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
Denver Black Lives
On September 17, six protest leaders, including four members of the Party of Socialism and Liberation, were arrested in Denver, Colorado in a coordinated police action. Those arrested are now being threatened with a litany of bogus felony charges, including “kidnapping.” Four of the arrested individuals—Russel Ruch, Lillian House, Joel Northam, and Eliza Lucero—are protest leaders who have denounced the crimes of the Colorado police, most notably the racist murder of Elijah McClain. The repression against these activists, and many others, is nothing short of police-state retribution. As a PSL statement noted,
“This attack on the Denver anti-racist movement and the PSL is part of a concerted national assault on the Black Lives Matter movement, an attack driven directly from the White House, from Governor’s mansions, and from local police chiefs and police departments around the country.”
It is clear from the manner of the arrests that the Denver area police are trying to punish and intimidate activists. Russel Ruch, for instance, was followed to Home Depot and arrested in the parking lot; Lillian House was surrounded by five police cars as she was driving; and a S.W.A.T. team was sent to Joel Northam’s home. According to the 30-page long arrest affidavits, the police used livestream footage, call transcripts, and social media posts to build a case against those arrested. These coordinated arrests, which utilized both surveillance and brute force, aim to instill fear in every Denver area activist. “Protest, and you could be next” is the message being sent. And the absurd list of felony charges, known as “charge stacking,” means the arrested activists could be facing years, if not decades, in prison.
The arrest of these protest leaders in Denver are part of a larger nationwide crack-down on the Black Lives Matter movement. Across the country, protesters have been snatched off the streets by the police or federal forces in unmarked vehicles. In New York City, the NYPD used facial-recognition software to find and harass a Black Lives Matter activist. And earlier this month, in Washington, federal marshals gunned down Portland activist Michael Reinoehl without warning as he walked to his car.
Left Voice denounces the attempts to repress or otherwise intimidate anti-racist, anti-police activists. It is unacceptable that the state, under direction from both Republican and Democratic Party leaders, targets and intimidates activists fighting for racial justice, while the murderers of Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor and many more walk free. The real threat to public safety can be found in every police precinct, every city hall, and every seat of political power.
Drop the charges against Denver PSL activists—Free all the arrested protesters!
To sign the PSL’s petition to have the charges dropped, click here:
To donate to the PSL’s legal defense, click here:
— Left Voice, September 18, 2020
History, Great Britain, and Julian Assange
Below are the comments Clifford D. Conner made at a September 8, 2020 press conference in front of the British consulate in New York City. Conner is an historian and author of Jean Paul Marat: Tribune of the French Revolution and The Tragedy of American Science: From Truman to Trump. The court in Britain is holding hearings on the Trump administration’s request to have Julian Assange, the Australian editor, publisher and founder of WikiLeaks, extradited. Assange would be tried in a Virginia court on 17 counts of espionage and one count of conspiracy to commit a computer crime. If convicted, he could face up to 175 years in prison.
In 2010 Assange had the audacity to post a video showing a U.S. Apache helicopter indiscriminately murdering a dozen civilians and two Reuters’ journalists in the streets of Baghdad.
Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower, testified in court on September 16 that Assange could not receive a fair trial in the United States. When he pointed out that the Collateral Murder video was clearly a war crime, the prosecution maintained that Assange was not wanted by Washington for it but for publishing documents without redacting names. Ellsberg pointed out that when he leaked the Pentagon Papers, he did not redact a single name.
Assange’s lawyer has since informed the London court that in 2017 former Republican U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher and Charles Johnson, a far-right political activist, relayed Trump’s offer to pardon Assange if he provided the source for the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails. This was described to Assange as a “win-win” situation for all involved.
A National Committee to Defend Assange and Civil Liberties, chaired by Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, and Alice Walker has been set up. For further information, go to: www.facebook.com/CommitteeToDefendJulianAssange. The press conference was organized by the New York City Free Assange Committee. The press conference was organized by the New York City Free Assange Committee: NYCFreeAssange.org
—Dianne Feeley for The Editors, Against the Current
Comments by Clifford D. Conner
I am here at the British Consulate today to protest the incarceration and mistreatment of Julian Assange in Belmarsh Prison in Great Britain, to demand that you immediately release him, and above all, to demand that you NOT extradite Julian Assange to the United States.
As a historian who has written extensively on the case of the most persecuted journalist of the 18th century, Jean Paul Marat, I am in a position to make historical comparisons, and in my judgement, Julian Assange is both the most unjustly persecuted journalist of the 21st century and arguably the most important journalist of the 21st century.
Julian Assange is being hounded and harassed and threatened with life in prison by the United States government because he dared to publish the truth about American war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan for the whole world to see. This persecution of Julian Assange is an assault on the fundamental principles of journalistic freedom.
The sociopathic Donald Trump and his accomplice, Attorney General William Barr, are demanding that you deliver Assange to them to face false charges of espionage. Every honest observer in the world recognizes Trump and Barr as utterly incapable of acting in good faith. If they succeed in suppressing Julian Assange’s right to publish, it will be a devastating precedent for journalists and publishers of news everywhere—and above all, for the general public, who will lose access to the information necessary to maintaining a democratic society.
If you allow yourselves to become co-conspirators in this crime, History will not look kindly on Great Britain for that.
Last November, more than 60 doctors from all over the world wrote an open letter to the British government saying that Julian Assange’s health was so bad that he could die if he weren’t moved from Belmarsh Prison, where he was being held, to a hospital, immediately. Your government chose to ignore that letter and he was not hospitalized, then or later. History will not look kindly on Great Britain for that.
Of all crimes against humanity, the most unforgivable is torture. No nation that perpetrates torture has the right to call itself civilized. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, has unequivocally characterized Julian Assange’s treatment in Belmarsh Prison as torture. History will neither forget nor forgive that terrible moral transgression.
Furthermore, the exposure of the widespread use of torture by the United States military and the CIA at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, at Guantánamo Bay, and at so-called “black sites” all over the world, absolutely disqualifies the United States from sitting in moral judgement of anybody. If you deliver Julian Assange into the hands of torturers, history will not look kindly on Great Britain for that.
So, I join together today with human rights advocates and advocates of journalistic freedom around the world.
I stand with the Committee to Protect Journalists, which declared: “For the sake of press freedom, Julian Assange must be defended.”
I stand with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which said that the attempt to prosecute Julian Assange is “a worrying step on the slippery slope to punishing any journalist the Trump administration chooses to deride as ‘fake news’.”
And I stand with the ACLU, which said: “Any prosecution by the United States of Mr. Assange for WikiLeaks’publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations.”
History will not only record the names of the countries that collaborate in this travesty of justice, but also the names of the individuals—the judges, the prosecutors, the diplomats, and the politicians—who aid and abet the crime. If you, as individuals, choose to ally yourselves with the likes of Donald Trump and William Barr, be prepared for your names to be chained to theirs in infamy, in perpetuity.
History will certainly absolve Julian Assange, and it certainly will not absolve his persecutors.
—Against the Current, November/December 2020
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.
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)
Johnson the Invisible Brat
Johnson the invisible brat,
Thinks he’s better than us all,
For he’s a posh prime minister,
Who defies international law,
No matter how many graves get filled,
Or the cupboards are running bare,
You bet you can rely on this,
Johnson won’t be there.
Hancock, Priti, any sycophant,
It doesn’t matter who,
Can keep a straight face on camera,
While reading the lies on the autocue.
Nursing homes, schools there’s Covid everywhere,
But whenever there’s a crisis,
Johnson isn’t there
Depravity, depravity there’s no match for his depravity.
He is nastiness in human form, with not a shred of common humanity.
You may read him in a by-line, or see his face in the morning paper,
But when there’s a problem to deal with,
Boris Johnson won’t be seen till later.
Depravity, depravity the are no bounds to his depravity,
He’s already broken every law and conduct of normality,
His powers of crass dishonesty are way beyond compare,
He lies in every sentence and doesn’t seem to care,
You may look for him in Downing Street or in another lair,
But when a job is needing done,
Boris Johnson is never there.
He’ll sack anyone who happens in his way
And tear up any treaty he doesn’t like today,
He is outwardly respectably but he cheats all his friends
He’ll trample over anyone to get to his own ends,
Or he’ll send his hoodlum Cummings to crush dissenting minds.
Lies, corruption, negligence we know he doesn’t care
But when there is money to be made,
Johnson and mates will be there.
In Britain he acts like a dictator doing just as he wants,
Ignoring real life tragedies while posing for photo stunts,
For all his fake bravado, he’s just another coward,
A liar, a bully a posh self-centred fraud.
He’s an invisible prime minister who is never here,
But whenever there’s Trump’s arse to kiss,
You can be sure that,
Boris Johnson will reappear.
Calamity then catastrophe with grand theft larceny,
Another billion of our money flushed down the lavat’ry,
He cares not for our suffering our deaths and our pain,
Fake news and lies again and again,
When things go wrong and account is called,
It is always someone else’s fault,
What ever the problem no matter where
He always can claim that he wasn’t there.
Covid 19’s, coming,
He says we’ll take it on the chin,
World beating, moonshot, track and trace,
Endless lies and spin
Just more meaningless hot air from this uncaring buffoon,
Exam results fiasco, yet he never showed his face.
Children going hungry a national disgrace
We must take matters in our own hands,
To make things proper here,
Have confidence in our own powers,
Make Johnson and his kind
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.
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.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Reality Winner Tests Positive for COVID, Still Imprisoned
With great anguish, I’m writing to share the news that NSA whistleblower Reality Winner, still in federal prison, has tested positive for COVID-19. Winner, despite her vulnerable health conditions, was denied home release in April – the judge’s reasoning being that the Federal Medical Center, Carswell is “presumably better equipped than most to deal with the onset of COVID-19 in its inmates”.Since that ruling, COVID infections at Carswell have exploded, ranking it now as second highest in the nation for the number of cases, and substantially increasing the likelihood that its medical capacity will be overwhelmed.This news comes one week after Trump’s commutation of convicted felon Roger Stone, and two months after the home release of Trump’s convicted campaign manager, Paul Manafort:Donald Trump’s commutation of Roger Stone’s prison sentence is galling on numerous levels. It’s a brazen act of corruption and an egregious obstruction of an ongoing investigation of the President and his enablers. There are few figures less worthy of clemency than a Nixonian dirty trickster like Stone. But the final twist of the knife is that Reality Winner, the honest, earnest, anti-Stone of the Russian meddling saga, remains in federal prison.
Please share this with your networks, and stand with us in support of Reality Winner and her family during this critical time.
Thank you,Jesselyn Radack
Whistleblower & Source Protection Program (WHISPeR)
You are receiving this list because you have opted in on our website.
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You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this listWHISPeR Project at ExposeFacts 1627 Eye Street, NW Suite 600 Washington, DC 20006
Subject: Shut Down Fort Hood! Justice for Vanessa Guillén. Sign the petition!
SHUT DOWN FORT HOOD NOW!JUSTICE FOR
PFC. VANESSA GUILLÉN!
Sign the Petition
In late April, Pfc. Vanessa Guillén went missing from her base in Ft. Hood, Texas. It took her family and friends working night and day to appeal to the commanding officers to get any attention whatsoever about her whereabouts. Vanessa had told her family she had been sexually harassed by her supervisor.For more than three months, Vanessa’s higher-ups paid little attention to her family’s urgent pleas to investigate her disappearance. She was treated as being disposable.In late June, her body was found 25 miles from the base. Vanessa had been tragically murdered by her abuser who later killed himself upon capture.The unspeakable crimes against Vanessa Guillén have opened a floodgate of testimonies about sexual assault in the military. Many women and LGBTQ2S+ people are telling their heartbreaking stories with the hashtag #iamvanessaGuillén.Vanessa’s death is a result of sexual harassment in the military, which is deplorable. Fort Hood is the worst. According to the Pentagon’s own reports, it has the most sexual assaults of any Army post in the country. That is why it must be shut down now!In addition, Fort Hood, the single biggest military post in the U.S. armed forces, is named after a Confederate general. Its name glorifies racism and slavery.When Vanessa Guillén enlisted in the Army, she thought she’d be doing good and it would be helpful to her. Instead, it destroyed her. But how could it not when the military exists not to help people, but to defend Wall Street? It invaded and still occupies Iraq and Afghanistan, killing millions, just for oil profits.The case for Justice for Vanessa is very much linked to the movement for Black Lives. Young people of color must have other options than police violence or going to war for their future.WE DEMAND:•Investigate Fort Hood Commanding General Robert White and others for conspiracy to cover up Pfc. Vanessa Guillén’s murder. Why did it take a mass movement to find what happened?
•Shut down Ft. Hood! There is no other way to end the deplorable conditions soldiers face.
•Job training, education, COVID-19 relief, not war! If we shut down the Pentagon, the annual U.S. defense budget of $1 trillion could be used for people’s needs, not war.
•End misogyny and homophobia in the military. Justice for Vanessa and all survivors.
147 W 24th St.
New York City, NY 10011
This legacy belongs to all of us:
“Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed the forest to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries. . . Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature–but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.” The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man 1876. —Friedrich Engels
Marvin Gaye - What's Going On (Official Video 2019)
BlackRock loves to make a killing on killing: Over a thousand Americans have been killed by Tasers — 32 percent of them are Black Americans. Tasers are made by the colossal law enforcement supplier Axon Enterprise, based in Arizona.
One of their top shareholders happens to be Blackrock. Recently Blackrock has been trying to be sympathetic to the atrocities of murders waged on Black Americans and communities of color. If we ramp up massive pressure and blow the whistle on their deadly stocks, we can highlight that divesting from Tasers and the war in our streets will be a step in the right direction in building a fair and just society.
This issue is important to having peace in our streets. But this will only work if people participate. Send an email to Blackrock to divest from the Taser manufacturer Axon Enterprise which is responsible for the killing of thousands of Americans, and CODEPINK will pull out all the stops to make sure Blackrock execs hear our call:
Blackrock could do this. They recently announced that they were divesting from fossil fuels — signaling a shift in their policies. If CEO Larry Fink cares about “diversity, fairness, and justice” and building a “stronger, more equal, and safer society” — he should divest from Tasers.
Plus, compared to Blackrock’s other holdings, Taser stocks aren’t even that significant!
But if Blackrock does this, it could be the first domino we need to get other investment companies on board too. Send an email to BlackRock and share this widely!
If there’s one thing our community stands for, it’s peace and social justice. And one way we can help achieve that is by cutting off the flow of cash into the manufacturing of Tasers. So, let’s come together to make that happen, and help prevent more innocent Americans from being killed with these senseless tools.
Nancy, Carley, Jodie, Paki, Cody, Kelsey, and Yousef
To update your email subscription, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
Veterans Join Call for a Global Ceasefire
www.couragetoresist.org ~ 510.488.3559 ~ facebook.com/couragetoresist
Oakland, CA 94610-2730
"The biggest block from having society in harmony with the universe is the belief in a lie that says it’s not realistic or ￼humanly possible."
"If Obama taught me anything it’s that it don’t matter who you vote for in this system. There’s nothing a politician can do that the next one can’t undo. You can’t vote away the ills of society people have to put our differences aside ban together and fight for the greater good, not vote for the lesser evil."
—Johnny Gould (Follow @tandino415 on Instagram)
When faced with the opportunity to do good, I really think it’s the instinct of humanity to do so. It’s in our genetic memory from our earliest ancestors. ￼It’s the altered perception of the reality of what being human truly is that’s been indoctrinated ￼in to every generation for the last 2000 years or more that makes us believe that we are born sinners. I can’t get behind that one. We all struggle with certain things, but I really think ￼￼that all the “sinful” behavior is learned and wisdom and goodwill is innate at birth. ￼ —Johnny Gould (Follow @tandino415 on Instagram)
Major Tillery, a prisoner at SCI Chester and a friend of Mumia, may have caught the coronavirus. Major is currently under lockdown at SCI Chester, where a coronavirus outbreak is currently taking place. Along with the other prisoners at SCI Chester, he urgently needs your help.
500 E. 4th St.
Chester, PA 19013
Telephone: (610) 490-5412
Email: 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
The system erased her as if she never existed.
By Charles M. Blow, Opinion Columnist, Sept. 24, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/24/opinion/breonna-taylor-black-trauma.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
I filed this column late. Very late. I couldn’t find the words — an unsettling experience for a writer. The words I did conjure failed, not because the message was difficult to convey, but rather because the conveyance is maddeningly depressive in repetition.
The killing of Breonna Taylor reveals yet again how easy it is for the state to take a Black life and how hard it is to hold the state accountable for its transgression. That is in part because the system is designed to make it nearly impossible for the state to transgress.
Taylor was an innocent woman, sleeping in her own home, breaking no law. The state broke down her door and shot her dead.
Most of what the state did in her home that night was in fact, outrageously, legal. According to the state attorney general, the two officers who shot her were justified in using lethal force because her boyfriend, believing that people were breaking into the house to harm him and Taylor, deigned to defend himself by shooting at the intruders.
That, according to the state, allowed the officers to then act in self-defense. But here’s the problem: The bullets went into Taylor, not her boyfriend. How can you justify killing me while defending yourself from something my friend did?
When the grand jury charges were announced, only a third officer, who was fired in June, was charged, and not with anything that had to do with the killing of Taylor. He was charged with wanton endangerment because he shot so randomly that some bullets entered adjacent apartments.
Put another way, the bullets that provided the material for the crime were the ones that did not enter Taylor’s body. In essence, a former officer was charged for the shots that missed her.
That grand jury, the system, the state, erased Taylor as if she had never existed. Her death was simply a “tragedy,” a regrettable mistake for which no punishment was merited or required.
For the state, her body fell like a tree in the forest. For us, it landed like a thunderclap and shook the earth. It was a horror. It could have been us. It could have been someone we knew and loved.
Taylor was just 26, the same age as my oldest son is now. Taylor was a certified E.M.T., and her mother said she planned a lifelong career in health care. My son is in medical school. She could have been my daughter. My son could have been her.
They are both adults, to be sure, but to us, their parents, they are our children, our babies. You can’t just cut down someone’s baby and say, “Oh well.” No amount of money can fill the hole that loss would leave.
It was so egregious, like so many of these police shootings, and for months we waited to see if justice would be served, hoping against hope, knowing that history had trained us in trauma, knowing that justice was unlikely.
And, in the end, the system performed precisely as expected: It disregarded the Black body and defended the state bodies.
When you are injured or killed by community violence, the law is on your side, or on the side of the loved ones who grieve you. Justice in those cases can be swift and brutal. But, when it is the state doing the hurting and killing, the law is on their side. They are the law.
That is why state violence is so insidious: because you are nearly helpless to protect yourself from it.
People have to chant “Black lives matter” — to assert it, to make it hang in the air so that both the person speaking these words and the person hearing them can remember it — because the system demonstrates continually that those lives don’t matter to it.
Taylor was killed by the disastrous war on drugs that is itself hopelessly racialized. She was killed by the judicial system that granted the warrant. She was killed by militarized hyper-policing that is too often dangerous and deadly. She was killed by public indifference that lets all this play out without demanding correction.
This is a woeful ritual. This is a perpetual parade of anger and astonishment, of loss and longing, of demanding justice and being denied it. It is weighing on the souls of Black America and all Americans of good conscience.
America has created an unsustainable condition, one that I fear will one day explode, and yet the country lacks the will or inclination to right its wrongs. America, sadly, will regret this.
Bully and ignore the experts, and send in the quacks.
By Paul Krugman, Opinion Columnist, Sept. 24, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/24/opinion/trump-science-coronavirus.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Lately I’ve found myself thinking about Trofim Lysenko.
Who? Lysenko was a Soviet agronomist who decided that modern genetics was all wrong, indeed contrary to Marxist-Leninist principles. He even denied that genes existed, while insisting that long-discredited views about evolution were actually right. Real scientists marveled at his ignorance.
But Joseph Stalin liked him, so Lysenko’s views became official doctrine, and scientists who refused to endorse them were sent to labor camps or executed. Lysenkoism became the basis for much of the Soviet Union’s agricultural policy, eventually contributing to the disastrous famines of the 1930s.
Does all of this sound a bit familiar given recent events in America?
Those worried about a crisis of democracy in the United States — which means everyone paying attention — usually compare Donald Trump to strongmen like Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, not Stalin. Indeed, if the G.O.P. has become an extremist, anti-democratic party — and it has — it’s an extremism of the right.
But while nobody would accuse Trump of being a leftist, his political style always reminds me of Stalinism. Like Stalin, he sees vast, implausible conspiracies everywhere — anarchists somehow in control of major cities, radical leftists somehow controlling Joe Biden, secret anti-Trump cabals throughout the federal government. It’s also notable that those who work for Trump, like Stalinist officials, consistently end up being cast out and vilified — although not sent to gulags, at least not yet.
And Trumpism, like Stalinism, seems to inspire special disdain for expertise and a fondness for quacks.
On Wednesday Trump said two things that both, if you ask me, deserved banner headlines. Most alarmingly, he refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses the election.
But he also indicated that he might reject new guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration for approving a coronavirus vaccine, saying that the announcement of these guidelines “sounds like a political move.” What?
OK, we all understand what’s going on here. Many observers worry that the Trump team, in an effort to influence the election, will announce that we have a safe, effective vaccine against the coronavirus ready to go, even if we don’t (and we almost certainly won’t have one that soon). So the Food and Drug Administration was trying to reassure the public about the integrity of its approval process.
And we really need that reassurance, because the Trump administration has given us every reason to distrust statements coming from public health agencies.
Last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance to the effect that people exposed to the coronavirus but not having Covid-19 symptoms didn’t need to get tested — contrary to the recommendations of just about every independent epidemiologist. Subsequent reporting revealed that the new guidance was prepared by political appointees and skipped the scientific review process.
More recently, the C.D.C. warned about airborne transmission of the coronavirus — this time matching what experts are saying — only to suddenly pull the guidance from its website a few days later. We don’t know exactly what happened, but it’s hard not to notice that the retracted guidance would have made it clear that recent Trump rallies, which involve large indoor crowds with few people wearing masks, create major public health risks.
So the F.D.A. was trying to assure us that it won’t be corrupted by politics the way the C.D.C. apparently has been. And Trump basically cut the agency off at the knees; his assertion that the new guidelines sound political actually meant that they weren’t political enough, that he wants to keep open the possibility of announcing a vaccine as a way to help retain power.
But if political hacks are calling the shots at the C.D.C., and the F.D.A. is being told to shut up and follow the party line, who’s advising Trump on pandemic policy? Send in the quacks.
Trump’s disastrous push, back in April, for early reopening was reportedly influenced by the writings of Richard Epstein, a law professor who somehow decided that he was an expert in epidemiology and that Covid-19 would kill no more than 500 people, a number he eventually increased to 5,000 — roughly the death toll we’re currently experiencing every week.
But the quack of the moment is Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist with no expertise in infectious diseases who nonetheless impressed Trump with his appearances on Fox News. Atlas’s opposition to mask requirements and advocacy of just letting the coronavirus spread until we’ve reached “herd immunity” are very much at odds with what actual epidemiologists are saying, but they’re what Trump wants to hear, and Atlas has apparently become a key adviser on pandemic policy.
That’s what had me thinking about Trofim Lysenko. Like Stalin, Trump denigrates and bullies experts and takes advice on what should be scientific issues from people who don’t know what they’re talking about but tell him what he wants to hear.
And you know what happens when a national leader does that? People die.
For many, the grand jury announcement in Breonna Taylor’s case was more of the same, underscoring the need for systemic change.
By Alisha Haridasani Gupta, Published Sept. 24, 2020, Updated Sept. 25, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/24/us/breonna-taylor-grand-jury-black-women.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
Protesters marched in Louisville after Wednesday’s announcement. Credit...Xavier Burrell for The New York Times
“The system that killed Breonna Taylor is not set up to provide justice or reparations for the killing of Breonna Taylor.” — Andrea Ritchie, author of “Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color”
After more than 100 days of protests demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, a grand jury’s decision on Wednesday to not bring charges related to her death against the police officers involved landed with a thud for those who had hoped for more, and stronger, charges.
On March 13, a little after midnight, three police officers punched down the door of Ms. Taylor’s apartment in Louisville, Ky. using a no-knock warrant in a late-night drug raid. Her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fearing an intruder, reached for his gun and let off one shot, wounding an officer. Another officer and the wounded officer returned fire, while a third began blindly shooting through Ms. Taylor’s window and patio door.
The two officers who shot Ms. Taylor six times face no charges, while a former police detective, Brett Hankison, was indicted on a charge of “wanton endangerment” for firing recklessly into a neighbor’s apartment.
“The decision before my office is not to decide if the loss of Breonna Taylor’s life was a tragedy — the answer to that question is unequivocally yes,” said Kentucky’s attorney general, Daniel Cameron, at a news conference in the state’s capital, Frankfort.
“Justice is not often easy and does not fit the mold of public opinion,” Mr. Cameron said, adding that not everyone would be satisfied with the charges and that, as a Black man, he understood the pain brought about by Ms. Taylor’s death.
As the decision was read aloud, a crowd that had gathered in downtown Louisville shrieked in despair. Shouts of “That’s it?” rose from the crowd. “They murdered her!” a woman yelled between sobs.
“This is one of the biggest miscarriages of justice I’ve seen in about 25 years,” said Linda Sarsour, a political activist who was among the crowd in Louisville when the announcement came down. “I’m remembering a quote by Malcolm X: ‘The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.’”
For many, the heartbreak was compounded by the fact that, despite mounting national attention and pressure, the outcome was, simply put, unsurprising. It had crushed cautious hopes that this case could have spurred change, particularly for Black women.
“Sometimes you wish, even outside of the knowledge that you have, that lightning strikes and something different will happen,” said Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor at U.C.L.A. and Columbia Law School and founder of the Say Her Name campaign. “You can attach that hope to some of the factual distinctions of this case: The police can’t even claim she was doing anything. But realism tells you that the likelihood of something different was pretty slim.”
Few police officers who cause deaths are charged or convicted. Since 2013, law enforcement officers across the country have killed about 1,000 people a year and Black people are about three times more likely to be killed by the police than white people, according to the crowdsourced database Mapping Police Violence.
Yet, since 2005, only 121 officers in total have been arrested on charges of murder or manslaughter in on-duty killings, according to data compiled by Philip M. Stinson, a former police officer himself and a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Of the 95 officers whose cases have concluded, 44 were convicted, but often of a lesser charge, like assault, he said.
While fewer women than men are killed by the police overall, the conviction rate is low in those cases, too, particularly for Black women. Since 2015, nearly 250 women in total have been killed by police officers, of which 48 — about a fifth — were Black, according to a Washington Post database.
Since the beginning of 2005, there have been eight cases in which officers were charged with manslaughter or murder of a Black woman. In the past five years, there has been one, Professor Stinson said. Almost all of the officers in those cases were acquitted.
And the numbers in Professor Stinson’s database, as well as in others, are most likely an underrepresentation, relying on news media reports and alerts, he explained, “because the government does a lousy job of collecting this sort of data.”
“Law enforcement agencies don’t like providing this data,” he said. “And we have 18,000 agencies across 50 states and the District of Columbia that define things differently. It’s just very complicated and decentralized.”
Andrea Ritchie, author of “Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color” and co-author, with Professor Crenshaw, of the Say Her Name report, which investigates police brutality against Black women, said the fact that the criminal justice system so rarely convicts police officers is a key reason activists should seek structural change.
“This is part of a larger pattern, and if we don’t interrupt the pattern, we’re going to be in this position again and again and again,” Ms. Ritchie said. “The system that killed Breonna Taylor is not set up to provide justice or reparations for the killing of Breonna Taylor.”
Activists on the ground are working to change that system.
The Black Lives Matter movement in Louisville has urged the city’s mayor, Greg Fischer, to fire the police officers who weren’t indicted, said Shawnte West, adjunct professor of social policy at the University of Louisville and a volunteer with the group. Professor West added that B.L.M. has also called on Mayor Fischer to investigate the gentrification policies that, she said, had “created the conditions that led up to the murder of Breonna Taylor,” and for increased investments in community services, like child welfare or homeless shelters.
Partly because of persistent pressure from the group, Mayor Fischer in June signed “Breonna’s Law,” which effectively outlawed the kind of no-knock warrants that enabled the three officers to burst into her apartment. And, this month, the mayor announced a $12 million settlement in the civil suit by the Taylor family that included police reform policies like a requirement that commanders approve all search warrants before they go to a judge and the use of mandatory body cameras.
“Now I’m hearing Black women talking about running for judge seats, for City Council positions, in statewide elections,” Professor West said. “We’re not just sitting around and being sullen. This is just the second day of the second phase of this.”
John Eligon contributed reporting from Louisville, Ky.
The nation’s divisive political scene has increasingly spilled from social media into public rallies. Portland is bracing for possible violent clashes between far-right and left-wing activists.
By Mike Baker and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
Published Sept. 25, 2020, Updated Sept. 26, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/25/us/portland-proud-boys-antifa-protests.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
PORTLAND, Ore. — Over the past few years, the streets of Portland have become an arena for polarized political conflict, with far-right groups from around the country bringing guns, flags, bulletproof vests and an eagerness to confront the city’s leftist activists.
After a series of escalating conflicts between opposing factions this summer that involved gunfire from both directions, the city is set to become a stage again on Saturday, when the Proud Boys, a far-right group notorious for engaging in brawls, descend once more on Portland, perhaps in numbers larger than ever before.
Authorities have expressed widespread alarm about the expected clash, as there is talk of further escalation by some members of the Proud Boys. Some members have touted their efforts to buy shields and tactical gear.
“The pattern of these particular groups is clear: to intimidate, instigate and inflame,” said Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon, who on Friday declared a state of emergency that will bring more law enforcement agencies to the scene and allow authorities to use tear gas.
In the run-up to the presidential election, now less than 40 days away, the nation’s divisive political scene has increasingly spilled from social media into the streets.
In Louisville, Ky., the grand jury decision to not indict police officers for the killing of Breonna Taylor has reignited fury over the laws and systems that shield the police from accountability.
“Until those officers are fired from this department, I promise you we will continue to make these streets hot,” Tamika D. Mallory, an activist, said at a Friday news conference alongside Ms. Taylor’s mother, the family’s legal team and other supporters.
While Mayor Greg Fischer has imposed a curfew and the police have blocked off access to downtown, hundreds have continued to publicly protest the grand jury’s decision.
The developments in Louisville also prompted people nationwide to return to the streets in protest, echoing the message of the mass demonstrations that involved millions after the Minneapolis police killed George Floyd in May.
President Trump has stoked the tensions of race and policing while building a law-and-order message for his re-election bid. In Portland, where the president has sought to label the city’s antifascist activists as domestic terrorists, the Proud Boys have described their event on Saturday as a rally to “end domestic terrorism.”
Law enforcement agencies spent the week struggling to prepare for the gathering and counterprotests, which include an event organized by a local antifa collective and another event organized by Black activists. Under orders from the mayor, the Portland Police Bureau was prohibited from using tear gas, which led some agencies to resist sending support.
“You ask for O.S.P. crowd control units to police an element that is well known to have violent interactions — including the carrying, display and use of firearms,” the Oregon State Police superintendent, Travis Hampton, wrote in an email to leaders in the Portland Police Bureau that partially denied an aid request.
But on Friday, Ms. Brown used emergency powers to order that Superintendent Hampton and the local sheriff take control of public safety in the city for the weekend. That decision will restore the use of tear gas, even for Portland police officers, and Superintendent Hampton said the city would see a “massive influx” of state troopers.
The goal, authorities said, was to keep the groups separated from each other, which officers have struggled to do this summer, as opposing events have featured fistfights, paintball guns and clouds of mace.
In mid-August, authorities say, a right-wing demonstrator fired his gun twice from his vehicle but did not strike anybody. A week later, amid open clashes in the streets between opposing factions, a right-wing activist pointed his gun at the crowd across from him. The following week, a pro-Trump caravan that planned to drive around the outskirts of the city’s downtown instead went into the city center.
It was at that third event where authorities say Michael Forest Reinoehl, an antifa supporter who had provided security at the demonstrations, fatally shot Aaron J. Danielson, an activist with the far-right group Patriot Prayer. Mr. Reinoehl was later killed by authorities in Washington State.
Last month, as the two sides were openly fighting in the streets, the police stayed out of the fray, later explaining that they did not have enough personnel to get in the middle. Asked what is stopping an open firefight from developing, Chief Chuck Lovell of the Portland police said, “I hope it doesn’t come to that.”
On Friday night, one of the Proud Boys involved in the melees, Alan Swinney, said he had been indicted and planned to turn himself in. Mr. Swinney, who had spent recent weeks raising funds to purchase body armor and shields, said he did not know why he had been charged.
The Proud Boys, labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, are self-described “western chauvinists” who have espoused misogynistic and anti-Islam messages; they frequently engage in violent conflicts and celebrate footage of those scenes.
Enrique Tarrio, who leads the Proud Boys, said that he welcomed the expanded law enforcement presence and that he wanted to see that kind of effort for the protesters who have operated in the city. Mr. Tarrio said that between 200 and 300 Proud Boys were in the Portland area for the event on Saturday and that he expected many hundreds of other people to participate as well.
Mr. Tarrio has said publicly that anyone planning to commit violence should stay away from the event, but when pressed about whether the environment he was creating would attract people looking for violence, he acknowledged that it likely would.
“I’d be stupid to say that I don’t expect someone to come in with some type of nefarious motives,” he said. “The moment that we see it, we will say something. We will be pointing that out to the authorities.”
Mr. Tarrio had previously posted online that “Antifa is in for a bad time” if law enforcement officers or the National Guard were not present for the event.
In Louisville, right-wing groups have also returned to the streets, with militia members carrying rifles and standing outside downtown businesses. It was a scene that paralleled recent events in Kenosha, Wis., where 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse has been charged in the killing of two people after he arrived in the city with a rifle and vowed to protect businesses from demonstrators, who were protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
On Friday, family and lawyers of Ms. Taylor took aim at the Kentucky attorney general, demanding that he release further evidence of his role in a case that culminated this week when a grand jury indicted one officer for his role in the botched raid on Ms. Taylor’s home but declined to press charges against the two police officers who shot her.
“Release the transcripts!” the group shouted, standing in a square in downtown Louisville and wearing face masks featuring Ms. Taylor’s name.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the grand jury’s decision, Ms. Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, released a statement denouncing Daniel Cameron, a rising Republican star and the first Black attorney general in Kentucky history, for being on the “wrong side of the law.”
“He knew he had the power to do the right thing,” she said in a statement, which was read by Bianca Austin, Ms. Taylor’s aunt. “He had the power to start the healing of this city. He had the power to help mend over 400 years of oppression. What he helped me realize is it will always be us against them. We are never safe.”
Sarah Mervosh contributed reporting from New York, and John Eligon from Louisville, Ky.
Aarin Sarpee initially told investigators that he didn't hear police say who they were before ramming through Taylor's door. Two months later, he drastically changed his recollection.
By Roberto Ferdman, Belle Cushing, Ani Ucar, September 26, 2020
When Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced this week that no charges would be brought in direct connection with Breonna Taylor’s death, he underscored that the officers executing the search warrant that night did identify themselves at Taylor’s door, pointing to a witness who corroborated the officers’ version of events.
But, according to audio and documents obtained by VICE News, that same witness changed his story in the months following the deadly raid.
The witness is Aarin Sarpee, who was picking up his daughter from his brother’s apartment above Taylor’s at the time of the raid. According to officers’ interviews with investigators, Sarpee got into an argument with Detective Brett Hankison as the officers were banging on Taylor’s door.
The interviews were conducted by LMPD’s Public Integrity Unit (PIU), which investigates officer-involved shootings. According to the Public Integrity Unit’s investigative file, LMPD investigators spoke to Sarpee on the phone twice in the ensuing months. On March 21, a week after the shooting, Sgt. Jason Vance asked Sarpee directly if he heard anyone identify themselves as police. Sarpee responded, “No, nobody identified themselves.”
Another PIU investigator, Sgt. Amanda Seeyle, called Sarpee back two months later, on May 15, the file shows. At that point, Sarpee said he did hear police say, “This is the cops.”
This isn’t the only instance of the attorney general presenting a single narrative from conflicting evidence. As VICE News reported this week, the initial Kentucky State Police ballistics report could not conclude that the bullet that struck Sgt. Jon Mattingly in the leg came from the gun of Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. The FBI later produced its own ballistics report, the findings of which have not been released. Yet at the press conference announcing charges, Attorney General Cameron stated as fact that Walker’s bullet hit Mattingly.
The summary of LMPD’s interactions with Sarpee also raises questions about the way in which those conversations were documented and presented as part of the department’s investigative file. At the end of the taped conversation on March 21, Sgt. Vance tells Sarpee they will call him the following day to conduct a formal interview, but no interaction is documented until April 1, when Sgt. Seelye writes in the file that she calls and texts him, but does not receive a response. Seelye later leaves a voicemail for Sarpee on May 14.
On May 15, Seeyle and Sarpee speak on the phone. During this conversation, Seeyle makes a reference to a previous conversation she says she had with Sarpee. But according to the investigative file reviewed by VICE News, there is no record of them speaking at any point prior to that phone conversation. Seelye proceeds to press Sarpee on two specific points: whether he knew they were police, and whether he heard the officers announce themselves.
During the May conversation, which spans almost 7 minutes, Sarpee shifts his account and says he heard police say “this is the cops,” corroborating the testimonies of the seven officers on scene.
“It’s been so long now,” Sarpee tells Seeyle on the call. “I recall some of it.”
Walker’s attorney, Steve Romines, who says he has reviewed the file and listened to Sarpee’s interviews, told VICE News he believes the shift makes Sarpee’s account unreliable.
“You cannot in good faith look at Sarpee’s interviews and try to rely on him to establish that police announced themselves,” Romines said. “He’s obviously confused over the course of his interviews.”
“It’s pretty clear to me that they’re [the police] trying to create the narrative that benefits them,” he added.
The drastic change in Sarpee’s account is notable given the attorney general’s sole reliance on Sarpee’s testimony to corroborate the involved officers’ claims that they announced themselves prior to ramming through Taylor’s front door. More than a dozen other neighbors, including two who live in the same unit, told VICE News that they never heard police say who they were.
LMPD and the Attorney General’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
When reached by VICE News, Sarpee declined to comment, saying he needed to speak to his lawyer first. Sarpee’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.
The New York Times published a damning report that showed President Trump paid no federal income taxes in 10 of the past 15 years.
By Associated Press, September 27, 2020https://www.huffpost.com/entry/trump-income-taxes-new-york-times-report_n_5f710b48c5b6cdc24c1ad415?guccounter=1
President Donald Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes the year he ran for president and in his first year in the White House, according to a report Sunday in The New York Times.
Trump, who has fiercely guarded his tax filings and is the only president in modern times not to make them public, paid no federal income taxes in 10 of the past 15 years.
The details of the tax filings complicate Trump’s description of himself as a shrewd and patriotic businessman, revealing instead a series of financial losses and income from abroad that could come into conflict with his responsibilities as president. The president’s financial disclosures indicated he earned at least $434.9 million in 2018, but the tax filings reported a $47.4 million loss.
The disclosure, which the Times said comes from tax return data it obtained extending over two decades, comes at a pivotal moment ahead of the first presidential debate Tuesday and weeks before a divisive election against Democrat Joe Biden.
Speaking at a news conference Sunday at the White House, Trump dismissed the report as “fake news” and said he has paid taxes, though he gave no specifics. He also vowed that information about his taxes “will all be revealed,” but he offered no timeline for the disclosure and made similar promises during the 2016 campaign on which he never followed through.
In fact, the president has fielded court challenges against those seeking access to his returns, including the U.S. House, which is suing for access to Trump’s tax returns as part of congressional oversight.
During his first two years as president, Trump received $73 million from foreign operations, which in addition to his golf properties in Scotland and Ireland included $3 million from the Philippines, $2.3 million from India and $1 million from Turkey. The president in 2017 paid $145,400 in taxes in India and $156,824 in the Philippines, compared to just $750 in U.S. income taxes.
Trump found multiple ways to reduce his tax bills. He has taken tax deductions on personal expenses such as housing, aircraft and $70,000 in haircare. Losses in the property businesses solely owned and managed by Trump appear to have offset income from his stake in the television show “The Apprentice” and other entities with multiple owners.
During the first two years of his presidency, Trump relied on business tax credits to reduce his tax obligations. The Times said $9.7 million worth of business investment credits that were submitted after Trump requested an extension to file his taxes allowed him to reduce his income and pay just $750 each in 2016 and 2017.
Trump, starting in 2010, claimed and received an income tax refund that totaled $72.9 million, which the Times said was at the core of an ongoing audit by the IRS. The president has declined to release his taxes because of the audit.
A lawyer for the Trump Organization, Alan Garten, and a spokesperson for the Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press on the report.
Garten told the Times that “most, if not all, of the facts appear to be inaccurate.”
He said in a statement to the news organization that the president “has paid tens of millions of dollars in personal taxes to the federal government, including paying millions in personal taxes since announcing his candidacy in 2015.”
The New York Times said it declined to provide Garten with the tax filings in order to protect its sources.
During his first general election debate against Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, Clinton said that perhaps Trump wasn’t releasing his tax returns because he had paid nothing in federal taxes.
Trump interrupted her to say, “That makes me smart.”
Times reporters have obtained decades of tax information the president has hidden from public view. Here are some of the key findings.
By David Leonhardt, Sept. 27, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/27/us/trump-taxes-takeaways.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage
Many of President Trump’s properties operate at a loss, but Trump Tower in Manhattan is an exception, regularly earning him more than $20 million a year. Credit...Haruka Sakaguchi for The New York Times
The New York Times has obtained tax-return data for President Trump and his companies that covers more than two decades. Mr. Trump has long refused to release this information, making him the first president in decades to hide basic details about his finances. His refusal has made his tax returns among the most sought-after documents in recent memory.
Among the key findings of The Times’s investigation:
· Mr. Trump paid no federal income taxes in 11 of 18 years that The Times examined. In 2017, after he became president, his tax bill was only $750.
· He has reduced his tax bill with questionable measures, including a $72.9 million tax refund that is the subject of an audit by the Internal Revenue Service.
· Many of his signature businesses, including his golf courses, report losing large amounts of money — losses that have helped him to lower his taxes.
· The financial pressure on him is increasing as hundreds of millions of dollars in loans he personally guaranteed are soon coming due.
· Even while declaring losses, he has managed to enjoy a lavish lifestyle by taking tax deductions on what most people would consider personal expenses, including residences, aircraft and $70,000 in hairstyling for television.
· Ivanka Trump, while working as an employee of the Trump Organization, appears to have received “consulting fees” that also helped reduce the family’s tax bill.
· As president, he has received more money from foreign sources and U.S. interest groups than previously known. The records do not reveal any previously unreported connections to Russia.
It is important to remember that the returns are not an unvarnished look at Mr. Trump’s business activity. They are instead his own portrayal of his companies, compiled for the I.R.S. But they do offer the most detailed picture yet available.
Below is a deeper look at the takeaways. The main article based on the investigation contains much more information, as does a timeline of the president’s finances. Dean Baquet, the executive editor, has written a note explaining why The Times is publishing these findings.
The president’s tax avoidance
Mr. Trump has paid no federal income taxes for much of the past two decades.
In addition to the 11 years in which he paid no taxes during the 18 years examined by The Times, he paid only $750 in each of the two most recent years — 2016 and 2017.
He has managed to avoid taxes while enjoying the lifestyle of a billionaire — which he claims to be — while his companies cover the costs of what many would consider personal expenses.
This tax avoidance sets him apart from most other affluent Americans.
Taxes on wealthy Americans have declined sharply over the past few decades, and many use loopholes to reduce their taxes below the statutory rates. But most affluent people still pay a lot of federal income tax.
In 2017, the average federal income rate for the highest-earning .001 percent of tax filers — that is, the most affluent 1/100,000th slice of the population — was 24.1 percent, according to the I.R.S.
Over the past two decades, Mr. Trump has paid about $400 million less in combined federal income taxes than a very wealthy person who paid the average for that group each year.
His tax avoidance also sets him apart from past presidents.
Mr. Trump may be the wealthiest U.S. president in history. Yet he has often paid less in taxes than other recent presidents. Barack Obama and George W. Bush each regularly paid more than $100,000 a year — and sometimes much more — in federal income taxes while in office.
Mr. Trump, by contrast, is running a federal government to which he has contributed almost no income tax revenue in many years.
A large refund has been crucial to his tax avoidance.
Mr. Trump did face large tax bills after the initial success of “The Apprentice” television show, but he erased most of these tax payments through a refund. Combined, Mr. Trump initially paid almost $95 million in federal income taxes over the 18 years. He later managed to recoup most of that money, with interest, by applying for and receiving a $72.9 million tax refund, starting in 2010.
The refund reduced his total federal income tax bill between 2000 and 2017 to an annual average of $1.4 million. By comparison, the average American in the top .001 percent of earners paid about $25 million in federal income taxes each year over the same span.
The $72.9 million refund has since become the subject of a long-running battle with the I.R.S.
When applying for the refund, he cited a giant financial loss that may be related to the failure of his Atlantic City casinos. Publicly, he also claimed that he had fully surrendered his stake in the casinos.
But the real story may be different from the one he told. Federal law holds that investors can claim a total loss on an investment, as Mr. Trump did, only if they receive nothing in return. Mr. Trump did appear to receive something in return: 5 percent of the new casino company that formed when he renounced his stake.
In 2011, the I.R.S. began an audit reviewing the legitimacy of the refund. Almost a decade later, the case remains unresolved, for unknown reasons, and could ultimately end up in federal court, where it could become a matter of public record.
Business expenses and personal benefits
Mr. Trump classifies much of the spending on his personal lifestyle as the cost of business.
His residences are part of the family business, as are the golf courses where he spends so much time. He has classified the cost of his aircraft, used to shuttle him among his homes, as a business expense as well. Haircuts — including more than $70,000 to style his hair during “The Apprentice” — have fallen into the same category. So did almost $100,000 paid to a favorite hair and makeup artist of Ivanka Trump.
All of this helps to reduce Mr. Trump’s tax bill further, because companies can write off business expenses.
Seven Springs, his estate in Westchester County, N.Y., typifies his aggressive definition of business expenses.
Mr. Trump bought the estate, which stretches over more than 200 acres in Bedford, N.Y., in 1996. His sons Eric and Donald Jr. spent summers living there when they were younger. “This is really our compound,” Eric told Forbes in 2014. “Today,” the Trump Organization website continues to report, “Seven Springs is used as a retreat for the Trump family.”
Nonetheless, the elder Mr. Trump has classified the estate as an investment property, distinct from a personal residence. As a result, he has been able to write off $2.2 million in property taxes since 2014 — even as his 2017 tax law has limited individuals to writing off only $10,000 in property taxes a year.
The ‘consulting fees’
Across nearly all of his projects, Mr. Trump’s companies set aside about 20 percent of income for unexplained ‘consulting fees.’
These fees reduce taxes, because companies are able to write them off as a business expense, lowering the amount of final profit subject to tax.
Mr. Trump collected $5 million on a hotel deal in Azerbaijan, for example, and reported $1.1 million in consulting fees. In Dubai, there was a $630,000 fee on $3 million in income. Since 2010, Mr. Trump has written off some $26 million in such fees.
His daughter appears to have received some of these consulting fees, despite having been a top Trump Organization executive.
The Times investigation discovered a striking match: Mr. Trump’s private records show that his company once paid $747,622 in fees to an unnamed consultant for hotel projects in Hawaii and Vancouver, British Columbia. Ivanka Trump’s public disclosure forms — which she filed when joining the White House staff in 2017 — show that she had received an identical amount through a consulting company she co-owned.
Many of the highest-profile Trump businesses lose large amounts of money.
Since 2000, he has reported losing more than $315 million at the golf courses that he often describes as the heart of his empire. Much of this has been at Trump National Doral, a resort near Miami that he bought in 2012. And his Washington hotel, opened in 2016, has lost more than $55 million.
An exception: Trump Tower in New York, which reliably earns him more than $20 million in profits a year.
The most successful part of the Trump business has been his personal brand.
The Times calculates that between 2004 and 2018, Mr. Trump made a combined $427.4 million from selling his image — an image of unapologetic wealth through shrewd business management. The marketing of this image has been a huge success, even if the underlying management of many of the operating Trump companies has not been.
Other firms, especially in real estate, have paid for the right to use the Trump name. The brand made possible the “The Apprentice” — and the show then took the image to another level.
Of course, Mr. Trump’s brand also made possible his election as the first United States president with no prior government experience.
But his unprofitable companies still served a financial purpose: reducing his tax bill.
The Trump Organization — a collection of more than 500 entities, virtually all of them wholly owned by Mr. Trump — has used the losses to offset the rich profits from the licensing of the Trump brand and other profitable pieces of its business.
The reported losses from the operating businesses were so large that they often fully erased the licensing income, leaving the organization to claim that it earns no money and thus owes no taxes. This pattern is an old one for Mr. Trump. The collapse of major parts of his business in the early 1990s generated huge losses that he used to reduce his taxes for years afterward.
Large bills looming
With the cash from ‘The Apprentice,’ Mr. Trump went on his biggest buying spree since the 1980s.
“The Apprentice,” which debuted on NBC in 2004, was a huge hit. Mr. Trump received 50 percent of its profits, and he went on to buy more than 10 golf courses and multiple other properties. The losses at these properties reduced his tax bill.
But the strategy ran into trouble as the money from “The Apprentice” began to decline. By 2015, his financial condition was worsening.
His 2016 presidential campaign may have been partly an attempt to resuscitate his brand.
The financial records do not answer this question definitively. But the timing is consistent: Mr. Trump announced a campaign that seemed a long shot to win, but was almost certain to bring him newfound attention, at the same time that his businesses were in need of a new approach.
The presidency has helped his business.
Since he became a leading presidential candidate, he has received large amounts of money from lobbyists, politicians and foreign officials who pay to stay at his properties or join his clubs. The Times investigation puts precise numbers on this spending for the first time.
A surge of new members at the Mar-a-Lago club in Florida gave him an additional $5 million a year from the business since 2015. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association paid at least $397,602 in 2017 to the Washington hotel, where it held at least one event during its World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians.
In his first two years in the White House, Mr. Trump received millions of dollars from projects in foreign countries, including $3 million from the Philippines, $2.3 million from India and $1 million from Turkey.
But the presidency has not resolved his core financial problem: Many of his businesses continue to lose money.
With “The Apprentice” revenue declining, Mr. Trump has absorbed the losses partly through one-time financial moves that may not be available to him again.
In 2012, he took out a $100 million mortgage on the commercial space in Trump Tower. He has also sold hundreds of millions worth of stock and bonds. But his financial records indicate that he may have as little as $873,000 left to sell.
He will soon face several major bills that could put further pressure on his finances.
He appears to have paid off none of the principal of the Trump Tower mortgage, and the full $100 million comes due in 2022. And if he loses his dispute with the I.R.S. over the 2010 refund, he could owe the government more than $100 million (including interest on the original amount).
He is personally on the hook for some of these bills.
In the 1990s, Mr. Trump nearly ruined himself by personally guaranteeing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans, and he has since said that he regretted doing so. But he has taken the same step again, his tax records show. He appears to be responsible for loans totaling $421 million, most of which is coming due within four years.
Should he win re-election, his lenders could be placed in the unprecedented position of weighing whether to foreclose on a sitting president. Whether he wins or loses, he will probably need to find new ways to use his brand — and his popularity among tens of millions of Americans — to make money.
PFAS, industrial chemicals used to waterproof jackets and grease-proof fast-food containers, may disrupt pregnancy with lasting effects.
By Liza Gross, Sept. 23, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/23/parenting/pregnancy/pfas-toxins-chemicals.html?surface=home-discovery-vi-prg&fellback=false&req_id=405355523&algo=identity&imp_id=595071259&action=click&module=Science%20%20Technology&pgtype=Homepage
This is the second article in a three-part series by investigative reporter Liza Gross, exploring the most dangerous toxins found in the average American home. The stories track fertility, pregnancy and early childhood development. The first, on phthalates, can be found here.
Nikki Aldrich can’t talk about what happened in their bucolic riverside village without crying. “She lets me do the talking,” said her mother, Loreen Hackett.
Hackett and her daughter’s family live in Hoosick Falls, New York, where residents learned in 2016 that for years — including while Aldrich was carrying her first two children — they’d been drinking water contaminated with perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, a toxic chemical that a local factory once used to make Teflon products.
When Hackett and her daughter’s family had their PFOA blood levels checked by the state, they were shocked by the results. Blood levels for her grandson, then 6, and granddaughter, who was 4, were both more than 50 times the national average of roughly 2 parts per billion for kids and adults. They now both suffer from illnesses that studies have linked to PFOA or similar chemicals, Hackett said.
PFOA is one of the most widely studied members of a family of more than 4,700 chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The chemicals are found in hundreds of consumer products, including stain- and water-resistant furniture, outdoor gear, cosmetics, dental floss and disposable food packaging.
Contaminated drinking water is a major source of exposure, along with carpets, tainted seafood, microwave popcorn and takeout foods served in grease-resistant containers.
Scientists think these widely used industrial chemicals may harm pregnant women and their developing babies by meddling with gene regulators and hormones that control two of the body’s most critical functions: metabolism and immunity.
More disturbing, PFAS can also alter levels of both mothers’ and babies’ thyroid hormones, which oversee brain development, growth and metabolism, and also play a role in immunity. Prenatal PFAS exposures that disrupt metabolism and immunity may cause immediate and lasting effects on both mother and child. Women exposed to PFAS during pregnancy have higher risks of gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia, a type of high blood pressure. Their babies are more likely to undergo abnormal growth in utero, leading to low birth weight, and later face increased risk of childhood obesity and infections.
A major producer of PFAS in the United States, 3M, dismisses these findings. “PFAS is a broad category, including thousands of substances with diverse physical and chemical properties, uses, and characteristics,” said Sean Lynch, a 3M spokesperson. “While the science behind PFAS is complex, the weight of scientific evidence does not show that PFOS or PFOA, two types of PFAS, cause harm in people at current or past levels.”
Epidemiologists generally can’t pinpoint the cause of a person’s gestational diabetes or obesity, said Philippe Grandjean, M.D., Ph.D., an environmental epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. But on average, they can see that PFAS increases the risk of health problems such as metabolic disease and immune deficiency.
Manufacturers treat products from raincoats to pizza boxes with PFAS because they repel water, heat and grease, thanks to the unique properties of their superstrong fluorine-carbon bonds. These bonds make PFAS so resistant to degradation they’re called “forever chemicals” by some scientists.
And their widespread use has left nearly everyone exposed. As the chemicals linger, they concentrate in blood, breast milk and numerous tissues. Scientists are particularly concerned pregnant mothers might pass on the chemicals through the placenta, which manages the baby’s metabolic needs while guarding against infection.
Anecdotal reports from over a century ago showed that toxic substances like morphine and lead cross the placenta but it was long assumed that most chemicals did not. In 1981 DuPont scientists analyzed the umbilical cord blood of workers’ newborns and found that PFAS crossed the placenta, but they did not publish the finding.
Federal law requires companies to inform the Environmental Protection Agency immediately if they learn a chemical poses risks to human health or the environment. The EPA filed a complaint against DuPont in 2004 for failing to report its finding, after receiving internal documents obtained through a separate lawsuit.
“Scientific evidence confirms that the trace amount of PFOA found in this one data point would pose no risk to human health,” a lawyer for the company responded. “In the absence of substantial risk of harm, the information is simply not required to be reported.”
Only in the past few decades have scientists developed the analytical tools to systematically identify and measure these toxic intrusions during pregnancy. They now know that PFAS simply follow the same rules that nutrients do, said Dr. Grandjean. “And with PFAS, we can see they basically all pass through the placenta.”
That means newborns can get a double dose of PFAS, first in the womb and then when they nurse. The few studies that examined children under the age of 2 found PFAS levels increase during the first six months, likely from breastfeeding.
Most of what scientists know about risks associated with PFAS comes from people living in communities like Hoosick Falls or exposed on the job. Yet everyone is contaminated at some level, said Bruce Lanphear, M.D., professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.
“And while we understandably focus on highly contaminated communities,” Dr. Lanphear said, “we can predict, based upon all the other evidence, that there’s unlikely to be any safe level.”
Scientists are most worried about how PFAS affect the rapidly developing bodies of children in the womb, and soon after birth. “Minuscule amounts of these exposures can have serious and lifelong consequences,” said Leonardo Trasande, M.D., a children’s environmental health expert at New York University.
Hackett’s grandson has bone problems linked to a very low birth weight. Her granddaughter had two severe staph infections that required massive doses of several different antibiotics to recover. Both conditions have been tied to PFAS exposure.
“There’s rising evidence that kids who are exposed to PFAS get more infections,” said Dr. Trasande. Children exposed to PFAS in the womb and early infancy also show reduced immune responses to vaccinations.
Such associations are merely “leads to explore” rather than evidence of causation, a 3M spokeswoman said in testimony before a U.S. House hearing on PFAS contamination and corporate accountability last year. “There’s no cause and effect for adverse human health effects at the levels that we are exposed to as a general population,” she said.
Not everyone agrees. When Hackett’s youngest grandchild was born, after they stopped drinking the water, she “absolutely forbade” her daughter to breastfeed. The baby was 5 weeks old when she started having seizures — the doctor later attributed the seizures to a thyroid disease that’s also linked to PFAS.
Hackett’s friend Emily Marpe, from nearby Petersburgh, never suspected her children had been exposed to PFAS until an official from the state health department called.
“The first thing he said was, ‘You guys need to stop brushing your teeth right now with tap water,’” Marpe said. Then he told her they found PFOA at 2.1 parts per billion in her water — more than five times the EPA’s voluntary guideline at the time. She fell to her knees and started dry heaving. “My well had just tested higher than the entire village of Hoosick Falls.”
Marpe, who lived near Taconic Plastics, which also made Teflon products, quickly became the town’s unofficial PFOA expert. She read about how a DuPont Teflon factory had contaminated the water around Parkersburg, West Virginia, from the 1950s until the early 2000s, and an independent panel of epidemiologists had found a “probable link” between PFOA and several health problems, including pregnancy-induced hypertension and thyroid disease.
New York listed the Taconic Plastics facility as a state Superfund site in 2016, and the company agreed to cover the costs of removing PFOA from private and public water supplies in Petersburgh.
When Marpe realized she was pregnant, she agonized over the thought of exposing another child to these chemicals. Her blood PFOA level had tested 160 times the national average and she seriously contemplated an abortion. “I still feel guilty for even thinking about it,” she said.
She went through with the pregnancy but every ultrasound appointment sent her into a panic, worrying about birth defects seen in a baby born to a Teflon worker. Eliana was born several pounds lighter than her two older children, but was otherwise healthy.
A review of international studies published in August found “particularly strong” evidence linking pregnant mothers’ PFAS exposures to increased risk of having low-birth-weight babies. The review also found strong evidence linking prenatal PFAS exposures with impaired glucose tolerance, or “pre-diabetes,” and gestational diabetes in mothers, as well as childhood obesity. Scientists think the chemicals’ ability to alter a mother’s glucose metabolism may contribute to these risks.
“PFAS appear to slow your metabolism,” said Dr. Trasande, who led the review. And he wouldn’t be surprised if they contributed to diabetes because they disrupt proteins that regulate sugar and fat metabolism.
Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes and those born below average weight both face an increased risk of obesity. That gives PFAS two paths to predispose a child to obesity: by upsetting the metabolism of the mother or of the developing baby.
Disrupting a mother’s metabolism may also change the placenta in a way that lets more PFAS through. Last year a study showed women with gestational diabetes may transfer higher PFAS levels to their babies. Youssef Oulhote, an environmental epidemiologist at the University of Massachusetts who led the study, suspects that PFAS may make the placenta more permeable. In other words, PFAS may cause a condition that allows even more of them to get to the baby.
Marpe didn’t have gestational diabetes, but her body passed plenty of PFAS to her baby. When she tested Eliana at 7 weeks old, two years since she’d stopped drinking the contaminated water, her baby’s PFOA blood level was 75.9 parts per billion, higher than most people in Hoosick Falls.
Marpe had breastfed both of her older children, and knew that babies ingest PFAS when they nurse. Her baby’s levels were already high, so she decided against breastfeeding the third. “That was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made,” she said.
Regulating for future generations
Rebecca Fuoco, science communications officer for the nonprofit Green Science Policy Institute, took steps to limit her PFAS exposures before she even conceived. When she moved into her Los Angeles house two years ago, she replaced the carpet and did her best to make sure none of her furniture, clothing or other items contained PFAS.
But avoiding food-related exposures while pregnant proved harder. She had a deep knowledge of PFAS from her job and even tapped experts for advice, but she was also tired and nauseous and packaged food was easy. “Sometimes cooking from scratch felt impossible, like juggling on a tightrope,” she said.
Plus the chemicals aren’t typically disclosed on labels. “Even with all the advantages I had, it was impossible for me to completely eliminate my baby’s exposure because PFAS are ubiquitous and invisible.”
Eight chemical manufacturers agreed to stop making the so-called long-chain PFOA and PFOS in the United States by 2015 because of health and environmental concerns. But they’ve switched to short-chain varieties — with shorter carbon backbones — that also accumulate in people’s tissues and may prove just as toxic.
Regulations don’t require companies to determine whether a chemical crosses the placenta or passes through mother’s milk, said Dr. Grandjean. “What’s so frustrating is that we’ve been chasing a train that already left the station. We are decades too late.”
The European Food Safety Authority, in contrast, calculates the lowest PFAS dose that can harm an infant, and figured out how much a mother would have to ingest for her baby to exceed that amount. They arrived at a weekly intake of 0.008 parts per billion in food — a fraction of most women’s levels — though this is not yet enforced by law.
The United States EPA hasn’t implemented an enforceable PFAS water-quality standard, but New York is set to adopt standards seven times lower than the agency’s guidelines. And the state’s legislators passed a bill to ban PFAS from food packaging materials in July.
Loreen Hackett, who’s advocated for PFAS regulation since blood tests revealed her family’s sky-high PFOA levels, testified at every hearing. When she looks at her grandchildren, she can’t help but wonder if they’d still have health problems if they hadn’t grown up drinking Hoosick Falls’ contaminated water. That’s why the food packaging bill was so important to her. “With our levels,” she said, “we can’t afford another ounce of this stuff.”
The Kentucky attorney general’s office said it would release the panel’s recordings after a grand juror contended in a court filing that its discussions were inaccurately characterized.
By Rukmini Callimachi, Published Sept. 28, 2020, Updated Sept. 29, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/28/us/breonna-taylor-grand-jury.html
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A juror in the Breonna Taylor case contends that the Kentucky attorney general misrepresented the grand jury’s deliberations and failed to offer the panel the option of indicting the two officers who fatally shot the young woman, according to the juror’s lawyer.
The unnamed juror filed a court motion on Monday seeking the release of last week’s transcripts and permission from a judge to speak publicly to set the record straight. Hours later, the office of Attorney General Daniel Cameron granted both requests, saying that the juror is free to speak and that recordings of the session will be made public.
“This is something where the juror is not seeking any fame, any acclaim, any money,” said Kevin M. Glogower, the juror’s lawyer.
Mr. Glogower said the juror came to him last week in a state of turmoil after Mr. Cameron repeatedly said at a news conference that the law did not permit him to charge Sgt. Jon Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove, the two white officers who shot Ms. Taylor, a Black woman, after one officer was shot by her boyfriend — and that the jury had agreed with him.
“While there are six possible homicide charges under Kentucky law, these charges are not applicable to the facts before us because our investigation showed — and the grand jury agreed — that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in the return of deadly fire after having been fired upon,” Mr. Cameron said, one of several moments in the news conference where he emphasized such a consensus.
According to Mr. Glogower, the juror was unsettled by the fact that the grand jury was not given an option of charging the two officers at a time when the community has been roiled by demonstrations seeking their indictment. The 12-member panel was presented only with possible charges for Detective Brett Hankison, who was fired in June.
Mr. Hankison was accused of behaving recklessly when he ran into the parking lot and began shooting through Ms. Taylor’s covered patio door, his bullets flying into a neighbor’s apartment. The grand jury concluded that he had no self-defense claim but that he could not be charged with murder because he did not strike Ms. Taylor; he was charged with three felony counts of wanton endangerment.
Before the charges were announced last week, the city enacted a state of emergency, expecting mass protests. Courthouses shut down and businesses recorded voice mail messages apologizing to patrons for the unexpected closure. More than 200 protesters upset with the decision and demanding justice have been arrested, with some smashing windows and setting fires. One protester fired a gun at least nine times and wounded two police officers.
But legal experts had warned that Kentucky’s vigorous self-defense laws made it unlikely that Sergeant Mattingly and Detective Cosgrove would be indicted on murder charges because Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, had fired first during the police raid on her apartment. He had mistaken the officers for an intruder when they breached the door.
“We have no concerns with grand jurors sharing their thoughts on our presentation because we are confident in the case we presented,” Elizabeth Kuhn, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said in an email on Monday night, adding that her office would release the recordings of the deliberations by Wednesday.
Ms. Kuhn said no charges could be recommended for those two officers because the investigation had concluded that their use of force was justified.
“Our prosecutors presented all of the evidence, even though the evidence supported that Sergeant Mattingly and Detective Cosgrove were justified in their use of force after having been fired upon by Kenneth Walker,” she said in an email. “For that reason, the only charge recommended was wanton endangerment.”
One longtime criminal defense lawyer, Ramon McGee, said the question of which charges the attorney general presented to the panel was not problematic.
“That is an incorrect assumption on how the grand jury process works,” he said. “Prosecutors make the decision on what witnesses are called, which evidence is tendered and what charges to recommend,” he said.
But the transcripts should be released, Mr. McGee added, because how the attorney general portrayed the process in public was potentially an issue.
Advocates for Ms. Taylor point to the juror’s complaint as evidence of a broken process, which started with the raid and included the release of an incident report that claimed the dead woman had not been injured. Despite a $12 million settlement from the city of Louisville in a wrongful-death lawsuit, Ms. Taylor’s mother said that nothing short of indicting all three officers would amount to justice.
“This just compounds the trust issue,” said Christopher 2X, a community organizer who was with Tamika Palmer, Ms. Taylor’s mother, last week when the attorney general told her the officers would not be charged. She broke down crying, he said.
Immigrants detained at an ICE-contracted center in Georgia said they had invasive gynecology procedures that they later learned might have been unnecessary.
By Caitlin Dickerson, Seth Freed Wessler and Miriam Jordan, Sept. 29, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/29/us/ice-hysterectomies-surgeries-georgia.html
Wendy Dowe was startled awake early one morning in January 2019, when guards called her out of her cellblock in the Irwin County immigration detention center in rural Georgia, where she had been held for four months. She would be having surgery that day, they said.
Still groggy, the 48-year-old immigrant from Jamaica, who had been living without legal status in the United States for two decades before she was picked up by immigration authorities, felt a swell of dread come over her. An outside gynecologist who saw patients in immigration custody told her that the menstrual cramping she had was caused by large cysts and masses that needed to be removed, but she was skeptical. The doctor insisted, she said, and as a detainee — brought to the hospital in handcuffs and shackles — she felt pressured to consent.
It was only after she was deported to Jamaica and had her medical files reviewed by several other doctors that she knew she had been right to raise questions.
A radiologist’s report, based on images of her internal organs from her time at Irwin, described her uterus as being a healthy size, not swollen with enlarged masses and cysts, as the doctor had written in his notes. The cysts she had were small, and the kind that occur naturally and do not usually require surgical intervention.
“I didn’t have to do any of it,” Ms. Dowe said.
The Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Ga., drew national attention this month after a nurse, Dawn Wooten, filed a whistle-blower complaint claiming that detainees had told her they had had their uteruses removed without their full understanding or consent.
Since then, both ICE and the hospital in Irwin County have released data that show that two full hysterectomies have been performed on women detained at Irwin in the past three years. But firsthand accounts are now emerging from detainees, including Ms. Dowe, who underwent other invasive gynecological procedures that they did not fully understand and, in some cases, may not have been medically necessary.
At least one lawyer brought the complaints about gynecological care to the attention of the center’s top officials in 2018, according to emails obtained by The New York Times, but the outside referrals continued.
The Times interviewed 16 women who were concerned about the gynecological care they received while at the center, and conducted a detailed review of the medical files of seven women who were able to obtain their records. All 16 were treated by Dr. Mahendra Amin, who practices gynecology in the nearby town of Douglas and has been described by ICE officials as the detention center’s “primary gynecologist.”
The cases were reviewed by five gynecologists — four of them board-certified and all with medical school affiliations — who found that Dr. Amin consistently overstated the size or risks associated with cysts or masses attached to his patients’ reproductive organs. Small or benign cysts do not typically call for surgical intervention, where large or otherwise troubling ones sometimes do, the experts said.
The doctors stressed that in some cases the medical files might not have been complete and that additional information could potentially shift their analyses. But they noted that Dr. Amin seemed to consistently recommend surgical intervention, even when it did not seem medically necessary at the time and nonsurgical treatment options were available.
In almost every woman’s chart, Dr. Amin listed symptoms such as heavy bleeding with clots and chronic pelvic pain, which could justify surgery. But some of the women said they never experienced or reported those symptoms to him.
Both the reviewing doctors and all of the women interviewed by The Times raised concerns about whether Dr. Amin had adequately explained the procedures he performed or provided his patients with less invasive alternatives. Spanish-speaking women said a nurse who spoke Spanish was only sporadically present during their exams.
The diagnoses and procedures are “poorly supported” and “not well documented,” said Dr. Sara Imershein, a clinical professor at George Washington University and the Washington, D.C., chair of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Even if the patients had reported the symptoms recorded by Dr. Amin, “there would have been many avenues to pursue before rushing to surgery,” she said. “Advil for one.”
“He is overly aggressive in his treatment and does not explore appropriate medical management before turning to procedures or surgical intervention,” said Dr. Deborah Ottenheimer, a forensic evaluator and instructor at the Weill Cornell Medical School Human Rights Clinic.
But the doctors who reviewed the cases noted that aggressive overtreatment is all too common among doctors — especially with patients who do not have the resources to seek a second opinion.
Dr. Ada Rivera, medical director of the ICE Health Service Corps, said in a statement that the whistle-blower’s allegations “raise some very serious concerns that deserve to be investigated quickly and thoroughly.” She added, “If there is any truth to these allegations, it is my commitment to make the corrections necessary to ensure we continue to prioritize the health, welfare and safety of ICE detainees.”
Dr. Amin’s lawyer, Scott Grubman, said in a statement that the physician “strongly disputes any allegations that he treated any patient with anything other than the utmost care and respect.”
“Dr. Amin also strongly disputes that any patient was treated without full informed consent,” the statement continued. Mr. Grubman said that patient privacy laws prevented him from discussing any specific patient’s treatment, but in each case it “was medically necessary, performed within the standard of care, and done only after obtaining full informed consent.”
The statement added that Dr. Amin always uses an interpreter when treating patients who do not speak English and “always attempts to treat his patients with more conservative treatment, including medicine and less invasive procedures, before even recommending surgery,” which he views as a last resort.
Independent doctors that provide treatment for ICE detainees are paid for the procedures they perform with Department of Homeland Security funds. Procedures like the ones that Dr. Amin performed are normally billed at thousands of dollars each.
Dr. Amin’s billings had previously come to the attention of federal authorities. In 2013, the Justice Department named him in a civil case alleging that he and several other doctors had overbilled Medicare and Medicaid by, among other things, performing unnecessary procedures on terminal patients and leaving the emergency room staffed by nurses while billing for diagnoses and treatments as if they had been performed by doctors. The case was settled, and the defendants were collectively required to pay $520,000 while admitting no fault.
‘I could not ask any questions’
In many cases, Dr. Amin’s patients said they were confused about why they ended up being sent to his office in the first place — some after raising medical issues that had nothing to do with gynecology.
Yuridia, a 36-year-old immigrant from Mexico, sought out a nurse at the center soon after she arrived because she was having pain in her rib after a fight with her abusive ex-partner just before she was picked up by ICE. She asked to be identified by her first name because she feared for her safety.
She was sent for a medical exam at Dr. Amin’s office, where she said he began to prepare an ultrasound machine. “I was assuming they were going to check my rib,” she said. “The next thing I know, he’s doing a vaginal exam.”
Dr. Amin recorded in his notes that Yuridia had cysts in her ovaries and scheduled a surgery to remove them. He also wrote that she had complained of heavy menstruation and pelvic pain. She said that she never experienced or reported those conditions and that she had not asked to see a gynecologist.
Weeks later, she underwent surgery. Pathology reports show that she did not have dangerous cysts, but small ones of the kind that occur naturally in most women and do not call for surgical intervention.
Yuridia said she had expected only a minor procedure that would be performed vaginally, but she was surprised when she woke up to find three incisions on her abdomen and a piece of skin missing from her genital area.
“I woke up and I was alone, and I was in pain and everyone spoke English so I could not ask any questions,” Yuridia said. Three days later, still sore and recovering, she was deported.
Yuridia’s case bears striking similarities to others that the panel of doctors reviewed. Many of them led to two surgical procedures performed simultaneously: “dilation and curettage,” often referred to as a “D & C,” which involves inserting tools into a woman’s vagina and scraping tissue from the uterus, and laparoscopy, in which three incisions are made to insert a camera into the abdominal cavity to examine or perform procedures on the reproductive organs.
The cases suggest a pattern of “excessively aggressive surgical intervention without adequate trial of medical remedies,” Dr. Ottenheimer said.
A report reveals longstanding complaints
It was the Irwin County center’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic that inspired Ms. Wooten, the nurse whose whistle-blower complaint was first reported by The Intercept, to come forward about another issue that troubled her: Dr. Amin’s surgeries. She said in an interview that she had for years noticed that an inordinate number of women were being referred to Dr. Amin. She said she would hear reports that they had undergone surgeries but that they had no idea why the surgeries were performed.
“After they get up from general anesthesia,” Ms. Wooten said, the women would ask, “Why’d I have this surgery?”
“And I don’t have an answer for why,” she said. “I am just as shocked as they are. Nobody explained it to them.”
Data from ICE inspection reports show that the center, which is operated by a private prison company, Lasalle Corrections, refers more than 1,000 detainees a year for outside medical care, far more than most other immigration detention centers of the same size. It is not clear how many of these referrals are for gynecological care. Lasalle Corrections did not respond to requests for comment.
Concerns from women detained at Irwin emerged long before Ms. Wooten came forward.
Ms. Dowe, after being told by Dr. Amin that she had a mass the size of a “cantaloupe” on her uterus, had reached out in early 2019 to Donald Anthonyson, an immigrant advocate she had met through a fellow detainee. She was asking for help, Mr. Anthonyson said.
“She expressed real concerns about going to that doctor,” he said. “She was concerned about what was happening to her and what she was hearing from other women.”
Unlike some of the women who had no gynecological complaints, Ms. Dowe was experiencing intense menstrual cramping, which the doctors who reviewed her case said could sometimes justify the procedure she underwent — but only if the patient understands the options and elects to move forward. Even then, the doctors raised questions about several seemingly healthy and naturally occurring cysts that Dr. Amin might have removed unnecessarily while he was operating on her.
After the procedure, Dr. Amin wrote in his notes that Ms. Dowe requested a second surgery — a full abdominal hysterectomy and removal of her ovaries.
But Ms. Dowe insists she never made any such request. A note in her medical records from the detention center appears to corroborate her denial. “Detainee is requesting a second opinion to have a hysterectomy,” it reads, “OB/GYN scheduled hysterectomy and patient refused.”
Complaints about Dr. Amin had also been raised with senior officials long before Ms. Dowe’s case.
In November 2018, a woman named Nancy Gonzalez Hidalgo was left shaken after several visits with the physician, during which she said he performed rough vaginal ultrasounds and ignored her when she cried out in pain. Ms. Gonzalez Hidalgo’s lawyers sent an email to the warden of the center, David Paulk.
In the email, Erin Argueta, a lawyer at the Southern Poverty Law Center, explained that Ms. Gonzalez Hidalgo’s health was worsening because of complications she was experiencing from an earlier miscarriage.
“Nancy hesitated to seek medical attention because her last experience with Dr. Amin was so painful and traumatic that she did not want to be sent back to him,” Ms. Argueta wrote.
She referred in her email to several previous verbal complaints about Dr. Amin that lawyers had taken to the center’s inmates services director, Marteka George. “Ms. George stated that this was not the first time someone complained about Dr. Amin, and she said that she would look into whether Nancy could see a different provider,” the lawyer wrote.
The warden responded twice, stating on Nov. 30 that Ms. Gonzalez Hidalgo had been scheduled for an appointment with an outside provider “that is unassociated with Dr. Amin.” The other doctor, Warden Paulk said, was “reportedly well thought of by his patients.”
Warden Paulk did not respond to requests for comment.
Other women who questioned Dr. Amin’s care in the past said they had also faced challenges when they tried to seek answers.
On the morning of Aug. 14, Mileidy Cardentey Fernandez said, there was no interpreter present at the Irwin County Hospital when she was presented with consent forms in English to sign for a procedure she was undergoing that day.
She asked the technician, “Spanish, please? Little English.” The woman urged her to sign the forms — and so she did.
Afterward, she said, she filled out a form on numerous occasions at the detention center requesting her medical records but got no response.
“I wanted to know everything they had done,” she said. “I made requests for the biopsy, analyses, and they don’t want to give them to me. They said they don’t have the results. How can they not have the results?”
When she was released from detention on Sept. 21, she called her daughter in Virginia and then headed straight to Dr. Amin’s clinic with her lawyer to demand her records, which she received.
Some women said they had managed to avoid surgeries by Dr. Amin but not without facing resistance.
Enna Perez Santos said she objected when Dr. Amin suggested that she undergo a procedure similar to the ones that other women had complained about. Dr. Amin, she said, counseled her that it was a mistake to forgo the treatment and he wrote in his notes that she had asked to speak to a mental health care provider.
Back at the detention center on the same day, Ms. Perez Santos was given a psychiatric evaluation. “I am nervous about my upcoming procedure,” Ms. Perez Santos told the examiner, according to the practitioner’s notes. “I am worried because I saw someone else after they had surgery, and what I saw scared me.”
Ms. Perez Santos was brought three more times to Dr. Amin’s office over the next several months, she recalled. Each time, she said, Dr. Amin raised the prospect of a surgery. She felt “pressured” to agree, she said, but each time she told him she did not consent.
Three board certified gynecologists who reviewed Ms. Perez Santos’s medical files say that her instincts appear to have been correct. “Based on what I see here, Amin was inappropriately suggesting a D & C scope,” Dr. Ottenheimer said. “There is nothing at all there to support the procedure.”
Kitty Bennett contributed research.
By Parul Sehgal, Sept. 29, 2020
For a century, they languished in a museum attic. Fifteen wooden cases, palm-size and lined with velvet. Cocooned within are some of history’s cruelest, most contentious images — the first photographs, it is believed, of enslaved human beings.
Alfred, Fassena and Jem. Renty and his daughter Delia. Jack and his daughter Drana. They face us directly in one image and stand in profile in the next, bodies held fixed by an iron brace. The Zealy daguerreotypes, as the pictures are known, were taken in 1850 at the behest of the Harvard zoologist Louis Agassiz. A proponent of polygenesis — the idea that the races descended from different origins, a notion challenged in its own time and refuted by Darwin — he had the pictures taken to furnish proof of this theory.
Agassiz wanted images of barbarity, and he got them — implicating only himself. He had hand-selected his subjects in South Carolina, seeking types — “specimens,” as he put it — but each daguerreotype reveals an individual, deeply dignified and expressive. Their hurt, contempt, fatigue, utter refusal are unequivocal. The photographer, Joseph T. Zealy, who specialized in society portraits, did not alter his method for the shoot; he carried on as usual, using the same light, the same angles, giving the images their unsettling, formal perfection.
Agassiz showed the pictures only once. They were then tucked away at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Rediscovered in 1976, they have been at the center of urgent debates about photography ever since.
Is there a correct way to regard these images? Should one view them, or any coerced image, at all? To whom do they belong? Do they quicken or numb the conscience? Does displaying them traumatize the living? Is it care or cowardice to keep them concealed? What do we owe the dead?
I am looking at the pictures now, in a handsome recently published volume; the deep crimson of its cover matches the plush interior of the portrait cases. “To Make Their Own Way in the World: The Enduring Legacy of the Zealy Daguerreotypes,” edited by Ilisa Barbash, Molly Rogers and Deborah Willis, convenes a group of scholars of slavery, American history, memory, photography and science. Their aim is to tell “more fully the complex story of the people in these iconic images.”
The specialists attend to their own sections, like the far corners of an immense puzzle. Slowly the era is pieced together in lavish detail, through histories of the daguerreotype and reconstructions of the daily lives of the subjects. The artist Carrie Mae Weems discusses her famous reinterpretation of the photographs. The novelist Harlan Greene delves into the racist history of South Carolina, where 165 years to the day after Zealy completed the series, a white teenager named Dylann Roof posted snippets of 19th-century racist pseudoscience on social media, and killed nine Black congregants of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Do these essays — so rich in context — assist us in seeing the photographs any better? Perhaps a better question is: Do they provide the necessary context? Do they resolve that tension I feel as I look at Drana and register both the appeal in her eyes and the absolute certainty (for she is proud — I feel it in the set of her chin) that she would hate being in this book, perhaps even hate being invoked in this essay — unclothed, stared at, opined upon? And yet the notion that she be forgotten, unseen, is also intolerable. It is the tension of “sitting in the room with history,” as the poet Dionne Brand has written.
It is the tension and the buried irony in the title “To Make Their Own Way in the World,” plucked from an essay by Frederick Douglass. Douglass, the most photographed American of the 19th century, is a recurrent character in this book. There’s no evidence that he knew of the daguerreotypes, but he spoke publicly against pseudoscience, and, like Sojourner Truth, cannily publicized his image as a counternarrative to racist portrayals. In “Lecture on Pictures,” he lauded the democratization of the daguerreotype. He wrote: “Pictures, like songs, should be left to make their own way in the world. All they can reasonably ask of us is that we place them on the wall, in the best light, and for the rest allow them to speak for themselves.”
At first glance, it’s an unimpeachable sentiment. The editors clearly want to give the viewer ample background information and then trust her and the photograph. Compare it to, say, the recent furor over four museums canceling a retrospective of the work of Philip Guston, worried that his depictions of the Ku Klux Klan lacked sufficient framing.
What’s curious about the title is that the story of the Zealy daguerreotypes is one of fraught and contested possession. Harvard, which owns the photographs, long zealously guarded the copyright, threatening to sue Weems, who duplicated the images in her 1995 series “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried.” After deciding that she had a moral if not a legal case, Weems encouraged the lawsuit: “I think actually your suing me would be a really good thing,” she has remembered telling Harvard. “You should. And we should have this conversation in court. I think it would be really instructive for any number of reasons.” Harvard ended up acquiring the series.
In 2019, Tamara Lanier, a retired probation officer living in Connecticut, claimed to be a direct descendant of Renty. Her family had long passed down stories about “Papa Renty,” and Lanier devoted herself to finding him, combing census and death records and slave inventories, finally locating him in South Carolina.
Lanier’s findings have been verified by genealogists, including Toni Carrier, a contributor to the PBS series “African-American Lives,” hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr., who writes the introduction to this book. Lanier’s revelation arrives in the midst of decolonial movements around the world, calls for museums to repatriate stolen relics and universities examining their ties to slavery. She has found popular support. Forty-three descendants of Agassiz signed a letter to Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow asking the school to turn over the photographs. This month, the Harvard Undergraduate Council unanimously voted to pass a statement condemning the university’s ownership of the daguerreotypes, writing: “Imagine your great-grandparents were enslaved, exploited, forced to strip naked, photographed against their will, those photographs are publicly shared today … and there was nothing you could do about it.”
A few contributors to this book have expressed skepticism about Lanier’s lineage — although only Gates mentions her directly. Rogers, one of the editors and the author of a previous book about the images, “Delia’s Tears,” maintains that tracing heredity under slavery is complex. “It’s not necessarily by blood,” she has said of family records. “It could be people who take responsibility for each other.” In his introduction, Gates downplays Lanier’s connection to Renty. “In a larger sense, can any one person be the heir of these photographs, or does the responsibility for them fall to all of us to protect them as archival relics of history, to be studied, pondered and reckoned with?”
It’s an odd statement. Why would Lanier’s claim threaten the “pondering” and protection of the pictures? What does he imagine Lanier has in mind for them? Already some writers have taken to approaching her directly, to symbolically ask for her permission to use the images — Thomas A. Foster, for example, author of “Rethinking Rufus: Sexual Violations of Enslaved Men.” Lanier encouraged him, he has said, because “she believes that the story of the daguerreotypes and of exploitation under slavery, need to be told.” Lanier’s own lawyer has stated that one ideal use of the pictures could be a traveling exhibit.
But in one respect, Gates is absolutely correct. If Lanier has a claim, the photographs will no longer be known only as “archival relics.” Renty and Delia are not relics to Lanier — they are family. Renty is known not as an object of study but a source of comfort and pride, the star of the family bedtime stories, a man who secretly taught himself and others to read. In Lanier’s accounts, he was never invisible, never lost, never in need of “discovery.” What kind of scholarship, what kind of criticism will he prompt if seen this way — not as a figure in need of reclamation or object of fascination but as an ancestor deserving of protection, whose memory has been improbably preserved?
Daguerreotypes, as is often noted, are sensitive, mirrored surfaces. You need to find the precise angle that blocks out your own reflection. Everything you see depends on where you stand.
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