but it’s very much a bird’s-eye view,” Mr. Wright said by telephone.
The book, published this month by the University of Texas Press to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the bombings, attempts to change that. It includes images from more than a dozen Japanese photographers, starting with Mr. Matsumoto’s photo of a Hiroshima wall clock that stopped at the moment when a nuclear bomb detonated above the city in a flash of light.
Hiding the negatives
Even though the two bombs, which fell on Aug. 6 and 9, killed more than 200,000 people in the two cities and injured many others, the United States enforced a ban, in both countries, on photographs that showed the civilian impact.
For seven years, photographers who had documented the bombings hid negatives from American and Japanese officials wherever they could — in a locker, in Mr. Matsumoto’s case. But after the United States occupation ended in 1952, hidden negatives began to trickle into public view, and books about the atomic bombings were published weeks later.
Michiko Tanaka, a newspaper reporter in Hiroshima who wrote the new book’s afterword, said in an email that even today, the Japanese public remains interested in survivor testimonies, historical documents and other visceral reminders of the atomic bombings.
“In my mind, the photographs are a powerful medium and play a crucial role in furthering our understanding of the circumstances surrounding the atomic bombing,” she said.
But aside from a 1952 Life magazine feature about the bombings, Mr. Wright said, whatever public memory existed of them in the United States was effectively eclipsed by other conflicts, including the wars in Korea and Vietnam.
A shared goal
The idea of publishing in the United States images from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings was first proposed to the University of Texas at Austin in 2017 by the Anti-Nuclear Photographers’ Movement of Japan, one of the organizations that have worked for decades to collect and preserve such photographs.
The group was seeking an American publisher because it worried about rising tensions enveloping North Korea, Japan and the United States at the time, and it wanted to broadcast its antinuclear message to a wider audience. Through an intermediary, it approached the Texas university’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, whose collection includes photographs of the Vietnam War by the American photojournalist Eddie Adams.
Because the atomic bombings have stirred bitter arguments in both Japan and the United States for decades, any book about them would clearly have an “intrinsic controversial nature,” Hank Nagashima, the intermediary for the antinuclear group, wrote in an email to the Briscoe center’s executive director in 2018.
“By the same token, we believe it is the right time to present the dreadful consequences that no words can describe of the nuclear weapons once deployed,” he wrote.
The center’s director, Don Carleton, said that while he initially worried that the Japanese group might use the project to “assign war guilt,” it turned out that the two sides had a simple goal in common: educating the public about the horrors of nuclear war. The association eventually agreed to make its photos available as a digital archive at the university, starting in 2021.
“I was very leery of this whole thing because I was afraid there was going to be an agenda,” Dr. Carleton said. “And there was an agenda — but it was the same one I was interested in.”
Misery, up close
Survivors of atomic bombings often used the term pika-don. It translates as “flash-bang” or “flash-boom” and describes how nuclear weapons produce blinding light before an explosion.
Even though many Americans associated the bombings with the multistory mushroom clouds they produced, Japanese survivors found that their term “captured the dazzling sight and thundering sound of the misery they experienced up close,” the University of Texas historian Michael B. Stoff wrote in an essay for the new book.
When the two bombs were detonated, thermal heat from the explosions seared human skin and vaporized some people instantly. “The closer to ground zero and the more exposed you were, the more horribly you were likely to die, but the less likely you were to be aware of it,” Professor Stoff wrote.
Those who survived woke up in a moonscape.
In Hiroshima, an estimated 140,000 of the city’s 350,000 people were killed, and the vast majority of structures were either damaged or destroyed. Japanese Navy submarines were left abandoned in a nearby bay.
Feelings of powerlessness, desperation and defeat “all came together,” Shigeo Hayashi, who traveled there on assignment for a military propaganda magazine, recalled in a 1991 interview for the Japan Photographers Association’s newsletter. “I pressed the shutter button almost unconsciously to capture the scene in front of me.”
In Nagasaki, Mr. Matsumoto saw bonfires and assumed they were for cooking. Later, he realized that people were cremating their relatives because the bodies had putrefied.
Photographers who covered the bombings might have sensed that the assignment was dangerous, but at the time, even medical experts did not fully understand the health risks of exposure to nuclear radiation.
Decades later, Mr. Matsumoto met with Soviet photographers who had covered the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. They asked what type of protective gear he had worn in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said he replied, according to the 1991 newsletter. He and his colleagues had “absolutely no idea” about the health risks, he added, so they wore ordinary clothing.
People in rural areas are killed in police shootings at about the same rate as in cities, but victims’ families and activists say they have struggled to get justice or even make themselves heard.
By Jack Healy, Aug. 6, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/06/us/hannah-fizer-police-shooting.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
SEDALIA, Mo. — Seven weeks had passed, and still there were no answers. So once again, a small cluster of friends and family gathered in the leafy courthouse square and marched for Hannah Fizer, an unarmed woman shot and killed by a rural Missouri sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop.
“Say her name! Hannah!”
“Prosecute the police!”
Their chants echoed protests over police killings in Minneapolis, Louisville, Atlanta and beyond. But this was no George Floyd moment for rural America.
Though people in rural areas are killed in police shootings at about the same rate as in cities, victims’ families and activists say they have struggled to get justice or even make themselves heard. They say extracting changes can be especially tough in small, conservative towns where residents and officials have abiding support for law enforcement and are leery of new calls to defund the police.
“It’s like pulling teeth,” Ms. Fizer’s mother, Amy, said.
The deputy who shot Ms. Fizer has not been charged or disciplined, and Ms. Fizer’s parents say they have not received any updates about the investigation into her June 13 death. They said that investigators never interviewed them, and that the sheriff declined to tell them the name of the deputy who shot her.
Over the weeks, the rallies for Ms. Fizer tapered from a hundred protesters to a couple dozen. Every Saturday morning, they wave signs and ask passing cars to honk in support of the 25-year-old woman with a big grin and flower tattoo, who loved swimming and Chinese takeout and dreamed of having children, and of a larger life beyond her night-shift job at a gas station. Her family and friends have become her movement.
“We’re just doing it all on our own,” Amy Fizer said.
There are hundreds of stories of law enforcement killings in small towns and rural areas, but scant research into how and why they happen. One analysis by FiveThirtyEight found that between 2013 and 2019 there was a slight rise in shootings by officers in rural and suburban areas and a decline in big cities. Experts say rural shootings may be tied to higher rates of gun ownership, a lack of mental health services, or insufficient training for officers responding to people in crisis.
Ms. Fizer’s parents said they know only the barest facts about what happened the night she died.
She spent the last day of her life splashing around in a kiddie pool with her best friend, Taylor Browder, and Ms. Browder’s young children, talking about life and her future in Sedalia, an old railroad town of 21,000 people that is home to the Missouri State Fair. Ms. Fizer had attended the Sedalia Police Department’s citizen’s academy in 2016 but quickly decided she did not want to become a cop. She sometimes talked about working as a parole officer.
Ms. Browder said that Ms. Fizer headed home to the apartment she shared with her boyfriend to take a nap and shower before her overnight shift at the Eagle Stop gas station on the western edge of town.
At about 10 that night, a Pettis County sheriff’s deputy pulled her over for speeding. In an interview, Sheriff Kevin Bond said that the deputy “met with verbal resistance” when he walked up to Ms. Fizer’s car and that he told investigators she claimed she had a gun and threatened to kill him.
Ms. Fizer’s friends and family have a hard time believing that. Ms. Fizer’s boyfriend owned a gun, they said, but in a conservative county where the Second Amendment is sacrosanct, Ms. Fizer did not like guns or carry one.
Investigators later found five shell casings by the driver’s side door of her Hyundai, but no gun in her car.
David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, said the prevalence of guns may explain why cities and rural areas have nearly equal rates of law enforcement killings even though murders and violent crime rates tend to be higher in cities.
More than half of the people fatally shot by rural officers were reported to have a gun, according to a seven-year tally by Mapping Police Violence. Ms. Fizer was among the roughly 10 percent who were unarmed.
Ms. Fizer and the deputy who shot her were both white, a common dynamic in shootings that occur in overwhelmingly white, rural parts of the country. Black and Hispanic people are killed at higher rates than white people in rural areas, but the demographics of rural America mean that about 60 to 70 percent of people killed by law enforcement there are white, according to an analysis by Harvard researchers.
Unlike in other cases that have galvanized efforts to change policing, there is no body camera footage of the shooting. The sheriff’s office stopped using body cameras after software problems and a crash on the hard drive that recorded the data. Fixing it was “just cost prohibitive” for a rural sheriff’s office where money is tight and starting pay for deputies is $26,000, Sheriff Bond said.
Sheriff Bond said there had been no prior use-of-force complaints against the deputy who shot Ms. Fizer. The deputy, who has not been named, was put on paid leave, and the sheriff said he immediately called in the Missouri State Highway Patrol to handle the scene and investigate the shooting.
The Highway Patrol finished its investigation last week and handed over a report to the Pettis County prosecuting attorney, who had a special prosecutor appointed. Ms. Fizer’s family said they have not been told about the results of the report, and have been following developments through the news.
“If this would’ve happened in the city, something would have been done by now,” said Haley Richardson, a friend who said Ms. Fizer was kindhearted and stood up for vulnerable people. “We’re going to stay out here. We just want answers.”
Ms. Fizer’s relatives said that a divide in money and class between them and authorities in Pettis County had made them feel like second-rung citizens. Ms. Fizer was not rich, and members of her family had been in and out of prison and struggled with drug addictions.
“If you’re on the outer fringes of society you’d know,” Amy Fizer said. “They pull you over. They do what they want, when they want.”
Some of Ms. Fizer’s friends and relatives said they had already been outraged by Mr. Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis police custody, which happened about three weeks before Ms. Fizer was shot. They joined Black Lives Matter rallies as the movement spread throughout small towns across America.
But they also emphasized that they did not want to abolish the police. They supported law enforcement. Just not this deputy, or this sheriff. The aftermath of the shooting led to calls for Sheriff Bond to resign and prompted a police sergeant in suburban Kansas City to challenge the sheriff in November’s election.
“You have law enforcement running around without any body cameras, dash cameras, the minimal equipment,” said the challenger, Brad Anders, who lives in Sedalia. “The investigation, whatever it may reveal, is never going to be enough. There are questions that will never be answered.”
The anger over Ms. Fizer’s death exploded on local Facebook groups. Sheriff Bond said people had threatened to publish his home address and harassed and threatened a deputy and his family, and he warned that “instigators” were using Ms. Fizer’s death to sow “social chaos.”
When a statue of a World War I “doughboy” infantryman honoring veterans was vandalized in July in the town square — an incident unrelated to the protests for Ms. Fizer — his officers opened an investigation and arrested an 18-year-old on vandalism charges.
“Do you want this to continue and cause irrevocable harm to our community?” the sheriff wrote. “Are you willing to allow Pettis County to become the test project for some social justice experiment for rural America?”
Ms. Fizer’s father, John, had complicated feelings about the upwelling of nationwide anger at the police. He was angry. He wanted justice for his daughter. But he counted himself as a conservative Republican and worried that the protests in Sedalia could be co-opted by left-wing outsiders — a pervasive, but largely unfounded fear in small towns after Mr. Floyd’s killing.
In a Facebook post, Mr. Fizer wrote that he did not want “Antifa-type outrage here in our quiet hometown.”
“I love my law enforcement,” he said. “I’d hate to think where we’d be without them.”
The suspension of federal benefits would create damage almost as terrifying as the economic effects of the coronavirus.
By Paul Krugman, Opinion Columnist, Aug. 6, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/06/opinion/coronavirus-us-recession.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
One pretty good forecasting rule for the coronavirus era has been to take whatever Trump administration officials are saying and assume that the opposite will happen. When President Trump declared in February that the number of cases would soon go close to zero, you knew that a huge pandemic was coming. When Vice President Mike Pence insisted in mid-June that “there isn’t a coronavirus ‘second wave,’” a giant surge in new cases and deaths was clearly imminent.
And when Larry Kudlow, the administration’s chief economist, declared just last week that a “V-shaped recovery” was still on track, it was predictable that the economy would stall.
On Friday, we’ll get an official employment report for July. But a variety of private indicators, like the monthly report from the data-processing firm ADP, already suggest that the rapid employment gains of May and June were a dead-cat bounce and that job growth has at best slowed to a crawl.
ADP’s number was at least positive — some other indicators suggest that employment is actually falling. But even if the small reported job gains were right, at this rate we won’t be back to precoronavirus employment until … 2027.
Also, both ADP and the forthcoming official report will be old news — basically snapshots of the economy in the second week of July. Since then much of the country has either paused or reversed economic reopening, and there are indications that many workers rehired during the abortive recovery of May and June have been laid off again.
But things could get much worse. In fact, they probably will get much worse unless Republicans get serious about another economic relief package, and do it very soon.
I’m not sure how many people realize just how much deeper the coronavirus recession of 2020 could have been. Obviously it was terrible: Employment plunged, and real G.D.P. fell by around 10 percent. Almost all of that, however, reflected the direct effects of the pandemic, which forced much of the economy into lockdown.
What didn’t happen was a major second round of job losses driven by plunging consumer demand. Millions of workers lost their regular incomes; without federal aid, they would have been forced to slash spending, causing millions more to lose their jobs. Luckily Congress stepped up to the plate with special aid to the unemployed, which sustained consumer spending and kept the nonquarantined parts of the economy afloat.
Now that aid has expired. Democrats offered a plan months ago to maintain benefits, but Republicans can’t even agree among themselves on a counteroffer. Even if an agreement is hammered out — and there’s no sign that this is imminent — it will be weeks before the money is flowing again.
The suffering among cut-off families will be immense, but there will also be broad damage to the economy as a whole. How big will this damage be? I’ve been doing the math, and it’s terrifying.
Unlike affluent Americans, the mostly low-wage workers whose benefits have just been terminated can’t blunt the impact by drawing on savings or borrowing against assets. So their spending will fall by a lot. Evidence on the initial effects of emergency aid suggests that the end of benefits will push overall consumer spending — the main driver of the economy — down by more than 4 percent.
Furthermore, evidence from austerity policies a decade ago suggests a substantial “multiplier” effect, as spending cuts lead to falling incomes, leading to further spending cuts.
Put it all together and the expiration of emergency aid could produce a 4 percent to 5 percent fall in G.D.P. But wait, there’s more. States and cities are in dire straits and are already planning harsh spending cuts; but Republicans refuse to provide aid, with Trump insisting, falsely, that local fiscal crises have nothing to do with Covid-19.
Bear in mind that the coronavirus itself — a shock that came out of the blue, though the United States mishandled it terribly — reduced G.D.P. by “only” around 10 percent. What we’re looking at now may be another shock, a sort of economic second wave, almost as severe in monetary terms as the first. And unlike the pandemic, this shock will be entirely self-generated, brought on by the fecklessness of President Trump and — let’s give credit where it’s due — Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader.
The question is, how can this be happening? The 2008 financial crisis and the sluggish recovery that followed weren’t that long ago, and they taught us valuable lessons directly relevant to our current plight. Above all, experience in that slump demonstrated both that economic depressions are no time to obsess over debt and that slashing spending in the face of mass unemployment is a terrible mistake.
But nobody in the White House or on the G.O.P. side of Capitol Hill seems to have learned anything from that experience. In fact, not having learned anything from the last crisis almost seems to be a requirement for Republican economic advisers.
So at the moment we seem to be headed for a Greater Recession — a worse slump than 2007-2009, overlaid on the coronavirus slump. MAGA!
7) Why Black Workers Will Hurt the Most if Congress Doesn’t Extend Jobless Benefits
An extra $600 a week smoothed out sharp differences in benefits among states, and among the people who lived in them.
By Emily Badger, Alicia Parlapiano and Quoctrung Bui, Aug. 7, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/07/upshot/unemployment-benefits-racial-disparity.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
When Congress expanded unemployment insurance this year to meet the staggering economic toll of the pandemic, it had one less-noticed effect: It made America’s fractured jobless benefits system more fair.
Starting in April, the federal government provided $600 weekly payments to unemployed workers in addition to state jobless benefits, smoothing sharp differences between more and less generous states. It also broadly expanded who qualified, removing barriers for lower-wage, seasonal and gig workers, who are typically excluded from aid. All of this had the added effect of reducing racial disparities in unemployment benefits that have for decades disadvantaged Black workers in particular.
Now, with the $600 payments expired as of the end of July and with congressional leaders and the White House debating whether to extend them, Black workers stand to be hurt the most if they fail to reach a deal.
This is in large part because Black workers disproportionately live in states with the lowest benefit levels and the highest barriers to receiving them. Without the $600 federal payments, the most an unemployed worker in Florida or Alabama can receive is $275 a week. Workers still covered under the expanded gig worker categories would potentially get even less.
“It’s just a pretty straightforward fact that one of the biggest problems facing unemployed Black workers is that they live in places with particularly inadequate unemployment insurance systems,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who served as chief economist to Joe Biden when he was vice president.
The geographic pattern is not as stark for Hispanic workers, who have also been hit hard in the coronavirus recession. But they make up more than a quarter of workers in two states with maximum weekly benefits of less than $300 — Florida and Arizona.
Among Black workers, almost one in four live in just three states: Florida, Georgia and Texas. And nearly 60 percent over all live in the South, in states that tend to put the interests of businesses ahead of those of workers, and where race itself has historically been inseparable from policy decisions about the safety net.
Unemployment insurance in America was originally devised during the Great Depression as a compromise between Northern Democrats who wanted to expand worker aid and Southern Democrats who didn’t want to empower Black workers. The resulting system — a network of state programs rather than a single federal one like Social Security — explicitly excluded domestic and agricultural workers. And the states were given wide control that they retain today over how much a worker has to earn to qualify for the program, how generous the benefits are and how onerous the requirements.
The same pattern has persisted in heavily state-controlled programs like welfare: The larger a state’s Black population, the less generous its benefits.
“Yesterday’s racist system becomes today’s incidental structural racism,” said Kathryn Edwards, an economist at the RAND Corporation.
She has found that the geographic concentration of Black workers in stingier states means that the average maximum unemployment benefit a Black worker in America can receive per week is about $40 less than the average maximum benefit a white worker can get. That number might sound small, but Ms. Edwards points out that it adds up over 26 weeks of unemployment to a median rent payment in many states, or nearly the size of a $1,200 pandemic stimulus check.
If policymakers wanted to reduce racial disparities in what seem like race-neutral unemployment programs, William Spriggs, a Howard University economist, said they would want to do precisely the two things Congress did: expand the categories of covered workers, and increase the benefits they receive.
“What I did not anticipate fully and was shocked by,” Mr. Spriggs said, “was the South is also bad about running these programs.”
The most complicated part of the federal expansion was the entirely new program, called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, meant for workers who wouldn’t normally qualify for state unemployment. This is the benefit that covers Uber drivers, self-employed hair stylists, and tipped servers or part-time retail workers whose reported earnings were too low to qualify normally.
Georgia and Florida were among the last states to begin making payments through that additional program (Florida’s labor force also has one of the highest shares of self-employed workers). And last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida publicly acknowledged that the state’s deeply troubled unemployment system introduced under the previous governor, Rick Scott, had been set up to frustrate workers and make as few payments as possible.
Mr. Spriggs fears that racial disparities are embedded in these delays in receiving benefits, too. And because unemployment has remained stubbornly high for Blacks in surveys even as it has fallen more for other groups, Black workers are likelier to face longer spells of unemployment without the added benefits.
All of these choices in the unemployment system are layered on top of racial disparities that exist in the economy even during better times. Black workers have less wealth to cushion them when they lose income. And they tend to experience unemployment longer, as they face discrimination finding work again. Initial evidence already suggests that Black workers were less likely to be rehired in May and June as some businesses reopened.
“We’ve come to grips with the fact that Black lives are devalued as it relates to engagement with law enforcement,” said Darrick Hamilton, who leads the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State. “So why is it a leap of faith to believe that that devaluation would not be limited to law enforcement?”
It exists as well, he said, in how the economy values Black workers.
The initial shock of the pandemic hit workers wherever they happened to be in the economy, particularly in jobs requiring close contact. But now the labor market is rebalancing, a process that plays out to the advantage of white workers, Mr. Spriggs said. He expects things will settle where they invariably do: with Black workers having about twice the unemployment rate of white ones.
As he watches that happen, Mr. Spriggs takes issue with familiar arguments made by White House officials and congressional Republicans that they don’t want to give workers money to sit at home.
“It stretches credulity, in the worst labor market ever, and with a record number of Americans unemployed, for someone to suggest that, ‘Oh, if I give these people money, the big problem is they won’t work,’” Mr. Spriggs said. “Their characterization of workers as inherently lazy, that’s a dog whistle to me.”
Representative Bobby Scott, a Democrat from Virginia and the chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, said he hears in those arguments something else.
“What I hear are things that are not true,” he said. There just aren’t jobs for many people to go back to. And workers generally can’t refuse to return to work and still keep their unemployment benefits. “It’s hard to analyze the statement in terms of impact or philosophy,” Mr. Scott said, “if you start off with an understanding that it’s not true to begin with.”
Five New Yorkers describe the night they were arrested while participating in Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
By Ali Watkins, Photographs by Simbarashe Cha, Aug. 7, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/07/nyregion/ny-protest-arrests.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Anthony Mendez recalled how he had been held in a crowded cell for six hours after he was arrested during a protest, the first time that he had ever gone to a march. Clare Ramirez-Raftree said she ended up with welts on her wrists for days from the tight plastic handcuffs. And Patrick McElravey said police officers put him in a chokehold in Brooklyn.
The protests in New York City touched off by the killing of George Floyd have received extensive attention, including scrutiny of the use of force by police officers.
But what about the aftermath?
More than 2,000 people were arrested, most for low-level offenses such as violating the official curfew or refusing to disperse.
Many said they waited for hours in cramped holding cells while the police tried to figure out how to process them. Others described how they were arrested even as friends nearby were let go. In some cases, processing officers appeared unsure why protesters were detained.
Most of the charges will ultimately be dismissed, prosecutors said.
Still, protesters offered wrenching accounts of their arrests. This article highlights five of them.
To corroborate the demonstrators’ stories, The New York Times reviewed video of the arrests and spoke to witnesses. It was not always possible to confirm all aspects of the protesters’ statements.
Senior police officials have defended how they handled the protests, saying that officers targeted only a small number of people who sought to commit violence, including looting. The officials have said officers who used excessive force against protesters would be punished.
The Police Department has pointed to examples of injured officers and destruction of police property during protests.
“I think the officers used an incredible amount of restraint in terms of allowing people to vent,” said Police Commissioner Dermot F. Shea in June.
The Police Department was asked to comment on each of the five arrests described in this article, and to provide supporting documentation or incident reports connected to the arrests.
The department said it would not, contending that it could not discuss details of any of the five arrests because doing so would violate the privacy rights of the people involved. It said those arrested and charged with violations under the penal law are entitled to the sealing of their records after their cases are closed, regardless of the outcome.
“The N.Y.P.D. demands accountability in all of its operations,” Devora Kaye, spokeswoman for the Police Department, said in a statement. “It is also critical to review the totality of the circumstances that lead to interactions where force is used.”
“They surrounded me because I was the leader.”
Courtney Taylor, 21
Courtney Taylor said she had never been to a protest before the death of Mr. Floyd. But at an event on June 1, someone handed her a megaphone. In the following days she traveled to Brooklyn after work to lead marches.
“I didn’t graduate high school,” she said, “So I would never think I would be leading a protest for Black Lives Matter.”
On June 5, Ms. Taylor was helping to lead a protest that marched through Downtown Brooklyn and Flatbush. After curfew she was with a smaller group that had split off from the original group, marching down Nostrand Avenue. They were chanting and playing music when the police surrounded them, she said.
“We don’t know if the song is what ticked them off, but they just came at us,” said Senayda Racinos, 22, a friend of Ms. Taylor’s who was also arrested that night.
Ms. Racinos and Ms. Taylor recalled that they tried to talk with the officers, but all of the demonstrators were arrested.
“They surrounded me because I was the leader,” Ms. Taylor said. “It was very traumatizing.”
Ms. Racinos said few officers appeared to have their body cameras turned on.
What Happened After
Ms. Taylor was cited for violating curfew.
She said she was still perplexed by what happened. She said that she disagreed with violent protests and looting, and that she had taken pains to expel agitators.
“I was a bit confused as to why everything went down the way it did,” she said. “It was a lot of commotion for no reason.”
Ms. Taylor, who is from Brooklyn but lives in Newark, said she was released from the precinct around 1:30 a.m. Volunteers paid for her to spend the night in a hotel, she said.
“It really does make me nervous when I’m leading a march and I see cops line up, because you never know what’s going to happen,” Ms. Taylor said. “I’m risking my life to fight for my justice.”
“I’m trying to tell him: ‘Dude, I’m a doctor.’”
Mike Pappas, 30
On the night of June 4, Dr. Mike Pappas said he decided to volunteer during a protest in the South Bronx as a medic. He recalled that he packed a bag with medical supplies, painted red crosses on his shirt and bags and headed out.
As curfew neared, Mr. Pappas said he noticed a growing police presence behind demonstrators. Then, as protest leaders turned the group down a side street, they found their path blocked by another line of police.
Mr. Pappas said an officer approached and told him, “Come with me, man, everything’s going to be fine.”
“I know the feeling of a police officer holding your arm when you’re going to be arrested,” said Mr. Pappas, who was dressed in scrubs.
He offered to show the officer his ID and explained that he was an essential worker and was permitted to be out after curfew, he said.
“‘You were standing in the road, you’re no longer a medic, you’re a protester,’” Mr. Pappas recalled the officer’s saying.
What Happened After
At the precinct, Mr. Pappas said he was struck by the disorganization. During intake, Mr. Pappas said, he was asked repeatedly to explain the contents of his pockets and record his possessions.
“They must have asked me 30 times how much money I had on me,” he said.
While waiting for the intake process, Mr. Pappas said he saw several officers come in and out of the station house, high-fiving and fist-bumping each other. They called out numbers to each other, he said, joking about how many arrests each officer had recorded that night.
He said he was taken to a holding cell with 16 other protesters. It was around 85 degrees, he said, and the group was given two small bottles of water to share. Few others besides Mr. Pappas were wearing masks.
Mr. Pappas was issued a desk appearance ticket for disobeying the mayor’s curfew — which, he pointed out, his status as an essential worker permitted him to do.
“Whichever way you split it,” he said, “I was allowed to be there.”
“I’m being handcuffed, but I have guys kicking me. I was scared for my life.”
Anthony Mendez, 24
Anthony Mendez said he felt guilty after the death of Mr. Floyd for never having protested before. On June 3, he said he went out to demonstrate: “That night I decided, you know, let me go out there and actually do something about it.”
Mr. Mendez recalled that he joined a group marching through Downtown Brooklyn and wound up at Cadman Plaza, where disorder broke out as police charged the crowd after curfew. Mr. Mendez broke away from the area with a different group and continued marching, he said.
“We were weaving in and out of different streets,” he said, until riot police caught up to them, hopping out of unmarked cars and trapping the group on a block by guarding both intersections.
Mr. Mendez said he was tackled first by one officer, and then three more piled on top of him.
“I’m being handcuffed, but I have guys kicking me,” he said. “So many things were running through my mind. Am I going to end up as another statistic? Honestly, I was scared for my life.”
What Happened After
Mr. Mendez was put into a police vehicle and transported to the 84th Precinct. He was rattled, he said, when the officers congratulated each other.
“They’re high-fiving each other,” Mr. Mendez said. “Like they’re pumped from a game.”
He said he was held in a cell for six hours and then given a citation for disobeying a government order.
His foot was injured from being tackled, but he said he planned to go back out when it healed.
“It only made me want to go out more, protest harder, scream louder, actually make a change and be part of the cause,” he said.
“It kind of just spurred me to go out again.”
Clare Ramirez-Raftree, 23
“This is the most sustained amount of time that I’ve been protesting one thing,” said Ms. Ramirez-Raftree, who has lived in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn for six years. She is half- Salvadoran and half-white, and said she felt driven to use her own privilege to demonstrate.
On the night of June 3, Ms. Ramirez-Raftree joined a group of protesters intending to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, but the group was blocked in Cadman Plaza by a line of police in riot gear.
The group stopped, and people dropped to their knees, hands over their heads as they chanted, she recalled.
They then turned around and, Ms. Ramirez-Raftree said, officers charged.
Ms. Ramirez-Raftree said she saw one officer using his riot shield to aggressively push a small woman.
“I kind of upon instinct tried to protect her and put my body weight against the riot shield,” she said.
She said the officer then turned his attention to Ms. Ramirez-Raftree and began pushing her. She fell to the ground, she said.
Another officer came over and helped put Ms. Ramirez-Raftree into zip-tie handcuffs, she said.
What Happened After
After Ms. Ramirez-Raftree was handcuffed, she was escorted to a city bus where she waited for more than an hour with other protesters who had been arrested, she recalled.
“There wasn’t a lot of organization,” she said.
The zip-tie cuffs grew painfully tight as the night wore on, she said. When officers finally removed them, she had large, red welts that were visible for more than a week afterward.
At the precinct, she said she was detained for six hours in a cell with around a dozen other protesters. She was given a desk appearance ticket for disorderly conduct.
“Seeing just how blatant the police were with everything, it kind of just spurred me to go out again,” she said.
“He threw me into the car before I could turn my bike around.”
Patrick McElravey, 25
Patrick McElravey began protesting for the Black Lives Matter movement when it first started, back when he was in college in Vermont, and joined the George Floyd protests at their start.
On June 3, Mr. McElravey rode his bike to join a group that ended up at Cadman Plaza, the same night that Ms. Ramirez-Raftree was arrested.
As officers advanced on the crowd, Mr. McElravey got on his bicycle and began coasting away, but couldn’t separate himself from the crowd before being overtaken by a group of people being pushed by police with riot shields.
Mr. McElravey said he found himself trapped. Then the officer who had been aggressive toward Ms. Ramirez-Raftree ran at Mr. McElravey and pushed him against a car, he said.
A video of incident shows an officer ripping the bike from Mr. McElravey’s hands and briefly placing him in a chokehold, a dangerous policing tactic that is now illegal in New York City, before securing him with zip-tie handcuffs.
What Happened After
Mr. McElravey was taken to the 84th Precinct in the same van as Ms. Ramirez-Raftree.
At the precinct he questioned officers about what had happened.
“The officer who was standing there said, ‘Nobody thinks this is right,’” Mr. McElravey said.
Later, he recalled that a second officer said, “We’re not paid to feel.”
Mr. McElravey was released around 5:30 a.m. and given a court appearance ticket for failure to disperse. He was surprised, he said, because he had been trying to comply.
“He threw me into the car before I could turn my bike around,” Mr. McElravey said.
Susan Burton, an advocate for formerly incarcerated women, is racing against the clock to shelter those freed early because of the surge of coronavirus cases in prisons.
By Patricia Leigh Brown, Aug. 7, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/07/arts/design/susan-burton-reentry-project-prisons-virus.html?action=click&module=Editors%20Picks&pgtype=Homepage
Dana Moore arrived in February as inmate No. WG4763 at the California Institution for Women east of Los Angeles, to complete her sentence of two years and eight months for possession of a firearm. The coronavirus numbers in the state’s prison system were climbing — a grave concern to Ms. Moore, who is immunocompromised. But last month, she grew teary as the prison gate rolled up. She was being released early, and carried out a cardboard box with her belongings into the waiting car of Susan Burton, the activist who was helping her leave behind the gun towers, the barbed wire and her anonymous prisoner ID for an eggnog-yellow bungalow on a quiet street in Los Angeles.
Once there, Ms. Moore made a beeline for the biggest mattress, “like sleeping on a soft pillow,” she said. She began negotiating the personalities of her new housemates — all former inmates — and relishing her newfound privacy in her new setting: a home devoted to healing.
It was the ninth residence created by Ms. Burton for A New Way of Life Reentry Project, a pioneering network of shelter and support programs she created for vulnerable women coming out of prison that some have likened to a modern-day underground railroad. An activist and writer, as well as a former inmate, she became a formidable force in creating safe houses for women 22 years ago, when she scraped together savings and some bunk beds from Ikea to create A New Way of Life.
The homes, which average seven women, are designed to be intimate — and a far cry from prison — with matching bedspreads and curtains, granite kitchen countertops and inspirational Post-it messages (like “Always Wear an Invisible Crown”) on the bathroom mirrors. They are the kind of refuge Ms. Burton wished she’d had when she stepped off the Greyhound bus in downtown Los Angeles after her first stint in jail for prostitution — “an atmosphere that’s bright, cheerful and motivating and that says ‘you are worthy,’ ” she said.
Ms. Burton’s can-do approach — born from her own life circumstances — has garnered widespread recognition: she has been a Top 10 CNN Hero, a Soros Justice fellow and the subject of the short documentary film, “Susan.” Now the pandemic is providing Ms. Burton’s life’s work with a new sense of urgency. Prisons and jails have become hothouses for the virus, with 47 deaths and 8,000 cases in California alone, according to recent statistics from the California Department of Prisons and Rehabilitation.
“It takes cruel and unusual punishment to the extreme,” she said. To reduce overcrowding, thousands of inmates like Ms. Moore are being released early, a move underscored last week by a federal judge who ordered the state to set aside space for isolation and quarantine in California prisons.
Ms. Burton and her cohorts are working overtime to house as many newly released women as they can. The yellow bungalow was pulled together in a record 10 days, with much of the furniture coming from a Target gift registry. Ms. Burton is in the midst of readying a 1960s convent outside Los Angeles, leased to the organization for $1 by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, with a squadron of decorators set to volunteer. Such support is not atypical: Ms. Burton’s persuasiveness and fierce sense of purpose draws people in.
As much of a weary America staggered into Month 4 of sheltering in place, the women ensconced in the project’s houses in Los Angeles and Long Beach savored a sense of gratitude and relief. It had been months, perhaps years, since they had felt the chill of an open refrigerator or the pleasure of sleeping in a real bed instead of a piece of foam on a steel slab.
Livia Pinheiro, who was born in Brazil, spent eight years in prison for first degree robbery and was then detained by ICE, which planned to deport her. It was during the initial days of the virus and she was housed in a crowded, roach-infested dormitory room in a county jail where the bunks were bolted to the floor, making social distancing impossible. She and other detainees were finally released after a coalition of legal organizations successfully argued that the conditions were unsafe during the pandemic.
“Everybody’s freaking out about sheltering in place,” said Ms. Pinheiro, 40, who has to wear an ankle monitor while living in Long Beach. “But I feel so free and liberated to be with a great group of girls in this house.”
Ms. Burton served six prison terms for drug possession and intent to sell and was granted a pardon by Gov. Gavin Newsom last year for her work helping women attempting to pull their lives together. Her empathy for others was hard won. She endured years of childhood sexual abuse, compounded by a gang rape as a teen, during which she became pregnant with her first child, a daughter. Then Ms. Burton’s five-year-old son, Marque, known as K.K., was killed crossing the street after being struck by an unmarked van driven by an Los Angeles police detective who she said never bothered to get out of the car. The vortex of grief that followed contributed to drug and alcohol addiction and a series of abusive relationships with sexually exploitative men.
Still, she became her sister’s keeper. Ms. Burton’s notion of houses as communal places for healing — sobriety being one of the rules — was inspired in part by the treatment center in Santa Monica that aided her own recovery. The experience, she said, also opened her eyes to profound inequities in the criminal justice system in which incarceration was the default for poor people of color in neighborhoods like hers, in Watts, while those committing similar infractions in places like Santa Monica were offered therapy, A.A. meetings, community service and parenting classes.
“It’s a tale of two cities,” she said. “One, five miles down the highway and you’re treated as a criminal, and the other, a place where you’re treated as a patient, someone who needs help.”
A New Way of Life was born after Ms. Burton had to abandon her chosen career path — licensed home health aide — because of her criminal record. She converted her kitchen alcove into a bedroom and offered it to other women returning from prison. Over the years, the organization has become multidimensional, helping women find jobs and develop careers (a challenge during the pandemic, since many available jobs are unsafe).
Each new arrival receives an ‘action plan” that might encompass leadership skills, therapy (a retired psychiatrist is on call), college classes and support from the organization’s pro bono legal team, often regarding the complex issue of reuniting with children in foster care.
Of the 46 current residents, six are children. Among them are Daishyna Saunders’s two sons, 6-year-old Emmanuel and Elijah, 4, who enjoy activating their bubble machine in the backyard of “Miss Susan’s” in Long Beach. “It means everything to me,” she said of having her boys back.
Days at the residences in Long Beach and Los Angeles begin with a morning meditation and conclude with healthful dinners cooked by staffers. The majority of women are on parole or probation; the houses are testing grounds for independence. As they become more confident and accomplished, they move on to houses where they are completely responsible for the household.
Although Ms. Burton claims a 90 percent success rate, some women do relapse and are referred to a drug treatment facility.
The atmosphere of each house is important to Ms. Burton, who functions as the spiffer-upper-in-chief — “making the houses pretty” with ample light and art on the walls.
Her understanding of the emotional impact of spaces was influenced by Frank Gehry, who is now a friend. The two met in 2017 during studios Mr. Gehry taught on architecture, design and mass incarceration that was organized by the Soros Open Society Foundations and Impact Justice, a research and advocacy organization. The assignment, captured in a film, revolved around a women’s prison in Connecticut; Ms. Burton served as the voice-of reality-in-residence. “Susan commands respect very quickly,” Mr. Gehry, 91, observed. “She brought humanity to the project and a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”
For her part, Ms. Burton grasped for the first time “the strikingly cruel intent” of prison design. “Just taking people from their communities wasn’t enough,” she said. “They had to hurt their joys over time, hurt their bodies by depriving them of light and texture. It was painful to understand the lengths that people will go to to harm people.”
Confinement is precisely what has allowed Covid-19 to flourish, combined with officials’ lack of judgment. San Quentin, an especially egregious example, was coronavirus-free until 121 inmates from the California Institution for Men were transferred there last May. The cramped, airless tiers of what is essentially a Victorian prison proved fertile ground: 19 San Quentin inmates died and more than 2,000 have tested positive in what Marin County’s public health chief, called “the worst prison health screw-up in history.”
But the safety net for those returning home is frayed at best. Women nationally comprise only 13 percent of all prison releases in a given year, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, a criminal justice think tank, which means that nearly all transitional housing and related programs are geared toward men. Some resemble prisons, with metal detectors, contraband checks and Breathalyzer tests at the door.
Alex Busansky, Impact Justice’s founder and president, said Ms. Burton “is one of the original voices pointing out that women’s needs were not being met in traditional re-entry settings,” he said. “Susan proved that we can put people in real houses on ordinary streets and that they have a right to come back to the community.”
Women pay a modest rent, and adjustment is full of tiny challenges: Some women have no idea how to shop or use a microwave. “They’ve been cooking in a can in prison with a stinger,” Ms. Burton explained, referring to an immersion device that heats up water.
Most of the organization’s $2 million budget comes from foundations and individuals (Natalie Portman recently celebrated her 39th birthday by offering to match any donation up to $100,000).
Two years ago, after hearing from women at 46 prisons and jails while reading from her 2017 memoir, “Becoming Ms. Burton,” Ms. Burton saw the need to expand her model to other states (and more recently Uganda). Called The Safe Housing Network, it now numbers 16 houses, and supports projects like WIN Recovery in Champaign, Ill., which serves the rural L.G.B.T.Q. community.
For young women like Lexus, who gave only her first name because she feared for her safety, the security and serenity of the New Way of Life house in Los Angeles couldn’t come soon enough. She was trafficked at age 14, and at 19 accepted a plea bargain she didn’t understand. As a result, she was labeled a sex offender and now plans to appeal.
“The house I stay at, you can see the glow and peace in the women’s faces,” she said. “In prison you don’t have that aura,” she added. “It says, ‘you’re going to be OK.’ ”
The solutions to combating the coronavirus are no mystery. It’s time to do this right.
By The Editorial Board, August 8, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/08/opinion/sunday/coronavirus-response-testing-lockdown.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Six to eight weeks. That’s how long some of the nation’s leading public health experts say it would take to finally get the United States’ coronavirus epidemic under control. If the country were to take the right steps, many thousands of people could be spared from the ravages of Covid-19. The economy could finally begin to repair itself, and Americans could start to enjoy something more like normal life.
Six to eight weeks. For proof, look at Germany. Or Thailand. Or France. Or nearly any other country in the world.
In the United States, after a brief period of multistate curve-flattening, case counts and death tolls are rising in so many places that Dr. Deborah Birx, the Trump administration’s coronavirus response coordinator, described the collective uptick as a sprawling “new phase” of the pandemic. Rural communities are as troubled as urban ones, and even clear victories over the virus, in places like New York and Massachusetts, feel imperiled.
At the same time, Americans are fatigued from spending months under semi-lockdown. Bars and restaurants are reopening in some places, for indoor service — and debates are underway over if and when and how to do the same for schools — even as the virus continues to spread unchecked. Long delays in testing have become an accepted norm: It can still take up to two weeks to get results in some places. As the national death toll climbs above 160,000, mask wearing is still not universal.
It’s no mystery how America got here. The Trump administration’s response has been disjointed and often contradictory, indifferent to science, suffused with politics and eager to hand off responsibility to state leaders. Among the states, the response has also been wildly uneven.
It’s also no surprise where the country is headed. Unless something changes quickly, millions more people will be sickened by the virus, and well over a million may ultimately die from it. The economy will contract further as new surges of viral spread overwhelm hospitals and force further shutdowns and compound suffering, especially in low-income communities and communities of color.
The path to avoiding those outcomes is as clear as the failures of the past several months.
Scientists have learned a lot about this coronavirus since the first cases were reported in the United States earlier this year. For instance, they know now that airborne transmission is a far greater risk than contaminated surfaces, that the virus spreads through singing and shouting as much as through coughing, and that while any infected person is a potential vector, superspreading events — as in nursing homes, meatpacking plants, churches and bars — are major drivers of the pandemic. By most estimates, just 10 to 20 percent of coronavirus infections account for 80 percent of transmissions.
Experts have also learned a lot about what it takes to get a coronavirus outbreak under control. Most of the necessary steps are the same ones public health experts have been urging for months.
Just because America has largely bungled these steps so far doesn’t mean it can’t turn things around. The nation can do better. It must.
Clear, Consistent Messaging
President Trump and his closest advisers have repeatedly contradicted the scientific evidence, and even themselves, on the severity of the pandemic and the best ways to respond to it. They’ve sown confusion on the importance of mask wearing, the dangers of large gatherings, the potential of untested treatments, the availability of testing and the basic matter of who is in charge of what in the pandemic response.
That confusion seems to have bred a national apathy — and a dangerous partisanship over public health measures — that will be difficult to undo. But leaders at every level can improve the situation by coordinating their messaging: Masks are essential and will be required in all public places. Social distancing is a civic responsibility. The virus is not going away anytime soon, but we can get it under control quickly if we work together.
Such messaging works best when it comes from the very top, but state and local leaders don’t have to wait for federal leaders to step up.
Better Use of Data
As Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has noted: The United States has a glut of data and a dearth of information.
Data on who is getting sick and where is not being used to guide interventions, and crucial figures like test result times and the portion of new cases that were found through contact tracing are not consistently or routinely reported. If scientists had better access to such figures, they could use it to forecast Covid-19 conditions the same way they forecast the weather: warning when a given outbreak is spreading and advising people to adjust their plans accordingly. State and local leaders can make all their data public, and the C.D.C. ought to help them get that data into a usable form.
In places like Melbourne, Australia, and Harris County, Texas, health officials have created numerical and color-coded threat assessments that tell officials and citizens exactly what to do, based on how extensively the coronavirus is spreading in their communities. The highest alert levels call for full-on shelter in place, while the lowest call for careful monitoring of high-risk establishments.
It would behoove the C.D.C. to create a similar, evidence-based scale and work with state and local leaders to employ it in individual communities. In places where the virus is still rampant, that would mean much more aggressive shutdowns than have been carried out in the past. (The United States has not had a true national lockdown, shuttering only about half the country, compared with 90 percent in other countries with more successful outbreak control.)
Smarter shutdowns may also mean closing bars and indoor dining in many places so schools there can reopen more safely; closing meat processing plants until better protections are in place; and tightening state borders in a sensible, as-needed fashion.
Testing, Tracing, Isolation and Quarantine
The most consistent mantra of experts trying to get the coronavirus pandemic under control has been that the nation needs much better testing, tracing, isolation and quarantine protocols. Despite examples across the globe for how to achieve all four, the United States has largely failed on these fronts. Testing delays make contact tracing — not to mention isolation and quarantine — impossible to execute.
To resolve the crisis, federal officials need to commandeer the intellectual property of companies that have developed effective rapid diagnostics and utilize the Defense Production Act to make and distribute as many of those tests as possible. As testing is brought up to speed, officials also need to expand contact tracing and quarantine programs so that once outbreaks are brought under control, states are prepared to keep them in check.
The causes of America’s great pandemic failure run deep, exacerbated by innumerable longstanding problems, from a weak public health infrastructure to institutional racism to systemic inequality in health care, housing and employment. If the pandemic forces the nation to meaningfully grapple with any of those issues, then perhaps all this suffering will not have been in vain. But that work can’t really begin until Americans solve the problem that’s right in front of them, with the tools that are already at their disposal.
Some of what we saw was people cosplaying consciousness — symbolism that cost nothing and shifted no power.
By Charles M. Blow, Opinion Columnist, Aug. 9, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/09/opinion/black-lives-matter-protests.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
We are in a period of post-mortem reflection following the time during which racial justice protests were at their most intense. We now must ask ourselves: What has changed and what hasn’t? Have power and privilege truly been disrupted? Has oppression been alleviated? What will be the legacy of this moment?
The historic protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing were met with high hopes and soaring rhetoric. The protests were called a racial reckoning, a long-overdue racial accounting.
We painted murals on the streets and took down some statues. Companies committed to changing the Black faces on a bottle of syrup and a bag of rice. Athletes were allowed to kneel and racecar drivers held a racial solidarity parade.
There were television specials about injustice and expanded coverage of protests. Books about race rose to the tops of best-seller lists.
States like New York and California passed police reform legislation and scores of individual departments banned or restricted chokeholds and strangleholds and required officers to intervene when their colleagues use excessive force.
But, national progress, even on the issue of police accountability and reform, remained elusive. The slate of police reforms passed by the House is now bogged down in the Senate.
Donald Trump called the Black Lives Matter mural painted in front of Trump Tower in New York City a “symbol of hate,” one of his personal lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, called the group a “domestic terror group,” and his Justice Department began targeting demonstrators as terrorists.
On the Democratic side, Joe Biden quickly batted down any support of the move to defund the police, which is simply an effort to better allocate funding between police departments and social service agencies. There are also efforts at police abolition, but the defund movement is not synonymous with that effort.
More than 50 civil rights organization sent Joe Biden a scathing letter, chastising him for his involvement in mass incarceration and the war on drugs, and demanding that he:
“Immediately incorporate the policies laid out by the Movement for Black Lives into your campaign platform, and announce the specific changes publicly. This includes their critical demands for interventions that will end state violence against Black people, end the economic exploitation of Black communities, advance reparations, and defund police, prisons and weaponry so we can fully fund health care, housing, education and environmental justice.”
BLM co-founder and activist Patrisse Cullors spoke at the D.N.C.’s virtual party platform meeting in July and said: “Without the sea changes our movement recommended for the 2020 Democratic platform, any claims to allyship and solidarity with our work to fight for Black liberation are for naught.”
While national political progress appeared tentative, mired or weakened by intense opposition, it did feel like personal progress, on a national scale, was made in some ways.
A Pew Research Center report in late June found that 6 percent of American adults said they “attended a protest or rally that focused on issues related to race or racial equality in the last month.” That’s about 15 million people, an astounding number.
Furthermore, the movement had multiracial participation. The percentage of protesters who were white was nearly three times the percentage who were Black. The percentage of Hispanics taking part was higher than the percentage of Black people as well.
But even as support for Black Lives Matter grew, many Americans still opposed the things the movement demanded.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in mid-July found that while nearly 70 percent of Americans believed “Black people and other minorities are not treated as equal to white people in the criminal justice system,” most still generally opposed “calls to shift some police funding to social services or remove statues of Confederate generals or presidents who enslaved people.”
Barack Obama issued a statement that read in part:
“It falls on all of us, regardless of our race or station — including the majority of men and women in law enforcement who take pride in doing their tough job the right way, every day — to work together to create a ‘new normal’ in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts.”
I’m not sure that “new normal” is in the immediate offing. Much of what we saw in response to protests amounted to performative gestures, symbolism that cost nothing and shifted no power.
We must come to the conclusion that some of what we saw as a racial awakening was prone to whither. Some of what we saw was people cosplaying consciousness, immersing themselves in the issue of the moment.
I am very leery of tokenism, leery of the illusions of progress as the system holds fast. I’m leery of appeasement, of being told that there is a change coming as a way of quieting me in the waiting.
America has a sterling track record of dashing Black people’s hopes.
If the federal government repeats the mistakes of the last recession, millions of Americans will lose their apartments and homes.
By Binyamin Appelbaum member of the editorial board. Aug. 9, 2020
The belongings of a family evicted at the end of July from their home in New Orleans. Credit...Jake Clapp/Gambit New Orleans
In Columbus, Ohio, judges have relocated eviction hearings to the cavernous halls of the city’s convention center, to ensure there’s plenty of space for the grim business of throwing families onto the street.
In New Orleans, piles of personal belongings on sidewalks — “eviction cairns,” in the haunting phrase of Sue Mobley, a member of the city’s planning commission — are an increasingly common sight.
In Savannah, Ga., the county sheriff, John Wilcher, announced at the start of the month that he would begin moving forward with about 500 pending evictions. Mr. Wilcher told reporters that he hadn’t carried out evictions for the last five months, but that “people after five months should have been able to come up with some kind of deal or something to help themselves out where they wouldn’t be evicted.” The sheriff didn’t offer any pointers on how to find a job in the midst of a pandemic.
The last time the economy went over the cliff’s edge, in 2008, the federal government encased the banking system in plastic Bubble Wrap and allowed millions of Americans to lose their homes. It’s about to make the same mistake all over again.
I was a housing reporter during the last crisis. I spent long days with young families and old ladies desperately trying to hold on; with sheriff’s deputies tasked with removing people from homes owned by faceless companies; with exterminators sent to prevent mosquitoes from occupying abandoned swimming pools.
The government dismissed the woes of homeowners and renters as personal tragedies that did not require the attention of the Treasury Department. The government was wrong. The millions of individual tragedies required action. A nation is a collection of people; the first job of government is to keep people from harm.
Even on its own terms, the government’s indifference was a mistake. The massive dislocations shredded communities, as families were replaced by abandoned homes. Schools struggled to help displaced children, whose test scores declined and behavioral problems increased. Businesses lost their customers. Cities starved for property tax revenue slashed spending: Colorado Springs turned off one-third of its streetlights.
The accumulation of individual tragedies left lasting scars on the economy and on society.
As the coronavirus spread around the country in the spring, federal policymakers and authorities in many states announced temporary bans on evictions, part of a broader effort to weather the pandemic by suspending economic activity. The federal government also expanded unemployment benefits for people who lost jobs, providing many with the means to keep paying the mortgage or rent.
But the federal aid ended last month. More than 20 percent of households say that they don’t expect to be able to make their next monthly rent or mortgage payment, according to a Census Bureau survey. Some eviction bans have ended, and others will end soon. Americans once again are beginning to lose their homes.
The dislocations could be worse than last time. Even before the pandemic, the nation was facing a housing crisis. Years of residential underbuilding have driven up prices, particularly in the areas where jobs are concentrated. Tens of millions of lower-income families already were struggling to afford a place to live. Millions already were evicted each year. And many more Americans have lost jobs this time around.
In a policy memo published Friday, a group of housing policy experts and affordable housing advocates said, “The United States may be facing the most severe housing crisis in its history.”
Some state and local governments are trying to help.
In 2008, Aisha Wahab was a 19-year-old college student living in her parents’ longtime home in Fremont, Calif. She watched as they lost their clothing store in nearby Oakland, and then their home. She watched as their marriage fell apart. By 2012, Ms. Wahab and her father were sharing an apartment in Hayward, a nearby city with cheaper housing.
Ms. Wahab said her family has never recovered. “I can 100 percent attest to the fact that my family is nowhere near where they were prior to 2008,” she said. Now, at 32, she is the youngest member of the Hayward City Council, and she is doing what she can to prevent another crisis. Hayward has prohibited evictions until the end of September. Alameda County, which includes Hayward, has prohibited evictions at least until the end of the year. Tenants will then have a year to catch up on any missed rental payments. Homeowners, however, must negotiate separately with their lenders. And it’s not clear where renters or homeowners will find the money without federal aid.
Local officials are simply postponing the day of reckoning. Sooner or later, in Hayward and across the country, the eviction moratoriums will end.
“What happens on the next day?” Ms. Wahab said.
The Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond has argued compellingly that eviction is not just a result of poverty — it is also a cause of poverty. The downward trajectory, well documented in research on the last crisis, is the same for homeowners and renters. People who lose their homes also lose their communities. Studies show they generally move to less expensive neighborhoods, and their children end up enrolling in lower-quality schools. Eviction strains the ability to keep a job. People who are evicted suffer from higher rates of mental and physical health problems. If they are married, they are more likely to get divorced. They are more likely to end up homeless.
This new crisis builds on the last one. During the last recession, Renee Matthew lost her job at a New Orleans law firm, and then she lost her home to foreclosure. She didn’t find a new job until 2015, working as a parking lot supervisor at the city’s cruise terminal.
On March 15, Ms. Matthew lost her job yet again. Federal unemployment benefits allowed her to keep paying $929 in monthly rent, but the last of the federal benefits arrived in late July. Now she’s getting just $232 a week in state benefits. She was able to pay her August rent, and she may be able to pay her September rent, but she doesn’t see how she can pay her October rent.
“My life is just at a hold,” Ms. Matthew said. “You feel depressed. You start taking the little things out on everybody and anybody.”
The federal government has the power to avert a crisis by imposing a moratorium on tenant evictions in each state through the end of the year. That would provide enough time to create a program of federal aid for people who can’t afford to pay rent. The most direct approach would be to give federal housing vouchers to every needy family.
(The apparent simplicity of proposals for rent forgiveness is misleading. That would simply move problems up the food chain. Roughly half of apartments are owned by small landlords, many of whom face foreclosure if they can’t pay their own mortgages. That, too, would lead to tenant evictions.)
This crisis is hitting tenants harder than homeowners because job losses are concentrated among lower-income households, and the last crisis sharply reduced homeownership among such households. But many homeowners need help, too. Congress can facilitate mortgage modifications by changing bankruptcy laws that bar courts from reducing most mortgage debts. President Barack Obama promised to make the change during the 2008 campaign, but failed to do so while in the White House. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has made the same commitment — hopefully with a different result.
I asked Ms. Matthew if she had a message for policymakers in Washington.
“I need help,” she said. “It’s hard to pay the bills on nothing.”
I have a message, too: There is no excuse for making the same mistake twice.
On both sides of the Atlantic, the signs of radical possibility are everywhere.
By Thea Riofrancos, political scientist and activist. Aug. 9, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/09/opinion/left-politics.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
The signs of radical possibility are everywhere we look. In the midst of a pandemic, masses of people defied lockdowns and demanded justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and all the Black lives lost at the hands of police brutality.
What has become the largest protest movement in American history also provided an outlet for discontent with the economic immiseration and mounting death toll that are devastating communities of color and working-class people. In Europe, protesters took to the streets as well, in solidarity with the American movement and targeting the often denied yet pervasive racism in their own societies.
It’s a spectacular sight: Affluent liberal democracies are experiencing an upsurge of radical energy. This volatile moment is felt most acutely by younger generations whose coming-of-age story is one of financial meltdown, right-wing resurgence, climate chaos and, now, a plague.
Crisis and discontent are two necessary ingredients for radical change. But on their own, they aren’t sufficient. In the United States and almost all of Europe, the left — socialists, labor organizers, activists and agitators traditionally outside the major center-left parties — is out of power and wounded by electoral defeat. (Spain and Portugal, where formally and informally center-left parties currently govern together with the radical left, are the exception that proves the rule.)
As the coronavirus courses devastatingly around the world, the left on both sides of the Atlantic, joined by a long history of mutual influence and inspiration, finds itself in a shared predicament: How can we exercise power without governing directly? And beyond that, how can we shape the world that emerges after the pandemic?
On the left, “electoralism” — pursuing public office through elections — is a hotly debated tactic. Some see the activity as fatally compromised. But contesting elections is essential to winning radical reforms that change the consensus on what is possible and build power.
Take Paris and Barcelona. In the early 2010s, neither city, sitting in countries governed by the center and the right, seemed a likely venue for a resurgence of left-wing politics. But in the course of two years, each was led by leftist mayors — first Anne Hidalgo in Paris in 2014, then Ada Colau in Barcelona the next year. They built new public housing, banned polluting cars from city streets and expanded urban green spaces, becoming the heads of the “radical municipalism” movement.
A small city in northwest Britain had led the way. When plans for a massive shopping mall fell through in late 2011, Preston seemed doomed to the chronic disinvestment suffered by deindustrialized municipalities around the world. But since then, the left-led City Council has transformed the city into a laboratory for innovative policies, from supporting worker cooperatives to contracting local farmers to provide produce for public school meals. The experience proved so successful it earned its own name: The Preston Model.
Winning the chance to reshape policy, as councilors, state legislators and mayors, is why elections are crucial. But successful campaigns for national office are also powerful ways to broadcast transformative ideas. In the United States, for example, the election of Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar to Congress has spread demands like the Green New Deal, rent cancellation and Palestinian rights far beyond the margins.
When leftists win elections, they can transform radical ideas into pragmatic realities and move more ambitious political programs into the mainstream. But what should the left do when it is out of power?
Last year, when President Emanuel Macron of France was trying to push through pension reforms that would raise the age at which citizens received a full pension from 62 to 64, he faced profound opposition — not in Parliament, but in the streets. Large protests and a general strike drained the government’s resolve and eventually scuttled the proposed reform. Unwavering resistance forced Mr. Macron’s hand.
It’s a good example of how the left can shape politics, even when far from power. Similarly, the student strikes against climate change that swept across Europe in March 2019 — closely followed by occupations coordinated by Extinction Rebellion — propelled the urgent need for a just ecological transition up the political agenda.
In both cases, protests and strikes materially altered the course of policy. Elsewhere, it’s insurgent and oppositional electoral projects with close relations to movements that helped reshape the political landscape.
In the United States, in part through the platform provided by Bernie Sanders’s campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination, demands for universal health care, the Green New Deal, national rent control and abolishing ICE entered mainstream conversation. And in Britain, the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn did much to reconfigure the terms of debate, most notably on austerity and public investment.
There’s a lesson here. Though the circumstances differ — the room for left and Green parties in Europe largely does not exist in Britain and the United States, compelling leftists to contend with established parties — the left is most effective when it disrupts institutions.
By conceiving of itself as something like an opposition party, operating inside and outside the formal political system, the left can push the boundaries of debate, changing minds and policies alike.
Principled opposition is essential. But it’s not enough. To be successful, protests and insurgent campaigns need to build on and contribute to organizing — the continuing, difficult work of building grass-roots organizations that empower people to act in concert with one another.
In Minneapolis, the groundwork for the current protests was laid by groups such as the Black Visions Collective. In 2018, they worked in alliance with Reclaim the Block to win cuts to the city police budget and funding for violence prevention. Organizations like these recruit activists and teach them the skills they need to plan a meeting or a direct action, all while cultivating the trust and accountability that are vital to movements’ long-term success.
Similar lessons apply to electoral politics. The Labour Party’s community organizing unit, which spent two years building relationships and developing leaders at the local level, may not have prevented December’s disappointing election result. But it established a network that will prove indispensable in future elections and that has already helped win local campaigns, such as organizing tenants against eviction and protecting health clinics from closure.
The New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America is another case in point. Some of the group’s initial forays into electoral politics were unsuccessful. But in the process, they trained hundreds of activists in the basics of canvassing and phone-banking. Years later, their endorsed candidates have won seats in Congress and at the state level. And most recently the chapter declared victory for their entire slate of primary campaigns — all, it’s worth noting, socialists of color — in the State Legislature.
Though some may be tempted to suggest such inroads are confined to New York, the recent slew of left wins in Democratic primary battles in Pennsylvania, Texas, Michigan, Tennessee and, most strikingly, in Missouri shows how effective the strategy can be.
As different as they are, both street rebellions and electoral campaigns can leave behind a legacy of organizational infrastructure. This infrastructure is absolutely vital. There’s no way to win without it.
In my two decades of political involvement, I’ve never been more optimistic about the left’s power to shape the terms of debate. But doing better than the past isn’t anywhere near good enough.
We are in the middle of a ruinous pandemic whose effects will remake the world: On both sides of the Atlantic, economies are contracting, unemployment is soaring and people are suffering, all while billionaires’ wealth balloons to astronomical levels. The situation in the United States, where the pandemic has exposed deep race and class inequality, is especially dire.
The coming months and years are crucial. They will shape not only politics but also, as the climate crisis intensifies, the very conditions of life on this planet. That’s a huge challenge. But it’s also a historic opportunity to make a better, more equal and more just world. We must not pass it up.
Sheerpost. August 5, 2020
Death Row, San Quentin State Prison—We men and women who unfortunately have been sentenced to death and sent to death rows here at San Quentin State Prison (for men) and the Central California Women’s Facility at Chowchilla have often been referred to as the “walking dead” or “Dead Man Walking,” as made famous by the 1995 movie, starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, about a death row inmate.
We were called these names long before the COVID-19 pandemic came upon us all, seemingly out of nowhere. After it came on the scene, we death row inmates got a double dose of death.
Since May 1985, when I first arrived at San Quentin, I have been living under the constant threat of manmade death, state-sanctioned torture and murder, first by way of the gas chamber, then later by lethal injection, as well as living in one of the most violent prisons in the entire world, where inmates stabbing each other for any type of reason was once the norm.
In 2004, when I came within three hours and 42 minutes of being executed by lethal injection, I was at least able to prepare myself as best I could for this crime against humanity that was going to take place against my Black body by prison guard executioners trained to do this by burning me alive from the inside with their poisonous lethal injection drugs.
In my mind, I thought, and I prayed, that I could honestly prepare myself for this…But could I really?
Not even that near death experience could prepare me for this COVID-19 pandemic and all that it brought with it. The uncertainty of everything concerning one’s health, or even death, is unnerving. At least when I was facing manmade execution, I was told exactly the day, date and time that my life was going to be taken. But that’s not the case with the coronavirus.
Every little thing that happens like a cough for example, or a sneeze, or anything like that makes you wonder, Do I have the coronavirus? This is a form of psychological torture, just as executions and knowing what is going to happen to you is, but it’s also very different.
Then one starts to wonder, as I did, about the men who live in the cages on either side of the four-and-a-half-by-11-foot cage I live in, number 82, and in cage 81 and 83 there are other men, and then men on their further side. While this type of mental torture is happening in one’s mind, the reality and truth about what has and is taking place must be dealt with as well.
According to the prison grapevine, certain news stations, and a friend from outside, 21 inmates have died of COVID-19, 11 of them from death row as of July 29. Plus, there have been 2,166 confirmed COVID-19 cases here, and more than 200 prison guards are among the 254 staff who tested positive. Fewer than 90 have returned to work, and now there’s a staff shortage at San Quentin.
Many of these cases and deaths were preventable, and the chief medical officer of the state prison system was removed from his job for this and other reasons, according to certain prison guards and news reports.
The prison furniture factory, where inmates from general population work to make furniture, has been closed and converted to a hospital for inmates in general population who need to be hospitalized, but not in a hospital outside the prison.
There have been huge tents set up on the general population yard for triage and for whatever medical needs inmates have. The prison kitchen where food was cooked to feed the entire prison, including death row, was closed because of this epidemic. Inmates were served baloney and cheese sandwiches, then the prison hired an outside food vendor to deliver truckloads of prepared food in plastic and non-plastic trays for all inmates in this prison, and now we’re back to the kitchen food being served on paper trays.
This prison is truly on “lockdown” and the only time we inmates on death row leave the cages that we are assigned to is for medical and dental visits or to be taken to the shower three times a week. Telephone privileges were temporarily taken away, the only prison in the state where this happened. Supposedly the prison medical staff were afraid that we can get the coronavirus from handling the telephone. Then we heard on local NBC News that the main reason was because inmates were calling their families and the news media with information about what was going on in here.
While living this unbelievable life under these unbelievable circumstances, I remembered that in early 2020 my friend and lead attorney in my case told me about an illness that he had. He told me how he hurt and all he went through, though it may not have been the coronavirus. I remember thinking to myself that he was exaggerating as to the horrible experience that he went through concerning his illness, nothing could be that bad, and I said to myself that he was getting soft in his old age. After all, “I’m rough, I’m cheap, tough steak, I can handle anything,” was my mentality.
In late June 2020, I called my attorney and apologized to him for thinking that he was exaggerating about how bad he felt and all that he experienced because of that illness. I told him that I honestly thought that he was truly exaggerating when he told me about the things he went through.
Why did I apologize to him? Because in the middle of June, I began to get ill as well. But because I kept getting both my body temperature and my oxygen levels checked every other day by the prison medical staff, and was told that I’m good and everything is fine, I knew that I didn’t have the virus and wasn’t thinking about anything else as far as illnesses go. I was focused on not getting the coronavirus.
Every test I took I was good, no high temperature, good oxygen levels, but I kept feeling worse with each passing day. I was still doing everything that I do in this cage, from reading to writing to working out and speaking to my people on the phone, all the time getting worse, but not having a temperature and still having good oxygen levels.
One day, I just fell onto the bed and lay there for hours. Dozing in and out of sleep, I kept hearing inmates calling out, “Man down!” “Man down”—an alarm system we inmates use to notify the prison guards when an inmate in a cell is unresponsive or sick. I kept hearing inmates call “man down” and giving their cell number and tier.
And this went on for a week straight, all day and all night long, inmates were calling “man down” somewhere in the unit. When this happens, the alarm in the unit goes off, which is a loud buzzing sound that can be heard all over the unit and outside the unit. Then the officers go to the cell where the inmate is down. Some inmates can walk out on their own, sometimes the medical staff has to be called and they are taken out on a gurney. Some of these men ended up in the hospital.
There are five open-air tiers in the East Block—death row—with 52 cells, a total of 260 cells; each tier has two showers. On each tier, 26 cells on one side face an equal number across from them. One side has sealed windows that face the prison yard, and across the way the cells have a view of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. That is the view from my cell on the fourth tier. So, when an inmate yells “man down” anywhere in the block, it can be heard throughout death row.
If we inmates do not look out for each other by calling “man down,” inmates can lie in their cage without getting any help for lord knows how long. And that might cost somebody his life. Especially if it is after 4:00 P.M. because at 4:00 P.M. is standing count—and if we don’t stand for the count, they will want to know why, and after that, there is no count till 4:00 P.M. next afternoon.
I did not want to call out “man down” for myself out of fear that they would remove me from this cage and take me to who knows where in this prison for some type of isolation purpose. The prison has put flu and COVID-19 patients in solitary confinement in the solitary housing unit, or SHU, with no phones and few personal belongings.
I made myself get up at 4:00 P.M. for mandatory standing count; I then lay back down. I didn’t eat dinner, or breakfast, lunch or dinner the following days. Exactly how many days I don’t know. I only got out of bed for standing count, temperature and oxygen checks, which remained good, and to use the phone. I would man up and use the phone and talk to everyone like nothing was wrong (although some said later my voice was weak.)
I did not want to make anyone in my world and on my team and in my life worry about me anymore than they already were, especially knowing that they have their own lives, families and everything else, including worrying about catching the virus themselves.
So, I pretended that everything was good with me, but I was hurting and hurting badly. Each and every day I was getting worse. I went and reread the information concerning the symptoms of the coronavirus that the prison handed out, and I did not have any of those symptoms, yet I was in bad shape.
My body started to hurt, and I started to vomit. I couldn’t keep even water down, and the water from the tap was so warm that all I kept thinking of was ice water.
I wanted ice water so badly! Ice water is contraband in this prison. You can’t get ice unless a doctor prescribes it, like if an inmate hurts his ankle playing basketball and the doctor gives him a prescription to put ice on it. At one point a doctor came by and I begged him for ice, but he turned away and I did not get the ice.
I had spoken to many of my friends on the phone shortly before this. My attorneys and I spoke to Kim Kardashian, a supporter, to give her an update on my efforts to get an innocence investigation to present new evidence in my case, and I wished her luck on her studies for the “baby bar,” a precursor to her taking the state bar exam.
Everything was good, then it was all bad, seemingly just that fast.
I started to develop a sour taste in my mouth. It was nasty, and all I could do is wash my mouth out with mouthwash. I could not get rid of that sourness inside my mouth and in my throat and stomach. All the while, I was throwing up, hurting with body aches, and having no medication other than Tylenol and ibuprofen on hand.
I contacted a couple of my friends and asked them to send word out that I was ill. They did that, and one of them posted it on my Facebook page and word got out quickly. I could no longer afford not to let my people know about my illness for fear that I may actually die. When my friend in New Zealand, Dr. Kate Orange, learned about my illness, she told me by way of my friends not to take ibuprofen without having food in my stomach. I couldn’t eat, but I never took the ibuprofen because I couldn’t keep anything down.
I also found out, mainly because I was not the only inmate who was down at this time, that we all had the flu, and a bad case of it. Medical staff were asking inmates about it, but none ever asked me, and I did not tell them. I felt better emotionally knowing I had the flu instead of the coronavirus, yet the flu kills many people every year as well, and I did not think of that during this point in time. I just knew I did not have the common symptoms of COVID-19.
“The living dead”
Being in prison is bad enough for one’s health, especially when the prison health system in this state of California was at one time among the worst in this country, so much so that it was under federal court orders to fix all that was wrong because inmates, all poor, were suffering and dying due to lack of adequate healthcare. We on death row see our plight ten-times worse than the regular prison population because after all, we are on death row, deemed unworthy of life by society, and healthcare, especially good and consistent healthcare, not only saves lives, it gives life to the lifeless, people like me who are condemned to death.
In all of this pain and uncertainty about what was happening to me, I honestly felt like the living dead, even though I have no real idea of what “living dead” is, other than a zombie, or oxymoron. Yet I did not feel alive, and in fact I started to lose weight, about ten-or-so pounds. My thighs got really thin, as did my legs, and my stomach shrank; by not being able to eat, I could not maintain the body weight that I had.
I stayed in bed all day long and still kept getting worse, hurting and telling myself not to give up, that I was going to make it, that I have too much to live for not to make it, that I have people who care about me, people who are working hard to get me out of this horrible place, people who are standing by my side fighting with me and for me to prove my innocence. I couldn’t give up and let them down.
While my body was getting weaker, my spirit and will to survive got stronger. Then, just as the illness came out of nowhere and kicked my ass in this cage, I began to feel it leave little by little. I began to feel better. It was after I went through this most painful health experience and started to feel better, I called my attorney and apologized to him because he was not exaggerating about anything. We laughed, and he was honestly happy that I was feeling better and on the mend.
I am scared not only of this coronavirus, but also of this prison healthcare system. So much so that I did not tell them I had what we all think was the flu. I did get a flu shot last year, as I do every year, and I hope it helped in ending what I had.
Now I am back to living this inhumane experience in this inhumane place, still living under the threat of manmade death by lethal injection, and by mother nature with this pandemic, and the flu. All kill and will continue to do so. Which way is worse? I do not know, nor do I want to find out.
Sometimes living on this modern day plantation I do not even know which way is up because I have been down for so long. Living in a place where I have no say about anything, control over nothing, a place where ice water is contraband, and there is no clean air inside this building called East Block where I am forced to live against my will.
This place where loneliness is my best friend and death is my constant companion makes me wonder: Am I going to make it out of here alive—or dead in a body bag? There has to be more than this to what we call life. Living by one’s animalistic nature cannot be living life, and if one is not truly living, then aren’t they dead?
So, you tell me, am I living, or am I dead?
Posted by: Bonnie Weinstein <email@example.com>
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