ZOOM WEBINAR: Moving Money
from the Military to Human Needs
Register at: https://tinyurl.com/y3un85rg
Do Trump and coronavirus have you down? Then join us on September 26 to celebrate the 15 year anniversary of one of the world’s most beautiful projects: Cuba’s Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade!
The Henry Reeve Brigade will celebrate its 15th anniversary next month! Yes, it will have been 15 years since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and prompted then-Cuban president Fidel Castro to offer to send doctors to help treat patients in the storm’s aftermath. The US government refused this offer, but Cuba was not deterred from wanting to show the world some much needed solidarity.
Since its founding, the brave women and men of the Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade have given emergency medical assistance to more than 3.5 million people in over 50 countries. To honor their compassion and commitment, we will hear directly from Cuban doctors working on the frontlines of the pandemic.
What: Cuban Doctors Speak: 15 years of the Henry Reeve International Medical Brigade
When: Saturday, September 26 at 8pm ET / 5pm PT
Where: Online via Zoom, YouTube and Facebook.
There’s even more good news: Danny Glover will be on with us to offer his commentary, and journalist/author Vijay Prashad will host this fascinating conversation! Please join Danny, Vijay, and the Cuban medical personnel for this celebratory event. We promise it will nurture your soul.
Alicia Jrakpo and Medea Benjamin
P.S. The attacks on Cuba’s medical internationalism are not stopping! Even Human Rights Watch (HRW), a liberal NGO, has joined in on the Trump administration’s campaign to slander this amazing example of solidarity. If you have not already, please read the rebuttal to the HRW report then sign and share the petition asking HRW to retract their flawed report!
Also, Vijay Prashad has just published a lovely article about why Cuban doctors deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. Check it out!
P.P.S. 1980 Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel just made a video endorsing the Nobel for Cuban Doctors campaign! Click here to watch it!.
Want to make your own short video explaining why you support the Henry Reeve Brigade? Upload it to Twitter and tag @CubaNobel. Then we’ll be happy to like and retweet it! It’s a great way of spreading the word about the campaign.
We look forward to working with you to continue the aspirations of the Nobel Peace Prize for the Cuban Doctors campaign. Watch for our upcoming webinars and film series.
Alicia Jrapko and Medea Benjamin
Co-Chairs of the Cuba Nobel Prize Committee
To update your email subscription, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The six remaining Kings Bay Plowshares defendants have had their sentencing dates moved from September to October 15 and 16. They had requested a continuance because they want to appear in open court in Georgia and the virus situation there is still too out of control to safely allow it.
Steve Kelly has now served almost 29 months in county jails since the action in April, 2018 so has already met the guidelines for his likely sentence. The court may not want to grant him further extensions. (You can send a postcard to Steve to let him know you're thinking of him. Directions on writing here.)
The other defendants are not sure if they would prefer to seek more continuances or choose virtual appearances for sentencing in solidarity with Steve on those dates in October if it appears unsafe to travel to Georgia at that time. Check the website for updates.September 9 will be the 40thanniversary of the first plowshares action in King of Prussia, PA. Eight activists, known as the Plowshares Eight, entered the GE plant where nosecones for nuclear missile warheads were manufactured. They hammered on several and poured blood on the nosecones and documents.
Emile de Antonio’s 1983 film, In the King of Prussia, is about the trial of the Plowshares Eight. The judge is played by Martin Sheen and the defendants are played by themselves. It’s available for viewing on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUph8GWFupE
Call for the immediate release of
Syiaah Skylit from CDCR custody!
Sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/gavin-newsom-call-for-the-immediate-release-of-syiaah-skylit-from-cdcr-custody-blacktranslivesmatter?recruiter=915876972&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=abi_gmail&utm_campaign=address_book&recruited_by_id=7d48b720-ecea-11e8-a770-29edb03b51cc
Syiaah Skylit is a Black transgender woman currently incarcerated at Kern Valley State Prison (KVSP). Syiaah has been a victim of multiple acts of brutal, senseless violence at KVSP at the hands of prison staff and others in custody. Many of these attacks are in retaliation for her advocacy for herself and other trans women.
Syiaah’s life is currently at risk due to racist, transmisogynist violence at the hands of the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCr). While all the offending officers should be fired, this isn’t about a couple of bad apples. We have centuries of evidence that prison will never be safe — for Black people, for trans people, and especially not for Black trans women.
“I’m not going to make it out of this prison alive if I’m left here any longer.”
— Syiaah Skylit, June 2020
While incarcerated at Kern Valley State Prison between 2018 and the present, prison staff have subjected Syiaah to severe and persistent physical, sexual, and psychological abuse (see below for examples, with content warnings). Staff at Kern Valley State Prison are also responsible for the 2013 death of Carmen Guerrero, a transgender woman who was forced to be housed with an individual who made it clear to officers that he would kill Ms. Guerrero if he was celled with her. Earlier this year, that individual was given the death penalty for killing Ms. Guerrero just eight hours after CDCR officers forced them to cell together.
Facing immediate danger, Syiaah has repeatedly asked to be transferred to a women’s facility and CDCR has repeatedly denied her requests. We demand that Governor Newsom and CDCR immediately release Syiaah to her community and family before she falls further victim to the lethal danger that transgender people face in prison.
[Content note: assault, sexual violence, anti-Black racism, transmisogny]
While in CDCR custody between 2018 and the present, Syiaah has:
- Been physically attacked by CDCR staff multiple times;
- Been threatened with sexual assault with a baton by CDCR staff;
- Been forced by CDCR staff to parade through the yard naked from the waist down;
- Been stripped naked by CDCR staff and left overnight in her cell without clothes, blankets, or a mattress;
- Been attacked by other people in custody who admitted that CDCR staff directed them to do so;
- Had her property stolen and destroyed by CDCR staff;
- Been maced in the face and thrown in a cage after reporting an assault;
- Been intentionally placed on the same yard as an individual she testified against who is facing attempted murder charges for his assault of a transgender woman. As Syiaah feared, this individual violently attacked her as revenge. This man was then allowed to attack a gay man after attacking Syiaah.
- Been intentionally placed on the same yard as individuals with histories of attacking trans women and other LGBTQI+ people, in spite of her pleas to be placed separately;
- Been thrown in administrative segregation after being the victim of an attack;
- Has had all of her recent documented complaints of discrimination and violence rejected under false pretenses;
- Has had contact with her legal representatives restricted to one phone call a week;
- Has been humiliated and discriminated against for going on a hunger strike as a form of protest;
- Has expressed numerous, documented concerns for her safety and had them blatantly ignored.
In spite of the constant violence Syiaah continues to survive, she continues to demonstrate her resilience and dedication to learning and growing. She has earned certifications in many educational and vocational programs and support groups.
We as Syiaah’s community and chosen family are ready to support her with a safe and successful reentry plan if Governor Newsom uses his executive powers to grant her clemency. Organizations that can offer Syiaah comprehensive reentry support including housing and employment upon her release include TGI Justice Project, Transgender Advocacy Group (TAG), and Medina Orthwein LLP.
Please sign and share this petition to #FreeSyiaah and declare #BlackTransLivesMatter!
Please also check out our social media toolkit to support Syiaah!
[Please do not donate as prompted after signing, as the money goes to change.org and not to any cause associated with Syiaah.]
Art by Micah Bazant at Forward Together.
Write to Kevin “Rashid” Johnson:
Kevin Johnson #264847
Wabash Valley Correctional Facility
6908 S. Old U.S. HWY 41, P.O. Box 500
Carlisle, IN 47838
Snowden vindicated by court ruling – time to drop
Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the NSA telephone surveillance program revealed by Edward Snowden was illegal and likely unconstitutional. This ruling should finally end any remaining debate on whether Snowden’s actions constituted whistleblowing, and on his necessity of going to the press. The question now is how to remedy the legal and ethical dilemma he was placed into. It’s time to either drop his charges or pardon him.
The court’s ruling validates Snowden on multiple levels. It settles beyond doubt that his belief in the illegality of the programs he witnessed was reasonable. The panel of judges ruled that the mass telephone surveillance conducted under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act was illegal. And while they refrained from issuing a ruling on the Constitutional challenge, they strongly suggested that the program was in violation of the Fourth Amendment. They ruled that the government’s claims about the effectiveness of the surveillance had been lies, and that its legal theory about the necessity of mass collection of phone data was “unprecedented and unwarranted.”
Legally, a whistleblower does not need to ultimately be proved correct about the concerns they report. If they simply have a “reasonable belief” their employer is breaking the law, they are entitled to whistleblower protections. While any plain reading of the Fourth Amendment and the FISA statutes should have sufficed to prove a reasonable concern, this ruling is beyond sufficient affirmation that Snowden’s concern was “objectively reasonable”.
While he should have been able to make a protected whistleblower disclosure based on such concerns, those channels were not a realistic option. As an outside contractor, he would not have been guaranteed protection under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA) statute in place at that time. Critics of Snowden also conveniently ignore the history of other NSA employees who blew the whistle on these programs before him. The internal channels were used to “catch and kill” the complaints of at least four previous surveillance whistleblowers, placing them – and even the Congressional intelligence committee staffer they went to – under criminal leak investigations. Snowden saw, for example, the punitive treatment of NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake. Drake went through every conceivable internal channel: his boss, the NSA Inspector General (IG), the Defense Department IG, and the House & Senate Intel Committees. Not only did they fail to redress his grievances, many acted to further punish him: ignored his concerns, marginalized him, forced him out, blacklisted him, and ultimately drove his failed criminal prosecution.
Snowden correctly assessed that the only remaining option was to go to the press, and the 9th Circuit ruling credits him for choosing that path, noting that his disclosures enabled “significant public debate over the appropriate scope of government surveillance”. Indeed, this ruling simply would not have been possible without his public disclosures. The government had long maneuvered to keep mass surveillance programs beyond this kind of judicial scrutiny.
As a witness to large scale illegality, and without effective or safe channels, Snowden was placed in a dilemma: break his agreement to protect classified information, or break his sworn oath to uphold the laws and defend the Constitution. He chose to honor his higher duty and so turned to the only other available channel that could serve as a check against government wrongdoing: the press. Snowden turned to the “Fourth Estate” and it played exactly the role the Founders intended. We cannot now prosecute him as a spy or abandon him to a lifetime of exile for having done so.
Whistleblower & Source Protection Program (WHISPeR)
Take Action Now
Write, email and call the Nebraska Board of Pardons. Request that they expedite Ed’s application, schedule his hearing for the October 2020 meeting and commute his sentence.
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)
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Subject: Shut Down Fort Hood! Justice for Vanessa Guillén. Sign the petition!
SHUT DOWN FORT HOOD NOW!JUSTICE FOR
PFC. VANESSA GUILLÉN!
Sign the Petition
In late April, Pfc. Vanessa Guillén went missing from her base in Ft. Hood, Texas. It took her family and friends working night and day to appeal to the commanding officers to get any attention whatsoever about her whereabouts. Vanessa had told her family she had been sexually harassed by her supervisor.For more than three months, Vanessa’s higher-ups paid little attention to her family’s urgent pleas to investigate her disappearance. She was treated as being disposable.In late June, her body was found 25 miles from the base. Vanessa had been tragically murdered by her abuser who later killed himself upon capture.The unspeakable crimes against Vanessa Guillén have opened a floodgate of testimonies about sexual assault in the military. Many women and LGBTQ2S+ people are telling their heartbreaking stories with the hashtag #iamvanessaGuillén.Vanessa’s death is a result of sexual harassment in the military, which is deplorable. Fort Hood is the worst. According to the Pentagon’s own reports, it has the most sexual assaults of any Army post in the country. That is why it must be shut down now!In addition, Fort Hood, the single biggest military post in the U.S. armed forces, is named after a Confederate general. Its name glorifies racism and slavery.When Vanessa Guillén enlisted in the Army, she thought she’d be doing good and it would be helpful to her. Instead, it destroyed her. But how could it not when the military exists not to help people, but to defend Wall Street? It invaded and still occupies Iraq and Afghanistan, killing millions, just for oil profits.The case for Justice for Vanessa is very much linked to the movement for Black Lives. Young people of color must have other options than police violence or going to war for their future.WE DEMAND:•Investigate Fort Hood Commanding General Robert White and others for conspiracy to cover up Pfc. Vanessa Guillén’s murder. Why did it take a mass movement to find what happened?
•Shut down Ft. Hood! There is no other way to end the deplorable conditions soldiers face.
•Job training, education, COVID-19 relief, not war! If we shut down the Pentagon, the annual U.S. defense budget of $1 trillion could be used for people’s needs, not war.
•End misogyny and homophobia in the military. Justice for Vanessa and all survivors.
147 W 24th St.
New York City, NY 10011
This legacy belongs to all of us:
“Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed the forest to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries. . . Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature–but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.” The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man 1876. —Friedrich Engels
Marvin Gaye - What's Going On (Official Video 2019)
BlackRock loves to make a killing on killing: Over a thousand Americans have been killed by Tasers — 32 percent of them are Black Americans. Tasers are made by the colossal law enforcement supplier Axon Enterprise, based in Arizona.
One of their top shareholders happens to be Blackrock. Recently Blackrock has been trying to be sympathetic to the atrocities of murders waged on Black Americans and communities of color. If we ramp up massive pressure and blow the whistle on their deadly stocks, we can highlight that divesting from Tasers and the war in our streets will be a step in the right direction in building a fair and just society.
This issue is important to having peace in our streets. But this will only work if people participate. Send an email to Blackrock to divest from the Taser manufacturer Axon Enterprise which is responsible for the killing of thousands of Americans, and CODEPINK will pull out all the stops to make sure Blackrock execs hear our call:
Blackrock could do this. They recently announced that they were divesting from fossil fuels — signaling a shift in their policies. If CEO Larry Fink cares about “diversity, fairness, and justice” and building a “stronger, more equal, and safer society” — he should divest from Tasers.
Plus, compared to Blackrock’s other holdings, Taser stocks aren’t even that significant!
But if Blackrock does this, it could be the first domino we need to get other investment companies on board too. Send an email to BlackRock and share this widely!
If there’s one thing our community stands for, it’s peace and social justice. And one way we can help achieve that is by cutting off the flow of cash into the manufacturing of Tasers. So, let’s come together to make that happen, and help prevent more innocent Americans from being killed with these senseless tools.
Nancy, Carley, Jodie, Paki, Cody, Kelsey, and Yousef
To update your email subscription, contact 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
Law enforcement agents killed Michael Forest Reinoehl while trying to arrest him, four officials said. He was being investigated in the fatal shooting of a supporter of a far-right group.
By Hallie Golden, Mike Baker and Adam Goldman, Sept. 4, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/03/us/michael-reinoehl-arrest-portland-shooting.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Michael Reinoehl was killed by a federally led fugitive task force in Lacey, Wash., on Thursday. He was being investigated in a fatal shooting at a Portland protest. Credit...Joshua Bessex for The New York Times
LACEY, Wash. — Law enforcement agents shot and killed an antifa supporter on Thursday as they moved to arrest him in the fatal shooting of a right-wing activist who was part of a pro-Trump caravan in Portland, Ore., officials said.
The suspect, Michael Forest Reinoehl, 48, was shot by officers from a federally led fugitive task force during the encounter in Washington State, according to the U.S. Marshals Service.
“Initial reports indicate the suspect produced a firearm, threatening the lives of law enforcement officers,” the Marshals Service said in a statement. “Task force members responded to the threat and struck the suspect who was pronounced dead at the scene.”
Lt. Ray Brady of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office said that the suspect being sought by the law enforcement team had exited an apartment and got into a vehicle.
“As they attempted to apprehend him, there was gunfire,” Lieutenant Brady said. He said four law enforcement officers fired their weapons.
Lieutenant Brady said that Mr. Reinoehl had a handgun with him, but added on Friday that “we are not able to confirm at this time if he fired shots.”
An arrest warrant for murder had been obtained by the Portland police through the Circuit Court in Multnomah County, Ore., earlier Thursday, on the same day that Vice News published an interview with Mr. Reinoehl in which he appeared to admit to the Aug. 29 shooting, saying, “I had no choice.”
The Portland police had been investigating Saturday’s shooting death of Aaron J. Danielson, one of the supporters of President Trump who came into downtown Portland and clashed with protesters demonstrating against racial injustice and police brutality.
Mr. Reinoehl, who lived in the Portland area, had been a persistent presence at the city’s demonstrations over recent weeks, helping the protesters with security and suggesting on social media that the struggle was becoming a war where “there will be casualties.”
“I am 100% ANTIFA all the way!” he posted on Instagram in June, referring to a loose collection of activists who have mobilized to oppose groups they see as fascist or racist. “I am willing to fight for my brothers and sisters! Even if some of them are too ignorant to realize what antifa truly stands for. We do not want violence but we will not run from it either!”
In the Vice interview, Mr. Reinoehl said he had acted in self-defense, believing that he and a friend were about to be stabbed. “I could have sat there and watched them kill a friend of mine of color, but I wasn’t going to do that,” he said.
An hour before his fatal encounter with law enforcement, Mr. Reinoehl was on the telephone with Tiffanie Wickwire, who was helping him set up a GoFundMe page, Ms. Wickwire said in an interview.
“We were talking about his kids and what to do for them if anything happened to him,” she said, referring to his 17-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter.
“Stay safe,” they told each other at the end of the call, she said.
The Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force that attempted to arrest Mr. Reinoehl included members of the U.S. Marshals Service, the Lakewood Police Department, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and the Washington State Department of Corrections.
The officers closed in on Mr. Reinoehl on a residential street lined with townhomes and single-family houses in an unincorporated area adjacent to the city of Lacey, not far from the Washington State capital of Olympia and about two hours’ drive north of Portland.
Chad Smith, 29, who lives next door to the apartment where the shooting occurred, said he was standing outside at about 6:45 p.m. when he saw two S.U.V.s race toward the complex. He heard about a minute and a half of gunshots, he said, then saw a man walking backward next to a white pickup truck, holding what appeared to be a gun, and officers firing in his direction.
Trevor Brown, 24, who lives in a townhouse nearby, said he heard several shots fired and saw as many as four police officers in the road, who fired three or four times. He said he then saw a man lying on the ground.
Jashon Spencer, who also lives not far away, also heard the gunshots. “I just heard a whole bunch of pops,” Mr. Spencer said. “I ducked. I thought they were shooting in my yard.”
He said that he went out and saw a bloodied man in the street, and a video he took showed a law enforcement officer attempting CPR.
After the shooting, several hundred protesters in Portland gathered in front of a police station in a residential neighborhood, chanting racial justice slogans as they have on most nights since May, although the mood shortly before midnight was relatively calm.
“There’s blood on your hands. You murdered Michael Reinoehl,” someone had posted in the street outside a law enforcement building. “Michael was murdered,” said another posting.
Later in the evening, police officers charged the crowd and took one person into custody.
As part of the protesters’ security team during the demonstrations, Mr. Reinoehl’s role included intercepting potential agitators and helping calm conflicts, fellow protesters said.
“Nightly, he would break up fights,” said Randal McCorkle, a regular at the demonstrations who said he became close friends with Mr. Reinoehl as they wore on.
“He wanted change so badly,” he said. His death, he said, would likely inspire others to continue the movement for police reform. “I was going to say radicalize, but galvanize is a better word,” he said. “Honestly, I’m going to try to step into his shoes.”
Reese Monson, a leader in the local protest movement who also helps organize security, said all the people who helped with security in Portland, including Mr. Reinoehl, were trained on de-escalation.
“He was excellent at that,” Mr. Monson said.
Mr. Monson said the security designees have been trained to approach potential agitators and politely ask them to leave. They have also been trained on how to conduct physical removals but are cautioned to try to avoid such measures because they can cause situations to escalate. Mr. Monson said Mr. Reinoehl would often come over to discuss how to handle potential agitators appropriately.
“He was literally a guardian angel,” said Teal Lindseth, one of the main organizers of the Portland protests. “He would protect you no matter what.”
Early on Friday, Ms. Lindseth spray-painted a tribute to Mr. Reinoehl on the street in front of the police precinct where demonstrators were gathered. “Long Live Mike,” she wrote, “the best ally ever.”
He sometimes ran into trouble, though. On July 5 during the protests, Mr. Reinoehl was charged with resisting arrest and possession of a loaded firearm in a case that was later dropped. At the end of July, he showed a bloodied arm to a journalist with Bloomberg QuickTake News and said he had been shot while intervening in a fight.
The night when Mr. Danielson was shot began with a large crowd of supporters of Mr. Trump gathering in the suburbs. They planned to drive hundreds of vehicles carrying flags around the highways of Portland, but many of them eventually drove downtown, where protesters have been congregating regularly. Once there, some Trump supporters shot paintballs into the crowd, while people on the streets threw objects back at them. Fistfights broke out.
As evening turned into night, video appeared to show Mr. Danielson, who was wearing a hat with the insignia of the far-right group Patriot Prayer, and Mr. Reinoehl on a street along with a few other people. One person was shouting, “We’ve got a couple right here.”
The man who captured video of the shooting, Justin Dunlap, said it appeared that Mr. Danielson reached to his hip.
“He pulled from his side, just like he was pulling a gun,” Mr. Dunlap said.
But in other video taken during the encounter, someone can be heard flagging that Mr. Danielson was pulling out a can of mace. “He’s macing you, he’s pulling it out,” the person warned.
It appeared from the video that Mr. Danielson sprayed mace just as two gunshots could be heard, and Mr. Danielson went down.
Portland has seen escalating conflicts involving guns over the past few weeks. On Aug. 15, a person allied with right-wing demonstrators fired two shots from his vehicle, the authorities said. A week later, during open clashes on the streets, another right-wing demonstrator pulled out a gun.
Mr. Reinoehl said in his social media posts that he was once in the Army, and hated it, although an Army official said no record of service could be found under his name. In the Bloomberg interview, Mr. Reinoehl described himself as a professional snowboarder and a contractor.
His daughter was with him during the July interview, and he said she had also been present during the encounter that left his arm bloodied.
“The fact is that she is going to be contributing to running this new country that we’re fighting for,” Mr. Reinoehl said. “And she’s going to learn everything on the street, not by what people have said.”
Mr. Reinoehl’s sister, who asked to remain anonymous because the family has received numerous threatening phone calls in recent days, said police officers asked if screenshots from videos from the night of the shooting looked like her brother. She said they did, but she said she had not seen him since three years ago, when she said family members broke off contact with Mr. Reinoehl after escalating conflicts.
At the beginning of June, in the days after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis triggered nationwide protests, Mr. Reinoehl began posting about the need for change.
“Things are bad right now and they can only get worse,” he posted on June 3. “But that is how a radical change comes about.”
Hallie Golden reported from Lacey, Mike Baker from Seattle, and Adam Goldman from Washington. Katie Benner and Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting from Washington, Thomas Fuller from Portland and Alan Yuhas from New York.
Daniel Prude, who was having a psychotic episode, died after police officers placed a mesh hood over his head in March.
By Sarah Maslin Nir, Michael Wilson, Troy Closson and Jesse McKinley, Sept. 4, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/03/nyregion/daniel-prude-police-rochester.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Protesters gathered at the site where Daniel Prude was fatally injured as the Rochester police tried to detain him in March. It was not until Wednesday that gruesome video of the encounter was made public. Credit...Joshua Rashaad McFadden for The New York Times
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Seven Rochester police officers were suspended on Thursday in the suffocation of a Black man as he was being detained in March, although the mayor and senior state officials faced escalating questions about why more than five months passed before action was taken.
The man, Daniel Prude, who was having a psychotic episode, was handcuffed by officers after he ran into the street naked in the middle of the cold night and told at least one passer-by that he had the coronavirus. Mr. Prude began spitting, and the officers responded by pulling a mesh hood over his head, according to police body camera footage.
When he tried to rise, the officers forced Mr. Prude face down on the ground, one of them pushing his head to the pavement, the video footage showed. Mr. Prude was held down by the police for two minutes, and had to be resuscitated. He died a week later at the hospital.
His death did not receive widespread attention until Wednesday, when his family released raw police videos of the encounter, which they just obtained through an open records request. The scene — a Black man, handcuffed and sitting in a street, wearing nothing but a white hood — seemed a shocking combination of physical helplessness and racist imagery from another era.
Rochester, a city of 200,000 in Western New York, became the latest city to be roiled by the death of a Black person in police custody, with protesters taking to the streets.
By about 9:45 p.m. on Thursday, a crowd of perhaps 100 demonstrators had gathered outside Rochester’s Public Safety Building on Exchange Boulevard. People were sitting, singing, chanting and eating pizza.
At around 10:30 p.m., the dozen or so police officers who had been monitoring the demonstrators from behind a barricade were joined by around 20 reinforcements in riot gear.
The officers suddenly surged toward the barricade and began firing an irritant into the crowd. It was unclear what led them to do so.
The protesters pushed into the barricade toward the police, prompting the officers to fire the irritant again, as protesters yelled, “Why? Why?”
The back and forth continued for 45 minutes or so, with the police repeatedly firing irritant.
The disciplinary action against the seven officers was the first in response to Mr. Prude’s death. In a news conference on Thursday afternoon, Mayor Lovely Warren apologized to the Prude family, saying that Mr. Prude had been failed “by our police department, our mental health care system, our society. And he was failed by me.”
Ms. Warren did not offer details on why the investigations into the March 23 encounter had taken so long, but suggested that she had been misled by the police chief, La’Ron D. Singletary.
“Experiencing and ultimately dying from the drug overdose in police custody, as I was told by the chief, is entirely different than what I ultimately witnessed, on the video,” the mayor said.
Chief Singletary bristled on Wednesday at the suggestion that his department had been trying to keep Mr. Prude’s death away from public attention.
“This is not a cover-up,” he said, adding that he ordered criminal and internal investigations hours after the encounter. He stood by the officers’ response to what had initially been a mental-health related call: “Our job is to try to get some sort of medical intervention, and that’s exactly what happened that night.”
On Wednesday, the state attorney general, Letitia James, made her first statement on the case, offering condolences to Mr. Prude’s family and promising “a fair and independent investigation.”
“We will work tirelessly to provide the transparency and accountability that all our communities deserve,” she said.
Investigations into police-related killings of unarmed civilians in New York are overseen by Ms. James’s office, and findings of fact are not publicized until complete. In Mr. Prude’s case, Ms. James’s investigation began in April, and is continuing.
Still, in the wake of high-profile police killings around the country, including the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the shooting of Jacob Blake, the lag between Mr. Prude’s death and public calls for justice by Ms. James and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo — both Democrats who have been outspoken on the issue of police brutality — seemed jarring.
The Monroe County medical examiner ruled Mr. Prude’s death a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint,” according to an autopsy report.
“Excited delirium” and acute intoxication by phencyclidine, or the drug PCP, were contributing factors, the report said.
The city did not identify the officers who were suspended.
Interviews, police records and body camera footage offer an unusually detailed timeline of what happened the night that Mr. Prude was detained by officers.
A light snow was falling, the streets empty and dark at 3 a.m. on March 23, when the call came in over the police radio: A naked man, Mr. Prude, 41, was running outside, under the influence of PCP, and shouting that he had the coronavirus.
The hours leading up to the encounter with the police were troubled ones for Mr. Prude, who was struggling with some combination of suicidal fantasy and drug use that an hourslong admittance to a hospital did nothing to treat.
The day before, Mr. Prude had arrived in Rochester. His brother, Joe Prude, had picked him up from a shelter in nearby Buffalo after Daniel Prude had been kicked off a train from Chicago, where he lived, Joe Prude told the police.
But soon after, Mr. Prude began behaving erratically, accusing his brother of wanting to kill him and even seemingly trying to take his own life. “He jumped 21 stairs down to my basement, head first,” Joe Prude told the police.
Joe Prude had his brother admitted to Strong Memorial Hospital for an evaluation. Mr. Prude was released hours later, returning to Joe Prude’s home, where he seemed to have calmed down. But then he asked for a cigarette, and when his brother rose to get one, he bolted out a back door, barely dressed.
Joe Prude called the police, giving a description of what his brother had been wearing — “white tank top, black long-johns, no shoes, no coat” — and saying he seemed to be under the influence of PCP. He told an officer that he feared Daniel may have run toward the sound of an approaching train, to possibly try again to hurt himself.
As they spoke, a call came over the officer’s radio: “There’s a male at the location with blood all over him telling the complainant he’s sick and not wearing clothes,” a dispatcher announced.
Joe Prude, hearing the call, said, “That’s my brother.”
Body camera footage shows officers arriving at 3:16 a.m. near downtown Rochester, their headlights illuminating a naked Mr. Prude in the roadway. The police believe he had broken a store window with a brick, and minutes earlier had stopped a passing tow truck driver and told him he had the coronavirus.
An officer stepped out of his police vehicle, pointed a Taser at Mr. Prude and ordered him to get on the ground. Mr. Prude immediately obeyed, lying face down and spread-eagled. He did not resist as officers handcuffed him behind his back.
He alternately demanded officers “get off me” while imploring, “In Jesus Christ I pray,” at one point asking for money, and at others, for a gun. Officers could be heard chuckling in the background, until Mr. Prude grew more agitated: “Give me your gun. I need it.” All the while, he remained sitting.
The officers seemed preoccupied with concern that they might catch something from Mr. Prude. A day earlier, with the coronavirus quickly spreading, the state ordered all nonessential workers to stay at home. “Sir, you don’t got AIDS, do you?” one asked.
Mr. Prude spit on the ground multiple times, and while not aiming at the officers, his action drew their attention. “Stop spitting,” one said. “Anybody got a spit sock?” another asked, referring to the device commonly carried by the police and used by corrections officers.
At 3:19 a.m., an officer unfolded a white hood, approached Mr. Prude from behind and pulled it over his head, where it hung loosely. Mr. Prude began rolling in the road, pleading for it to be taken off.
A minute later, after spitting repeatedly inside the hood and shouting, “Give me the gun,” Mr. Prude seemed to try to rise to his feet. Three officers who had been keeping a distance hurried forward and pushed him to the street.
One officer, identified as Mark Vaughn, held Mr. Prude’s head facedown, seeming to push it to the street as he held a fistful of the hood.
Mr. Prude’s angry protests turned tearful, then devolved into incoherent grunts and gurgling sounds, according to the video. An officer asked him, “You good, man?” There was no reply.
“He’s puking, just straight water,” an officer said. “You see that water come out of his mouth?”
An ambulance arrived. “Roll him on his back,” a paramedic instructed as officers searched for a handcuff key. A paramedic began performing CPR as Mr. Prude remained handcuffed.
Finally, the handcuffs were removed, and Mr. Prude was placed on a stretcher and into the ambulance, where he was given shots of epinephrine and sodium bicarbonate, and soon after, his heartbeat returned on its own, according to a police report.
The same officer who had questioned Mr. Prude’s brother earlier that morning returned to say Mr. Prude had been found and hospitalized. Joe Prude seemed relieved. “I’m glad he went that way,” he told the officer, “and not the way of that damn train.”
Mr. Prude lived in Chicago with his sister, and had five adult children. One of his three daughters, Tashyra Prude, said she felt “instant rage” when she saw the video this week.
“The person that everybody sees in the video is totally different from the person that I knew,” she said.
She is starting college this fall. “This is something I wanted to go through with my father by my side, and I’ve just been deprived of this experience because of what happened, and it just breaks my heart,” she said.
On Wednesday evening, as outrage over the circumstances of Mr. Prude’s death spread, Mr. Cuomo said he had not seen the body camera footage.
By Thursday, however, the governor was calling for answers, saying the video was “deeply disturbing,” and urging a quickening of the investigation.
“For the sake of Mr. Prude’s family and the greater Rochester community, I am calling for this case to be concluded as expeditiously as possible,” the governor said in a statement. “For that to occur, we need the full and timely cooperation of the Rochester Police Department and I trust it will fully comply.”
With the release of the camera footage, Joe Prude’s assessment of that night in March was filled with outrage. “I placed a phone call to get my brother help,” he told reporters on Wednesday, “not to have my brother lynched.”
Some Black residents of Kenosha, upended by the police shooting of Jacob Blake, weren’t convinced that an election would solve the problem.
By John Eligon, Sept. 3, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/03/us/kenosha-black-voters.html?searchResultPosition=1
KENOSHA, Wis. — Gerald Holmes, a forklift operator from Kenosha, Wis., was so passionate about the importance of the election four years ago that he drove people without rides to the polls. But this year, Mr. Holmes says he is not even planning to vote himself.
The outcome in 2016, when Wisconsin helped seal President Trump’s victory despite his losing the popular vote and amid reports of Russian interference, left Mr. Holmes, 54, deeply discouraged.
“What good is it to go out there and do it?” he said. “It isn’t going to make any difference.”
As protests have unfolded across the country this summer over the death of George Floyd and the police treatment of Black people, activists and Democratic leaders have pleaded with demonstrators to turn their energy toward elections in November.
A block party on Tuesday honoring Jacob Blake, a Black resident of Kenosha who was left paralyzed after being shot in the back by a white police officer, included voter registration booths near where the shooting occurred. And Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee for president, was scheduled to visit Kenosha on Thursday, two days after Mr. Trump appeared in the city in the wake of unrest over the shooting.
But people like Mr. Holmes reflect the challenges that Democrats face as they try to channel their anger over police violence into voting. In interviews with more than a dozen Black residents in the Kenosha area, many said they were outraged over the shooting of Mr. Blake, but some said they had grown dispirited and cynical about the political system. The shooting was further evidence, some residents said, that decades of promises from politicians have done little to alleviate wide racial inequalities or stem police abuses, leaving them seeing little value in one more election.
“Let’s say I did go out and vote and I voted for Biden,” said Michael Lindsey, a friend of Mr. Blake’s who protested for several nights after the shooting. “That’s not going to change police brutality. It’s not going to change the way the police treat African-Americans compared to Caucasians.”
Mr. Lindsey, 29, who lives just outside of Kenosha, said he had never voted in a presidential election and did not plan to start this year, as much as he despises Mr. Trump and is fed up with feeling like he has to live in fear of the police because he is Black.
Many factors have slowed voting. The state’s high rate of incarceration of Black people — among the highest in the nation — strips many African-Americans of their voting rights. Wisconsin’s voter identification law and other strict regulations, such as a shortened early voting period and longer residency requirements compared with 2016, also present major hurdles.
There are other challenges, too. Some residents said they were put off by Mr. Biden’s previous support of tough-on-crime legislation that devastated many Black families. Some said they wrestled with whether he would be any better than Mr. Trump on issues of racism in policing.
“The people feel disengaged,” said Corey Prince, a community organizer. “They feel disenfranchised. They feel dissuaded from voting.”
That presents a problem for Democrats, who saw Mr. Trump win the state by fewer than 23,000 votes four years ago; turnout among the state’s Black population, which votes overwhelmingly Democratic, sank by nearly 20 percentage points from the previous presidential election. Still, two years ago, turnout among Black voters rose during the midterm elections, helping Democrats to unseat Scott Walker, the incumbent Republican governor.
Community leaders are stressing the importance of not just the presidential election, but also of local races, Diamond Hartwell, a Kenosha native and human rights activist, said. Still, during voter outreach efforts, she said she often heard the refrain, “It doesn’t matter who’s in.”
She said activists were increasing efforts to educate people on the importance of voting and how to do it amid the thicket of rules for registering and getting a proper identification — regulations that many on the left say suppress turnout among minority groups.
During the block party this week near the intersection where Mr. Blake was shot, James Hall, the interim president of the Urban League of Racine and Kenosha, oversaw a table to register voters. Mr. Hall said that older Black residents were among the most likely to vote but that younger people — especially people in their 20s and 30s — were hard to convince. Even the immediate anger and frustration over the shooting in Kenosha did not necessarily ensure more people would vote, he said.
“This noise will energize them, but is it going to translate to votes?” Mr. Hall asked. “I doubt it.”
He approached a young woman and man standing nearby and asked if they wanted to register.
“Does my vote really matter?” the woman asked. Before Mr. Hall could respond, she answered for herself. “I know my voice doesn’t count.”
“It’ll only take five minutes,” Mr. Hall told the man, who initially agreed to register, but then changed his mind and said he would do it later.
Nearly 12 percent of Kenosha’s 100,000 residents are Black. The African-American incarceration rate in Kenosha is about 80 percent higher than in Milwaukee, which has the third-highest rate among large metropolitan areas, according to research by Marc V. Levine, the founding director of the Center for Economic Development at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Black Kenosha residents are 12 times more likely to be locked up than their white neighbors.
Skepticism about the record of Mr. Biden and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California, on issues of criminal justice are widespread, Mr. Hall said. “They have a history of passing bills or working with the system to incarcerate our people,” he said. “Our people know that, so that’s what makes them unattractive. They haven’t brought anything to the platform to say, ‘Hey, we know we made a mistake in the past, this is what we’re going to do to fix it.’”
Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris have expressed regret for some of their past positions on criminal justice issues, and have cast those decisions as products of the politics of the era. Both have since voiced support for measures that they say will reduce incarceration like decriminalizing marijuana, promoting treatment for nonviolent drug offenses and ending mandatory minimum sentences.
If dissatisfaction with the candidates is turning off Black voters, so is an overall disenchantment with the system, said Dominique Pritchett, a mental health clinician and community activist in Kenosha. Clients have spoken of fears of even going to the polls because of what they see as voter suppression efforts, she said.
“Will I be targeted?” she said clients have asked her. “Will they shred my vote? Psychologically, people just feel like they truly don’t matter.”
Gathered around the front stoop of a clapboard home in Kenosha’s Uptown neighborhood on a recent afternoon, a group of men described their skepticism about voting this fall.
Mike Davis, 42, said the current turmoil over policing increased his desire to see Mr. Trump leave office. But then he thinks back to 2016.
“He’s losing in the polls, everybody says he’s not going to get it, and somehow, some way, he figured out how to get it,” Mr. Davis said. “And I feel like he’s going to do it again. It’s going to be a waste of time.”
Sentiments like that should not be uttered out loud, said his friend, Jamaal Crawford.
“If you believe that, don’t spread that because you’ll have others not voting,” Mr. Crawford, 37, said.
Mr. Crawford said he believed that voting was important and did not want others to be dissuaded.
He last voted many years ago because, for roughly the past 10 years, he has either been incarcerated or under some form of state supervision, he said. In Wisconsin, people with felony records can vote as long as they have completed their sentences and are no longer on probation or parole.
Mr. Crawford, a cook who was laid off because of the pandemic, said he might register now, though he was unsure whether he wanted to go through the process. Still, he said, it is a critical moment given the challenges of police violence.
“Some people are just tired,” he said. “They think it’s a waste of time. But even if it is, we should keep wasting our time until it’s not.”
An experimental medication that increases height in children with the most common form of dwarfism has raised hope that it can help them lead easier lives. But some say the condition is not a problem in need of a cure.
By Serena Solomon, Sept. 6, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/05/world/dwarfism-vosoritide.html?action=click&module=Editors%20Picks&pgtype=Homepage
AUCKLAND, New Zealand — It’s a question many parents of children with dwarfism have contemplated: If a medication could make them taller, would they give it to them?
Now, that possibility is becoming less hypothetical. A study published this weekend in the journal The Lancet found that an experimental drug called vosoritide increased growth in children with the most common form of dwarfism to nearly the same rate as in children without the condition.
The study has raised hope that the drug, if taken over the course of years, can make life easier for those with the condition, known as achondroplasia, including the distant prospect of alleviating major quality-of-life issues such as back pain and breathing difficulties.
But the drug has also ignited a contentious debate in a community that sees “dwarf pride” as a hard-won tenet — where being a little person is a unique trait to be celebrated, not a problem in need of a cure.
Weeks before their son Lachlan was born, Dr. Simone Watkins and her husband learned that he most likely had achondroplasia, which affects about one in 25,000 infants.
After his birth, Dr. Watkins recalled, she and her husband said over him: “We love you. You’re perfect. We are so happy you’re here. You’re going to have a great life.”
She now feels that vosoritide could compromise that sentiment.
“I want him to have the best life possible with less complications and not to be bullied and to fit into society,” Dr. Watkins said as Lachlan, 2, played next to her in a pile of pillows at their home in Auckland, New Zealand. “But also, I don’t want to give him the message that he needs to change.”
Achondroplasia is a genetic disorder that disrupts the transition of cartilage to bone. Those with the condition have shorter arms and legs than those found in people of average stature, as well as defining facial features. Their adult height is typically a little over 4 feet. More than 80 percent of those with achondroplasia are born to parents of average stature, and a child with the condition has a 50 percent chance of passing it on.
The study in The Lancet found that children who took the drug grew an additional 0.6 inches on average in one year, with minimal side effects. If taken over many years, vosoritide could produce a significant increase in adult height, though the study was limited to a year and does not address this possibility, or resolve whether the medication can ease the medical complications common to dwarfism.
The trial examined 121 children ages 5 to 17 over a 12-month period. Participants were located in seven countries.
In August, BioMarin, the American pharmaceutical company behind vosoritide, submitted the study’s findings to the Food and Drug Administration as well as the European Medicines Agency. If approved, vosoritide could be available within months.
“It doesn’t totally restore all of the growth, but it does make a pretty significant dent in the difference,” said Dr. Eric Rush, a clinical geneticist at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., and an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City.
He was not involved in the vosoritide trial, but has consulted for BioMarin and is involved in trials for a similar drug.
Vosoritide utilizes a synthetic form of a protein that humans produce naturally. It targets the overactive signal that prevents bone growth in children with achondroplasia, said Dr. Ravi Savarirayan, a clinical geneticist at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, who led the trial.
He compared the condition’s effects to watering a plant. “It’s not going to grow if it gets too much water, so we are just regulating the amount of water,” Dr. Savarirayan said, calling the drug a “precision therapy that actually counteracts the underlying problem.”
Dr. Savarirayan offered a moving example of what longer limbs could deliver.
“We’ve got 12- and 13-year-old girls who now for the first time can do their own feminine hygiene and don’t need to be helped by someone because their arms are longer,” he said.
Sarah Cohen, an 11-year-old who lives in Geelong, near Melbourne, started taking vosoritide at age 7 and continues to use it as part of another trial.
At 4 feet 1 inch, she has already reached what her full adult height could have been without vosoritide. In the early stages of her treatment, she dreaded the daily injections. “I got used to it,” she said, “and I am growing.”
That has produced some milestones that others might take for granted. When her family returned to a water park recently, she cleared the 4-foot height requirement to use a water slide for the first time. “There’s a real confidence that goes with those things,” said her father, Paul Cohen.
Megan Schimmel attributes much of her strength, compassion and empathy to living with achondroplasia. She said that she wouldn’t want to change herself, and that she isn’t going to change her 2-year-old daughter, Lily, who also has the condition.
“I can do everything that someone a foot taller can do, with minor accommodations,” Ms. Schimmel wrote in an email, adding that vosoritide sent a message that those with achondroplasia “are broken.”
Melissa Mills, of Jacksonville, Fla., who does not have the condition, said she had already decided that her 4-year-old daughter, Eden, would use vosoritide if it is approved by the F.D.A.
Yes, Ms. Mills could get a $900 custom bike so her daughter could ride or teach her to drive a car with pedal extenders, but she will embrace an alternative. “With dwarfism, the world wasn’t built for my child, so if there is something I can do to help her navigate the world a little bit better and on her own, I want to do it,” she said.
After Eden’s diagnosis, Ms. Mills said, she joined every support group she could find to learn about her daughter’s condition. Her questions about treatments that increased height whipped up tension. “The more I got involved in the groups and the L.P.A.” — the organization Little People of America — “the more I pulled away.”
The debate over the drug resembles a decades-long discussion among deaf people over cochlear implants, with some taking exception to the suggestion that they should be “fixed” with the device.
Vosoritide, said Mark Povinelli, the L.P.A.’s president, “is one of the most divisive things that we’ve come across in our 63-year existence.”
The organization does not endorse specific treatments, but encourages members to consider more than height in medical decisions. “We want to show that you can have a completely fulfilling life without having to worry about growth velocity,” said Mr. Povinelli, calling fixations on height a societal issue.
When the group formed in 1957, there were no treatments in the United States to increase height. The organization focused on changing how the outside world saw people with the condition, emphasizing pride and forming a community that now numbers 8,000.
In 2012, when BioMarin first presented vosoritide to the group, it received a lackluster response, Mr. Povinelli said. An uneasy truce has since developed.
“For better or for worse, as uncomfortable as it was, it put these therapies front and center in everyone’s mind,” he said.
The drug — whose price has not yet been set, though it is likely to be costly — could provide an alternative to arduous limb-lengthening surgery, a process that involves cutting bone and extending a limb over several weeks, said Marco Sessa, the president of the Association for the Information and Study of Achondroplasia in Italy.
The surgery has not caught on in the United States as it has in Italy, where more than 90 percent of people with achondroplasia undergo it, adding a foot of height in some cases. “It is a very painful, long operation, so people think with the vosoritide we will finish the era of leg-lengthening,” Mr. Sessa said.
Dr. Watkins, the pediatric trainee in Auckland, said that she and her husband were leaning toward treating their son with vosoritide. It isn’t so much about the height, she said, but the potential quality-of-life benefits.
Still, Dr. Watkins wonders about the effects on Lachlan’s relationships with his peers who have dwarfism if he grows taller than they do. She also worries about the potential for negative side effects that did not show up in the trials.
For now, she will wait, if vosoritide is approved, to see how it continues to perform. “I don’t think it is very straightforward,” she said.
The decision by New York’s attorney general comes more than five months after Daniel Prude died of suffocation after officers in Rochester, N.Y., placed a hood over his head.
By Michael Wilson, Sept. 5, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/05/nyregion/rochester-police-daniel-prude-grand-jury.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=New%20York
New York’s attorney general announced on Saturday that she would set up a grand jury to consider evidence in the death of a Black man in Rochester, N.Y., who suffocated after he had been placed in a hood by police officers and pinned to the ground.
The unusual weekend announcement by the attorney general, Letitia James, signaled a significant ramping up of the response to the March 23 arrest of Daniel Prude, 41, after months of official silence. Mr. Prude’s family in recent days has accused officials of covering up his death to protect the police officers involved.
Mr. Prude went into cardiac arrest during a struggle with officers and died a week later. The county medical examiner labeled his death a homicide caused by complications of asphyxiation in a prone position. But for months, the police in Rochester treated the case as a drug overdose after PCP, or angel dust, was found in his bloodstream.
“The Prude family and the Rochester community have been through great pain and anguish,” Ms. James said in a statement on Saturday. “My office will immediately move to empanel a grand jury as part of our exhaustive investigation into this matter.”
Her office became aware of Mr. Prude’s death in mid-April with the release of the autopsy’s findings, but made no public mention of the case until this week, even as protests erupted nationwide over mistreatment and brutality directed at Black people by the police.
The case came to public attention only on Wednesday, more than five months after Mr. Prude’s death, when his family’s lawyer released body camera footage from the officers involved in detaining Mr. Prude. The footage was obtained through a public records request by the lawyer.
Mr. Prude’s brother, Joe Prude, had accused local authorities this week of failing to investigate the case in order to protect the police. On Saturday night, Mr. Prude said he was pleased by the attorney general’s announcement.
“I am ecstatic about this,” Mr. Prude said, “but right now I’m still waiting on seeing the indictment and them being prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he supported the decision to set up a grand jury. “Justice delayed is justice denied and the people of New York deserve the truth,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement.
The Rochester police chief has denied that the department covered up Mr. Prude’s death. The seven officers found to be involved in the encounter with Mr. Prude were suspended this week after the release of the videos.
Protesters have taken to the streets of Rochester every night since the release of the body camera footage, and on Friday night, what began as a peaceful rally took a violent turn.
Protesters marching past restaurants overturned tables and threw furniture and bottles as diners scattered. Police officers in riot gear responded with pepper spray and orders to disperse.
Soon after, two cars drove into a crowd of demonstrators, knocking at least two people to the ground. In videos shared on Twitter, the driver of at least one car can be seen spraying demonstrators with an irritant and racing away.
Daniel Prude, who is from Chicago, arrived at his brother’s home in Rochester on March 22, behaving erratically and apparently hallucinating. His brother had him hospitalized for an evaluation, but Mr. Prude was sent home hours later.
Early on the morning of March 23, Mr. Prude bolted from his brother’s house, and was found naked in the street shortly after 3 a.m. A group of police officers arrived and handcuffed him without incident, but when Mr. Prude began spitting in the street — as coronavirus cases were rising sharply throughout the state — officers placed a hood over his head.
Mr. Prude became agitated and tried to rise, according to video from the officers’ body cameras. The officers pinned him to the ground, one holding his head to the pavement.
Mr. Prude pleaded to be let up, but seemed to struggle for breath, and his words turned to gurgles, then stopped, according to footage from the officers’ cameras. When paramedics arrived about two minutes after he had been pinned, he had no heartbeat.
They revived him and took him to a hospital, where he later died.
Hours after the encounter with officers, the Rochester police chief, La’Ron Singletary, told Lovely Warren, the mayor of Rochester, that a man in custody had suffered a drug overdose, Ms. Warren said this week.
That police narrative essentially held for months, even as Ms. James’s office began an investigation.
Her office did not announce its involvement in the matter and, according to Rochester officials, told them to keep quiet as well.
On June 4, a top official in Ms. James’s office asked city officials not to release body camera footage so as not to “interfere with the attorney general’s ongoing investigation,” Ms. Warren’s office said this week.
Ms. James’s office has denied that characterization of events.
“There was never a request from the attorney general’s office to the City of Rochester corporation counsel to withhold information about the events surrounding the death of Daniel Prude, plain and simple,” Ms. James’s office said in a statement.
Ms. James’s office has also said it does not routinely comment on investigations into deaths in police custody until they are concluded.
The office shared footage from the body cameras with a lawyer for the Prude family in June and with family members on July 21.
Ms. Warren, Rochester’s mayor, said she welcomed the grand jury announcement.
“I thank Attorney General James for taking this action because it is a trying time in Rochester,” she said in a statement. She asked the community to allow the attorney general’s “process to go forth on behalf of the Prude family.”
Sarah Maslin Nir contributed reporting.
As companies reconsider their long-term need to have employees on site, low-wage workers depending on office-based businesses stand to lose the most.
By Eduardo Porter, Sept. 4, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/04/business/economy/service-economy-workers.htm
Angel Carter, who lost her job as an office cleaner in Philadelphia, argues that the job these days merits hazard pay. But above all, she said, “I’m praying that they do open back up.” Credit...Hannah Yoon for The New York Times
March 16 was the last day David Engelsman walked into the Jackrabbit, an acclaimed restaurant at the boutique Duniway Hotel in downtown Portland, Ore. The lead server on morning duty, Mr. Engelsman was told before his shift started that his job was no longer needed. He left early, at 10:30 a.m. The restaurant didn’t reopen the next day.
A total of 330 workers at the Duniway and another Hilton property across the street have been let go since then. With two autistic children, a wife with a severe heart condition and now no health insurance, Mr. Engelsman has devoted much of his time to the fight by his union, UNITE HERE, to get Hilton to make health-plan contributions for laid-off workers until the end of the year. “We’re left standing here with nothing,” he said. “I know I sound dramatic, but it is dramatic.”
With 11.5 million jobs lost since February and the government’s monthly report Friday showing a slowdown in hiring, stories like this have become painfully common. When companies dispatched office staff to work remotely from home, cut business trips and canceled business lunches, they also eliminated the jobs cleaning their offices and hotel rooms, driving them around town and serving them meals.
For this army of service workers across urban America, the pandemic risks becoming more than a short-term economic shock. If white-collar America doesn’t return to the office, service workers will be left with nobody to serve.
The worry is particularly acute in cities, which for decades have sustained tens of millions of jobs for workers without a college education. Now remote work is adding to other pressures that have stunted opportunities. The collapse of retailers like J.C. Penney and Neiman Marcus has wiped out many low-wage jobs. The implosion of tourism in cities like New York and San Francisco will end many more.
Maria Valdez, a laid-off housekeeper at the Grand Hyatt in San Antonio, is scraping by with three children on a $314 weekly unemployment check. Kimber Adams, who lost her job as a bartender at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, is pinning hopes on her “Plan B” to become a phlebotomist. Waldo Cabrera, let go from his job cleaning the cabins of American Airlines jets at the Miami airport, hopes an offer to drive a tanker truck in Texas will wait until he can move at the end of the year. “Perforce I have to leave here,” he said.
Mari Duncan is relatively lucky. She is still drawing a paycheck, even though her job marinating meats and cooking soup at Facebook’s Seattle campus ended when Facebook sent its managers and engineers to work from home. But she fears that her deal — Facebook is still paying its food service contractor so it can cover payroll — can’t last forever. “When I saw a story break about how Facebook will stay remote until July of 2021,” she said, “I freaked out a little bit.”
Every one of them is itching to get back to work. But a fear is budding that even when the pandemic has passed, the economy may not provide the jobs it once did.
“Some law firms are finding that it is more productive for their lawyers to stay at home,” said Kristinia Bellamy, a janitor who was laid off from her job cleaning offices at a high-rise housing legal firms and other white-collar businesses in Midtown Manhattan. “This might be the beginning of the end for these commercial office buildings.”
Consider Nike’s decision in the spring to allow most employees at its headquarters in the Portland area to work remotely. Aramark, which runs the cafeteria and catering at Nike, furloughed many of its workers. With no need for full services anticipated “for an undefined period,” Aramark says, 378 employees — waiters, cooks, cashiers and others — now face permanent layoff on Sept. 25.
The question is whether dislocations like this will be only temporary. About one-fifth of adults of working age who do not have a college degree live in the biggest metropolitan areas — in the top quarter by population density — according to estimates by David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Most are in service industries that cater to the needs of an affluent class of “knowledge workers” who have flocked to cities in search of cool amenities and high pay.
And having discovered Zoom, what company will fly a manager across the country for a day’s worth of meetings? A lasting reduction in business travel will endanger the ecosystem of hotel and restaurant workers serving corporate travelers.
Jonathan Dingel and Brent Neiman of the University of Chicago have calculated that 37 percent of jobs can be done entirely from home. Those jobs tend to be highly paid, in fields like legal services, computer programming and financial services. And they tend to concentrate in affluent areas like San Francisco; Stamford, Conn.; and Raleigh, N.C.
Recent research by the economists Edward Glaeser, Caitlin Gorback and Stephen Redding found that when Covid-19 struck, activity — measured by the movement of cellphones in and out of ZIP codes — declined much more sharply in neighborhoods where a larger share of residents had jobs that could potentially be done from home.
The economists at Opportunity Insights in Cambridge, Mass., estimate that in the year to Aug. 9, consumer spending in high-income ZIP codes declined 8.4 percent, with the impact felt disproportionately by industries that rely heavily on the nation’s low-wage labor force: restaurants and hotels, entertainment and recreation services.
A lasting change in the behavior of the high-wage layer atop urban labor markets would have an outsize effect. Many service jobs that held on in the face of globalization and widespread automation may not survive.
“I don’t know what a less-skilled worker does in West Virginia,” said Mr. Glaeser, an urban economist at Harvard University. “If urban service jobs disappear, the whole of America becomes like West Virginia.”
Nike isn’t Portland’s biggest private employer. That’s Intel, the semiconductor giant, which employs 20,000 mostly well-paid people there. It is a pillar of a high-tech cluster known as the Silicon Forest stretching between Hillsboro and Beaverton on the western edge of the city. And it supports a network of contractors and subcontractors whose income trickles down through the area’s economy.
Only about 40 percent of Intel’s employees are working on site — those indispensable to its vast chip-making plants — and remote work is set to continue until at least next June. Even after that, said Darcy Ortiz, Intel’s vice president for corporate services, “there will be more flexibility in the way we work.”
For businesses that rely on Intel’s footprint, that may not be great news. “Intel has sustained us,” said Rick Van Beveren, a member of the Hillsboro City Council who owns a cafe and a catering business that remain mostly shuttered. “We cater to a constellation of businesses around Intel.”
The same type of decision is being made around the country. Scott Rechler, chief executive of RXR Realty, which owns over 20 million square feet of office space in New York City, estimates that every office worker sustains five service jobs, from the shoeshine booth to the coffee shop. Yet only about 12 percent of his tenants are in the office.
Restaurant Associates — the food-service conglomerate operating cafeterias at companies including Google and The New York Times, and restaurants at the Smithsonian and the Quadrangle Club of the University of Chicago — employed 10,500 workers before the pandemic. Though the company has been scrambling for new business since then — to feed health workers, or to make home-delivered meals — Dick Cattani, the chief executive, said that only some half of them are working today.
Of course, a lot of the urban economy that employs low-wage service workers was shut down by city and state governments hoping to contain the pandemic. The risk of infection is also keeping many people at home. Presumably these fears and restrictions will relax once a vaccine or a treatment for Covid-19 is developed.
In New York, for instance, Amazon, Facebook and Google expect to add thousands more workers in the city. “It will take time to recover,” Mr. Rechler said. “Many small businesses may not survive. There will be some urban flight. But that will be backfilled by the next young bright cohort of people who want to come to New York.”
Mr. Cattani sees this as an opportunity to buy new businesses. And the company is expanding into hospitals, to feed patients and their visitors. “Covid can’t change the underlying energy of creative workers in a single place,” said John Alschuler, chairman of the real estate advisory firm HR&A Advisors.
A large share of the American labor force hopes he is right. Mr. Engelsman, the restaurant server in Portland, has no idea how he will pay for his wife’s medication when a month’s dose of beta blockers alone costs $580. Mr. Cabrera, the American Airlines cabin cleaner in Miami, had to dip into the insurance money he got after somebody crashed into his car, and is now carless. Ms. Valdez, the hotel housekeeper in San Antonio, was called back for the Grand Hyatt’s reopening this month, but says she can’t return until school starts because she must care for her 11-year-old son. She worries that Hyatt will try to make do with fewer cleaning workers and not hire everybody back.
Angel Carter, who was laid off in March from her job cleaning three floors in Philadelphia’s Center City, notes that janitors at work are putting their health at risk. They are more important than ever — given the pandemic — because offices must be cleaned extra thoroughly. She argues that the job these days merits hazard pay. But above anything else, Ms. Carter said, “I’m praying that they do open back up."
The I.O.C. is on the wrong side of history, again. [see video at the url below]
By Gwen Berry, Sept. 7, 2020
In sports arenas around the world, taking a knee is no longer taboo — it’s trending. But there’s at least one place where protesting is still not allowed.
The Olympic medal podium.
In the video Op-Ed above, the track and field Olympian Gwen Berry confronts Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, over what she feels is his organization’s hypocrisy: Olympians are celebrated for their courage, drive and tenacity. But if they are spurred by those same traits to demand racial justice? That’s a punishable offense.
On the podium at the 2019 Pan Am Games, Berry raised her fist. Then she paid for it. She was reprimanded by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and is now unsponsored. She is among the top hammer throwers in the world, but hasn’t received an athletic grant since protesting.
Berry is a Black woman without a safety net defying a global organization that brought in $165 million in profits in 2018. Yet athletes like her — who often scrape by — are faced with an impossible dilemma: keep their mouths shut or jeopardize their career to fight for justice.
Berry has fought to get to where she is today. She was raised by her grandmother in a household of 13 in Ferguson, Mo. After having a son at age 15, she earned a college scholarship and became a top hammer thrower. While training to qualify for the Olympics in 2016, she held down two jobs — working at Dick’s Sporting Goods during the day and delivering Insomnia Cookies at night — and helped support 10 extended-family members back home.
Last month, Team USA formed a council to make recommendations on race and social justice. But Berry says as long as free speech is censored, volunteer committees are not enough.
As for what she really wants? You’ll have to hear it from her in the video above.
This time, she won’t be silenced.
Gwen Berry (@MzBerryThrows) is an American Olympian.
The recovery is bypassing those who need it most.
“…the stock market isn’t the economy: more than half of all stocks are owned by only 1 percent of Americans, while the bottom half of the population owns only 0.7 percent of the market…”
By Paul Krugman, Opinion Columnist, Sept. 7, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/07/opinion/trump-economy-jobs.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Are you better off now than you were in July?
On the face of it, that shouldn’t even be a question. After all, stocks are up; the economy added more than a million jobs in “August” (I’ll explain the scare quotes in a minute); preliminary estimates suggest that G.D.P. is growing rapidly in the third quarter, which ends this month.
But the stock market isn’t the economy: more than half of all stocks are owned by only 1 percent of Americans, while the bottom half of the population owns only 0.7 percent of the market.
Jobs and G.D.P., by contrast, sort of are the economy. But they aren’t the economy’s point. What some economists and many politicians often forget is that economics isn’t fundamentally about data, it’s about people. I like data as much as, or probably more than, the next guy. But an economy’s success should be judged not by impersonal statistics, but by whether people’s lives are getting better.
And the simple fact is that over the past few weeks the lives of many Americans have gotten much worse.
Obviously this is true for the roughly 30,000 Americans who died of Covid-19 in August — for comparison, only 4,000 people died in the European Union, which has a larger population — plus the unknown but large number of our citizens who suffered long-term health damage. And don’t look now, but the number of new coronavirus cases, which had been declining, seems to have plateaued; between Labor Day and school re-openings, there’s a pretty good chance that the virus situation is about to take another turn for the worse.
But things have already gotten worse for millions of families that lost most of their normal income as a result of the pandemic and still haven’t gotten it back. For the first few months of the pandemic depression many of these Americans were getting by thanks to emergency federal aid. But much of that aid was cut off at the end of July, and despite job gains we’re in the midst of a huge increase in national misery.
So let’s talk about that employment report.
One important thing to bear in mind about official monthly job statistics is that they’re based on surveys conducted during the second week of the month. That’s why I used scare quotes around “August”: What Friday’s report actually gave us was a snapshot of the state of the labor market around Aug. 12.
This may be important. Private data suggest a slowdown in job growth since late July. So the next employment report, which will be based on data collected this week — and will also be the last report before the election — will probably (not certainly) be weaker than the last.
In any case, that August report wasn’t great considering the context. In normal times a gain of 1.4 million jobs would be impressive, even if some of those jobs were a temporary blip associated with the census. But we’re still more than 11 million jobs down from where we were in February.
And the situation remains dire for the hardest-hit workers. The pandemic slump disproportionately hit workers in the leisure and hospitality sector — think restaurants — and employment in that sector is still down around 25 percent, while the unemployment rate for workers in the industry is still over 20 percent, more than four times what it was a year ago.
In part because of where the slump was concentrated, the unemployed tend to be Americans who were earning low wages even before the slump. And one disturbing fact about the August report was that average wages rose. No, that’s not a misprint: If the low-wage workers hit worst by the slump were being rehired, we’d expect average wages to fall, as they did during the snapback of May and June. Rising average wages at this point are a sign that those who really need jobs aren’t getting them.
In a video recorded from his hospital bed, Mr. Blake, who was shot by the police, says, “It hurts to breathe; it hurts to sleep.” [a video of Mr. Blake is with this article online]
By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Sept. 7, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/07/us/jacob-blake-video-statement.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Photo: KSTP. This photo shows a screenshot of cellphone video showing Jacob Blake (right) with a police officer having his gun drawn moments before Blake was shot in the back seven times on Sunday. Aug. 23, 2020.
KENOSHA, Wis. — Demonstrations against police violence have been filled with the chants of victims’ names: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner. In recent days, a new name — Jacob Blake — has been called out in protests across the country.
In that list, though, Mr. Blake, a Black man who was repeatedly shot in the back by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wis., is also set apart. Unlike so many of the people who have become grim symbols for a movement, Mr. Blake survived and has begun to tell his own story.
“Your life — and not only just your life, your legs, something that you need to move around and move forward in life — could be taken from you like this, man,” Mr. Blake says from his hospital bed, snapping his fingers for emphasis, in a video released over the weekend. In the video, he speaks publicly for the first time about what happened to him. His injuries are severe, and his family says he was paralyzed from the waist down in the shooting last month.
In the video, which was recorded by an activist from New York who distributed it on social media, Mr. Blake describes his injuries, which he says left him with staples in his back and stomach.
“Every 24 hours, it’s pain — it’s nothing but pain,” Mr. Blake says. “It hurts to breathe; it hurts to sleep. It hurts to move from side to side. It hurts to eat.”
Shermaine Laster, the activist, said he had showed up unannounced at the Milwaukee hospital where Mr. Blake is being treated and was meeting Mr. Blake for the first time.
For demonstrators seeking broad changes to American policing, the prospect of Mr. Blake’s presenting the public with a personal voice to his experience was encouraging.
“My son is gone,” said Monique West, whose 18-year-old son, Ty’Rese West, was shot and killed in 2019 by a police officer in Racine County, not far from Kenosha. “He’s not here to tell nothing. There’s only two stories — either the officer or the person that’s gone.”
A Kenosha officer, Rusten Sheskey, fired seven times on Aug. 30 at Mr. Blake, who was trying to get into a car. The shooting was captured by a neighbor on a disturbing video that quickly drew outrage on social media. It set off sometimes destructive demonstrations in Kenosha and quickly became a topic in the presidential race, drawing visits from President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Cortez Rice, a nephew of George Floyd, the man who was killed by the police in Minneapolis in May, said Mr. Blake’s own words about what had happened to him would hold a unique value. “Jacob’s got the chance — he’s going to get to speak,” Mr. Rice said.
Gregory Bennett Jr. organized a community event on Sunday in Kenosha at which state lawmakers heard demands from residents for change. A seat was left empty for Mr. Blake at the event — a reminder, organizers said, that he might yet be a voice for needed reform. Without such survivors, Mr. Bennett said, the stories are often muted.
“It would have been swept under the rug,” Mr. Bennett said. “There’s people whose family members have been shot and killed here in this city, and guess what? You never see a news camera or nothing.”
To be sure, others who became symbols of abuse at the hands of the police have survived to tell their stories. Rodney King, who was beaten by Los Angeles police officers in 1991, and Abner Louima, who was tortured by New York police officers in 1997, both lived to describe what had been done to them. Mr. King, who died in 2012, and Mr. Louima, who started a real estate business in Florida, largely tried to move on.
Of people shot at by officers from the nation’s 50 largest police departments between 2010 and 2016, about two-thirds survived, according to data obtained by Vice News.
“There’s an invisibility to it,” Frank Edwards, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Rutgers, said of people who survive police shootings, adding that many of those survivors are charged with crimes and rarely draw public attention or speak publicly about their cases. “They fear retribution if they do speak,” he said.
What role Mr. Blake will choose to play in demonstrations remains to be seen. He still faces significant medical challenges, and one of his lawyers has said that his walking again would be a “miracle.” Mr. Blake also is contending with legal charges.
By videoconference from his hospital bed, Mr. Blake pleaded not guilty on Friday to three domestic charges against him, including a sexual assault count. The charges were filed in July. On the day Mr. Blake was shot, the woman who reported the assault called 911, saying that Mr. Blake was at her home. The Kenosha police said they were trying to arrest Mr. Blake when the shooting occurred.
The trial in that case has been scheduled for November, although it could be delayed.
Ben Crump, a civil rights lawyer who is representing Mr. Blake and has represented families of many Black people killed by the police, said Mr. Blake was still coming to terms with the public attention to what had happened to him and what that might mean in the months ahead.
“He hasn’t been able to fully grasp what a symbol he has become,” Mr. Crump said, adding that Mr. Blake was mostly focused on making sure that his young children — three of whom witnessed the shooting — are not traumatized and that they understand that he will emerge from this.
“The way he’s trying to be a strong Black father for his children is the way that he’s taking on the mission of this movement,” Mr. Crump said.
Porche Bennett, an organizer with Black Lives Activists Kenosha, or BLAK, said on Sunday that there would be no pressure on Mr. Blake to publicly take up their cause or to become an outspoken advocate for the movement.
“We know we’ve got his support,” she said.
A new report calculates the number of people who fled because of wars fought by the United States since Sept. 11, 2001.
By John Ismay, Sept. 8, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/08/magazine/displaced-war-on-terror.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
At least 37 million people have been displaced as a direct result of the wars fought by the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a new report from Brown University’s Costs of War project. That figure exceeds those displaced by conflict since 1900, the authors say, with the exception of World War II.
The findings were published on Tuesday, weeks before the United States enters its 20th year of fighting the war on terror, which began with the invasion of Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001; yet, the report says it is the first time the number of people displaced by U.S. military involvement during this period has been calculated. The findings come at a time when the United States and other Western countries have become increasingly opposed to welcoming refugees, as anti-migrant fears bolster favor for closed-border policies.
The report accounts for the number of people, mostly civilians, displaced in and from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya and Syria, where fighting has been the most significant, and says the figure is a conservative estimate — the real number may range from 48 million to 59 million. The calculation does not include the millions of other people who have been displaced in countries with smaller U.S. counterterrorism operations, according to the report, including those in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Niger.
“This has been one of the major forms of damage, of course along with the deaths and injuries, that have been caused by these wars,” said David Vine, a professor of anthropology at American University and the lead author of the report. “It tells us that U.S. involvement in these countries has been horrifically catastrophic, horrifically damaging in ways that I don’t think that most people in the United States, in many ways myself included, have grappled with or reckoned with in even the slightest terms.”
While the United States is not the sole cause for the migration from these countries, the authors say it has played either a dominant or contributing role in these conflicts.
People fled their homes for all of the reasons common in armed conflict, such as aerial bombing and drone strikes, artillery fire and gun battles that destroy housing and neighborhoods, as well as death threats and large-scale ethnic cleansing, according to the report. Fighting, which in some countries has gone on for nearly two decades, has eliminated many jobs, businesses and entire industries, threatening people’s ability to provide for themselves. In many instances, the wars have removed access to food and water sources, hospitals, schools and other local infrastructure, making daily life unsustainable.
In Somalia, 46 percent of the population has been displaced since American forces once again entered combat there in 2002. Hundreds of thousands have sought refuge in neighboring countries in the last 18 years, and for the last decade, U.S. warplanes have routinely dropped bombs and fired missiles on the terror group Shabab. While the Pentagon has been slow to acknowledge killing civilians in those strikes, it recently admitted to having done so for the third time after reporting by Amnesty International.
The report from the Costs of War project also estimated the number of people who have returned to their home countries or regions, 25.3 million, though that number includes children born elsewhere to refugee parents. Some of those returning are victims of involuntary deportation from their host countries, and others return only to encounter more of the same violence that they once fled.
After previous wars, the United States at times accepted large numbers of refugees from the countries in which it fought. Following the Vietnam War, the United States admitted approximately one million Southeast Asian people as war refugees, some of whom lived temporarily in camps on Guam and on the Marine Corps base Camp Pendleton in Southern California.
More recently, refugee admissions have dropped considerably. Data from the State Department show a sharp downturn in the number of refugees admitted to the United States immediately after Donald Trump took office. Since January 2017, the United States has admitted just 2,955 Iraqis, a 95 percent drop, and 2,705 Somalis, a 91 percent decrease, over the same time period at the end of the Obama administration.
To tally the displaced, scholars from American University collected data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, among other groups that track displacement figures.
Reached for comment, the Pentagon referred queries to the State Department. A representative from the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration said that the bureau publishes an annual report on refugees and displaced peoples, but that document “does not distinguish based on cause of displacement.”
Vine says that while having these numbers is helpful, it does not offer any insight into what kinds of lives displaced people are living. “Every day you live in a refugee camp is a day it’s been degraded compared to what it once was,” he said. “It’s another day you’re separated from your home and your homeland.”
If the protests are to translate into laws, contributions for politicians from law enforcement must become toxic rather than coveted.
By Miriam Pawel, Contributing Opinion Writer, Sept. 9, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/09/opinion/police-reform-defund-politicians.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Debra Ray, the aunt of Dijon Kizzee, who was recently killed by sheriff's deputies in Los Angeles. Credit...Mario Tama/Getty Images
LOS ANGELES — In late August, Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies shot a Black man, Dijon Kizzee, whom they had stopped for a suspected traffic violation as he rode his bicycle. He became the seventh man killed by deputies in Los Angeles since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day weekend.
On the same afternoon, state legislators in Sacramento raced to the end of their 2020 session. The most significant police reform measure, heralded in the days of the Black Lives Matter marches that filled the streets, did not even come up for a vote.
A centerpiece of the agenda would have set up a process for yanking the badge of any officer found to have committed serious misconduct. California is one of only five states that has no process for certifying police officers, which among other things enables bad cops to move from department to department with impunity.
Democrats hold supermajorities in both houses. Major newspapers in California editorialized in favor of a slew of police reform bills. Polls showed support. In one of the bluest states in the country, all indications pointed toward action on reform.
But in the end, even here, it was essentially business as usual in a State Capitol where police unions have long wielded enormous power. The measures that passed this year were either noncontroversial or so diluted as to have little if any immediate impact.
“The culture has not even begun to change,” said John Crew, a retired attorney who spent decades working on police accountability issues in California for the A.C.L.U. “Their political analysis seems to be that the world has not changed as much as a lot of us think it has. I hope it has.”
If the marches that brought so much hope for profound change are to translate into laws, hope will have to overcome fear: The movement will have to exert enough pressure to overcome politicians’ fear of crossing the unions.
The culture will not change until enough elected officials are unafraid to risk the wrath of police unions, until financial support from law enforcement becomes toxic rather than coveted, until “defund the politicians” becomes as much a rallying cry as “defund the police.”
There have been baby steps. Even amid the legislative defeats, the Black Lives Matter movement generated greater transparency, not of the police themselves — those bills largely failed as well — but of the political process. When it became evident the decertification bill did not have support to pass the Assembly, advocates shifted their public campaign to lobby for a vote anyway, angry that lawmakers could evade taking a stand.
“People are in the streets calling for your leadership, @AssemblyDems,” tweeted a Lakers star, Kyle Kuzma. “Taking a knee isn’t the same as taking a vote.”
Unions have sensed the pressure. Of course they support certification, union officials said. This is just not the way to do it. The pandemic shortened the session and made negotiation difficult. These are complicated issues, they said; this bill is dangerous; the process cannot be rushed; this is an act that will have consequences. “Unknown impacts,” they warned, to public safety.
There is another not particularly subtle subtext about the consequences — the ones that might befall lawmakers. “It’s not really about substance, it’s about power,” Mr. Crew said. “It’s about the implicit threat of what they could do with their money.”
Since 2017, the Peace Officers Research Association, one of the major statewide law enforcement groups, has spent more than $2.6 million to influence elections. One analysis found police unions and associations gave $5.5 million to legislative candidates between 2011 and 2018.
Even before the disappointing finish in Sacramento, some reform advocates had started campaigns to demand that politicians pledge to refuse law enforcement money and support. “Assembly leaders turned their backs on CA’s communities by refusing to vote on SB 731 [police decertification] and choosing to protect abusive cops,” the A.C.L.U. of California wrote. “If you want change, demand lawmakers stop taking political contributions from police.”
A handful of lawmakers have agreed. Two state senators have said they will donate money previously received from law enforcement to community groups. Leaders of several progressive Democratic caucuses have called on the state party to stop accepting contributions from law enforcement unions. Three district attorneys and one candidate in Los Angeles have asked the state bar association to adopt a rule barring lawyers running for district attorney from accepting contributions from law enforcement.
The unions will not easily cede their clout. Politicians will not jettison comfortable habits unless there are consequences. It will take victories by insurgents who stress their independence from police unions and defeats of those who cling to the old paradigms. Unlike New York, California has not yet seen many serious challenges from the left to veteran incumbents. But there are likely to be more, along with generational change as term limits open up new seats.
The shootings, the marches, the protests and the vigils will continue. One of Mr. Kizzee’s lawyers said his client was shot between 15 and 20 times in the back. The sheriff’s department said Mr. Kizzee ran away, dropped a bundle of clothing that included a gun and punched an officer. They will not release the names of the deputies who shot him. They have not even said what traffic violation he might have been committing, other than being a Black man riding a bicycle.
If we can’t get our government to help us now, when will we ever?
By Farhad Manjoo, Opinion Columnist, Sept. 9, 2020
Labor Day hit with an extra knife-twist of cruel irony this year, in an America that is barely trying to pretend anymore that the plight of tens of millions of working people merits national concern.
On Friday, the government announced a slowing recovery from the job losses and economic shutdown caused by the pandemic. Nearly 14 million Americans are now unemployed, and almost eight million more are euphemistically called “involuntary part-time,” meaning they would work more if there were enough work.
In March, as part of a wider stimulus, Congress expanded unemployment aid by $600 per week, a plan that scholars say may have temporarily reduced the nation’s poverty rate. As of mid-August, about 29 million Americans were receiving some form of unemployment assistance.
But the $600-per-week bonus ran out in July, and Senate Republicans have rejected Democrats’ bill to extend the payments. The G.O.P. is now working on its own more limited plan, though several Republican senators are reluctant to support even that.
Inaction may prove disastrous. Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist for S & P Global, told The Times last week that federal aid was meant as a kind of economic bridge through uncertain times, but, she added, “it looks like the ravine has widened and the bridge is halfway built, so there are a lot of people stranded.”
Bovino’s image suggests a way out of this mess: Workers should band together and demand, collectively, a bridge across the ravine.
To put it more plainly: It’s time for a general strike. Actually, it’s time for a sustained series of strikes, a new movement in which workers across class and even political divides press not just for more unemployment aid but, more substantively, a renewed contract for working in an economy that is increasingly hostile to employees’ health and well-being.
This may be the American worker’s last stand: If we can’t get our government to help us now, when will we ever?
The political case for an expanded safety net is drop-dead obvious. Through no fault of their own, because their government failed to keep the nation safe, millions of Americans have lost jobs, they have lost or may soon lose health coverage, they may lose housing, and many are going without food.
Others are facing threats not just to their livelihoods but their lives. Schoolteachers, college professors, restaurant workers, retail workers, meatpackers and others are being pushed to return to work even though it’s far from clear that doing so is safe. Millions more are suffering extreme versions of the Sisyphean task of achieving work-life balance — the high cost and lack of access to quality child care, for instance, has become a consuming worry of just about every parent in the nation.
It is well within the grasp of the mighty federal government to alleviate many of these problems, and economists generally agree that urgent federal aid would stimulate wider economic activity, benefiting even those of us who do feel economically secure. Passing extra benefits should not be a hard call; in the most terrible economic climate since the Great Depression, it is just about the least the government could do.
And yet our political system is in a state of paralysis. Even worse, the government’s failure to mitigate this suffering is somehow not the main story of the day — nor even, it seems, a pressing issue in the presidential election. The speaker of the House’s haircut has gotten more coverage, recently, than the millions of people looking for work.
Why has the plight of American workers received so little attention? There are some obvious reasons. For decades, corporations waged a sustained assault on labor unions. The assault has worked. Unions were once a key voice of political advocacy for low-income Americans; their decline in membership has left them with far less political power, allowing politicians to more easily ignore working-class voters.
Yet another factor is the corrosive stratification caused by rising inequality. American workers across the class spectrum face many similar problems — expensive or inaccessible health care, child care, loosening workplace safety standards, and lax protections against being fired, among other things.
But intense ideological and class polarization limits our ability to organize across these divides. For many wealthy Americans, the recession is all but over. Even with recent dips, the stock market has recovered much of its losses. Car sales are down — but the cars that are selling are more expensive than ever before. Billionaires are doing better than ever.
These stark class divisions mean that wealthy Americans are often insulated from the plight of the poor. What does it mean to be out of work or poor in pandemic America? Nearly “one in eight households doesn’t have enough to eat,” The Times Magazine reported Sunday, alongside a searing collection of images by Brenda Ann Kenneally, a journalist who has been traversing the world’s wealthiest country to document the lives of its hungry multitudes. Our culture is now so fragmented that it’s possible to live a full life in America blissfully ignorant of our neighbors going hungry.
But I’m newly hopeful for change. For much of 2020, the labor movement has been building momentum. In May, essential workers at Amazon, Instacart and other e-commerce and delivery companies staged a one-day national strike demanding better protections and higher pay. In July, thousands of workers from a range of industries walked off the job in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
At the other end of the pay scale, professional basketball players got their league to adopt a number of social-justice initiatives after they went on strike last month to protest racial inequality and police brutality. Last week, several large unions announced they are considering authorizing work stoppages to push for concrete measures to address racial injustice.
Strikes won’t solve our problems overnight. But in the long history of American labor, including in the civil rights movement, walkouts have been an indispensable political tool, because when they get going, they’re hard to stop. Strikes bring about economic and social change the way water channels through canyon rock — forcefully, relentlessly and with time.
A measure of social progress finds that the quality of life has dropped in America over the last decade, even as it has risen almost everywhere else.
By Nicholas Kristof, Opinion Columnist, Sept. 9, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/09/opinion/united-states-social-progress.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
This should be a wake-up call: New data suggest that the United States is one of just a few countries worldwide that is slipping backward.
The newest Social Progress Index, shared with me before its official release Thursday morning, finds that out of 163 countries assessed worldwide, the United States, Brazil and Hungary are the only ones in which people are worse off than when the index began in 2011. And the declines in Brazil and Hungary were smaller than America’s.
“The data paint an alarming picture of the state of our nation, and we hope it will be a call to action,” Michael Porter, a Harvard Business School professor and the chair of the advisory panel for the Social Progress Index, told me. “It’s like we’re a developing country.”
The index, inspired by research of Nobel-winning economists, collects 50 metrics of well-being — nutrition, safety, freedom, the environment, health, education and more — to measure quality of life. Norway comes out on top in the 2020 edition, followed by Denmark, Finland and New Zealand. South Sudan is at the bottom, with Chad, Central African Republic and Eritrea just behind.
The United States, despite its immense wealth, military power and cultural influence, ranks 28th — having slipped from 19th in 2011. The index now puts the United States behind significantly poorer countries, including Estonia, Czech Republic, Cyprus and Greece.
“We are no longer the country we like to think we are,” said Porter.
The United States ranks No. 1 in the world in quality of universities, but No. 91 in access to quality basic education. The U.S. leads the world in medical technology, yet we are No. 97 in access to quality health care.
The Social Progress Index finds that Americans have health statistics similar to those of people in Chile, Jordan and Albania, while kids in the United States get an education roughly on par with what children get in Uzbekistan and Mongolia. A majority of countries have lower homicide rates, and most other advanced countries have lower traffic fatality rates and better sanitation and internet access.
The United States has high levels of early marriage — most states still allow child marriage in some circumstances — and lags in sharing political power equally among all citizens. America ranks a shameful No. 100 in discrimination against minorities.
The data for the latest index predates Covid-19, which has had a disproportionate impact on the United States and seems likely to exacerbate the slide in America’s standing. One new study suggests that in the United States, symptoms of depression have risen threefold since the pandemic began — and poor mental health is associated with other risk factors for well-being.
Michael Green, the C.E.O. of the group that puts out the Social Progress Index, notes that the coronavirus will affect health, longevity and education, with the impact particularly large in both the United States and Brazil. The equity and inclusiveness measured by the index seem to help protect societies from the virus, he said.
“Societies that are inclusive, tolerant and better educated are better able to manage the pandemic,” Green said.
The decline of the United States over the last decade in this index — more than any country in the world — is a reminder that we Americans face structural problems that predate President Trump and that festered under leaders of both parties. Trump is a symptom of this larger malaise, and also a cause of its acceleration.
David G. Blanchflower, a Dartmouth economist, has new research showing that the share of Americans reporting in effect that every day is a bad mental health day has doubled over 25 years. “Rising distress and despair are largely American phenomenon not observed in other advanced countries,” Blanchflower told me.
This decline is deeply personal for me: As I’ve written, a quarter of the kids on my old No. 6 school bus in rural Oregon are now dead from drugs, alcohol and suicide — what are called “deaths of despair.” I lost one friend to a heroin overdose this spring and have had more friends incarcerated than I could possibly count; the problems are now self-replicating in the next generation because of the dysfunction in some homes.
You as taxpayers paid huge sums to imprison my old friends; the money would have been far better invested educating them, honing their job skills or treating their addictions.
That’s why this is an election like that of 1932. That was the year American voters decisively rejected Herbert Hoover’s passivity and gave Franklin Roosevelt an electoral mandate — including a flipped Senate — that laid the groundwork for the New Deal and the modern middle class. But first we need to acknowledge the reality that we are on the wrong track.
We Americans like to say “We’re No. 1.” But the new data suggest that we should be chanting, “We’re No. 28! And dropping!”
Let’s wake up, for we are no longer the country we think we are.
More federal executions have been carried out in 2020 than in the past 57 years combined.
By Liliana Segura, September 9 2020https://theintercept.com/2020/09/09/federal-executions-keith-nelson-indiana-terre-haute/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=The%20Intercept%20Newsletter
SISTER BARBARA BATTISTA entered the death chamber and walked toward Keith Nelson as he lay strapped down to the gurney. Wearing an N95 mask and a light blue T-shirt, she carried anointing oil, a book of psalms, and tucked inside it, a handbill labeled Execution Prayer Service. The room was small and sterile, lined with pale green tile. A warden stood a few feet away, along with a U.S. Marshal and another man in a suit — the executioner. The man gestured toward a piece of blue tape on the floor, making the spot where she was to stand. He then gave her permission to speak.
“Hi Keith, I’m here,” Battista remembers saying. Nelson briefly lifted his head. He wore a blue surgical mask. His large, pale arms were stretched outward, a sheet covering his body up to his neck. Battista knew he did not want a prayer. “I just said I’m here with you, I’m here for you.”
Across from the prison, next to the Dollar General on State Road 63, Battista’s fellow Sisters of Providence from St. Mary of the Woods Catholic Church stood alongside anti-death penalty demonstrators. At 4 p.m., the scheduled time of execution, activists took turns tolling a large bell, then stood in silent prayer. Battista could not hear the bell. But she told Nelson the protesters were out there.
As his minister of record, Battista had been briefed on what to expect. But once inside the death chamber, she found a number of things unnerving. “Even though I was told I couldn’t touch him, it was difficult to be that close and not have any physical contact,” she said. Even more disturbing was seeing the tubes that would deliver the lethal dose of pentobarbital through an IV in Nelson’s arm. They snaked from the gurney toward the back of the execution chamber, where they disappeared through the wall.
Battista had been inside the United States Penitentiary at Terre Haute, Indiana, twice before. The first time was in 1996, the year after the death chamber was completed. As a physician’s assistant, she had considered taking a job at the prison. But in a meeting with the medical director, she had been told she would have to be trained in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons firearms protocol, to be used in the event of a disturbance. “And I’m like, so you want me to take care of these guys. But then if an incident happens, you’re going to position me at some strategic location with a gun in my hand that I have to point towards them?” She knew she could never take the job.
The same perverse contradiction loomed over the lethal injection, which used healing drugs in order to kill. To Battista, there was something particularly grotesque in the way the IV tubes vanished through the wall, concealing the person — or people — who would take Nelson’s life. “It was like they were saying, ‘We’re gonna do this, but nobody gets to see it, not even the person being executed.’ There’s no movement, there’s no sound, there’s no anything. And to me, that just seems deceitful.”
After Battista finished speaking to Nelson, three sets of shades opened simultaneously. Looking into the execution chamber were several witnesses — six reporters in one room, Nelson’s lawyers in another room, and the family of his victim, 10-year-old Pamela Butler, in a third. The executioner asked if Nelson had any last words but received no response.
It was not clear exactly when the pentobarbital began to flow. News reports would later say that it took nine minutes for Nelson to die. “I noticed Nelson’s stomach quickly moving up and down, which, to me, seemed like nervousness,” one media witness wrote. “Within minutes, his breaths became more shallow, slower and eventually just pulsations in his stomach … then, nothing at all. From what I could see, Nelson kept his gaze up to the ceiling for the procedure. His fingernails went from a hint of pink to blue by the end.”
In the meantime, Battista prayed. After a man with a stethoscope entered to confirm that Nelson was gone, the executioner announced the time of death: 4:32 p.m. Only then was Battista allowed to approach his body. “I anointed his forehead, his hand. … I asked them to pull the sheet down so I could anoint his chest near his heart. And they did that.”
Afterward, Battista was taken back to her car, which was parked at the Dollar General. She took off her mask and addressed the crowd. Reflecting on the experience the next morning, she spoke slowly and deliberately, articulating the surreal reality of what had happened. “We were standing there — four human beings, standing there. … And this man was just given a lethal dose of medication against his will. … And we’re just watching him die.”
Battista and I met on the day after the execution, just after 8 a.m. In her yard drinking coffee, she wore a sundress and sandals. It was Saturday, August 29; the Republican National Convention had ended the night before. I had picked up the weekend edition of the local Tribune-Star, which tracked the latest Covid-19 numbers in Vigo County alongside its front-page headline: “U.S. executes fifth inmate in past month.”
The article quoted Battista as well as veteran abolitionist Abe Bonowitz, who had helped organize the protests under the banner of the Terre Haute Death Penalty Resistance. He reiterated what he had been saying for months: The executions had been set with Donald Trump’s reelection in mind. With two more scheduled for late September — and new dates rumored to be on their way — Trump had already carried out more federal executions in 2020 than his predecessors had in the previous 57 years combined. “[Franklin D.] Roosevelt had 17,” Bonowitz said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he tries to exceed that, because for Trump, it is always about being the most, the biggest, and the best.”
Yet there had been no mention of the executions during Trump’s speech at the White House the night before. In fact, despite a week replete with fearmongering calls for “law and order,” there were no hints throughout the convention that an execution spree was underway — one unprecedented in modern death penalty history.
There was a certain logic to keeping the issue below the radar. For all the dystopian rhetoric of violent crime and burning cities, Americans are increasingly turning away from capital punishment. In late June, just weeks before the first round of executions, a Gallup poll found that a “record-low 54 percent of Americans consider the death penalty to be morally acceptable, marking a six-percentage-point decrease since last year.” Trump’s executions ran against longtime trends showing both executions and new death sentences on a precipitous decline.
Local news outlets had covered the executions extensively — the reporter for Tribune Star had witnessed all five — but the issue was not necessarily at the forefront of people’s mind in Terre Haute. Outside the Dollar General during Nelson’s execution, shoppers expressed a mix of irritation and indifference to my questions. One man told me he was sick of the protests and just wanted to go to work. Another, wearing a Trump/Pence face mask, said he figured the condemned deserved to die, but he had not been paying too much attention. But one woman said she was against the death penalty; it was up to God to decide people’s fate.
In the rest of the country, national attention had once again turned to a different kind of state violence, with protests breaking out over the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. On the eve of the week’s first execution, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse had shot two protesters dead. The executions faded into the background.
Still, sitting seven miles away from the federal killing ground on that Saturday morning, the disconnect between what had happened that week in Terre Haute and the RNC felt a little bizarre. Lawyers for the Trump administration had fought hard to push through the executions despite the coronavirus pandemic, ignoring public health warnings and beating back lawsuits by victims’ families and spiritual advisers who argued that the plans put their health at risk. The first two men to die — Daniel Lee and Wesley Purkey — had been killed following all-night legal ordeals, with the U.S. Supreme Court waving the executions forward in the dead of night. It was hard to imagine that Trump would not take vocal credit at some point for such hard-won triumphs in the name of law and order.
In any event, the executions were unquestionably in line with Trump’s larger agenda. “To me, it’s all of a piece,” Battista said. “It’s the disregard for our common humanity.” In 2019, she was one of 70 Catholic protesters arrested in Washington, D.C., during an act of civil disobedience to protest the administration’s treatment of children in immigration detention. On her blue Nissan Versa, a faded bumper sticker reads “RACISM: OUR NATIONAL DISEASE.”
It was her activism that had led her to the death chamber the day before. The third man executed by the Trump administration, Dustin Honken, who died July 17, had told his own longtime spiritual adviser that Nelson had seen Battista on the news. He passed along word that Nelson hoped she might accompany him when it was his turn to die. “I could not say no,” she said.
Like all of the men executed in the federal death chamber this summer, Nelson had been convicted of a horrific crime: the rape and murder of a 10-year-old girl. There was an outpouring of grief in her hometown of Kansas City, Kansas, which continues to commemorate her death. Nelson pleaded guilty and was sentenced to die in 2001. His appellate lawyers argued that his sentencing trial was riddled with errors by his attorneys, who failed to present mitigating evidence that might have prompted jurors to spare his life. Case records documented significant revelations at a post-conviction hearing, which showed that Nelson had “brain damage, severe mental illness, and impaired psychological, emotional, and neurobiological development from chronic exposure to trauma, including being raped as a child.”
That hearing also revealed profound differences between Nelson and his twin brother, Kenneth, who grew up to work as a satellite communications maintenance operator in the U.S. Army. The two were born premature to a teenage mother who was brutally abused during her pregnancy. According to one witness, a pediatrician specializing in neonatal-perinatal medicine, their father “stomped on her abdomen” just days before she gave birth. Hospital records showed that Keith Nelson stopped breathing multiple times after birth; in contrast to Kenneth, who went home without complications, he was hospitalized for severe respiratory distress, which had serious implications for his brain development. But federal prosecutors dismissed this testimony, arguing that Nelson’s twin brother had grown up in the same fraught environment and had turned out just fine.
By the time Battista met Nelson in person on August 18, he seemed resigned to his fate. He spoke about his mother, who was in poor health but had come to see him one last time. He talked about the harrowing execution of Daniel Lee, who was strapped down to the gurney for four hours waiting to die. And he talked about the politics surrounding the executions. Battista recalled being struck by one thing he said: “You know, pretty soon they’re gonna run out of us white dudes.”
Cynically Curated Killings
From the moment Attorney General William Barr first announced the federal execution dates, it was clear that the case had been carefully chosen. Most of the condemned were white men, which struck many people as no accident. One Indiana death penalty lawyer described the list of the condemned as “curated in a really cynical way,” to conceal the federal system’s stark racial disparities. If executions moved forward, she said at the time, eventually “it’s going to be black person after black person after black person.”
Lezmond Mitchell, the only Native American man on federal death row, was among the first men originally scheduled to die. But his execution date was paused a few months later. In June, however, a new date was set: August 26, two days before Keith Nelson.
Like Nelson, Mitchell’s crimes were shocking. With a teenage co-defendant, he was convicted of brutally murdering a 63-year-old woman named Alyce Slim and her 9-year-old grandchild Tiffany Lee, then beheading and dismembering their bodies. Both the victims and their killers were Navajo — and the murders were committed on Navajo land.
Mitchell denied carrying out the murders. Unlike his co-defendant, he had no history of violence. But more controversial were the maneuvers undertaken by the federal government to win a death sentence in the case. Not only did the Department of Justice exploit a legal loophole to seek the death penalty — in violation of the express wishes of the victims’ family and the Navajo Nation — his trial was moved to Phoenix, where Mitchell was tried before 11 white jurors and one Navajo juror. In a petition for a writ of certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court, Mitchell’s lawyers argued that, due to the rules governing federal jurisdictions, they had been denied a chance to investigate the role racial bias may have played in their client’s death sentence. But the petition was denied.
On August 25, the eve of Mitchell’s execution, attorney Michael O’Connor, who handled his direct appeal, wrote a statement that would be released after his client’s death. “I had not intended to write or say anything about Lezmond’s execution for selfish reasons,” he wrote. “Loyalty and love, however, compel me to raise my voice in protest.” In the two decades he spent representing people in death penalty cases, he said, no case had revealed the racism of the system more clearly than Mitchell’s.
“In Lezmond’s case, more than 400 Native Americans (out of a total of approximately 2000 prospective jurors) were summoned for possible service on his trial,” O’Connor went on. “More than 99% of those Native Americans summoned were excused or disqualified as unfit for jury service. No other racial group was dismissed at even half that rate. In a Navajo on Navajo crime committed on the Navajo reservation, jurors were excluded if they spoke only Navajo. Before being dismissed for ‘cause,’ Navajo jurors were badgered by the judge with questions such as ‘You’re Navajo and he’s Navajo. Could you possibly be fair?’”
That same day, I spoke to the juror who served as the foreperson in Mitchell’s trial, Kerrie Snyder. She had been startled to hear from me. Although she thought about the case from time to time, she had no idea he had been set for execution. “Honestly,” she said, “if somebody had walked up to me and said ‘Lezmond Mitchell,’ I’d have had no clue what they were talking about.”
What she did remember was being deeply horrified by the crime. “Brutal,” she said. “Brutal, brutal.” She remembered driving home to Clarkdale, about an hour and a half north of Phoenix; “I would just be crying in my car.” She also remembered being awed by the size of the jury pool and the lengthy process during which prospective jurors were narrowed down and selected. When it came to deliberations, it was not a hard call. The evidence against Mitchell was overwhelming, she said — and defense attorneys didn’t present much evidence at all.
Snyder and her fellow jurors took their task very seriously. “We were present. … We were focused.” And, she added, “it was people from all over … from around the state. From all walks of life, from all kinds of backgrounds. And I thought, Wow, this is really, you know, a jury of your peers.” She remembers thinking the system worked.
I told her about Mitchell’s challenge before the Supreme Court, which argued that the opposite was true, and which sought to investigate possible racial bias. “Can I tell you what the race or nationality was of everybody in that room? Absolutely not right now,” she replied. “I don’t recall any black people being on that jury, for instance. … I couldn’t tell you if there were Hispanics in that room or not. I don’t believe there were any Native Americans in that room — I’m pretty sure that would have stuck with me, but again, I wouldn’t swear to that.”
Still, she took no satisfaction in the looming execution. “You don’t want to be involved in anybody’s death, whether legally or violently, you know. It’s kind of a weird thing. This will hang with me for a few days.”
Risk of Torturous Death
Mitchell’s execution took place right on schedule. “Two government officials stood nearby as execution procedures began at 6:03 p.m.,” according to the Indianapolis Star. “They read a list of Mitchell’s convicted charges before administering a lethal injection.” Mitchell did not have a spiritual adviser accompanying or any witnesses on his behalf. Asked if he had any last words, he said, “No, I’m good.”
Adam Pinsker, a reporter with Indiana Public Radio, was one of two journalists who had witnessed all four executions to date. Speaking to Bonowitz and the activists next to the Dollar Store after Mitchell’s execution, he said that the first execution had been hard to shake. “It runs through your mind, like when you’re at the grocery store, when you’re watching TV,” he said. But after seeing the additional executions, he felt himself getting more desensitized, which unnerved him. Nelson’s execution two days later would be the last one he planned to witness.
Pinsker said Mitchell’s execution had taken longer than the others. About seven minutes in, he estimated, he noticed “very labored breathing. … I didn’t really notice that in the last three of them.” Even under the sheet, it was possible to see his abdomen protracting in and out, he said. But there was no way to see Mitchell’s facial expressions. It was covered with a mask.
Although it was impossible to tell precisely what was happening beneath the surface, lawyers had long challenged the execution protocols, based on the risk that it would lead to a tortuous death. A preliminary autopsy report for Wesley Purkey, executed in July, showed that his lungs “were filled with fluid to the extent of nearly doubling their normal weight, and frothy pulmonary edema fluid filled his main airways all the way up in the trachea.” Medical experts have repeatedly warned that autopsies of people executed by lethal injection reveal pulmonary edema, an excruciating sensation akin to drowning. But legal challenges based on such evidence have been mostly rejected.
Although the Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel or unusual punishment, the prospect of pain for the condemned tends to be easily dismissed. Murder victims, after all, are not generally granted much consideration when it comes to their own suffering. Though the Navajo Nation had decried Mitchell’s death sentence for years, the victims’ families had come out in support for Mitchell’s execution before he died.
At the FCC Terre Haute Training Center north of the prison, where prison officials had set up a media center, the father of Tiffany Lee came to face reporters following Mitchell’s execution. He wore jeans, a baseball cap, and a blue surgical mask, standing silently as a lawyer delivered a statement on his behalf. “I have waited 19 years to get justice for my daughter, Tiffany,” it read. “I will never get Tiffany back, but I hope that this will bring some closure.” He thanked the Trump administration for carrying out the execution.
A similar scene followed Nelson’s execution two days later. While Battista went to reunite with her sisters and fellow activists at the Dollar General, the mother of Pamela Butler, Cherri West, addressed reporters next to her daughter and niece. They wore white T-shirts bearing a picture of Butler against angel’s wings and reading “Rest In Peace Pammy.”
West took Nelson’s silence as proof that he had no remorse for what he did to her daughter. “So therefore I have no remorse for him,” she said. She believed that her daughter had been guiding her over the years to keep fighting for his execution. “I’m gonna have to start a new hobby because I’ve focused so much on doing this for the last 20 years,” she said. While other victims’ families had been angered that the federal government forced them to risk exposure to the pandemic in order to witness the execution, West was grateful to the Trump administration for paying her way to Terre Haute. “They made us feel like family.”
In an email, I asked the Bureau of Prisons whether loved ones or representatives of people who were executed were offered a chance to speak to reporters. “Family members of the condemned, lawyers, and spiritual advisors may certainly address the media,” BOP spokesperson Kristie Breshears replied. “However, the Bureau of Prisons will not facilitate these interactions, or permit them on government property.”
Battista discovered this firsthand. She had been instructed to park at the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department before Nelson’s execution but left when BOP staffers did not show up on time to pick her up. Battista drove to the training center, where she knew she could find BOP officials. But she was quickly ushered away.
After I left her house the next morning, Battista got a message through the St. Mary of the Woods website. It was from Nelson’s twin brother, Kenneth. It was not particularly easy to contact her through the site, she explained. “He worked hard to find me.” He thanked her for accompanying his brother as he died.
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