San Francisco’s Air Quality Index: 192
ZOOM WEBINAR: Moving Money
from the Military to Human Needs
Register at: https://tinyurl.com/y3un85rg
U.S. Peace Council • P.O. Box 3105, New Haven, CT 06515 • (203) 387-0370 • USPC@USPeaceCouncil.org
• https://uspeacecouncil.org • https://www.facebook.com/USPeaceCouncil/ • @USPeaceCouncil
Do Trump and coronavirus have you down? Then join us on September 26 to celebrate the 15 year anniversary of one of the world’s most beautiful projects: Cuba’s Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade!
The Henry Reeve Brigade will celebrate its 15th anniversary next month! Yes, it will have been 15 years since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and prompted then-Cuban president Fidel Castro to offer to send doctors to help treat patients in the storm’s aftermath. The US government refused this offer, but Cuba was not deterred from wanting to show the world some much needed solidarity.
Since its founding, the brave women and men of the Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade have given emergency medical assistance to more than 3.5 million people in over 50 countries. To honor their compassion and commitment, we will hear directly from Cuban doctors working on the frontlines of the pandemic.
What: Cuban Doctors Speak: 15 years of the Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade
When: Saturday, September 26 at 8pm ET / 5pm PT
Where: Online via Zoom, YouTube and Facebook.
There’s even more good news: Danny Glover will be on with us to offer his commentary, and journalist/author Vijay Prashad will host this fascinating conversation! Please join Danny, Vijay, and the Cuban medical personnel for this celebratory event. We promise it will nurture your soul.
Alicia Jrakpo and Medea Benjamin
P.S. The attacks on Cuba’s medical internationalism are not stopping! Even Human Rights Watch (HRW), a liberal NGO, has joined in on the Trump administration’s campaign to slander this amazing example of solidarity. If you have not already, please read the rebuttal to the HRW report then sign and share the petition asking HRW to retract their flawed report!
Also, Vijay Prashad has just published a lovely article about why Cuban doctors deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. Check it out!
P.P.S. 1980 Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel just made a video endorsing the Nobel for Cuban Doctors campaign! Click here to watch it!.
Want to make your own short video explaining why you support the Henry Reeve Brigade? Upload it to Twitter and tag @CubaNobel. Then we’ll be happy to like and retweet it! It’s a great way of spreading the word about the campaign.
We look forward to working with you to continue the aspirations of the Nobel Peace Prize for the Cuban Doctors campaign. Watch for our upcoming webinars and film series.
Remember to follow us in social media:
Alicia Jrapko and Medea Benjamin
Co-Chairs of the Cuba Nobel Prize Committee
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© 2020 CUBANOBEL.ORG | Created with NationBuilder
The six remaining Kings Bay Plowshares defendants have had their sentencing dates moved from September to October 15 and 16. They had requested a continuance because they want to appear in open court in Georgia and the virus situation there is still too out of control to safely allow it.
Steve Kelly has now served almost 29 months in county jails since the action in April, 2018 so has already met the guidelines for his likely sentence. The court may not want to grant him further extensions. (You can send a postcard to Steve to let him know you're thinking of him. Directions on writing here.)
The other defendants are not sure if they would prefer to seek more continuances or choose virtual appearances for sentencing in solidarity with Steve on those dates in October if it appears unsafe to travel to Georgia at that time. Check the website for updates.September 9 will be the 40thanniversary of the first plowshares action in King of Prussia, PA. Eight activists, known as the Plowshares Eight, entered the GE plant where nosecones for nuclear missile warheads were manufactured. They hammered on several and poured blood on the nosecones and documents.
Emile de Antonio’s 1983 film, In the King of Prussia, is about the trial of the Plowshares Eight. The judge is played by Martin Sheen and the defendants are played by themselves. It’s available for viewing on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUph8GWFupE
Call for the immediate release of
Syiaah Skylit from CDCR custody!
Sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/gavin-newsom-call-for-the-immediate-release-of-syiaah-skylit-from-cdcr-custody-blacktranslivesmatter?recruiter=915876972&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=abi_gmail&utm_campaign=address_book&recruited_by_id=7d48b720-ecea-11e8-a770-29edb03b51cc
Syiaah Skylit is a Black transgender woman currently incarcerated at Kern Valley State Prison (KVSP). Syiaah has been a victim of multiple acts of brutal, senseless violence at KVSP at the hands of prison staff and others in custody. Many of these attacks are in retaliation for her advocacy for herself and other trans women.
Syiaah’s life is currently at risk due to racist, transmisogynist violence at the hands of the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCr). While all the offending officers should be fired, this isn’t about a couple of bad apples. We have centuries of evidence that prison will never be safe — for Black people, for trans people, and especially not for Black trans women.
“I’m not going to make it out of this prison alive if I’m left here any longer.”
— Syiaah Skylit, June 2020
While incarcerated at Kern Valley State Prison between 2018 and the present, prison staff have subjected Syiaah to severe and persistent physical, sexual, and psychological abuse (see below for examples, with content warnings). Staff at Kern Valley State Prison are also responsible for the 2013 death of Carmen Guerrero, a transgender woman who was forced to be housed with an individual who made it clear to officers that he would kill Ms. Guerrero if he was celled with her. Earlier this year, that individual was given the death penalty for killing Ms. Guerrero just eight hours after CDCR officers forced them to cell together.
Facing immediate danger, Syiaah has repeatedly asked to be transferred to a women’s facility and CDCR has repeatedly denied her requests. We demand that Governor Newsom and CDCR immediately release Syiaah to her community and family before she falls further victim to the lethal danger that transgender people face in prison.
[Content note: assault, sexual violence, anti-Black racism, transmisogny]
While in CDCR custody between 2018 and the present, Syiaah has:
- Been physically attacked by CDCR staff multiple times;
- Been threatened with sexual assault with a baton by CDCR staff;
- Been forced by CDCR staff to parade through the yard naked from the waist down;
- Been stripped naked by CDCR staff and left overnight in her cell without clothes, blankets, or a mattress;
- Been attacked by other people in custody who admitted that CDCR staff directed them to do so;
- Had her property stolen and destroyed by CDCR staff;
- Been maced in the face and thrown in a cage after reporting an assault;
- Been intentionally placed on the same yard as an individual she testified against who is facing attempted murder charges for his assault of a transgender woman. As Syiaah feared, this individual violently attacked her as revenge. This man was then allowed to attack a gay man after attacking Syiaah.
- Been intentionally placed on the same yard as individuals with histories of attacking trans women and other LGBTQI+ people, in spite of her pleas to be placed separately;
- Been thrown in administrative segregation after being the victim of an attack;
- Has had all of her recent documented complaints of discrimination and violence rejected under false pretenses;
- Has had contact with her legal representatives restricted to one phone call a week;
- Has been humiliated and discriminated against for going on a hunger strike as a form of protest;
- Has expressed numerous, documented concerns for her safety and had them blatantly ignored.
In spite of the constant violence Syiaah continues to survive, she continues to demonstrate her resilience and dedication to learning and growing. She has earned certifications in many educational and vocational programs and support groups.
We as Syiaah’s community and chosen family are ready to support her with a safe and successful reentry plan if Governor Newsom uses his executive powers to grant her clemency. Organizations that can offer Syiaah comprehensive reentry support including housing and employment upon her release include TGI Justice Project, Transgender Advocacy Group (TAG), and Medina Orthwein LLP.
You can read more about Syiaah's story in this article by Victoria Law for Truthout as well as this one by Dustin Gardiner for the SF Chronicle.
Please sign and share this petition to #FreeSyiaah and declare #BlackTransLivesMatter!
Please also check out our social media toolkit to support Syiaah!
[Please do not donate as prompted after signing, as the money goes to change.org and not to any cause associated with Syiaah.]
Art by Micah Bazant at Forward Together.
Write to Kevin “Rashid” Johnson:
Kevin Johnson #264847
Wabash Valley Correctional Facility
6908 S. Old U.S. HWY 41, P.O. Box 500
Carlisle, IN 47838
Snowden vindicated by court ruling – time to drop
Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the NSA telephone surveillance program revealed by Edward Snowden was illegal and likely unconstitutional. This ruling should finally end any remaining debate on whether Snowden’s actions constituted whistleblowing, and on his necessity of going to the press. The question now is how to remedy the legal and ethical dilemma he was placed into. It’s time to either drop his charges or pardon him.
The court’s ruling validates Snowden on multiple levels. It settles beyond doubt that his belief in the illegality of the programs he witnessed was reasonable. The panel of judges ruled that the mass telephone surveillance conducted under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act was illegal. And while they refrained from issuing a ruling on the Constitutional challenge, they strongly suggested that the program was in violation of the Fourth Amendment. They ruled that the government’s claims about the effectiveness of the surveillance had been lies, and that its legal theory about the necessity of mass collection of phone data was “unprecedented and unwarranted.”
Legally, a whistleblower does not need to ultimately be proved correct about the concerns they report. If they simply have a “reasonable belief” their employer is breaking the law, they are entitled to whistleblower protections. While any plain reading of the Fourth Amendment and the FISA statutes should have sufficed to prove a reasonable concern, this ruling is beyond sufficient affirmation that Snowden’s concern was “objectively reasonable”.
While he should have been able to make a protected whistleblower disclosure based on such concerns, those channels were not a realistic option. As an outside contractor, he would not have been guaranteed protection under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA) statute in place at that time. Critics of Snowden also conveniently ignore the history of other NSA employees who blew the whistle on these programs before him. The internal channels were used to “catch and kill” the complaints of at least four previous surveillance whistleblowers, placing them – and even the Congressional intelligence committee staffer they went to – under criminal leak investigations. Snowden saw, for example, the punitive treatment of NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake. Drake went through every conceivable internal channel: his boss, the NSA Inspector General (IG), the Defense Department IG, and the House & Senate Intel Committees. Not only did they fail to redress his grievances, many acted to further punish him: ignored his concerns, marginalized him, forced him out, blacklisted him, and ultimately drove his failed criminal prosecution.
Snowden correctly assessed that the only remaining option was to go to the press, and the 9th Circuit ruling credits him for choosing that path, noting that his disclosures enabled “significant public debate over the appropriate scope of government surveillance”. Indeed, this ruling simply would not have been possible without his public disclosures. The government had long maneuvered to keep mass surveillance programs beyond this kind of judicial scrutiny.
As a witness to large scale illegality, and without effective or safe channels, Snowden was placed in a dilemma: break his agreement to protect classified information, or break his sworn oath to uphold the laws and defend the Constitution. He chose to honor his higher duty and so turned to the only other available channel that could serve as a check against government wrongdoing: the press. Snowden turned to the “Fourth Estate” and it played exactly the role the Founders intended. We cannot now prosecute him as a spy or abandon him to a lifetime of exile for having done so.
Whistleblower & Source Protection Program (WHISPeR)
Take Action Now
Write, email and call the Nebraska Board of Pardons. Request that they expedite Ed’s application, schedule his hearing for the October 2020 meeting and commute his sentence.
*please email a copy of your letter..to email@example.com---EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
CALL: Governor Pete Ricketts--402-471-2244 & SoS Robert B. Evnen---402-471-2554 & AG Doug Peterson--402-471-2683
His peers criticized this appearance. The press purposefully didn't cover it. He simply wanted to inspire young minds with the beauty and power of science, drawing attention to the power of ALL human minds, regardless of race.
“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.” -Albert Einstein
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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.
Please visit the NLG Mass Defense Program page for general protest-related legal support hotlines run by NLG chapters.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
Center for Constitutional Rights
Civil Liberties Defense Center
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Grand Jury Resistance Project
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Tilted Scales Collective
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:
Roger Stone’s Freedom Is All the More Outrageous While Reality Winner Languishes in PrisonDonald 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:
Tell Blackrock: stop investing in Tasers!
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!
Tell Blackrock: stop investing in Tasers!
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
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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.
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
Raping, torturing their way across
the continent—400 years ago—
Colonial settler thugs launched this
endless crimson tide rolling down on
endless crimson tide leaving in-
visible yellow crime
scene tape crisscrossing Tallahassee
to Seattle; San Diego to Bangor…
Choctaw, Mohawk, Cayuga, Blackfeet,
Shooting Sioux, Shawnee, Chickasaw,
Looting Lakota land; Looting Ohlone
Looting Ashanti, Fulani, Huasa, Wolof,
Yoruba, Ibo, Kongo, Mongo, Hutu, Zulu…
endless crimson tide—hot lead storms—
Shooting, looting Mexico for half of New
Mexico; a quarter of Colorado; some of
Wyoming and most of Arizona; Looting
Mexico for Utah, Nevada and California
is dirty like Duterte—howling for shooting;
Next time demented minions raise rifles to
shoot; Remind them that
Real looters wear Brooks Brothers suits;
Or gold braid and junk medals ‘cross their
chests. Real looters—with Capitalist Hill
Not FOX-boxes, silly sneakers, cheap clothes…
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)
Mumia Abu-Jamal: New Chance for Freedom
Police and State Frame-Up Must Be Fully Exposed!
Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent. Courts have ignored and suppressed evidence of his innocence for decades.... But now, one court has thrown out all the decisions of the PA Supreme Court that denied Mumia's appeals against his unjust conviction during the years of 1998 to 2012!
This ruling, by Judge Leon Tucker, was made because one judge on the PA Supreme Court during those years, Ronald Castille, was lacking the "appearance of impartiality." In plain English, he was clearly biased against Mumia. Before sitting on the PA Supreme Court, Castille had been District Attorney (or assistant DA) during the time of Mumia's frame-up and conviction, and had used his office to express a special interest in pursuing the death penalty for "cop-killers." Mumia was in the cross-hairs. Soon he was wrongly convicted and sent to death row for killing a police officer.....
* * * * *
Mumia Abu-Jamal is an award-winning and intrepid journalist, a former Black Panther, MOVE supporter, and a critic of police brutality and murder. Mumia was framed by police, prosecutors, and leading elements of both Democratic and Republican parties, for the shooting of a police officer.. The US Justice Department targeted him as well... A racist judge helped convict him, and corrupt courts have kept him locked up despite much evidence that should have freed him. He continues his commentary and journalism from behind bars. As of 2019, he has been imprisoned for 37 years for a crime he did not commit.
Time is up! FREE MUMIA NOW!
* * * * *
DA's Hidden Files Show Frame-Up of Mumia
In the midst of Mumia's fight for his right to challenge the state Supreme Court's negative rulings, a new twist was revealed: six boxes of files on Mumia's case--with many more still hidden--were surreptitiously concealed for decades in a back room at the District Attorney's office in Philadelphia. The very fact that these files on Mumia's case were hidden away for decades is damning in the extreme, and their revelations confirm what we have known for decades: Mumia was framed for a crime he did not commit!
So far, the newly revealed evidence confirms that, at the time of Mumia's 1982 trial, chief prosecutor Joe McGill illegally removed black jurors from the jury, violating the Batson decision. Also revealed: The prosecution bribed witnesses into testifying that they saw Mumia shoot the slain police officer when they hadn't seen any such thing.... Taxi driver Robert Chobert, who was on probation for fire-bombing a school yard at the time, had sent a letter demanding his money for lying on the stand....... Very important, but the newly revealed evidence is just the tip of the iceberg!
All Evidence of Mumia's Innocence Must Be Brought Forward Now!
Mumia Abu-Jamal's trial for the murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner was rigged against him from beginning to end........ All of the evidence of Mumia's innocence--which was earlier suppressed or rejected--must now be heard:
• Mumia was framed - The judge at Mumia's trial, Albert Sabo, was overheard to say, "I'm gonna help 'em fry the n____r." And he proceeded to do just that.... Mumia was thrown out of his own trial for defending himself! Prosecution "witnesses" were coerced or bribed at trial to lie against Mumia.. In addition to Chobert, this included key witness Cynthia White, a prostitute who testified that she saw Mumia shoot Faulkner... White's statements had to be rewritten under intense pressure from the cops, because she was around the corner and out of sight of the shooting at the time! Police bribed her with promises of being allowed to work her corner, and not sent to state prison for her many prostitution charges.
• Mumia only arrived on the scene after Officer Faulkner was shot - William Singletary, a tow-truck business owner who had no reason to lie against the police, said he had been on the scene the whole time, that Mumia was not the shooter, and that Mumia had arrived only after the shooting of Faulkner. Singletary's statements were torn up, his business was wrecked, and he was threatened by police to be out of town for the trial (which, unfortunately, he was)...
• There is no evidence that Mumia fired a gun - Mumia was shot on the scene by an arriving police officer and arrested. But the cops did not test his hands for gun-powder residue--a standard procedure in shootings! They also did not test Faulkner's hands. The prosecution nevertheless claimed Mumia was the shooter, and that he was shot by Faulkner as the officer fell to the ground. Ballistics evidence was corrupted to falsely show that Mumia's gun was the murder weapon, when his gun was reportedly still in his taxi cab, which was in police custody days after the shooting!
• The real shooter fled the scene and was never charged - Veronica Jones was a witness who said that after hearing the shots from a block away, she had seen two people fleeing the scene of the shooting.... This could not have included Mumia, who had been shot and almost killed at the scene. Jones was threatened by the police with arrest and loss of custody of her children. She then lied on the stand at trial to say she had seen no one running away.
• Abu-Jamal never made a confession - Mumia has always maintained his innocence. But police twice concocted confessions that Mumia never made. Inspector Alfonso Giordano, the senior officer at the crime scene, made up a confession for Mumia. But Giordano was not allowed to testify at trial, because he was top on the FBI's list of corrupt cops in the Philadelphia police force... At the DA's request, another cop handily provided a second "confession," allegedly heard by a security guard in the hospital......... But at neither time was Mumia--almost fatally shot--able to speak.. And an earlier police report by cops in the hospital said that, referring to Mumia: "the negro male made no comment"!
• The crime scene was tampered with by police - Police officers at the scene rearranged some evidence, and handled what was alleged to be Mumia's gun with their bare hands... A journalist's photos revealed this misconduct. The cops then left the scene unattended for hours.. All of this indicates a frame-up in progress....
• The real shooter confessed, and revealed the reason for the crime - Arnold Beverly came forward in the 1990s. He said in a sworn statement, under penalty of perjury, that he, not Mumia, had been the actual shooter. He said that he, along with "another guy," had been hired to do the hit, because Faulkner was "a problem for the mob and corrupt policemen because he interfered with the graft and payoffs made to allow illegal activity including prostitution, gambling, drugs without prosecution in the center city area"! (affidavit of Arnold Beverly).
• The corruption of Philadelphia police is documented and well known - This includes that of Giordano, who was the first cop to manufacture a "confession" by Mumia... Meanwhile, Faulkner's cooperation with the federal anti-corruption investigations of Philadelphia police is strongly suggested by his lengthy and heavily redacted FBI file......
• Do cops kill other cops? There are other cases in Philadelphia that look that way. Frank Serpico, an NYC cop who investigated and reported on police corruption, was abandoned by fellow cops after being shot in a drug bust. Mumia was clearly made a scape-goat for the crimes of corrupt Philadelphia cops who were protecting their ill-gotten gains.
• Politicians and US DOJ helped the frame-up - Ed Rendell, former DA, PA governor, and head of the Democratic National Committee--and now a senior advisor to crime-bill author Joe Biden--is complicit in the frame-up of Mumia. The US Justice Department targeted Mumia for his anti-racist activities when he was a teenager, and later secretly warned then-prosecutor Rendell not to use Giordano as a witness against Mumia because he was an FBI target for corruption..
* * * * *
All this should lead to an immediate freeing of Mumia! But we are still a ways away from that, and we have no confidence in the capitalist courts to finish the job. We must act! This victory in local court allowing new appeals must now lead to a full-court press on all the rejected and suppressed evidence of Mumia's innocence!
Mass Movement Needed To Free Mumia!
Mumia's persecution by local, state and federal authorities of both political parties has been on-going, and has generated a world-wide movement in his defense... This movement has seen that Mumia, as a radio journalist who exposed the brutal attacks on the black community by the police in Philadelphia, has spoken out as a defender of working people of all colors and all nationalities in his ongoing commentaries (now on KPFA/Pacifica radio), despite being on death row, and now while serving life without the possibility of parole (LWOP)...
In 1999, Oakland Teachers for Mumia held unauthorized teach-ins in Oakland schools on Mumia and the death penalty, despite the rabid hysteria in the bourgeois media. Teachers in Rio de Janeiro held similar actions. Letters of support came in from maritime workers and trade unions around the world.. Later in 1999, longshore workers shut down all the ports on the West Coast to free Mumia, and led a mass march of 25,000 Mumia supporters in San Francisco................
A year later, a federal court lifted Mumia's death sentence, based on improper instructions to the jury by trial judge Albert Sabo.. The federal court ordered the local court to hold a new sentencing hearing... Fearing their frame-up of Mumia could be revealed in any new hearing, even if only on sentencing, state officials passed. Much to the chagrin of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP)--which still seeks Mumia's death--this left Mumia with LWOP, death by life in prison..
Mumia supporters waged a struggle to get him the cure for the deadly Hepatitis-C virus, which he had likely contracted through a blood transfusion in hospital after he was shot by a cop at the 1981 crime scene. The Labor Action Committee conducted demonstrations against Gilead Sciences, the Foster City CA corporation that owns the cure, and charged $1,000 per pill! The Metalworkers Union of South Africa wrote a letter excoriating Governor Wolf for allowing untreated sick freedom fighters to die in prison as the apartheid government had done. Finally, Mumia did get the cure.. Now, more than ever, struggle is needed to free Mumia!
Now is the Time: Mobilize Again for Mumia's Freedom!
Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal | Mumia Abu-Jamal is an I.....
Message to the People
A voice from inside Pennsylvania’s gulag
LETTERS NEEDED FOR
Dear Friends, Supporters, and Family,
In light of the provisions of the CARES Act meant to decrease the risk to prisoner heath, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Attorney General has delegated to the Director of the Bureau of Prisons the authority to release certain vulnerable prisoners to home confinement. Currently, the process for identifying appropriate candidates for home confinement have not been solidified but we believe it may help to write to the BOP Director and Southeast Regional Director and ask that Leonard be immediately considered and transitioned to his home on the Turtle Mountain Reservation.Your letters should be addressed to:
Michael CarvajalDirector320 First Street NWWashington, DC 20534
J.A. KellerSoutheast Regional DirectorFederal Bureau of3800 Camp Crk Prk SW, Building 2000Atlanta, GA 30331
We have not drafted a form letter or correspondence. Your pleas should come from your heart as an individual who has supported Leonard for so many years. Say what you would like but we have put together some talking points that will assist you in your letter writing. Below are some helpful guidelines so your letter touches on the requirements of the Attorney General’s criteria for releasing inmates like Leonard to home confinement
OPENING:• Point out that Leonard is an elder and is at risk for example.” Mr. Peltier is 75 years old and in very poor health; his only desire is to go home to the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation and live out the remainder of his years surrounded by his family.”
MEDICAL:The AG and CDC guidelines for releasing inmates requires the health concerns cause greater risk of getting the virus. Leonard has the following conditions you can list in your letter• Diabetes• Spots on lung• Heart Condition (has had triple by-pass surgery)• Leonard Peltier suffers from a kidney disease that cannot be treated at the Coleman1facility and impacts as an underlying condition if contracting the virus.
RISK TO COMMUNITY:To qualify for release to home confinement we must show that Leonard poses no risk to the community.
COMMUNITY SUPPORT/RENTRY PLAN:To qualify for release to home confinement we must show that Leonard has a reentry plan. Leonard has support from the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Band and has family land on the reservation where he can live.
RISK OF COVID 19:To qualify for the release to home confinement must show that Leonard is at reduced risk to exposure of COVID 19 by release than he is at Coleman 1. Currently Rolette County, ND has no cases of COVID 19, Sumter County has at least 33 cases.
Questions and comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
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: email@example.com (Prison Superintendent). firstname.lastname@example.org (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: email@example.comDemand 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
If the protests are to translate into laws, contributions for politicians from law enforcement must become toxic rather than coveted.
By Miriam Pawel, Contributing Opinion Writer, Sept. 9, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/09/opinion/police-reform-defund-politicians.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Debra Ray, the aunt of Dijon Kizzee, who was recently killed by sheriff's deputies in Los Angeles. Credit...Mario Tama/Getty Images
LOS ANGELES — In late August, Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies shot a Black man, Dijon Kizzee, whom they had stopped for a suspected traffic violation as he rode his bicycle. He became the seventh man killed by deputies in Los Angeles since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day weekend.
On the same afternoon, state legislators in Sacramento raced to the end of their 2020 session. The most significant police reform measure, heralded in the days of the Black Lives Matter marches that filled the streets, did not even come up for a vote.
A centerpiece of the agenda would have set up a process for yanking the badge of any officer found to have committed serious misconduct. California is one of only five states that has no process for certifying police officers, which among other things enables bad cops to move from department to department with impunity.
Democrats hold supermajorities in both houses. Major newspapers in California editorialized in favor of a slew of police reform bills. Polls showed support. In one of the bluest states in the country, all indications pointed toward action on reform.
But in the end, even here, it was essentially business as usual in a State Capitol where police unions have long wielded enormous power. The measures that passed this year were either noncontroversial or so diluted as to have little if any immediate impact.
“The culture has not even begun to change,” said John Crew, a retired attorney who spent decades working on police accountability issues in California for the A.C.L.U. “Their political analysis seems to be that the world has not changed as much as a lot of us think it has. I hope it has.”
If the marches that brought so much hope for profound change are to translate into laws, hope will have to overcome fear: The movement will have to exert enough pressure to overcome politicians’ fear of crossing the unions.
The culture will not change until enough elected officials are unafraid to risk the wrath of police unions, until financial support from law enforcement becomes toxic rather than coveted, until “defund the politicians” becomes as much a rallying cry as “defund the police.”
There have been baby steps. Even amid the legislative defeats, the Black Lives Matter movement generated greater transparency, not of the police themselves — those bills largely failed as well — but of the political process. When it became evident the decertification bill did not have support to pass the Assembly, advocates shifted their public campaign to lobby for a vote anyway, angry that lawmakers could evade taking a stand.
“People are in the streets calling for your leadership, @AssemblyDems,” tweeted a Lakers star, Kyle Kuzma. “Taking a knee isn’t the same as taking a vote.”
Unions have sensed the pressure. Of course they support certification, union officials said. This is just not the way to do it. The pandemic shortened the session and made negotiation difficult. These are complicated issues, they said; this bill is dangerous; the process cannot be rushed; this is an act that will have consequences. “Unknown impacts,” they warned, to public safety.
There is another not particularly subtle subtext about the consequences — the ones that might befall lawmakers. “It’s not really about substance, it’s about power,” Mr. Crew said. “It’s about the implicit threat of what they could do with their money.”
Since 2017, the Peace Officers Research Association, one of the major statewide law enforcement groups, has spent more than $2.6 million to influence elections. One analysis found police unions and associations gave $5.5 million to legislative candidates between 2011 and 2018.
Even before the disappointing finish in Sacramento, some reform advocates had started campaigns to demand that politicians pledge to refuse law enforcement money and support. “Assembly leaders turned their backs on CA’s communities by refusing to vote on SB 731 [police decertification] and choosing to protect abusive cops,” the A.C.L.U. of California wrote. “If you want change, demand lawmakers stop taking political contributions from police.”
A handful of lawmakers have agreed. Two state senators have said they will donate money previously received from law enforcement to community groups. Leaders of several progressive Democratic caucuses have called on the state party to stop accepting contributions from law enforcement unions. Three district attorneys and one candidate in Los Angeles have asked the state bar association to adopt a rule barring lawyers running for district attorney from accepting contributions from law enforcement.
The unions will not easily cede their clout. Politicians will not jettison comfortable habits unless there are consequences. It will take victories by insurgents who stress their independence from police unions and defeats of those who cling to the old paradigms. Unlike New York, California has not yet seen many serious challenges from the left to veteran incumbents. But there are likely to be more, along with generational change as term limits open up new seats.
The shootings, the marches, the protests and the vigils will continue. One of Mr. Kizzee’s lawyers said his client was shot between 15 and 20 times in the back. The sheriff’s department said Mr. Kizzee ran away, dropped a bundle of clothing that included a gun and punched an officer. They will not release the names of the deputies who shot him. They have not even said what traffic violation he might have been committing, other than being a Black man riding a bicycle.
If we can’t get our government to help us now, when will we ever?
By Farhad Manjoo, Opinion Columnist, Sept. 9, 2020
Labor Day hit with an extra knife-twist of cruel irony this year, in an America that is barely trying to pretend anymore that the plight of tens of millions of working people merits national concern.
On Friday, the government announced a slowing recovery from the job losses and economic shutdown caused by the pandemic. Nearly 14 million Americans are now unemployed, and almost eight million more are euphemistically called “involuntary part-time,” meaning they would work more if there were enough work.
In March, as part of a wider stimulus, Congress expanded unemployment aid by $600 per week, a plan that scholars say may have temporarily reduced the nation’s poverty rate. As of mid-August, about 29 million Americans were receiving some form of unemployment assistance.
But the $600-per-week bonus ran out in July, and Senate Republicans have rejected Democrats’ bill to extend the payments. The G.O.P. is now working on its own more limited plan, though several Republican senators are reluctant to support even that.
Inaction may prove disastrous. Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist for S & P Global, told The Times last week that federal aid was meant as a kind of economic bridge through uncertain times, but, she added, “it looks like the ravine has widened and the bridge is halfway built, so there are a lot of people stranded.”
Bovino’s image suggests a way out of this mess: Workers should band together and demand, collectively, a bridge across the ravine.
To put it more plainly: It’s time for a general strike. Actually, it’s time for a sustained series of strikes, a new movement in which workers across class and even political divides press not just for more unemployment aid but, more substantively, a renewed contract for working in an economy that is increasingly hostile to employees’ health and well-being.
This may be the American worker’s last stand: If we can’t get our government to help us now, when will we ever?
The political case for an expanded safety net is drop-dead obvious. Through no fault of their own, because their government failed to keep the nation safe, millions of Americans have lost jobs, they have lost or may soon lose health coverage, they may lose housing, and many are going without food.
Others are facing threats not just to their livelihoods but their lives. Schoolteachers, college professors, restaurant workers, retail workers, meatpackers and others are being pushed to return to work even though it’s far from clear that doing so is safe. Millions more are suffering extreme versions of the Sisyphean task of achieving work-life balance — the high cost and lack of access to quality child care, for instance, has become a consuming worry of just about every parent in the nation.
It is well within the grasp of the mighty federal government to alleviate many of these problems, and economists generally agree that urgent federal aid would stimulate wider economic activity, benefiting even those of us who do feel economically secure. Passing extra benefits should not be a hard call; in the most terrible economic climate since the Great Depression, it is just about the least the government could do.
And yet our political system is in a state of paralysis. Even worse, the government’s failure to mitigate this suffering is somehow not the main story of the day — nor even, it seems, a pressing issue in the presidential election. The speaker of the House’s haircut has gotten more coverage, recently, than the millions of people looking for work.
Why has the plight of American workers received so little attention? There are some obvious reasons. For decades, corporations waged a sustained assault on labor unions. The assault has worked. Unions were once a key voice of political advocacy for low-income Americans; their decline in membership has left them with far less political power, allowing politicians to more easily ignore working-class voters.
Yet another factor is the corrosive stratification caused by rising inequality. American workers across the class spectrum face many similar problems — expensive or inaccessible health care, child care, loosening workplace safety standards, and lax protections against being fired, among other things.
But intense ideological and class polarization limits our ability to organize across these divides. For many wealthy Americans, the recession is all but over. Even with recent dips, the stock market has recovered much of its losses. Car sales are down — but the cars that are selling are more expensive than ever before. Billionaires are doing better than ever.
These stark class divisions mean that wealthy Americans are often insulated from the plight of the poor. What does it mean to be out of work or poor in pandemic America? Nearly “one in eight households doesn’t have enough to eat,” The Times Magazine reported Sunday, alongside a searing collection of images by Brenda Ann Kenneally, a journalist who has been traversing the world’s wealthiest country to document the lives of its hungry multitudes. Our culture is now so fragmented that it’s possible to live a full life in America blissfully ignorant of our neighbors going hungry.
But I’m newly hopeful for change. For much of 2020, the labor movement has been building momentum. In May, essential workers at Amazon, Instacart and other e-commerce and delivery companies staged a one-day national strike demanding better protections and higher pay. In July, thousands of workers from a range of industries walked off the job in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
At the other end of the pay scale, professional basketball players got their league to adopt a number of social-justice initiatives after they went on strike last month to protest racial inequality and police brutality. Last week, several large unions announced they are considering authorizing work stoppages to push for concrete measures to address racial injustice.
Strikes won’t solve our problems overnight. But in the long history of American labor, including in the civil rights movement, walkouts have been an indispensable political tool, because when they get going, they’re hard to stop. Strikes bring about economic and social change the way water channels through canyon rock — forcefully, relentlessly and with time.
A measure of social progress finds that the quality of life has dropped in America over the last decade, even as it has risen almost everywhere else.
By Nicholas Kristof, Opinion Columnist, Sept. 9, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/09/opinion/united-states-social-progress.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
This should be a wake-up call: New data suggest that the United States is one of just a few countries worldwide that is slipping backward.
The newest Social Progress Index, shared with me before its official release Thursday morning, finds that out of 163 countries assessed worldwide, the United States, Brazil and Hungary are the only ones in which people are worse off than when the index began in 2011. And the declines in Brazil and Hungary were smaller than America’s.
“The data paint an alarming picture of the state of our nation, and we hope it will be a call to action,” Michael Porter, a Harvard Business School professor and the chair of the advisory panel for the Social Progress Index, told me. “It’s like we’re a developing country.”
The index, inspired by research of Nobel-winning economists, collects 50 metrics of well-being — nutrition, safety, freedom, the environment, health, education and more — to measure quality of life. Norway comes out on top in the 2020 edition, followed by Denmark, Finland and New Zealand. South Sudan is at the bottom, with Chad, Central African Republic and Eritrea just behind.
The United States, despite its immense wealth, military power and cultural influence, ranks 28th — having slipped from 19th in 2011. The index now puts the United States behind significantly poorer countries, including Estonia, Czech Republic, Cyprus and Greece.
“We are no longer the country we like to think we are,” said Porter.
The United States ranks No. 1 in the world in quality of universities, but No. 91 in access to quality basic education. The U.S. leads the world in medical technology, yet we are No. 97 in access to quality health care.
The Social Progress Index finds that Americans have health statistics similar to those of people in Chile, Jordan and Albania, while kids in the United States get an education roughly on par with what children get in Uzbekistan and Mongolia. A majority of countries have lower homicide rates, and most other advanced countries have lower traffic fatality rates and better sanitation and internet access.
The United States has high levels of early marriage — most states still allow child marriage in some circumstances — and lags in sharing political power equally among all citizens. America ranks a shameful No. 100 in discrimination against minorities.
The data for the latest index predates Covid-19, which has had a disproportionate impact on the United States and seems likely to exacerbate the slide in America’s standing. One new study suggests that in the United States, symptoms of depression have risen threefold since the pandemic began — and poor mental health is associated with other risk factors for well-being.
Michael Green, the C.E.O. of the group that puts out the Social Progress Index, notes that the coronavirus will affect health, longevity and education, with the impact particularly large in both the United States and Brazil. The equity and inclusiveness measured by the index seem to help protect societies from the virus, he said.
“Societies that are inclusive, tolerant and better educated are better able to manage the pandemic,” Green said.
The decline of the United States over the last decade in this index — more than any country in the world — is a reminder that we Americans face structural problems that predate President Trump and that festered under leaders of both parties. Trump is a symptom of this larger malaise, and also a cause of its acceleration.
David G. Blanchflower, a Dartmouth economist, has new research showing that the share of Americans reporting in effect that every day is a bad mental health day has doubled over 25 years. “Rising distress and despair are largely American phenomenon not observed in other advanced countries,” Blanchflower told me.
This decline is deeply personal for me: As I’ve written, a quarter of the kids on my old No. 6 school bus in rural Oregon are now dead from drugs, alcohol and suicide — what are called “deaths of despair.” I lost one friend to a heroin overdose this spring and have had more friends incarcerated than I could possibly count; the problems are now self-replicating in the next generation because of the dysfunction in some homes.
You as taxpayers paid huge sums to imprison my old friends; the money would have been far better invested educating them, honing their job skills or treating their addictions.
That’s why this is an election like that of 1932. That was the year American voters decisively rejected Herbert Hoover’s passivity and gave Franklin Roosevelt an electoral mandate — including a flipped Senate — that laid the groundwork for the New Deal and the modern middle class. But first we need to acknowledge the reality that we are on the wrong track.
We Americans like to say “We’re No. 1.” But the new data suggest that we should be chanting, “We’re No. 28! And dropping!”
Let’s wake up, for we are no longer the country we think we are.
More federal executions have been carried out in 2020 than in the past 57 years combined.
By Liliana Segura, September 9 2020https://theintercept.com/2020/09/09/federal-executions-keith-nelson-indiana-terre-haute/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=The%20Intercept%20Newsletter
SISTER BARBARA BATTISTA entered the death chamber and walked toward Keith Nelson as he lay strapped down to the gurney. Wearing an N95 mask and a light blue T-shirt, she carried anointing oil, a book of psalms, and tucked inside it, a handbill labeled Execution Prayer Service. The room was small and sterile, lined with pale green tile. A warden stood a few feet away, along with a U.S. Marshal and another man in a suit — the executioner. The man gestured toward a piece of blue tape on the floor, making the spot where she was to stand. He then gave her permission to speak.
“Hi Keith, I’m here,” Battista remembers saying. Nelson briefly lifted his head. He wore a blue surgical mask. His large, pale arms were stretched outward, a sheet covering his body up to his neck. Battista knew he did not want a prayer. “I just said I’m here with you, I’m here for you.”
Across from the prison, next to the Dollar General on State Road 63, Battista’s fellow Sisters of Providence from St. Mary of the Woods Catholic Church stood alongside anti-death penalty demonstrators. At 4 p.m., the scheduled time of execution, activists took turns tolling a large bell, then stood in silent prayer. Battista could not hear the bell. But she told Nelson the protesters were out there.
As his minister of record, Battista had been briefed on what to expect. But once inside the death chamber, she found a number of things unnerving. “Even though I was told I couldn’t touch him, it was difficult to be that close and not have any physical contact,” she said. Even more disturbing was seeing the tubes that would deliver the lethal dose of pentobarbital through an IV in Nelson’s arm. They snaked from the gurney toward the back of the execution chamber, where they disappeared through the wall.
Battista had been inside the United States Penitentiary at Terre Haute, Indiana, twice before. The first time was in 1996, the year after the death chamber was completed. As a physician’s assistant, she had considered taking a job at the prison. But in a meeting with the medical director, she had been told she would have to be trained in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons firearms protocol, to be used in the event of a disturbance. “And I’m like, so you want me to take care of these guys. But then if an incident happens, you’re going to position me at some strategic location with a gun in my hand that I have to point towards them?” She knew she could never take the job.
The same perverse contradiction loomed over the lethal injection, which used healing drugs in order to kill. To Battista, there was something particularly grotesque in the way the IV tubes vanished through the wall, concealing the person — or people — who would take Nelson’s life. “It was like they were saying, ‘We’re gonna do this, but nobody gets to see it, not even the person being executed.’ There’s no movement, there’s no sound, there’s no anything. And to me, that just seems deceitful.”
After Battista finished speaking to Nelson, three sets of shades opened simultaneously. Looking into the execution chamber were several witnesses — six reporters in one room, Nelson’s lawyers in another room, and the family of his victim, 10-year-old Pamela Butler, in a third. The executioner asked if Nelson had any last words but received no response.
It was not clear exactly when the pentobarbital began to flow. News reports would later say that it took nine minutes for Nelson to die. “I noticed Nelson’s stomach quickly moving up and down, which, to me, seemed like nervousness,” one media witness wrote. “Within minutes, his breaths became more shallow, slower and eventually just pulsations in his stomach … then, nothing at all. From what I could see, Nelson kept his gaze up to the ceiling for the procedure. His fingernails went from a hint of pink to blue by the end.”
In the meantime, Battista prayed. After a man with a stethoscope entered to confirm that Nelson was gone, the executioner announced the time of death: 4:32 p.m. Only then was Battista allowed to approach his body. “I anointed his forehead, his hand. … I asked them to pull the sheet down so I could anoint his chest near his heart. And they did that.”
Afterward, Battista was taken back to her car, which was parked at the Dollar General. She took off her mask and addressed the crowd. Reflecting on the experience the next morning, she spoke slowly and deliberately, articulating the surreal reality of what had happened. “We were standing there — four human beings, standing there. … And this man was just given a lethal dose of medication against his will. … And we’re just watching him die.”
Battista and I met on the day after the execution, just after 8 a.m. In her yard drinking coffee, she wore a sundress and sandals. It was Saturday, August 29; the Republican National Convention had ended the night before. I had picked up the weekend edition of the local Tribune-Star, which tracked the latest Covid-19 numbers in Vigo County alongside its front-page headline: “U.S. executes fifth inmate in past month.”
The article quoted Battista as well as veteran abolitionist Abe Bonowitz, who had helped organize the protests under the banner of the Terre Haute Death Penalty Resistance. He reiterated what he had been saying for months: The executions had been set with Donald Trump’s reelection in mind. With two more scheduled for late September — and new dates rumored to be on their way — Trump had already carried out more federal executions in 2020 than his predecessors had in the previous 57 years combined. “[Franklin D.] Roosevelt had 17,” Bonowitz said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he tries to exceed that, because for Trump, it is always about being the most, the biggest, and the best.”
Yet there had been no mention of the executions during Trump’s speech at the White House the night before. In fact, despite a week replete with fearmongering calls for “law and order,” there were no hints throughout the convention that an execution spree was underway — one unprecedented in modern death penalty history.
There was a certain logic to keeping the issue below the radar. For all the dystopian rhetoric of violent crime and burning cities, Americans are increasingly turning away from capital punishment. In late June, just weeks before the first round of executions, a Gallup poll found that a “record-low 54 percent of Americans consider the death penalty to be morally acceptable, marking a six-percentage-point decrease since last year.” Trump’s executions ran against longtime trends showing both executions and new death sentences on a precipitous decline.
Local news outlets had covered the executions extensively — the reporter for Tribune Star had witnessed all five — but the issue was not necessarily at the forefront of people’s mind in Terre Haute. Outside the Dollar General during Nelson’s execution, shoppers expressed a mix of irritation and indifference to my questions. One man told me he was sick of the protests and just wanted to go to work. Another, wearing a Trump/Pence face mask, said he figured the condemned deserved to die, but he had not been paying too much attention. But one woman said she was against the death penalty; it was up to God to decide people’s fate.
In the rest of the country, national attention had once again turned to a different kind of state violence, with protests breaking out over the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. On the eve of the week’s first execution, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse had shot two protesters dead. The executions faded into the background.
Still, sitting seven miles away from the federal killing ground on that Saturday morning, the disconnect between what had happened that week in Terre Haute and the RNC felt a little bizarre. Lawyers for the Trump administration had fought hard to push through the executions despite the coronavirus pandemic, ignoring public health warnings and beating back lawsuits by victims’ families and spiritual advisers who argued that the plans put their health at risk. The first two men to die — Daniel Lee and Wesley Purkey — had been killed following all-night legal ordeals, with the U.S. Supreme Court waving the executions forward in the dead of night. It was hard to imagine that Trump would not take vocal credit at some point for such hard-won triumphs in the name of law and order.
In any event, the executions were unquestionably in line with Trump’s larger agenda. “To me, it’s all of a piece,” Battista said. “It’s the disregard for our common humanity.” In 2019, she was one of 70 Catholic protesters arrested in Washington, D.C., during an act of civil disobedience to protest the administration’s treatment of children in immigration detention. On her blue Nissan Versa, a faded bumper sticker reads “RACISM: OUR NATIONAL DISEASE.”
It was her activism that had led her to the death chamber the day before. The third man executed by the Trump administration, Dustin Honken, who died July 17, had told his own longtime spiritual adviser that Nelson had seen Battista on the news. He passed along word that Nelson hoped she might accompany him when it was his turn to die. “I could not say no,” she said.
Like all of the men executed in the federal death chamber this summer, Nelson had been convicted of a horrific crime: the rape and murder of a 10-year-old girl. There was an outpouring of grief in her hometown of Kansas City, Kansas, which continues to commemorate her death. Nelson pleaded guilty and was sentenced to die in 2001. His appellate lawyers argued that his sentencing trial was riddled with errors by his attorneys, who failed to present mitigating evidence that might have prompted jurors to spare his life. Case records documented significant revelations at a post-conviction hearing, which showed that Nelson had “brain damage, severe mental illness, and impaired psychological, emotional, and neurobiological development from chronic exposure to trauma, including being raped as a child.”
That hearing also revealed profound differences between Nelson and his twin brother, Kenneth, who grew up to work as a satellite communications maintenance operator in the U.S. Army. The two were born premature to a teenage mother who was brutally abused during her pregnancy. According to one witness, a pediatrician specializing in neonatal-perinatal medicine, their father “stomped on her abdomen” just days before she gave birth. Hospital records showed that Keith Nelson stopped breathing multiple times after birth; in contrast to Kenneth, who went home without complications, he was hospitalized for severe respiratory distress, which had serious implications for his brain development. But federal prosecutors dismissed this testimony, arguing that Nelson’s twin brother had grown up in the same fraught environment and had turned out just fine.
By the time Battista met Nelson in person on August 18, he seemed resigned to his fate. He spoke about his mother, who was in poor health but had come to see him one last time. He talked about the harrowing execution of Daniel Lee, who was strapped down to the gurney for four hours waiting to die. And he talked about the politics surrounding the executions. Battista recalled being struck by one thing he said: “You know, pretty soon they’re gonna run out of us white dudes.”
Cynically Curated Killings
From the moment Attorney General William Barr first announced the federal execution dates, it was clear that the case had been carefully chosen. Most of the condemned were white men, which struck many people as no accident. One Indiana death penalty lawyer described the list of the condemned as “curated in a really cynical way,” to conceal the federal system’s stark racial disparities. If executions moved forward, she said at the time, eventually “it’s going to be black person after black person after black person.”
Lezmond Mitchell, the only Native American man on federal death row, was among the first men originally scheduled to die. But his execution date was paused a few months later. In June, however, a new date was set: August 26, two days before Keith Nelson.
Like Nelson, Mitchell’s crimes were shocking. With a teenage co-defendant, he was convicted of brutally murdering a 63-year-old woman named Alyce Slim and her 9-year-old grandchild Tiffany Lee, then beheading and dismembering their bodies. Both the victims and their killers were Navajo — and the murders were committed on Navajo land.
Mitchell denied carrying out the murders. Unlike his co-defendant, he had no history of violence. But more controversial were the maneuvers undertaken by the federal government to win a death sentence in the case. Not only did the Department of Justice exploit a legal loophole to seek the death penalty — in violation of the express wishes of the victims’ family and the Navajo Nation — his trial was moved to Phoenix, where Mitchell was tried before 11 white jurors and one Navajo juror. In a petition for a writ of certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court, Mitchell’s lawyers argued that, due to the rules governing federal jurisdictions, they had been denied a chance to investigate the role racial bias may have played in their client’s death sentence. But the petition was denied.
On August 25, the eve of Mitchell’s execution, attorney Michael O’Connor, who handled his direct appeal, wrote a statement that would be released after his client’s death. “I had not intended to write or say anything about Lezmond’s execution for selfish reasons,” he wrote. “Loyalty and love, however, compel me to raise my voice in protest.” In the two decades he spent representing people in death penalty cases, he said, no case had revealed the racism of the system more clearly than Mitchell’s.
“In Lezmond’s case, more than 400 Native Americans (out of a total of approximately 2000 prospective jurors) were summoned for possible service on his trial,” O’Connor went on. “More than 99% of those Native Americans summoned were excused or disqualified as unfit for jury service. No other racial group was dismissed at even half that rate. In a Navajo on Navajo crime committed on the Navajo reservation, jurors were excluded if they spoke only Navajo. Before being dismissed for ‘cause,’ Navajo jurors were badgered by the judge with questions such as ‘You’re Navajo and he’s Navajo. Could you possibly be fair?’”
That same day, I spoke to the juror who served as the foreperson in Mitchell’s trial, Kerrie Snyder. She had been startled to hear from me. Although she thought about the case from time to time, she had no idea he had been set for execution. “Honestly,” she said, “if somebody had walked up to me and said ‘Lezmond Mitchell,’ I’d have had no clue what they were talking about.”
What she did remember was being deeply horrified by the crime. “Brutal,” she said. “Brutal, brutal.” She remembered driving home to Clarkdale, about an hour and a half north of Phoenix; “I would just be crying in my car.” She also remembered being awed by the size of the jury pool and the lengthy process during which prospective jurors were narrowed down and selected. When it came to deliberations, it was not a hard call. The evidence against Mitchell was overwhelming, she said — and defense attorneys didn’t present much evidence at all.
Snyder and her fellow jurors took their task very seriously. “We were present. … We were focused.” And, she added, “it was people from all over … from around the state. From all walks of life, from all kinds of backgrounds. And I thought, Wow, this is really, you know, a jury of your peers.” She remembers thinking the system worked.
I told her about Mitchell’s challenge before the Supreme Court, which argued that the opposite was true, and which sought to investigate possible racial bias. “Can I tell you what the race or nationality was of everybody in that room? Absolutely not right now,” she replied. “I don’t recall any black people being on that jury, for instance. … I couldn’t tell you if there were Hispanics in that room or not. I don’t believe there were any Native Americans in that room — I’m pretty sure that would have stuck with me, but again, I wouldn’t swear to that.”
Still, she took no satisfaction in the looming execution. “You don’t want to be involved in anybody’s death, whether legally or violently, you know. It’s kind of a weird thing. This will hang with me for a few days.”
Risk of Torturous Death
Mitchell’s execution took place right on schedule. “Two government officials stood nearby as execution procedures began at 6:03 p.m.,” according to the Indianapolis Star. “They read a list of Mitchell’s convicted charges before administering a lethal injection.” Mitchell did not have a spiritual adviser accompanying or any witnesses on his behalf. Asked if he had any last words, he said, “No, I’m good.”
Adam Pinsker, a reporter with Indiana Public Radio, was one of two journalists who had witnessed all four executions to date. Speaking to Bonowitz and the activists next to the Dollar Store after Mitchell’s execution, he said that the first execution had been hard to shake. “It runs through your mind, like when you’re at the grocery store, when you’re watching TV,” he said. But after seeing the additional executions, he felt himself getting more desensitized, which unnerved him. Nelson’s execution two days later would be the last one he planned to witness.
Pinsker said Mitchell’s execution had taken longer than the others. About seven minutes in, he estimated, he noticed “very labored breathing. … I didn’t really notice that in the last three of them.” Even under the sheet, it was possible to see his abdomen protracting in and out, he said. But there was no way to see Mitchell’s facial expressions. It was covered with a mask.
Although it was impossible to tell precisely what was happening beneath the surface, lawyers had long challenged the execution protocols, based on the risk that it would lead to a tortuous death. A preliminary autopsy report for Wesley Purkey, executed in July, showed that his lungs “were filled with fluid to the extent of nearly doubling their normal weight, and frothy pulmonary edema fluid filled his main airways all the way up in the trachea.” Medical experts have repeatedly warned that autopsies of people executed by lethal injection reveal pulmonary edema, an excruciating sensation akin to drowning. But legal challenges based on such evidence have been mostly rejected.
Although the Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel or unusual punishment, the prospect of pain for the condemned tends to be easily dismissed. Murder victims, after all, are not generally granted much consideration when it comes to their own suffering. Though the Navajo Nation had decried Mitchell’s death sentence for years, the victims’ families had come out in support for Mitchell’s execution before he died.
At the FCC Terre Haute Training Center north of the prison, where prison officials had set up a media center, the father of Tiffany Lee came to face reporters following Mitchell’s execution. He wore jeans, a baseball cap, and a blue surgical mask, standing silently as a lawyer delivered a statement on his behalf. “I have waited 19 years to get justice for my daughter, Tiffany,” it read. “I will never get Tiffany back, but I hope that this will bring some closure.” He thanked the Trump administration for carrying out the execution.
A similar scene followed Nelson’s execution two days later. While Battista went to reunite with her sisters and fellow activists at the Dollar General, the mother of Pamela Butler, Cherri West, addressed reporters next to her daughter and niece. They wore white T-shirts bearing a picture of Butler against angel’s wings and reading “Rest In Peace Pammy.”
West took Nelson’s silence as proof that he had no remorse for what he did to her daughter. “So therefore I have no remorse for him,” she said. She believed that her daughter had been guiding her over the years to keep fighting for his execution. “I’m gonna have to start a new hobby because I’ve focused so much on doing this for the last 20 years,” she said. While other victims’ families had been angered that the federal government forced them to risk exposure to the pandemic in order to witness the execution, West was grateful to the Trump administration for paying her way to Terre Haute. “They made us feel like family.”
In an email, I asked the Bureau of Prisons whether loved ones or representatives of people who were executed were offered a chance to speak to reporters. “Family members of the condemned, lawyers, and spiritual advisors may certainly address the media,” BOP spokesperson Kristie Breshears replied. “However, the Bureau of Prisons will not facilitate these interactions, or permit them on government property.”
Battista discovered this firsthand. She had been instructed to park at the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department before Nelson’s execution but left when BOP staffers did not show up on time to pick her up. Battista drove to the training center, where she knew she could find BOP officials. But she was quickly ushered away.
After I left her house the next morning, Battista got a message through the St. Mary of the Woods website. It was from Nelson’s twin brother, Kenneth. It was not particularly easy to contact her through the site, she explained. “He worked hard to find me.” He thanked her for accompanying his brother as he died.
Here’s How to Protect Yourself.
Wildfire smoke spreads misery, including health problems, far beyond fire zones. We have key facts and tips.
By Nicole Perlroth and John Schwartz, Sept. 11, 2020
The view from the Embarcadero in San Francisco on Wednesday. Credit...Philip Pacheco/Getty Images
SAN FRANCISCO — Jennifer Krasner’s 4-year-old daughter had been coughing for days. Ms. Krasner and her family live 20 minutes north of San Francisco, in Mill Valley, Calif., not close to any fire but wreathed in smoke nonetheless, with her house and car dusted with ash.
“I had to get her tested for Covid because she’s been coughing so much,” she said Thursday, “but it turned out her lungs were just irritated from all the smoke.”
Across San Francisco Bay to the southeast, in Alameda, Monica Chellam’s daughter, also 4, asked Wednesday why it was so dark. “I told her the sun was blocked by smoke,” Ms. Chellam said.
“She turned to me and asked, ‘Is this how the dinosaurs died?’”
Children aren’t the only ones coughing. And they’re not the only ones with questions about the smoke that is spreading misery around the West. Here are some key facts and tips on what you can do.
How much can smoke affect your health?
The health effects of wildfire smoke are not fully understood, and the particles differ in some ways from other air pollution, which has been shown to cause disease. But wildfire smoke, which can include toxic substances from burned buildings, has been linked to serious health problems.
“When this is happening people’s health is suffering,” said Sarah Henderson, senior scientist in environmental health services at the British Columbia Center for Disease Control. “There is no doubt.”
Studies have shown that, when waves of smoke hit, the rate of hospital visits rises and many of the additional patients experience respiratory problems, heart attacks and strokes.
Dr. Henderson said smoke exposure could have lifelong health implications for babies, though she said more research on the question was needed. “This may do damage to the developing lungs that they may never recover from,” she said.
The risks are greater for people of color, who tend to live in areas already exposed to high levels of particulate pollution. According to a 2017 study, older Black people are three times more likely to be hospitalized for respiratory conditions because of smoke.
Francesca Dominici, a professor of biostatistics at Harvard and an author of the study, said, “Underrepresented minorities are experiencing a much higher health burden from pollution and wildfire smoke and, now, Covid.”
The coronavirus pandemic, which has also hit people of color disproportionately, adds further problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that “people with Covid-19 are at increased risk from wildfire smoke during the pandemic.”
And the health effects of wildfire smoke don’t go away when skies clear. A recent study on Montana residents suggested a long tail for wildfire smoke exposure.
Erin Landguth, an associate professor in the school of public and community health science at the University of Montana and the lead author on the study, said research had shown that “after bad fire seasons, one would expect to see three to five times worse flu seasons” months later. The study’s findings, she added, fit what is already known about pollution and disease.
“Decades of research have shown that elevated air pollution exposure is associated with a number of adverse health impacts, including compromised immune systems,” Dr. Landguth said.
What’s the climate connection?
The underlying causes of the rising fire risks in the American West are complex. They include past forestry practices that created abundant fuel for fires and the expansion of communities up to the edges of forestlands.
Underlying all of that, however, is climate change, which warms and dries out the vegetation fuel so that a spark — whether from downed power lines, lightning or even a gender-reveal party gone terribly wrong — can lead to a vast scorched landscape.
Even with the most aggressive effort to fight global warming, the inherent lag time in the climate system means that worsening fires and their health effects will be with us for decades. With less vigorous action, the effects of warming will become even more disastrous. “Into the climate future, we’re just going to keep seeing situations that set new records,” Dr. Henderson said.
Daniel Swain, a climate scientist with the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that many of today’s fires, even with a measure of containment, “are going to be going for weeks, if not months, and are going to be generating smoke for weeks, if not months.”
Normally, Dr. Swain said, what finally extinguishes the fires are autumn rains and snowfall, which historically come in October or November. However, he added, “recently, it’s been coming later than that,” and climate change, again, appears to be part of the reason.
Can you protect yourself?
The C.D.C. recommends limiting exposure to smoke by staying indoors with windows and doors closed and running air-conditioners in recirculation mode so that outside air isn’t drawn into your home.
Portable air purifiers are also recommended, though, like air-conditioners, they require electricity. If utilities cut off power, as has happened in California, those options are limited.
If you do have power, avoid frying food, which can increase indoor smoke.
Experts say it is especially important to avoid cigarettes. They also recommend avoiding strenuous outdoor activities such as exercising or mowing the lawn when the air is bad. When outside, well-fitted N95 masks are also recommended, though they are in short supply because of the pandemic.
Some do-it-yourself options are available, Dr. Henderson said, noting that masks made from different layers of fabrics, “particularly tightly woven cotton and silk together,” can provide “pretty good filtration” if they are fitted closely to the face.
Asked the best way to protect yourself in an area shrouded in smoke, Dr. Dominici said the question was a difficult one because many people don’t have the ability to move or the luxury of choice about whether to work outside.
But the safest option? “I would just leave,” she said.
My NYT Comment:
“We, in San Francisco, are not living among the forests! We live along the coast of California. And we can't get any N95 masks, either. This article is titled, "California’s Air Quality Is Poor. Here’s How to Protect Yourself." And the authors’ advice? Leave! It's infuriating and adds insult to injury. San Francisco Air Quality Index: 205—Very Unhealthy! Normal for San Francisco is 0-50!”
Live Updates, September 11, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/11/world/covid-19-coronavirus.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
The other way the virus will kill: hunger.
Long before the coronavirus swept into her village in the rugged southeast of Afghanistan, Halima Bibi knew the gnawing fear of hunger. It was an omnipresent force, an unrelenting source of anxiety as she struggled to nourish her four children.
Her husband earned about $5 a day, hauling produce by wheelbarrow from a local market to surrounding homes. Most days, he brought home a loaf of bread, potatoes and beans for an evening meal.
But when the virus arrived in March, taking the lives of her neighbors and shutting down the market, her husband’s earnings plunged to about $1 a day. Most evenings, he brought home only bread. Some nights, he returned with nothing.
“We hear our children screaming in hunger, but there is nothing that we can do,” said Ms. Bibi, speaking by telephone from a hospital in Kabul, where her 6-year-old daughter was being treated for severe malnutrition. “That is not just our situation, but the reality for most of the families where we live.”
As the global economy absorbs the most punishing reversal of fortunes since the Great Depression, hunger is on the rise. Those confronting potentially life-threatening levels of so-called food insecurity in the developing world are expected to nearly double this year to 265 million, according to the United Nations World Food Program.
The largest numbers of vulnerable communities are concentrated in South Asia and Africa, especially in countries that are already confronting trouble, from military conflict and extreme poverty to climate-related afflictions like drought, flooding and soil erosion.
For now, the unfolding tragedy falls short of a famine, which is typically set off by a combination of war and environmental disaster. Food remains widely available in most of the world, though prices have climbed in many countries, as fear of the virus disrupts transportation links, and as currencies fall in value, increasing the costs of imported items.
Rather, with the world economy expected to contract nearly 5 percent this year, households are cutting back sharply on spending. Among those who went into the pandemic in extreme poverty, hundreds of millions of people are suffering an intensifying crisis over how to secure their basic dietary needs.
If climate change was a somewhat abstract notion a decade ago, today it is all too real for Californians fleeing wildfires and smothered in a blanket of smoke, the worst year of fires on record.
By Thomas Fuller and Christopher Flavelle, Sept. 10, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/10/us/climate-change-california-wildfires.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=US%20News
Looking over Lake Oroville after the Bear Fire, part of the North Complex Fire in Oroville, Calif., burned through on Wednesday. Max Whittaker for The New York Times
SAN FRANCISCO — Multiple mega fires burning more than three million acres. Millions of residents smothered in toxic air. Rolling blackouts and triple-digit heat waves. Climate change, in the words of one scientist, is smacking California in the face.
The crisis in the nation’s most populous state is more than just an accumulation of individual catastrophes. It is also an example of something climate experts have long worried about, but which few expected to see so soon: a cascade effect, in which a series of disasters overlap, triggering or amplifying each other.
“You’re toppling dominoes in ways that Americans haven’t imagined,” said Roy Wright, who directed resilience programs for the Federal Emergency Management Agency until 2018 and grew up in Vacaville, Calif., near one of this year’s largest fires. “It’s apocalyptic.”
The same could be said for the entire West Coast this week, to Washington and Oregon, where towns were decimated by infernos as firefighters were stretched to their limits.
California’s simultaneous crises illustrate how the ripple effect works. A scorching summer led to dry conditions never before experienced. That aridity helped make the season’s wildfires the biggest ever recorded. Six of the 20 largest wildfires in modern California history have occurred this year.
If climate change was a somewhat abstract notion a decade ago, today it is all too real for Californians. The intensely hot wildfires are not only chasing thousands of people from their homes but causing dangerous chemicals to leach into drinking water. Excessive heat warnings and suffocating smoky air have threatened the health of people already struggling during the pandemic. And the threat of more wildfires has led insurance companies to cancel homeowner policies and the state’s main utility to shut off power to tens of thousands of people pre-emptively.
“If you are in denial about climate change, come to California,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said last month.
Officials have worried about cascading disasters. They just did not think they would start so soon.
“We used to worry about one natural hazard at a time,” said Alice Hill, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who oversaw resilience planning on the National Security Council during the Obama administration. “The acceleration of climate impacts has happened faster than even we anticipated.”
Climate scientists say the mechanism driving the wildfire crisis is straightforward: Human behavior, chiefly the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil, has released greenhouse gases that increase temperatures, desiccating forests and priming them to burn.
Mark Harvey, who was senior director for resilience at the National Security Council until January, said the government had struggled to prepare for situations like what was happening in California.
“The government does a very, very bad job looking at cascading scenarios,” Mr. Harvey said. “Most of our systems are built to handle one problem at a time.”
In some ways, this year’s wildfires in California have been decades in the making. A prolonged drought that ended in 2017 was a major reason for the death of 163 million trees in California forests over the past decade, according to the U.S. Forest Service. One of the fastest-moving fires this year ravaged the forests that had the highest concentration of dead trees, south of Yosemite National Park.
Further north, the Bear Fire became the 10th largest in modern California history — burning through an astonishing 230,000 acres in one 24-hour period.
“It’s really shocking to see the number of fast-moving, extremely large and destructive fires simultaneously burning,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles. “I’ve spoken to maybe two dozen fire and climate experts over the last 48 hours and pretty much everyone is at a loss of words. There’s certainly been nothing in living memory on this scale.”
While the state mobilizes to deal with the immediate threats, the fires will also leave California with difficult and costly longer-term problems, everything from the effects of smoke inhalation to damaged drinking water systems.
Wildfire smoke can in the worst cases be deadly, especially among older people. Studies have shown that when waves of smoke hit, the rate of hospitalizations rises, and patients experience respiratory problems, heart attacks and strokes.
The coronavirus pandemic adds a new layer of risk to an already perilous situation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued statements warning that people with Covid-19 are at increased risk from wildfire smoke during the pandemic.
“The longer we have bad air in California, the more we’ll be concerned about adverse health effects,” said John Balmes, a spokesman for the American Lung Association and a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
As for drinking water, scientists have known for years that runoff from burned homes can put harmful chemicals into ground water and reservoirs. But research in the aftermath of the 2017 wildfires in wine country north of San Francisco and the 2018 fire that destroyed the town of Paradise in the foothills of the Sierra discovered a different threat: Benzene and other dangerous contaminants were found inside water systems, possibly from heat-damaged plastics in the water infrastructure.
“Communities need to recognize this vulnerability,” said Andrew J. Whelton, a professor in environmental engineering at Purdue University, and an author of a study on water contamination in Paradise.
“Dangerous chemicals can leach from inside water systems for months after a fire.”
The Environmental Protection Agency classifies water with benzene levels above 500 parts per billion as hazardous. Some samples in Paradise after the fire were found to have 2,000 parts per billion. In Sonoma County after the wine country fires some samples had 40,000 parts per billion, Dr. Whelton said.
Before now, many Californians assumed it would be an earthquake that might knock out their power, damage their homes and render their neighborhoods uninhabitable.
Susan Luten, a retired lawyer in Oakland, lives near the Hayward fault, an area that seismologists warn is due for a major earthquake. But it is the threat of fire that prompted her and her husband to put their go bags by the door — shoes, a change of clothes, flashlights, whistles, medications, small bills and duct tape.
“We have a rope inside the house in case we have to escape down the steep hillside on foot rather than by driving a car,” Ms. Luten said. Her husband studied Google Maps for escape routes.
The whiplash of the multiple crises in California has played out in their living room.
“Two days ago we were roasting inside with the windows closed in a heat wave to avoid heavy smoke,” Ms. Luten said.
“Today we are cool, but unable to see across the street,” she said on Wednesday, when the entire San Francisco Bay Area was shrouded in a faint orange glow, the sun obscured by massive columns of smoke in the atmosphere. “Combine all of this with a pandemic and political menace and it’s hard not to think we are unwitting bit players in some sort of end-of-days movie.”
Emily Szasz, a graduate art history student from Santa Cruz, said she felt like she was in a strange, unfamiliar land.
“I feel as though I’m somewhere I’ve never been before,” Ms. Szasz said. “There were wildfires occasionally throughout my life here, which would be quickly fought and contained. Never do I remember 23 straight days of orange, oppressive, smoky skies, leaving my house in fear that I’d never return to it, or knowing someone whose home burned down in the mountains near my house.”
Several years ago, as a student at the University of California, Berkeley, a professor explained that California and the West were likely to experience the effects of climate change sooner than the rest of the country, Ms. Szasz said. The words now resonate with her.
“There is no greater proof, nor should we require it, that climate change is here and is changing our lives,” Ms. Szasz said of the wildfires. “I am only 25 years old and I do not know what future there is for me, let alone my potential children and grandchildren.”
Even after this year’s fires are put out, their ripple effects will keep spreading, creating economic shocks — in the insurance industry and with the state’s power grid, to name two examples — well beyond the physical and health damage of the disasters themselves.
This summer millions of Californians’ homes went dark for an hour or more as the smothering summer heat threatened to overload the grid.
Those blackouts are separate from the pre-emptive shut-offs carried out by California utilities in an effort to prevent their equipment from sparking wildfires. This week, Pacific Gas and Electric turned off power to about 170,000 customers — a continuation of a program of extensive power shut-offs that began last year.
In the insurance industry, years of heavy losses have pushed companies to pull back from fire-prone areas, in what state officials call a crisis of its own. A lack of affordable insurance threatens to devastate housing markets, by making homes less valuable and harder to sell.
Rex Frazier, president of the Personal Insurance Federation of California, which represents insurers, said the industry was waiting to see how big this year’s losses were, and what the state does next.
“We have to use it as a clarion call,” said Mr. Wright, the former FEMA official who is now president of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, an industry-funded group that looks at how to reduce damage from disasters. “What we can’t do is simply cover our ears, hunker down and go, ‘I just want this to go away.’”
Philip B. Duffy, a climate scientist who is president of the Woodwell Climate Research Center, said many people did not understand the dynamics of a warming world.
“People are always asking, ‘Is this the new normal?’” he said. “I always say no. It’s going to get worse.”
Thomas Fuller reported from San Francisco, and Christopher Flavelle from Washington. Ivan Penn contributed reporting from Burbank, Calif., and John Schwartz from West Orange, N.J.
The northwest part of the state, usually much wetter, has dried out this year, enabling flames driven by powerful winds to “just explode down these canyons.”
By Christopher Flavelle and Henry Fountain, Sept. 12, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/12/climate/oregon-wildfires.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage
The Portland, Ore., waterfront cloaked in hazy air on Friday. The mayor declared an emergency and ordered evacuations. Credit...Kristina Barker for The New York Times
The blazes that raced across western Oregon this week could be the most unexpected element in a fire season that’s full of surprises: Not just more wildfires, but wildfires in places that don’t usually burn.
The forests between Eugene and Portland haven’t experienced fires this severe in decades, experts say. What’s different this time is that exceptionally dry conditions, combined with unusually strong and hot east winds, have caused wildfires to spiral out of control, threatening neighborhoods that didn’t seem vulnerable until now.
“We’re seeing fires in places that we don’t normally see fires,” said Crystal A. Kolden, a professor of fire science at the University of California, Merced. “Normally it’s far too wet to burn.”
The fires in Oregon, which have led to the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people and are approaching the Portland suburbs, stand out from what has already been an extraordinary fire season in the West, where global warming, land-use changes and fire management practices have combined to create a hellish mix of smoldering forests, charred homes and choking air.
Before this week, Oregon was grappling with a much more contained problem, a series of smaller fires on both sides of the Cascade Range, which divides the state between east and west.
Fires are common in the east, which is normally dry, according to Philip Mote, a climate scientist at Oregon State University. In some areas of eastern Oregon the “return period,” or length of time between major fires, is as little as 20 years, he said.
But the western slope of the Cascades, which catches most of the moisture that blows in from the Pacific Ocean, is normally wetter. “Out here, the return period can be hundreds of years,” he said.
That protective moisture has faded, in large part because climate change has altered precipitation and temperature patterns.
Tim Brown, director of the Western Regional Climate Center at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev., said the extreme warmth had caused vegetation to become exceptionally dry and to burn more readily. Temperature, humidity, wind and solar radiation combine to dry out brush and are the key elements for fire. “We call it evaporative demand,” he said. And in recent weeks, he added, “the west Cascades have been really dry from the evaporative demand.”
Those dry conditions were most likely exacerbated by climate change, according to Meg Krawchuk, a professor at Oregon State’s College of Forestry. And they had the effect of “teeing up the landscape” for a wildfire, she said.
The critical moment came Monday and Tuesday, when a windstorm carried hot air from the high desert in the eastern part of Oregon over the mountains, rapidly spreading the fires in the more populated western part of the state, according to Josh Clark, fire meteorologist at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.
Those winds were the strongest the state has seen in at least 30 years, Mr. Clark said. And when they crossed the mountains, the winds raced down through river canyons, which compressed the air, warming it further and pushing it westward like a bellows.
As those fires raced west, they met unusually dry conditions, said Dr. Kolden, which in turn allowed the fires that were already burning to spread rapidly. “The fire’s able to move very quickly and just explode down these canyons,” she said.
The fires now threatening Oregon’s cities and towns could be worse than anything in that part of the state in decades, said Cassandra Moseley, chief research officer at the University of Oregon and a professor at its Institute for a Sustainable Environment.
The Tillamook Burn, a series of fires that began in 1933 and destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres, was probably as bad as this week’s fires, Dr. Moseley said. It’s hard to know for sure, she said, because “no one’s alive to tell the tale.”
And what’s different this time, Dr. Moseley said, is that far fewer people lived in those areas 90 years ago. “Tillamook didn’t have people in it,” she said. By comparison, this week’s fires seem likely to cause large numbers of casualties.
Already, several mountain communities had been destroyed by flames that roared though the surrounding forests. State officials received reports of dozens of missing people. And as some of the largest blazes neared Portland’s southern suburbs, the authorities warned residents thinking of staying behind in some communities that there would be no firefighters to protect them.
The lesson of this week is that the state must now prepare for more of the same, said Dr. Mote, the Oregon State climate scientist, who recalled that extreme warmth had also led to a record low snowpack in 2015.
“This situation of large fires, and that low snow year — these are both things that I and my colleagues who’ve studied climate change in Oregon for 20 years have been saying would happen eventually,” he said. “And now they’re happening.”
The Trump administration says it is targeting criminals, but government data suggests that many others are getting caught up in immigration sweeps.
“The Obama administration set records for deportation, removing 409,849 people in the 2012 fiscal year, an all-time high, and 235,413 in the 2015 fiscal year. By comparison, the Trump administration deported 267,258 people in the 2019 fiscal year.”
By Miriam Jordan, Sept. 12, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/12/us/ice-immigration-sweeps-deportation.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
LOS ANGELES — For Alicia Flores Gonzalez, Aug. 4 began like any other day. She dropped her little girl at day care and drove to work at a winery in the Sonoma Valley. But as she was parking her white Toyota Tacoma, she found herself surrounded by several armed men. “What happened? What did I do?” Ms. Flores recalled asking them.
“Hands up! Turn around,” ordered one of the men, who shackled her and escorted her to a van.
Six agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement in three unmarked vehicles had been deployed to arrest her. Within 24 hours, the 43-year-old single mother of four U.S.-born children had been deported to Mexico. She had lived without legal permission in the United States for 27 years.
Ms. Flores was seized during a new nationwide enforcement operation announced this month, the first large-scale arrests and deportations in the interior of the country since the coronavirus pandemic halted field operations for several months. Since mid-July, immigration agents have taken more than 2,000 people into custody from their homes, workplaces and other sites, including a post office, often after staking them out for days.
In Los Angeles, agents made 300 arrests. More than a thousand others were rounded up in New York, Atlanta and Phoenix, as well as in cities in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, Utah and Wyoming.
President Trump has made curbing immigration a cornerstone of his agenda. He has blocked most asylum seekers and refugees, built 300 miles of border wall and invoked the health crisis to seal the border to nonessential travelers.
During the Republican National Convention, he reiterated his pledge to clamp down on illegal immigration, and his re-election campaign has emphasized the restrictive immigration agenda that was central to his platform in 2016. A recent television ad airing in battleground states said that former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s support for offering a path to citizenship to millions of immigrants unlawfully in the country would undermine Americans by creating more competition for jobs and more beneficiaries of welfare programs.
The United States is home to about 10.5 million undocumented immigrants. Three out of four adults said they favored a pathway to legal status for them, according to a survey in June by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
Thirty-two percent of Trump supporters said immigrants strengthen society, up from 19 percent in 2016, according to a Pew survey of voters released on Thursday. While the issue of immigration still appeals to Mr. Trump’s base, concerns about the economy and the coronavirus pandemic animate more voters, strategists say.
The wide-ranging immigration operation, which had been underway for many weeks before it was publicly announced, was touted by officials as a mission designed to capture hardened criminals who were at large.
“The aliens targeted during this operation preyed on men, women and children in our communities, committing serious crimes and, at times, repeatedly hurting their victims,” said Tony Pham, the new interim director of ICE.
“Through our targeted enforcement efforts, we are eliminating the threat posed by these criminals, many of whom are repeat offenders,” he said.
About 85 percent of those arrested either had criminal convictions or pending criminal charges, according to the agency. Fourteen people had been convicted of homicide, and 12 faced murder charges. Assault, domestic violence and “family offenses” comprised the bulk of convictions or pending charges, it said.
But analysis of the totality of the government’s own data shows that the administration is arresting large numbers of undocumented immigrants whose crimes are minor, or who have not committed any crime at all. These immigrants are easier to locate and remove precisely because they are not trying to evade law enforcement, even if they have outstanding deportation orders.
Ms. Flores has no criminal record but had lost an appeal to stay in the country after she was ordered deported more than a decade ago. Like millions of undocumented immigrants who are quietly living and working in the country, she had managed to avoid arrest, working in Northern California and seeing her children through school.
“My mom has always been a hardworking lady who just minds her business and takes care of my brothers and sister,” said her oldest child, Alex Salinas, 26, who lives in Healdsburg, Calif., with his three siblings. “I am shocked that this happened the way it did.”
In the 2019 fiscal year, federal agents arrested more than 143,000 people in the interior. The most common convictions or criminal charges pending against them were for driving under the influence (74,000), followed by drug offenses (67,000). Only 1,900 had been charged or convicted of homicide.
Under the Trump administration, there has been a steady rise in immigrants detained without a serious record, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which has compiled data obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests.
TRAC found that a jump in the number of detained immigrants in 2019 was a direct result of arrests of people with no criminal records.
“ICE makes it sound like they are snatching wanted felons off the streets when it conducts these operations,” said Austin C. Kocher, a geographer at Syracuse University who analyzes immigration enforcement data.
“We don’t get a full picture,” he said. “They downplay the large numbers of people detained and deported who committed minor offenses, usually a long time ago, or who had no crime on record.”
Of the 50,000 people in immigrant detention facilities on the last day of April 2019, nearly two-thirds had no criminal record, up from 40 percent four years earlier, under the administration of President Barack Obama, according to TRAC. Among detainees who had committed crimes, a higher percentage had been convicted of infractions such as driving without a license or immigration violations; a lower proportion of detained immigrants had committed violent crimes than before.
The most recent deportation data available, for the first five months of the 2020 fiscal year, shows that 52 percent of those removed from the country had no criminal record, according to TRAC, up from about 40 percent in each of the previous three fiscal years.
The Obama administration set records for deportation, removing 409,849 people in the 2012 fiscal year, an all-time high, and 235,413 in the 2015 fiscal year. By comparison, the Trump administration deported 267,258 people in the 2019 fiscal year.
In its second term, the Obama administration put into place a policy of discretion that spared immigrants who were long-term residents of the United States, especially if they had American children and had not run afoul of the law, even if, like Ms. Flores, they had outstanding removal orders.
The impact of the pandemic on ICE’s ability to hold immigrants in detention could have played a role in the agency’s targeting of immigrants like Ms. Flores, who can be rapidly bused out of the country because she is Mexican.
In Northern California, where Ms. Flores was living, 47 undocumented immigrants were apprehended during the recent operation, according to the regional ICE office. In a statement, a spokesman cited as examples a 34-year-old Mexican who had been convicted of committing battery against a former spouse and a 57-year-old Mexican who had been convicted of petty theft and inflicting corporal injury to his spouse. Both had been previously deported.
Katie Kavanagh, a lawyer with the Rapid Response Network of Northern California, which provides emergency legal assistance to people detained by ICE, said that in the span of five work days in early August she handled the cases of four Mexicans arrested in California’s wine country.
“ICE was going after people who they quickly could deport,” said Ms. Kavanagh, who was contacted by Ms. Flores’s employer. “They were low-hanging fruit. They were the most legally vulnerable.”
Among them was a Mexican man who had missed an immigration hearing because his lawyer had not notified him and a grandmother who was arrested outside a post office after missing a hearing because of a family tragedy. Ms. Kavanagh filed motions to reopen their cases, which were granted by a judge.
Ms. Flores came to the attention of immigration authorities around 2008, when she landed in a local jail after a brawl with her former partner. The episode set in motion deportation proceedings. In 2012, she lost her appeal to remain in the country.
Like many other undocumented immigrants, she did not leave.
In Healdsburg, she had been working two jobs, cleaning the winery and a clinic. Feeling relatively secure, she had recently retired her 2002 Honda sedan and made a down payment on a 2020 Toyota truck.
On Aug. 4 at about 10 a.m., her eldest son, a carpenter, was at work when he received a call from his distraught mother informing him that she had been taken away.
“She was scared,” Mr. Salinas recalled. “I was scared. We didn’t know what was going to happen. She told me to pick up my little sister at day care. She was worried Child Protective Services would take her.” His sister Kimberley is 5 years old.
A couple of hours later, he answered a call from Ms. Kavanagh, who had met Ms. Flores in San Francisco at the ICE processing center. After assessing her case, she had concluded that nothing could be done to prevent her deportation.
Mr. Salinas shoved some clothes and $250 into a backpack and rushed to San Francisco to bid his mother goodbye.
Their brief encounter happened in a no-contact visitation room. Separated by a glass panel, mother and son spoke to each other through phones. She arrived in Tijuana at dawn.
Only deportees who can prove that their absence causes hardship to a spouse or parent — a child does not count — are eligible for an exemption from a 10-year bar to re-entering the United States, so Ms. Flores is unlikely to be allowed back unless there is a change in the law.
“I am thinking of my children, nothing more,” she said, breaking down during a telephone interview from Mexico. “I worry for them. We have never been apart. I hope I can go back.”
Ms. Flores’s oldest son has picked up his mother’s evening job, cleaning the clinic. He is completing paperwork to obtain guardianship of his three siblings.
“We feel emptiness because the most important person in the family is missing,” Mr. Salinas said. “On top of that, I have to figure out all the new responsibility.”
Derek Chauvin, the officer who is charged with second-degree murder in Mr. Floyd’s death, is expected to go to trial next year.
By Matt Furber, Tim Arango and John Eligon, Sept. 11, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/11/us/derek-chauvin-george-floyd-trial.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=US%20News
MINNEAPOLIS — The former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder after pressing his knee into the neck of George Floyd for more than eight minutes had used neck and upper body restraints during at least seven previous arrests, prosecutors said in court documents filed this week.
In four of the earlier arrests over the last six years, prosecutors say that the former officer, Derek Chauvin, used those restraint techniques — which have been the subject of much debate in recent months — “beyond the point when such force was needed under the circumstances.”
Neck restraints were banned this summer in police departments in Minneapolis and other cities following the death in May of Mr. Floyd, a Black man who repeatedly said “I can’t breathe” as Mr. Chauvin’s knee pinned him to the pavement. The searing image of Mr. Floyd’s final moments, captured on video, fueled anger and protests across the country.
The revelations of earlier restraints came as Mr. Chauvin, a white 19-year police veteran, appeared in court in person on Friday for the first time since second-degree murder charges were filed against him. Prosecutors indicated in the court filings that they intended to describe the earlier arrests by Mr. Chauvin as a sign that what happened was part of a pattern, not an outlying incident.
In one instance, the prosecutors said, Mr. Chauvin had been arresting a juvenile when he used a neck restraint and pinned him to the floor. Another time, prosecutors said, he restrained a woman by putting his knee on her neck while she lay on the ground. And last year, the prosecutors said, he kicked an intoxicated man, then used a neck restraint until the man went unconscious.
Eric J. Nelson, Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer, declined to comment on the use of restraints, but he had made it clear in recent days that Mr. Chauvin intended to point blame away from himself in the death of Mr. Floyd — and toward two rookie officers who were on the scene and whom he had helped train.
If the other officers, who were the first to interact with Mr. Floyd on the evening he died, had behaved differently, everything might have changed, Mr. Nelson wrote in a motion seeking separate trials for four former police officers who are charged with crimes in the case.
Lawyers for Mr. Chauvin, who was fired from the Police Department, and the other defendants, are seeking to move the trial away from Minneapolis, as well as to split what has been expected to be a single trial into four.
The three other officers on the scene were also fired and charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder, which can carry as serious a punishment as the charge against Mr. Chauvin. From the time charges were announced against the four officers, there had been indications that they would not present a united defense, with the men faulting one another for the death. Some of those tensions were on display in the courtroom on Friday.
None of the other officers — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — appeared to make eye contact with Mr. Chauvin, although at one point Mr. Chauvin, who appeared thinner than he had a few months ago, looked over at them.
Mr. Lane and Mr. Kueng, two inexperienced officers who were the first to arrive on the scene of a complaint that Mr. Floyd had used fake money, failed to properly assess and de-escalate the situation, Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer argued in a court filing this week, noting that Mr. Chauvin arrived to the scene later.
“If EMS had arrived just three minutes sooner, Mr. Floyd may have survived,” the lawyer, Mr. Nelson, wrote. “If Kueng and Lane had chosen to de-escalate instead of struggle, Mr. Floyd may have survived. If Kueng and Lane had recognized the apparent signs of an opioid overdose and rendered aid, such as administering naloxone, Mr. Floyd may have survived.”
The Hennepin County medical examiner ruled that Mr. Floyd’s death was a homicide, saying his heart stopped beating and his lungs stopped taking in air while he was being restrained by a neck compression. The medical examiner also cited fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use as conditions that might have increased the likelihood of death.
Prosecutors rejected suggestions that Mr. Chauvin — or any of the other former officers — could shift blame away from the larger group.
“The defendants watched the air go out of Mr. Floyd’s body together,” said Neal Katyal, a special assistant attorney general who is part of the prosecution team, led by the office of Keith Ellison, the Minnesota attorney general. “And the defendants caused Mr. Floyd’s death together.”
Judge Peter Cahill of Hennepin County District Court is expected to decide later whether to separate the officers’ trials or to move them out of Minneapolis. He rejected requests by the officers’ lawyers to introduce records of previous run-ins Mr. Floyd had with law enforcement authorities, including an encounter with the Minneapolis police in 2019.
But Judge Cahill said he could reconsider his decision once defense lawyers gain access to body camera footage from officers at the scene of the episode in 2019.
Outside the courthouse on Friday, Mr. Floyd’s relatives and their lawyers expressed outrage over suggestions that drugs or earlier run-ins with the police were relevant to the killing of Mr. Floyd.
“The only overdose was an overdose of excessive force and racism by the Minneapolis Police Department,” Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the family, said. “It is a blatant attempt to kill George Floyd a second time.”
All along, the messages of the four officers who were present on the day of Mr. Floyd’s death have diverged.
“There are very likely going to be antagonistic defenses presented at trial,” Mr. Lane’s lawyer, Earl P. Gray, wrote in his motion for a separate trial for his client. “It is plausible that all officers have a different version of what happened and officers place blame on one another.”
The lawyers for Mr. Lane and Mr. Kueng — the least experienced officers — have focused blame on Mr. Chauvin. Another officer, Mr. Thao, has argued that he was mostly a bystander, keeping onlookers away from the scene as the other officers tried to arrest Mr. Floyd.
In Mr. Chauvin’s motion, his lawyer noted that both Mr. Lane and Mr. Kueng had been on the scene longer, struggling to arrest Mr. Floyd, who appeared to be in the throes of a panic attack, refusing to enter the back of the police cruiser and saying he was claustrophobic.
“Mr. Chauvin could reasonably argue that it was the inaction of Lane and Kueng,” by not calling paramedics sooner or de-escalating the situation, “that caused George Floyd’s death,” Mr. Nelson wrote.
Mr. Chauvin, 44, is charged with the most serious crimes, second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He remains in custody and faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted. The three other former officers have been released on bail.
Mr. Chauvin appeared in court under tight security as protesters gathered outside.
The block around the courthouse was barricaded.
Matt Furber reported from Minneapolis, Tim Arango from Los Angeles, and John Eligon from Kansas City, Mo.
Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton was formally deported and flown out on a U.S. military plane. His pardon by President Rodrigo Duterte has drawn anger from activists.
By Jason Gutierrez, Sept. 13, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/13/world/asia/philippines-us-marine-transgender-woman.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
MANILA — A U.S. Marine who received a pardon from President Rodrigo Duterte for the killing of a transgender woman was deported from the Philippines on Sunday.
Immigration agents escorted Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton to a waiting U.S. military cargo plane from the Philippine military’s headquarters in Manila on Sunday, just days after Mr. Duterte ordered the soldier released, saying he had been treated unfairly.
The Philippine immigration commissioner, Jaime Morente, said on Sunday that Lance Corporal Pemberton was barred from ever returning to the country as a consequence of the deportation order.
The U.S. Embassy in Manila said that Mr. Duterte’s “absolute pardon” of Lance Corporal Pemberton meant there were no legal impediments to his departure.
“All legal proceedings in the case took place under Philippine jurisdiction and law,” the embassy said in a statement. “Lance Corporal Pemberton fulfilled his sentence as ordered by Philippine courts and he departed the Philippines on Sept. 13.”
It was not immediately known where in the United States the plane carrying Lance Corporal Pemberton was heading.
Mr. Duterte’s decision to pardon the Marine had angered gay and transgender rights activists as well as nationalist groups that resent American military involvement in the Philippines, a longtime ally in the Asia-Pacific region and a former U.S. colony. Opponents of the pardon had held peaceful protests asking the president to reconsider.
On Sunday, Lance Corporal Pemberton’s lawyer, Rowena Flores, said her client was “extremely grateful” for the president’s action, calling his freedom an “act of compassion.”
Lance Corporal Pemberton, then 20, was convicted of homicide in 2015 for the killing of Jennifer Laude, 26. He was sentenced to six to 12 years in prison — a term that was later reduced to 10 years.
Rather than serving his sentence in a Philippine prison, Lance Corporal Pemberton was held at Camp Aguinaldo, the Philippine military headquarters outside Manila, in keeping with a Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States. That pact gives the U.S. authorities certain jurisdiction over troops who become involved in criminal cases while on training missions here.
Mr. Duterte had threatened to scrap the agreement early this year but reversed his stand in June. His spokesman, Harry Roque, said last week that Mr. Duterte might have granted the pardon to ensure that the Philippines would receive priority consideration for any Covid-19 vaccines being developed by American scientists.
Mr. Roque, who as a lawyer once represented the family of Lance Corporal Pemberton’s victim, criticized a Philippine court’s decision this month to release the Marine less than six years into his sentence. The president’s office initially said it would seek to block the court order before Mr. Duterte announced he was issuing a pardon. On Thursday, Mr. Roque said he respected the president’s decision, which he said was based on the “broader national interest.”
“While I represented the Laude family in the past, if it means that the pardon could result in all Filipinos getting a vaccine if the Americans develop it, I do not have a problem with that,” he said.
On Sunday, Ms. Flores, the lawyer, said that Lance Corporal Pemberton “extends his most sincere sympathy for the pain he caused.”
“He wishes he had the words to express the depth of his sorry and regret,” she added.
Prisoners are more vulnerable than ever to the twin crises of the pandemic and a historic wildfire season.
By Tim Arango and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Sept. 14, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/14/us/prisons-fires-coronavirus.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage
Inmate firefighters clearing a fire line on the Walbridge Fire, during the L.N.U. Complex fires in August. The prisoner firefighting program has long been controversial. Credit...Max Whittaker for The New York Times
As wildfires tore through huge swaths of Oregon this week, prisoners were hurried away from the encroaching flames — not to freedom but to an overcrowded state prison, where they slept shoulder-to-shoulder in cots, and in some cases on the floor. Food was in short supply, showers and toilets few, and fights broke out between rival gang members.
They were safe from one catastrophe, but delivered to another: the coronavirus pandemic, which has spread at an alarming rate in America’s prisons.
“From what we know about Covid-19, how quickly it can spread and how lethal it can be, we have to prepare for the worst,” said Bobbin Singh, executive director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center, a prisoner advocacy organization.
Twin crises of the pandemic and a devastating wildfire season have left a significant toll in prisons along the West Coast. Virus outbreaks have spread through cellblocks — Oregon’s state prison system has had 1,600 infections over the last three months — even as poor ventilation systems have whipped in smoke from the fires outside.
The dilemma for prison officials, too, is complex, as they grapple with managing large facilities through simultaneous dangers. Before the fires started, the virus spread in America’s prisons partly because routine transfers of prisoners proceeded without testing them first for the coronavirus and isolating those infected. Now fires have forced Oregon officials to move so many prisoners so quickly that some inmates and advocates for prisoners say they fear it is only a matter of time before transferred inmates begin falling sick with the virus.
“Right now, it’s this situation of, no matter which way you turn there’s something waiting,” said Rasheed Stanley-Lockhart, who was released from prison in California in January after serving 18 years for armed robbery, and now works for Planting Justice, a nonprofit in Oakland, Calif., that helps newly released prisoners. “Turn here, there’s covid. Turn here, there’s the fires. You turn here, there’s mass incarceration as a whole.”
There have been more than 200,000 coronavirus infections in American prisons and jails and nearly 1,200 deaths since the pandemic began. As the wildfires have raged, the problems have been especially acute in Oregon, where officials ordered evacuations of about 2,750 prisoners.
Kristina Boswell, a prisoner in Oregon who was moved overnight on Friday from a state prison in the fire zone to one away from the threat of fires, described a chaotic evacuation in an audio recording her lawyer shared with The Times. She said prisoners were bound together with zip-ties and loaded into buses in the middle of the night, without their medications or water. When they arrived at the new prison, she said, there was a shortage of mattresses and no chance of social distancing.
“We’re all in dorm settings,” said Ms. Boswell, who was among more than 1,300 female prisoners moved to Deer Ridge Correctional Facility in Madras, Ore. “Everyone is crammed in.”
Ms. Boswell said prisoners were watching newscasts of the fires, and worried about their families outside. She said prisoners had gone almost 24 hours without food.
“I hate not knowing what’s going to happen,” she said. “I’m worried about my family out there.”
Her lawyer, Tara Herivel, a public defender in Portland, said of the wildfire evacuations: “It’s like Covid doesn’t even exist.”
Jennifer Black, a spokeswoman for Oregon’s Department of Corrections, said that the fires had created a highly difficult situation for everyone in the state. “Our daily operations have been affected and life at some of our institutions is not ideal for those who live and work at them,” she said, “However, life and safety are our first priority and we will return to normal operations as soon as conditions allow.”
In California, thousands of dry lightning strikes set off ferocious wildfires in Northern California in August. As thousands of people evacuated homes in the city of Vacaville, and volunteers rescued animals from the encroaching flames, thousands of people incarcerated in two prisons, some suffering from the coronavirus, were not moved. Even the animal shelter just up the road from the prison complex was emptied.
The fire ultimately did not reach the prisons — known as the California State Prison, Solano and the California Medical Facility — but prisoners and their families grew increasingly anxious as the flames crept closer.
A spokesman for the California’s corrections agency said no prisons are currently threatened by wildfires, and that there are “longstanding evacuation contingency plans in place in the event a prison needs to be evacuated.” When the fires were burning near the prisons in Vacaville, the spokesman said prisoners were given N95 masks.
Laurie Johnson said her husband, Orlando Johnson Sr., who is imprisoned at the medical facility for a robbery, had tried to block the fire from his mind — and sight — as it approached, covering up a small window through which he could see smoke and a reddening sky. He smelled the smoke, Ms. Johnson said, and caught a glimpse of a newscast on television that said some Vacaville residents were being ordered to leave their homes.
Ms. Johnson’s husband has asthma and a heart condition that she fears makes him more vulnerable to both the virus and smoky air.
“Half of my life is him, and I have no control over what’s going to happen,” said Ms. Johnson, who lives a half-hour from the prison and has not been able to visit her husband since March because of virus restrictions. “I’m doing all these things on the outside, trying to bring him home sooner, but it’s just Russian roulette — there’s no control.”
Families of prisoners worry that so many people in close quarters could lead to a large virus outbreak, especially because similar prison transfers elsewhere in the country in recent months have turned deadly because of the virus. None of the prisoners who were transferred in Oregon have been tested for the virus, according to the Oregon Department of Corrections, which acknowledged overcrowding at the Oregon State Penitentiary, where prisoners from three facilities have been taken in recent days as the fires intensified.
At San Quentin State Prison in California, 26 inmates have died of the virus and more than 2,500 prisoners and staff have been sickened since infected prisoners from a Southern California prison were transferred to San Quentin in May without being tested.
And at an immigration detention center in Farmville, Virginia, a botched inmate transfer in June led to the death of one detainee and the infection of at least 339 others — nearly every single person housed at the facility, according to court documents and federal data.
Adnan Khan, who was previously incarcerated in California and now runs Re: Store Justice, a criminal justice reform organization, spent three years at the prison in Solano. As the fires were bearing down in the area last month, he said he spoke with a friend at the prison over the phone.
“I got a call and honestly, man, I could literally hear people coughing in the background,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Is that Covid, what’s going on?’ My friend says, ‘No, there’s fires here.’”
He said his friend told him that corrections officers were walking into the building with ash on their hats and shoulders. Mr. Khan said he had no confidence that prison officials would be able to safely evacuate prisoners if a fire became threatening enough.
“Approximately 7,000 people in both prisons,” he said. “And Covid. And buses. Where are you going to get all these buses from? Fire evacuations are relatively fast. You can’t just take your time.”
In California, some activists who had been lobbying for prison reform because of the pandemic, are now pushing for releases, or at least evacuations, because of the fires.
“As a coalition we came together about Covid and our demand was always mass releases as the only way to mitigate future deaths and to mitigate the pandemic,” said Courtney Morris, an activist in Northern California who helped organize a protest outside the Sacramento home of Ralph Diaz, the secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, for failing to evacuate the prisons in Vacaville. “And then it also became a demand for mass evacuations.”
Mr. Stanley-Lockhart, the former prisoner, said he knows the dangers of fires firsthand. While he was incarcerated, he worked among the ranks of prisoners who joined firefighting crews, and is a trained emergency medical technician.
Every month while he was in San Quentin, he said, he participated in evacuation drills for staff and corrections officers, but still worried that he and other prisoners would be left behind in a fire.
California has long relied on prison firefighting crews to battle blazes. This year, facing a historic wildfire season and with resources stretched thin, there are fewer prisoner firefighters available, either because they were released early because of the pandemic or became sick.
The prisoner firefighting program has long been fiercely debated. Some activists have called it exploitative, because firefighters earn up to just over $5 a day — and an extra $1 per hour while fighting fires — for such dangerous work. $1 an hour for such dangerous work. Others have said it is deeply unfair that once inmate firefighters are released from prison they are not allowed to become professional firefighters because of their criminal records.
As Mr. Stanley-Lockhart was being interviewed on the phone Friday, he suddenly paused when he received a text message, alerting him that Gov. Gavin Newsom of California had just signed a bill that will allow more inmates who work as firefighters while serving their sentences to get jobs with fire departments once they are released.
“Sorry,” he said, as he paused. “That’s huge.”
As a medic in San Quentin, Mr. Stanley-Lockhart found himself increasingly administering care and CPR to aging inmates, another consequence he said of the long sentences that have led to America having the highest incarceration rate in the world.
“It tends to attack your sense of hope,” he said. “If Covid doesn’t get us, the fires will get us. If the fires and Covid don’t get us, we’ll never be able to come out from underneath these sentences.”
Timothy Williams, Mike Baker, Danya Issawi and Libby Seline contributed reporting.
Stop thinking that the horrors of the world will simply work themselves out.
By Charles M. Blow, Opinion Columnist, Sept. 13, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/13/opinion/activism-trump-masks-climate.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Supporters at President Trump’s rally in Minden, Nev., on Saturday. Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times
I have often wondered how major world tragedies and horrors were allowed to unfold. Where were all the good people, those who objected or should have? How did life simply go on with a horror in their midst?
How did the trans-Atlantic slave trade play out over hundreds of years? How did slavery thrive in this country? How was the Holocaust allowed to happen? How did the genocides in Rwanda or Darfur come to be?
There is, of course, nearly always an explanation. Often it is official policy; often it is driven by propaganda. But I’m more concerned with how people in the society considered these events at the time, and how any semblance of normalcy could be maintained while events unfolded.
It turns out that our current era is providing the unsettling answer: It was easy.
As I write this, nearly two hundred thousand Americans have died — many of them needlessly — from Covid-19, in large part because the Trump administration has refused to sufficiently address the crisis, be honest with the American people and urge caution. Instead, Trump has lied about the virus, downplayed it, resisted scientists’ warnings and continues to hold rallies with no social distancing and no mask requirements.
Things are poised to get worse: Models now predict that the number of Americans killed by the virus could double between now and Jan. 1. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington:
“We expect the daily death rate in the U.S., because of seasonality and declining public vigilance, to reach nearly 3,000 a day in December. Cumulative deaths expected by Jan. 1 are 415,090; this is 222,522 deaths from now until the end of the year.”
And yet, Americans still flock to Trump rallies, Republicans continue to defend his pandemic response and it is not clear that he will be defeated in November. We are, in many states, back to restaurants and bars, schools and churches, gyms and spas. It’s not as if we don’t know that there is a deadly virus being transmitted through the air, but it seems as though many Americans, weary of restrictions, have simply made their peace with it.
We have a climate crisis that continues to worsen. Storms are getting stronger. Droughts are severe. Rivers are flooding. The sea level is rising. And yet, we don’t do nearly enough to stop it and may not do enough before it’s too late to do anything.
Right now much of the West Coast is ablaze with hellish scenes of orange skies, and yet too many of us entertain climate change deniers, or, perhaps worse, know well the gravity and precariousness of the situation and still haven’t changed our habits or voted for the candidates with the boldest visions to save the planet.
Right now, China has detained as many as one million mostly Muslim citizens, in indoctrination camps, hoping to remold many into what The New York Times called “loyal blue-collar workers to supply Chinese factories with cheap labor.”
And yet, the world does little. Many look away. Life goes on.
This is how these catastrophes happen — in full sight — and people with full knowledge don’t revolt. People sometimes think that the issue is far away, or if it’s not, that it’s too big and they are too powerless.
They think provincially, or even parochially, concerned with their own house, their own street, their own community.
“It’s too bad that those children are in cages, but I can’t worry about that now, the clothes in the dryer need folding.”
“It’s too bad that an unarmed Black man just got shot by the police, but I can’t worry about that now, the yard needs mowing.”
I guess in some ways this impulse is self-protecting, preventing the mind and spirit from becoming overwhelmed with angst and rage. But, the result is that evil — as a person or system — rampages, unchecked, taking your personal laissez-faire as public license.
If you don’t complain, you condone.
But this mustn’t be. Stop thinking of yourself as weak or helpless. Stop thinking that things will simply work themselves out. Stop thinking that evil will stop at the gate and not trample your own garden.
Gather the energy. Gather your neighbor. Fight, vote, email, post. Do all you can to stand up for the vulnerable, for the oppressed, for the planet itself. Don’t let history record this moment as it has recorded too many others: a time when good people did too little to confront wickedness and disaster.
As Edmund Burke wrote in his 1770 “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents”: “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”
But you may be more familiar with another quote often attributed to Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
The Clayton County Sheriff’s Office said the deputy was terminated for “excessive use of force” after a video showing him pinning and punching Roderick Walker, 26, was circulated widely on social media.
By Allyson Waller and Aimee Ortiz, Sept. 13, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/13/us/Roderick-Walker-Georgia-police.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
A sheriff’s deputy in Georgia has been fired after video circulated on social media showing him pinning and beating a Black man after a traffic stop, the authorities said on Sunday.
The sheriff’s office in Clayton County, just south of Atlanta, said in a statement that the deputy had been fired for “excessive use of force.” The deputy, whose name was not released, was initially placed on unpaid administrative leave after the department was “made aware of a video posted on social media involving a deputy using physical force on a man,” the sheriff’s office said.
Cellphone footage of the confrontation, which took place on Friday, was recorded by at least two bystanders and shared widely on social media. The videos show two deputies, who are white, pinning and beating the Black man, Roderick Walker, 26, in the street.
Shean Williams, a lawyer representing Mr. Walker and his family, demanded that he be released from the Clayton County Jail in Jonesboro, Ga., where Mr. Walker remained in custody on Sunday on two counts each of battery and obstructing or hindering law enforcement officers, according to jail records.
At a news conference on Saturday night, Mr. Williams said that Mr. Walker and his girlfriend returned a rental car on Friday and then paid a man to take them to their next destination. Mr. Williams said the car they were riding in was pulled over because it had a broken taillight.
The deputies asked Mr. Walker for his identification even though he was not the driver, Mr. Williams said. The deputies “became upset when he inquired — like every American citizen has the right to inquire — ‘Why are you asking me for my ID? I’m not driving, and I have not done anything wrong,’” Mr. Williams said.
“The next thing you know — and you’ve seen on the video — he’s attacked, beaten in his face, throughout his body,” Mr. Williams said. “He is choked, he is unable to breathe.”
At one point, the videos show one of the deputies punch Mr. Walker several times in the head. Both deputies appear to be on top of Mr. Walker, using their body weight to apply pressure to his neck and torso.
Mr. Walker appears to say “I can’t breathe.” He also appears to lose consciousness as the deputies roll him over to reveal his bloodied face. A woman who was recording one of the videos can be heard screaming throughout the interaction, and an officer asks her to return to a car as she pleads with them.
One of Mr. Walker’s four children witnessed the encounter, Mr. Williams said.
The sheriff’s office said in its statement that Mr. Walker had been denied release on bond because of a felony probation warrant out of Fulton County, Ga., for cruelty to children and possession of a firearm by a felon, and a separate warrant for failure to appear in court in Hapeville, Ga.
The department said that Mr. Walker had received medical treatment, including X-rays of his head, and that no fractures were detected. He was being monitored by a doctor in the jail’s hospital, the sheriff said.
Calling for Mr. Walker’s release, Mr. Williams mentioned the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which set off nationwide protests this spring.
“We could, unfortunately, be talking and mourning his life,” Mr. Williams said, surrounded by members of Mr. Walker’s family outside the Clayton County Jail in Jonesboro, Ga. “We have seen this happen in George Floyd. We’ve seen this happen on too many occasions, and we’re just tired of it.”
Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense and Educational Fund, wrote on Twitter on Saturday night that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation should “immediately take over the investigation.”
The Georgia chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. called for similar action. The organization said in a statement that it was “meeting with the family to come up with legal support and next steps for community action.” In a separate statement on Saturday, it also called for the resignation of the Clayton County sheriff, Victor Hill; for the termination of the two sheriff’s deputies; and for the county’s district attorney to drop all charges against Mr. Walker.
Researchers say drug companies need to be more open about how vaccine trials are run to reassure Americans who are skittish about getting a coronavirus vaccine.
By Katie Thomas, Sept. 13, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/13/science/coronavirus-vaccine-trials.html
The morning after the world learned that a closely watched clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine had been halted last week over safety concerns, the company’s chief executive disclosed that a person given the vaccine had experienced serious neurological symptoms.
But the remarks weren’t public. Instead, the chief executive, Pascal Soriot of AstraZeneca, spoke at a closed meeting organized by J.P. Morgan, the investment bank.
AstraZeneca said on Saturday that an outside panel had cleared its trial in Britain to begin again, but the company still has not given any details about the patient’s medical condition, nor has it released a transcript of Mr. Soriot’s remarks to investors, which were reported by the news outlet STAT and later confirmed by an analyst for J.P. Morgan.
Another front-runner in the vaccine race, Pfizer, made a similarly terse announcement on Saturday: The company is proposing to expand its clinical trial to include thousands more participants, but it gave few other details about its plan, including how it would determine the effectiveness of the vaccine in its larger study.
It’s standard for drug companies to withhold details of clinical trials until after they are completed, tenaciously guarding their intellectual property and competitive edge. But these are extraordinary times, and now there is a growing outcry among independent scientists and public health experts who are pushing the companies to be far more open with the public in the midst of a pandemic that has already killed more than 193,000 people in the United States.
These experts say American taxpayers are entitled to know more since the federal government has committed billions of dollars to vaccine research and to buying the vaccines once they’re approved. And greater transparency could also help bolster faltering public confidence in vaccines at a time when a growing number of Americans fear President Trump will pressure federal regulators to approve a vaccine before it is proved safe and effective.
“Trust is in short supply,” said Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist and health care researcher at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., who has spent years prodding companies and academic researchers to share more trial data with outside scientists. “And the more that they can share, the better off we are.”
Last week, nine pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca and Pfizer, pledged to “stand with science” and rigorously vet any vaccine for the coronavirus — an unusual pact among competitors. But the researchers said that missing from the joint statement was a promise to share more critical details about their research with the public and the scientific community.
None of the three companies with coronavirus vaccines in advanced clinical trials in the United States have made public the protocols and statistical analysis plans for those trials — the detailed road maps that could help the independent scientists better understand how the trials were designed, and hold the companies accountable if they were to deviate from their plans. In some cases, crucial details about how the trials have been set up — such as at what points an independent board can review early study results, or under what conditions a trial could be stopped early — have not been made public.
“We’ve never had such an important clinical trial — or series of clinical trials — in recent history,” said Dr. Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif., and a longtime expert on clinical trials. “Everything should be transparent.”
Public confidence in the drug companies’ findings and federal regulators’ rigor will be critical in persuading Americans to get vaccinated. A growing number of people are skeptical. A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation this past week found that nearly two-thirds of Americans — 62 percent — are worried that the Food and Drug Administration will rush to approve a coronavirus vaccine without making sure it is safe and effective, under political pressure from Mr. Trump.
Pharmaceutical companies are counting on their vaccine research to help them rebuild reputations that have been tarnished by soaring drug prices and the industry’s role in fueling the opioid epidemic.
In an effort to restore public trust, senior regulators at the F.D.A. took the highly unusual step of promising in a USA Today op-ed piece on Thursday to uphold the scientific integrity of the process of evaluating treatments and vaccines, and to maintain the agency’s independence.
Representatives for the three companies with vaccine candidates in large, advanced trials in the United States — Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca — said they had released many details about the trials.
Pfizer said in a statement that the novelty of the virus and the fast-moving nature of the coronavirus crisis had meant that the protocol had to be flexible “to enable us to enhance the evaluation of the potential vaccine’s safety and efficacy.” The company said it would publish the full protocol from the trial as part of its submission to a medical journal “that will include results, enrollment criteria and final number of participants enrolled.”
On Saturday, Pfizer said it would ask the F.D.A. for permission to expand its trial to 44,000 participants, from its initial target of 30,000. But the announcement raised new questions about how the company would be able to know the results by its goal of the end of October, with so many new participants. A Pfizer spokeswoman, Amy Rose, said, “We are not going to speak to timing or specifics of any interim analyses.”
AstraZeneca did not initially report that a participant’s illness had halted its clinical trials around the world. The studies were paused last Sunday, but not reported until the news was broken by STAT on Tuesday. The company still has not disclosed the patient’s illness that led to the pause, even though it has discussed the medical condition of another participant who developed multiple sclerosis in July, which led to another brief halt of the trial. That illness was determined to be unrelated to the vaccine.
The company said that Mr. Soriot’s appearance at the J.P. Morgan meeting was part of a long-planned event, and that he largely discussed the company’s business outlook, with a few questions about the trial. The New York Times has reported that the patient developed symptoms consistent with transverse myelitis, or inflammation of the spinal cord.
A spokeswoman for AstraZeneca, Michele Meixell, said that while trial sponsors were required to notify the doctors operating clinical trial sites if an “unexplained event” occurred, “it is not common practice for those pauses to be communicated beyond the clinical community involved in a trial — including the media — in order to protect the privacy of individual participants and maintain the integrity of the trial.”
There is precedent for greater transparency. The large Recovery trial being run by the University of Oxford in Britain — which helped determine that the steroid dexamethasone reduces deaths in patients with Covid-19 — has published its trial protocol and statistical analysis plans.
While the broad outlines of the vaccine trial designs have been made available — including on a federal clinical trial registry — crucial details remain a mystery.
For example, Pfizer’s chief executive has said the company could apply to the F.D.A. for emergency authorization of its vaccine as early as October. But the company has not said how many times — and at what point in the trial — it will allow an independent review board to examine its study data to evaluate whether the evidence of safety and efficacy is strong enough that it can stop the trial early and apply for an emergency approval from federal regulators.
And none of the companies have published the criteria they will use to determine when these outside boards would advise stopping the trial, which could happen if the vaccine showed overwhelming efficacy, if it showed that it did not protect against Covid-19 or if it was linked to serious safety issues.
These so-called interim analyses are the subject of intense interest, because they are the only way that late stage trials could be halted early.
Company executives have provided some trial details when they have spoken on discussion panels or at investor conferences, or in news releases. But researchers looking for clues have had to comb through transcripts, videos and articles posted online, rather than to examine documents that the companies provided.
The lack of transparency is unacceptable, several researchers said, given that the federal government has billion-dollar deals with each of the companies.
“Look, we paid for it,” said Saad B. Omer, the director of the Yale Institute for Global Health. “So it’s reasonable to ask for it.”
A federal clinical trial registry details the number of trial participants, who should be included and excluded from the study, and the main outcomes. But it only skims the surface, Dr. Krumholz said. “The protocols are much more detailed.”
Peter Doshi, who is on the faculty at University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in Baltimore and an editor with The BMJ, a medical journal, said he recently requested the protocols from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. None of the companies shared them, he said.
“I imagine most of the public would like to believe scientists are all sharing their data, that this process is open to scrutiny among the scientific community,” said Dr. Doshi, who has helped pressure drug makers to share trial records with researchers. “Just not true.”
Dr. Doshi said the protocols could help researchers answer important questions about the studies, and possibly to critique them. For example, can the trials determine whether the vaccine can prevent Covid-19 and complications in high-risk groups like older adults? When the researchers test for the coronavirus, how do they account for false results?
Other independent scientists said they were eager to examine the trials’ statistical analysis plans, which would guide them in analyzing the results.
“Frankly, I would love to know what they’re planning to do, and how they’re planning to do it,” said Dr. Judith Feinberg, the vice chairwoman for research in medicine at West Virginia University in Morgantown.
By making these documents public, outside experts said they would be able to hold the companies accountable if they changed the way they analyzed the results.
“There’s no downside” to sharing the documents, said Dr. Paul A. Offit, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia who serves on the F.D.A. advisory committee that will review coronavirus vaccines. “People are skittish about these vaccines. I think it helps to be transparent.”
Dr. Omer said he was in favor of the companies releasing the protocols and analysis plans, but he said he also worried that, in the wrong hands, the technical documents could be misinterpreted.
“You cannot kid around with this kind of stuff,” he said. In the long run, however, he said it was to the companies’ advantage to allow qualified researchers to evaluate the plans.
If independent researchers agreed the trials were set up properly — and Dr. Omer said he expected that would be the case — that could help enhance their credibility. They can say: “Hold your horses. No need to jump up and down.”
Posted by: Bonnie Weinstein <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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